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Dake’s Trifecta Named Top Wrestling Story of 2011-12
By Mike Finn
1. Kyle Dake wins third straight NCAA title at third different weight
The Cornell junior hasn’t been perfect during his three years while competing for his hometown college team in Ithaca, N.Y., where he has compiled a 100-4 career record with the Big Red.
But Kyle Dake is perfect when it matters: at the NCAA Division I national tournament — winning all 15 matches over the past three years for three individual championships,
And while the former New York state champion from Lansing High School became the first three-time NCAA titlist from this upstate Ivy League school, he is not the first to do so nationally.
But what made Dake’s trifecta unique is that he became the first three-time NCAA champ at three different weights:
• beating Iowa’s Montell Marion, 7-3, as a true freshman and No. 1 seed at 141 pounds in 2010 in Omaha, Neb.;
• beating Penn State’s Frank Molinaro, 8-1, as a sophomore and No. 4 seed at 149 pounds in 2011 in Philadelphia, Pa.;
• and finally beating Iowa’s Derek St. John, 4-1, as a junior and No. 1 seed at 157 pounds this past March in St. Louis.
“It’s a really good feeling, doing something no one’s done before,” said Dake, who was booed by the Iowa fans after speaking to ESPN immediately after the bout. “Iowa doesn’t really like to lose, and their fans don’t like to lose either. If it does happen, they get a little rowdy and they think they were cheated in some way.”
So now Dake must answer the same question he’s faced since winning a second championship: can he now win four NCAA titles and join the elite club of the NCAA’s four-timers: Pat Smith of Oklahoma State (1990-92, ‘94) and Cael Sanderson of Iowa State (1999-2002)?
“That’s obviously the next step that comes up and I’m really excited for that,” he said. “And I just want to show people that all the times I’ve won here it’s not just been luck or people running away or anything like that. It’s just been I had the best tournament.”
Oh yes, there is one more question: will Dake move up to 165 for next year’s NCAAs in Des Moines, Iowa? Dake competed at 163 pounds at the Olympic Trials in Iowa City, where he pinned David Taylor, Penn State’s 165-pound champion and Hodge Trophy winner.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It really comes down to what makes our team better. I know wrestling is an individual sport but whatever is best for my team is what is important to me.”
2. Jordan Burroughs wins World gold medal; sets high tone for U.S. at 2012 Olympics
The former two-time NCAA champion and 2011 Hodge Trophy winner from Nebraska officially made himself the face of USA Wrestling when — despite not wrestling freestyle for almost five years — he earned a spot on the 2011 World Team and eventually beat a Russian and Iranian to capture the United States’ first World/Olympic gold medal in freestyle since Henry Cejudo earned a gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The man with the unstoppable double-leg takedown also became the man to beat in the 2012 Olympics in London, especially when he defeated former college rival Andrew Howe in the 2012 Olympic Trials in Iowa City.
3. Penn State wins a second straight NCAA championship … after Cael Sanderson returns to competition
The Nittany Lions were favored to repeat this March — after capturing just the school’s first NCAA title since 1953 when the 2011 squad won the national championship in Philadelphia. Penn State was strong on paper coming into the season, Cael Sanderson returned nearly all his All-Americans from the 2011 title team.
But let’s remember that Cael Sanderson spent last summer preparing for the early-fall Worlds, competing for the first time in eight years. The only loss of the year for the 2011-12 Nittany Lion team was a Nov. 20 home dual meet with Minnesota, 23-14. 2011 national champion Quentin Wright was one of seven Lions to lose to the Gophers.
Penn State showed their dominance in the post-season, especially senior Frank Molinaro (149) and sophomores David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (174) who each captured Big Ten and NCAA championships; as the Lions out-distanced the Gophers by a 149-134 margin at the Big Tens and 143.5-117.5 at the NCAAs.
What makes the post-season performance by the Lions even more significant is that all but one of the six All-Americans return for 2012-13. This group includes 125-pound true freshman Nico Megaludis (second) and 141-pound freshman Dylan Alton (third).
4. Carver-Hawkeye Arena was the place to be
By the end of the 2012 Olympic Trials, Carver-Hawkeye Arena at the University of Iowa, was being called the “House that Dan Gable Built”. A statue was erected in honor of the legendary Hawkeye coach and was unveiled days before the Trials began.
Carver-Hawkeye Arena saw some robust wrestling crowds this year.
In January, there was a sellout crowed of 15,400. This was the third largest dual crowd in NCAA history and the second largest dual crowd in Carver-Hawkeye Arena history. Fans at that meet saw Oklahoma State end Iowa’s 84-match unbeaten streak, 17-16, as the final point came from a No. 3 criteria (OSU outscored Iowa, 54-51, in total match points).
Then in April, fans blew away the record for watching an Olympic Trials, as at least 13,520 fans attended each of the four sessions, which resulted in an overall attendance of 54,766. That broke the mark of 50,170 who watched six sessions at the 2000 Trials in Dallas.
The Trials were made even more special as a pair of “bridesmaids” in this sport — Sam Hazewinkel and Jared Frayer — earned spots on the 2012 Olympic Team in men’s freestyle after coming just short in at least three previous World/Olympic Trials.
5. Minnesota wins NWCA National Duals
For the first time in the nearly 30-year history of the National Duals, the tournament was structured with four regional sites — at Cornell University, Rutgers, Iowa State and Oklahoma State — with the four respective winners — Illiniois (which upset Cornell), Minnesota, Iowa and Oklahoma State — advancing to the first-ever National Duals Final Four in Stillwater, Okla.
The Gopher prevailed in the one-day event as coach J Robinson’s squad defeated both Iowa and Oklahoma State as each dual came down to the heavyweight match with the Gophers’ Anthony Nelson prevailing in each bout.
6. Beat the Streets brings wrestling to the streets of New York City
On May 5, 2011, the United States defeated a Russian team, 5-2, in a dual meet held in Times Square. It marked the return of Olympic champion Henry Cejudo to competition, and featured victories by Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner, who went on to win medals at the 2011 World Championships. It was the first sports event ever held in historic Times Square, and thousands of fans packed the area to see history in the making.
This event, which is to be duplicated this June 7, was organized by the Beat the Streets group which brings the sport to many disadvantaged young people to a growing number of cities in the United States.
7. High school wrestling changes its weight classes
In high school matches before the start of the 2011-12 season, the following were the weight classes: 103, 112, 119, 125, 130, 135, 140, 145, 152, 160, 171, 189, 215 and 285
That all changed last year when the National Federation of State High Schools changed the weight classes to: 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220, 285.
Not everyone was happy with this decision that basically eliminated one of the middle weights and added a heavier weight class. This led to more forfeits at a time when high school wrestling is losing some of its bigger wrestlers to football.
8. Blair regains No. 1 ranking at Ironman
Heading into this year’s high school season, St. Eds of Lakewood, Ohio, was ranked No. 1 in preseason polls. That lasted until Dec. 3-4, when Blair Academy of Blairstown, N.J. topped St. Eds by a 252.5-240.5 margin at the prestigious Ironman tournament at Walsh-Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
Blair’s biggest strengths in 2011-12 was its depth as 13 wrestlers placed at the Ironman, led by three champions: Dylan Milonas at 145, Frank Mattiace at 195 and Brooks Black at heavyweight.
9. Ohio State wins first dual with Iowa in 46 years
Not since Feb. 12, 1966, did an Ohio State wrestling team beat perennial power Iowa in a dual meet. But that’s what happened on Jan. 20, 2012, when the Buckeyes of head coach Tom Ryan — a former Hawkeye All-American — won seven of the ten matches.
“I know the guys on the other side of the mat,” said Ryan, who wrestled at Iowa the same time as Iowa coaches Tom and Terry Brands. “Those men were teammates. I know how they react when they get punched in the nose, they do not fall down, they punch back. The nice thing is the battle is on. Ohio State is officially in a fist fight. I am very proud of this group of guys.”
What was even more remarkable about these Buckeyes is that six of the seven winners were freshmen, including true freshman Hunter Stieber, who defeated two-time All-American Montell Marion, 4-2, at 141 pounds. One month earlier, Stieber — the younger brother of eventual 2012 national champion Logan Stieber (133) — defeated 2011 national champion Kellen Russell at the Las Vegas Invitational, which these young Buckeyes also won.
10. Missouri leaves Big 12 on high note
With all the comings and goings of universities to different athletic conferences, that left many wrestling programs competing for the last time in their conference tournaments.
One of those was the University of Missouri, the Tigers will compete next year in the Southeast Conference (which does not have wrestling). Mizzou had never won the Big 12 tournament … until March 12, 2012.
On that date, four Tigers — Alan Waters (125), Drake Houdashelt (157), Zach Toal (165) and Mike Larson (184) — won championships for coach Brian Smith, whose group scored 77 points to top Oklahoma State (73) and Oklahoma (60.5).
“It is an accomplishment of so many people though that put some put effort in,” said Smith. “I thank all the wrestlers that wrestled for me and all the people that donate to the program and make it get to where it is, all the trainers and doctors, there are so many people. I am just really, really proud of everybody. This team did an amazing job today.”
Smith was unsure where the Tigers will compete in next year’s NCAA qualifying tournaments … as is the cases of Pittsburgh and West Virginia, which are moving to the ACC and Big 12, respectively.