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Minnesota avenged two losses for NWCA National Duals title
By Roger Moore
STILLWATER, Okla. — Over the last few months there have been plenty of questions about the who, what, when and where in regards to the new NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals format known as Mat Mayhem.
But all that was put to rest, at least for a day, as four of the nation’s top mat programs slugged it out on Feb. 19 inside Gallagher-Iba Arena on the campus of Oklahoma State University
Twenty-four teams started the new two-weekend, four regional format on Feb. 12-13, compared to the past 23 years when the event was held at one site on one weekend.
Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois each earned regional titles to advance to a championship round. The Cowboys entered the finals unbeaten with wins over Iowa and Minnesota earlier in the season. The Gophers, who owned a victory over Penn State, lost to Iowa on Jan. 29 in a thriller. Illinois’ two losses this season came to Iowa and Minnesota.
The competition certainly didn’t disappoint as three of the four duals came down to the last bout, including Minnesota’s 19-15 victory over Oklahoma State in the finals.
Both semifinals came down to the last match. Gopher All-American Tony Nelson edged Iowa freshman Bobby Telford, 2-0, to send Minnesota to the finals.
On the other mat, Oklahoma State freshman Austin Marsden, wrestling his first varsity match after a season-ending (pectoral) injury to Alan Gelogaev three days prior, scored a takedown in the final 20 seconds to beat Pat Walker to push the hosts to the final.
The final saw Nelson easily beat Marsden, 8-1, to give Minnesota the title. The Gophers (14-3) won the final three bouts to rally from a 13-9 hole against the Cowboys in front of just under 5,000 fans.
“I think we started out the year wanting to find out where we were and what we needed to do,” said Minnesota head coach J Robinson, whose program won this event for the sixth time and first since 2007. “At one time, the first month, we wrestled about eight of the top 10 guys. It worked out the way it was supposed to work out. But we aren’t there yet, just a step to where we want to be.”
Minnesota will take this Duals title with them first to the Big Ten tournament, March 3-4, in West Lafayette, and then to the NCAAs, March 15-17, where they will also have to beat the defending national champs from Penn State that did not compete in the National Duals.
“In dual meets, yes we are the best team,” Robinson said. “That’s the whole idea of this. Not necessarily the best individual team; that will be decided at a later date.”
Minnesota’s semifinal victory over the Hawkeyes included a rally from a 12-4 hole after 157 pounds. Cody Yohn, who was pinned by Iowa’s Mike Evans in the previous meeting, won in overtime at 165. After Iowa’s Ethan Lofthouse beat Logan Storley to put Iowa up 15-7, the Gophers reeled off three straight to win by one.
“That ended up being a nine-point swing from the first dual meet,” said Robinson. “Again, that is the beauty of this. We brought 10 guys and they all contributed to this championship.”
Oklahoma State and Illinois had a wild semifinal as well.
Josh Kindig followed Jordan Oliver’s major decision of B.J. Futrell at 133 pounds with a spectacular, bear-hug-induced takedown in the final 30 seconds to put the Cowboys up 7-3. Unbeaten Jamal Parks’ decision at 149 made it 10-3.
The Illini battled back with wins at 157 and 165, but trailed 13-9 after Chris Perry’s 4-0 decision of Jordan Blanton at 174 pounds. Tony Dallego then provided a huge lift, turning a second-period reversal into a pin to give Illinois a 15-13 advantage. An overtime victory by Blake Rosholt put the Cowboys back in front 16-15, setting up Marsden’s decisive 3-2 win.
“When we were wrestling Iowa (in the semifinals) and Oklahoma State was wrestling Illinois, the crowd was roaring during the heavyweight match,” said Robinson. “Do you ever hear the crowd like that at the national tournament for the heavyweights? Here, teams got into it. And the crowd got into it. And when the crowd gets into it there is emotion and that’s what you want.
“That’s why you have the Super Bowl. Everybody picks sides.”
Minnesota won four of six against Oklahoma State in the final after winning just four in the Dec. 5 meeting, when Nelson lost by major decision to Gelogaev and Kevin Steinhaus fell to Perry at 184 pounds. The Gophers picked up victories this time around, Steinhaus beating Chris McNeil and Nelson beating Marsden.
Perhaps the best match of the day came at 149 pounds where Parks, an All-American as a junior, faced off against Gopher redshirt-freshman Dylan Ness, who had a major decision against Mike Kelly earlier in the day.
Right out of the gate, Ness turned a Parks shot into a slick counter for a 5-0 lead. However, the Cowboy rallied with three takedowns over the next three minutes, the third coming with three seconds left in the second period, to lead 8-7 entering the final period. A Ness escape tied it but Parks’ takedown and 1:02 of riding time made it 11-8.
They may have been some negatives to the overall structure and organization of the new version of the National Duals.
But at the end of the day there where very few wrestling fans who weren’t searching for results and talking about Minnesota beating Iowa and Oklahoma State within a six-hour span.