Good morning, Maniacs.
This past weekend the annual NCAA wrestling championship tournament was held in St. Louis, Missouri. Like any other NCAA championship tournament, it is the crown jewel of the collegiate wrestling season and is one of very few chances that wrestling has to shine on a national stage. With wrestling being one of the most common points of entry into mixed martial arts (MMA) competition, the exposure is a great chance for die hard MMA enthusiasts to get a look at the potential future of their sport.
The tournament has been dominated by a handful of schools, with Iowa, Penn State, Minnesota and Oklahoma State having won the past 25 tournaments between them. Penn State is fairly new on the scene, having risen to prominence quickly since Cael Sanderson took over the program in 2009. Sanderson, of course, is one of the most decorated collegiate wrestlers in American history and the only man to have gone undefeated in a collegiate career of over 100 matches (159-0).
Leading Penn State this year were a trio of undefeated wrestlers in the middleweight divisions: Frank Molinaro at 149 pounds, David Taylor at 165 pounds and Ed Ruth at 174 pounds. All three were top seeds in their division and so the big story leading into the tournament was could anyone stop these three powerhouses, and if they couldn't, was Penn State on its way to a clear second championship in as many seasons?
The first day of action was fairly by the book. There were a couple of upsets, most notably 157 lbs contender Walter Peppleman of Harvard getting pinned by David Bonin of Northern Iowa in the first period. Top seeded heavyweight Ryan Flores had the most impressive day, as he had the misfortune of being selected to wrestle in the play-in match, meaning he would have to win an extra match at the beginning of the day just to ensure his position in the 32-man tournament. It was no problem for Flores, as he won his play-in match by pin and then won his first and second round matches by pin.
As for the team standings, it was a fairly close battle for position. As expected, Penn State got out to the lead, but Minnesota was within striking distance at the close of the day.
For results of the first day, check out Mania's coverage:
Day 1, Session 1 results
Day 1, Session 2 results
Jason Bryant of USA Wrestling and Shane Sparks of BadgerStateWrestling.com wrapped up the action after the first day in a far more informed fashion than I could, so if you want to get the scoop from a couple of guys who have had their fingers on the pulse of collegiate wrestling for years, I urge you to check out the way they saw things:
The tournament really heated up on the second day with the quarter- and semi-final rounds taking place. Penn state would start to pull away from the pack, and the top seeds began to flex their muscle.
Kyle Dake of Cornell was wrestling with the intention of becoming the first man ever to win a national championship in three different weight classes. Having already won at 141 and 149 pounds, Dake was looking like a strong bet to win at 157 pounds after the second day. Here he is getting a pin over Frank Hickman of Bloomburg in his quarterfinal match:
Another story that began to develop on the second day was that of Nico Megaludis, the 10th seeded 125 pounder, somewhat of a forgotten man on the Penn State team. With Penn State holding a slim lead over Minnesota, Megaludis would go up against Zachary Sanders in the quarterfinals in one of the first matches of the second day. After a scoreless first period, we pick up the action with Megaludis having just scored a point for an escape at the start of the second round:
Megaludis would go on to defeat Frank Perrelli of Cornell in the semi-final, making him the first Penn State wrestler to book his place in the finals and also one of the major reasons that State was able to extend it's lead in the team standings to a comfortable 22.5 points after the second day.
Again, Mania has the complete breakdown from the second day.
Bryant and Sparks were back as well:
By the time the finals rolled around, it had become quite clear that it was going to be a second straight championship for the Nittany Lions. Molinaro, Taylor and Ruth had joined Megaludis in the finals and they were joined by the only Lion to have won an individual championship last year, 185 pounder Quinton Wright. With a stunning five finalists, by the time the final matches began, State had already wrapped up the title.
With the team title out of the way, the final bit of intrigue centered around Kyle Dake and whether or not he could become the first man to win three titles in three different weight classes.
Before we could get to Dake though, controversy struck during the 133 pound final. Defending champion Jordan Oliver, from Oklahoma State (Johny Hendricks' alma mater) was taking on freshman talent Logan Stieber of Ohio State. The controversy would stem from an Oliver takedown attempt that was clearly successful to everyone, it seemed, but the referee. The two points would have given Oliver the match, but instead he would be denied his second title. Here is the controversial final match in full:
What do you guys think? Was that a legal takedown? Considering Oliver and Stieber both have multiple years of eligibilty left, I suspect we'll be could easily be seeing these guys square off again next year.
As for Kyle Dake, here is his final match, against Derek St. John of Iowa:
As for the rest of the finals, if you didn't get a chance to catch them on ESPN 3 over the weekend or read about them on Mania, IronForgesIron.com was kind enough to compile the video of the third place matches to go along with the championship matches.
It's over three hours of some of the finest wrestling you're likely to see this year and it certainly puts some of the wrestling we see in mixed martial arts to shame. Yes, I know that striking and submission grappling drastically changes things, but sometimes I think we forget just how young of a sport MMA is, and how much room for improvement there is in the various disciplines.
I can't wait for the day when every UFC fighter, not just the elite ones, have had a decorated amateur wrestling career to go along with a jiu jitsu black belt and extensive striking training. What a treat it will be to watch guys at that level go at it.
And that wraps up our coverage of the event. I hope you enjoyed the tournament as much as I did.