Decisions were made in State College, Pennsylvania last week that could have major implications on the 2017 NCAA Championship race. The nation’s top recruit in 2016 was Apple Valley, Minnesota product Mark Hall, whose credentials include a Junior World Championship in freestyle and a 277-4 high school record. His true freshman season already included a title at the Southern Scuffle, beating Oklahoma State All-American Kyle Crutchmer in the 174-pound final. At that early January tournament, Hall thought his redshirt would most likely remain intact. But with a strong Oklahoma State win over Iowa and a rising Ohio State — Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson pulled Hall’s redshirt for the PSU-Iowa dual last Friday inside a raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa’s Alex Meyer rallied to beat Hall late, but the Nittany Lions won the dual comfortably, 26-11, thanks in part to Bo Nickal’s first-period pin and splade of Sammy Brooks minutes after Meyer’s win.
“I’m not one to be like discouraging on myself,” Hall said Wednesday. “After I wrestled I was upset for about five minutes or so and I was right back out rooting on the rest of my team. I’m pretty big on, you know, there’s something bigger to wrestling than just me, so I wasn’t too upset about it.
“I know God has a plan for me and whether that’s losing at Carver-Hawkeye and losing the rest of my matches for the rest of the year, or if it’s going to the NCAA finals and being an NCAA champion or things like that, whatever his plan for me I’m just going to be obedient in that aspect."
Hall added: “It was kind of my decision, I was kind of thinking about it for a while. Coach Cael (Sanderson), my teammates, my parents were pretty good and adamant about letting it be like something I wanted to do if I wanted to do it. They were really open.”
“It was a tough decision, a tough decision for him,” Sanderson said. “And what’s not tough about it? It’s late in the year, his plan was to redshirt, but I’m excited about it. I’m excited we have Mark Hall in our lineup now and I’m excited about the next month and a half to get him ready for the nationals, and we’ll see him make a big jump between now and then.”
PSU (8-0) wrestles at Wisconsin Friday and hosts Northwestern on Sunday before a massive trip to Ohio State on Feb. 3.
Hall (18-2) joins a powerful Nittany Lion squad that also includes two other talented rookies – Nick Suriano (11-1, 125) and Vincenzo Joseph (11-1, 165) – plus national champion Zain Retherford (13-0, 149) and NCAA runners-up Jason Nolf (13-0, 157) and Nickal (12-0, 184), both sophomores. Another sophomore, heavyweight Nick Nevills (12-0), is also unbeaten.
The next big one
Iowa’s gauntlet started in Stillwater with a loss to top-ranked Oklahoma State. It continued with the setback to the Nittany Lions last Friday. Round three of this brutal Hawkeye stretch includes a visit to Iowa City by unbeaten Ohio State this Friday. The Buckeyes will be without 2016 Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder, wrestling overseas this weekend. There are still plenty of quality matchups including:
● 2015 NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello (10-0) against two-time NCAA finalist Cory Clark (10-1) at 133 pounds.
● Unbeaten Micah Jordan (21-0) against 2016 NCAA finalist Brandon Sorenson (17-2), who took PSU’s Retherford to the wire last Friday.
● Top-ranked Bo Jordan (8-0) against Iowa’s Meyer, who beat PSU’s Hall in his varsity debut.
● Iowa All-American Sammy Brooks (16-2) is sure to be steaming after getting pinned in front of the home folks last Friday. The senior should meet 2016 NCAA champion Myles Martin (20-3).
Three duals to watch
Top-ranked Oklahoma State moved to 8-0 with a 31-9 win over South Dakota State last Sunday. A tricky trip to Columbia, Missouri is on tap Friday as the Cowboys face No. 7 Missouri (9-2). OSU leads the all-time series 41-6-1, but all six of the Tigers’ wins have come since Brian Smith became head coach, including 2015’s 22-10 win in Columbia. Six bouts feature wrestlers from each team ranked in the top 10 led by old rivals Anthony Collica and Lavion Mayes at 149 pounds. Collica, unbeaten this season, beat Mayes (13-1) in the Southern Scuffle finals.
Fifth-ranked Virginia Tech (13-1) wrestles at No. 10 Lehigh (8-2) Friday night. All-Americans Darian Cruz (18-2) of LU and Joey Dance (19-0) of Tech could kick off a very competitive meet. Two days after hosting the Hokies, the Mountain Hawks travel to Ann Arbor to face No. 15 Michigan. Lehigh looks to bounce back from a tough loss to Cornell.
Eggum officially the man in Minneapolis
Brandon Eggum was a three-time All-American for Minnesota and head coach J Robinson. On Thursday, the “interim” tag was taken off and Eggum, an assistant for the Gophers since 2001, was named head coach.
“Anyone who knows me knows this is my dream job and I’m thankful for the opportunity to live out that dream,” said Eggum in a release. “It’s an exciting day, no question, but today’s announcement doesn’t change what we’re focused on doing every day with our wrestling program. My staff and I work with our wrestlers to help them achieve their goals on and off the mat, and I’m happy that we will be able to continue that work for years to come.”
Eggum was a two-time Big Ten champion and won a silver medal in freestyle at the 2001 World Championships.
The Gophers lost at Nebraska last Friday and beat Indiana on Sunday to move to 5-3. MU wrestles at Purdue on Sunday before hosting Iowa on Feb. 5.
At home briefly
Stanford has been on the road since early December, wrestling in Las Vegas, Chattanooga, New York and Philadelphia. Two weekends ago, coach Jason Borelli’s squad beat Princeton at the New York Athletic Club, then beat Drexel in Philadelphia. SU’s 10th straight date away from home saw Penn win a 19-17 dual.
Two home matches last weekend were a welcome site for the Cardinal, who hammered Air Force, 31-3, and two days later beat Arizona State, 21-14.
“The big thing is that we don’t feel like we wrestled our best and we were still able to win and that’s encouraging,” said Borelli, whose squad is 7-2 and returns to the road this Saturday to meet Boise State and Monday against Oregon State. “We feel like there are a couple of matches that could go our way the next time they compete, but we were also exposed in a couple of areas so we know there is a lot of room to improve across the board. It’s always nice to win against a conference team, a team that has a lot of hype behind them and is doing a lot of great things. It’s a confidence builder for our guys.
“I’m really happy with how our team has responded. We went east and beat Princeton and Drexel, but had a bit of a hiccup against Penn. To come back home and get back on track against Air Force and Arizona State after we faced a little bit of adversity on that trip is big.”
Against the Sun Devils (7-3), All-American Joey McKenna (22-1) had a first-period pin at 141 pounds and heavyweight Nathan Butler (18-7) edged ASU’s Tanner Hall, 4-2, in the second sudden victory session.
Struggles in Ames
Iowa State fell to 1-7 with a 20-12 loss to in-state rival Northern Iowa last Friday. The Cyclones got sudden victory wins from Lelund Weatherspoon (174) and John Meeks (141), but dropped sudden victory decisions at 133 and 285 pounds. ISU’s lone victory came Nov. 26 at Northern Colorado.
“My stress level is of such where I rely on a higher calling than my position or my job situation,” said ISU head coach Kevin Jackson after the loss to UNI. “I know there is only one person, one God controlling my life so that is what I really hang my hat on.
“But at the same time, it’s real. I didn’t see everything that (Iowa State director of athletics) Jamie (Pollard) said but I saw some tweets. I understand the situation. It is not like I’m ignorant to the fact that we are not performing really well.”
Iowa State hosts Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this Friday and Sunday, respectively.
Utah Valley improved to 4-2 and won its third straight dual last Thursday with a 21-17 victory over California Bakersfield. Tied at 17, 174-pound redshirt-freshman Kimball Bastion earned a major decision in the final bout for the Wolverines. It marked UVU’s third straight dual where the final bout determined the winner.
“This was the best team performance that we’ve had all year,” UVU head coach Greg Williams said. “Everyone wrestled solid all the way through our lineup. We felt that this was definitely a step forward from last week, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
In a 17-16 win over Oregon State on Dec. 15, UVU won five of the last six bouts and earned the victory by tiebreaker with more total points (78-72) after each squad won five. An 18-15 victory over Air Force on Jan. 13 saw Tanner Orndorff (197) and Dustin Dennison (285) earn back-to-back decisions for the three-point win.
UVU finishes a three-dual homestand when Wyoming visits Orem on Saturday.
● Navy hosts the All Academy Championships in Annapolis, Md., this Sunday. Army edged the Midshipmen by 2 ½ points to claim the 2016 trophy a year after Air Force won the 2015 tournament.
● Rider improved to 7-1 with a 43-12 victory over Cleveland State last Sunday. The Broncs, in head coach Gary Taylor’s final season, wrestle at Bloomsburg this Friday and at George Mason on Sunday. RU 165-pounder Chad Walsh (21-4) was named the EWL Wrestler of the Week.