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By Mike Finn
The following are some notes heading into the 2013 NCAA Division I wrestling national tournament that begins Thursday morning, March 21, and ends Saturday night, March 23, at the Wells Fargo Arena.
Welcome to the Main Event
For the first time in the 85-year history of the NCAA Division I national wrestling tournament, the final match will not come at heavyweight. Instead, the NCAA — perhaps expecting a title bout between Cornell’s three-time champion Kyle Dake and Penn State’s 2012 champion and Hodge Trophy winner David Taylor — the final match will come at 165 pounds.
What do some of the wrestlers think of this new “main event” championship finals format, which begins at 174 pounds, progress up to heavyweight and then continue at 125 pounds before ending at 165?
“It’s just kind of exciting for me, at least,” said Dake. “Being the last match, it’s kind of like the main event. It’s just something cool the NCAA is doing. It wouldn’t matter if I was in the last match or the first match. Honestly, I could care less, I just want to go out and wrestle.”
For Iowa’s Matt McDonough, a three-time finalist and two time champ, he must adjust to not being the first wrestler to hit the raised platform finals mat if he reached this year’s finals.
“You have to be ready right away, there’s no watching a few matches,” said McDonough. “Being the last one out there, you’re the last thing everyone sees, so there’s the exciting factor there. When everyone goes home you’ll be the last thing on their mind if you perform the way you’re supposed to.”
For Penn State’s Ed Ruth and Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore, who are the number one seeds at 184 and 197 pounds, respectively, they would be in the second and third matches during this year’s finals … compared to ending the nationals in the last two NCAAs.
“I like the format because I’m one of the heavier weights now,” said Ruth, who moved up to 184 and winning the championship at 174 pounds last March. “It’s nice to be first at least once. First or second, it doesn’t matter as long as I am one of the earlier matches.”
“I think it will help the sport a little bit, with the viewers, getting more people to stick around,” said Kilgore, who took an Olympic redshirt last winter after earning his school’s first national championship in 2011. “I know when it comes down to the heavyweight matches it tends to be that a lot of people leave the arena. Maybe this will be something that we need to change with the sport to get people to stick around so they can see all the matches. Of all the athletes here, everyone has worked just as hard as each other to get to the finals. It would be really good to show a little respect for all the athletes competing.”
Of the coaches who appeared in the NCAA pre-tournament press conference, only Penn State’s Cael Sanderson would have a wrestler, Taylor, in this year’s “Main Event” final.
“I don’t think it could be bad for wrestling,” said Sanderson. “You’re going to get a mixed review from the coaches and the fans just based on tradition. If you look at other sports they have a main event and it seems to work, so why not give it a shot?
“I think it falls on the kids and puts a little more on them, but that’s what they want. You want to be the best and you want to be the big match. Now you have that chance. I’m not saying that I’m for it, I haven’t really put a lot of thought into it, but it doesn’t really matter what I think anyways. It should be fun.”
The Skinny on Gaining Weight
When Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver won his only championship in 2011 … as well as finishing second in the NCAA last March, it was at 133 pounds. This year, the senior from Easton, Pa., is seeded No. 1 at 149 pounds.
Does he wishes he would have competed at a heavier weight in the last few years.
“I’ve been thinking about it all season,” said Oliver, who also earned his first of three All-American honors in 2010 when the Cowboy finished fourth at 125 pounds. “[I’m] just living the good life at 149 and not having to worry about weight so much and just getting out there and having fun. Worrying about more of how to get better at my wrestling and how I can improve instead of going into practice and thinking, ‘I’m about five [pounds] over, how much weight should I lose today?’
“It has helped me a lot. It has helped me focus on my wrestling and it’s been showing. I definitely think I should have bumped up after my freshman year, but the past is the past, and now going into this year, I have the same goal of getting the national title.”
Three Chances to Take a Second Look
When Oliver lost to Ohio State’s Logan Stieber in last year’s final in St. Louis, many thought the Cowboy had scored a takedown against the Buckeye in the closing seconds. Instead, nothing was called and Stieber handed Oliver a 4-3 loss.
Such a close decision may not happen in this year’s tournament, where coaches will have three challenges for officials to review controversial calls or no-calls; similar to what happened this year in dual meet competition.
“I don’t think that any of the coaches disliked it at their dual meets,” said Oklahoma State coach John Smith. “We will have to find out. There will be times we go through it. Is it holding up the tournament? Is it holding up matches?
“I do believe it is the right thing and gives the officials a chance to look at a situation to solve it differently. We made a good decision. I shouldn’t say ‘we’ because they did it without giving the coaches a choice in it, which is good.”
Home Turf Advantage?
Iowa State University is actually the host school, but the University of Iowa actually has a chance to end Penn State’s two-year run at winning the team championship.
Will the Hawkeyes, who defeated Penn State in a dual meet before over 15,000 fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, enjoy a similar home mat advantage in a sold-out Wells Fargo Arena, which holds 16,110 fans; many of which could be wearing black and gold?
“Can I tell you Saturday night?” quizzed Iowa coach Tom Brands “You will either make it work for you or you don’t. I think a lot of times that comes down to sheer will power, toughness, smarts and mat savvy. A lot of things go into it. We have to go out there and make it work for us, then that would be the reason why. I have said it five or six times already that we have to have nine guys wrestle hard and consistently every round in every match.”
“We’re grateful for this opportunity,” said Penn State coach Cael Sanderson. “Just like everyone said, I think it comes down who chooses to go out there and win. We are excited about our team. I think that our team has improved throughout the year and we should be able to do well if we choose to. That’s the exciting part we get to sit back and see what our guys do.”