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College update for February 22: Dual season wraps up with Minnesota staying at the top

By Jason Bryant

It's been a theme all year long. I like to use the term "wacky" to the point where it's become cliché. This year's dual season in Division I has definitely been wacky. With Oklahoma State expected to cruise to another national title and unblemished dual record, it goes to show that matches aren't wrestled on paper, message boards or even predictions.

Minnesota stands atop the Division I dual ladder, despite its upset loss to Michigan last week. The Golden Gophers finished 20-1 and are likely to qualify at least eight wrestlers to the D-1 championships in Oklahoma City on March 16-18 at the Ford Center.

Oklahoma State is also likely to send eight and from there on out, who knows? Nebraska has had a very solid season, rebounding from an early-season loss to Cal Poly to make the semifinals of the National Duals, beating Michigan twice and gearing up for the ever-tough Big 12 tournament.

This is also the first week that more than one team received first-place votes in the USA Today/NWCA/InterMat Top 25. Minnesota garnered seven first-place votes, while Michigan picked up the other five.

It's also the first time since March 13, 2002 that Oklahoma State hasn't been ranked first or second in the InterMat/NWCA team rankings. That season, the Cowboys were ranked as low as fifth and finished ranked fourth.

Minnesota beat the Cowboys twice this season, Michigan fell to Nebraska twice (as noted earlier), but the Minnesota loss to Michigan might not have been enough to knock J Robinson's Golden Gophers from the top spot in the rankings, but it was enough to give Joe MacFarland's Wolverines the Big 10 regular season title.

Getting started
As usual, the Pac 10 Conference will be the first Division I qualifier to get underway as the hodgepodge wrestling conference (only four full Pac 10 members field wrestling teams) takes its tournament to Stanford's Maples Pavilion for the first time. Stanford has hosted the event in the past, but it's the first time wrestling mats will be covering the storied hardwood in Stanford.

Arizona State is the likely favorite, but if Cal Poly, which has been decimated by injuries this season, more so than any other team, or so it seems, can get back on track, John Azevedo's Mustangs could be in position to snatch the title away from the Sundevils. Cal Poly has some solid tournament points with Chad Mendes at 125 (should he be healthy in time for the tournament), Darrell Vasquez at 133, Steve Esparza (again, should he be healthy), Jeff Owens at 149 and Ryan Halsey at 184. Stanford's Ray Blake could set the Stanford single-season win record should he get enough matches at the tournament.

The rest of the Division I qualifiers take place the first weekend in March, while the Division II qualifiers all take place this weekend.

Kutztown will host the East Regional qualifier in Pennsylvania and KU looks to continue its momentum after beating Shippensburg. The win was the first over a top-10 program for the Golden Bears. In other regional action, Nebraska-Omaha will host the North Regional, Western State will, fittingly enough, host the West Regional, while the South gets to see a bit of wrestling as the Midwest Regional takes place in Johnson City, Tenn., hosted by Carson-Newman.

And there was one
Edinboro locked up the EWL regular season crown in dominating fashion, blasting West Virginia (40-5) and Pittsburgh (29-4). Tim Flynn's Fighting Scots finished 12-0 but only have one, how do you say, "quality" win - a 17-16 victory over Michigan State in East Lansing. Regardless, Flynn and his team can say they are the only Division I program that went undefeated in duals this season. 157-pounder Matt Hill had the biggest win over the weekend, scoring an overtime victory over then-#2 Matt Lebe of West Virginia 6-4. Hill could be peaking at the right time heading into the EWL tournament. …

In stark contrast
Delaware State coach Earl Walker took over a program that was in shambles. Not through any fault of his own, although former coach Darren Archangelo had the program moving in the right direction before his abrupt resignation in late October. The Hornets put less than half of a starting squad on the mat and finished 0-12 in duals going into Wednesday night's match with Division II Kutztown. Walker's not wasting any time recruiting though, as the Ph.D. has already received verbal commitments from Delaware state champion Matt Cathell of Caesar Rodney and DeShawn Barrett, the 2005 NHSCA Senior National Champion at 215 pounds. Walker has the support of the wrestling fanatics in Delaware and it's only a matter of time before you see more Hornets wrestling in mid-March. …

Tony Robie's fledgling Binghamton program struggled its way through an 0-11 season in its first year back after taking a one year hiatus. With the program back in Vestal, the Bearcats went through the growing pains of a "new" program, but like Del State, Robie has picked up a solid recruit in the early period, New York's Josh Patterson.

Bucknell didn't wrestle a dual this season and saw the handful of club wrestlers compete in a few opens, but coach Dan Wirnsberger and assistant Larry Sprecher spent the year recruiting … and recruiting and recruiting. As of now, the Bison will be bringing in 20 new faces to the Lewisburg campus next season, highlighted by Connecticut's Mike Powers, New York's David Marble and Pennsylvania's Andy Rendos. …

Clarion went 0-17 this season and earlier this week, head coach Ken Nellis tendered his resignation to the University. Beset with injuries, things couldn't have been any worse for the Golden Eagles this season, which got off on the wrong foot with Clarion's dual meet loss to Division III York College at the PA State Duals at Penn State in November.

Not going down without a fight
Slippery Rock hasn't had this much ink since … well, we can't really remember. While Derek DelPorto's team told it would be cut at the end of this school year, Rock wrestlers have made a statement, going 6-1 since the announcement. The Rock finished its dual season at 14-9 and beat Cleveland State, Ohio University, Clarion, Gardner-Webb, Duquesne, Bloomsburg and Buffalo, among others.

The 14 wins are the most for a Slippery Rock team since Fred Powell led The Rock to a 16-1 record in 1972-73.

JUCO, Division III, NAIA gear up for nationals
With the 10 Division III qualifiers finished and the four NAIA regionals also done, the time is now for wrestlers looking for their place on the podium. The first national championship gets underway this weekend in Rochester, Minn., as Rochester Community College will host the NJCAA championships. The NAIA and Division III Nationals are the first weekend in March.
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