By Gary Blockus
Manheim, Pa. – No. 18 Minnesota hosts No. 15 Iowa State at 8:30 p.m. ET Friday in an exciting bout to kick off the action in the 2016 NWCA Division I National Championship Duals Series presented by the United States Marine Corps and Titan Mercury Wrestling Club.
The bowl series format of dual meets is a departure from the tournament-style National Duals won by Missouri last season.
This year’s National Duals utilizes eight Big Ten teams as predetermined hosts against the winners of six other Division I conferences and two wild-card selections. Because of a league tournament held a week earlier than the other conference championships, the Pac-12 withdrew, which allowed the selection of Iowa State as the second wild-card team.
Iowa head coach Tom Brands supports this year’s concept.
“We’ve been ranked behind Penn State all year,” he said earlier this week. “I guess if there’s controversy to it, that would be the controversy, should we have wrestled Penn State or not? That was the one flaw, but that was talked about. We used our imagination at the beginning of this thing and saw that that might be an issue, but I still think this might be a better format because, especially with the time of year it is because of the team advancement concept and what you’re trying to pack in a small amount of time at this point in the year, I think this one is more thought out as well.”
The Division I National Duals kick off with Minnesota (9-8) hosting Iowa State (10-5) on Friday, followed by EIWA champion No. 7 Lehigh (13-2) visiting No. 13 Rutgers (15-5) at 8 p.m. ET Saturday in the revival of an old EIWA rivalry.
All the matches will be broadcast live via the Internet on BTN2GO.
The 5 p.m. ET Sunday national championship match with No. 1 Penn State hosting Big 12 champion and No. 3 Oklahoma State (12-2) at Rec Hall will be televised live on the Big Ten Network and pits the Nittany Lions against the highest-ranking non-Big Ten team.
Appalachian State (11-4), which picked up the Southern Conference’s national championship bid from a three-way tie with Chattanooga and Gardner-Webb, visits unranked Indiana (6-6) 1 p.m. ET Sunday.
No. 5 Virginia Tech (15-2), the ACC champion, visits Cliff Keen Arena 2 p.m. ET Sunday to take on No. 8 Michigan (13-2), and Mid American Conference champion No. 6 Missouri (13-2) travels to No. 11 Nebraska (10-5) and Devaney Center for a 3 p.m. ET Sunday match to renew what had been a rivalry in the old Big 12.
On Monday, EWL champion Edinboro (8-9) heads to No. 9 Ohio State (10-3) for a 7 p.m. ET match at St. John Arena, and at 8 p.m. ET on Monday, Feb. 22, No. 4 North Carolina State (22-1) visits No. 2 Iowa (16-0) at Carver Hawkeye Arena.
No. 15 Iowa State at No. 18 Minnesota, 8:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19
The pundits could not have arranged a more perfect union to kick off the 2016 NWCA Division I National Championship Duals Series.
“It takes a lot of stress off our guys from having to compete again this weekend,” Minnesota coach J Robinson said. “We can get it over on Friday and we’ll get a couple rest days on Saturday and Sunday. They’ll actually have a weekend off, which will be the first time in a long time. I think it will help them mentally but I also think the physical aspect will help the mental part. It’s good to get a little rest before the (NCAA) championships start.”
Iowa State has won three straight since dropping three straight.
“Our goal after the Oklahoma swing was to go on a four match win swing and go into the Big 12 tournament wrestling at a high level,” Cyclones coach Kevin Jackson said last week following his team’s win over West Virginia.
“We have one more challenge in front of us with Minnesota. It’s a tough place to wrestle.”
No. 7 Lehigh at No. 13 Rutgers, 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20
Both Rutgers coach Scott Goodale and Lehigh coach Pat Santoro are happy to renew their former EIWA rivalry.
“We’ve been trying to get them on our schedule for the last two years,” Santoro said, “but we could never get our schedules to match up.”
There’s no doubt this is a regional rivalry with both teams recruiting from New Jersey.
“It’s a big dual,” Goodale said. “It’s Lehigh. It’s one of the teams we felt would be a draw for our fans, and the excitement it’s generating in this area has worked out perfectly. Lehigh has always been one of the best programs in the country and we’ve missed out on competing against them the last couple of years. One of the great things about the match is [their fans[ travel so well. It will be a great atmosphere.”
Rutgers is led by No. 5 Anthony Ashnault (141), who finished eighth at the NCAA championships last season, and No. 8 Anthony Perrotti (165).
The Mountain Hawks feature returning All-Americans in Darian Cruz (125), Mason Beckman (133), Mitch Minotti (157), and runner-up Nathaniel Brown (184).
Appalachian State at Indiana, 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21
“It’s nice that we got selected to take part in this series,” said Indiana head coach Duane Goldman. “I hope that we can get out there and compete a littler harder, regardless of what happens, and get back to what got us here in the first place. For us, that was being feisty and competitive, and we just need to get back on track.”
Indiana finished the regular season with a 6-6 overall dual record, going 3-6 in the Big Ten. Their Big Ten win total is the highest mark since the 2009-10 season. The Hoosiers are led by No. 11 Nate Jackson (174) and No. 19 Elijah Oliver (125), who have both notched 26 wins this season.
Appalachian State finished the season in a three-way tie for Southern Conference lead with a 6-1 conference dual record.
“I am honored that our program has been selected for the 16-team field for the National Duals,” App State head coach JohnMark Bentley said. “I am looking forward to the challenge for our team!”
App State secured a share of the Southern Conference title, along with Gardner-Webb and Chattanooga. The Mountaineers were originally scheduled to wrestle at Ohio on Sunday, but with the invitation to the National Duals, the match versus the Bobcats has been canceled.
No. 5 Virginia Tech at No. 8 Michigan, 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21
The match will feature some great bouts, including the third between heavyweights Ty Walz (No. 3) for the Hokies and Adam Coon (No. 4) for the Wolverines. Walz owns a 9-3 win over Coon from the NWCA All-Star Classic to start the season, and a 5-3 overtime win at the 2014 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
“I think they’ve got a great team,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said of the Hokies, “We’re excited about hosting them. We feel they’re one of the top teams in the country now with eight guys ranked, seven of them in the Top 10, numerous 3s and 4s, so it’s going to be a great dual.
“I always like competition. This is a weekend you want to be competing. The fact that we have only one dual to focus on is a good thing, and then a weekend between now and the Big Ten Championships.”
Virginia Tech is led by No. 3 Joey Dance (125), No. 7 Solomon Chishko (141), No. 4 Nick Brascetta (157), No. 11 David McFadden (165), No. 6 Zack Zavatsky, No. 7 Jared Haught (197) and No. 3 Ty Walz (285).
The Wolverine lineup includes No. 2 Dominic Abounader (184), No. 4 Adam Coon (285), and a pair of sixth-ranked wrestlers in Alec Pantaleo (149) and Max Huntley (197).
No. 6 Missouri at No. 11 Nebraska, 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21
The teams haven’t met since a 17-16 win by Nebraska on Jan. 30, 2011. The Cornhuskers boast a strong lineup with nine of their wrestlers ranked in the Top 20, led by No. 9 TJ Dudley (184) and No. 10 Tim Lambert (125).
Because of the new format for national duals, the Tigers don’t have a chance to defend the title they won last season in Iowa, but Missouri coach Brian Smith is on board with this year’s format.
“In the summer, Tom Ryan from Ohio State and I were talking, and we said we need to have more controversy like football,” Smith said earlier this season. “Controversy draws attention.”
Nine of the Tigers are ranked in the latest NCAA Coaches’ Panel Rankings, five in the top six of their weight classes, led by junior 197-pounder J’den Cox (24-1), who is ranked No. 2 at 197 pounds.
Edinboro at No. 9 Ohio State, 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22
Edinboro went 6-0 in the Eastern Wrestling League to claim the league dual meet title for Fighting Scots, who have seven losses to ranked opponents.
“We’re excited,” Edinboro head coach Tim Flynn said. “We get a chance to wrestle a Top Ten team … This is another opportunity to face a ranked team. It’s great for our team.”
Edinboro is led by senior Vic Avery (2015 third NCAA at 184), senior Casey Fuller (165), sophomore Austin Matthews (157) and freshman Patricio Lugo (149).
Ohio State and Edinboro met in the opening round of the old format duals last season, with the Buckeyes winning 30-7. Ohio State holds a 9-3 all-time lead in the series.
The Buckeyes are led by returning NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello (No. 1 at 125) and No. 2 Kyle Snyder (285) who became the youngest world champion in USA Wrestling history last summer. They also feature No. 2 Bo Jordan (165), who suffered his only loss of the season on Friday to his cousin, Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin, No. 4 Micah Jordan (Bo’s younger brother at 141), No. 10 Johnni DiJulius (133) and the always dangerous Hunter Stieber, a two-time All-American.
No. 4 North Carolina State at No. 2 Iowa, 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22.
Either team could make a case to be in the national championship battle, but rankings based on the USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll determined the placing.
Iowa is 4-0 all-time against N.C. State, but this is arguably the best Wolfpack team in history.
“We are honored to have the opportunity to wrestle at Iowa,” N.C. State head coach Pat Popolizio said. “Once again, we get to face one of the top programs in the country that has a great tradition. We are battle-tested as a team, which has helped us define who we area.
Had the Wolfpack beaten Virginia Tech last weekend and won the ACC title, they would have drawn No. 1 Penn State.
“They’re both obviously great programs and we’re obviously happy and excited to compete against one of them,” Popolizio said on the Ricky and Reynolds podcast. “To me, that’s what this team needed.”
“Believe me, they’re on the radar and we have to be ready to go,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “They feel good about their program, obviously the pundits feel good about them. We’ve got to be ready to go.”
“We have to get ready for a style that’s something that we haven’t seen but is something that we’re going to have to deal with as get into [the NCAA Championships] in New York, but it’s also Penn State and some other opponents, and that’s leg riding is what we’re talking about. We’ve got to be ready, but more importantly, we’ve got to be ready to wrestle our own matches.”
2016 NWCA Division I National Championship Duals Series presented by the United States Marine Corps and Titan Mercury Club
(all matches Eastern Time)
all matches live Internet video on BTN2GO
Championship match live on BTN
No. 3 Oklahoma State (12-2) at No. 1 Penn State (15-0) – 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb 21 – Rec Hall
Friday – February 19
No. 15 Iowa State (10-5) at No. 18 Minnesota (9-8) – 8:30 p.m. Williams Arena
Saturday – February 20
No. 7 Lehigh (13-2) at No. 13 Rutgers (15-5) – 8 p.m. – RAC
Sunday – February 21
Appalachian State (11-4) at Indiana (6-6) – 1 p.m. – University Gym
No. 5 Virginia Tech (15-2) at No. 8 Michigan (13-2) – 2 p.m. – Cliff Keen Arena
No. 6 Missouri (13-2) at No. 11 Nebraska (10-5) – 3 p.m. – Devaney Center
No. 3 Oklahoma State (12-2) at No. 1 Penn State (15-0) – 5 p.m. – Rec Hall
Monday – February 22
Edinboro at No. 9 Ohio State (10-3) – 7 p.m. – St. John Arena
No. 4 North Carolina State (22-1) at No. 2 Iowa (16-0) – 8 p.m. – Carver Hawkeye Arena
Follow these two Twitter accounts for select in-match video highlights: @BTNStudentU and @WrestlingOnBTN.
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