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|PREVIEW: Cowboys looking for 4th straight Big 12 Title|
By Meredith Wilson USA Wrestling
Oklahoma State, the returning Big 12 Wrestling Champion, is looking for its fourth consecutive conference title this weekend in Ames, Iowa.
Iowa State University will play host to the 2006 Big 12 Wrestling Championships on Saturday, March 4, 2006 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. Traditionally known as one of the toughest conference meets, the Big 12 Championships feature just five teams competing against each other. But this year, all of the teams are currently ranked in the top 10 nationally and field solid teams of ranked wrestlers.
The Cowboys, currently ranked No. 3 nationally by the National Wrestling Coaches Association/Intermat, head into the conference meet boasting a 6-0 dual record against Big 12 schools. Oklahoma State sits as a strong favorite, bringing eight nationally-ranked wrestlers to the mat, including three athletes currently ranked 2nd in their weight in the Intermat/NWCA poll.
The 5th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers hold a 3-1 Big 12 record and will bring seven ranked wrestlers, including returning Big 12 champion B.J. Padden at 197 lbs. The Huskers finished second in the Big 12s last season, and are currently ranked second in the current Big 12 standings.
Right behind the Huskers nationally are the hosts, the No. 6 ranked Iowa State Cyclones. They will field four ranked wrestlers on their home turf this weekend, including top ranked Nate Gallick at 141 lbs, and No. 2 ranked Trent Paulson at 157 lbs.
The No. 7 ranked Missouri Tigers will send six ranked wrestlers to the championships, led by top ranked Ben Askren at 174 lbs. Missouri comes into the tournament with a 3-2 Big 12 dual record, with wins over host Iowa State and Oklahoma.
Also fielding eight ranked wrestlers is Oklahoma. Currently ranked No. 10 in the nation, the Sooners captured a single dual win over the Huskers this season. They bring two solid wrestlers, Sam Hazewinkle and Teyon Ware, both ranked second at 125 and 141 lbs., respectively.
But dual competition doesn't necessarily mean much going into this weekend's tournament. "It doesn't matter what happened in the dual meets, most conference duals were very tight," said Nebraska Coach Mark Manning. "What matters is what happens on the mats this Saturday."
All coaches agreed in a press conference held Wednesday morning, that the Big 12 conference is very balanced and will produce highly contested matches.
"The Big 12 is loaded with talent from top to bottom," said Iowa State Head Coach Bobby Douglas. "the fact that the weights are very balanced will make this an exciting tournament."
Oklahoma's 2nd-ranked Sam Hazewinkel, who boasts a 25-1 season record heading into the tournament, will face off against three other ranked wrestlers at 125 lbs., including 5th ranked Cowboy Coleman Scott. Hazewinkel defeated Scott twice this season in duals, both wins were by a two-point margin. Adding to the mix are 9th-ranked Husker Paul Donahoe (22-6), and 18th-ranked Austin DeVoe (25-11) of Missouri.
Nathan Morgan (26-1) of Oklahoma State is a favorite, coming into the tournament ranked 2nd. The only other ranked wrestler at 133 lbs. is Missouri's Tyler McCormick (20-6), ranked 14th. Morgan and McCormick met once in dual competition with Morgan claiming the victory. Rounding out this weight will be Husker freshman Patrick Aleksanyan (14-13), Cyclone Jesse Sundell (15-14) and Sooner Trey Blakely (6-15).
One of the most hotly contested weight classes of this tournament features the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked wrestlers. Top-ranked Cyclone Nate Gallick (28-0) and second-ranked Sooner Teyon Ware (22-1) will likely take the top seeds at 141 lbs. These two met once in dual competition this year with Gallick the victor by a one-point margin. Gallick is looking to avenge his 3-2 loss in the 2005 NCAA Division I Championship finals to Ware, the only time Ware has beaten Gallick Rounding out the field are 18th-ranked Husker Dominick Moyer (16-9), 19th-ranked Tiger Chris McCormick (26-7) and Cowboy Ethan Kyle (6-9).
"This will be a very strategic and tactical match," said Coach Douglas. "Every time these two step on the mat they bring their best game. Nate is our captain and we are relying heavily on him to score points."
The Cowboys are looking to clinch a title at 149 lbs. in No. 3-ranked Zack Esposito. Returning Big 12 and 2005 NCAA Champion Esposito must first get past 6th ranked Sooner Matt Storniolo (22-3), who he has beaten twice this season already with 12-4 and 4-0 victories. Joining the field at 149 lbs. are Marcus Hoehn (8-6) of Missouri, Iowa State's Jason Knipp (16-7) and Husker Robert Sanders (12-10).
Iowa State's Trent Paulson is looking to claim a title on his home turf. Paulson, who finished in 4th place at last year's NCAA Championships, is sitting the No. 1 spot nationally. The rest of the field includes 14th-ranked Kevin Ward (19-1) of Oklahoma State, Husker Chris Oliver (16-6) who is not ranked by Intermat/NWCA but sits at 17th and 16th in the Amateur Wrestling News and WIN Magazine polls, as well as Missouri's Michael Chandler (12-11).
Returning Big 12 and National Champion Johny Hendricks is another Cowboy favorite this weekend. He will face tough competition from a field of ranked wrestlers, including 6th ranked Matt Pell (25-2) of Missouri, 8th ranked Travis Paulson (25-4) of Iowa State, 14th ranked Marc Harwood (13-6) of Nebraska, and 16th ranked Jarrod King (16-9) of Oklahoma.
Top ranked Tiger Ben Askren also faces a field for ranked wrestlers in his quest for Big 12 Conference title. Askren fell short of conference and national titles last year taking second place in both tournaments behind Oklahoma State's Chris Pendleton. Boasting an undefeated 33-0 record, Askren is ranked 1st in all three top wrestling polls. He has pinned a majority of his opponents so far this year. The field is rounded out by 4th ranked Husker Jacob Klein (19-3), 8th ranked Cowboy Brandon Mason (21-9), 15th ranked Sooner Wes Roberts (8-5), and Cyclone David Bertolino (15-13)
Iowa State's returning Big 12 champ Kurt Backes (18-5) is also looking for a conference title on home turf. Backes, ranked 5th nationally, will see two other ranked wrestlers this weekend in 13th ranked Vince Jones (24-5) of Nebraska and 15th ranked Justin Dyer (17-9) of Oklahoma. The field is rounded out with Missouri's Joey Garrity (16-21) and Oklahoma State's Rusty Blackmon (15-13).
The Huskers are looking for a title in returning Big 12 champion B.J. Padden, but this is sure to be another hotly contested weight class with the 3rd, 4th and 5th ranked wrestlers at battle. Padden sits in the 3rd seat nationally with a 20-3 record on the season, but must get past 4th ranked Sooner Joel Flaggert (19-3) and 5th ranked and returning NCAA champion Jake Rosholt of Oklahoma State. Padden will be looking to avenge a semifinal loss to Rosholt at the 2005 NCAA Championships. However, Padden, who currently claims two victories this season over Rosholt, fell in dual competition to Flaggert. And despite his 5th place ranking, Rosholt boasts two wins this season over Flaggert leaving this weight wide open for whoever is wrestling well to win.
Returning Big 12 and NCAA champion Steve Mocco (21-2) hopes to claim his second Big 12 title this weekend. Ranked 2nd nationally, Mocco will face a field including 7th ranked Sooner Jake Hager (25-4), 14th ranked Husker Jon May (15-13), Missouri's Sean Connole (18-18) and Iowa States Richard Schopf (4-13).
Thirty-eight wrestlers will join the ranks at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Oklahoma City. The top three place winners at each weight will secure a position, with an additional eight qualifiers being selected by the coaches as wildcard entries following the competition.
Official seeds and brackets will be released Friday, March 3rd at approximately 6 p.m. Central. TheMat.com will provide complete coverage, including results, news, and photos, of the event from Ames, Iowa, on Saturday.