Fortunately a simpler, easier to understand type of wrestling is just around the corner. College wrestlers have started their pre-season workouts, and will continue going hard, working themselves to the bone, through March.
In a look forward to the coming college wrestling season, and because people seem to love lists, I've compiled a list of teams that may surprise at the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. We all know that Penn State, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Iowa and Oklahoma will field teams lousy with talent. I wanted to shine the light on some programs which will receive a little less attention. This list comes with a few caveats:
10. Eastern Michigan
Yes, Eastern Michigan. Derek Delporto is still a very good coach. EMU returns three redshirt seniors who have had a win at the NCAA tournament, Nick Whitenburg at 197, Phillip Joseph at 174 and Jared Germaine at 125. (Germaine's NCAA win came in 2012.) Their roster also features Michigan transfer Brandon Zeerip, who looks to make one more big run in his college career. A surprisingly strong recruiting class may also yield a surprise.
Mark Cody is gone, but Teague Moore returns a team that could do big things at NCAAs if everything comes together. At 197, Dan Mitchell is back after a redshirt and looks to qualify for his fourth NCAA tournament. He has the talent to beat anyone. Additionally, American features Blake Herrin, the "Alabama Slammer," who won a match at last year's national tournament. David Terao, a wrestler who flirted with a top 20 ranking all year, returns at 125.
8. Old Dominion
A rash of transfers might be cause for alarm, but ODU and head coach Steve Martin are coming into this season with some national-caliber firepower. Chris Mecate returns from a stellar freshman campaign with the capability to place high at nationals. Other than Mecate, ODU doesn't return much in the way of NCAA points, but their team features an NCAA qualifier-level wrestler at almost every weight, along with some high profile true freshmen. Add to the mix notable junior college transfers, the Geoghegan brothers, and you have a room deep with talent and with intense competition at many weights. Look for big years out of Jerome Robinson, a big time talent at 125, and Kevin Beazley at 197, who just got home from competing in Greco at Junior Worlds. (Note: ODU has a tough incumbent 197-pounder in Jacob Henderson, Beazley is not guaranteed the spot.)
I spent a good bit of time writing about Bloomsburg last year, but I still put them in the "surprise" category. Coach John Stutzman may be gone, but Jason Meester takes over a program with a ton of remaining talent. Seniors Justin Grant at 285, Richard Perry at 197, John Veltre at 165, and Nick Wilcox at 133 are all capable at making big runs in March.
Ugi returns for The Citadel (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)6. The Citadel
We could be living in a world where The Citadel has two All-Americans two years in row. NCAA semifinalist Ugi is back at 141, and Turtogtokh Luvsandorj returns from redshirt at either 174 or 184. Luvsandorj, also from Mongolia, by way of Newark N.J., has been ranked extremely high at points in his career and was two matches from placing at the 2012 NCAA tournament. Matt Frisch, an NCAA qualifier at 157, also returns.
5. North Carolina State
During the last year Binghamton transfer Nick Gwiazdowski has proven that he is a serious threat to win a national championship at heavyweight, his presence alone vaults the Wolfpack up in these rankings. N.C. State will also enjoy the services of JUCO stud Ryan Fox at 174, as well as NCAA qualifiers Joe DeAngelo at 125, Sam Speno at 133 and Nijel Jones at 165. Combine this with a nice recruiting class and you have the recipe for a big turnaround in Raleigh.
Steven Monk reached the round of 12 (Photo/The Guillotine)4. North Dakota State
Roger Kish and the Bison are for real. This year's team loses All-American Trent Sprenkle but returns a team loaded with talent. Look for 165-pounder Steven Monk to contend for high All-American honors, and Tyler Lehman to burst onto the college scene as a ready-made star at 197 after some very impressive work on the freestyle circuit. Heavyweight Evan Knutson also returns to Fargo after going 1-2 at NCAAs last year, as well as some tough kids coming off redshirt.
3. Ohio University
I don't remember the last time we've seen this much talent coming out of Athens, Ohio. The Bobcats return two past All-Americans in Jeremy Johnson at 285 and Cody Walters at 174, and the upper part of their lineup is loaded with talent. 157-pounder Spartak Chino returns after a 1-2 finish at NCAAs last year, while Phil Wellington comes back for his sophomore season after posting a 2-2 record at NCAAs. KeVon Powell returns at 125 after qualifying for nationals, and the Bobcats also will enjoy major contributions from two former Virginia Tech wrestlers, Ty Mitch and Harrison Hightower.
2. North Carolina
Don't look now, but if the planets align we might see the Tarheels crack the top ten at NCAAs next year. I'm serious. The much maligned tenure of head coach C.D. Mock has assembled a team with serious talent. Evan Henderson returns after a sixth-place finish at NCAAs, along with round of 12 finishers Nathan Kraisser at 125 and John Staudenmeyer at 165. In addition, UNC returns two more wrestlers with a win a last year's NCAA tournament: Joey Ward at 133 and Alex Utley at 184. Throw in some talent coming off redshirt, and tough recruits, and you have a recipe for a huge 2014 in Chapel Hill.
1. Northern Iowa
Last year was just an appetizer. This year Doug Schwab leads the Panthers back to national prominence. The Panthers return 184-pound Ryan Loder and a wealth of additional talent. Both Levi Wolfensperger and Joe Lazor are back after finishing in the round of 12 at last year's NCAAs. 174-pounder Cody Caldwell is back and could make noise on the national level, and Dylan Peters at 125 could do big things if they fit him into the lineup. The biggest news for the Panthers, however, is the reinstatement of Joe Colon, who could place very high at the national tournament, most likely at 133 pounds.