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NCAA Division I Individual Preview: Five champions are back for more

Five returning individual NCAA champions are hoping to stand on the top step of the championships podium when the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships are held on March 15-17, 2007, at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.

The returning champions include Matt Valenti of Penn at 133 pounds, Dustin Schlatter of Minnesota at 149, Johny Hendricks of Oklahoma State at 165, Ben Askren of Missouri at 174 and Cole Konrad of Minnesota at heavyweight.

Hendricks, a senior, is a two-time NCAA champion. Askren, a senior who is a three-time NCAA finalist, won the Hodge Trophy last season as the top collegiate wrestler. Konrad is a three-time All-American and two-time NCAA finalist.

Schlatter, a sophomore, is on course to become just the third four-time NCAA champion. Oklahoma State's Pat Smith and Iowa State's Cael Sanderson are the other four-timers.

Following is a weight-by-weight breakdown of this year's 10 NCAA weight classes:

125 pounds - Two-time NCAA champ Joe Dubuque of Indiana completed his eligibility in 2006 while All-American Coleman Scott of Oklahoma State has bumped up to 133 this year.

Cornell's Troy Nickerson, second as a true freshman, and Oklahoma's Sam Hazewinkel, who has placed third three times in this event, are the leading candidates to win the title this season. Hazewinkel is one of the nation's top Greco-Roman wrestlers. He placed second at the U.S. World Team Trials this summer.

Michigan State All-American Nick Simmons, fourth in the country last year, also will be in the mix unless he elects to move up to 133 for his senior season. Michigan's Mark Moos reportedly is moving back down to 125 this year after competing at 133 last season. If that happens, Moos will be in the mix as well.

Cal Poly's Chad Mendes, sixth at the 2005 NCAAs, also will be a top contender at 125 this year. Nebraska's Paul Donahoe, who beat Mendes in a dual last year, also is expected to step up in his sophomore season. Donahoe fell one win short of being an All-American last year after losing to Hazewinkel and Scott in his first national tournament. Preseason Top Four: Hazewinkel, Nickerson, Simmons, Donahoe.

133 pounds - Valenti is the favorite here after his surprising run to the championship last year, but Minnesota's Mack Reiter definitely will be in the hunt to challenge him for the title this year. Reiter placed fourth last year after dropping a controversial quarterfinal match to Purdue's Chris Fleeger.

Reiter, a two-time All-American, will be on a mission this year as he tries to win his first NCAA title. Reiter reportedly suffered a knee injury recently, which could severely damage Minnesota's team title hopes.

Scott, a two-time All-American for Oklahoma State, moves up a weight from 125 and gained experience at 132 pounds this summer after competing in freestyle and making the Junior World Team. Scott is coming off an ankle injury, but should be fine by the time the college season heats up. Expect Scott to thrive now that he's competing at a weight class where he is much more comfortable.

All-Americans Matt Keller of Tennessee-Chattanooga and Darrell Vasquez of Cal Poly also have title aspirations. Both have the potential to be in the finals this year. Keller needs to develop more consistency. He can wrestle with anybody and has beaten some of the top people in his weight class.

And don't forget about Iowa State freshman Nick Gallick, who has a chance to do what 2006 NCAA champ and older brother Nate Gallick couldn't do in his career. Become a four-time All-American for the Cyclones. Preseason Top Four: Reiter, Scott, Valenti, Vasquez.

141 pounds - This weight class is fairly wide-open now with the departure of Nate Gallick along with two-time NCAA champion and three-time finalist Teyon Ware of Oklahoma.

The Big Ten returns three All-Americans in this weight class. Northwestern's Ryan Lang was fourth at 141 last year, Michigan State's Andy Simmons was fifth and Iowa's Alex Tsirtsis was seventh. Lang is a hard-nosed wrestler who is tough to match up with. Simmons won the Big Ten title last year and Tsirtsis made considerable improvement from his freshman to sophomore season.

Expect the champion in this weight class to come from that talented and experienced trio. It will be interesting watching those three match up all season in the Big Ten.

All-American Nathan Morgan of Oklahoma State moves up to 141 after placing sixth at 133 last season. Like Scott, expect Morgan to be much stronger while not having to worry so much about keeping his weight down.

Also keep an eye on Iowa State freshman Mitch Mueller, a Junior Nationals champion who looked very good as a redshirt. He is an aggressive wrestler who is fun to watch. Mueller placed second at the Junior World Team Trials in freestyle. Preseason Top Four: Lang, Simmons, Tsirtsis, Morgan.

149 pounds - The unflappable Schlatter, who breezed to the NCAA title as a freshman, is the overwhelming favorite here. Schlatter, mature beyond his years, has the perfect makeup to handle the pressure he will face over the next three years as he chases history.

His top challenger would be Iowa's Brent Metcalf, but the Virginia Tech transfer may not be eligible this season with his status still up in the air. Metcalf competed extensively this summer in freestyle, competing at the Junior World Championships.

The only other All-Americans back in this weight class are Oklahoma's Matt Storniolo, who placed fourth last year, and Edinboro's Gregor Gillespie, who placed seventh.

Michigan's Josh Churella has reportedly moved up to 149 after competing at 141.

A pair of talented freshmen - Iowa State's Cyler Sanderson and Indiana's Matt Coughlin - are expected to make an immediate impact at 149. Sanderson, younger brother of new Cyclone head coach Cael Sanderson, is coming back from a torn ACL. Coughlin competed at the Junior World Championships this summer. Preseason Top Four: Schlatter, Storniolo, Gillespie, Sanderson.

157 pounds - Iowa State's Trent Paulson entered the 2006 NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed before settling for fourth.

Paulson will have plenty of competition again, including from NCAA runner-up Brian Stith of Arizona State. If Paulson opens up, he will be the wrestler to beat in this weight class.

Minnesota's C.P. Schlatter looks to bounce back this year. He was the No. 2 seed, but failed to place at last season's NCAA meet. Schlatter is another wrestler who has had trouble opening up in big matches.

Indiana's Brian Becker and Wisconsin's Craig Henning are returning All-Americans at this weight class. Iowa freshman Ryan Morningstar is another wrestler to watch in this division. Morningstar looked strong as a redshirt. Preseason Top Four: Paulson, Stith, Schlatter, Becker.

165 pounds - Hendricks may have to overcome a familiar foe to win his third straight national title.

Iowa's Mark Perry, second to Hendricks in 2005, moves back down to 165 this year after placing third at 174 last season. If Perry stays healthy, he will be a legitimate threat to end Hendricks' run at this weight class.

Hofstra's Michael Patrovich reportedly is dropping down to 165 after placing fourth at 174 this past season. Two-time All-American Travis Paulson of Iowa State also will contend in this weight class. Paulson's experience could be a key for him this year.

Missouri's Matt Pell is another wrestler with experience who has the potential to make an impact in this class. Michigan All-American Eric Tannenbaum reportedly has moved up two classes to 165. Preseason Top Four: Hendricks, Perry, Paulson, Patrovich.

174 pounds - Askren is the best wrestler in the country at the collegiate level, and it may be no coincidence that Perry and Northwestern's Jake Herbert have cleared out of this division this year.

Askren was 45-0 last year and is expected to go on a similar roll as a senior. Especially with the weight class not being anywhere close to as strong as it was last season.

Penn's Matt Herrington, fifth in the nation last year, appears to be Askren's top challenger in this division.

The only other All-American back at 174 is Penn State's James Yonushonis, who was eighth last season.

Expect Oklahoma State sophomore Brandon Mason to make a jump into contention after an up-and-down first season for the Cowboys. Mason has improved his strength and also has improved on his feet, two areas of his game that hurt him last year.

Iowa freshman Chad Beatty is another wrestler to watch in this class, as is Michigan's Steve Luke, who reportedly has moved up two classes after competing at 157 last year. Preseason Top Four: Askren, Mason, Herrington, Yonushonis.

184 pounds - Herbert beat Minnesota's Roger Kish in the finals of the University Nationals earlier this year.

The two NCAA runner-ups could meet again in this year's NCAA finals.

Herbert, a two-time All-American at 174, moves up to 184 after placing second behind Askren this past season. Kish was second at 184 last year.

Herbert, a junior, won a bronze medal at the World University Championships in freestyle wrestling this summer at 185 pounds.

American's Josh Glenn, fourth in the country last year, is a dangerous wrestler who also could contend. A pair of talented sophomores from the Big 12 - Nebraska's Vince Jones and Missouri's Raymond Jordan - also could jump up into the mix.

Jones was pulled out of his redshirt last January, earning some big wins early but struggling later in the year. He has the ability to be a factor in this class.

Iowa State freshman Jake Varner is another wrestler to keep an eye on this season. Varner looked very good as a redshirt and his physical style should help him adapt quickly in his first full season of collegiate competition. Preseason Top Four: Herbert, Kish, Glenn, Jones.

197 pounds - This is another weight class that will be wide-open with the departure of three-time NCAA champion Jake Rosholt of Oklahoma State.

There are plenty of top candidates to win this class, including All-Americans J.D. Bergman of Ohio State, Phil Davis of Penn State, Jerry Rinaldi of Cornell, Wynn Michalak of Central Michigan, Chris Weidman of Hofstra and Kurt Backes of Iowa State.

Davis was an NCAA runner-up last year with Rinaldi placing fourth. Backes moves up a class after competing at 184 the past three seasons. Backes was an All-American as a freshman, but has failed to place at the NCAA meet the past two seasons.

Missouri freshman Max Askren, Ben's "little" brother, should make an immediate splash here. Askren beat Flaggert last season. Askren competed at the Junior World Championships this summer at 211.5 pounds. Preseason Top Four: Michalak, Rinaldi, Bergman, Davis.

285 pounds - Konrad is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as champion, especially with two-time champion Steve Mocco of Oklahoma State finally gone from this division.

Konrad stayed busy over the summer, capturing a bronze medal at the World University Championships in freestyle wrestling.

All-Americans Bode Ogunwole of Harvard and Kirk Nail of Ohio State are next in line in what is one of the weakest heavyweight classes in recent years.

Northwestern's Dustin Fox and Iowa's Matt Fields are experienced, but have yet to do much on the big stage. Fields has been plagued by injuries.

Oklahoma State's Jared Rosholt, Jake's younger brother, should step in and contribute right away for the Cowboys. Rosholt placed second at the Junior World Team Trials this summer. Preseason Top Four: Konrad, Ogunwole, Nail, Rosholt.
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