Last Sunday, Penn State left no doubt as to who the top dual team in Division I is for 2016-17. Head coach Cael Sanderson’s Nittany Lions completed a 14-0 campaign with a dominant 27-13 win over Oklahoma State in front of a Gallagher-Iba Arena record crowd of 14,059. The Cowboys, ranked No. 1 all season, won the opening three bouts, but PSU finished the dual with seven consecutive victories including Bo Nickal’s 38-second pin at 184 pounds.
“We didn’t want to be down 13-0,” Sanderson said after the dual. “It was just a chance to see what we were made out of. The next seven had to step up. If somebody gets hurt, guys have to step up, and they did.”
One of the seven to win for PSU was 197-pounder Matt McCutcheon, who beat the higher-ranked Preston Weigel with two third-period takedowns.
“I think that’s what makes this team special,” McCutcheon said. “No one got down. If you’re talking to our guys, they’re like, ‘Now we go, it’s our turn to score points and go out there and win.’ ”
PSU’s dual season included wins over the Cowboys, Iowa, Ohio State, and Nebraska, all in front of crowds in excess of 12,000.
“Our guys live for matches like this,” said Nickal, unbeaten in 19 matches as a sophomore. “It’s nothing but fun to be with this team; nobody even thought about being down 13-0, but when we were there was no panic because we know the middle of our lineup, our whole lineup, top to bottom, has the ability to score points.”
“It just kind of looked like we were a team that tried instead of doing,” said OSU head coach John Smith, whose squad lost to PSU in the Duals finals last season in State College, Pa. “It didn’t appear that when things got critical we had the confidence that we were going to get it done. Some of the scores were a little bit lopsided because we didn’t quite look like we believed that we could win.”
Scoring points, and lots of them, has led the Nittany Lions to five NCAA team titles in six seasons. They head to Bloomington, Ind., for the Big Ten Championships with one 2016-17 trophy already stored away: the National Wrestling Coaches Association National Duals Championship Series for a second consecutive season.
The best of the rest
The NWCA’s latest version of the National Duals included eight duals spread out over three days, opening on Friday with three meets and concluding on Sunday with four duals. In 2015-16, Big Ten schools hosted; this season Big Ten schools traveled and went 4-4.
● Unranked Purdue rallied to beat No. 17 South Dakota State, 20-19, in Brookings, S.D., getting wins in the last three bouts, the third a decision by heavyweight Tyler Kral to tie the dual at 19-19; rookie Christian Brunner beat seventh-ranked Nate Rotert, 8-3, at 197 pounds to draw the Boilermakers within three points. The tiebreaker came thanks to Purdue’s 125-pounder Ben Thornton, who pinned Ben Gillette to open the meet.
● Lehigh won 7 of 10 and beat Rutgers, 23-10. All-Americans Darian Cruz (125) and Mitch Minotti (165) each had major decisions for the 11th-ranked Mountain Hawks.
● North Carolina State improved to 13-2 with a 23-15 win over Michigan. The Wolfpack trailed 10-0 but won six of the last seven bouts.
● Third-ranked Iowa had little trouble at Edinboro, winning 28-9. One of the Fighting Scots’ three victories came at 149 pounds where Patricio Lugo took out Brandon Sorensen, 7-5, in overtime.
● Virginia Tech put their head coach’s job status aside and took care of Nebraska, 22-15. The Hokies (18-1) won the final four bouts getting a big pin from 184-pounder Zack Zavatsky.
● Cornell took out No. 4 Ohio State, 19-18, thanks in part to Brian Realbuto’s 3-2 win over Bo Jordan at 174 pounds and Gabe Dean’s 10-5 decision of Myles Martin in a battle of 2016 national champions.
● Indiana won at Appalachian State, 21-12, picking up five tough decisions and a technical fall by Devin Skatzka at 174 pounds.
Dresser heading to Iowa State; Cy-Hawk rivalry amps up
Tom Brands, current head coach at the University of Iowa, put Virginia Tech on the wrestling map. His exit from Blacksburg was not without controversy, and Kevin Dresser, like Brands, an Iowa graduate, stepped into the head coaching role for the Hokie program. And, like Brands, Dresser is leaving the state of Virginia for Iowa, except not the Hawkeyes, but Iowa State.
Dresser, a native of Humboldt, Iowa, was an NCAA champion for Iowa in 1986. Iowa State announced his hiring on Monday after Kevin Jackson resigned earlier this season. The Cyclones, winners of eight NCAA titles, finished a 1-12 campaign with a 40-7 loss to Minnesota in Ames last Sunday.
“We want to beat Iowa. If we’re competing at that level, we’re in the hunt.” Kevin Dresser#Cyclones— Cyclone Wrestling (@CycloneWR) February 22, 2017
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead one of the nation’s most storied and accomplished college wrestling programs at Iowa State,” Dresser said in a release. “Growing up in Iowa, I admired the sellout crowds at Hilton Coliseum and watching championship coaches like Dr. Harold Nichols and Jim Gibbons and countless All-America Cyclones.
“The administrative commitment– both facilities and operating budget – along with a devoted and knowledgeable fan base make Iowa State one of those few programs in the nation that has the foundation to compete for elite national status annually.”
The Iowa-Iowa State series has been lopsided of late with the Hawkeyes winning 12 straight.
“Iowa State is one of the blue bloods of our sport, and the national wrestling scene is stronger when they’re part of it,” Brands said in a statement this week. “I have respect for Kevin Dresser. He’s a former Hawkeye who has achieved success wherever he’s been. We share similar goals, and that’s to capture championships.”
Iowa State heads to the Big 12 Championships with assistant coach Travis Paulson running the program after Jackson requested not to coach the Cyclones in the postseason. The Hokies compete in the ACC Championships with assistant Tony Robie running the show as Dresser prepares to move from Blacksburg to Ames.
Pac 12 kicks off postseason qualifiers
The Pac 12 Conference Championships kick off the run to St. Louis this Sunday inside Stanford’s Staples Pavilion. The six-team league features No. 10 Arizona State, No. 16 Stanford, Oregon State, Bakersfield, Boise State, and Cal Poly. Thursday’s NCAA release of conference/league allocations shows the Pac 12 with just 21 spots.
The first Pac 10 Conference Championship (now the Pac 12) was held in 1963 in Los Angeles, Calif., with Washington State claiming top honors. UCLA won the 1964 tournament held at Berkeley, Calif. Oregon State won the first of its 23 conference trophies in 1965 – that total includes the last five. Arizona State has won 16 conference titles, winning seven straight from 1985-91; the Sun Devils have not won a league crown since 2005, but enter Sunday as the favorites with the Cardinal and Beavers the top challengers. Stanford has never won a conference championship in wrestling.
OSU head coach Jim Zalesky knows winning a sixth straight will not be easy.
“We have to have everybody competing at their best,” Zalesky said. “We have to score points at every weight class to have a shot at winning. If we wrestle well, we could put five or six guys in the finals. But so could Arizona State and so could Stanford, so it could be the guys in the wrestlebacks who make the difference.
“We’re wrestling better at a lot of weights than at midseason and we have a lot of guys who can still step it up even more and that’s what we’re looking for.”
The league has one NCAA team champion, Bobby Douglas’s Arizona State team in 1988. The Pac 12’s last individual NCAA champions also came from ASU, Anthony Robles and Bubba Jenkins both winning in 2011. Another Sun Devil, redshirt-freshman Zahid Valencia enters the postseason unbeaten and ranked No. 1 at 174 pounds.
Speaking of allocations
The Big Ten Conference, with four of the top six teams in the latest NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll, received the most allocations with 77. The EIWA, with 43, was a distant second with the Big 12 (38), Mid-American (37), and ACC (31) rounding out the top five. Seven of the eight NCAA qualifiers take place March 3-5 with the Pac 12 taking place this Sunday. The qualifiers will determine 281 wrestlers who will compete at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis; on March 7, the NCAA Wrestling Committee will announce 49 at-large berths for wrestlers who did not earn a required placing at their conference meet.
The United States freestyle team traveled to Iran for the 2017 World Cup last week, finishing second to the hosts. A semifinal win over Russia included David Taylor’s win over 2012 Olympic gold medalist Sharif Shaifov of Azerbaijan. A few hours later, in the loss to Iran, Taylor bested 2016 Olympic champion Hassan Yazdanicharati to finish an undefeated World Cup.
“I’m freaking excited,” said Taylor, who won two NCAA titles for Penn State during his collegiate days. “I’ve been fighting and clawing to get to represent this country the last couple years at 74 kilos behind one of the greatest we’ve ever had, Jordan Burroughs. I finally got a chance at 86. I feel great at this weight class. I feel strong. I just finally got the opportunity to wrestle the top guys, so I wanted to take advantage of it.”
The U.S. squad also included former Nittany Lion Frank Molinaro, Iowa alum Tony Ramos, Ohio State’s four-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber, Nebraska alums James Green and Burroughs, plus former North Carolina State star Nick Gwiazdowski, who lost in the 2016 NCAA finals to Kyle Snyder of Ohio State. Snyder, currently undefeated and ranked No. 1 at 285 pounds, wrestled at 213 kilograms and earned a win in the loss to Iran.
“It was a great atmosphere. Happy to be able to come out and compete in Iran,” Snyder said. “The team came up a little short, but overall I think individually I’ve got a lot of thing that I have learned and I can improve on before World Team Trials and before the World Championships in Paris. We will be a stronger team by the time the World’s come. I’m very confident in that.”
First things first, however. Snyder, a junior, will suit up for the Buckeyes at the Big Ten Championships.