I talked with first time viewers and long time fans and almost everyone told me 3 similar things (even non-Penn State fans) the finals and semi-finals were very exciting and interesting viewing. It was great that ESPN expanded their TV coverage but their coverage is fairly poor if you wanted to see or hear people talking about the matches taking place. Far too many distractions and interviews during matches – I’m surprised some of the coaches didn’t rebuff their requests to ‘chat’ while their guy was on the mat. At the very least, show the wrestling while talking.
1. Penn State: is doing something very special during this run of theirs. The way their wrestlers are all seemingly getting better and going as big as they can represents a change in college wrestling. 2 weeks ago some thought that the sky was falling after they didn’t capture the B1G title. They overcame some of their mistakes and lower bonus rate to capture the team Championship before the finals even started. They have a glut of talent and some exciting and creative wrestlers. I love watching this team, even in a close match guys like Nickal can get the fall seemingly out of nowhere, pretty compelling viewing. I cover a lot of wrestling and talk to many followers and even guys that don’t like the school admire their wrestlers. Fan perception of Penn State’s dominance is different than Iowa’s a decade ago. The wide-open styles of Nolf or Nickal can captivate even rivals. PSU is must see wrestling and you can see that by their travel attendance. Coach Sanderson and staff have set a new standard for what a D1 program looks like: culture, roster depth, regional training center and coaches. To me the two biggest elements are development of wrestlers during the season and bonus points. Watching a guy like Vincenzo Joseph develop during the season was pretty amazing. Penn State had more bonus point wins individually at 149, 57 and 84 than almost all the teams got from their entire squads. They had the most bonus point wins in the tournament with 21, and the most falls at 7. That is up from last year’s 17 bonus point wins and 5 falls. Most guys get better during the off-season, not at PSU – they get better DURING the season. Plus I’m not sure that there is an off-season when you have senior level aspirations. This team met or exceeded its seeds in all but one weight class, loses just 4.5 points to graduation and seems to have the horses to overcome injuries and areas of shallow depth. I know that one of the mantras of the team is fun but it sounds a bit like a slogan to me. When I talk with the team it sounds more like they are satisfied with what they are doing and being satisfied is the basis for happiness and allows room for fun.
It’s impossible to project with any accuracy if the staff will juggle next year’s lineup to accommodate talent. I’d expect a couple of transfers from guys that can’t get in the line up. Most Pennsylvania wrestling fans will remember this tournament for a long time and when the end of this dominance happens they will hearken back on these great old days.
2. Ohio State: Everyone out of Ohio State had high expectations coming into St Louis. They just knocked off PSU at the B1G’s and reigning national champion Myles Martin regained championship form. The Buckeyes had a mix of under and over production from their seeds but it was their bonus wins, 19 that separated them from Okie State. That’s right they had two less bonus wins than PSU, but they were worth less points than PSU’s bonus wins. This bonus point rate is up markedly from last year when they only had 12 bonus wins. In order for Ohio State to have been in striking distance to win MyMar and KMoore would have needed to duplicate their B1G championship runs. Or Tomasello would have had to get back on top of the heap. It wasn’t in the cards. They had no one at 57, got no points at 65 and still finished 2nd. This is the power of bonus points. Coach Ryan has balanced a lot this season; injuries like most coaches, fan expectations, his son at 157 and the senior level schedule of Kyle Snyder. Coach Ryan has built this program into a perennial powerhouse both at the D1 level but also at the senior level. I’m not sure how the departure of Coach Rosselli for Oklahoma will affect the Ohio RTC. Ohio State doesn’t lose any points to graduation and looks to be in the title conversation next season.
3. Oklahoma State
I had Okie State finishing 3rd going into St. Louis but wasn’t really impressed with the team performance. I only got to watch them during the dual championship versus Penn State. I thought that the home mat experience gave them a bigger assist than they could expect in St Louis. Coach Smith’s team underperformed their seeds in 4 weight classes, a #2 seed Collica and #6 Schafer didn’t place, that is very hard to overcome even when you qualify all 10 of your guys for nationals. The team looked a bit flat to me, their lone finalist isn’t exactly lighting it up out there with his attacks but he knows how to win close. I’m sure one finalist isn’t the way the staff saw the last three days playing out in their minds. They took 2nd last year with a very young team. They dropped one spot with a more experienced team. The State of Oklahoma is producing bumper crops of top high school talent and they’ve been able to keep the best for themselves. I’m guessing Lou Roselli will challenge that a bit but currently talent doesn’t seem to be the issue – they’ve got top talent and they are deep at many weight classes. Bonus points aren’t happening; the team had 7-bonus point wins during the tournament. In comparison PSU had 3 wrestlers with four bonus wins during this same period. Okie State had 11 bonus point wins and 4 falls at last season’s tournament, who wouldn’t miss Alex Dieringer?
I heard Coach Smith call out the close wrestling style of his highest placing wrestler but can he instill this message in his team? Okie State had all ten wrestlers qualify putting them at a distinct advantage, but on Saturday Ohio State (finishing with a slightly below average seed) had 19 bonus point wins powering them into 2nd place topping Okie. On a normal year finishing with 8 All Americans might seal the national championship deal. Ohio State finished with 2 less AA’s but they finished slightly higher and with another placer’s worth of bonus points. Okie State will lose 19 team points to graduation. I’m not sure how team health impacted their performance but to stay in the hunt this team is going to need to learn how to get more bonus points.
I took a ton of heat for last year’s takeaways about Iowa. None of them were charitable enough to repost. I was told in no uncertain terms that this year would be the Hawkeyes year and then maybe there would be a lean year or two. Iowa’s results were mixed but they slightly underperformed over the last 3 days. Fans, their parents and grandparents that can’t wrap their heads around not being the center of the college wrestling world please seek some type of therapy. Iowa has finished 4, 4, 2, 4, 4, 3, 3 since their last championship in 2010. #1 seeded Thomas Gilman looked at a loss against Lehigh’s Cruz in the semis? #2 seed Michael Kemerer bonused through most of the season only losing to Nolf but seemed unprepared for Palacio. Were they mentally tight, unprepared or nicked up? Both guys came back for third; I’m guessing that they weren’t injured. I know you say Marinelli, Lee and Teasdale will change this all but I don’t think so. The guys aren’t as mentally or physically prepared as they should be, they can look solid during the season but maybe they aren’t prepping for the tournament as effectively as they could or maybe their talent just isn’t what it used to be. Iowa is going to lose 54.5 points graduation and already has holes in their lineup. I’m not sure how they finish this high next season.
I think that Iowa understands that it would be hard to find a coach that would be an upgrade to replace team Brands. Is there a solution for Iowa? By my estimation Iowa had slightly higher recruiting rankings than Penn State since 2010. So it appears to me that the coaches might need to change things up once they get the kids. How they train and peak or how they schedule might all be areas to look at but the number one thing to me is culture. Team Brands are great for the culture that existed from the beginning of time up till the last generation. And fan therapy?
5. Missouri finished up with more guys in the finals than everyone else except PSU going 1-2 in the finals. All 5 seeded wrestlers either placed at their seed or finished higher. The team also picked up 11 bonus point wins along the way. This performance propelled them to a 5th place finish, the 3rd highest Tiger finish ever. Coach Brian Smith doesn’t get enough credit for building a program. Although he did win coach of the year. Shouldn’t that have gone to Cael Sanderson? I’m a fan, you can count D1 program builders on one hand and he, Kevin Dresser and Rob Koll are at the top on my list. Smith is just another overnight success story that took 19 years. Did they get a home state mat boost? Maybe but his team always seems ready to compete. Mizzou loses more than 40 points to graduation.
6. Virginia Tech really underperformed as a team to their seeds. Was this due to Coach Dresser taking the ISU job? I’m guessing that contributed but I don’t know for certain. I know that they finished 2 spots higher last year and that they had a mix of different results from returning starters. The Hokies had 5 All Americans and 7 bonus point victories. VT will loose 36 team points to graduation. It will be interesting to see how the school deals with filling the head coaching position. Dresser took this team over after being left for dead and built it into a perennial powerhouse. The question always remains the same when a successful coach leaves a program, can the school keep the program at the same level or not?
13. Lehigh came into the post season with high expectations. They had their best and deepest team in years. They had a mix of solid young talent backed up by 3 returning All Americans. Their hopes took a blow at EIWA’s as they just held off Princeton for 2nd place. 157 and 165 went from being two of their most solid weight classes to .5 points at nationals. They qualified 7 wrestlers for nationals 5 with seeds and after 3 days they finished 12th with Darian Cruz as their first national champ since Zach Rey in 2011 and Scotty Parker finished up one place from his seed, grabbing 8th. Lehigh finished up 3 places and scored 9 more team points from last season with one less AA but having a champ takes some of the edge off. What really hurt the Mountain Hawks was the underperformance at the other three seeded weight classes. Lehigh had three bonus point wins, less than last season. Lehigh loses 8 points to graduation. They seem to have lots of talent on the bench to reload instead of rebuilding. There are tons of rumors involving Coach Santoro and the opening at Pitt. I guess that we’ll know if anything materializes now that the season is over.
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Cornell could claim to have expectations at 3 weights. 2 guys finished lower than seed