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By Bryan Van Kley
Editor’s Note: The following column first appeared in WIN, Volume 19, Issue 8 and printed April 2, 2013.
The 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships lived up to its billing. Fans will be talking about this one in 50 years. It truly showcased our sport at it’s best. Almost every possible dramatic storyline played out according to form.
All that is, with the exception of one.
One of my responsibilities as the publisher of WIN is to write the Dan Hodge Trophy award story each year. WIN Magazine and Culture House (a wrestling promotions company owned by Hodge and WIN founder Mike Chapman) award college wrestling’s top prize every year. And for the first time, the award has a Presenting Sponsor in ASICS.
It’s truly enjoyable to interview the recipient each year the week following the NCAAs. It’s amazing to hear what makes them tick, and over and over again I hear about how honored they are to win the award.
There was more of the same with the laid-back, free-spirited Kyle Dake this year. When I found out he had dated the same girl, Megan Palladino, since they were sophomore in high school, I had to pick on Dake a little bit.
His coach Rob Koll talked how much he thrives on being in the limelight. And how he enjoys competing when the matches mean the most.
That’s when I told Dake he missed a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity by not also proposing to Palladio after his finals match on that historic night. Though the couple “isn’t ready for marriage yet”, Dake responded in a classic way, which showed his magnetic, and confident personality.
“There will never be a moment like that … but maybe one like it,” Kyle said. “It just might be on NBC next time rather than ESPN.”
Dake was referring to the 2016 Olympics, which are televised by NBC. We had just finished talking about his freestyle aspirations of wanting to be a multiple-time World and Olympic champion someday.
And the elite competitor that he is, Dake is not just “hoping” he gets that opportunity. He is already dreaming about it.
What a great story.
And there were so many of them coming out of Des Moines.
I hope you enjoy this 2013 Commemorative Nationals issue of WIN. We worked hard to capture those stories in this issue so you’ll have them with you permanently.
The individual storylines were numerous this year. The other Hodge finalists turned in impressive NCAA and season-long performances. Check out the coverage of Ohio State sophomore Logan Stieber and his second title in as many years. It’s quite possible he could be the fourth member of the prestigious four-time champ club in two years.
Ditto to amazing performances from Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver, Penn State’s Ed Ruth and the clutch, tournament-team title clinching Quentin Wright of Penn State. And there were many more you’ll find on the following pages.
Oliver has said publicly for a couple years now how much he wanted to win the Hodge after finishing as the 2011 Hodge runner-up to Burroughs. Dake commented in the Hodge interview he wanted to win three Hodges to replicate Penn State coach Cael Sanderson’s mark his sophomore through senior seasons.
It’s great for wrestling to see these top guys going out each and every match to truly dominate. It makes the sport more enjoyable to watch, and raises the bar for all the other top-level guys.
There was also was the best NCAA team race the sport has seen since 1999. Penn State won a third straight title, but Oklahoma State went down swinging on Saturday night.
The Des Moines local organizing committee, the NCAA and ESPN did a fantastic job from start to finish producing the event as well. The NCAA finals felt like you were at a “Super Bowl-type” production, with lights, music, smoke and other effects, which made the night even more memorable.
Aside from Wells Fargo Arena being a smaller venue than in the last couple years, the 2013 NCAAs will go down as the gold standard moving forward in my estimation for the nationals.
With WIN Magazine putting on the annual WIN Magazine Memorabilia Show, our WIN staff gets the opportunity to interact with 100s of fans throughout the weekend. We typically hear fan comments, both positive and negative, about the tournament and overall event.
There hardly any negative comments this year, aside from tickets being hard to get and some people having trouble finding parking in downtown Des Moines by the arena. And dozens of people commented on how the tournament was the best they’ve ever been to.
The NCAA Fan Fest and 23rd annual WIN Show inside of it set records as well. With the convenience of the Hy-Vee Hall (convention center-type set-up) just across the street and connected by a skywalk to Wells Fargo, fans had all kinds of entertainment options between sessions right out the front door of the arena.
Over 19,000 fans came through the Fan Fest doors over the course of the tournament. In addition to the WIN Show, the U.S. national team had practices each day, there were past NCAA and Olympic greats signing autographs throughout the weekend and the normal NCAA Semifinal Preview Show and many more events made the overall NCAA tournament experience a more enjoyable one.
As one person told me his kids were asking him to leave the wrestling to get back over to the Fan Fest/WIN Show area. A big thank you to each of the WIN Show’s exhibitors who were there during the event. Fans thoroughly enjoyed it.
Aside from the recent announcement of the IOC’s preliminary decision to drop wrestling from the Olympic Games, I can’t remember a time when there was so much positive momentum in wrestling.
As sometimes happens with adversity in life, maybe it truly has brought the best of the sport to the surface. Or at a minimum, it reminded all of us why we love the sport so much and why we should not take it for granted.