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|Three-time defending champ Oklahoma State grabs early lead despite upset loss in first match|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
OKLAHOMA CITY - They are the guys virtually nobody has heard of.
The anonymous wrestlers who toil in relative obscurity as they step on the mat at the NCAA Championships unseeded, unheralded and underappreciated. The guys with no pressure on them and a chance to make history by pulling off a stunning upset.
It's a strong possibility a majority of the 15,000-plus fans who packed the Ford Center on Thursday morning for the first session of the NCAA Championships had never heard of 125-pounder Michael Sees of Bloomsburg and Bryce Leonhardt of Wyoming.
But when the fans spilled out onto the streets by mid-afternoon after the session ended, they certainly knew who they were.
Just 30 minutes into the session, Sees orchestrated the tournament's first upset by shocking two-time NCAA finalist and No. 4 seed Kyle Ott of Illinois 8-5 before Wyoming's Bryce Leonhardt stunned No. 6 Coleman Scott of Oklahoma State 3-2.
The upsets provided an indication of what may lie ahead in what figures to be a competitive, hard-fought battle for the team title between three-time defending champion Oklahoma State and No. 1 Minnesota. OSU went 6-3 in the first round and still leads with 17 points.
The No. 2 Cowboys' quartet of national champs - Zack Esposito (149), Johny Hendricks (165), Jake Rosholt (197) and Steve Mocco (heavyweight) - each rolled to first-round wins.
"We still have nine guys alive and it takes a combination of all those guys scoring points for us to win this," Oklahoma State coach John Smith said. "That first match at 125, obviously, was not what we hoped for with Coleman. He still has an opportunity to come back and put points on the boards in the wrestlebacks."
Oklahoma State lost just nine matches the entire NCAA meet last year, but as Smith likes to point out, that was last year.
"You can't get too high or too low in this tournament," Smith said. "Setbacks are going to happen and it's the people who stay level-headed are going to be successful. I like the fact we put up a lot of bonus points early. That's a good sign. This is going to be a tough tournament from start to finish. It's still very early. A lot can happen."
Hofstra, ranked 19th, was the biggest surprise of the first session by landing in second place with 16 points. Sixth-ranked Oklahoma was third with 13.5 points with Minnesota, No. 11 Iowa, No. 14 Arizona State and No. 20 Wisconsin tied for fourth with 13 points apiece.
Second-round action was set for Thursday night at the Ford Center. Quarterfinals and semifinals are Friday with the finals set for Saturday night.
Minnesota took a couple early hits as well with No. 6 Matt Nagel (165) and No. 10 Gabriel Dretsch (174) falling in the first round. Nagel fell 8-5 to Deonte Penn of Edinboro and Dretsch lost 3-2 to Kenneth Robertson of Eastern Illinois.
Minnesota's two top seeds - Dustin Schlatter (149) and Cole Konrad (heavyweight) - cruised through the opening round. The Gophers went 5-3 in the first round.
"It was a hard first round and we lost a couple matches we thought we should've won," Minnesota coach J Robinson said. "I think nerves got to Nagel a little bit. But it's the national tournament, so the only thing those guys can do is wrestleback for third now.
"Oklahoma State, Michigan and Illinois lost guys too. That's just the nature of this tournament, it happens every year and it's hard to explain. This tournament is going to be a donnybrook. You are going to take two steps forward and one step back. If something goes wrong you've got to fight back. You can't let it bother you or feel sorry for yourself," Robinson said.
Third-ranked Michigan and No. 4 Illinois suffered some tough early setbacks. The Wolverines saw No. 12 seeds Mark Moos (133) and Steve Luke (157) fall in Round 1. Fifth-ranked Nebraska went 5-4 in the first round with All-Americans Jacob Klein (174) and B.J. Padden (197) both rallying for victories.
Illinois had a very rough round. In addition to Ott losing, the Fighting Illini saw All-American Cassio Pero (141) lose in a pigtail match before Big Ten runner-up and No. 11 seed Troy Tirapelle (149) lost by technical fall.
The pair of early upsets at 125 occurred on adjacent mats.
Sees trailed late 5-3 in his bout with Ott before shooting in for a takedown and cranking Ott to his back for three near-fall points to complete a five-point move. Sees improved to 25-4 this season.
"I had him real tight around his shoulder when I took him down and I was able to turn him to his back," Sees said. "This is a huge match for me. That's the biggest match I've ever won in my life. They always say the best time to upset somebody is in the first round and that was in the back of my mind when I went out there.
"Ott really didn't know me, but I've seen him wrestle in the national finals and know what he likes to do. Plus all the pressure was on him. Nobody expected me to do anything. It was a tremendous win for me. I'm still kind of shock," Sees said.
An elated Sees was still trying to catch his breath just a couple minutes after his win when non-Oklahoma State fans began roaring. That's when Scott, the first wrestler on the mat for the Cowboys, suffered his own stunning loss in the opening round.
Leonhardt, who has been slowed by injuries during his career, showed potential for a performance like this two years ago when he upset Nebraska's Jason Powell in a dual meet. Powell went on to win nationals that year.
Leonhardt fell 5-3 to Scott at November's Kaufman-Brand Open in Omaha.
"Wrestling him once before really helped me in this match," Leonhardt said. "I had him on the ropes when I wrestled him the first time. This is my first trip to nationals and I'm a senior, so this is my only shot to be an All-American. I don't want to waste this opportunity."
Leonhardt was asked about beating Scott in his own backyard in Oklahoma.
"Half the crowd was going for me too," Leonhardt said of the non-Oklahoma State fans who cheered him on. "I didn't really hear them that much until the end, but the Minnesota fans really gave me a push there at the end of the match. It was great."
Smith said Scott waited too long to put the pressure on Leonhardt.
"We need to make sure we leave everything we have out on the mat," Smith said. "We had a lot of energy in the third period and were going like a maniac. Where is that energy from the start? I'm not going to be too tough on (Coleman), he just needs to refocus and help this team in the consolations.
"The guy he wrestled slowed him down. We can't let that happen. That's in the past now. We need to look forward," Smith said.