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|Notes from the first session of the NCAA Championships, Thursday afternoon|
By Gary Abbott and Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
Illinois has busy and challenging morning
Some years, the NCAA Championships features a number of teams who are able to qualify an entire 10-man team for the national tournament. However, in 2006, the only team to get their full squad into the tournament is the Univ. of Illinois, one of the top contenders in the team race. During the first session, the Illinois coaches had to work every weight class but one, as Mike Poeta had a bye at 165 pounds. Coach Mark Johnson was quoted in the pre-event press conference that he needed all 10 athletes to perform if the team was to reach its high goals.
The Illini's first match was a pigtail at 141, where unseeded Cassio Pero, a returning All-American, lost to freshman Cesar Grajales of Penn, 6-3. Perio's selection to the tournament was a bit controversial, as he took eighth in the Big Ten with a 13-10 record. Perio was seventh in the weight class last year.
The session did not get better, when No. 4 Kyle Ott, a past NCAA finalist, lost his opening match to Michael Sees of Bloomsburg at 125 pounds.
Gabriel Flores turned things around for Illinois with a 9-3 win over Joe Baker of Navy at 133 pounds. But the tough session for the team continued at 149 pounds, where No. 11 Troy Tirapelle lost to Tyler Sherfey of Boise State by a 20-4 technical fall.
The team got back on track at 157 pounds, where No. 3 Alex Tirapelle pinned Adam Glazer of Gardner-Webb in 2:01. But Donny Reynolds was defeated at 174 pounds by Matthew Palmer of Columbia, 4-1. No 6 Pete Friedl scored a win for Illinois at 184 pounds, beating Derrick Morgan of Lock Haven, 11-3. The team scored another win at 197 pounds, when Tyrone Bird beat Charles Martin of Army, 6-1. The final match was loss, as Matthew Wright fell to No. 6 Tanner Gardner of Navy, 6-3.
"We didn't get that," said Johnson, about getting all 10 of the wrestlers to step up for the team. "We start with our two-time runner-up getting beat right off the bat. And Perio was hurt all year, and he got beat late. It put a dagger in us. But this is a three-day tournament."
Johnson will meet with his team to help the athletes to focus on the next round and the rest of the tournament.
"We always talk about taking one match at a time," said Johnson. "With the five guys in the championship side, we will talk about just that match, and not beyond the match. There were a lot of seeds beaten this sesson. It is way more than I remember the last several years here."
CAA invests in four 197-pounders at NCAAs
The Colonial Athletic Association has 23 NCAA qualifiers, and sends its top two finishers in each weight, along with three wildcards. This year, the coaches in the conference chose to send four wrestlers at one weight class, the 197-pound division. It is a considerable investment for the CAA, which knows that its performance each year at the nationals determines future qualifiers for the conference.
The CAA is counting on conference champion Adam Wright of Old Dominion, plus Chris Weidman of Hofstra, Jon Opliger of Drexel and T.J. Morrison of Rider at 197 pounds. None have received a seed, although the group of four have wins against athletes from the East who are in the field.
Wright won his first match, a 6-2 decision over Jeff Foust of Missouri. Also scoring a first-round win was Weidman, a 10-4 victory over Daren Burns of UNC-Greensboro.
Two of the wrestlers drew seeded wrestlers in the first round, Opliger against No. 6 Phil Davis of Penn State and Morrison against No. 7 Jerry Rinaldi of Cornell. Davis beat Opliger, 11-0, and Rinaldi beat Morrison, 7-2. These two CAA 197-pounders will now have to do their battles in the wrestlebacks in order to help the conference.
International stars seek All-American honors
Everybody likes to count where the wrestlers in the NCAA Tournament went to high school, as states often take pride in the success of their wrestlers as they move onto the college level. However, with international wrestlers now coming to the USA to pursue American college wrestling, there are fans from other countries coming to TheMat.com to follow their athletes.
There are two international wrestlers in the field this year, and both are looking to emerge from this tournament as All-Americans.
At 165 pounds, No 3 seed Muzaffar Abdurakhmanov of American Univ. hails from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Abdurakhmanov is a senior, going to American after competing on the Junior College level and winning the national title there. Last year, he was expected to challenge for All-American honors, but fell short.
He opened with a 12-5 win over Tyler Tisdell of George Mason, and will face Eric Luedke of Iowa in the second round.
At 285 pounds, No. 9 seed Payam Zarrinpour of Sacred Heart, a junior, hails from Shiraz, Iran. He had a rough start in his quest for All-American honors. Zarrinpour was one match away from All-American honors last year, and will have to do his battles in the wrestlebacks this year to reach All-American status.
Zarrinpour was winning his first-round match against Ty Watterson of Oregon State, 3-0 going into the third period. Watterson escaped, then took Zarrinpour down to his back and scored a pin in 5:34. Zarrinpour's first wrestleback match this evening will be against Michael Spaid of Bloomsburg.
One-man teams look to stay alive
There are eight teams in the tournament with just one competitor in the tournament. In alphabetical order, these one-man squads are: Brown, Duquesne, Eastern Michigan, George Mason, James Madison, Maryland, Millersville and Rutgers.
Of the eight athletes on one-man teams, only one won their first match. All of the teams will still be in the tournament tonight, because those who lost get another chance in the wrestlebacks.
Phillip Plowman of Eastern Michigan scored a 9-6 upset over No. 9 Scott Jorgensen of Boise State, moving into the second round at 133 pounds.
The first-round results of the other teams with one qualifier follows:
Brown - Michael Savino, 157, lost to Matt Lebe of West Virginia, 11-2
Duquesne - Jared Ricotta, 174, lost Travis Frick of Lehigh, 15-5
George Mason - Tyler Tisdell, 165, lost to Muzaffar Abdurakmanov of American, 12-5
James Madison - Christopher Cvitan, 285, lost to Jacob Hager of Oklahoma, 12-3
Maryland - Andrew Schlaffer, 149, lost to Ty Eustice of Iowa, 5-3
Rutgers - Steve Adamcsik, 141, lost pigtail to Josh Churella of Michigan, 6-0
Millersville - Cody Becker, 141, lost to Sal Tirico of Columbia, 7-5
Hall of Fame flooded with visitors
Lee Roy Smith, the Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, was very pleased with the reaction of the wrestling community to the extended hours at the Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla. this week. It seems that the invitation that the Hall has given to the wrestling community to visit while at the NCAA Championships is a resounding success.
On Wednesday, the day prior to the tournament, there was a steady stream of wrestling fans making the one-hour trek to the Hall of Fame from Oklahoma City. If Wednesday was any indication, the Hall could see record visitor turnouts this week.
There are still more chances to visit for the rest of the week and all are invited. On Thursday and Friday, March 16-17, the Hall will open from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. After the championships, the Museum will accommodate visitors on Sunday, March 19, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Wrestling fans around the nation can enjoy the rich history of the sport by going up to Stillwater before heading home this weekend.
First round tough, even for No. 1 seeds
There are no givens, no guarantees in the first round of the NCAA Championships.
Even if you're a No. 1 seed.
Just ask Oklahoma's Teyon Ware and Iowa State's Trent Paulson. The two top seeds passed their first-round tests Thursday afternoon at the Ford Center, but both admitted it was anything but a cakewalk.
Ware, a two-time NCAA champion wrestling virtually in his backyard, pulled out a gritty 4-3 win over Minnesota's Manuel Rivera at 141 pounds. The riding-time point Ware earned was the difference.
"I don't know what it is about the first round, but I seem to get stronger as the tournament goes on," Ware said. "I seem to get in more of a flow as I get more matches. I know you have to be ready. I gave up a cheap takedown at the end of the second period and needed to open up more with my offense. I can't let guys stay that close."
Paulson, fourth in the NCAAs last year, used a five-point move in the second period in a close match to pull away for a 12-3 win over Wyoming's Dan Clum at 157.
"I first match is the toughest match of the whole tournament," Paulson said. "You have all the nerves and anxiety, and the big-time atmosphere is totally different than what you see during the season. Once you get that first match out of the way it seems to relax you a lot and you get accustomed to the atmosphere in here. I'm just glad it's out of the way."
Plenty of upsets in first round
In addition to the first-round upset losses suffered by Illinois' Kyle Ott, Oklahoma State's Coleman Scott and Minnesota's Matt Nagel, No. 5 Matt Pell of Missouri and No. 7 Dustin Manotti of Cornell also tumbled in Round 1.
Pell fell 8-3 to Joey Bracamonte of Oregon at 165 while Manotti, a three-time All-American, lost 13-5 to Tony Hook of Oregon State at 157.
Sixth-seeded Richard Boudro of Michigan State dropped a 2-0 overtime decision to Edinboro's Eric Ring at 174.
Five of the top 12 seeded wrestlers lost in the first round at 165, but the top four seeds all advanced.
Ninth seed Raymond Jordan of Missouri fell 3-2 to unseeded Paul Bradley of Iowa at 184. Bradley is a two-time All-American.
Unbeatens remain unbeaten
Eight wrestlers entered the NCAAs unbeaten, including five No. 1 seeds. All eight made it through the first round unscathed.
Top seeds Nick Simmons of Michigan State (125), Nate Gallick of Iowa State (141), Ryan Churella of Michigan (165), Ben Askren of Missouri (174) and Cole Konrad of Minnesota (heavyweight) each passed their first tests.
Undefeated wrestlers also prevailing in the opening round were Boise State's Ben Cherrington (157), Muzaffar Abdurakhmanov (165), and Jake Herbert (174).
Simmons needed just 44 seconds to lock Northern Iowa's Seth Wright in a spladle to record a first-round fall.
All seven NCAA champions in the field also prevailed in the first round. They include Ware, Indiana's Joe Dubuque (125), Lehigh's Troy Letters (165), Oklahoma State's Zack Esposito (149), Johny Hendricks (165), Jake Rosholt (197) and Steve Mocco (heavyweight).
None of the seven NCAA champions drew No. 1 seeds.