Three teams are separated by a mere 3.5 points and remain in the hunt for the national championship at the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Three-time defending NCAA champion Penn State holds a half-point lead over Minnesota, 91 to 90.5. Both teams have two wrestlers in the finals and seven All-Americans. Oklahoma State sits in third place with 87. 5. The Cowboys have the most finalists, four, and five All-Americans total.
Penn State seniors David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (184) both advanced to the finals. Taylor and Ruth have played integral parts in each of the Nittany Lions' three consecutive NCAA titles. Now the duo has a chance at both individual and team glory one last time on Saturday night.
"They're clutch," Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said of Taylor and Ruth. "That's what they love to do. They want it. It's even more fun when the team race is a battle. Tomorrow will be a great opportunity for them to go out and do it again."
David Taylor won by major decision over Steve Monk in the semifinals (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)Taylor advanced to the finals with a 13-5 major decision victory over North Dakota State's Steve Monk. He opened up the scoring early with two first-period takedowns and two nearfall points. He added a reversal in the second period, and two more takedowns in the third period.
Taylor will face a familiar opponent in the finals, Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell. The two wrestlers have met twice this season and once last season. Caldwell, a four-time All-American, is the only wrestler to avoid giving up bonus points against Taylor in a match this season. Taylor defeated Caldwell 5-2 in their last meeting on Feb. 16.
"Tyler is obviously a very tough opponent," said Taylor, who is making his fourth NCAA finals appearance. "He's strong. He's hard to score on. He's done a pretty good job of limiting my offense. They have a good game plan. It comes down to me getting my offense going on my feet. He wants a close match. Obviously, I want a match that's not so close."
Ed Ruth won the rubber meeting with Gabe Dean in the semifinals (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)Ruth punched his ticket to the finals by defeating Cornell's Gabe Dean, 5-3, in the rubber match between the two wrestlers this season. Ruth jumped out early with a takedown and led 2-1 after one period. He was able to ride Dean the entire second period. Ruth earned an escape point early in the third period to go up 3-1. Dean added a late takedown, but Ruth held on for the 5-3 victory.
"He's a solid wrestler on his feet," Ruth said of Dean. "He keeps pushing, attacking. Even when he's tired he's pushing into me. I'm not really used to that. When someone does that it makes the match more exciting for both of us.
Ruth now has a chance to become Penn State's first-ever three-time NCAA champion if he can get past undefeated Jimmy Sheptock of Maryland in the finals.
"I try not to think about that too much," said Ruth. "History writes itself as long as you keep doing what you're supposed to do."
Minnesota's two finalists, Dylan Ness (157) and Tony Nelson (285), are making return trips to the finals. Ness was an NCAA runner-up two seasons ago as a freshman. Last season he finished fourth. Nelson is the two-time defending NCAA champion at heavyweight.
Dylan Ness came from behind to defeat Ian Miller in the semifinals (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)Ness entered the tournament seeded No. 9 after an up-and-down season. He pinned No. 1 James Green of Nebraska in the quarterfinals on Friday morning. In the semifinals he came from behind to defeat No. 4 Ian Miller of Kent State, 6-4. Ness trailed 4-3 in the final minute of the match before getting a late takedown and additional point for riding time to gain the victory.
"He was in defensive mode," said Ness. "I think he was on his heels. He was just trying to run out the clock and maybe just not wrestling. I kept wrestling. I was able to hit that pick, drive forward, and get the takedown and win."
Ness' finals opponent is Oklahoma's State Alex Dieringer, who advanced with a 7-4 victory over Cornell freshman Brian Realbuto. Ness and Dieringer have a history. They have faced each other in USA Wrestling national age group events, including Fargo, and in college. Dieringer defeated Ness in sudden victory earlier this season.
"We have wrestled each other a lot and we know each other pretty well," said Ness.
Tony Nelson topped Big Ten rival Bobby Telford in the semifinals (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)Nelson topped Big Ten rival Bobby Telford of Iowa in the semifinals, 4-2. The match was scoreless after one period. Nelson picked up an escape and takedown in the second period to go up 3-0. Telford escaped in the third and added another point off a stalling call. But Nelson would tack on a riding time point to earn a two-point victory.
Nelson will face No. 2 Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State in the finals. The two have met several times in both college and freestyle. Nelson won their only meeting this season, but Gwiazdowski notched two wins over Nelson at the U.S. World Team Trials last summer in freestyle.
"He's another one of those athletic and agile heavyweights," said Nelson. "He's going to look to score points. I've got to be ready for his leg attacks. If I'm able to counter those, or even get re-shots off those, that's going to be crucial to winning that match."
Nelson, like Ruth, has a chance to become his program's first three-time NCAA champion.
"Just to be able to have the opportunity to make history, it's something that you really can't say you've done much in your life," said Nelson. "I feel honored and grateful to be in this position."
Two-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber of Ohio State defeated Penn State's Zain Retherford, 7-3, to advance to the finals. He picked up two first-period takedowns, added another takedown in the second period, and rode Retherford for most of the third period.
Stieber was quick to give credit to his coaches and training partners for his success.
"I have the best coaches and best training partners at Ohio State. I couldn't ask for a better situation. They're getting me better every day."
His finals opponent is Virginia Tech's Devin Carter, who returned to competition at the ACC Championships after being out three months with a torn hamstring. Stieber is not surprised Carter was able to navigate his way to the finals.
"He's a really tough kid, a really strong kid," said Stieber. "To see him do that is amazing. It doesn't really surprise me too much that he's in the finals."
Top-seeded Jesse Delgado of Illinois is back in the NCAA finals at 125 pounds. The returning NCAA champion earned a 9-6 victory over Dylan Peters of Northern Iowa in the semifinals. He now faces Cornell's Nahshon Garrett for the second time this season. Delgado defeated Garrett 6-2 at the Grapple at the Garden in New York on Dec. 1.
Chris Perry edged Mike Evans 3-2 in the semifinals (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)The NCAA finals match at 174 pounds is a battle of NCAA champions and Bedlam rivals, Chris Perry of Oklahoma State and Andrew Howe of Oklahoma.
Perry won a tight battle in the semifinals over Iowa's Mike Evans, 3-2, in tiebreaker. Howe controlled Minnesota's Logan Storley in a 6-3 victory.
Howe and Perry have split matches this season, with Perry winning the most recent meeting two weeks ago in the finals of the Big 12 Championships. The most recent meeting was filled with controversy and Perry feels like he has something to prove on Saturday night despite winning the most recent meeting.
"People believe this guy is way better than me," Perry said of Howe. "They think I stole one in Norman. I want to go out tomorrow and prove that I can beat him twice."
Perry likes where the team stands heading into Saturday with four wrestling in the NCAA finals.
"I want to win this team title," said Perry. "We came here believing we could."
Perry's teammate Josh Kindig (149), seeded No. 11, is the lowest seeded wrestler to reach the NCAA finals. He upended Midlands champion Mitch Minotti of Lehigh, 5-2, in the semifinals. Kindig will face freshman Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern in the finals.
Freshman Jason Tsirtsis edged top-seeded Drake Houdashelt in the semifinals (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)Tsirtsis, a Big Ten champion, has been on a roll. On Friday he knocked off NCAA champion Kendric Maple of Oklahoma in the quarterfinals before edging top-seeded Drake Houdashelt of Missouri in the semifinals.
Tsirtsis is one of two freshmen in the NCAA finals, along with Missouri's J'den Cox at 197 pounds. The second-seeded Cox earned his spot in the finals with a 4-1 victory over Virginia Tech's Chris Penny. He will now face top-seeded Nick Heflin Ohio State.
The NCAA finals match at 133 pounds is a classic Big Ten rivalry between Iowa's Tony Ramos and Wisconsin's Tyler Graff. Both reached the finals by defeating wrestlers seeded higher.
Ramos used a five-point move late to win 5-1 over Edinboro's A.J. Schopp, avenging a loss from earlier in the season. Graff took out top-seeded Joe Colon of Northern Iowa, 6-4. Ramos and Graff have met several times throughout their careers, with Ramos having the upper hand in the rivalry. He edged Graff 2-1 in the Big Ten finals two weeks ago.
"I'm ready Saturday night," said Ramos. "That's it. I've got one more match to go. I've been counting them down. I came here with five and now I have one left."
Team Standings (Top 10)
1. Penn State 91
2. Minnesota 90.5
3. Oklahoma State 87.5
4. Iowa 67
5. Ohio State 52
6. Edinboro 48.5
7. Cornell 46.5
8. Virginia Tech 45.5
9. Oklahoma 45
10. Illinois 37
No. 1 Jesse Delgado (Illinois) dec. No. 5 Dylan Peters (Northern Iowa), 9-6
No. 2 Nahshon Garrett (Cornell) dec. No. 3 Nico Megaludis (Penn State), 6-4
No. 5 Tyler Graff (Wisconsin) dec. No. 1 Joe Colon (Northern Iowa), 6-4
No. 3 Tony Ramos (Iowa) dec. No. 2 A.J. Schopp (Edinboro), 5-1
No. 4 Devin Carter (Virginia Tech) maj. dec. No. 9 Evan Henderson (North Carolina), 12-3
No. 2 Logan Stieber (Ohio State) dec. No. 3 Zain Retherford (Penn State), 7-3
No. 5 Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern) dec. No. 1 Drake Houdashelt (Missouri), 2-1 TB
No. 11 Josh Kindig (Oklahoma State) dec. No. 15 Mitch Minotti (Lehigh), 5-2
No. 9 Dylan Ness (Minnesota) dec. No. 4 Ian Miller (Kent State), 6-4
No. 3 Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State) dec. No. 7 Brian Realbuto (Cornell), 7-4
No. 1 David Taylor (Penn State) maj. dec. No. 4 Steve Monk (North Dakota State), 13-5
No. 2 Tyler Caldwell (Oklahoma State) dec. No. 3 Nick Sulzer (Virginia), 5-0
No. 1 Chris Perry (Oklahoma State) dec. No. 4 Mike Evans (Iowa), 3-2 TB
No. 2 Andrew Howe (Oklahoma) dec. No. 6 Logan Storley (Minnesota), 6-3
No. 1 Jimmy Sheptock (Maryland) dec. No. 13 Jack Dechow (Old Dominion), 3-2
No. 2 Ed Ruth (Penn State) dec. No. 3 Gabe Dean (Cornell), 5-3
No. 1 Nick Heflin (Ohio State) dec. No. 4 Scott Schiller (Minnesota), 2-1 TB
No. 2 J'den Cox (Missouri) dec. No. 14 Chris Penny (Virginia Tech), 4-1
No. 1 Tony Nelson (Minnesota) dec. No. 5 Bobby Telford (Iowa), 4-2
No. 2 Nick Gwiazdowski (North Carolina State) dec. No. 3 Adam Chalfant (Indiana), 5-4