Penn State heads into its last dual meet weekend of the season in the top spot of the polls again after what has been a dominant regular season for the Nittany Lions.
With three defending national champions holding the top three spots in the Most Dominant Wrestler standings, the Nittany Lions have a star-studded lineup that looks almost unbeatable. Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf average over 5.1 team points per match, and teammate Vincenzo Joseph isn’t far behind with 4.94 points. Tournament scoring could shake things up slightly, but Penn State looks to be in a comfortable position to defend its national title. Here's the full top 25:
|1||Penn State (15)||13-0||399||1|
|2||Oklahoma State (1)||14-0||385||2|
|24||Army West Point||7-3||22||25|
The rest of the Big Ten, however, could provide all the suspense and drama that wrestling fans are looking for this postseason. Six of the top ten teams are in the Big Ten, as they have been for most of the season, and this creates an interesting dynamic as the tournament inches closer. Iowa holds the No. 3 spot again, behind Penn State and Oklahoma State, while Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Minnesota round out the Big Ten representation in the top 10 at No. 4, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8. Wisconsin and Rutgers hold No. 16 and No. 18 rankings while Purdue is No. 22. No top-10 Big Ten duals will occur next week, so now the focus is on the conference tournament. NCAA tournament weight class allocations have not been announced yet, but regardless of who places where at Big Tens, talented wrestlers will be left home while another whole slate of athletes prep their minds and bodies for battle in Pittsburgh at the end of next month.
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The ACC will also feature a tight team race, and last weekend will offer a preview of what to expect when N.C. State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, all top-20 teams, go head-to-head with the rest of the conference next month. Last weekend, N.C. State took down North Carolina 20-14, the first of two top-10 losses for Tar Heels over the weekend. The Wolfpack win, however, came just one week after N.C. State dropped to Pittsburgh, a team that beat Duke last weekend 20-19 and will face Virginia next weekend. N.C. State will take on Virginia Tech on Saturday while North Carolina will wrestle Duke to wrap up the ACC regular season.
Last weekend’s duals didn’t create much shakeup in the NWCA poll overall, but here’s what you need to know about the latest rankings and the teams the lead the way.
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No. 2 Oklahoma State made a statement last week when the Cowboys took down the No. 5 Missouri Tigers in a tight 19-15 dual to end their 35-match winning streak and break their undefeated season. Despite strong performances from No. 4 Jaydin Eierman, No. 5 Brock Mauller and No. 2 Daniel Lewis, the Tigers couldn’t match the depth of the Cowboys. Oklahoma State won six of the ten matches, with No. 4 Nick Piccininni earning the only Cowboy bonus points of the night with his 11-2 major decision over Missouri’s Dack Punke.
John Smith’s team still has some lineup and injury issues to work out before March, but his squad proved they could handle a top-5 team through their victory in Missouri. The Cowboys remain one of just three undefeated teams in the country now, with their next match coming against the No. 3 undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes. It’s No. 2 Spencer Lee vs. No. 4 Nick Piccininni, No. 3 Austin DeSanto vs. No. 2 Daton Fix, No. 4 Jacob Warner vs. No. 6 Preston Weigel and No. 2 Derek White vs. No. 8 Sam Stoll. It’s the Ohio State- Michigan match all over again but this time between a Big 10 and a Big 12 powerhouse, and it’s the dual that will carry the wrestling season straight into March. Only one team will remain undefeated, and that one team will be part of elite company that includes the defending national champions and the team that has held the top spot in the NWCA poll all season: Penn State.
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Wins and losses
Missouri was one of just two teams in the Top 10 to suffer a loss over the weekend with No. 7 Nebraska also recording a loss in a hard-fought battle to No. 6 Ohio State 21-12. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, earned the win against the Cornhuskers just one day after also beating then-No. 20 Purdue 34-3. Ohio State senior Micah Jordan picked up a pin against Purdue and then earned a tech fall in his last St. John Arena showing against the Cornhuskers. Fellow senior captain Myles Martin, the favorite at 184 pounds heading into the Big Ten tournament, stayed undefeated on the season with two weekend wins, while teammate No. 11 Chase Singletary also had a standout weekend performance with an upset win against then-No. 7 David Jensen. The Buckeyes take on No. 10 Cornell for a tight contest in their last regular-season dual this weekend.
The Big Red will come into that dual fresh off a a 17-16 win over Virginia Tech, a 29-5 victorious performance against the No. 13 Tar Heels, and a 13-2 overall record. The team’s only losses came against No. 5 Missouri and No. 20 Lehigh, but this final test against the Buckeyes will give Cornell a chance to compete with another top-10 team before the EIWA tournament. Top-ranked Cornell 141-pounder Yianni Diakomihalis picked up two more wins over the weekend to stay undefeated, and he’ll look to defend his national title again in March.
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Eight other teams posted losses this weekend, including North Carolina’s previously mentioned loses to N.C. State and Cornell, and Virginia Tech’s loss, also to Cornell. No. 3 Iowa rolled past No. 16 Wisconsin 35-2, allowing just a decision against the Badgers. No. 4 Michigan also picked up a solid win over No. 19 Rutgers 28-7, while Illinois dropped to 2-9 on the season after losses to Northwestern 25-12 and Penn State 39-9. Army rounded out the Top 25 results with a 28-6 loss to Lehigh.
The individual performances over the weekend mirrored the team performances, with Penn State stars shining again and upsets occurring between other top-ranked and middle-ranked wrestlers. The Nittany Lion championship trio of Nolf, Joseph and Nickal earned pins in the first dual against Illinois while teammates Mark Hall and Anthony Cassar picked up pins in the second dual. Nickal and Nick Lee then also added tech falls against Michigan State.
Speaking of pins, the also-undefeated Hawkeyes recorded three pins in their win over the Hoosiers, but Indiana picked up a pin of its own when Kyle Luigs put then-No. 14 Max Murin on his back late in the third period.
The Hawkeye match against Indiana was particularly lopsided in favor of Iowa, and the Wisconsin match resulted in a similar score. Iowa's Alex Marinelli lead his team with a big top-5 win against Wisconsin's Evan Wick while teammate Sam Stoll dropped to Wisconsin's No. 7 Trent Hillger. In the Rutgers-Michigan dual, No. 1 Stevan Micic delivered Nick Surino his third loss of the year, already two more losses than Suriano accrued last year.
In other upset wins, Missouri's then-No. 7 Brock Mauller beat Oklahoma State's then-No. 5 Kaden Gfeller in one of Missouri's four individual wins. Cornell's then-No. 13 Max Dean also posted two big wins against No. 3 Zack Zavatsky of Virginia Tech and North Carolina’s No. 14 Chip Ness to go undefeated on the weekend.
In team rankings, Lehigh and Lock Haven moved up one spot each after earning wins against Army and Cleveland State while Purdue moved down two spots after its losses. Virginia also moved down a spot after dropping to Virginia Tech. Army moved up one spot despite its loss to Lehigh and Stanford came into the No. 25 spot while Illinois dropped out.
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