This weekend marks the opening of the 2015 NWCA National Duals, known as Mat Mayhem. Eight Regional sites with 16 teams compete this Saturday and Sunday with the eight winners heading to Iowa City’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the finals Feb. 21-22. A number of formats have been involved with the dual meet tournament going back to 1989 in Virginia.
“We saw success a few years ago with a regional model, but we took what we liked about the regional format with what we liked about the final four-type of format and put together a great way to finalize the dual meet portion of the season, culminating in a national dual meet championship,” NWCA Executive Director Mike Moyer said when the field was announced.
Five of the top six teams in the latest USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll will compete -- Iowa, Missouri, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Cornell. Ten of the 16 squads in the bracket are ranked.
Of the eight opening duals this weekend, the most intriguing might be the third-ranked Buckeyes (12-3) visiting No. 15 Edinboro (13-4). Neither squad will most likely be at full strength due to injury. Ohio State 149-pounder Hunter Stieber, an All-American two seasons ago, has just three matches in 2014-15. The Fighting Scots’ A.J. Schopp, a senior 133-pounder with two All-America finishes, has not wrestled since the Midlands Championships in December. The top two at 141 pounds could square off if Ohio State’s three-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber (19-0) meets All-American Mitchell Port (24-0). The duo ranks No. 1 and 5 in the NCAA’s latest Most Dominant Award Standings.
Other matchups include Drexel at No. 6 Cornell, George Mason at No. 11 Lehigh, Oklahoma at Chattanooga, Kent State at No. 12 Illinois, No. 13 Virginia at No 1 Iowa, American at No. 2 Missouri and No. 4 Minnesota at No. 23 North Dakota State.
Top-ranked Iowa completed its tour of some of the nation’s toughest venues last Sunday with a victory against reigning national champion Penn State. The Hawkeyes (13-0) built an early lead and All-American Bobby Telford (19-1) supplied the final nail in the coffin of an 18-12 victory in front of 15,967 inside Bryce Jordan Center. It was the second largest dual meet crowd in NCAA history.
“When you’re a championship team you make progress and you keep making progress but you don’t regress,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said on Sunday.
Iowa has been road warriors all season. Brands’ squad won at Ohio State on Jan. 4, at Oklahoma State on Jan. 11, at Minnesota on Jan. 30 and in University Park last weekend. Those victories have come over Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 7 in the latest USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll.
Still not satisfied after negotiating a minefield of a schedule, Telford provided a warning to upcoming opponents.
“A lot of guys seemed like they were dull,” the Iowa heavyweight said following last Sunday’s victory. “We need to get out some sharpening knives and get ready to gut some people.”
The 16th-ranked Wolverines (6-5) and No. 13 Virginia (10-5) visit Iowa City this weekend.
Ouachita Baptist in Arkansas has climbed the Division II ladder rather quickly. The program came to life in the fall of 2010 and finished 15th at the 2012 NCAA Division II championships under head coach Kevin Ward. A year later the Tigers were 12th. Last March, Ward was named Division II Coach of the Year in leading Ouachita Baptist to a fourth place finish with Josh Myers advancing to the 141-pound title bout. The United States Military Academy took notice and hired Ward to coach the Black Knights at West Point.
Chris Chionuma, Ward’s assistant and fellow Oklahoma State alum, was named interim head coach in August 2014 and the Tigers have not missed a beat. The Tigers’ climb has been led by three seniors -- Myers, 184-pounder Dallas Smith, and 125-pounder Garrett Evans. Sophomore 133-pounder Nate Rodriguez and rookie 174-pounder Payne Hatter, both transfers from Neosho (Mo.) Community College, are also ranked among the top eight giving Ouachita a legitimate shot at challenging Notre Dame (Ohio), Maryville (Mo.), St. Cloud State and others at the DeII Championships March 13-14 in St. Louis.
• Air Force won the 2015 All-Academy Championship last weekend. It was the Falcons’ first title in 12 years. UAF edged second place Army by 3.5 points; Navy was 8.5 points back in third. Nate Giorgio of Coast Guard won the 133-pound title, becoming the first DIII wrestler to win an All Academy championship. Giorgio, a senior All-American from Leesport, Pa., is 33-0 this season.
• The best of the West may be determined Friday night when No. 17 Oregon State (11-0) travels to Laramie to face No. 19 Wyoming (8-4). The Cowboys are coming off a weekend split in Oklahoma where UW beat the Sooners and lost a down-to-the-wire meet with Oklahoma State. The Beavers, who outscored Cal Poly and Boise State 55-16 last weekend, have not finished unbeaten in a season since 1970 when Dale Thomas was head coach.
• Messiah senior 141-pounder Kaleb Loht, a Division III national champion last March, is 78-1 since the start of the 2013-14 season. He was 69-11 after his first two seasons.
• With its victory against American last Saturday, Bucknell (13-3) set a school record for wins in a season. Head coach Dan Wirnsberger’s leader is 285-pound senior Joe Stolfi, whose 23 pins as a junior broke a 15-year-old school record. Stolfi is 31-5 this season and leads Division I with 16 pins. He needs two pins to tie Brian Pitzer at the top of Bucknell’s career pin chart at 50.
• Ohio Northern senior heavyweight Cody Lovejoy leads Divisions with 20 pins this season. Division III’s top-ranked big man is 37-0 with 27 bonus-point victories. An All-American in 2014, Lovejoy has also won back-to-back Elite 89 Awards, given to the student-athlete with the highest grade point average at the championships.