Looking ahead to next year
Hard to beat this season, but 2014 should be compelling
Coming off one of the best NCAA wrestling championships in decades, is it possible the 2014 gathering in Oklahoma City could be equally fantastic?
There certainly are a few reasons why the answer to that question is no.
First, there will be no Kyle Dake. The Cornell senior finished his career with a fourth NCAA title. He joined Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith and Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson as the only wrestlers in Division I history to claim four titles. However, Dake stands alone as the only wrestler to win four titles in four different weight classes.
“It’s been an unbelievable run,” said Dake after the 2013 championships in Des Moines, Iowa. “You set goals when you first get [to college] and to reach them feels great. There are so many people responsible for me being able to accomplish this.”
Second, the tournament will not be in the state of Iowa. Regardless of what school colors fans wear there was no denying the show put on in Des Moines by all involved. Yes, the Wells Fargo Arena was a tight fit, but everything from the media coverage by the Des Moines Register to the hospitality shown all fans, once again, the state of Iowa showed it does wrestling right.
In regards to a yes and the 2014 championships? There are plenty.
Topping the list is another possible showdown between the new kids on the block, Penn State, and tradition-rich Oklahoma State. The Nittany Lions won a third consecutive team title, ending a dry spell since 1953.
Who does head coach Sanderson have to replace? Only 197-pounder Quentin Wright. That is easier said than done, however, as Wright wrapped up the team title with his victory against Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore in dramatic fashion. Wright was a three-time NCAA finalist and two-time champ.
Returning for Penn State is Nico Megaludis, now a two-time finalist; Andrew and Dylan Alton; three-time finalist David Taylor; Matt Brown, a finalist in his first season starting; and two-time champion Ed Ruth, who might never lose another collegiate match. Also returning will be Morgan McIntosh to replace Wright, and Jimmy Gulibon, who won four state titles in Pennsylvania and will split into the lineup at 133 or 141 pounds.
How do you beat that lineup?
Oklahoma State nearly showed how during a 24-hour stretch in Des Moines, rallying from 20.5 points down to actually take a momentary lead during the championship finals.
“We made a run at them,” Oklahoma State head coach John Smith said. “We wrestled as a team, never quit even though [PSU] had that lead. I think our guys started to believe they could win it. We came up a little short.”
The Cowboys have two major holes to fill with the graduation of Jordan Oliver, a two-time champion, and Alan Gelogaev, a third-place finisher in 2013. But there is plenty in the cupboard. Chris Perry, who beat Brown in the 174-pound finals; Alex Dieringer, who lost just three matches as a freshman in finishing third; Jon Morrison, an All-American in a brutal 133-pound bracket; Tyler Caldwell, now a three-time All-American; and Blake Rosholt, who finished among the top eight. Eddie Klimara did not start the season in the lineup, but qualified at 125 pounds and came dangerously close to earning All-America status.
Smith is expected to welcome back Josh Kindig, a two-time NCAA qualifier, and heavyweight Austin Marsden, who qualified for the NCAA championships two seasons ago as a true freshman. Like PSU, OSU also has a prized recruit ready to step in -- Jordan Rogers, a three-time state champion from Washington.
Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan may have summed up the challenges that lie ahead.
“We scored 92 points and finished second in 2009 … that does not get you anything right now,” Ryan said. “With the group of teams going right now, you have to score 100 to even get into the conversation. We’ve got guys coming back, Penn State and Oklahoma State obviously have guys coming back, Minnesota …  is going to another battle.”
The 2013 final standings showed Penn State with 123.5 points, Oklahoma State with 119.5 and Minnesota at 103. The Gophers had an amazing eight All-Americans and finished 20 points back of the winners.
“We had a good tournament,” veteran Minnesota head coach J Robinson said. “But we have to be better. Eight All-Americans is certainly a good number, but in a tournament like this, with teams able to put up those kinds of points, you have to find a way to win a few more matches on Friday and throughout the weekend.”
The Gophers return seven of those eight All-Americans: David Thorn, Chris and Nick Dardanes, Dylan Ness, Logan Storley, Scott Schiller and Tony Nelson, who picked up his second NCAA title at heavyweight. Also back is two-time All-American Kevin Steinhaus, who finished among the top eight in 2011 and '12 but did not have his best tournament in Des Moines.
Penn State, Oklahoma State and Minnesota should finish above the century mark in 2014. Can anybody else join this bunch of heavyweights?
Ohio State will not be too shabby. Ryan’s boys finished sixth in Des Moines with three All-Americans. All eyes now turn to Logan Stieber, who has won two NCAA titles in two seasons with two seasons to wrestle. Word is he will move up to 141 pounds, pushing younger brother, Hunter, up to 149 pounds. The younger Stieber lost one match in 2012-13, a one-pointer to Edinboro’s Mitchell Port in the NCAA semifinals. Nick Heflin earned his second All-America medal and also returns, probably at a heavier weight than 174 pounds. Josh Demas was one match from the top 12 in Des Moines, and is among a handful of capable point scorers.
What about Iowa’s Hawkeyes? In front of home crowds, head coach Tom Brands’ team finished a distant fourth, totaling 73 points. Derek St. John was the champion at 157 pounds and Tony Ramos lost to Stieber in the final at 133. Mike Evans and Luke Lofthouse also will be back. Iowa took two major hits in Des Moines -- seeing two-time champion Matt McDonough failing to finish in the top eight and heavyweight Bobby Telford going down to injury. Some considered Cory Clark one of the best 125-pounders in the country this season; he sat behind McDonough, however, and will get his shot in 2013-14.
Cornell, fifth in Des Moines, loses Dake and 2012 champion Steve Bozak. The Big Red will welcome back Nahshon Garrett, who was third at 125 pounds as a freshman.
Seventh-place finisher Missouri will have to replace the bulk of its lineup, including heavyweight Dom Bradley. Alan Waters and Drake Houdeshelt will lead the rebuilding Tigers.
One team to watch will be the Oklahoma Sooners. Head coach Mark Cody put the redshirt on All-Americans Jarrod Patterson and transfers Andrew Howe and Travis Rutt. Kendric Maple was an undefeated national champion as a junior, and Cody Brewer was top eight as a 133-pounder. Howe, a national champion in 2010, was an All-American in '11 before taking an Olympic redshirt season a year ago. During the summer he lost to eventual Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs in the team trials. Will he go 165, 174, or 184 pounds? Could it be Howe-Taylor? How about Howe-Perry? Or maybe Howe-Ruth? It is just one of the many reasons wrestling fans, as usual, will tune in next March.
Nebraska-Kearney turned it on when it counted -- in March -- and won a second consecutive team trophy in Alabama. The Lopers edged St. Cloud State and first-time DII participant Notre Dame (Ohio). Oklahoma transfer Daniel DeShazer, the champion at 133 pounds, and Romero Cotton, a runner-up at 285, both return for head coach Marc Bauer, who has provided a home for a handful of former DI wrestlers.
St. Cloud must replace second-place finishers Andy Pokorny and Jacob Horn, plus one of the best in school history in Shamus O’Grady, a national champion as a senior.
Notre Dame is unquestionably led by Joey Davis, who finished his first collegiate season undefeated and as champion at 165 pounds. Eric Burgey, champion at 174 pounds, also returns.
Cory Dauphin won the 157-pound title and returns to lead a Central Oklahoma squad that finished fourth.
Figuring out the preseason rankings will be hard enough in Division II. Finding a champion next March will be equally challenging.
Although Jim Miller will not be sitting in the corner for Wartburg wrestlers, the Knights still will be the team to beat. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the second week of March, Wartburg claimed its third consecutive team title, outdistancing second-place Elmhurst by 21 points. New head coach Eric Keller will have plenty to work with -- two-time champion Kenny Anderson; 2012 champion and '13 runner-up Kodie Silvestri; '12 champion Landon Williams; and All-Americans Gilberto Camacho, Cole Welter and Ryan Fank.
The finish for Elmhurst, an Illinois school coached by Steve Marianetti, was a program best. Mike Benefiel and Jacob Rau won individual titles, but both were seniors.
Third place Wisconsin-Whitewater returns talented Grant Sutter, second to Anderson at 133 pounds, and All-Americans Roland Gibson and Cedric Dunlap.
Individually, a trio to keep an eye on will be Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Nazar Kulchytskyy and Augsburg heavyweight Chad Johnson, both going for a third title next March, and Wisconsin-Concordia’s Greg Sanders, who energized the Cedar Rapids crowd when he beat Silvestri in the 149-pound finale.