2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championships Wrap-Up
By Mike Sempervive
Called by some as the biggest match of modern times, Cornell’s Kyle Dake became the first man in the history of collegiate wrestling to win four national championships in four different weight classes when he defeated Penn State’s David Taylor at the finals of the 83rd annual NCAA Men’s wrestling finals.
In front of a raucous sold-out Wells Fargo Center in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday night, Dake seemingly got stronger as the match went on, battling his friend, and rival, Taylor to a 5-3 decision victory.
Finishing his career with a record of 137-4, fourth most in Cornell history, the Lansing, New York native also becomes only the third man to ever win four NCAA titles, of any kind, joining Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith (1990-92, 94) and Iowa’s Cael Sanderson (1999-2002).
Taylor exploded to open the match, immediately taking down Dake to go up 2-0 - which were the first two points scored on Dake in the tournament. About twenty seconds later, Dake cut the lead in half by scoring with a reversal. As the round came to an end, Dake took the lead with a takedown, to the roars of the crowd. A relatively quiet second period saw Dake tack on another point, to stretch his lead to 4-2.
In the third period, Taylor escaped to cut the lead to one, and ultimately evened it up when Dake had a pointed docked for stalling, but the Cornell wrestler was just too strong, and used riding time to finish off the bout, and make history.
Dake won the 141 pound division as a freshman in 2010, the 149 pound class in 2011, and the 157 pound title last year.
Immediately after the show ended, SportsCenter showed highlights of the bout, and Dake was interviewed by Robert Flores, the most combat sport and pro wrestling friendly of all ESPN’s anchors, about his accomplishment. It was a far cry from last year’s finals in St. Louis where Dake was roundly booed by Iowa supporters after his victory over Hawkeye Michael St. John.
The bout was the first time that the NCAA and ESPN ever broke with the tradition of the show’s order being determined by weight, from lightest to heaviest, and instead declared a marquee match-up be placed in the main event position of the card. This was accomplished by rotating the 174 pound class into the show’s opener, working up to heavyweight for the fourth match, and then going from 125 pounds to the 165 pound Dake-Taylor final.
Amateur wrestling in the United States has long put its beliefs and traditions ahead of individualism or hyperbole, which has maintained decorum, but has likely impeded their better interests when it comes to presentation and self-promotion. Though, a new generation of savvy, and very self-aware, athletes have begun to develop on the mat, mixing charisma with their discipline.
Most recently, Jordan Burroughs, a three-time national champion at Nebraska, whose successful “All I See Is Gold” campaign began in his college years, and has backed up his hype by having one of the best careers in history, winning everything he’s entered - including claiming an Olympic Gold medal, this past August.
To collegiate wrestling’s credit, this entire season they've done a good job trying to take advantage of the opportunity to ride the coattails of Burroughs, who narrated and appeared in the video package to open the broadcast, by strongly promoting Dake.
His non-binding tilt, this past November, with Taylor at the NCWA All-Star Classic sold out the Bender Arena in Washington, DC, and was dubbed “The Match of the Century.” The follow-up, at the Southern Scuffle on January 2 - which did go against the season records of both men - was, unsurprisingly, called “The Match of the Century II.”
The rivalry had continued to thrive despite Dake defeating Taylor three consecutive times, prior to tonight, (twice by 3-2 decision), including the April 2012 Olympic Trials, where he won via second-period pinfall.
Taylor’s career ends with great decoration, but also with some notable disappointments. As a redshirt freshman in 2011, Taylor was undefeated when he ran into a streaking Bubba Jenkins in the finals at 157 pounds. After a scramble following a Taylor single-leg attempt, Jenkins (who had actually transferred away from Penn State a year prior) rolled through, cradling him, and getting the shocking pin.
He bounced back in his sophomore campaign, going undefeated again as he cruised to the 165 pound championship. On the way to the finals, Taylor pinned four opponents in a total of 8:46. In the final, he set a record by gaining 22 points before the bout was stopped via technical decision, 22-7. He was named the NCAA’s Most Dominant wrestler of the year, as well as being named Hodge Trophy recipient, over some formidable competition from the likes of Burroughs, Dake, Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver, Iowa’s Matt McDonough, and Nittany Lion teammates Frank Molinario and Ed Ruth.
This season, Taylor was once again on the short-list of guys who were in line for a shot at being named for the Hodge Trophy, as he entered the night at 30-1, with three Big 10 titles. He blasted through his first three bouts in 5:56 - all via pinfall, including a 24 second flattening of Illinois’ Conrad Polz in the quarterfinals, as Dake wrestled on an adjacent mat. In the semifinal, he scored another pin, this time over Virginia Tech’s Peter Yates in 3:25.
As Taylor was pinning his competition on the way to the finals, the undefeated Dake was instead dismantling his opponents, winning four consecutive decisions by wide margins. During the season, Dake did score some pins, 18 of them among his 37 wins.
Going into Saturday evening’s finals, it looked as though Dake-Taylor could get an extra level of importance, as it had the ability to be the determining match to decide the overall team points title. The Oklahoma State Cowboys, headed by their legend John Smith, were looking to end Penn State’s (and their own legendary head coach Cael Sanderson) two-year reign of team dominance.
Having to rally from an almost twenty point deficit, to edge out the Nittany Lions, the Big 12 school had trailed the team from Happy Valley, 114.5 to 94, as the Saturday morning All-American portion of the proceedings began. Needing a strong performance, the Cowboys won seven of nine matches to pull within three points of Penn State (114.5-111), who had already advanced their remaining wrestlers into championship matches.
The opening bout was a very entertaining head-to-head matchup between the schools for the 174 pound championship that could have given Penn State the team title. But, instead, #1 ranked Cowboy junior Chris Perry defeated #2 ranked Big 10 champion Matt Brown with an escape point in overtime to win the title, and put his school up 115.5-114.5.
The lead didn't last long, as in the next bout, Penn State’s Ed Ruth cruised to his second straight national championship by defeating Lehigh’s Robert Hamlin, for the 184 pound title. The top ranked wrestler at the weight, Ruth used a late takedown, combined with riding time, to take a major decision, 12-4, over the third ranked Hamlin. It also put Penn State back in the lead for the team title, 119.5-114.5.
The Susquehanna Township, Pennsylvania native was 2012’s 174 pound champion, and caused a buzz at both last year’s Big 10 and NCAA finals by shading both sides of his hair with his school’s colors. Ruth knocked off last year’s champion in the class, Cornell’s Tyler Bosak by decision in the semifinals, and with Saturday’s victory he now runs his unbeaten streak to 68. Hamlin had edged #2 ranked Ben Bennett of Central Michigan in the semifinal, by 1-0 decision.
It all came to an end for Oklahoma State’s team hopes during the 197 pound final when Kent State’s top-ranked Dustin Kilgore, who hadn't lost since December 2010, was upset by Penn State’s tough Quentin Wright. An outstanding back and forth battle, the win clinched the team title for the Nittany Lions. The second ranked Wright takes home his national title after losing in last year’s final at 184 pounds. Kilgore, by far Kent State’s greatest wrestler, had his 62-match winning streak snapped, and suffered his first loss in 44 bouts this season. He ends his college career with four MAC championships, and 178 wins (most in school history), against 12 losses. Wright, the Big 10 champion, finishes the year with a record of 32-2.
Next was a rematch of the Big 10 finals for the heavyweight division that saw Minnesota junior Tony Nelson once again top Northwestern’s Michael McMullen. The top-ranked Nelson scored the first two points of the bout with a takedown with 30 seconds to go in the first round, which Northwestern challenged. The call was upheld, and the massively-sized Minnesota junior ended up holding on, padded by a two point takedown in the third round, to win a 6-2 decision over the #5 ranked sophomore.
With the win, Nelson claims his second straight heavyweight national championship, joining Cole Konrad as the only other Golden Gopher grappler to accomplish that feat. McMullen had upset Oregon State’s #4 ranked Chad Hanke in the quarterfinals, and Missouri’s #1 ranked Dominique Bradley in the semis, to earn his shot at the national title.
In another all-Big 10 division battle, at 125 pounds, #2 ranked Jesse Delgado of Illinois scored a takedown out of a scramble to break a 1-1 tie with about 90 seconds to go in the third round, and dominated the end of the round to claim a 6-2 decision over #4 ranked Nico Megaludis of Penn State. It’s the second straight runner-up performance by Megaludis, who upset top-ranked Alan Waters from Missouri on Friday. Delgado, the Big 10 champion, became the odds-on favorite after two-time, and defending, 125 pound champion Matt McDonough of Iowa (ranked third) lost both of his matches on Friday, eliminating him from contention.
The third consecutive Big 10 tilt was between the two top ranked 133 pound competitors: undefeated rivals Jordan Stieber of Ohio State and Iowa’s Tony Ramos. To the dismay of the hometown crowd, Stieber ran his lifetime record against Ramos - who voiced his disapproval of always playing second-fiddle to Stieber before the bout - to 5-0 (including two wins in conference finals), and taking home his second straight national championship.
It was Stieber’s controversial upset win over Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver in last year’s 133 pound finals that became one of the impetuses in bringing instant replay with coaches challenges into the tournament. In the second round, there was a long delay as Iowa coach Tom Brands disagreed a two point takedown by Stieber and sprinted to the mat to challenge the call. It was ultimately upheld, and the Buckeye All-American held on to win a very spirited 7-4 decision, and raised his season record to 27-0.
The riding skills of Oklahoma junior Kendrick Maple brought him the 141 pound championship, as he edged out Edinboro’s Mitchell Port, via 4-3 decision. The second ranked Maple, a two-time All-American, finishes the season undefeated, at 30-0. When he knocked off top-ranked favorite Hunter Stieber, by 7-6 decision, in the semifinals, the #4 ranked Port guaranteed himself to be Edinboro’s 50th All-American.
The small Pennsylvania school’s athletic director is four-time Olympic freestyle super-heavyweight medalist Bruce Baumgartner, and its most famous product is UFC star Josh Koscheck, who was a 4-time All-American, and the 174 pound national champion in 2001.
Stieber, Logan’s sophomore brother, who also wrestles for Ohio State, was undefeated entering the tournament, and finishes the season 34-1.
Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver erased the memories of his tough loss in last year’s 133 pound final by defeating Boise State’s Jason Chamberlain, via decision. Tied 1-1, the top-ranked Oliver scored with a two-point takedown with ten seconds left to seal the decision. It’s the second national championship for the Cowboy (he also won the 133 pound class in 2011), who finishes the year undefeated, and without being taken down. It’s the 136th individual championship for a wrestler in Oklahoma State’s legendary program.
Iowa junior Derek St. John gave the home crowd something to celebrate when he won the 157 pound division with a 3-2 decision over Northwestern’s Jason Welch. St. John scored a takedown out of a scramble with a minute left in round three that popped the crowd, and tied up the match at 2-2. With 37 seconds left, St. John got an escape to go up 3-2, and then rode the senior out to win his first national championship. Welch, who finished fourth last year, ends his career 0-6 against St. John.
Out of the twenty wrestlers to make it to the finals, twelve of them came from Big 10 schools (Penn State 5, Iowa 2, Northwestern 2, Illinois 1, Minnesota 1, Ohio State 1), compared to only three for the Big 12 (Oklahoma State 2, Oklahoma 1), and two for the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (Cornell 1, Lehigh 1).
The Big 10 continued to dominate the All-American ranks, with 10 schools boasting 34 honorees (led by Minnesota’s eight). The Big 12 had 12 (led by Oklahoma State’s seven), followed by the Atlantic Coast Conference 8 (Virginia Tech claimed five of those), the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association 6, the Mid-American Conference 6, the Eastern Wrestling Leauge 5, Pac-12 4, Western Wrestling Conference 3, and the Southern Conference 2.
During the broadcast, a video tribute was paid to Jeff Blatnick, who died this past November. The 1984 Olympic gold medalist was not only an incredible legend figure on the wrestling (as well as mixed martial arts) scene, but he was also a fixture on the announcing team.
As usual, the championship round got its annual ESPN Saturday night primetime airing, but the first two-and-a-half days of competition took place on ESPN U, the network’s all-collegiate cable channel, as well as being accessible through their multi-platform services, ESPN3 and WatchESPN. The company’s sports pick ‘em mobile application, “Streak For The Cash” featured choosing the winners of the 125 and 165 pound bouts as being options.
The announcers for the final day were ESPN’s Adam Amin on play-by-play for the finals only, Shawn Kenney on play-by-play for the preliminary rounds, with Anthony Robles (2011’s 125-pound champion from Arizona State, who turned into a national sensation due to the story of being born without a right leg) and Tim Johnson (longtime freelance wrestling announcer and expert) on color commentary. Quint Kessenich (a former high school wrestler, and professional lacrosse player) provided interviews, and commentary, from the floor.
All matches from the three-day event can be viewed, in their entirety, at ESPN3.com.
125 pounds: #2 Jesse Delgado (26-3, sophomore, Illinois) def. #4 Nico Megaludis (28-4, sophomore, Penn State), by decision, 7-4
133 pounds: #1 Logan Stieber (27-0, sophomore, Ohio State) def. #2 Tony Ramos (31-0, junior, Iowa), by decision, 7-4.
141 pounds: #2 Kendric Maple (30-0, junior, Oklahoma) def. #4 Mitchell Port (34-4, sophomore, Edinboro), by decision, 4-3.
149 pounds: #1 Jordan Oliver (38-0, senior, Oklahoma State) def. #2 Jason Chamberlain (30-2, senior, Boise State), by decision, 3-2.
157 pounds: #2 Derek St. John (31-2, junior, Iowa) def. #1 Jason Welch (34-2, senior, Northwestern), by decision, 3-2.
165 pounds: #1 Kyle Dake (37-0, senior, Cornell) def. #2 David Taylor (30-2, junior, Penn State), by decision, 5-4.
174 pounds: #1 Chris Perry (35-2, junior, Oklahoma State) def. #2 Matt Brown (29-5, sophomore, Penn State), by decision, 2-1, in overtime.
184 pounds: #1 Ed Ruth (33-0, junior, Penn State) vs. #3 Robert Hamlin (26-4, senior, Lehigh), by major decision, 12-4.
197 pounds: #2 Quentin Wright (32-0, senior, Penn State) def. #1 Dustin Kilgore (43-1, senior, Kent State), by decision, 8-6.
285 pounds: #2 Tony Nelson (33-1, junior, Minnesota) def. #5 Michael McMullan (22-4, sophomore, Northwestern), by decision, 6-2.
Final Team Standings:
1. Penn State - 123.5
2. Oklahoma State - 119.5
3. Minnesota - 103.0
4. Iowa - 73.0
5. Cornell - 65.0
6. Ohio State - 59.5
7. Missouri - 56.5
8. Oregon State - 48.5
9. Illinois - 45.5
10. Virginia Tech - 43.5
11. Iowa State - 41.5
12. Oklahoma - 38.5
13. Nebraska - 38.0
14. Edinboro - 37.5
T-15. Northern Iowa - 34.0
T-15. Pittsburgh - 34.0
17. Northwestern - 32.5
18. Central Michigan - 30.5
19. Boise State - 30.5
20. The Citadel - 29.0
Team Leaders in All-Americans:
Minnesota - 8
Oklahoma State - 7
Penn State - 5
Missouri - 5
Virginia Tech - 5
Cornell - 4
Iowa - 4
Illinois - 3
Iowa State - 3
Ohio State - 3
Oregon State - 3
9 schools tied with 212 schools tied with 1