March Matness: a complete recap of the 2014 NCAA Division 1 Wrestling National Championships



March Matness

By Mike Sempervive

My deepest apologies on the week-long delay. But, hopefully, you’ll still find this some interesting reading. (Because of its format, I’d suggest printing it out, as that is probably the best way to read it. Hopefully, you’ll find it useful as a reference tool down the line, as many of these guys will try their hands at the Olympics, in mixed martial arts, and in professional wrestling. Either way, thank you very much for reading, and enjoy~!

*****

1. Overview of the weekend
2. Individual final match capsules
3. Championship Team Standings
4. All-Americans by School and Conference
5. Notes on The Semifinals
6. Notes on The Quarterfinals
7. Other News and Notes
8. Differences from Previous Tournaments
9. Television Coverage
10. My Final Thoughts on The Weekend & Broadcast

*****

March Matness: The 84th Annual NCAA Division I Wrestling Tournament

With passionate and exhausting competition, emotional hot crowds, and easy to tell stories, it can be argued that, each year, the NCAA Division 1 Wrestling championship tournament is amateur athletics most underrated event. This year’s presentation began on Thursday, March 20, and ended on Saturday, March 22, 2014, emanating from the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There were 16,127 fans in attendance the final night.

When the determination was made for ESPN to close the evening’s telecast with Penn State’s future Hall of Famer David Taylor going for the 165 pound title, it meant the order of the tournament would change. For years the bout order was determined by weight, from smallest to largest. Under the new rules that were instituted last year, NCAA officials could close the show with a “main event.” But, maintained that whatever the next heaviest weight class was that followed the main event would, in turn, open the evening’s card. So, with 165 pounds ending the night, just like last year, the 174 pound final would begin Saturday night’s event, and was followed by the 184, 197, 285, 125, 133, 141, 149 and 157 pound classes, respectively.

*****

The Individual National Championship Final Encounters:
(Listed in order of how they aired on Saturday night’s ESPN broadcast)

174: Chris Perry (#1, Oklahoma St., senior, 30-1) defeated Andrew Howe (#2, Oklahoma, senior, 29-2), 4-0

Arguably, for many watching at home - and most of the crowd at the Chesapeake Energy Arena - the true main event of the night actually opened the show.

This was a rematch from last year’s final, which saw Perry score an overtime escape and win the title, 2-1. Earlier this year, Howe handed Perry his only loss of the year with a decision victory. That was avenged when, in return, handed Howe his only loss this season at the Big 12 championships, winning a decision of his own.

The bout started off slow, and cautious, with neither taking a point in the first period. In the second, Perry chose to start on the bottom and earned an escape point. He followed that up a little later with a takedown to increase his advantage to 3-0. Perry, who earned over a minute of riding time, was also warned for a stall in the second period.

In the third period, Howe chose for both to start neutral, hoping to dive in and get a takedown, but Perry continued thwart his efforts. Despite staying just active enough, Sooner fans grumbled for a stall to be issued by the referee, against their Bedlam rival, that would have resulted in a point deduction.

A four-time All-American, this was Howe’s third NCAA final. Initially going to Wisconsin, Howe claimed the 165 pound title in 2010, finishing the season undefeated. The 3-time Big Ten champion had torn his hamstring in 2011, and then suffered an ACL tear during a bout against Jordan Burroughs during the 2012 Olympic Trials. Howe finishes his collegiate career with a 93-9 record.

Perry’s genetics may have played a part in his victory, as his family tree bears the fruit of not only successful, but dominant, champions.. His father, Mark Perry Senior was a four-time All-American with the Cowboys, while his brother, Mark Perry Junior, migrated to Iowa and claimed two NCAA titles of his own - and that only begins the bloodline. His uncle is also his head coach, the legendary John Smith. Smith and his three brothers, Pat, Leroy and Mark were multiple time national champions, all for Oklahoma State. Perry indicated that his international career was going to continue on, hoping to make the 2016 Olympic team.

184: Ed Ruth (#2, Penn State, senior, 33-1) defeated Jimmy Sheptock (#1, Maryland, senior, 32-1), 4-1

Three-time ACC champion Jimmy Sheptock was the undefeated Southern Scuffle and Midlands champion, defeating Cornell’s highly-ranked Gabe Dean, along the way. But, it was who Dean had beaten on Scuffle weekend - Penn State’s Ed Ruth - who was the the athlete getting all of the attention at 184 pounds.

Ultimately, it well-deserved as, in the first period, Ruth used his speed to shoot in and topple Sheptock twice with low takedowns, en route to riding out a clear-cut, 4-1, victory.

“I never really have a game plan,” said Ruth in the post-bout presser, “...the first thing I think about is taking ten or twenty shots and try to get to his legs. In my head, I don’t like to believe that people can fend me off.” He also added later that he’s intending on taking a track towards the Olympics, and was very complimentary of head coach Cael Sanderson.

After taking Sheptock down twice in the first, Ruth would ride Sheptock for so long that he had cinched three-and-a-half minutes of riding time before the two minute second round was over.

The incredibly colorful Ruth who dyed each side of his head different colors during both the Big 10 and NCAA championships last season, had to deal with personal issues a month into the 2013-14 campaign. Early in the morning on November 13, Ruth was arrested for DUI after crashing his car into a tree while trying to park outside a Taco Bell in State College. The grappler’s blood alcohol content was tested at .281 - more than three times the legal limit in Pennsylvania. Six days later, head coach Cael Sanderson suspended Ruth for a month for violation of team rules. When he came back, he advanced to the semifinals of the Southern Scuffle, in January, but was upset by Cornell’s Gabe Dean - which cost Ruth his 84 match winning streak.

Some pundits wondered aloud if Sheptock was deserving of his number one ranking, despite securing victories over most of the weight classes top ten. While not having the opportunity to face Ruth, or Boise State’s Jake Swartz, “Headlock Sheptock” knocked off Dean, Iowa’s Ethen Lofthouse, Pittsburgh’s Max Thomusseit (twice), Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus, Penn’s Lorenzo Thomas, Michigan’s Dominic Abounader, and Nick Vetterlein of Virginia Tech. The Nothampton, Pennsylvania native became the Terrapins first championship finalist for the first time since 1969, when two-time All-American Gobel Kline won the NCAA title at 152 pounds.

197: J’den Cox (#2, Missouri, freshman, 38-2) defeated Nick Heflin (#1, Ohio State, senior, 28-2), 2-1

Missouri’s J’den Cox, who was born on March 3, 1995, became only the fourteenth true freshman to claim a NCAA wrestling championship, and the very first in Tigers history.

After a scoreless first period, Cox chose bottom position and escaped for the first point of the bout. His aggressive style then drew some “oooh’s” from the crowd, after he scored the escape the frosh charged in and scooped up Heflin with a double leg, and dumping him out of bounds, as the referee was blowing his whistle.

Heflin, who was an All-American at 174 pounds in 2013, had won 18 straight coming into the night. The Buckeye tied the bout up at 2-2. But, with thirty seconds to go in the third period, Heflin was called for stalling and was docked a point, again giving Cox the lead, 2-1. With the seconds running out, Heflin worked like a maniac to take Cox down. With arms locked around Cox’s torso, Heflin finally was able to pick his man up, and swung him down to the canvas, but the referee ruled that the clock had already hit :00.

The nineteen year old phenom finished high school with an 159-3 record, and won four state championships, in four different weight classes. This year, in addition to his national championship, Cox also claimed the Mid-American Conference title, and wrapped up its Most Outstanding Wrestler award.

285: Nick Gwiazdowski (#2, North Carolina State, sophomore, 43-2) defeated Tony Nelson (#1, Minnesota, senior, 30-5), 4-2

The bout was scoreless through the first two periods, with the defending heavyweight champion from Minnesota looking strong. He rode the transferred sophomore Gwiazdowski throughout the entire second period, denying him a chance to escape for a point, and Golden Gopher fans got excited over the possibility of taking over the team lead from Penn State, which would have happened with a Nelson victory.

Up 1-0, Gwiazdowski, with :30 gone in the third period, shot in and latched on to Nelson’s left leg, taking him down. Nelson, who was benched by Minnesota’s head coach J Robinson earlier on this season due to lapses in performance, would get taken down again - this time with his right leg - which then rendered his riding time point useless, and allowing Gwiazdowski to take the bout, 4-2.

A top-prospect out of high school, Gwiazdowski chose to stay closer to his home of Delanson, New York and enrolled at Binghamton, under head coach Pat Popolizo. He was an instant success with the Bearcats winning the Colonial Athletic Conference heavyweight title, and being named Freshman Rookie of the Year. When Popolizo, and assistant coach Frank Beasley, left the school and decided to take jobs at N.C. State, Gwiazdowski asked for and received his release from the school. He then followed his coaches to the Wolfpack, and set the program’s record for victories, with 43.

Coming into the 2013-14 season, Nelson had previously defeated Gwiazdowski three times: twice during regular season competition, and once in the opening round of the 2012 championships - which Nelson eventually won. Nelson was hoping to become the first 3-time heavyweight champion in Golden Gophers history.

125: Jesse Delgado (#1, Illinois, junior, 30-2) defeated Nashon Garrett (#2, Cornell, sophomore, 34-2), 3-2

While there were some other contenders, such as Penn State’s Nico Megaludis, Northern Iowa’s Dylan Peters, and Oklahoma’s Jarrod Patterson, many pundits believed the lightest weight class would end up between a battle of top seeds, which it most certainly did.

In the final, Jesse Delgado joined heavyweight Bob Norman, by becoming the Fighting Illini’s first back-to-back NCAA individual wrestling champion in 56 years. Delgado scrambled to avoid two takedowns in the first period, both of which were reviewed and upheld as not being takedowns, before almost trading takedowns as the round ended.

In the second period, Garrett rode Delagdo for well over a minute, before the junior earned an escape point and a takedown, in short order, as the round came to a close. The lead that was built up was insurmountable for the Big Red underclassman, who lost 3-2.

133: Tony Ramos (#3, Iowa, senior, 32-2) defeated Tyler Graff (#5, Wisconsin, senior, 31-5), 3-1

Tony Ramos became the 52nd National Champion in Iowa’s illustrious history, knocking off longtime rival Tyler Graff.

One of the most popular wrestlers at the school, in quite some time, the exciting Ramos got two back points and a near fall, as time ran out, clinching the victory, 3-1. Like every other match he wrestled over the weekend, the charismatic lighting rod was at a disadvantage at the scorer’s table going into the third period.

Graff chose down position in the second, and escaped to go up 1-0. Ramos chose the same in the third, and also escaped, thus tying up the bout 1-1. After no other scoring in the third period and first overtime, Ramos chose down position - hoping to earn an escape and pick up the clinching point. He didn’t, and it looked like Graff, who finished third at the NCAA’s last year, could pull off his first win against Ramos since 2011.

The Badger senior once again choose bottom position. As the whistle blew to begin, Ramos latched onto Graff’s leg - who then attempted to roll through for an escape (think of how pro wrestlers commonly counter Kurt Angle’s anklelock). But, Ramos immediately stifled it which allowed him to gain control of Graff and nearly pin him, picking up two points and the win.

Before the bout, there was a long staredown. The two rivals eyeballing each other, and the crowd’s appreciation of it, welcomed ESPN viewers back to the broadcast, after a commercial break.

Ramos and Graff have now faced off five times, with Ramos winning the last four match-ups - which included the last two Big 10 finals victories. The popular Hawkeye won 22 straight since losing via pin to Northern Iowa’s Joe Colon at the Midlands in December, and claims his third All-American status. He finished as the runner-up to Logan Steiber (who moved up in weight) at last year’s final,  and closes his collegiate run with a record of 120-14.

141: Logan Stieber (#2, Ohio State, junior, 30-1) defeated Devin Carter (#4, Virginia Tech, junior, 18-1), 10-1

After a dominant performance on Saturday night, and with the departures of seniors David Taylor and Ed Ruth, Logan Stieber has the opportunity to become collegiate wrestling’s biggest star in 2014-15.

Stieber had won back-to-back 133 pound NCAA titles, before moving up in weight, and with the victory over #4 Devin Carter he becomes the first ever three-time champion in Ohio State history.

He also remains on track to have a chance to become only the fourth man in NCAA history to win four national championships. If able to, next year in St. Louis, Stiber joins elite company in Pat Smith of Oklahoma State, Cael Sanderson of Iowa State, and Kyle Dake of Cornell. 

Carter, touted as a great defensive wrestler, whose offense is somewhat reliant on coming off escapes and scrambles, was just too overmatched. Stieber took him down in each round (twice in the third), and added an escape point and riding time, en route to a dominating 10-1 victory.

The Hokie junior began his junior campaign at 133 pounds with a 12 match winning streak - eight by pinfall - before tearing his hamstring in two places at the non-binding Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in early December. The tear was so bad, the muscle was completely disattached from the bone. A week later, he wrote on Twitter that his season was over.

On December 16 successful surgery was performed, and doctors estimated he’d need at least 6 to 9 months of rehabilitation. Amazingly, it took only 12 weeks of rehab for Carter to be cleared, allowing him to enter the ACC tournament at 141 pounds where he won his first at the weight, and his third overall.

149: Jason Tsirtsis (#5, Northwestern, freshman, 35-3) defeated Josh Kindig (#11, Oklahoma State, junior, 28-9), 3-1

Fifth ranked Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern tolled the bell that struck twelve for Cinderella, while wearing a slipper of his own.

The second lowest rated seed still competing, became the second freshman to win a national championship by knocking off #11 ranked Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State - the lowest remaining seed left in any bout.

The two men entered overtime tied up 1-1, and, with time running out in the first “sudden victory” portion, Tsirtsis kept reaching for Kindis’ left ankle, ultimately driving in, and putting the Cowboy junior down to earn two points, and end the contest.

With the loss, Oklahoma State was officially eliminated from any chance of finishing first overall, and claiming the team national championship. Meanwhile, much like J’Den Cox of Missouri, Tsirtsis’ strong run continued on from the regular season. He was named the Big 10 freshman of the year, as well as winning its conference championship, prior to this weekend’s run.

157: Alex Dieringer (#3, Oklahoma State, sophomore, 32-1) defeated Dylan Ness (#9, Minnesota, junior, 23-6), 13-4, major decision.

The way the night had shook out, if Dylan Ness would have been victorious then Minnesota would have taken the lead in the team standings. He wasn’t, and, instead, Penn State clinched the team championship with Alex Dieringer’s victory - the fourth individual title awarded to an underclassman.

Going on an improbable run throughout the tournament, Ness’ run ended early on in the first round when he was taken down and ridden for awhile, before almost being pinned, and finding himself in a 5-0 hole to begin the second.

It didn’t get much better from there, as Dieringer chose bottom to begin the period. He escaped quickly, and ended up taking Ness down again, jumping up to an 8-0 lead. Ness would continue to try and stay game but was overmatched, at lost a 13-4 major decision.

Dieringer, who also won this year’s Southern Scuffle, announced after the bout his intentions on moving up in weight to 165 pounds. "I'm a big 57-pounder," said the sophomore, "It's been hard on my body. I'm going to get big, real big, and I'm going to be 65 next year, so I'm excited."

165: David Taylor (#1, Penn State, senior, 34-0) defeated Tyler Caldwell (#2, Oklahoma State, senior, 28-4), 6-0

Because of many wrestlers whose stories were more intriguing, over the past few years, maybe “Magic Man” David Taylor’s greatness was a little overshadowed at times. But make no mistake, his collegiate career was truly great. And he proved it again on Saturday night.

The NCAA’s Most Dominant Wrestler of the Year, as well as the tournament’s Most Outstanding, Taylor got a takedown in the first period, and then added on an escape point, another takedown, and riding time, to cruise to a 6-0 victory over Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell.

Despite his dominance, Taylor walks away from Penn State with one less championship than his teammate Ed Ruth, who claims three. In his four consecutive championship finals appearances, Taylor is average (2-2)  - but the bouts, themself, were anything but. In 2011 the undefeated Taylor was upset, and pinned, in the 157 pound final to Bubba Jenkins of Arizona State - who had transferred from Penn State prior to the year. But, he rebounded well, going undefeated and winning the 2012 title at 157 pounds. He also picked up the prestigious Danny Hodge Trophy, as the sports MVP, to boot. Last year, as a junior, he moved up to 165 pounds and feuded all season with childhood friend - and Cornell wrestling machine - Kyle Dake, eventually dropping the 165-pound championship, in a bout dubbed by many to be “The Match of the Century.”

Now that his collegiate career is over, Taylor will continue on his path for the Olympics. He’s already received international seasoning at The Rumble on the Rails, last May, when he pinned Magomed Kurbanaliyev of Russia, with a headlock in impressive fashion. But, he’s in the toughest Olympic weight class - 74kg - which features both Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Dake.

Tyler Caldwell became a four-time All-American, and had reached the NCAA finals one other time, losing to the undefeated and unstoppable Jordan Burroughs, in the 2011 165 pound finale.

After originally committing to Cal Poly, Caldwell opted for Oklahoma for two seasons where he was a two-time All-American. When the assistant coach that recruited him left the program, Caldwell decided to take a redshirt season, before enrolling at fierce rival Oklahoma State. There he took back-to-back Big 12 Conference titles in 2013 and 2014, as well as finishing third in last year’s NCAA 165 pound finals, behind Dake and Taylor.

*****

National Championship Team Standings

Deciding the overall team winners happens as follows: two points for a victory by pin, forfeit, disqualification, or default. 1.5 points for a technical fall with a near fall. One point for a technical fall without a near fall. And one point for a major decision, and also for advancing in each round. A half point is earned as wrestlers, who have suffered losses previously in the tournament, win their “wrestleback” matches.

The Top Twenty Team Finishes - Point Totals

1. Penn State - 109.5
2. Minnesota - 104
3. Oklahoma State - 96.5
4. Iowa - 78.5
5. Edinboro - 62
6. Ohio State - 57
7. Cornell - 53
8. Virginia Tech - 49
9. Northwestern - 46
10. Oklahoma - 45
11. Nebraska - 43.5
12. Iowa State - 42
13. Illinois - 41
14. Missouri - 40.5
15. Northern Iowa - 40
16. Wisconsin - 36
17. Michigan - 35
18. Lehigh - 29.5
19. North Carolina State -24
20. Maryland - 21

*****

All-Americans by School and Conference:

There were 80 athletes who wrestled their way into All-American status, achieved by finishing in the top eight of their respective weight class. This year, they represented 38 different schools. Besides the two finalists, the order of the following six places were determined on Saturday morning with matches for 3rd, 5th, and 7th place.

Schools boasting multiple All-Americans:

Penn State - 7
Minnesota - 7
Iowa - 6
Oklahoma State - 5
Edinboro - 3
Cornell - 3
Virginia Tech - 3
Northwestern - 3
Oklahoma - 3
Iowa State - 3
Northern Iowa - 3
Lehigh - 3
Nebraska - 2
Ohio State - 2
Missouri - 2
Wisconsin - 2
Michigan - 2

Schools with one All-American: North Carolina State, Maryland, North Dakota State, Pittsburgh, Old Dominion, Virginia, Boise State, Indiana, North Carolina, Duke, Kent State, Citadel, Michigan State, Central Michigan, Rutgers, Ohio, Penn, Franklin & Marshall, Brown, and CSU-Bakersfield.

Conferences with teams boasting All-Americans: The Big 10 Conference had ten teams (Penn State, Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Michigan State) boasting All-Americans, with nine of those schools claiming at least two or more of them, apiece.

The Atlantic Coast Conference finished second with seven (Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Virginia, North Carolina, Duke). While the Mid-American Conference (Missouri, Old Dominion, Kent State, Central Michigan, Ohio, Northern Iowa) and Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (Cornell, Lehigh, Citadel, Rutgers, Franklin & Marshall, Brown) both had six.

The Big 12 had three teams (Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State), while the Pac-12 conference hosted two (Boise State, Cal State Bakersfield).

The Western Wrestling Conference (North Dakota State), Southern Conference (Citadel), and Eastern Wrestling League (Edinboro), all had one school featuring at least a single All-American.

Note: Next season, Maryland leaves the ACC, and Rutgers leaves the EIWA, both for the Big 10.

All-Americans by weight division

Heavyweights (285): Nick Gwiazdowski (North Carolina State), Tony Nelson (Minnesota), Mike McMullan (Northwestern), Bobby Telford (Iowa), Mike McClure (Michigan State), Adam Chalfant (Indiana), Jeremy Johnson (Ohio), Austin Marsden (Oklahoma State)

197 pounds: J’Den Cox (Missouri), Nick Heflin (Ohio State), Scott Schiller (Minnesota), Kyven Gadson (Iowa State), Conner Hartmann (Duke), Chris Penny (Virginia Tech), Morgan McIntosh (Penn State), Nathan Burak (Iowa)

184 pounds: Ed Ruth (Penn State), Jimmy Sheptock (Maryland), Gabe Dean (Cornell), Jack Dechow (Old Dominion), Kevin Steinhaus (Minnesota), Lorenzo Thomas (Penn), Jake Swartz (Boise State), Ophir Bernstein (Brown)

174 pounds: Chris Perry (Oklahoma State), Andrew Howe (Oklahoma), Logan Storley (Minnesota), Robert Kokesh (Nebraska), Matt Brown (Penn State), Mike Evans (Iowa), Tyler Wilps (Pittsburgh), Bryce Hammond (CSU-Bakersfield)

165 pounds: David Taylor (Penn State), Tyler Caldwell (Oklahoma State), Steven Monk (North Dakota State), Nick Sulzer (Virginia), Michael Moreno (Iowa State), Turtogtokh Luvsandorj (Citadel), Danny Zilverberg (Minnesota), Pierce Harger (Northwestern)

157 pounds: Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State), Dylan Ness (Minnesota), James Green (Nebraska), Ian Miller (Kent State), Derek St. John (Iowa), Brian Realbuto (Cornell), Isaac Jordan (Wisconsin), Anthony Perrotti (Rutgers)

149 pounds: Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern), Josh Kindig (Oklahoma State), Eric Grajales (Michigan), David Habat (Edinboro), Drake Houdashelt (Missouri), Mitch Minotti (Lehigh), James English (Penn State), Kendric Maple (Oklahoma)

141 pounds: Logan Stieber (Ohio State), Devin Carter (Virginia Tech), Mitchell Port (Edinboro), Evan Henderson (North Carolina), Zain Retherford (Penn State), Joey Lazor (Northern Iowa), Steve Dutton (Michigan), Richard Durso (Franklin & Marshall)

133 pounds: Tony Ramos (Iowa), Tyler Graff (Wisconsin), Joe Colon (Northern Iowa), A.J. Schopp (Edinboro), David Thorn (Minnesota), Mason Beckman (Lehigh), Joe Roth (Central Michigan), Cody Brewer (Oklahoma)

125 pounds: Jesse Delgado (Illinois), Nahshon Garrett (Cornell), Nico Megaludis (Penn State), Joey Dance (Virginia Tech), Cory Clark (Iowa), Dylan Peters (Northern Iowa), Darian Cruz (Lehigh), Earl Hall (Iowa State)

*****

The Semifinals

Friday evening’s semifinals began with a big upset at 125 pounds as #3 ranked Nico Megaludis, of Penn State, a national championship runner-up the last two years, was defeated by Nashon Garrett of Cornell. Despite Garrett’s #2 seed, and strong sophomore season, many pundits saw a Megaludis final against Illinois’ Jesse Delgado - a rematch of last year’s final - in the cards. Unfortunately for those people, Garrett jumped up to a 5-1 lead midway through the second period, and held on to claim a 6-4 victory. On the other side of the bracket, Delgado, the defending kingpin of the weight class, held up his end of the deal by defeating #5 ranked Dylan Peters of Northern Iowa, 8-6.

At 133 pounds, top-ranked Joe Colon of Northern Iowa was outclassed by #5 ranked Tyler Graff of Wisconsin. Graff jumped out to an early lead and held on to win 6-4, despite ceeding several late stalling points. Colon, in his senior season with the Panthers, was the strong favorite to take the class, due to the way his season ended compared to his rival Tony Ramos. Coming into Friday, he had defeated Graff twice this season.

In the other semifinal, Ramos, Iowa’s exciting senior, topped #2 rated Aaron Schopp of Edinboro in the same fashion he had won all of his other bouts: a third period rally, which resulted in a  5-1 decision victory.

The Nittany Lions saw another self-inflicted blow to their team title hopes come at 141 pounds. Third ranked redshirt freshman Zain Retherford was knocked out of contention with a 7-3 loss to Ohio State star Logan Stieber. Stieber, the favorite at the weight, used two early takedowns to take a lead that he would not give up - winning by the same score he topped Retherford with at the Big 10 Championship. The back-to-back victories now avenge Stieber’s loss to Retherford (the Midlands Champion) from earlier this season. That loss caused his 45-match winning streak come to an end.

The other semi-final at 141 saw the Cinderella run of #9 Evan Henderson, North Carolina’s first All-American since 2005, come to an end at the hands of #4 ranked junior Devin Carter of Virginia Tech. Carter, fighting back from a torn hamstring earlier in the season, became the Hokies first ever wrestling finalist.

The wide-open 149 pound class ended the semifinals with another upset as #5 ranked Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern continued his incredible run upsetting top seed Drake Houdashelt of Missouri, 2-1, with an escape as time expired in double overtime. Houdashelt saw his 26-match winning streak go by the waste side, as the freshman Tsirtsis would go on to face #11 Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State. Becoming the first of four Cowboys to advance to the finals, Kindig defeated #15 Mitch Minotti of Lehigh, 5-2.

In the 157 pound class, Minnesota junior Dylan Ness, ranked #9, scored a late takedown in the third period, and held on, to upend #4 ranked sophomore Ian Miller of Kent State, 6-4. His opponent in the final was Alex Dieringer of Oklahoma State, ranked third, who topped #7 Brian Realbuto of Cornell, 7-4. With Ness’ win, the University of Minnesota guaranteed themselves a chance to leapfrog Penn State and Oklahoma State by the end of the evening, if they could claim their last two bouts in impressive fashion.

The 165 pound weight class saw no surprises, and set up a battle of dueling four-time All-Americans, as #1 ranked Penn State senior David Taylor remain undefeated by easily cruising to a 13-5 victory over #4 ranked senior Steven Monk of North Dakota State. The other side of the field saw #2 ranked Tyler Caldwell of Oklahoma State solidly win a 5-0 decision over #3 Nick Sulzer of Virginia. With the victory, Caldwell goes into his second-ever finals looking for revenge on Taylor, who has beaten him three times in the last two seasons.

174 pounds saw the best match of the night take place, as defending champion Chris Perry of Oklahoma State survived #4 Mike Evans of Iowa, 3-2. The top ranked Perry used riding time to force the bout into overtime, tied at 2. Sudden victory saw an incredible duel get even better, as both men stifled each other, leading to two extra :30 segments. After an Iowa coaches challenge by former All-American Tom Brands was denied, Perry exploded into an escape from the bottom, and fended off a takedown attempt. This popped an already raucous home crowd, and advanced Perry to the finals.

In the other semi, #2 ranked Andrew Howe of Oklahoma topped #6 Logan Storley of Minnesota on the back of two takedowns in the first round, and cruised to a relatively easy 6-3 victory.

Popular powerhouse Ed Ruth of Penn State looked good advancing to the finals of the 184 pound class, by knocking off third ranked Gabe Dean of Cornell, 5-3. The #2 ranked Ruth, who had a tumultuous season, got some revenge on Dean for ending his 84-match winning streak, earlier this January at the Southern Scuffle tournament. Prior to that bout, Ruth had defeated Dean, via pinfall, in only 84 seconds at the Bearcat Open in November. With the victory, Ruth also became the wins leader in Nittany Lion history with 20 matches claimed.

On the other side of the 184 pound bracket, Maryland’s top ranked, Jimmy Sheptock defeated Old Dominion’s Jack Dechow, ending the #13 ranked grapplers Cinderella run, by a score of 3-2. With the win, Sheptock raised his season record to 32-0.

At 197 pounds, stud Missouri true freshman J’Den Cox became the first Tiger in history to advance to the finals in his first attempt, defeating #14 ranked Chris Penny of Virginia Tech. Using an escape from the bottom, followed by a takedown, Cox jumped out to a lead he would not relinquish, winning the bout, 4-1. The other semifinal saw top-ranked senior Nick Heflin of Ohio State victorious over #4 ranked junior Scott Schiller of Minnesota, in overtime, 2-1.

The heavyweight division (285 pounds) closed Friday night’s activities with a familiar face back in the finals. Top ranked senior Tony Nelson of Minnesota became a three-time All-American by knocking off Bobby Telford, his fifth ranked rival from Iowa, 3-1. Nelson, who came into the bout as the two-time and defending champion, would go on to face #2 ranked Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State. Gwiazdowski, the ACC champion, topped Indiana’s #3 seed Adam Chalfant, 5-4.

If Nelson had won his bout via pinfall, his team, led by longtime head coach J Robinson, would have passed Penn State and ended the night first in the overall team rankings.

******

Mitchell Port


The Quarterfinals

The early session on Friday started calmly, with few surprises taking place until the 141 pounders came out to compete. And the upsets, which were quite prevalent from the tournament’s beginning, began to occur again.

The first came as #1 ranked Mitchell Port of Edinboro (above), who came into the tournament as one of only four undefeated grapplers (28-0), was upset by Evan Henderson of North Carolina, 5-3. Henderson kept his opponent off-balance, and earned his first lifetime victory over him (now 1-4). Port, the Midlands winner and a favorite to make it to the finals, suffered his first loss since dropping last March’s 141-pound championship match to Oklahoma’s Kendric Maple.

Speaking of Maple, who ranked #4 at 149 pounds, the Sooner suffered an upset of his own, dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to fifth ranked, redshirt freshman, Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern. Maple had finished undefeated, 31-0, in 2012-13, and was the NCAA champion at 141 pounds.

The 157 pound class performed next and saw two massive upsets in a little over three minutes. First, top ranked James Green of Nebraska suffer a mental lapse scrambling with #9 Dylan Ness of Minnesota, getting flipped and pinned, losing 4-2. That was followed by defending champion, and #2 ranked, Derek St. John getting knocked off, in a huge upset, by Brian Realbuto of Cornell, 8-5. St. John was a top contender throughout the year for the Hodge Trophy, and had claimed the Midlands Championship, earlier in the year.

There was more excitement later at 174 pounds when #6 ranked Logan Storley of Minnesota edged Nebraska's third ranked Robert Kokesh, 6-4, in dramatic fashion. Leading 4-3, and solidly ahead on riding time, Kokesh tried to escape out of bounds. But, with tenacious determination, Storley chased the junior down, and dragging him down on the edge of the mat as time expired, to advance to the semifinals.

One of the match-ups that many hoped to see in the finals at 184 pounds - but couldn’t due to the way they were seeded - came to pass in the semifinals between Gabe Dean and Ed Ruth. This was created when, In the quarterfinals, Ruth easily dispatched of Minnesota’s #7 seed Kevin Steinhaus, 10-4, while Cornell’s Dean dominated Boise State’s sixth seeded Jacob Swartz, 11-4. Ruth and Dean were ranked #2 and #3, respectively, behind Maryland’s undefeated ACC champion Jimmy Sheptock.

While many underclassmen had amazing runs in this year’s NCAA’s, Michigan’s true freshman at heavyweight, Adam Coon, lost two early overtime bouts and was eliminated from All-American contention. Ranked #4, the Wolverine’s eliminating loss happened during the quarterfinals, and came at the hands of Iowa’s Bobby Telford - whom Coon had already beaten twice this season. This past January, Coon, who had won the Midlands and Cliff Keen Las Vegas tournaments had upset defending NCAA champion Tony Nelson of Minnesota, and had plenty of momentum riding into the Big 10 conference championships. Once there, though, he stumbled badly, losing twice and finishing 9th.

*****

Opening Two Rounds:

When the tournament began on Thursday, 330 wrestlers began their voyage to try and become champions and All-Americans. 140 matches took place on the first day, over two sessions, and began with ten “pigtail” matches, beginning at 11:00 am. Those bouts allowed for two men to battle it out for one open wild card spot in each weight class. By the time the evening session had ended, there had been 42 “upsets,” which saw lower-ranked wrestlers knock off higher seeds.

A few upsets of note during round one, the morning session:

*** At 125 pounds, #7 Ryan Taylor of Wisconsin was stunningly pinned by the unranked Jared Germaine of Eastern Michigan in only 46 seconds.

*** At 149 pounds, #2 ranked Nick Dardanes of Minnesota lost to #15 ranked Matthew Froch of Citadel, 8-5.

*** At 165 pounds, #5 Nick Moore of Iowa was defeated by the unseeded Josh Veltre of Bloomburg, by a 15-7 major decision.

*** At 184 pounds, #5 Ethen Lofthouse of Iowa was upset by Edinboro’s unranked Victor Avery, 5-3.

*** At 197 pounds, #9 Christian Boley of Maryland was beaten by Cody Reed of Binghampton, 3-1.

A few upsets of note during round two, the evening session:

*** There was a near-upset at 133 pounds when #3 Tony Ramos, the eventual champion at the weight, needed an overtime takedown to defeat Illinois Zane Richards, ranked #14, 6-4.

*** At 133 pounds, Oklahoma State’s #4 Jon Morrison was shockingly pinned by Oklahoma’s #13 Cody Brewer in 2:45. Morrison came into the contest undefeated (6-0) all-time against his Bedlam rival, with his last victory coming at the Big 12 championships, via 8-1 decision. The Cowboy senior had won back-to-back conference championships, and finished 5th at the NCAA’s last season defeating Chris Dardanes of Minnesota.

*** At 141 pounds, #6 Chris Dardanes of Minnesota met the same fate as his brother, losing to #11 Joey Lazor of Northern Iowa. After Dardanes had tied the bout up, Lazor scored a last second takedown to retake the lead, 10-8.

*** At 149 pounds, #6 Jake Sueflohn of Nebraska was beaten, 7-5, by #11 ranked Joshua Kindig of Oklahoma State, who ended up advancing all the way to the finals.

*** At 197 pounds, one of Penn State’s threats to win individual honors, #3 Morgan McIntosh was upset by #14 ranked Chris Penny of Virginia Tech, 3-2. Perry would go on and advance to the semifinals, but lost to true freshman J’Den Cox of Iowa.

*** Also at 197 pounds, #7 ranked Travis Rutt of Oklahoma lost to Conner Hartmann of Duke, 6-0, continuing Hartmann’s Cinderella run through the first two days of the tournament.

*** Finally, the last upset at 197 occurred when #11 Nathan Burke of Iowa toppled #6 Richard of Bloomburg, with a last second takedown in the third period, 4-3.

*** At heavyweight, Maryland’s #12 ranked Spencer Myers was knocked off by former high school rival Dawson Peck from Tennessee-Chattanooga, by a score of 2-1, earned with an extra point of riding time. Myers, a junior, was a darkhorse candidate to reach the All-American level for head coach Kerry McCoy’s Terrapins, but faltered.

*****

Other news and notes from the final week of the 2013-14 season

*** One of ESPN’s graphics used for hype featured Iowa’s charismatic 133 pounder Tony Ramos posing with a WWE championship belt over his shoulder. At the NCAA website, there was a column posted Friday titled, “The Hawkeye You Love To Hate,” comparing the Big 10 champion to former Oklahoma State national champion, and current UFC 170 pound welterweight champion, Jonny Hendricks. The story talked about how both were looked at as respected, but hated, heels by the fans of rival programs, and beloved by their own - and how both have relished and blossomed in the role.

*** Penn State’s Cael Sanderson, who is only 34 years old, has also won four straight Big 10 titles (in addition to three Big 12 titles he won while at Iowa), to go along with his four straight NCAA titles. He can now claim eight individual champions at Penn State, and 26 All-Americans - including seven this year, which is the most for the school since 1992. When you include his time with the Hawkeyes, 73 of the 80 wrestlers in their divisions that Sanderson has coached, have gone on to the NCAA tournament, with 41 going on to become All-Americans, and ten becoming national champions.

*** Legendary Oklahoma State head coach John Smith was named Big 12 Coach of the Year soon after the NCAA tournament ended. In 23 years as a head coach, the legendary wrestler has been able to crown five NCAA team honors (1994, 2003-06), 26 individual national champions (in 2005 he set a record by being able to boast five), and 107 All-Americans. Smith (a two-time NCAA champion, and two-time Olympic gold medalist)  is even more impressive in-conference, claiming ten Big 8/Big 12 conference titles, as well as 88 wrestlers taking individual honors.

*** Head coach J Robinson of Minnesota, who just closed out his 28th year, didn’t have any national champions, as heavyweight Tony Nelson was the closest and lost in the heavyweight finals. But, the owner of three national championships (2001-02, 2007), as well as 14 individual championships, and 6 Big 10 titles, added seven All-Americans (tied with Penn State for the most this season) to his lifetime total, bringing the number to 124. In 2001, his Golden Gophers set an NCAA record with every weight class - all ten - being represented.

*** 165 pound senior David Taylor tied Penn State’s record for career pinfall victories, picking up his 53rd over Michael Moreno of Iowa State during the quarterfinals. Taylor, who became only the second wrestler to be named the Big 10 Wrestler of the Year three times, was named the Hodge Trophy winner as the Wrestler of the Year in 2012, becoming only the second sophomore to accomplish the feat. Taylor was also a four-time academic All-American, and ends his college career with two undefeated seasons, and a 134-3 record in which 125 of the wins were bouts where Taylor had earned bonus points.

*** 184 pound champion Ed Ruth actually finished his collegiate career at Penn State with more victories and championships than his more famous teammate David “Magic Man” Taylor. He became Penn State’s first ever three-time NCAA champion. And, the four-time All-American ends his collegiate run with 136 victories - a Penn State record - against only three defeats.

*** Rutgers redshirt sophomore Anthony Perrotti became the school’s tenth All-American (and only the third since 1964) at 157 pounds, the first since 2002, and did so in memorable fashion. He won his first bout against #8 ranked senior Roger “R.J.” Pena of Oregon State in ten seconds. After locking up, Perrotti grabbed Pena in a headlock and grabbed his right leg, cradling him for the fall. It was the second fastest pin ever recorded in NCAA tournament competition. The record was set in 1983 when Louisiana State’s Clarence Richardson pinned Scott Mansur of Portland State in nine seconds. Perrotti needs one more eighth place finisher, or higher, in the next two seasons to tie the school record for All-American statuses, set by Anthony Surage in 1980 and 1983. The unheralded wrestler was only ranked 8th at his weight before the EIWA conference championship. But, after finishing third, qualified for the NCAA tournament.

*** Boston University ended its wrestling program after 60 years in competition with #6 ranked 157 pounder Nestor Taffur’s loss to Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer, 17-11, during Friday morning’s quarterfinals. On Friday night, in the crowd, Taffur (a senior at the school) successfully proposed to his girlfriend.

*** Surveying the landscape of the heavyweight division, North Carolina State’s Nick Gwiazdowski has the real possibility of staying in title match contention over the next two years. As it stands now, the current sophomore is the runaway best heavyweight in the depleted 2014-15 ACC, and is tops in the country. He’ll likely be pushed during invitational tournaments and out-of-conference meetings by the powerful group in the Big 10 consisting of the highly seasoned Bobby Telford (currently a junior) of Iowa, Penn State’s John Gingrich (junior), Northwestern’s Mike McMullan, Connor Medberry (sophomore) of Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Adam Coon (freshman).

*** With the win, Gwiazdowski became the first Raleigh-based heavyweight champion since 1993. He joins some eccentric company as both other former Wolfpack champs entered the entertainment realm: Sylvester Terkay won in 1993, and later joined K-1 and the WWE (He formed a short-lived alliance with Elijah Burke, with both working MMA gimmicks, during the short-lived ECW revival in 2006-07.) The other champion, Talmadge “Tab” Thacker, won four straight ACC titles, pinning 54 opponents along the way, and claimed the title in 1984. Tipping the scales at nearly 450 pounds, Thacker became an actor, appearing in several films, before passing away at the age of 45 in 2007.

*** This was something of a crucial year for Maryland heavyweight junior Spencer Myers’ All-American hopes, as Kerry McCoy’s squad is joining the vaunted Big 10 conference for the 2014-15 season. Unfortunately, for the 12th ranked Terp, he was eliminated on the first day when he lost to UTC’s Dawson Peck. The possibilities of Myers qualifying for the NCAA tournament next year - let alone finishing among the top eight in the country - takes a dramatic hit, as the Big 10’s 285-pound class is the deepest, and best, in the country. Myers was an All-American in 2011, finishing sixth, and was ACC champion in both 2011 and 2012. This year, he lost the ACC final to eventual NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski of N.C. State, 10-4.

*** Unranked Penn State 149 pound grappler James English became a first time All-American, in his sixth year of eligibility (medical hardship) when he knocked off former national champion Kendric Maple of Oklahoma on Saturday morning, 2-1, to finish in seventh place. Forced into redshirt status as a freshman and then again as a sophomore due to injuries, English was carried off the mat on the shoulders of head coach Cael Sanderson. The unheralded Nittany Lion already holds a degree in Chemical Engineering, and is currently working towards another in Energy, Business and Finance.

*** In the days following the tournament, on Friday, March 28, it was announced by West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck that, after 36 years as head coach, Craig Turnbull’s contract would not be renewed. His career ends with an overall record of 287-214-9 (which was the seventh most wins amongst active coaches), and boasting five individual national champions. West Virginia joined the Big 12 for the 2012-13 season after years in the Eastern Wrestling League, where Turnbill was named coach of the year four times. He coached 26 All-Americans, with his most famous product would be Greg Jones who claimed three national championships in 2002 (at 174 pounds), 2004 and 2005 (at 184 pounds). In 2005, Jones was named the tournament’s most outstanding competitor. This year, West Virginia finished fourth in the four-team Big 12, and had no All-Americans.

*****

Differences from the last several years of the tournament

While having a smaller buzz leading in compared to the last few years, what this year’s event may have lacked in personal rivalries and individual stories, it more made up for in mat drama, upsets, and a newsworthy three-team team title tilt.

Last year, on the heels of the sport having its most mainstream sports attention in years, Cornell’s Kyle Dake claimed victory in the “Match of the Century” over dominant Penn State superstar David Taylor, to become the third ever four-time national champion - and the first to do it in four different weight classes. Last year’s tournament also featured the first time weight classes were competing out of the traditional order of lightest-to-heaviest, which has continued on into this year’s. 2013 ended with six undefeated national champions, and featured eventual team champion Penn State having five wrestlers going for individual championships, winning three.

2012’s show saw the largest three-day attendance in NCAA wrestling history, as 112,393 people poured into St. Louis’ Scottrade Center. Kyle Dake became the first ever winner of three national titles in three weight classes. He was also roundly booed by disappointed Iowa fans, which is a rarity for wrestling crowds to do.

In 2011, three-time All-American (and current ESPN announcer) Anthony Robles of Arizona State got massive mainstream sports attention for winning the 125-pound title, and finishing 36-0, despite losing a leg to childhood cancer. Nebraska’s Jordan Burroughs finished a remarkable year, and was one of six #1 seeds to claim individual titles, while Arizona State’s Bubba Jenkins finished a surprising run by pinning Penn State freshman David Taylor.

*****

Television coverage

ESPN touted their numbers, overall, but conspicuous by its absence in a company issued press release was the actual number for Saturday night’s final. That seems to indicate it was down from 2013’s 860,000 viewers (which was second all-time to 2004’s 878,000):

The four telecasts on ESPNU and two on ESPN (Thursday, March 20 to Saturday, March 22) combined to reach 8.6 million people, a 39% increase over last year (8.6 million vs. 6.2 million). The 20-hours of television coverage averaged 253,000 viewers.

ESPN’s expanded digital coverage on ESPN3, which included the debut of Off the Mat – a special during the championship finals -- in addition to individual mat cameras, generated 12.8 million minutes consumed on ESPN3 and WatchESPN, a 1% increase over the 2013 championship…

Oklahoma’s Tulsa and Oklahoma City were the two highest-rated metered markets, respectively, for ESPN’s combined semifinal and final telecasts. Minneapolis (MN) was third followed by Pittsburgh (PA), Birmingham (AL), Greensboro (NC), Jacksonville (FL), Nashville (TN), Philadelphia (PA), Greenville (SC)


Unlike last year, where Kyle Dake and David Taylor were announced a day in advance of being the “main event” of the show, the NCAA made the decision to put Taylor’s bout with Tyler Caldwell in that slot only hours before the broadcast was to begin.

In addition to its annual coverage of Saturday night’s finals, ESPN broadcast Friday night’s semifinal round, for the first time in history. “The Worldwide Leader’s” college sports-only spin-off, ESPN U, began the network’s cable television coverage on Thursday, and aired everything except for the two sessions that aired on ESPN. This included both Thursday sessions, Friday’s quarterfinals, and Saturday morning’s consolation semifinals, which featured the 3rd, 5th, and 7th place matches.

Every match of the NCAA’s was aired, individually, and in their entirety, both live and on-demand, via the ESPN3 and WatchESPN services. There was one channel that was just dedicated to being a scoreboard page.

Another feature was introduced, as ESPN3 debuted Off The Mat on Saturday night. The show featured legendary wrestling personalities Dan Gable, Pat Smith, Lee Kemp, joining Jim Gibbons, providing commentary and analysis on the finals.

Announcers serving to cover the event were Adam Amin and Shawn Kenny. Color commentary was provided by Tim Johnson (longtime freelance wrestling announcer and expert), 2011 NCAA champion Anthony Robles, four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake, and Jim Gibbons. The interviews on the mat were handled, much like every year, by Quint Kessenich. (A former high school wrestler, and professional lacrosse player.)

Three of the final bouts on Saturday were eligible to be voted on as part of ESPN’s Streak For The Cash game, where fans try and guess the winner of prop bets, from sports around the world, that are established by the game. This year the game offered fans a 50/50 chance to guess who the champions would be of the 174, 125, and 157 pound divisions.

*****

My Final Thoughts

While not as buzz-worthy as the last few seasons, this year’s NCAA finals provided more than enough action and emotion to, in my opinion, still consider it one of the great hidden gems in all of sport. But, that said, one of the big problems, year after year, is the lack of connection that ESPN and the NCAA wrestling community make with the home viewer - especially any casual sports fan that happens to tune in.

With intense competition from the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, but little else - including no major boxing or mixed martial arts shows scheduled at the same time, as there has been in previous years - it seemed to be a good time for the sport to build upon some of the goodwill that it seemed to gain over the past few years, and continue to try and scoop a few casual sports fans. (I’m not trying to demean the NHL’s run towards the playoffs, nor regular season NBA, but Saturday is Canada’s Hockey Night and the NBA is not in perceived crunch time yet.)

In one way, it most certainly did. The expanded coverage on the ESPN family of networks - primarily ESPN U, and their online services of Watch ESPN/ESPN3 - was a very welcome addition, showing every match on every mat, live and on-demand. Placing Friday’s semifinals on ESPN, proper (aka “The Mothership”), was a big step in the right direction. The network also instituted a split-screen during the semi-finals, which allowed viewers to watch both battles that were taking place simultaneously. I, for one, really liked it, while Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer didn’t, and thought it was distracting.

The problem was, for me, and others, is that there was a major lack of personality pieces and explanation on who these men actually were, especially on Saturday’s final night. There was a tiny bit, like a soundbite of Iowa’s Tony Ramos talking about getting hit by a car at the age of four, and a little conversation here and there as bouts were taking place, but very little of anything else. The article entitled “The Hawkeye You Love To Hate” on the senior, appearing on the NCAA’s own website that I had mentioned earlier, wasn’t even brought up.

While I know the broadcast can’t last forever, possibly going to limited commercials with scrolls used instead (ala some car racing and soccer/football) could be an idea so longer form looks at these guys could be included. Utilizing the ridiculous number of platforms at  its disposal, ESPN and the NCAA really need to work together to create longer form hype videos. From “digital short” length of five minutes, all the way up to hour-long specials that could run during, and around, the Finals.

There is just so much to work with every year, but it requires getting outside of the box, and letting people know why what they’re watching (or missing in most cases) is so special.

Where was selling the rivalry between two legendary (and pretty young) coaches (Cael Sanderson and John Smith) that could end up having a back-and-forth battle for two more decades? Hammer home who J Robinson is, and how successful his Minnesota team has been, for so long. So little said about the popularity and following of Penn State’s Ed Ruth - dueling chants taking place during his bout with Jimmy Sheptock weren’t mentioned. Not hammering home how impressive Dave Taylor’s collegiate career was, and the hurdles he’ll have coming next trying to compete internationally at 74 kilograms (163 pounds). Former national champions Kendric Maple and Tony Nelson’s collegiate careers coming to an end. How amazing it truly is that a true freshman walked with a title, etc, etc., etc.

The level of mano-a-mano competition is a great thing, and, ultimately, it’s what matters. But, how is the average boxing, or MMA, or pro wrestling fan - much less the average sports fan who happens upon ESPN - going to get into this? Especially this year, where you didn’t have some of the advantages you had, previously, and didn’t seem to do enough to build off of them. In 2013, there was a year-long buzz for Kyle Dake and David Taylor. 2012 saw a record-breaking boisterous crowd in St. Louis, all weekend, and the realization that Penn State may not go anywhere for a long, long time. While in 2011, you had a slew of undefeated champions including the stories of Anthony Robles and Jordan Burroughs.

In my opinion, match orders, instead of taking place in order of weight, should be determined by  three things: What are the main event-level match-ups that will be the best to watch, and have the most importance (and, from there, sellable) stories? What bouts will affect the overall team totals? And then what’s of most importance to the crowd. The opening contest between Andrew Howe of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry was a nice way to open with a hot crowd. But, considering it’s a high level local rivalry, and had NCAA team title implications, building towards this may have been the better option.  In any event, having the flexibility to make a better product for the people watching at home, can also be an improvement for the people there live.

While this is tough, as in a lot of sports, because there’s so many unique ones, the rules of the sport, how to score, and why things are happening do need to try and be better explained to the layman watching at home, either through scrolling graphics on the screen, short videos, announcers explanations, or, better yet, all three.

Pomp and circumstance is another issue that really needs to be tackled. Not that anyone is asking for WWE Raw-level pyro and video boards, but there really should be something added that’s aesthetically appeasing to the home viewer. Entrances into the arena for the guys, which are done off camera, should be aired - at least in the case of the major bouts. While still in its infancy, the addition of lightning, smoke, music, and dramatic announcing, has shown it can be done in a classy enough manner that doesn’t take away from the purity of the sport, and, instead, enhances it. Why time isn’t specifically scheduled to air a few of them - especially for the main event or a hot rivalry (like Howe-Perry) - is beyond me.

But that’s enough criticism, as the core of all this: the wrestling itself, was exciting for all three days. From the ridiculous number of upsets through the first two sessions on Friday, right down to a final that had almost everything that you can ask for. From freshman and Cinderellas winning titles, down to undefeated All-Americans ending their school careers with grace. And no matter how much, or how little, coverage the tournament  receives, it will always be the athletes competing that make this one of the best kept secrets in postseason sports.