Crazy Cradles

Parker Keckeisen cradling Trent Hidlay at the 2022 Collegiate Duals (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki;

Parker Keckeisen of the University of Northern Iowa sent the wrestling fandom into a frenzy at the recent 2022 Collegiate Duals event, when he hit a beautiful roll-through cradle to pin North Carolina State University's Trent Hidlay. Keckeisen's fall avenged his loss, an 8-2 decision, to Hidlay in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, just a couple weeks earlier.

"The cradle is always there" and it sure has been over the years. Cradles can be sudden, feet-to-back holds that terminate matches or they can be painful, methodic instances that force an opponent to their back. In the following, we will cover a host of NCAA Division 1 matches defined by cradles from the past few decades. True to form, we will provide historical context to each (with match footage where possible!). Without further adieu, let's begin.

'03: Joe Johnston (University of Iowa) vs. Luke Becker (University of Minnesota)

Freshman Joe Johnston stepped out at 157lbs for the Iowa Hawkeyes in a 2002-2003 home-dual meet against a seasoned veteran for the Golden Gophers in returning NCAA Champion, Luke Becker. With Tim Johnson, Jim Gibbons, and Dan Gable on the call, the #2-ranked Becker looked to handle the #8 Johnston. Leading by a stall point into the second period, Johnston was dictating the match to the joy of the Iowa crowd. Opting to go neutral to keep the pace on Becker, Johnston had made a fateful decision.

'11: Bubba Jenkins (Arizona State University) vs. David Taylor (Penn State University)

The 2011 NCAA finals at 157lbs was the climactic moment of an odyssey for both Bubba Jenkins and David Taylor, as former teammates faced off for a national championship. Jenkins had previously reached the 2008 NCAA finals (opposite Brent Metcalf) while wrestling for the Nittany Lions before transferring to Arizona State for his final year. Meanwhile, David Taylor was a freshman phenom, undefeated and considered the second-coming of Cael Sanderson, his inspiration and the latest head coach of Penn State. In fact, Taylor was destined for Iowa State before following Sanderson to Penn State.

In the semi-final, the #4 Jenkins defeated a game #8 Jason Welch of Northwestern University, 8-5. On the other side, #3 Taylor dispatched undefeated #2-seed Steve Fittery of American University, 7-1, setting the stage for a thrilling finals match-up. For Jenkins, it was personal with Penn State.

'19: Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State University) vs. Spencer Lee (University of Iowa)

During the 2018-2019 season, All-American Nick Piccininni was putting together an undefeated regular season for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The pressure was on, then, when defending NCAA Champion Spencer Lee of Iowa came to visit in the annual, high-drama Iowa-Oklahoma State dual. Prior to this meeting, Piccininni had fared poorly against Hawkeyes, having lost to Lee as well as the likes of Thomas Gilman so far during his career. That fact seemed far from the Cowboy's mind when he took the mat in front of a packed Gallagher-Iba Arena.

'15: Zeke Moisey (West Virginia University) vs. Thomas Gilman (University of Iowa)

The 2015 NCAA semifinals at 125lbs featured Thomas Gilman of Iowa and West Virginia freshman Zeke Moisey. Gilman was storming the national landscape with his archetypal "Iowa style" after sitting behind fellow All-American Cory Clark the year prior. As the #6-seed, Gilman advanced into the national semis with a 14-4 major over Evan Silver (Stanford University) and back-to-back sudden victory wins, 3-1 over #11 Jordan Conaway (Penn State University) and 7-5 over #3 Joey Dance (Virginia Tech).

Across from Gilman was stellar freshman Zeke Moisey, a Bethlehem Catholic (of Pennsylvania) product, who was storming the national field in his own right. Moisey was a known commodity on the national prep scene, having wrestled in multiple majors in high school, most notably the Walsh Jesuit Ironman tournament. A dangerous wrestler with explosive, feet-to-back potential, Moisey's biggest knock was his gas tank, but leading into the semis Moisey's motor was running smoothly on 93-octane fuel. Unseeded, Moisey defeated #15 Chason Tolbert (Utah Valley University) by major 14-6, #2-seed and returning NCAA finalist Nahshon Garrett (Cornell University) 5-2, and #7 Eddie Klimara (Oklahoma State) 5-2 to make the semi. With Gilman the only remaining seeded wrestler on his side of the championship bracket, the stage was set to see if Gilman could advance to the final - or he would get caught in Moisey's wake.

'18: Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell University) vs. Bryce Meredith (University of Wyoming)

Yianni Dynamite emerged on the NCAA scene and lived up to the hype afforded by his two Cadet (U16) World freestyle titles. Carrying a 36-1 record into the NCAA finals in his very first national appearance, #3-seeded Yianni Diakomihalis had navigated his way through a loaded field to earn a bid for the national title. After notching two major decisions to open his campaign, Diakomihalis needed late-match heroics to defeat 2x NCAA Champion Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) 6-5 in the quarterfinals. Similarly, Diakomihalis needed sudden victory to top Jaydin Eierman (then, of the University of Missouri) 6-4, in a revenge match against the only man to defeat Diakomihalis at the time.

Opposite the freshman in the finals was Wyoming senior, 3x All-American Bryce Meredith. Top-seeded Meredith sought his first national crown in his final attempt, having reached the tournament finals two years prior against Dean Heil. After a narrow 1-0 victory over #4-seed Joey McKenna (the Ohio State University) in the semifinal, Meredith was poised to earn an elusive NCAA title.

'13: Jesse Delgado (University of Iowa) vs. Nico Megaludis (Penn State University)

The 2013 NCAA lightweight title pitted two All-Americans seeking their first national title. Returning NCAA finalist Nico Megaludis of Penn State sought to right the wrong from the year before, having fallen the year prior to 3x NCAA finalist Matt McDonough of Iowa. Meanwhile, Delgado had built a strong bid for the national crown, having defeated McDonough outright, once at the dual and again for the B1G title. Now, it was Megaludis, a gritty banger of a wrestler known for his flexibility and dexterity, matching up against Delgado, the slick, California shooter.

'06: Ryan Churella (University of Michigan) vs. Johny Hendricks (Oklahoma State University)

The cradle that wasn't. The following match is one that lives in infamy and ignites the fury of the Michigan faithful. The 2006 NCAA final at 165lbs featured future UFC Welterweight Champion and defending NCAA Champion Johny Hendricks of Oklahoma State facing off against 2x All-American, and senior, Ryan Churella of Michigan and the Churella wrestling family. A close bout filled with controversy, it will leave you wondering if the right hand was raised at the end of the match.

'10: Justin Lister (Binghamton University) vs. Jesse Dong (Virginia Tech)

In the 2010 NCAA tournament, Binghamton Bearcat Justin Lister advanced to the tournament quarterfinals at 157lbs unseeded to face off against Virginia Tech's #3-seed Jesse Dong. Lister opened his tournament with a 3-0 upset of #11 Neil Erisman (Oklahoma State University) before earning a 3-1 decision over unseeded Thomas Scotton (University of North Carolina). An interesting note to include is that past NCAA Champion Dustin Schlatter of the University of Minnesota was the #6-seed, but defaulted out of the tournament else he would have faced Scotton in the opening round.

'13: Jason Welch (Northwestern University) vs. James Green (University of Nebraska)

Senior Jason Welch of Northwestern entered the 2013 B1G tournament as the top-seed at 157lbs, aiming to complete his career with his first conference title and first national championship. Across from him was a young James Green of Nebraska, already an All-American entering his second postseason. Green upset the #2-seed Derek St. John of Iowa in the semifinals to reach the B1G finals. With his funky, slick style, Welch threw his best at Green and Green gave it right back to the very end.

'19: Daniel Lewis (University of Missouri) vs. Zahid Valencia (Arizona State University)

A year prior to this match-up, Zahid Valencia had turned in an undefeated season en route to his first NCAA title for the Arizona State Sun Devils, and at this point had only lost twice in college - both at the hand of NCAA Champion Mark Hall (Penn State University). So when the Mizzou Tigers came to visit the Sun Devils for a dual-meet, bringing with them returning 4th-place All-American Daniel Lewis, few in attendance were without confidence in the reigning national champ. Lewis, however, had other plans, as the two squared off at 174lbs.

'08: Coleman Scott (Oklahoma State University) vs. Joey Slaton (University of Iowa)

The 2008 NCAA 133lbs finals featured four-time All-American Coleman Scott of Oklahoma State chasing his first national title after a runner-up finish in 2007. The future London Games Bronze medalist squared off against Joey Slaton of Iowa. Slaton was among the Virginia Tech transfer class that followed Tom Brands to Iowa, and after a year of lost eligibility, Slaton was suddenly in the national finals in his first (and only) national appearance.

En route to the finals, Slaton, the #4-seed, upset top-seeded Franklin Gomez (Michigan State University) 4-2 in overtime. On the other side, #3-seed Scott posted a nearly identical 4-2 victory, this one a regulation victory over #2 Jimmy Kennedy of the University of Illinois.

'92: Cary Kolat (Penn State University) vs. Bill Zadick (University of Iowa)

At the opening of the 1992-1993 season, high school phenom Cary Kolat stepped out on the mat for a home dual against visiting Iowa in his very first collegiate match. In a battle of future NCAA champions and World medalists, Kolat took it to Hawkeye Bill Zadick. And when Zadick found himself in on a standing single, it was Kolat that scored a feet-to-back hold on a standing cradle, eventually earning the satisfying fall to the elation of the Penn State faithful.

Unfortunately, there isn't any easily accessible footage of this match or the standing cradle, but it does exist. For those with FloPro access, you can see it for yourself in the FloFilm titled "The Story of Cary Kolat."

And there you have it! I hope you enjoyed reliving some incredible cradles and the matches that led up to them. Are there any cradles that I missed (as I surely have)? Let us know in the comments!


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