The wrestling NCAA Championships begins today in Iowa City, and despite the emergence to national prominence of programs such as Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State, it appears that this tournament will still have familiar names at the top.
“I see three teams with a distinct advantage Minnesota, Iowa and Oklahoma State, but not necessarily in that order,” Oklahoma coach Jack Spates said at the tournament press conference. “We are hoping for a six-team race.”
Like the Sooners, Michigan will be looking to pull some upsets and take advantage of a field that could be wide-open.
Both Minnesota and Oklahoma State, the top two teams in the nation, are balanced squads that will rely on top-eight finishes from a number of their wrestlers. Iowa, on the other hand, is a team made for non-dual tournaments a few superstars, and a few wrestlers capable of moving up from middle-of-the-pack standing.
Michigan, like Minnesota and Oklahoma State, will need a superb performance from its star, second-seeded Otto Olson at 174 pounds.
But Olson will have a difficult road to the finals. In his third match, he is slated to face either seventh-seeded Eric Hall of Virginia Tech or tenth-seeded Jacob Volkmann of Minnesota, two wrestlers he narrowly defeated this season.
Seven of the eight Wolverines who will compete are seeded in the top-12, though only three Olson, 184-pounder Andy Hrovat and heavyweight Matt Brink are projected to be All-Americans.
The only unseeded Wolverine is 157-pound freshman Pat Owen, who qualified with a seventh-place finish two weeks ago at the Big Ten Championships. Owen will face tenth-seeded Rocky Smart of Arizona State in the first round.
Regardless of how Owen finishes, coach Joe McFarland knows that the experience he obtains this weekend will be extremely valuable in the years to come.
“It will be great to get him there, and for him to feel what the national tournament is like. There”s no pressure on him, so he can just get there and wrestle as hard as he can,” McFarland said. “Hopefully some good things will happen for him, and he”ll sneak in there and place.”
Freshmen Foley Dowd and Clark Forward are both alternates for nationals after finishing eighth at the Big Ten tournament.
“They”ve been a big part of the success we”ve had this year,” McFarland said. “But they”ll be right back in it next season, I can guarantee.”
Senior 197-pounder Joe DeGain will conclude his Michigan career this weekend. In his first national tournament, he is slated to meet Minnesota”s Owen Elzen in the second round. Elzen defeated DeGain by technical fall in the third-place match at Big Tens.
A key weight class for the Wolverines will be 125 pounds, where sophomore A.J. Grant is seeded tenth. Grant is expected to face archrival Chris Williams of Michigan State in the second round. If he is victorious, he will probably face Iowa”s Jody Strittmatter, who has defeated Grant four times this season.
The Wolverines will need strong performances from DeGain, Grant and 149-pounder Mike Kulczycki if they hope to finish in the top five of the team standings.
All three wrestlers got on a bit of a roll at the Big Ten tournament, which Minnesota coach J Robinson thinks is a big part of having success at nationals.
“At the national tournament, you throw out what you”ve done,” Robinson said. “It all depends on who gets hot.”