A CHAMPIONSHIP TOURNEY WELL WORTH THE WAIT, THANKS AND PROPS TO THE PROS WHO KNOW, YOUR FINEST MEATS AND CHEESES AND FRUITS (VEGETABLES?) AND A FINAL SIGN OFF
The 2019 NCAA D1 Wrestling Championships are history, and neither the Scribe nor anyone reading these words could have written a better season ending script. Thats not a condemnation of our skills, its a celebration of the set of skills that were on display March 21st-23rd in Pittsburgh. The Penn State Nittany Lions had the title sewn up before the finals but not before stories galore unfolded in the championship session and every round leading up to them. Where to start? Well, theres a pretty good book that opens like this….”In the beginning”…
Prohibitive favorite PSU rolled into Pittsburgh as winners of the past 3 championships, a 4peat in their sights, shooting for 8 out of the last 9 titles AND a Big 10 tournament title tucked under their broad white belts. They then proceeded to fulfill virtually every expectation, winning the championship by 41 points over Ohio St. (Disclosure: the Scribes pick for 2nd, OK St, finished 3rd, 12 points back of the Buckeyes. WHODA THUNK?) PSU put 5 in the finals, but it was before the penultimate round that chinks, however small, seemed to be appearing in the Nittany Lions armor. Compare this first time together Nationals run for 133lb Roman Bravo Young, 141lb Nick Lee, and 149lb Brady Berge with the first one for Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, and Bo Nickal. The first 3 were great in this, their first time around together. The 2nd 3 THEIR first time around, TRANSCENDENT. We left the Shakur Rasheed-Mark Hall comparison out of this equation because, well, you know, that would be just unfair. NOBODY rocks the Recorder like @babymarkee.(1) I say, I say, that’s a joke, son, that’s a joke.(2) Ever so slightly suprising Nittany no-no number two: a PSU wrestler lost a national semi final match. After a sweet 16 wins in a row for Cael Sandersons crew in one of the toughest rounds in college wrestling. Complaining? No. Comparing? To nobody but themselves. Cael and company have set the bar, and they’re NOT doing the Fosbury Flop(3) anytime soon. They are…and will be….straight up and over everybody else. They have the recipe. Subtract graduating 3X champs Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal, add Kyle Conel, bronze medalist at the 2018 National Championships for Kent St. Add 2 more pinches of 6th yr. eligibility for 285lb National Champ Anthony Cassar and 2018 197lb AA Shakur Rasheed. Add a dash of return for their senior season efforts by former National champs Vincenzo Joseph and Mark Hall. Stir liberally with uber recruits Michael Beard, Aaron Brooks, and Brody Teske. Recipe for disaster…..for pretty much everybody else.
THE Ohio State University finished 2nd for the 3rd straight season, as Tom Ryans Buckeyes continued to be King Kong to Penn States Godzilla. 3 Buckeyes, 3X AA 141lb Joey Mckenna, 4XAA 149lb Micah Jordan, and 3XAA 197lb Kollin Moore, made the finals. All were undone by undefeated opponents. T-OSU must be tired by now of being the Hunt Brothers(4) of D1 wrestling, but they just keep coming. They broke through with a title in 2015 and as long as they’re close, there’s a chance. To put this in a proper time frame, it took Nebraska football legend Tom Osborne and FSUs Bobby Bowden a quarter century each to win their 1st titles. A note to any grumbling Buckeyes fans out there: Tom Ryan and crew already HAVE one, you see? So GO AWAY, you whining sons of a silly person. Your father wears rubber spurs and your mother sleeps in bird pajamas.(5)
Oklahoma State finished undefeated in dual meets for the 87 thousandth time, though the first time in a bit. They crushed the field at the Reno Tournament of Champions. They blitzed the Big 12 tournament. They gave Missouri and Iowa their only dual meet losses on the year. So why does the 2019 season have a bit of a smell to it, kind of like something didn’t quite come all the way off the boots? 2 big things: massive lineup manueverings throughout the year that took points off the board and put private and painful decisions in public, and the tragic passing of an Oklahoma State icon, Lee Roy Smith Sr, just before the Big 12s. Father of Ok St Head Coach John Smith, 1st ever 4x National D1 College Champ Pat Smith, NCAA champ and multiple World silver medalist Lee Roy Smith Jr. and 3X NCAA All American Mark Smith. Grandfather of current Ok St star and 2X All American Senior-to-be Joseph Smith. Patron saint of the Orange and Black. LRS Sr., despite sharing 83 years of brilliance, was a guiding light that went out too soon, because NEVER is the only good time for men like that to leave. But leave they must, and the effect of his passing was fully felt in Stillwater and throughout Cowboy Nation. Fully known? Only to God. Still, at last count, OK St was 10 spots up the ladder from last years 13th to this years 3rd place finish, and thats a climb any Cowboy can and should be proud of. Heck, from that high up you can almost see Lee Roy Sr. smiling.
Minus 1 sure fire All American and with a 1 legged heavyweight the Iowa Hawkeyes finished 4th. Tom Brands Black and Gold bunch placed 6 on the podium in Pittsburgh, more All Americans than anyone except (sorry, NO points for this answer) Penn St., and a strong lineup set to return for next season. Among those, 2X All American Michael Kemerer, powering up to the 174lb class and “ready to do damage,” to paraphrase Coach Brands. Kemerer was damaged goods this year, sitting out, recuperating, and getting stronger, better, faster. Enough to crack open the 3 yr, 174lb-ruling troika of 2X Champ Zahid Valencia of Arizona St, 2017 champ and 3x finalist Mark Hall of Penn St., and Bronze-level warrior Myles Amine of Michigan? Too soon to tell, but 2 spots among the top 8 somewhere are there for Kem-Dawg to claim if hes good to go through the 2021 campaign. 2s good for Hawkeye sophomore sensation Spencer Lee as well. Lee dominated at 125 to take his 2nd straight championship and stay on course for the 4 titles in 4 years career. Some really good coach, somewhere around Columbus, Ohio, possibly, noted that more men have walked on the Moon than have won 4 D1 college wrestling championships. Thats a fact, Jack, and Jill. NOT the Moon landing, though. And BTW, stay away from Area 51 if you know what’s good for you. Avocados with your barbecue, for example, are good for you.(6) Good for Iowa, ALL their All Americans return for next season. Moving forward, look for the Hawkeyes to challenge again in 2020.
Michigan may have finished 1 spot off the podium (and 1 place lower than last year) but the Wolverines finished STRONG on Saturday. In wrestling parlance the phrase is “finish in odd numbers.” That means you walked off the mats a winner in your last match. The #MGoBlue crew did that in spades, going 6 for 6 in the medal rounds Saturday as 133lb Stevan Micic, 174lb Myles Amine, and departing 3X AA 157lb Alec Pantaleo wrestled back to 3rd place. Coach Bormets freeze frame smile in his post Nationals interview spoke volumes about the pride the 1st year Head Coach had in the way his crew wrapped things up. There’s room for progress, and the talent to produce it returns to Anne Arbor for next season. Only Pantaleo and Malik Amine depart and half the starters could and probably will be ranked top 8 preseason.
Meanwhile, Coach Brian Smiths Mizzou squad had #TigerStyle on full display with their 4th st year of 4 wrestlers earning All American status. The Tigers consistency was shown in the team race as well, as Mizzou was either 5th or 6th after every round. This with one of if not THE youngest team Coach Smith has fielded in 21 years in Columbia. 4 Tiger cub freshmen qualified, and 149lb Brock Mauller earned AA status. It’s true that a lot of talent isn’t returning for the Tigers next year. 4XAA Daniel Lewis has completed his amazing career. 3X AA Jaydin Eierman is taking an Olympic Redshirt year. AA Grant Leeth may or may not return from injury. AA John Erneste has finished. And guess what, folks? Mizzou will be even BETTER in 2020. Nearly half their returning National qualifiers are just sophomores with years to improve. In a new, stronger, expanded conference. In the system known as #TigerStyle. Its a thing. A really, really successful thing.
Just one spot back of Mizzou in 7th was an equally young Cornell team. Cornells 141lb Yianni Diakomihalis followed Iowan Spencer Lees lead, taking a second title in his 2nd year of competition. The Big Red had a second finalist in 184lb Max Dean, 4 All Americans, and a top 10 finish at Nationals for the 11th straight season. Only 1 of the Big Reds 5 returning National qualifiers comes back without having already earned AA status. A monster recruiting class, a 300+ dual-meet winning coach, some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable fans around, and one of the VERY best Vet schools in the country.(7) Whats not to love? Go Big Red!
Minnesotas best season since the school dumped and tried to dump on iconic 30 yr head coach J Robinson two years back ended with a fine 14-3 dual meet record, a top 4 finish at the Big 10 tournament, and 8 wrestlers who went to Nationals. Day one was all Abelskiver pancakes with Ligonberry sauce for Coach Brandon Eggums crew as every Gopher was still alive and kicking. Minnesota was top 4 and looking tough. Then, the reality of day 2s quarter and semi final rounds plus wrestlebacks turned Minnesotas tournament to a pile of Hodag poo. Only 1 Gopher made the semis. There, freshman phenom 285lb Gable Steveson was handed his 2nd and final loss of the season at the hands of eventual National Champ Anthony Cassar from (stop the Scribe if you’ve heard this before) Penn State. The Gophers 2019 positives? 4 All Americans, 8th place at Nationals, 9 spots up from last years dismal 17th, and a dynamic new assistant coach in Trevor Brandvold. The negatives? Ask A.D. Mark Coyle, hes up on everything “wrong” about Gopher Athletics. Just sayin.
Suprising Rutgers finished 9th, celebrating its first ever National Champion, and it was so nice the Scarlet Knights did it twice. Nick Suriano took the 133lb title while teammate Anthony Ashnault ruled the 149lb roost. The Scribe happily admits SERIOUS Jerzey-born bias,(8) but realistically R-U will be hard pressed to maintain their lofty status next season. It will take a serious level jump by several currently rostered wrestlers (20 of 24 returnees are Jerzey guys, BTW) and a bona fide breakout season by somebody (Joe Grello? Christian Collucci? Stephan Glasgow? Billy Janzer?) to sniff the top 10 in 2020. And, to stay in the stratosphere, Rutgers, don’t let the Patrick Glorys and Lewis Fernandes of the future get away.
Nebraska had their 5th straight top 10 finish, powered by 4 All Americans, 3 of whom return next season. With 2018 AA Taylor Venz also back the Huskers just might make a bit more noise in 2020. All 6 of their returning national qualifiers have good shots at improving their points total, both at the Big 10s and at the NCAAs. Nebraskas finished top 10 at Nationals 5 years running. They’ve got a streak of 4 times top 5 at the Big 10s going as well. How far up from here? Not sure, but surely N-Us enjoying some wonderful years in the neighborhood.
The Scribe was able to bring forth this weekly rambling on the Worlds greatest sport by using some or most of the above methods to absorb small amounts of the excellence produced by all of the below. Time well spent, INDEED, and thank you, all of you!
Mark Palmer, sr. writer, Intermat. David Mirikitani, podcaster,writer,rankings specialist, TrackWrestling. Earl Smith, The Open Mat. Mike Finn, W I.N. Magazine. Ben Askren, Matt Dernlan, Cary Kolat, podcasters, Rudis Wrestling. Christian Pyles, Willie Saylor, Kyle Bratke, Daniel “Nomad” Lobdell, et al, Flowrestling. Jason Bryant, MatTalkOnline.com-Inside Virginia Tech Wrestling-The Old Dominion Monarch Matcast-The Short Time Wrestling Podcast. Brian Reinhardt, PackMentalityPopins Podcast. Andy Hamilton, TrackWrestling-Reporter, Podcaster, Writer, Savant, “7 Minutes with…”, Writing Time. Mr. Headlock and Cael “The Coach” Dangerud, ND Headlock Podcast. Joe Wedra, The Coleman Scott Show. Alex Steen, Trackwrestling. Tony Hager, Kyven Gadson, et. al., Takedown TV. Hager, Steve Foster, Michael Harvey, Brad Johnson, Jeff Murphy, Erik Zamora, et. al, Takedown Radio. The Higher Standard Podcast, Princeton Wrestling. (More episodes, PLEASE!) Michelle Van Dorn, UNI. Leah Howard, Michigan. Travis Blanshan, Fresno St. Brandon Davis, San Francisco State. Doug Spatafore, Lock Haven. Bret Strelow, Appalachian State. Sydney Harbaugh, Binghamton. Rene Ferran, The Oregonian/OregonLive.com. Daniel Boyette, Al.com. Brant Parsons, Orlando Sentinel. (SOMEBODY get this guy an assistant, PLEASE!) Don Zimmerman, ISU, loyal customer, friend. Aaron Chimenti, Kent St. Michael J. Carpenter, VMI. Mollie Hanke, Arizona State. Ryan Bridges, Gardner-Webb. Carl Perry and Heath Eslinger, FCAW. The Chattanooga Times Free Press. Brad “Anthony Robles Redux” Wilson, Express Times, LehighValleyLive.com. James Kratch, NJ Advance Media, The Star-Ledger and NJ.com. Steven Falk, Asbury Park Press. Shannon Scovell, NCAA com. Sam Mustari, Tyler Silvy, The Greeley (CO) Tribune. Cody Goodwin, The Des Moines (IA) Register, TrackWrestling.
VERY VERY SPECIAL THANK YOUS
Honored, humbled, and grateful that the following coaches in a variety of sports found time in their incredibly busy lives to give valuable insight into their programs.
Head Coach Kyle Ruschell, UTC
Head Coach Chris Bono, Wisconsin
Strength and Conditioning Coach Charles Dudley, UTSA
Daniel Boyettes story on the documentary “Wrestle”, the story of Huntsville, Alabamas HS team, its coaches, and the school, both on and off the mat. http://s.al.com.AWZ7PMB
American University wrestler Michael Spragues trip to the National Championships ended with a consolation round sudden-victory loss. A far more brutal and horrifying loss occured 30 minutes later when his father died in the stands. This is where you’ll send help, because he and his family need it and you are of that quality:
1) Mark Hall earned $400 for a Childrens Cancer charity by whipping a Recorder from his backpack at the Big 10 Championships and attempting to play it. As of this writing Rasheed has yet to challenge his own talents in such fashion.
(2) The catchphrase of Foghorn Leghorn, the Rooster avatar of all things DeepSouth and star of the second best Geico Commercial ever.
(3) American Track and Field hero Dick Fosbury brought the sideways flop over the High Bar into international competition back in the day-day.
(4)Nelson Bunker, Lamar and William Herbert Hunt tried to corner the Silver Market in March 1980…and nearly did. The epic attempt and equally enormous failure shook the financial world.
(5) Ferocious taunting compliments of the French Knights from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
(6) Avocados from Mexico, BBQ from that (kinda getting pretty well known) restaurant on Blanco Avenue in San Antonio. 7 meats, 7 desserts, 11 sides, lots of happy customers. ALWAYS room for more!
(7) SHOUT OUT, Dr. Dan Mertens, Carolina Veterinary Specialists, Charlotte. The care you gave and the quality of life your skills provided the Scribes family will NEVER be forgotten.
8. You gotta problem with that??
GOOD LUCK, GOD BLESS, AND GOODBYE FOR NOW!