The 2015 version of the NWCA National Duals, known as Mat Mayhem, opened last weekend at eight regional sites. Seven of the winners who will meet this weekend in Iowa City are household wrestling names: No. 1 Iowa, No. 2 Missouri, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Minnesota, No. 6 Cornell, No. 11 Lehigh and No. 12 Illinois. The eighth, Chattanooga, however, is far from familiar to elite wrestling circles.
The Mocs won their fourth in a row and 28th overall Southern Conference last season, but finished tied for 51st at the 2014 NCAA Championships. The program’s best NCAA finish is 14th, that coming in 1983. Hosting the annual Southern Scuffle has put the Mocs on the map, but more for the hospitality than competing for top honors. None of that mattered last Sunday as head coach Heath Eslinger’s squad won a thriller against Oklahoma to advance to the final eight of the NWCA National Duals.
After Matt Reed gave the Sooners a 16-9 lead with a victory at 174 pounds, Chattanooga’s McCoy Newberg, Scottie Boykin and Jared Johnson delivered three consecutive wins for a 19-16 outcome. Boykin, a sophomore from Mufreesboro, Tennessee, scored a takedown in sudden victory to beat Andrew Dixon at 197 pounds to knot the score at 16-16. OU's 11th-ranked Ross Larson rallied from a 7-0 deficit, but Johnson, a Missouri native, eventually secured a 12-11 victory on a riding time point.
“It’s a game of inches,” Eslinger said. “We say that when we lose, we say that when we win. The difference in winning and losing in that dual meet is four seconds. It’s a takedown against [Boykin] rather than for him or a reversal against [Johnson] rather than for him.
“We’re ecstatic that it came out in our favor today.”
Up next for the Mocs? Top-ranked and undefeated Iowa on the Hawks’ home mat.
The other three quarterfinal duals feature second-seeded Missouri against Illinois, No. 3 Minnesota and Cornell, and No. 4 Ohio State and Lehigh. Already winding down a grueling dual schedule, all involved cannot help but think about the upcoming postseason the first weekend in March. The next month includes the National Duals finals and the conference qualifiers culminating in the 2015 NCAA Championships March 19-21 in St. Louis.
“It’s the postseason now,” Iowa 141-pound senior Josh Dziewa said earlier this week. “The regular season’s over now. [Monday] was the first day of the postseason.”
Staying Down South
North Carolina State beat Pittsburgh last Saturday to improve to 15-5 in duals this season. The win total is the most for a Wolfpack squad since 1992 when head coach Bob Guzzo’s group went 15-3-1. In Pat Popolizio’s first season, NC State went 5-6. The last two campaigns have seen the Atlantic Coast Conference member go 29-12. Popolizio, a New York native, came to Raleigh from Binghamton University and brought along one of the nation’s best big men, 285-pounder Nick Gwiazdowski, who won a national title last March as a sophomore. Gwiazdowski, a product of Delanson, New York, is ranked No. 1, owns a 26-0 record and has won 46 consecutive matches.
The 20th-ranked Wolfpack wrestle at No. 13 Virginia Thursday night and host Popolizio’s alma mater, sixth-ranked Oklahoma State, on Sunday.
Lost in Illinois’ 38-0 shellacking of Kent State last Sunday was a highly-anticipated matchup between Illini rookie Isaiah Martinez and KSU All-American Ian Miller, two of the top 157 pounders in the country. Martinez, a native of Lemoore, California, took advantage of an ill-advised lateral drop attempt by Miller and scored a fall at 6:36 to improve to 26-0 this season.
Another surprise result from last weekend came during Oklahoma State’s wild 21-18 victory against Penn State in Stillwater. Nittany Lion 149-pounder Zack Beitz, a sophomore who stood at 13-7 entering Sunday, turned a reversal into a cradle and finished 2014 NCAA finalist Josh Kindig in 3:17. Barely fifteen minutes later, maybe the surprise of the weekend came when the Cowboys’ Anthony Collica hammered PSU senior Dylan Alton, 24-9. Alton, a third place finisher at the 2012 NCAA Championships, pinned Collica at the Southern Scuffle earlier this season.
• Ohio State’s Logan Stieber won a possible preview of the 141-pound championship bout in St. Louis, beating Edinboro’s Mitchell Port, 6-3, last Sunday. Stieber, already a three-time NCAA champion, is 110-3 for his career and 20-0 this season. It was Port’s first loss in 30 matches in 2014-15. Another NCAA preview could come this weekend when Illinois and Missouri meet in the National Dual quarterfinals. Two-time NCAA champion Jesse Delgado, battling injuries much of this season for the Illini, could battle Tiger senior Alan Waters, who is unbeaten and ranked No. 1.
• The annual meeting between Iowa State and Northern Iowa seemed to have a little more of an edge to it this season. A year ago, UNI beat the Cyclones 24-13 in a dual that featured a taunt or two from the Panthers. “They kind of poked their chest out a bit, celebrated, did a few things. The antics were something that stuck with us,” ISU head coach Kevin Jackson said. Prior to this season’s meeting ISU 165-pounder Michael Moreno said, “They’ll get what’s coming to them.”
• ISU won 7 of 10 bouts and claimed a 24-12 victory on Sunday, improving to 10-2.
• Division III power Wartburg finished its dual season last Friday with a 33-6 win against Loras. It was the Knight’s 181st win in a row against IIAC opponents and produced the program’s 23rd consecutive league crown. The reigning national champions return to the mat with the rest of DIII at Regional qualifiers the last weekend of February.
• Division II star Joey Davis moved his career record to 100-0 with a pair of victories at the Maryville Duals last weekend. Davis, a native of Compton, California, and two-time NCAA champion, edged Maryville’s third-ranked Zeb Wahle 3-1 in sudden victory to reach the century mark. It helped the Falcons beat Maryville 18-12 in a battle of top five teams in DII.