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Here are a few ‘unknowns’ to be wary of in Philly

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Updated: March 14, 2011

By Jason Bryant

Having roots in a small Division I conference can give wrestling prognosticators, journalists and broadcasters just a few advantages. As discussed in last month’s W.I.N. column, fans are more or less rooted around three conferences in Division I wrestling — the Big Ten, Big 12 and EIWA.

Turtogtokh Luvsandorj (right) the native of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, was ranked No. 6 by WIN on Jan. 24, the highest ranking in Citadel history.

While conferences like the MAC, ACC and Pac-10 aren’t viewed as “small conferences” on the general sports landscape (well, save the MAC), wrestling presents numerous small-conference wrestlers each year that seem to shake things up.

While not all of them end up placing, names like Mark Fee, Fred Santaite, Don Fisch, Justin Lister and Ryan Williams quickly come to mind as bracket busters in the last 10 or so years. Four of them (Santaite, Fisch, Lister and Williams) are from the Colonial, while Fee, a two-time All-American from Appalachian State, hailed from the Southern Conference.

While some fans scoff at conference champions with mid-level rankings in the draws, it’s inevitable someone will come through and shake the entire balance of a tournament — sometimes with something as simple as a single-leg takedown.

Last year Santaite was fairly under the radar coming from Boston U. He defeated eventual four-time All-American and past national champion Troy Nickerson of Cornell in an early-round match. It disrupted the balance of the tournament. While Santaite missed placing, it’s that type of performance that people define as a bracket buster.

Here are some names to keep an eye on at the upcoming NCAA Division I Championships who could be that guy this year. Not all of them are unknown and most of them are ranked somewhere in the top 20, and of course, this isn’t everyone, but more a snapshot of some “bad draws,” as I like to call them. All rankings listed below are by WIN from Feb. 21. By the time you read this, much could have changed. Now that’s out of the way …

• Turtogtokh Luvsandorj, 165 pounds, The Citadel (SoCon). A native of Mongolia by way of St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey, the crafty sophomore is 33-7 against Division I competition this season. While he’s lacking wins over the elite, he’s a tremendous athlete with a much different feel than most wrestlers will encounter. He’s got decent wins, nothing you’d call an eye-opener, but he might be picking his moment for that “eye opener.”  I also like listing him here because his name is very hard to pronounce … if you’re not from Ulanbataar, that is.

• Kyle Blevins, 165 pounds, Appalachian State (SoCon). We’ve already talked about another Mountaineer who shook things up with Fee several years ago. Blevins is a former Oklahoma state champion who took a chance on a program. He’s 31-8 against Division I competition with his top win over past NCAA finalist Mike Miller of Central Michigan. He and Luvsandorj give the SoCon a pretty solid 1-2 punch at the weight come Nationals.

• Trent Sprenkle, 125 pounds, North Dakota State (WWC). Probably not a threat to medal this season, Sprenkle has been solid down the stretch, winning 15 of his last 16 matches going into the West Regional. His most recent solid win was over Utah Valley’s Ben Kjar. He’s getting hot at the right time, which could help in a decent conference tournament with Kjar, Wyoming’s Michael Martinez and Northern Iowa’s Caleb Fores in the mix.

• Nate Schiedel, 184 pounds, Binghamton (CAA). Pat Popolizio’s program has had an All-American the last two seasons, and one of last year’s bracket busters, Justin Lister is now Having roots in a small Division I conference can give wrestling prognosticators, journalists and broadcasters just a few advantages. As discussed in last month’s W.I.N. column, fans are more or less rooted around three conferences in Division I wrestling — the Big Ten, Big 12 and EIWA.

While conferences like the MAC, ACC and Pac-10 aren’t viewed as “small conferences” on the general sports landscape (well, save the MAC), wrestling presents numerous small-conference wrestlers each year that seem to shake things up.

While not all of them end up placing, names like Mark Fee, Fred Santaite, Don Fisch, Justin Lister and Ryan Williams quickly come to mind as bracket busters in the last 10 or so years. Four of them (Santaite, Fisch, Lister and Williams) are from the Colonial, while Fee, a two-time All-American from Appalachian State, hailed from the Southern Conference.

While some fans scoff at conference champions with mid-level rankings in the draws, it’s inevitable someone will come through and shake the entire balance of a tournament — sometimes with something as simple as a single-leg takedown.

Last year Santaite was fairly under the radar coming from Boston U. He defeated eventual four-time All-American and past national champion Troy Nickerson of Cornell in an early-round match. It disrupted the balance of the tournament. While Santaite missed placing, it’s that type of performance that people define as a bracket buster.

Here are some names to keep an eye on at the upcoming NCAA Division I Championships who could be that guy this year. Not all of them are unknown and most of them are ranked somewhere in the top 20, and of course, this isn’t everyone, but more a snapshot of some “bad draws,” as I like to call them. All rankings listed below are by WIN from Feb. 21. By the time you read this, much could have changed. Now that’s out of the way …

• Turtogtokh Luvsandorj, 165 pounds, The Citadel (SoCon). A native of Mongolia by way of St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey, the crafty sophomore is 33-7 against Division I competition this season. While he’s lacking wins over the elite, he’s a tremendous athlete with a much different feel than most wrestlers will encounter. He’s got decent wins, nothing you’d call an eye-opener, but he might be picking his moment for that “eye opener.”  I also like listing him here because his name is very hard to pronounce … if you’re not from Ulanbataar, that is.

• Kyle Blevins, 165 pounds, Appalachian State (SoCon). We’ve already talked about another Mountaineer who shook things up with Fee several years ago. Blevins is a former Oklahoma state champion who took a chance on a program. He’s 31-8 against Division I competition with his top win over past NCAA finalist Mike Miller of Central Michigan. He and Luvsandorj give the SoCon a pretty solid 1-2 punch at the weight come Nationals.

• Trent Sprenkle, 125 pounds, North Dakota State (WWC). Probably not a threat to medal this season, Sprenkle has been solid down the stretch, winning 15 of his last 16 matches going into the West Regional. His most recent solid win was over Utah Valley’s Ben Kjar. He’s getting hot at the right time, which could help in a decent conference tournament with Kjar, Wyoming’s Michael Martinez and Northern Iowa’s Caleb Fores in the mix.

• Nate Schiedel, 184 pounds, Binghamton (CAA). Pat Popolizio’s program has had an All-American the last two seasons, and one of last year’s bracket busters, Justin Lister is now up at 165 pounds. But scrappy Nate Schiedel could complicate 184. Like Sprenkle, he’s probably not a medal threat, but his lanky frame and low-scoring matches could put him in a position to be the guy that people talk about this year … like they did Lister last year.

• Rob Morrison, 174 pounds, Rider (CAA). A legacy at Rider, with a father and several brothers having come through the program, Morrison has improved greatly since he first stepped foot on the mat in Lawrenceville. He’s got a notable win this season over Penn All-American Scott Giffin and is funky enough to put you on your back and pin you. Morrison’s a good scrambler and can keep matches close and put himself in a position to win an early match come mid-March.

• Chad Porter, 165 pounds, Liberty (East Region). Porter is no stranger to the NCAA Championships, qualifying three previous times. From a rugged high school program at Parkersburg South in West Virginia, Porter’s record isn’t overly impressive, but his strength is in fact, his strength. Just be aware of him.

• Jeremy Johnson, HWT, Ohio (MAC). Heavyweight can always be toss-ups. The MAC is deep at the weight, with Jarod Trice of Central Michigan, Brendan Barlow of Kent State and David Wade of Eastern Michigan in the mix with Johnson. You could make a case for Wade in this category, and he deserves a mention. Johnson’s 28-10 going into the MAC tournament and will be a dangerous draw for a mid-to-low seed, should it work out that way, in the brackets.

• Jake Bucha, 133 pounds, Franklin & Marshall (EIWA). While I said I wouldn’t consider EIWA wrestlers for this list, Bucha wrestles at tiny F&M, the smallest Division I wrestling program in the nation. He could be coach Mike Rogers first NCAA qualifier in his first season as the head coach.

• Shane Smith, 174 pounds, Millersville (East Region). Keeping with the Lancaster, Pa., theme following Bucha is Smith. Not a stellar record, he’s got some ugly losses, but he should prevail out of the East Region. He’s dangerous, though … a wicked headlock (and he has a very wicked headlock) against an overconfident opponent could spell doom for someone. nup at 165 pounds. But scrappy Nate Schiedel could complicate 184. Like Sprenkle, he’s probably not a medal threat, but his lanky frame and low-scoring matches could put him in a position to be the guy that people talk about this year … like they did Lister last year.

• Rob Morrison, 174 pounds, Rider (CAA). A legacy at Rider, with a father and several brothers having come through the program, Morrison has improved greatly since he first stepped foot on the mat in Lawrenceville. He’s got a notable win this season over Penn All-American Scott Giffin and is funky enough to put you on your back and pin you. Morrison’s a good scrambler and can keep matches close and put himself in a position to win an early match come mid-March.

• Chad Porter, 165 pounds, Liberty (East Region). Porter is no stranger to the NCAA Championships, qualifying three previous times. From a rugged high school program at Parkersburg South in West Virginia, Porter’s record isn’t overly impressive, but his strength is in fact, his strength. Just be aware of him.

• Jeremy Johnson, HWT, Ohio (MAC). Heavyweight can always be toss-ups. The MAC is deep at the weight, with Jarod Trice of Central Michigan, Brendan Barlow of Kent State and David Wade of Eastern Michigan in the mix with Johnson. You could make a case for Wade in this category, and he deserves a mention. Johnson’s 28-10 going into the MAC tournament and will be a dangerous draw for a mid-to-low seed, should it work out that way, in the brackets.

• Jake Bucha, 133 pounds, Franklin & Marshall (EIWA). While I said I wouldn’t consider EIWA wrestlers for this list, Bucha wrestles at tiny F&M, the smallest Division I wrestling program in the nation. He could be coach Mike Rogers first NCAA qualifier in his first season as the head coach.

• Shane Smith, 174 pounds, Millersville (East Region). Keeping with the Lancaster, Pa., theme following Bucha is Smith. Not a stellar record, he’s got some ugly losses, but he should prevail out of the East Region. He’s dangerous, though … a wicked headlock (and he has a very wicked headlock) against an overconfident opponent could spell doom for someone. n

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