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The following is a breakdown of the eight tournaments, which will qualify 330 wrestlers for the 2014 NCAA Championships, March 20-22, in Oklahoma City, Okla. While most of the tournaments will take place March 8-9, the Pac-12s will be held March 2 in Palo Alto, Calif.
Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)
March 8 • Blacksburg, Va.
Total wrestlers ranked by WIN: 19
NCAA Allocations: 34
Last Year’s Team Champion & Runner-up: Virginia Tech (95.5) & Virginia (95)
Returning Individual Champions: 141- Evan Henderson (North Carolina); 184: Jimmy Sheptock (Maryland); 197 – Christian Boley (Maryland)
Note: Pitt’s Nick Bonaccorsi (174) and Max Thomusseit (184) won Eastern Wrestling League championships in 2013 before the Panthers joined the ACC this year.
Team Race: The addition of Pittsburgh, which won last year’s Eastern Wrestling League championship, to the ACC should make for an exciting team championship race with three schools as Virginia and Maryland are also ranked between No. 15 and 20 in WIN’s most recent Tournament Power Index. Also watch out for last year’s champion, Virginia Tech, which is hosting this year’s tournament.
Top Individual Matchups: No weight class should be tougher than 184 pounds, where Maryland’s ACC champion Jimmy Sheptock — just one of five undefeated wrestlers in Division I before the qualifiers — will get a big challenge from No. 7 Max Thomusseit of Pitt, No. 15 Jon Fausey of Virginia and No. 19 Nick Vetterlein of Virginia Tech.
Meanwhile, 2013 ACC champion Evan Henderson, who is ranked ninth by WIN and has posted 30 wins in his junior season, did not end his regular season on a strong note at 141 pounds. He lost two of his three final bouts: against Virginia’s Joe Spisak, who blanked the Tar Heel, 4-0 on Feb. 7; and Pitt’s Edgar Bright, who edged Henderson, 3-1, on Feb. 22.
Maryland’s Christian Boley, the third returning ACC champion, captured a Midlands championship in December and could receive a big challenge from Pitt’s Nick Bonaccorsi, who was named EWL Freshman of the Year in 2013 when he also won a conference title at 174 pounds.
March 8-9 • Madison, Wisc.
Total wrestlers ranked by WIN: 72
NCAA Allocations: 74
Last Year’s Team Champion & Runner-up: Penn State (151) & Minnesota (139)
Returning Individual Champions: 125 – Jesse Delgado (Illinois); 133 – Logan Stieber (Ohio State); 149 – Dylan Ness (Minnesota); 165 – David Taylor (Penn State); 174 – Matt Brown (Penn State); 184 – Ed Ruth (Penn State); Hwt – Anthony Nelson (Minnesota)
Team Race: Everyone knows the Big Tens are considered a preview of sorts to the NCAAs, especially with the defending three-time conference and national champion Penn State and the Lions’ chief rivals from Minnesota and Iowa with strong teams again this year. The Gophers, who defeated both PSU and Iowa in dual competition this winter, are considered the biggest threat to end the Lions’ reign.
Top Individual Matchups: Name a weight class and there will be NCAA ramifications from what happens in Madison. But most of the attention could fall on the 141-pound weight class where Ohio State’s two-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber will probably be seeded No. 2 … behind Penn State’s true freshman Zain Retherford, who upset the Buckeye, 4-2 in sudden victory in December, and enters his first postseason with a 26-0 record.
Speaking of true freshmen, there is another one — Michigan’s Adam Coon — who will most likely be seeded No. 1 at the heavyweight class, which features nine wrestlers ranked among the top 15 in the nation. That includes Minnesota’s Anthony Nelson, who is looking to become a three-time national champion, and 2013 national runner-up Michael McMullan, who was ranked No. 1 before the final week of the regular season. And don’t forget about Indiana’s Adam Chalfant, Michigan State’s Mike McClure and Wisconsin’s Connor Medberry, who are all ranked among the top eight in the nation.
March 8 • Norman, Okla.
Total wrestlers ranked by WIN: 21
NCAA Allocations: 24
Last Year’s Team Champion & Runner-up: Oklahoma State (118.5) & Iowa State (74)
Returning Individual Champions: 125 – Eddie Klimara (OSU); 133 – Jon Morrison (OSU); 141 – Kendric Maple (Oklahoma); 157 – Alex Dieringer (OSU); 165 – Tyler Caldwell (OSU); 174 – Chris Perry (OSU); 197 – Kyven Gadson (ISU)
Team Race: Oklahoma State and Oklahoma split the schools’ two Bedlam dual meetings this past season — with each team winning on its home mat — and now this year’s Big 12 Conference tournament could be called a rubber match or event between the traditionally-strong programs which now make up one-half of the four schools in the Big 12. That’s because of the 21 wrestlers ranked by WIN, all but four Cowboy or Sooner singlets.
Top Individual Matchups: Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry is both the defending Big 12 and NCAA champion at 174 pounds. Yet, the senior (and nephew of OSU coach John Smith) is ranked second. That’s because the Cowboy lost a 3-2 decision to Oklahoma’s Andrew Howe in the team’s first meeting in December. (They did not wrestle in the Feb. 9 dual when Howe moved up to 184 pounds.)
Another probable OU-OSU finals matchup could come at 149 pounds where Kendric Maple — last year’s NCAA champion — and OSU’s Josh Kindig will be looking for a rubber match … after Kindig won 4-3 in Norman and Maple won 7-3 in Stillwater.
Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA)
Total wrestlers ranked by WIN: 25
NCAA Allocations: 47
Last Year’s Team Champion & Runner-up: Cornell (142) & Navy (117.5)
Returning Individual Champions: 125 – Nahshon Garrett (Cornell); 141 – Richard Durso (F&M); 157 – Joey Napoli (Lehigh)
Team Race: This marks the 110th anniversary of the nation’s oldest conference tournament, which added three more schools — Binghamton, Boston U., and Hofstra — that were part of the now-defunct Colonial Athletic Association last season. Cornell, which features four nationally-ranked freshmen — Mark Grey (133), Brian Realbuto (157), Dylan Palacio (165) and Gabe Dean (184) — is expected to capture an eighth straight championship as the Ivy League champs went 13-1 this winter (losing only to Minnesota in the finals of the National Duals) and seven Big Red wrestlers are ranked.
Top Individual Matchups: There are five weight classes — 125, 141, 157, 174 and 184 — which feature three ranked wrestlers. Among those, the most competitive weight class might be 141 where All-American Mike Nevinger of Cornell has only wrestled 13 times this winter and could receive a stiff test by No. 10 Luke Vaith of Hofstra and No. 15 Richard Durso of Franklin & Marshall, last year’s EIWA champion. None of these three have faced each other this season.
Another loaded weight class will be 174 pounds, where Columbia’s Shane Hughes — a Midlands runner-up in his first season as a starter for the Lions — is ranked No. 10 nationally, but will be challenged by Lehigh freshman Elliot Riddick (No. 15) and Navy’s Matt Miller (No. 19). Hughes and Riddick split a pair of matches earlier this year, while Riddick edged Miller, 2-1.
Eastern Wrestling League (EWL)
March 8 • Cleveland, Ohio
Total wrestlers ranked by WIN: 10
NCAA Allocations: 22
Last Year’s Team Champion & Runner-up: Pittsburgh (125.5) & Edinboro (117) – Bloomsburg third 114
Returning Individual Champions: 133 – A.J. Schopp (Edinboro); 141 – Mitchell Port (Edinboro); 149 – David Habat (Edinboro); 165 – Josh Veltre (Bloomsburg)
Team Race: Now that Pittsburgh has left for the ACC, Edinboro should dominate the 2014 EWLs as seven Fighting Scots are nationally ranked, including returning All-Americans A.J. Schopp (133) and Mitchell Port (141). In going 11-3 on season, including a 17-16 triumph over Pitt, the Scots were 4-0 against EWL foes, including a 29-10 over Bloomsburg, which features three ranked wrestlers.
Top Individual Matchups: Heavyweight is the only weight class where two EWL wrestlers are ranked in No. 13 Justin Grant (28-5) of Bloomsburg and No. 18 Ernest James (24-5) of Edinboro. Grant edged James, 2-1, on Dec. 7.
March 8 • Kent, Ohio
Total wrestlers ranked by WIN: 24
NCAA Allocations: 41
Last Year’s Team Champion & Runner-up: Missouri (136) & Central Michigan (88)
Returning Individual Champions: 141 – Joey Lazor (No. Iowa); 149 – Drake Houdashelt (Missouri); 165 – Mike Ottinger (Central Michigan); 174 – Cody Walters (Ohio U.)
Team Race: In less than three years, the Mid-American Conference rivals only the Big Ten Conference in terms of national dominance with the addition of Missouri (from the Big 12), Northern Iowa (from the WWC) and Old Dominion (of the now extinct CAA). The defending champion Tigers of Missouri and Northern Iowa (who were the nation’s only undefeated team) should battle for this year’s team championship as both schools feature top-ranked wrestlers in 133-pound Joe Colon (UNI) and 149-pound Drake Houdashelt (Missouri). In dual competition, UNI defeated Missouri, 24-10 on Jan. 24.
Top Individual Matchups: Of the four returning MAC champs, we know only three have a chance to repeat in 2014 as No. 8-ranked Mike Ottinger of Central Michigan has moved up to 174, where he will most likely see last year’s conference champ in Cody Walters of Ohio University.
Perhaps the closest battle between the top two teams could come at 165 pounds where Northern Iowa’s Cooper Moore is ranked No. 9, while Missouri’s Zach Toal is No. 11. The Panther defeated the Tiger, 6-2, in the teams’ dual.
March 2 • Palo Alto, Calif.
Total wrestlers ranked by WIN: 17
NCAA Allocations: 17
Last Year’s Team Champion & Runner-up: Oregon State (158) & Boise State (136.5)
Returning Individual Champions: 133 – Devon Lotito (Cal Poly); 165 – Bret Baumbach (Stanford); 174 – Bryce Hammond (CSU-Bakersfield); 184 – Jake Swartz (Boise State); 197 – Taylor Meeks (Oregon State)
Team Race: Plenty of high national expectations were placed on Oregon State, considering the Beavers returned three All-Americans Scott Sakaguchi (149), Roger Pena (157) and Taylor Meeks (197). But after opening the season with three straight dual victories, OSU finished 11-7 in 2013-14, which included Pac-12 losses to Boise State and Arizona State.
When it comes to this year’s Pac-12s, the Beavers — with six Top-20-ranked wrestlers — should win a third-straight team title. But watch out for the host school Stanford, which finished with the most victories (17-5) in school history.
Top Individual Match-ups: The 133-pound weight class features a pair of former Pac-12 champs in Stanford’s Ryan Mango (2012) and Cal Poly’s Devon Lotito (2013) who are ranked 12th and 15th, respectively, by WIN. In their only meeting this season, the Cardinal prevailed 4-3 on Feb. 9.
At 174 pounds, four Pac-12 wrestlers are ranked in the Top 20: No. 14 Dominic Kastl of Cal Poly, No. 17 Bryce Hammond of CSU Bakersfield, No. 18 Joe Latham and No. 20 Kyle Meyer. Kastl leads the weight class before the Pac-12s based on a 2-1 season-opening win over Hammond.
March 8 • Buies Creek, N.C.
Total wrestlers ranked by WIN: 5
NCAA Allocations: 16
Last Year’s Team Champion & Runner-up: Chattanooga (102.5) & Campbell (62.5)
Returning Individual Champions: 125 – Nick Soto (Chattanooga); 133 – Anthony Elias (Davidson); 141 – Ugi Khishignyam (Citadel); 149 – Alex Hudson (Chattanooga); 157 – Matt Frisch (Citadel); 184 – James Cook (Campbell)
Team Race: A fourth-straight SoCon title should happen for Chattanooga which finished 16-7 in its dual season, that included a 7-0 record against SoCon teams in which the Mocs outscored its conference foes 238-51.
Top Individual Match-ups: Turtogtokh Luvsandorj, a Mongolian native like 141-pound teammate Ugi Khishignyam, became the military school’s most successful wrestler in terms of victories. This year, the 165-pound senior is shooting for a fourth SoCon championship after redshirting last season. But to do so, Luvsandorj will have to beat Chattanooga’s Corey Mock, a transfer from North Carolina where he twice qualified for the Nationals. On Jan. 22, Luvsandorj defeated Mock, 4-3.
West Region / Western Wrestling Conference
Total wrestlers ranked by WIN: 7
NCAA Allocations: 15
Last Year’s Team Champion & Runner-up: Wyoming (79) & North Dakota State (76)
Returning Individual Champions: 157 – Josh Kreimer (Air Force); 165 – Steven Monk (NDSU); 184 – Shane Woods (Wyoming); Hwt – Adam Fager (Utah Valley)
Team Race: North Dakota State and Wyoming were tied on top of the WWC standings but the Bison were considered conference champions in dual competition after NDSU edged the Cowboys, 17-16. When it comes to tournament scoring, Bison coach Roger Kish features two stars in No. 4 Steven Monk — the 2013 Midlands champ at 165— and No. 12 Hayden Zillmer at 174.
Top Individual Matchups: Three of the conference’s seven ranked wrestlers can be found at 125 pounds where No. 4 Josh Martinez of Air Force edged Wyoming’s No. 8 Tyler Cox, 2-1, in a Feb. 11 dual meet. The third man at that light weight class is Utah Valley’s No. 19 Jade Rauser, who has been limited to just eight matches (six victories) because of injuries.
Another good battle could come at 157 pounds, where Air Force’s Josh Kreimer, a 2013 WWC champion, has suffered through a 10-7 campaign this winter. One of those losses was an 8-5 setback to South Dakota State’s Cody Pack, ranked No. 18 by WIN.