The amount of storylines heading into the 2013 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, might just fill up a Tolstoy novel.

At the top of the list is head coach Cael Sanderson’s Penn State squad. An also-ran program for what seems like half a century, Sanderson, a four-time NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist, awoke a sleeping giant. The state of Pennsylvania has more wrestlers in the 2013 brackets that any other state -- but it has been that way for years. Since Sanderson’s arrival, Penn State has won two NCAA team titles and three Big Ten Conference trophies.

And it’s not just the winning, it’s how Penn State is winning. PSU does it in style.

“Success breeds success and we want to win; that is really why we do this,” said Sanderson after the Big Tens. “These kids come to Penn State because they want to reach their goals and that’s what our job is as a staff.
“We just keep building, keep having fun.”

It is fun for the fans, too.

David Taylor, a national champion last March and two-time finalist, is a point-scoring machine. Ed Ruth, a national champion last March, is beyond compare. Most just call him a “freak.”

Quentin Wright won a title two seasons ago and lost in the finals in 2012. For Wright, a senior, March means “go time.”

“Tournaments are what people remember,” Wright said earlier this week. “That’s a nice feature but it’s a matter of focusing when the pressure is the highest. That’s how I try to think of it. When everything’s on the line, it’s just being able to perform at that moment.”

Penn State's key to a third consecutive NCAA title, of course, rides with Taylor, Ruth and Wright. But the supporting case will play an equal role. Nico Megaludis was an NCAA finalist at 125 pounds in 2012; Dylan Alton was an All-American 157-pounder; Matt Brown won a Big Ten title at 174 in his first season in the lineup; Andrew Alton was an NCAA qualifier at 141 two seasons ago; and Jordan Conaway is a capable under-the-radar 133-pounder.

Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Iowa appear to be the top contenders to the throne. They, like PSU, are all coached by Olympians.

The Cowboys, under head coach John Smith, lapped the field at the depleted Big 12 Championships after losing one dual meet during the regular season; Minnesota beat OSU in the finals of the 2013 NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals in Minneapolis. Matching PSU with big stage participants, the Cowboys have Jordan Oliver, unbeaten and champion two seasons ago; Chris Perry, the top seed at 174 pounds; and Alan Gelogaev, a Russian heavyweight making his first NCAA appearance since 2010.

Like the Nittany Lions, however, it may come down to “everybody else” for Oklahoma State. Jon Morrison is among many potential All-Americans at 133 pounds; freshman 157-pounder Alex Dieringer could be a factor on Saturday; Chris Chionuma and Blake Rosholt are total unknowns.

Tyler Caldwell knows a thing or two about crashing a party. Two seasons ago, the hype surrounded Jordan Burroughs and Andrew Howe, both NCAA champions. But Caldwell beat Howe in the semifinals and spoiled it for everyone expect Oklahoma Sooners fans. Might he do the same in 2013 as Kyle Dake and Taylor are penciled in as finalists at 165 pounds?

Minnesota Athletics

Health issues kept Minnesota head coach J Robinson away from his team for a portion of the season, yet his presence was felt during that absence.

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Minnesota provided a solid challenge to Penn State at the Big Ten championships two weekends ago. With a little help from their friends, the Gophers might just hoist the trophy this weekend.

“It’s all about building for that national championship tournament,” said Minnesota head coach J Robinson after his squad’s national duals title. “You want to save your best performance for the end.”

Robinson’s squad is similar to a group that won an NCAA team title without a finalist. That group, in 2001, finished with 10 All-Americans and 138.5 points. Tony Nelson, a champion in 2012, leads the pack, with two-time All-American Kevin Steinhaus, 2012 finalist Dylan Ness and two other top-eight finishers, Chris Dardanes and Logan Storley, all expected to be wrestling on Saturday. UM’s philosophy this week will be “power in numbers.”

Iowa head coach Tom Brands usually tells it like it is. He pulls no punches.

"Here’s the thing. It’s not rocket science,” said Brands after his team finished third at the Big Tens behind PSU and Minnesota. “We’ve got to be tougher, and we’ve got to do certain things to be tougher. It starts with finishing, and urgency in those situations.”

The Hawkeyes arrive in Des Moines as wounded animals. After beating Penn State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa had plenty of momentum. But some of the shine was rubbed off at the national duals, where Brands’ team lost to Minnesota and Missouri.

Those in the know, however, are far from counting out Iowa wrestling in its home state. Matt McDonough is one of those wounded animals. The two-time NCAA champion appears to have a nemesis in Illinois’ Jesse Delgado. But McDonough, a senior, does own two NCAA titles. Tony Ramos’ nemesis is Ohio State’s Logan Stieber. But few others have given Ramos issues. Derek St. John was an NCAA finalist last March. That trio will have to perform up to expectations, but again, it is “everybody else” that holds the key to Iowa's success. All-American Bobby Telford is part of a loaded heavyweight class; All-Americans Mike Evans and Ethan Lofthouse will have to be wrestling on Saturday.

Penn State, Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Iowa.

Can anybody else crack that top four? Don’t bank on it.

That storyline is only chapter one.

The short-lived rivalry between Cornell’s Dake, a three-time NCAA champion, and Taylor has dominated every wrestling message board since last summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials. The NCAA decided to put the 165-pound final at the end of the Saturday night docket. If they do meet again, the atmosphere will rival Madison Square Garden and Ali-Frazier.

A few additional chapter titles might include:

• Can anybody avoid the cradles of Ruth and Oliver?

• Will Delgado beat McDonough when it really counts? On a Friday night in Des Moines.

• Who is the best heavyweight in the land? Nelson, Bradley, Gelogaev, Jarod Trice, or …?

• Wright versus Dustin Kilgore.

• Can Perry join his uncle and older brother at the top of the medal stand?

• In a tournament this deep, who will be the first victim of the upset bug?

Some might argue a Tolstoy novel is tedious, monotonous ... just too long. But the novel known as the 2013 NCAA DI Wrestling Championships, which begins Thursday, might be impossible to put down.