Pairings for the 2016 NWCA National Championship Dual Series were announced Monday morning, and despite the annual debate regarding the event’s validity, this weekend will feature some very good dual meets.
The top two teams in the USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll, unbeaten Penn State and Iowa, will not square off due to the format. Instead, the Nittany Lions will host No. 3 Oklahoma State, who dropped duals to the Hawkeyes and North Carolina State prior to Christmas. Iowa will host North Carolina State, which bounced back from a loss to Virginia Tech last Friday to beat Missouri on Sunday.
The format has the top eight Big Ten Conference schools hosting conference champions and at-large selections. The Pac-12 champion chose not to participate. Duals begin Friday and conclude Monday.
Friday’s match features Iowa State at Minnesota. Lehigh is at Rutgers on Saturday with Oklahoma State-Penn State, Virginia Tech at Michigan, Appalachian State at Indiana, and Missouri at Nebraska on Saturday. Monday includes Edinboro and Ohio State in Columbus and North Carolina State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. There is no bracket, just eight dual meets similar to the traditional college football system prior to the BCS era. Getting all coaches on the same page for a national dual champion is and continues to be a struggle.
“We are excited to be a part of the first NWCA National Dual Championship series,” said PSU head coach Cael Sanderson, whose program has not participated in recent National Duals multiple weekend or two-day formats. “It is an honor and a great opportunity for us. We are looking forward to Sunday’s dual.”
PSU closed out its unbeaten dual season with a tough 28-9 win over No. 6 Lehigh and a 41-3 whipping of Michigan State on Sunday.
“We are looking forward to this weekend,” said Cowboy head coach John Smith. “It won’t be an easy trip, wrestling on Friday night and traveling Saturday, then wrestling in front of that big Penn State crowd on Sunday. It will be tough, but that is what you need this time of year.”
Had North Carolina State (22-1) beaten Virginia Tech, it may have been Pat Popolizio’s Wolfpack headed to University Park. Instead, Popolizio, who doesn’t have the most positive memories of Carver-Hawkeye, will take his team to Iowa City.
“We are honored to have the opportunity to wrestle at Iowa,” said Popolizio, who made two trips to Iowa City while wrestling at Oklahoma State from 1997-02. “Once again, we get to face one of the top programs in the country that has a great tradition. We are battle-tested as a team, which has helped us define who we are.”
The Wolfpack won in dramatic fashion on Sunday, needing and getting a technical fall victory from heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski to beat Missouri.
Penn State, already with a solid lineup, welcomed back talented heavyweight Nick Nevills last Friday against Lehigh. Nevills, a redshirt-freshman from Clovis, California, was injured before the Nittany Lions’ first match this season. He dropped a 5-4 bout to Lehigh’s Max Wessell, but bounced back to beat Michigan State’s Dimitrius Renfroe on Sunday. Nevills, 200-5 with three California state high school titles, should get fifth-ranked Austin Marsden this Sunday.
RELATED: Full USA Today/NWCA Coaches' Poll
“The season has been fun so far, for the two matches that I’ve had,” said Nevills on Sunday.
With limited matches in 2015-16, Nevills will have to negotiate his way through the Big Ten Championship bracket to earn a qualifying spot for New York City.
Climbing the list
Gary Taylor might not be a household name outside wrestling circles. But the head coach at Rider University in New Jersey for the last 38 years continues to put a quality program on the mat. With a 31-7 win over Hofstra last Thursday, Taylor now has 427 wins as coach, trailing only Dale Thomas (616), Harold Nichols (492), and J Robinson (439) on the Division I all-time list. The 427 equals Bobby Douglas with an opportunity this weekend to break that tie at Princeton and Maryland.
“To be mentioned in the same sentence with Bobby Douglas is nothing short of an honor,” Taylor said. “He’s a legendary coach who I looked up to. He’s a great man and a great coach. I feel very honored and humbled.”
Cornell continued its Ivy League dominance, claiming a 14th-straight league title with a win over Princeton last Saturday night. The Big Red have now won 73 straight Ivy League dual meets. In two weekends, CU will go for a 10th consecutive EIWA title.
A number of seniors around the country hit the century mark last week.
North Dakota State beat Northern Iowa for the first time since the 1970s and 184-pounder Hayden Zilmer picked up his 101st career victory with a technical fall. Zilmer, ranked fourth, got No. 100 against Grand Canyon University two Sundays ago. Another 184-pounder, Arizona State’s Blake Stauffer, hit the century mark with a win against Cal Poly last Saturday.
Oklahoma State 125-pounder Eddie Klimara earned his 100th with a tough overtime victory over Stanford’s Connor Schram on Sunday.
Lock Haven’s Aaron McKinney earned his 100th against Michigan State, joining teammates Dan Neff and Bobby Rehm to hit the century mark this season.
• Third-ranked Isaac beat second-ranked Bo in the battle of unbeaten Jordan cousins last Friday. Isaac, 19-0 for Wisconsin, edged Ohio State’s Bo, 6-4, but Ohio State cruised, 34-6. It was Bo Jordan’s first loss in 13 matches this season.
• Duke knocked off No. 13 North Carolina, 21-17, last week. Senior heavyweight Brendan Walsh beat Cory Daniel in the final bout.
• South Dakota State saw its 12-match win streak end at Oklahoma on Sunday. The No. 7 Sooners won four of the final five bouts, including Ross Larson’s decision of Alex Macki at 285 pounds.
• Lehigh set a school record for margin of victory with a 54-0 pasting of Bloomsburg on Saturday.
• Stanford rookie Joey McKenna has two losses this season, both to Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil in overtime. Heil, unbeaten and ranked No. 1, beat McKenna in the Southern Scuffle finals thanks to a pair of stall warnings in the first set of tiebreakers. On Sunday, tied at 1-1 in the first one-minute overtime, Heil somehow scrambled out of a McKenna shot for a decisive takedown and 3-1 victory.
• Chattanooga knocked off No. 19 Virginia, 19-18. John Lampe (184) and Scottie Boykin (197) each had decisions and Jared Johnson had a second-period pin at 285 to complete the comeback. “These are the days you train for,” UTC head coach Heath Eslinger said after the dual. “There are highs and lows throughout the year, and then something like this happens. Our backs were against the wall and most everyone had counted us out, but once again the guys found a way to get it done.”
• Oregon State moved into the rankings after beating No. 7 Oklahoma, 22-12, last Thursday and blanking Air Force, 36-0, on Sunday. The Beavers (8-5) are tied for 24th with Pittsburgh entering their finale against Boise State.