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Penn State, Minnesota, Iowa expected to challenge for Big Ten crown

Penn State junior David Taylor is shooting for his third straight Big Ten title. Larry Slater photo.

It is difficult to fathom the Big Ten Conference being any stronger in wrestling than it has been in previous seasons.

But that just may be the case this season.

Four Big Ten teams are ranked in the nation’s top six and the conference features six wrestlers who have captured NCAA individual titles.

Iowa won the Big Ten dual meet championship this season, but the Hawkeyes are only the third-highest Big Ten team in the national rankings.

Minnesota won the National Duals when they avenged a loss to the Hawkeyes en route to the title.

Penn State, winners of the last two Big Ten and NCAA titles, still looks like the team to beat with three individual national champions in its powerful lineup. The Nittany Lions did not compete at the National Duals.

So the lastest Intermat national rankings have Penn State ranked No. 1, Minnesota No. 3, Iowa No. 4, Ohio State No. 6, Illinois No. 9, Nebraska No. 13 and Northwestern No. 15.

Another close battle is expected when the 12-team Big Ten Championships take place on Saturday and Sunday at the University of Illinois’ Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill.

“The last two years were something we are very proud of, and our guys wrestled great.,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said when asked if there was extra pressure to win a third straight title. “Any time you can win a Big Ten championship is something to celebrate. We have that opportunity ahead of us again, and if anything, it makes you a little more hungry when you believe in yourselves and you know what it takes. We’re certainly excited for it. The bigger the matches the more excited we are to compete.”

The Big Ten has secured 74 automatic qualifying spots for the NCAA Championships, set for March 21-23 in Des Moines, Iowa. An additional 40 at-large spots will be awarded from all conferences on Wednesday for the NCAA tournament.

The two-day Big Ten tournament begins Saturday at 10 a.m. Central Time. The finals will be televised live on the Big Ten Network on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

Six of the No. 1 pre-seeds are returning conference champions. They include two-time Big Ten champions Matt McDonough of Iowa (125 pounds), David Taylor of Penn State (165) and Ed Ruth of Penn State (184). They are joined by fellow 2012 league champions Logan Stieber of Ohio State (133), Derek St. John of Iowa (157) and Tony Nelson of Minnesota (285).

McDonough is a two-time NCAA champion while Taylor, Stieber, Ruth and Nelson also struck NCAA gold in 2012.

Returning Big Ten champions Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota (184) and Mario Gonzalez of Illinois (197) are also in the tournament field.

Taylor, a junior, has been named Big Ten Wrestler of the Year the past two seasons. Taylor is the reigning Hodge Trophy winner as the nation’s top collegiate wrestler, but he has dropped two matches to three-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake of Cornell this season.

Ruth, also a junior, has not lost a match since his freshman season at the NCAA tournament. He is unbeaten this year after bumping up a weight class to 184 after previously competing at 174.

Penn State also has a top seed in senior Quentin Wright, who won the 2011 Big Ten title at 184 before following with an NCAA title that season. Wright, second in the NCAAs last year, is the No. 1 Big Ten pre-seed at 197.

The Nittany Lions also have returning NCAA runner-up Nico Megaludis seeded second at 125 and returning All-American Dylan Alton seeded third at 157.

Minnesota, second in the 2012 NCAA tournament, is hitting its peak at the right time. In addition to Nelson and Steinhaus, All-American Logan Storley is the No. 1 pre-seed at 174. He was second in the Big Ten tournament last year.

Returning NCAA runner-up Dylan Ness is the No. 2 seed at 149. Ness placed second in the 2012 Big Tens as a freshman for the Gophers.

Minnesota has another returning All-American with Chris Dardanes at 133. His twin brother, returning national qualifier Nick Dardanes, is the No. 2 seed at 141. Gopher Scott Schiller is the No. 2 seed at 197.

Iowa has won 34 Big Ten tournament titles, including three straight from 2008-10 before Penn State won the last two. The Hawkeyes finished fourth at the National Duals.

“Obviously, our performance wasn’t stellar,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said of the National Duals. “We needed to fix some things. You’ve got to win the tough situations out there. Do you need to reinvent what you’re doing? Absolutely not.

“I feel good about our guys – I always do, I always have and that won’t change. We got to have some urgency and we got to be scoring points.”

In addition to McDonough and St. John, Iowa’s Tony Ramos is the No. 2 pre-seed at 133. The unbeaten Ramos finished second to Stieber at the 2012 Big Tens before placing third at the NCAAs. Ramos and Stieber did not meet in the Big Ten dual with Stieber out with an injury.

The Hawkeyes, third in the 2012 NCAA tournament, also have All-Americans in their lineup with Ethen Lofthouse (184) and Bobby Telford (285). Telford placed second in the Big Ten tournament last year.

Returning NCAA qualifier Mike Evans has had a superb season for Iowa and is the No. 2 seed behind Storley at 174. Evans was second in the 2012 Big Tens at 165. Hawkeye Mark Ballweg is seeded third at 141.

Ohio State’s Hunter Stieber, Logan’s younger brother, is the No. 1 pre-seed at 141. The Buckeyes also have past All-Americans Nikko Triggas (125), Cam Tessari (149) and Nick Heflin (174) in their strong lineup.

Nebraska is led by returning All-Americans James Green (157) and Josh Ihnen (184). Ihnen was second in the 2012 Big Tens. The Huskers also have top contenders in NCAA qualifiers Jake Sueflohn (149) and Robert Kokesh (174).

Illinois is led by All-Americans Jesse Delgado (125), Conrad Polz (165) and Jordan Blanton (174). Delgado has defeated McDonough in dual meets the past two seasons.

Northwestern is led by two-time All-American Jason Welch, a Big Ten runner-up at 157 last year. All-American heavyweight Mike McMullan also is back. Welch and McMullan are each seeded second.

Michigan’s Eric Grajales, a returning NCAA qualifier, is the top seed at 149. Teammate Taylor Massa, a talented freshman, is the No. 3 pre-seed at 165.

Purdue has had a strong season in conference dual meets. The Boilermakers are led by All-American Cashe Quiroga at 133 and NCAA qualifier Ivan Lopouchanski at 149. Lopouchanski is seeded third.

Wisconsin junior Tyler Graff is a two-time All-American at 133. He was second at the 2011 Big Tens before taking an Olympic redshirt last season.


125 lbs.
1. Matt McDonough, IOWA
2. Nico Megaludis, PSU
3. Jesse Delgado, ILL
4. Sean Boyle, MICH
5. Nikko Triggas, OSU
6. Camden Eppert, PUR
7. David Thorn, MINN
8. Dom Malone, NU

133 lbs.
1. Logan Stieber, OSU
2. Tony Ramos, IOWA
3. Tyler Graff, WIS
4. Jordan Conaway, PSU
5. Daryl Thomas, ILL
6. Cashe Quiroga, PUR
7. Chris Dardanes, MINN
8. Shawn Nagel, NEB

141 lbs.
1. Hunter Stieber, OSU
2. Nick Dardanes, MINN
3. Mark Ballweg, IOWA
4. Bryan Pearsall, PSU
5. Brandon Nelsen, PUR
6. Ridge Kiley, NEB
7. Pat Greco, NU
8. Camryn Jackson, MICH

149 lbs.
1. Eric Grajales, MICH
2. Dylan Ness, MINN
3. Ivan Lopouchanski, PUR
4. Jake Sueflohn, NEB
5. Cam Tessari, OSU
6. Andrew Alton, PSU
7. Caleb Ervin, ILL
8. Dan Osterman, MSU
9. Josh Dziewa, IOWA
10. Dylan Marriott, NU
11. Preston Keiffer, IND

157 lbs.
1. Derek St. John, IOWA
2. Jason Welch, NU
3. Dylan Alton, PSU
4. James Green, NEB
5. Taylor Walsh, IND
6. Josh Demas, OSU
7. Ryan Watts, MSU
8. Danny Zilverberg, MINN

165 lbs.
1. David Taylor, PSU
2. Conrad Polz, ILL
3. Taylor Massa, MICH
4. Nick Moore, IOWA
5. Cody Yohn, MINN
6. Pierce Harger, NU
7. Ryan LeBlanc, IND
8. Austin Wilson, NEB
9. Mark Martin, OSU
10. Pat Robinson, PUR
11. Frank Cousins, WIS
12. Nick Proctor, MSU

174 lbs.
1. Logan Storley, MINN
2. Mike Evans, IOWA
3. Robert Kokesh, NEB
4. Nick Heflin, OSU
5. Matt Brown, PSU
6. Jordan Blanton, ILL
7. Lee Munster, NU
8. Dan Yates, MICH
9. Scott Liegel, WIS
10. Chad Welch, PUR
11. Jordan Wohlfert, MSU
12. Cheney Dale, IND

184 lbs.
1. Ed Ruth, PSU
2. Kevin Steinhaus, MINN
3. Josh Ihnen, NEB
4. John Rizqallah, MSU
5. Ethen Lofthouse, IOWA
6. Tony Dallago, ILL
7. Luke Sheridan, IND
8. Cody Magrum, OSU

197 lbs.
1. Quentin Wright, PSU
2. Scott Schiller, MINN
3. Mario Gonzalez, ILL
4. Andrew Campolattano, OSU
5. Braden Atwood, PUR
6. Nathan Burak, IOWA
7. Jackson Hein, WIS
8. Max Huntley, MICH
9. Alex Polizzi, NU
10. Luke Jones, MSU
11. Caleb Kolb, NEB

285 lbs.
1. Tony Nelson, MINN
2. Mike McMullan, NU
3. Connor Medbery, WIS
4. Bobby Telford, IOWA
5. Mike McClure, MSU
6. Adam Chalfant, IND
7. James Lawson, PSU
8. Ben Apland, MICH
9. Spencer Johnson, NEB
10. Nick Tavanello, OSU
11. Chris Lopez, ILL
12. Alex White, PUR
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