Gable: Teams and individuals who find the ‘spark’ in Detroit will win the NCAAs

Updated: March 15, 2022

Photo: Myles Amine (right) scored a late takedown to force overtime against Penn State’s Aaron Brooks, then used an ankle pick to a single-leg to beat the 2021 NCAA champ in the recent Big Ten Championships at 184 pounds. (Sam Janicki photo)

Note: Dan Gable, who led Iowa to 15 national team championships over a 20-year span (1978-97), spoke to WIN Editor Mike Finn about what he expects to see at the 2022 NCAA Division I Championships this week in Detroit, Mich.

WIN: While everyone in wrestling is happy to have all the national college championships happening this March, there was some concern about the Div. I qualifiers where many wrestlers medically forfeited matches. What do you think this was happening?

GABLE: I think it fits in more with what has been happening the past two years, which I believe has led to more injuries. When teams go into big qualifiers like the Big Tens, which had 14 teams, there are a lot of matches in such a tournament like wrestlebacks.

I do believe one reason is that wrestlers were more beat up this year is because teams did not have the structure to help individuals peak like they have done in past years when practices are consistent and not affected by a pandemic.

If teams are on a regular schedule, coaches can manage that stuff a little better. Because of that, coaches are forced to make these decisions a lot more than they normally do. Practices have been less hands-on.

Dan Gable, who won 15 NCAA team titles over a 20-year-span (1978-97), provides a regular commentary in every issue of WIN Magazine.

Everything is more unpredictable this year. The one thing I know is that there are so many national tournaments happening on all levels this year, which is great. The sport of wrestling is really expanding in the United States.

WIN: Because of what happened with the pandemic affecting the last two tournaments, are these teams and individuals hungrier than ever to do well at the NCAAs?

GABLE: Michigan is probably the hungriest because it has never won the NCAAs. They got a little taste of what it feels like and now they will be close to their hometown of Ann Arbor. It’s going to be pretty special.

WIN: What are your thoughts about Michigan, which won its first conference tournament since 1973?

GABLE: They are a good team that did not look that strong in their dual with Penn State in the regular season. That left people wondering if they were for real this season. Then all of a sudden at at the Big Tens, they became real. But this is a peaking time of the year and the best comes out of these wrestlers. For Michigan, the Big Tens was the Big Show because they had not won the NCAAs. For the likes of Penn State and Iowa, which has won several Big Ten tournaments in recent years, their Big Show is the national tournament.

Michigan needed something like winning the Big Tens to give them some reality that they could wrestle with the best this time of year. Penn State and Iowa already knows that they are real. Frankly, Michigan turned into something that many people thought they could be.

Make sure you follow the 2022 NCAA Division I Championships by going to WIN’s Championships Central page.

WIN: Are you saying that Michigan needed a successful Big Ten tournament to prove to themselves that they could do it again in Detroit and the NCAAs?

GABLE: Michigan’s chances of winning the NCAAs has gone up. When you’ve been there and experienced something, you have a much better chance (at the Nationals) because you know you can do it.

I didn’t know for sure how good Michigan could be. Now I do. For example, for Stevan Micic to come back and win so many wrestlebacks after losing in the first round was because Michigan needed him. I felt that he battled back because he was doing it for more than himself. It’s like he felt like he was part of something that had not taken place for Michigan in nearly 50 years. It seemed like he had something at the Big Tens, even after a loss, that he did not show in the regular season.

WIN: Is Myles Amines another one of those Michigan guys who needed to prove himself after rallying to beat Aaron Brooks of Penn State? Everyone knows that Amine has the skills, did he need something like pride to kick in and help him execute those skills?

GABLE: Yes. Brooks was pushing him around a lot. But Amine did not execute those last two takedowns on pride alone. Amine has a last name that is very familiar to Michigan’s wrestling tradition, which allows these moments to happen.

WIN: Penn State does have four former national champs — Roman Bravo-Young, Nick Lee, Carter Starocci and Brooks — returning as well as a former finalist in Max Dean, who is ranked No. 1 at 197. Is so much star power enough for the Nittany Lions to still feel very confident in Detroit despite finishing in second by a narrow margin to Michigan at the Big Tens?

GABLE: It appears that way, but there are five other weight classes and this is a bigger tournament than the Big Tens.

WIN: Of those five elite Penn State wrestlers, one reason for their success is because it is so hard for others to take them down. Talk about how strong their defense is. Is it important to get the Penn State guys in an unorthodox position to score on them?

GABLE: That goes for everyone in the tournament, but anytime you can attack someone and he does not have a counter helps your percentages of winning at the Nationals. When Amine scored against Brooks in overtime, there was no counter. Brooks just went down. When someone is more aggressive, that can be a set up for the other wrestler. Brooks was working extremely hard in that match.

WIN: How much will Cael Sanderson change the strategy and technique of his wrestlers compared to what they showed at the Big Tens?

GABLE: I think Cael will try to fine tune his wrestlers’ attacks. By that, I mean instead of his wrestlers pushing someone around, they will also work in a different skill that puts more points on the board.

WIN: Many believe one of the reasons that Stanford’s Shane Griffith did so well in winning the Nationals was because his school was going to discontinue the sport and “Saving Stanford Wrestling” helped motivate him more individually. Do teams, also hoping to do well at the Nationals, need to come up with something that builds a winning edge with the team?

GABLE: There must be some spark out there. For example, one of the sparks is that Michigan has never won a national tournament. They proved they could win a major tournament like the Big Tens.

But if you look at Cael Sanderson and Tom Brands, they will find ways of creating their own spark. Teams finding the spark will make this tournament even more competitive, including the Ivy League schools that were not allowed to wrestle last year.

There is going to be a lot of extra effort on performance this year.