By Gary R. Blockus
MANHEIM, Pa. – Unbeaten and top-ranked Penn State claimed the crown jewel in the 2016 NWCA Division I National Championship Dual Series presented by the United States Marine Corps and Titan Mercury Wrestling Club.
The host No. 1 Nittany Lions utilized three pins, a technical fall to defeat No. 3 Oklahoma State 29-18 in front of at 6,575 fans at Rec Hall on Sunday, Feb. 21 and earn the dual meet championship in the new bowl-style format.
No. 2 Iowa, the other unbeaten heading into the weekend, fell to ACC runner-up North Carolina State (23-1) on Monday night, marking the first time an ACC team had beaten Iowa. Each team won five bouts, with the No. 4 Wolfpack picking up bonus wins by injury default, technical fall and a major decision while the Hawkeyes bonus wins included two majors.
N.C. State coach Pat Popolizio, whose team added it its single-season school-record with its 23rd win of the season, was thrilled with the win.
“National Duals, I think the biggest thing is being able to have the opportunity to come out here ad compete and really the way the thing played out tonight was a statement unto itself,” he said.
The big difference in the match came at 184, where No. 17 Pete Renda upset No. 9 Sammy Brooks 9-4 to put N.C. State on top 15-14. Nathan Burak, No. 4 at 197, responded with a decision to put the Hawkeyes back on top 17-15 heading into the final bout, where top-ranked two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski, already with a 10-1 lead on No. 6 Sam Stoll, won by injury default to make ACC history.
“They earned it, there’s no doubt,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said after his team tasted defeat in the season-ending dual (16-1).
Popolizio, whose team won at both Oklahoma State and Iowa this season, liked the way his team responded to the raucous crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“Not to be unfair, but North Carolina State’s not used to this environment,” he said, “so to come in here and not get rattled, that’s most important to our program.”
In Penn State’s championship win over No. 3 Oklahoma State (12-3), the Nittany Lions (16-0) won six of 10 bouts, three by pin and one by technical fall, to outslug the Cowboys, who were missing two starters from the lineup, one for health reasons, another for family reasons. No. 4 Nico Megaludis (125), No. 1 Jason Nolf (157) and No. 1 Morgan McIntosh (197) all recorded pins for Penn State.
Sanderson and the Penn State team received the trophy from NWCA Executive Director Mike Moyer at the center of the mat.
“I think it’s a solid concept,” Sanderson said of the new bowl-style format for the National Duals. “I like the idea. I don’t think this is the time of the year [that] you have a huge tournament. I think one match is a great. It seemed like there was some controversy in who wrestled [whom], that obviously needs to be a part of the process.”
“It’s a great thing,” Oklahoma State coach John Smith agreed of the concept. “This is something that can grow. I think we ought to put even more importance on it. If Penn State is the best team in dual meets this year there should be points carried over into nationals. It just becomes that much more important.”
Sanderson doesn’t want to see it go that far with points being carried on, but believes it should become a special enough event in and of itself.
Action in the NWCA Division I Duals kicked off on Friday, Feb. 19 when No. 18 Minnesota (10-8) knocked off No. 15 Iowa State (10-6) by putting together its most dominant performance since opening the season with a 31-3 win over Grand Canyon.
The host Golden Gophers won seven of 10 bouts with a pair of back-to-back pins by No. 16 Jake Short (149) and Brandon Kingsley (157) breaking the match open for an 18-3 lead that proved insurmountable.
“I think the way [the team] wrestled was really good. … That’s the way we want to wrestle,” Minnesota coach J Robinson said. “That’s the way you want to look. You want to feel positive about what we’re doing, where we are. The hard work we’re putting in, it’s going to pay off for us.”
With Cyclone heavyweight Quean Smith out due to injury, Iowa State coach Kevin Jackson bumped up Patrick Downey to 197 and Marcus Harrington to 285, and both gave up bonus points with No. 3 Brett Pfarr (197) earning a major decision and No. 9 Michael Kroells (285) pulling off a tech fall.
On Saturday, Feb. 20, the upset trend and Big Ten dominance continued when No. 11 Rutgers (16-5) knocked off EIWA champion No. 7 Lehigh (13-3) in a match that went all the way into tiebreaker at 285, where No. 13 Billy Smith of Rutgers scored a reversal at the beginning of tiebreakers and held off fellow redshirt senior, No. 14 Max Wessell.
“In the grand scheme of things, what does this win mean? It’s huge for our program,” Rutgers coach Scott Goodale said. “It’s Lehigh, tremendous tradition, a ton of respect for those guys … Every point mattered, we knew that. It means a lot to beat Lehigh, there’s no question about it.”
Rutgers won for just the third time in 45 meetings between the teams, and was spurred on by a five-bout run from 141 through 174.
“It’s tough when you lose five in a row in a hostile environment,” Lehigh coach Pat Santoro said. “This crowd was awesome. We didn’t respond the way we needed to.”
The Big Ten run ended on Sunday, other than Penn State’s win.
First up, Appalachian State (12-4), which advanced out of the Southern Conference, defeated Indiana 21-13 in a battle of unranked teams that began at 157. Indiana (6-7) led 13-9 after a decision by No. 19 Elijah Oliver at 125, but App State went on a three match run keyed by Mike Longo’s late fall (6:33) over Tommy Cash at 141. Matt Zovistoski then clinched it with a 6-5 decision over Luke Blanton.
“I’m so proud of this team and how they fought when our backs were against the wall,” Mountaineers head coach JohnMark Bentley. “This is a very big statement for our program, athletics department, and university.”
No. 5 Virginia Tech (16-2), the ACC champion, thumped No. 8 Michigan (13-3) by winning seven of ten bouts, three of them by a single point and one in double overtime for a 24-11 victory.
Virginia Tech’s Joey Dance (No. 3 at 125) started the night with a dramatic takedown in the second sudden victory period to avenge his season-ending loss last year to No. 20 Conor Youtsey, but Hokies coach Kevin Dresser pointed to No. 5 Nick Brascetta’s 3-2 decision over No. 13 Brian Murphy that put the Hokies ahead to stay as the turning point.
“We came out flat today until Nick Brascetta hit the mat at 157,” Dresser said. “He ignited the team and we rolled from there! I’m so proud of this staff and this team. We have been on the road for the past four weekends in front of a lot of crowds cheering against us and we ran the table. I love this team and their fight! We are excited for the postseason!”
No. 6 Missouri (14-2), the Mid-American Conference champion, went nip-and-tuck with No. 11 Nebraska (10-6) in Lincoln before Daniel Lewis (No. 4 at 165) started a string of four straight Tiger decisions, capped off with a major by J’den Cox, to clinch the 19-14 win. Along the way, No. 14 Willie Miklus (184) scored a buzzer-beating takedown to nip No. 9 TJ Dudley 5-4.
“I didn’t panic when I fell behind in the match,” said Miklus. “I still wrestled until the end. I was just happy to get the win for the team and that we were able to get the win as a team.”
Nebraska’s Jake Sueflohn (No. 4 at 149) edged previously undefeated No. 3 Lavion Mayes 4-1 in tiebreaker, clinching it with a takedown.
Finally, the other match on Monday, Feb. 22 featured No. 9 Ohio State (11-3) beating EWL champion Edinboro 26-13 by winning six of 10 matches at St. John Arena, led by a gutty 4-3 decision on riding time for No. 10 Jake Ryan over No. 16 Austin Matthews at 157, with video review negating a buzzer-beating takedown awarded to Matthews.
Ohio State coach Tom Ryan didn’t use world champion Kyle Snyder at heavyweight, but returning NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello started the night off with a pin to put the Buckeyes in high gear.
NWCA NATIONAL DUALS RESULTS
Friday, February 19
No. 18 Minnesota 30, No. 15 Iowa State 10
Saturday, February 20
No. 13 Rutgers 18, No. 7 Lehigh 15
Sunday, February 21
No. 1 Penn State 29, No. 3 Oklahoma State 18
No. 5 Virginia Tech 24, No. 8 Michigan 11
No. 6 Missouri 19, No. 11 Nebraska 14
Appalachian State 21, Indiana 13
Monday, February 22
No. 9 Ohio State 26, Edinboro 13
No. 4 N.C. State 21, No. 2 Iowa 17