The national championships will descend upon Oklahoma City starting on Thursday. Here are eight things to keep an eye on as the best wrestlers from around the country vie for a title.
Pins, techs and majors
For the championship contenders this week, winning matches is the top priority. Picking up bonus points through pins, technical falls, and major decisions is a very close second. The 2 points earned for pins, 1.5 for beating an opponent by 15 points, and the 1 for winning with an 8-point margin adds up at the end of three days.Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson summed up the race last Friday.
“It is very simple; whoever scores the most points wins.”
Ask Minnesota about the necessity for bonus points. The Gophers had eight All-Americans in 2013 and finished 16.5 points behind second-place Oklahoma State.
Defending their crowns
Of the nine former NCAA champions in the field, only four of them are seeded number one in their respective brackets -- Illinois’ Jesse Delgado at 125, Penn State’s David Taylor at 165, Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry at 174, and Minnesota’s Tony Nelson at 285. The 174-pound bracket includes two champions and Perry earned the nod with a chaotic victory over Oklahoma’s Andrew Howe in the Big 12 Conference finals.
Howe’s teammate, Kendric Maple, was unbeaten as a junior and won the 141-pound title. This season at 149 pounds, Maple is 22-4 and seeded fourth. The remaining three, Logan Stieber of Ohio State, Derek St. John of Iowa, and Ed Ruth of Penn State, are all seeded second.
Three before four
Only three wrestlers -- Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith, Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson, and Cornell’s Kyle Dake -- have won four individual titles in Division I. Ohio State junior Logan Stieber is on pace to join that group, winning titles at 133 pounds in 2012 and 2013. He is 25-1 this season and 85-3 for his career. He is seeded second behind Edinboro’s unbeaten Mitchell Port (26-0) at 141 pounds. Port lost in the finals to Maple last March.
A lot can and will happen before some of the big dogs hook up in OKC. Two possible rematches, however, have wrestling fans licking their chops – 174 and 184 pounds. In early January, Cornell freshman Gabe Dean ended Ed Ruth’s 84-match win streak. It was the Nittany Lion’s third career loss and one in thirty bouts in 2013-14. Ruth is seeded second, with Dean (35-2) seeded third at 184 pounds. Imagine the buzz for a Friday night semifinal.
Two gladiators lead the pack at 174 pounds -- Perry and Howe. A wild Big 12 final included multiple video reviews and a fantastic, down-to-the-wire finish that saw Perry edge Howe, 3-2, to avenge a loss from a December dual meet in Norman. With the championships in Oklahoma City, a good old-fashioned Bedlam final at 174 pounds might produce some more fireworks.
Toughest of the tough
The argument for toughest weight class can go deep into the night. Wrestling prognosticators will have an especially tough time with 157, 197, and 285 pounds.
Iowa’s Derek St. John (25-4) has losses to Nebraska’s James Green (29-1), Wisconsin’s Isaac Jordan (27-5), and Minnesota’s Dylan Ness (19-5), but gave Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer (27-1) his only defeat. Kent State’s Ian Miller (27-4) beat Jordan and lost to Dieringer in an overtime tiebreaker. You figure it out.
Big Ten 197-pound champion Nick Heflin (24-1), an All-American at 174 pounds in 2013, is the top seed, with Missouri’s J’Den Cox (33-2), Penn State’s Morgan McIntosh (27-3), and Minnesota’s Scott Schiller (29-4) rounding out the top four. All-American Kyven Gadson (25-2) is seeded fifth and Bloomsburg’s Richard Perry (31-1) at No. 6. Good luck picking your winner.
The Big Ten heavyweight slugfest is expected to continue in OKC. Two-time champion Tony Nelson of Minnesota has taken four losses, but negotiated the minefield in Madison, Wisc., two weekends ago to win his third conference crown. Eight of the sixteen seeds represent Big Ten schools, with Indiana’s Adam Chalfant (25-3) and Michigan rookie Adam Coon (30-3) seeded three and four, respectively. Might North Carolina State’s Nick Gwiazdowski (38-2) crash that party?
All three weight classes will include plenty of battles.
Close to home
Wrestling in front of the home fans often inspires a wrestler or two. Only seven entries call the state of Oklahoma home -- Jarrod Patterson (Cushing, 125), Nolan Boyd (Edmond, 184), Matt Manley (Perry, 125), Blake Rosholt (197, Ponca City), Chris Perry (Stillwater, 174), Justin DeAngelis (Jenks, 157), and Shane Woods (Tuttle, 197). Patterson and DeAngelis wrestle for the University of Oklahoma; Boyd, Rosholt and Perry for Oklahoma State; Manley for Missouri; and Woods for Wyoming, which is coached by Newkirk native Mark Branch.
Manley, Boyd, and Rosholt were each at-large selections.
The Blair boys
Eight wrestlers in the tournament attended Blair Academy High School in New Jersey. Ruth leads a group that also includes Iowa 174-pounder Mike Evans (25-4), Cornell’s Chris Villalonga (31-2 at 149) and Mark Grey (30-7 at 133), and Stanford 125-pounder Evan Silver (23-4). Mike Lieberman was Blair’s first national champion, winning the 177-pound title in 1975. Iowa’s Mark Perry and Michigan’s Kellan Russell each attended Blair and went on to win a pair of NCAA titles. Olympic gold medalist Bobby Weaver was also a product of the New Jersey prep school.
Which will it be?
Following Friday night’s semifinals, the NCAA will announce the marching order of Saturday’s final session. The 2013 finals saw the anticipated 165-pound final between Dake and Taylor moved to the end. A lot of things can and will happen between 11 a.m. Thursday and around 9 p.m. on Friday.