North Carolina State was on a few wrestling radars when the 2015-16 season started back in November. After a win inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday night, the Wolfpack moved beyond a blip and became perhaps the story of the year.
“It’s a special event, the National Duals,” said NCSU head coach Pat Popolizio after his team’s 21-17 victory over No. 2 Iowa in the Bowl Dual Series. “The biggest thing is having the opportunity to come (to Iowa) and compete and show that we belong. And obviously with the way things played out tonight, that was a statement in itself.”
No. 1 Penn State finished an unbeaten season with a 29-18 win over No. 3 Oklahoma State on Sunday in State College. The Wolfpack beat the Cowboys last December and suffered its only loss in 24 duals to Virginia Tech two Fridays ago. The Bowl Duals Series matched up the top eight Big Ten schools with various opponents, trying to focus on conference champions. The Nittany Lions were declared the National Duals/Bowl Dual Series winners with the Iowa and NCSU dual given second billing.
None of that mattered to Popolizio and crew, who went 5-5 in Monday’s dual with Iowa and got a big technical fall by Kevin Jack over Brody Grothus at 141, a major decision by Tommy Gantt at 157, and an important win by Pete Renda over Sam Brooks at 184 pounds. Iowa led 17-15 entering the final bout where two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski won by injury default after Sam Stoll could not continue. In the regular-season finale against Missouri, Gwiazdowski gave his team the victory with a technical fall in the final bout.
NCSU beat Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, and 2015 National Duals champion Missouri, who also won in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The ACC Championships will get a little more attention with the Wolfpack, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina each ranked inside the top 15.
“These programs all have tradition; we are not there in that aspect,” Popolizio said. “But people understand that we can compete. To do it year in and year out like these guys do it that is a totally different ballgame.”
Iowa (16-1) will turn its focus to the Big Ten Championships, March 5-6 in Iowa City.
“Really, to sum it up, we got beat in more ways than one,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said after the dual. “We’ve got to come back and we’ve got to be strong and we’ve got to build and we’ve got to have our minds right.Getting knocked off here, I don’t think that’s a major issue unless you know something about our guys that I don’t. I think our guys are up to a challenge. And they better be.”
The Big Ten, host of all eight Bowl Dual Series matches, went 4-4. Top-ranked Penn State beat Oklahoma State, Ohio State beat Edinboro, Minnesota dispatched Iowa State, and Rutgers, with perhaps the best win for the Big Ten, knocked off Lehigh.
“In the grand scheme of things, what does this win mean? It’s huge for our program,” RU head coach Scott Goodale said. “It’s Lehigh, tremendous tradition, a ton of respect for those guys. There’s chippness, (but) I have all the respect in the world for (head coach) Pat Santoro and that staff. We’re just fighting really, really hard for those guys just like they’re doing. Every point mattered, we knew that. It means a lot to beat Lehigh, there’s no question about it. Now let’s move onto the Big Ten Championships.”
Billy Smith’s tiebreaker win over Max Wessel in the final bout gave the Scarlett Knights (16-5) the victory.
Virginia Tech, in the center of the Bowl Dual Series conversation thanks to head coach Kevin Dresser, backed up its talk with a big 24-11 win in Ann Arbor that included Ty Walz’s win over Adam Coon in a battle of All-American heavyweights.
Missouri, the 2015 National Duals champion, contested with a bracket and a regional setup, beat Nebraska in dramatic fashion. Willie Micklus edged TJ Dudley, 5-4, with a late takedown at 184 pounds and J’Den Cox, notching his 100th career victory, added a major decision at 197 to help the visitors win, 19-14.
Appalachian State competed in the National Duals for the first time and won the final three bouts to beat Indiana, 21-13.
“I’m so proud of this team and how they fought when our backs were against the wall,” ASU head coach JohnMark Bentley said. “This is a very big statement for our program, athletics department, and university.”
Ohio State got pins from national champion Nathan Tomasello (125) and All-American Bo Jordan (165) in a 26-13 win over Edinboro.
The 2016 version of the National Duals had some good and some bad. Coaches know it will continue to be a work in progress.
“This is something that can grow,” said Oklahoma State head coach John Smith. “I think we ought to put even more importance on it. If Penn State is the best team in dual meets this year there should be points carried over into nationals. It just becomes that much more important. Maybe then Joe Smith wrestles (Sunday) if that is the case.
“I think we’re all worried about injuries, but hell, football has to deal with it every week. They gotta go play. If they’re missing their quarterback, they still gotta go play. I would like to see maybe in the future that we recognize that dual meets are exciting and when you put some importance on them, carry over some points to the NCAAs, I think we’ll find ourselves in a much better place.”
PSU head coach Cael Sanderson also weighed in on the new duals concept.
“I think it’s a solid concept,” Sanderson said. “I like the idea. I don’t think this is the time of year you have a huge tournament. I think one match is great. It seemed like there was some controversy in who wrestled who. That obviously doesn’t need to be a part of the process. You’re either in or you’re out of the process.
“That was kind of the fun part. We didn’t know who we were going to wrestle.”
Pac 12 kicks off postseason
The Pac-12 Conference kicks off the postseason this weekend in Tempe, Ariz. No. 24 Oregon State has won four straight league titles and enters Saturday as the only team in the conference ranked among the NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll. Bakersfield and Arizona State are expected to be the top challengers to Jim Zalesky’s Beavers, who dropped dual meets to the Sun Devils and Roadrunners during the regular season.
Allocations for NCAA qualifiers will be released this week. The Pac-12 received 19 spots in 2015.
Penn State’s numbers do not lie. Nico Megaludis, Jordan Conaway, Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf, Bo Nickal, and Morgan McIntosh enter the Big Ten Championships with a combined record of 147-6 with Retherford, Nolf, and McIntosh unbeaten. Only Megaludis, who is ranked fourth at 125 pounds, and Conaway, No. 5 at 133, are not ranked No. 1.
“Everyone feeds off each other,” said Megaludis earlier this season. “There is a competition between everybody; when someone wins a big match it motivates everybody to follow that up. I just try to set the tone, go out and get things started. When everyone gets rolling it is pretty fun to watch.”
Iowa State junior Patrick Downey made his season debut on Feb. 5 with a win against Northern Iowa. The 184-pounder, a silver medalist at the 2012 Junior World Championships in freestyle, was the NJCAA national champion at 197 pounds with a 43-0 record for Iowa Central in 2014-15. Downey, from Baltimore, moved up to 197 pounds against Minnesota last Friday and lost 12-1.
The new Big 12 Conference Championship hits the mat March 5-6 in Kansas City. The remaining group of the original Big 12 ― Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, and West Virginia ― merged with the Western Wrestling Conference to form a new NCAA qualifier. The Big 12 did not have allocations last season and qualified wrestlers through the at-large selection process; the WWC earned 19 spots. Four squads are ranked among the top 25 (Oklahoma State at No. 3, Oklahoma at No. 10, Iowa State at No. 15, and South Dakota State at No. 22).