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|UPDATED: Notes from Session three of the NCAA Championships, Friday morning|
By Gary Abbott and Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
Upsets the norm in unpredictable 157 class
No seed was safe from the upset bug that has swept through the 157-pound class like an epidemic during the NCAA Championships.
Seeds 5, 9, 10 and 11 will be represented in Friday night's semifinals after a wild, wacky and stunning quarterfinal round on Friday morning at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.
The biggest upset in terms of seeds came when No. 9 Iowa senior Joe Johnston snapped a five-match losing streak against No. 1 seed Trent Paulson of Iowa State with a 6-3 win. Johnston was second in the NCAAs last year and Paulson fourth.
Johnston shot in for the first takedown against Paulson in the first period and controlled the match from there. Johnston was 0-5 in his career against Paulson before that match.
"It was frustrating losing all those close matches to him because I felt like I was a better wrestler than him," Johnston said. "This is the one that counts, so I'm glad this is the time that I finally beat him. I stayed after him from the beginning and I was able to get that first takedown after four or five shots. That was huge to get that early lead."
Johnston led an inspired No. 11 Iowa team, which placed three in the semifinals and was in second place entering the semifinal round. The Hawkeyes were sixth at the Big Ten meet.
Lehigh senior Derek Zinck followed suit at 157 with another upset just a few minutes after Johnston's win. The No. 11 Zinck beat No. 3 Alex Tirapelle of Illinois 3-2 in double-overtime.
Zinck scored a takedown late in the third period to go ahead 2-1, but Tirapelle had riding time to send the match into overtime. Zinck prevailed in the tiebreaker by riding out Tirapelle in the second 30-second period.
Zinck was an All-American after placing eighth as a freshman, but failed to place the last two seasons. He went 0-2 at the NCAAs as a junior.
"This is my last tournament and I want to make sure I leave everything I have out on the mat," Zinck said. "It seems like 157 is always a crazy weight where there a lot of upsets and you never know what is going to happen. I'm extremely motivated after not placing the last two years. I'm going to go hard no matter what. I feel like if I wrestle my best I can win this thing."
No. 10 seed Brian Stith of Arizona State reached the semifinals by blanking Harvard freshman Andrew Flanagan 8-0 in the quarters. The unseeded Flanagan had knocked off No. 2 C.P. Schlatter of Minnesota in Thursday night's second round.
Fifth seed Ben Cherrington of Boise State is the highest seed in the semifinals after beating unseeded Michael Chandler of Missouri 8-1 in the quarters. Chandler earlier knocked off No. 4 Matt Lebe of West Virginia.
Johnston and Cherrington will meet in one semifinal with Zinck and Stitch matched up on the bottom side of the bracket.
Minnesota's Reiter disqualified for slam against Fleeger
Minnesota's fourth-seeded Mack Reiter walked off the mat shaking his head in disbelief after his national title hopes vanished in a quarterfinal loss to No. 5 Chris Fleeger of Purdue at 133.
Reiter trailed 2-0 and Fleeger was riding him with the legs in when the two wrestlers were involved in a scramble. Fleeger appeared to get too high with the legs in and hit the mat hard as Reiter tried to stand up and break free.
Reiter, fourth in the NCAAs last year, was called for a slam from the bottom position and was disqualified with one second left in the first period since Fleeger was injured and unable to continue. Fleeger was an NCAA runner-up at 125 three years ago.
Gallick's focus on winning, regardless of how he does it
Of the top seeds in the NCAA Championships this year, there is no athlete with more international achievements than Nate Gallick of Iowa State at 141 pounds. Gallick may actually be a better freestyle wrestler than college-style wrestler, but the skills and mat sense that makes him one of the world's best is tested at the NCAA level.
Gallick is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation in freestyle wrestling, losing a tough battle to Michael Lightner in the World Team Trials in Ames, Iowa last year. He qualified for the World University Games in Izmir, Turkey last summer and returned as a gold medalist, the world's greatest university wrestler in his weight division. Gallick believes his summer wrestling is making him a better college wrestler as well.
"It helped a lot," said Gallick. "Anytime you can get good training in, you get better. I wrestle year round, and I feel good about that."
Yet Gallick is seeking his first NCAA crown, after losing in the finals last year to Oklahoma's Teyon Ware. Gallick and Ware have met numerous times in the past, with Gallick capturing each of the other matches, but Ware was able to get the win on the center mat last year. Gallick isn't looking to face Ware or anybody else in particular on his quest for gold.
"I don't care who I wrestle. I just came to win," said Gallick.
His quarterfinal win was a solid victory without much dazzle, a 3-0 win over Brandon Rader of West Virginia. Although there were not many points scored, Gallick was in control of each and every position throughout the bout. He will advance to Friday night's semifinals against Andy Simmons of Michigan State.
"He is a tough competitor and young," said Gallick of Rader. "I felt like he had a few things I didn't want to get caught in. I wanted to wrestle smart. I wrestle to win. I may not always win, but I am fighting. I find a way to win. I don't stop wrestling."
Iowa State, one of the nation's proudest programs, entered the day in 23rd place in the team standings, something that Gallick can help change by reaching his goal of taking the gold.
"This is important. With this team, we thrive off of each other. You just keep it going at this tournament. It would have been nice to qualify more wrestlers, but you keep battling for the team," said Gallick
American Univ. puts two into the semifinals
Seeds are based on performance and expectations, but this year's NCAA Championships have proven that they are sometimes only a guess, only a guideline. This is especially true for programs where the wrestlers don't have a long history of success under pressure.
A few years ago, American Univ. in Washington, D.C. decided to evaluate its wrestling program, with the consideration of dropping the team. Alumni and others stepped up to support the team, and the program was not only saved, but the administration decided to try to build a better team. The school hired a respected coach, long-time Div. I assistant Mark Cody, and sent him out to build.
Last year, American had its first All-American ever in Daniel Waters at 174 pounds. This year, with two wrestlers advancing to the semifinals, American is guaranteed two more All-Americans. The wrestlers did it in a spectacular way, scoring pins in the quarterfinals.
At 165 pounds, No. 3 Muzaffar Abdurakhmanov pinned Deonte Penn of Edinboro in 1:30. At 184 pounds, No. 1 Josh Glenn advanced with a pin in 6:30 over Eric Bradley of Penn State.
"It is nice to have our first two semifinalists. It would be nice to have two finalists," said Cody. "It is what we wanted. They were relaxed and aggressive today. There was a lot of anxiety going in, but they wrestled hard."
The new goal is to win the first NCAA title in history. Abdurakhmanov faces 2005 NCAA champion Johny Hendricks of Oklahoma State, the No. 2 seed, in the semis, and Glenn draws No. 5 Shane Webster of Oregon in his semifinal.
"It is a step forward, getting two more All-Americans," said Cody. "We are not satisfied. We want a couple of national champions."
Cody built the team by getting blue-chip talents to commit to the program, rather than trying to start off by bringing in a ton of wrestlers. His plan was to get some stars first, then fill in the gaps later.
"My colleagues said to fill up the room. I feel we would be at the same level in a few years if we did that. We went after quality guys, spent the time getting talented individuals. I wanted All-Americans and impact athletes first. I believe the team would come after that. We went with some key guys and will build from there."
Simmons brothers continue quest for side-by-side titles
There were two sets of brothers with the chance to win NCAA titles during the same year this season, the Churellas of Michigan and the Simmons of Michigan State. Only one family was able to advance both brothers into the semifinals, because the families met head to head this morning.
The match at 141 pounds featured No. 4 Andy Simmons against No. 5 Josh Churella. A Big Ten battle, another in-state rivalry. It was not easy, with Simmons needing to go to the sudden victory period to score and overtime 4-2 win and advance to the semifinals to face top seed Nate Gallick of Iowa State.
The other brothers in these families were strong in their matches, also. No. 1 Nick Simmons was in a close match late in the final period, when he popped an explosive move on a game Chad Mendez of Cal Poly for a pin in 6:44. It was Simmons third straight pin in the tournament.
No. 1 Ryan Churella had a little more difficulty in his quarterfinals, stopping No. 8 Travis Paulson of Iowa State, 6-4. His opponent will be unseeded Johnny Galloway of Northern Illinois.
Announcer is also successful coach at renewed Olivet program
There are two sounds that get very familiar for fans of the NCAA Div. I Championships, the voices of the public address announcers at the tournament. The female voice comes from the infamous Sandy Stevens. The male voice is from Todd Hibbs, who came to national prominence in wrestling announcing in recent years.
Many may not know that the silver voice of Hibbs can be heard from the sidelines also. He is the head wrestling coach at Olivet College in Michigan, a program that faced elimination and was then saved by alumni, student and administration support. Hibbs was hired for one year when the program was being closed down.
Hibbs took the job, and focused on the positive qualities of wrestling, "discipline, academics and commitment." He said that his program "was going to be leaders on campus." The team decided to do monthly community service projects, and set a GPA goal for every wrestler at 3.0, or there were mandatory study requirements.
At the same time, the alumni at the university went to work, raising funds and making contacts within the university and the community. A proposal was written with specific details about how the college could find a way to keep wrestling. And before the season was over, the university announced the return of wrestling for good.
Not only did the program survive, but it is now thriving. Olivet brought in 29 freshmen recruits. The team went 16-1-1 in duals, placed 10th in the national dual meet rankings and won the Regional tournament by a 30-point margin. In addition, the team placed fourth in the academic standings for Div. III wrestling teams.
"We are on solid ground now," said Hibbs. "But I am concerned about any program. We are never more than one strong person away from being in danger. One of the keys is to put out good leaders and to be good administrators as coaches."