NEW YORK, NY – The big boys always seem to find a way. After the first day of wrestling at the 2016 NCAA Championships inside Madison Square Garden, Penn State, Oklahoma State, and Ohio State showed why they are among the nation’s best mat programs.
The high-flying Nittany Lions, winners of four consecutive NCAA team titles from 2011-2014, pushed six into Friday morning’s quarterfinals and lead Oklahoma State and Ohio State, 27 ½ to 24. The Cowboys pushed seven into wrestling’s elite eight; the Buckeyes have five.
PSU’s day included Nico Megaludis (125), Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157), Bo Nickal (174), and Morgan McIntosh (197) combining for eight bonus-point wins in their 10 matches. Jordan Conaway (133) had two decisions, the second one requiring a third period takedown to beat Wisconsin’s Ryan Taylor.
With personal goals and plenty of places to get your mind right inside the cavernous MSG, not every wrestler is in tune with the team race that is shaping up.
“I don’t really look at the team score at all,” said Nickal, a freshman who takes a 31-1 record into Friday. “That’ll take care of itself, if we do our job, then that’s an afterthought really.
“As far as paying attention to my teammates, I love watching all my teammates. Sometimes it’s tough, though. I don’t want to get my heart racing too much, so I kind of pick and choose the moments I spend watching.”
Nolf (31-1) has been a little more in tune with the happenings.
“It’s been awesome,” Nolf said. “I love competing and I love watching my teammates compete.”
The Buckeyes, champions last March, advanced five into the final eight. Nathan Tomasello (125), Micah Jordan (141), Bo Jordan (165), Myles Martin (174), and point-scoring machine Kyle Snyder (285). The Cowboys lost two wrestlers in Thursday’s night’s wrestlebacks, but saw seven stay in the winner’s bracket including 149-pounder Anthony Collica, who beat 2014 NCAA champion Jason Tsirtsis in the second round. OSU brought 10 and have eight left in the tournament.
“The seven guys that (advanced Thursday night), it was so important we did what we did,” said Oklahoma State head coach John Smith. “(Anthony) Collica getting the big upset; and having two freshmen in there getting wins; (Alex) Dieringer doing his thing. It was a good round. It was as good of a second round as I can remember.”
“You’ve got eight guys going right now, and that’s a good number as we go into day two.”
Iowa and Nebraska also have five in a quarterfinal round that could get a bit feisty with a number of great matchups between the leaders. Nolf meets Oklahoma State’s Joe Smith at 157 pounds. The two first-year starters are a combined 64-4 with one of Smith’s three losses coming to Nolf at the Southern Scuffle in January. Nickal squares off with Cowboy freshman Chandler Rogers (29-7).
Iowa’s Sammy Brooks (26-3) meets Nebraska’s T.J. Dudley in a key bout for the Hawkeyes, who sit in fifth starting the second day. Thomas Gilman (125), Cory Clark (133), Brandon Sorensen (149), and Nathan Burak (197) also advanced.
Returning national champion Alex Dieringer (30-0) had two pins Thursday, with North Carolina State’s Nick Gwiazdowski (31-0) cruising as well. Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez (29-1) and Cornell’s Gabe Dean (31-1) also rolled into Friday. Dean faces Oklahoma State’s Nolan Boyd, the only wrestler to beat him this season.
North Carolina State had a tough opening act and sits in a tie for ninth with 13 points. The Wolfpack has three in the winner’s bracket, including 141-pounder Joey Ward, who faces Cowboy All-American Dean Heil. Heil, at 29-1, lost to Ward during the regular season.
Always the unknowns
The majority of the 80 quarterfinalists are known commodities among wrestling aficionados. Some, however, require a second look.
125 – Michigan’s Connor Youtsey entered the tournament with a 12-13 record. The junior 125-pounder beat sixth-seeded Eddie Klimara in the first round and Cornell’s Dalton Macri Thursday night to move into the quarterfinals. American’s David Terao, a senior from Hawaii, beat Virginia Tech’s second-seeded Joey Dance in the second round. It was Dance’s second loss in 31 matches.
141 – Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith, seeded 14th, beat North Carolina State’s third-seeded Kevin Jack, 5-4, in the second round.
157 – Another second seed goes down as Rider’s 15th-seeded Chad Walsh (30-7) beat NCSU’s second-seeded Thomas Gantt, 11-8, Thursday night.
165 – The Wolfpack’s struggles continue as Rider’s Connor Brennan (29-3) beats NCSU’s Max Rohskopf, the fifth seed.
174 – Two unseeded wrestlers are among the bottom half of the bracket with Oklahoma’s Matt Reed beating a pair of seeds and Iowa State’s Lelund Weatherspoon taking out second-seeded Brian Realbuto of Cornell and Army’s Brian Harvey. The 12th seed, Indiana’s Nathan Jackson took out Illinois’ fifth-seeded Zach Brunson.
197 – Iowa State’s Pat Downey entered the postseason with just three matches. He qualified through the Big 12 Conference and is a win away from All-America status after pinning sixth-seeded Jared Haight of Virginia Tech Thursday night.
285 – Illinois sophomore Brooks Black, a product of Blair Academy in New Jersey, won two matches Thursday and faces third-seeded Ty Walz of Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals.