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|NCAA Division I Team Preview: Gophers seeking to end Oklahoma State's run of dominance|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
Is this the year Oklahoma State's run of domination finally comes to an end?
Are the Minnesota Gophers the team to beat this year?
How will Olympic gold medalists Tom Brands (Iowa) and Cael Sanderson (Iowa State) fare in their first years as head coaches at their alma maters?
Will Hodge Trophy winner Ben Askren of Missouri be even more dominant this season?
Will Minnesota sophomore sensation Dustin Schlatter stay on course to becoming a four-time NCAA champion?
These are among the many questions and storylines that fans will be following when the 2006-07 college wrestling season kicks off in early November. The answers will come at the NCAA Championships in mid-March at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Oklahoma State has won the last four NCAA titles, but OSU coach John Smith's program was hit hard with losses off last year's title team. Gone are three-time NCAA champion Jake Rosholt (197 pounds), two-time champion Steve Mocco (285) and one-time champion Zack Esposito (149).
The good news for Smith and company is the Cowboys are still loaded and a consensus No. 2 in preseason polls. And still one of the teams to beat again this year. Oklahoma State is led by two-time NCAA champion Johny Hendricks (165) along with All-Americans Coleman Scott (133) and Nathan Morgan (141). Scott and Morgan have both bumped up a weight class this year.
Sophomore Brandon Mason (174) just missed All-American honors last year for the Cowboys and is considerably stronger this year. Look for Mason to place high at nationals this year. Among the new faces in the OSU lineup is talented freshman Jared Rosholt (285), Jake's younger brother.
Consensus preseason No. 1 Minnesota looks to be very strong once again, led by NCAA champions Dustin Schlatter (149) and Cole Konrad (285), along with NCAA runner-up Roger Kish (184) and All-American Mack Reiter (133). Reiter reportedly suffered a knee injury recently, which could severely damage Minnesota's team title hopes.
Schlatter won the title as a freshman while Konrad knocked off Mocco in the finals. Schlatter is looking to join Sanderson and Oklahoma State's Pat Smith as the only four-time champions in NCAA history.
C.P. Schlatter (157) could hold the key for Minnesota. Seeded second at the NCAA meet last year, Dustin's older brother failed to place this past March in Oklahoma City.
Sanderson's first Cyclone team features a mix of proven veterans and talented newcomers. Iowa State returns All-Americans in twins Trent (157) and Travis Paulson (165), and Kurt Backes (197). Backes moves up a weight with promising freshman Jake Varner stepping in at 184.
Iowa State's crop of freshman studs also includes Nick Gallick (133), Mitch Mueller (141) and Cyler Sanderson (149). Gallick is the brother of 2006 NCAA champion Nate Gallick and Sanderson is the brother of the head coach.
Brands also is expected to put a strong team on the mat in Iowa City. Iowa junior Mark Perry Jr. is expected to drop back down to 165 this season. Perry was second to Hendricks at the 2005 NCAA meet before placing third at 174 last year despite battling an assortment of injuries.
The Hawkeyes also return All-American Alex Tsirtsis (141) along with NCAA qualifier Matt Fields, who should be in the mix nationally in a weak heavyweight class. Fields, a top recruit coming out of high school, has been plagued by injuries his first two seasons with the Hawkeyes.
Newcomer Ryan Morningstar, a Junior Nationals champion, also should make an immediate splash for Iowa at 157. Senior Mario Galanakis (133) is back after qualifying for nationals two years ago, but will have to beat out last year's starter, Daniel Dennis.
Iowa may be a year away from contending for a team title with transfer Brent Metcalf (149) not expected to be eligible this season. Metcalf transferred from Virginia Tech, but has not been released from his scholarship and may lose a year of college eligibility.
With Dan Gable on board as an assistant coach at Iowa, as he returns to coaching after a nine-year absence, you can expect an improved and much more aggressive Hawkeye team this winter. Gable won 15 NCAA titles in 21 seasons as Iowa's head coach.
Oklahoma placed third last year at the NCAAs, but lost three-time national finalist and two-time champion Teyon Ware off that team. The good news for the Sooners is that they do return All-Americans in Sam Hazewinkel (125), Matt Storniolo (149) and Joel Flaggert (197). All three start the season ranked in the top three. Hazewinkel, a senior who is ranked No. 2 nationally in Greco-Roman at 121 pounds, has placed third the past three years at the NCAA meet.
Michigan remains among the best teams, but will have a new-look lineup this year with a number of wrestlers moving to different weight classes. Mark Moos is expected to move down (from 133 to 125) while Josh Churella (from 141 to 149), Eric Tannenbaum (149 to 157) and Steve Luke (157 to 165) each plan to move up at least one weight class.
Missouri is another team that could make a run at a team trophy this year. The Tigers are led by Hodge Trophy winner and national champion Ben Askren at 174. Askren's brother, freshman Max Askren, should step in and contribute right away at 197. Max beat Flaggert in an open tournament last season. The Tigers also have potential placewinners in Tyler McCormick (133), Matt Pell (165) and Raymond Jordan (184).
Cornell coach Rob Koll will put another strong team on the mat this winter, led by NCAA runner-up Troy Nickerson (125) and fourth-place finisher Jerry Rinaldi (197).
Northwestern is another team to keep an eye on. The Wildcats have a pair of top-ranked wrestlers in All-Americans Ryan Lang (141) and Jake Herbert (184). With strong finishes by Mike Tamillow (197) and Dustin Fox (285), Northwestern has the capability to put up some big points come tournament time.
National champion Matt Valenti (133) isn't the only stud in the Penn lineup. Teammates Matt Dragon (149) and Matt Herrington (174) also will start the season ranked in the top six in the country.
Hofstra is another team that could be in the mix with All-Americans Michael Patrovich (165) and Chris Weidman (197) leading the way. Patrovich reportedly has dropped down a weight class after placing fourth at 174 last year.
Michigan State returns the All-American brother tandem of Nick (125) and Andy Simmons (141). The two Big Ten champions will be in the hunt to win NCAA titles this season. Talented freshman Franklin Gomez (133), who placed second at the Junior World Team Trials this summer, also should make an impact. Gomez wrestled U.S. Nationals champion Henry Cejudo tough in the finals of the Junior World Team Trials.
Look for Penn State to put another quality team on the mat. The Nittany Lions are led by NCAA runner-up Phil Davis (197), All-American James Yonushonis (174), national qualifier Jake Strayer (133) and talented transfer Mark McKnight (125). Davis is the top returning finisher at 197 after Jake Rosholt completed his eligibility at Oklahoma State.
Nebraska lost both its All-Americans from last season, but the Huskers do return seven national qualifiers. Nebraska sophomores Paul Donahoe (125) and Vince Jones (184) narrowly missed All-American honors last year. Both start the season ranked in the top eight nationally. The Huskers also have experience with national qualifiers Patrick Aleksanyan (133), Dominick Moyer (141), Robert Sanders (149), Marc Harwood (165) and Jon May (285) back in the lineup. Starter Chris Oliver (157) also returns.
First-year Ohio State coach Tom Ryan is hoping to bring the Buckeyes back strong after a rough 2005-06 season. The Buckeyes have a national-title contender in All-American J.D. Bergman (197). Heavyweight Kirk Nail is a returning All-American after placing eighth last season. National qualifier Blake Maurer also is back at 174 pounds. Ohio State's Jeff Jaggers is ranked in the top 10 at 141.