By Mike Finn
The toughest weight class in the 2012-13 season is 165 pounds … considering this weight class features two former NCAA champs — Kyle Dake of Cornell and David Taylor of Penn State — and another NCAA finalist in Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell.
Those fans will get another chance to see which of these talented wrestlers will be favored to win an NCAA championship in March when the trio first competes in the 2013 Southern Scuffle, Jan. 1-2, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Both Dake, a three-time NCAA champion, and Taylor, last year’s Hodge Trophy winner, each won championships in last year’s Scuffle, but that came at different weights as Dake topped the medal stand at 157, while Taylor pinned three foes en route to capturing the 165-pound weight class.
Caldwell, meanwhile, redshirted last year and eventually transferred from the University of Oklahoma. While there, he lost in the 165-pound final to Jordan Burroughs, then of Nebraska before Burroughs won the 2011 World and 2012 Olympic championships.
This is the 10th edition of this annual holiday tournament, which began as a late December event in 2003 in Greensboro, N.C., before moving to Chattanooga last January after the original host school, UNC-Greensboro, dropped wrestling after the 2010-11 season.
And this may be the most talented tournament in the history of the event as three of the top four schools in WIN’s Tournament Power Index — No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Minnesota — as well as three other schools ranked in the Top 10 — No. 7 Cornell and No. 8 Missouri — will compete in the two-day tournament.
Penn State, the two-time NCAA defending national team champ, also won last year’s Scuffle to finish ahead of two-time Scuffle champ Minnesota by a 191-177 point margin. One season earlier, the Nittany Lions and Cornell finished in a tie for first place in the final year the tournament was held in Greensboro.
Overall, there have been four teams which have won championships. Cornell also claimed first place in 2008 and 2009. Before that, Minnesota led the field in 2004, 2005 and 2007, while Missouri — the event’s first team champion in 2003 — also edged Minnesota for the 2006 championship.
With all these great teams competing in this year’s tournament — which will be held at Chattanooga’s McKenzie Arena, including the finals on Jan. 2 at 6 p.m. EST — there are four other No. 1-ranked wrestlers competing: Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver (149) and Chris Perry (174), Penn State’s Ed Ruth (184) and Minnesota’s Anthony Nelson (Hwt).
In addition to 165 pounds, there could be similar meetings between the top-two ranked wrestlers at 184 pounds where Cornell’s No. 2 Steve Bosak is competing and at heavyweight where Oklahoma State’s Alan Gelogaev is expected to enter.
The following is a weight-by-weight look at the 2013 Southern Scuffle and what could be the finals’ match-ups:
125 — Seven of the Top 10 wrestlers at this weight are competing: led by Penn State’s No. 2 Nico Megaludis, No. 4 Alan Waters of Missouri and No. 7 Nick Soto of Chattanooga.
The Nittany Lion, who finished second in last year’s NCAAs, is 8-1 this season (after losing to Pitt’s redshirting Anthony Zanetta in the Nittany Lion Open in early December). Waters, who just missed All-American honors last March, is 16-0 this season, which includes a championship at the Cliff Las Vegas Invitational.
Soto of Chattanooga most likely will be the host school’s only credible threat of an individual championship after he reached the finals of last year’s Scuffle at 133 pounds.
133 — No. 5 Chris Dardanes of Minnesota is the highest-ranked wrestler at this weight class but this young Gopher, who earned his first All-American honor as a freshman last winter, also won last season’s Scuffle championship with a victory over Chattanooga’s Soto.
Dardanes, whose twin wrestles at 141 pounds, is 6-0 this season. One of those victories came against Oklahoma State’s No. 7 Jon Morrison (3-1 in sudden victory) in a Dec. 2 dual.
Missouri’s No. 6-ranked Nathan McCormick, who is 15-1 this winter, could also challenge for a title. The Tiger’s only loss came against Ohio State’s No. 1-ranked Logan Stieber at the Grapple at the Garden event in New York City on Dec. 16.
141 — North Carolina’s Evan Henderson may have possessed a perfect record this season … if he hadn’t wrestled Devin Carter, who is taking a redshirt season for Virginia Tech but defeated the talented Tar Heel twice in Open tournaments this winter. Otherwise Henderson, who is the highest ranked wrestler (No. 6) at this weight, has won 17 times: including six by pin and three by technical fall.
149 — This weight features the last two winners of the Schalles Award, which is presented annually to college wrestling’s best pinner: Oklahoma State’s No. 1-ranked Jordan Oliver, who pinned 18 of 28 foes last winter; and Penn State’s No. 4 Andrew Alton, who also flattened 18 of 30 victims in the 2010-11 season.
Oliver is wrestling at a weight class that is 16 pounds heavier than what he competed at the previous three All-American seasons when he finished fourth, first and second, respectively, at 133 pounds. Since moving up to 149, the Cowboy is 12-0 and has pinned eight of his foes (the other four victories have been major decisions).
Alton, meanwhile, is 8-0 (including six by falls) this winter after redshirting last season for the Nittany Lions.
157 — Dylan Alton, the twin brother of Penn State’s Andrew Alton, is ranked No. 2 at this weight this season … even though the Nittany Lion sophomore has lost twice this winter (to Lehigh’s Joey Napoli in the season opener and to Clarion’s James Fleming). But Alton is a returning All-American for Penn State after he finished third in last year’s Nationals and won 30 of 36 matches.
Alton, who finished second to Cornell’s Kyle Dake in last year’s Scuffle, should receive his biggest competition from Oklahoma State’s No. 8 Alex Dieringer.
Dieringer, meanwhile, is a redshirt freshman for the Cowboys and is 11-0 this season. That mark includes five pins and four major decisions.
165 — This weight class would have been tough enough this season … before Dake (who won Scuffle and NCAA titles at 141, 149 and 157 the previous three years) announced he was moving up to 165 pounds this winter.
That move put an immediate focus on a probable NCAA championship meeting with Penn State’s David Taylor, a two-time national finalist, who dominated the weight class last season when the Nittany Lion also won the Dan Hodge Trophy.
And the two wrestlers — who are long-time friends off the mat — have already met twice on the mat over the past eight months. But neither outcomes (both victories by Dake) will count when it comes to this year’s NCAA seeding. First, Dake pinned Taylor in last April’s Olympic Team Trials in freestyle at 163 pounds. Then the Big Red senior edged Taylor in a 2-1 tiebreaker at the NWCA All-Star meet.
Otherwise, Dake is 11-0 (with four pins) and won the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in late November. Taylor is 9-0 with four pins and four technical falls.
Another one of Dake’s impressive wins this winter was a 4-1 victory over Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell at the Dec. 16 Grapple at the Garden event in New York City. Caldwell (10-2 this winter) is in his first season with the Cowboys. This comes after the junior from Wichita, Kan., wrestled two years at Bedlam-rival Oklahoma in 2010 and ’11, when he earned All-American honors both seasons; finishing second as a sophomore. Caldwell decided to take an Olympic redshirt last season and finished among the top four wrestlers in the Olympic Trials.
174 — Three Top-10 wrestlers will open the New Year wrestling in Chattanooga and all could win national championships in March: top-ranked Chris Perry of Oklahoma State, No. 3 Logan Storley of Minnesota and No. 7 Matt Brown of Penn State.
Both Perry and Storley earned WIN’s Junior Hodge Trophy Awards in 2010 and 2011, respectively, after banner high school careers and before they began their college careers.
Perry, the nephew of Oklahoma State head coach John Smith and younger brother of former two-time NCAA champion Mark Perry of Iowa, finished third at 174 pounds in last year’s Nationals. This year, the Cowboy junior is 12-0 this winter with four pins and four technical falls.
Storley earned All-American honors (6th place) as a true freshman last year for the Gophers. This season, the sophomore is 9-0 but has not wrestled since Nov. 24 while dealing in injuries.
Brown may have been the best reserve wrestler in the nation last winter when he backed up eventual national champion Ed Ruth. Since Ruth has moved up to 184, Brown — who took off two years for a Mormon mission before going 27-2 last season — is 9-0 with three pins this winter. One of those losses was to Ruth in the finals of the 2012 Southern Scuffle.
184 — This weight class is very similar to 165 pounds as two former NCAA champions are topping the 184-pound field in 2012-2013: Penn State’s No. 1 Ed Ruth (the 174-pound titlist) and Cornell’s No. 2 Steve Bosak (who beat 2011 champ Quentin Wright in last year’s 184-pound NCAA championship).
Ruth, a junior, is 9-0 with two pins and two technical falls. Bosak is just 2-0 as a senior and did not start competing until the Grapple at the Garden in New York City where he defeated Oklahoma State’s No. 16 Chris Chionuma and Missouri’s No. 9 Mike Larson, who are both expected to compete in this year’s Scuffle.
Meanwhile, another All-American to watch is Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus, who is ranked No. 4 — after finishing fifth last March — and is 9-0 this season. One of those victories was an 8-6 decision against Chionuma.
197 — Perhaps no Penn State has had a more exciting roller-coaster ride than Quentin Wright, who is the highest ranked wrestler (No. 4) at this weight of those competing in Chattanooga.
The three-time All-American finished sixth at 174 pounds in 2009, redshirted in 2010, claimed a national championship (as a No. 8 seed) in 2011 at 184 pounds and finished second to Cornell’s Steve Bosak in last year’s NCAA final at 184.
This year, Wright moved up to 197 and is 9-0 officially. Unofficially, the Nittany Lion did get pinned by Pitt’s Matt Wilps in this year’s preseason NWCA All-Star Classic.
Wright’s biggest competition may come from Arizona State’s No. 7 Jake Meredith, who is 7-0 this winter as a senior. Last year, he earned his first NCAA appearance when he won the Pac-12 title.
Hwt — The top three ranked wrestlers at this weight are all wrestling this year but only one actually competed in last year’s national tournament: Minnesota’s defending NCAA champion Anthony Nelson, who remains No. 1 with a 12-0 record. That mark also includes a 2-0 victory over Oklahoma State’s No. 2 Alan Gelogaev in a Dec. 2 dual this season.
Gelogaev, a native of Russia, was ranked No. 1 most of last winter but suffered a season-ending injury in mid-February. This year, the Cowboy — who earned All-American honors at 197 pounds in 2011 — is 6-1 overall.
Meanwhile, Missouri’s Dom Bradley — ranked No. 3 by WIN — also earned All-American honors in 2011 but took an Olympic redshirt last winter. This season, the Tiger is 17-0, including a championship at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.