|PERSPECTIVE: NWCA National Duals finds a home at UNI with many anticipated match-ups|
By Ted Witulski USA Wrestling
The University of Northern Iowa's UNI Dome was electric Saturday---almost too electric. The biggest shortcoming in a near perfect weekend for the newest home of the National Duals was static electricity building up in the scoring clocks. The static shorted out several clocks and left the UNI coaching staff scrambling to find stop watches and other alternatives.
But, beyond that engineering nightmare, the National Duals quickly recovered into a fantastic weekend of head-to-head team competition. The UNI Dome beautifully showcased wrestling for all of America's collegiate division and even offered a glimpse at women's college wrestling as well. The mats stretched the length of the field and the crowd was energetic and large-as big as any previous National Duals crowd at other venues.
From the beginning of the weekend to the last slap of the mat, there were outstanding match-ups that many wrestling fans only anticipate at the NCAA Championships. This event is truly one of the sport's most exciting competitions.
The first big match that forum-goers had been hashing out for weeks was the match-up of freshman sensation Troy Nickerson of Cornell against Greco-Roman star and returning All-American Sam Hazewinkel of Oklahoma. Cornell landed the highly-touted Nickerson and many expected the battle with the Sooners to be the 125-pounder's first real test. Though the match was short on scoring - only a reversal was scored - the scrambling of Nickerson countered by the Greco-styled hand-fighting of Hazewinkel kept the fans tightly packed on the edge of the mat. Hazewinkel emerged with the 2-0 victory, and Nickerson left with his first collegiate loss.
Two inter-conference rivals battled in the Oklahoma State against Nebraska semifinals dual. At 197 pounds, second -anked Jake Rosholt stepped to the mat for another tussle with the husky Husker ,B.J. Padden, holding the fourth step on the national rankings. The two wrestlers always seem to land in some awkward scrambles, mostly due to the unorthodox roughneck style of the overpowering Padden. Last year, Rosholt managed to topple Padden at the NCAA meet in St. Louis en route to his second NCAA title. This year at the duals, Padden returned the favor with a 5-3 victory. This rivalry will be revisited in another upcoming dual scheduled for February 3rd.
The battle for the fifth place teams between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Michigan Wolverines produced a heart-stopping match at the nationally-loaded weight class of 149 pounds. Ty Eustice of Iowa seems to be gaining footing at the weight where the margin for error is minimal. Eustice faced off against Michigan's sophomore Eric Tannenbaum, who finished fourth in the nation as a freshman. The Iowa faithful seemed a little wounded from the first day of competition and they delighted in the hard fought 7-4 victory of their senior star Eustice.
The finals dual meet between the Gophers of Minnesota and the Cowboys of Oklahoma State had 10 matches worthy of commentary. Certainly one of the most anticipated bouts was the 149-pound battle, which featured a returning NCAA Champion in Zack Esposito of Oklahoma State and Minnesota's freshman sensation from Ohio, Dustin Schlatter. The Espo-Schlatter bout didn't disappoint, as the freshman came out firing with a slick duck to open the scoring. The two wrestlers kept the attention of the crowd with action throughout the bout, only to see the true freshman Schlatter take an 8-7 victory.
Of course, the most anticipated bout of the weekend was the clash between Cole Konrad of Minnesota and the "Johnny Damon" of collegiate wrestling, Steve Mocco of Oklahoma State. The Iowa fans readied their vocal chords for the return of Mocco to their backyard, where Mocco was once a star for the Univ. of Iowa.
From the outset of the 285 pound battle, it was clear that Konrad no longer felt the intimidation that seemed to give Mocco an edge on his heavyweight competition in college. The towering Konrad attacked more often than Mocco and seemed to stand in against the returning NCAA champion's aggressive hand fighting. With score tied on escapes, Konrad found the over-under postion he was looking for, then stepped hard to the left ,arching slightly and took Mocco down with impact and a pin that wasn't even contested with a struggle. The victory set off a raucous celebration with Konrad's teammates giving most spectators a feeling that the win over Mocco even trumped the importance of Minnesota salting away the National Duals Title over defending NCAA champion Oklahoma State.
The weekend's wrestling in Cedar Falls was a credit to the sport of wrestling. It showcased the hard work of many volunteers in Iowa, and featured the National Wrestling Coaches Association and Cliff Keen Athletics as chief sponsors. Fans should mark the National Duals on their calendars for next year, when the UNI Dome will once again host a great weekend of wrestling for America's college divisions.