Wrestling: 2015 NCAA Championships Primer

The Daily Iowan previews the 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championships, set for March 19-21 at the Scottrade Center.

ST. LOUIS, Missouri — It’s a little windy here in and around downtown, but it’s just plain beautiful inside the Scottrade Center. Check it:

If you follow college wrestling — or, really, wrestling in general — you know this weekend is what we call the sport’s “crown jewel.” The NCAA Championships is the best wrestling event each year, and arguably the greatest multi-day sporting event ever.

(A lot of you might disagree with that last part. That’s fine. I’ll hear your arguments, but I can’t say definitively that I’ll agree with them.)

Regardless of how you view this weekend, you can not, by any means, say it isn’t important. This is everything to all 330 wrestlers that qualified. Absolutely everything. This weekend is what they imagine when they lay in their beds with their TV off. This weekend is what they picture when the coach is shouting for another round of suicides. This weekend, just 10 of those 330 wrestlers will earn the right to be called national champions. One loss kills the dream, which means 170 dreams will die after the first round concludes on Thursday morning.

Heartbreaking, ain’t it?

With this primer, we’re going to look at each weight class, see where the Iowa wrestlers stand along with their tentative path to the finals, and give a little prediction at the end. At the bottom, we’ll dive into the team race, and figure out if it’ll be Iowa, Ohio State, or Mizzou that comes away with that golden NCAA trophy on Saturday night.

For those interested, the brackets can be found here.

Now, then. Without further ado …

125 pounds

Favorite: Alan Waters (Missouri)

Iowa Wrestler: Thomas Gilman, 6-seed

Path to Finals: First Round: Evan Silver (Stanford); Second Round: No. 11 Jordan Conaway (Penn State); Quarterfinals: No. 3 Joey Dance (Virginia Tech); Semifinals: No. 2 Nahshon Garrett (Cornell)

Prediction: I like Gilman to be an All-American in this bracket, but where he stands on the podium is solely up to him. He does not have an easy path to the finals, but he’s proven he’s more than capable of beating damn near anybody that lines up against him.

For the semifinals: I have Waters against Sean Boyle from UT-C up top, and Dance-Garrett on the bottom. From there, I think this is Waters’ weight to lose.

133 pounds

Favorite: Chris Dardanes (Minnesota)

Iowa Wrestler: Cory Clark, 3-seed

Path to Finals: First Round: Ronald Perry (Lock Haven); Second Round: No. 14 Rossi Bruno (Michigan); Quarterfinals: Earl Hall (Iowa State); Semifinals: Ryan Taylor (Wisconsin)

Prediction: It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Clark went on to win this weight. I’d say his odds are as good as any of the the top six seeded wrestlers. All told, I think Clark shouldn’t have too much trouble getting to the semifinals. There, it’ll be a matter of beating Taylor — which he’s done before.

For the semifinals: I have Dardanes against 13-seeded Cody Brewer (Oklahoma) up top and Clark-Taylor on the bottom. From there, I think Dardanes wraps up an unbeaten season with a national title.

141 pounds

Favorite: Logan Stieber (Ohio State)

Iowa Wrestler: Josh Dziewa, 5-seed

Path to Finals: First Round: Kevin Jack (N.C. State); Second Round: No. 12 Joseph Ward (UNC); Quarterfinals: No. 4 Devin Carter (Virginia Tech); Semifinal: No. 1 Stieber

Prediction: If the Dziewa that wrestled at the Big Ten Championships shows up this weekend, there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll vie for a spot on the podium — which is huge, considering I saw him as a Round-of-12 guy at the beginning of the year. The Dziewa that wrestled last week was open and offensive. All told, he should reach the quarters without any hitches, but Carter is a hammer. From there, Dziewa will drop to the Round of 12 and decide his own fate.

For the semifinals: I have Stieber-Carter up top and Missouri’s Lavion Mayes against Edinboro’s Mitchell Port on the bottom. This weight is Stieber’s to lose, and I have a feeling we’ll witness history on Saturday night.

149 pounds

Favorite: Drake Houdashelt (Missouri)

Iowa Wrestler: Brandon Sorensen, 4-seed

Path to Finals: First Round: Kyle Langenderfer (Illinois); Second Round: No. 13 Charles Cobb (Penn); Quarterfinals: No. 5 Chris Villalonga (Cornell); Semifinals: No. 1 Houdashelt

Prediction: Sorensen doesn’t have an incredibly easy path, either, but he should get to the semifinals after another hard-fought match with Villalonga. Part of me wants to think he’ll exact some revenge on Houdashelt, too, but I won’t go that far.

For the semifinals: I have Houdashelt-Sorensen up top while Edinboro’s David Habat and Northwestern’s David Tsirtsis duke it out on the bottom. Until Tsirtsis loses in the postseason, 149 belongs to him, methinks.

157 pounds

Favorite: Isaiah Martinez (Illinois)

Iowa Wrestler: Michael Kelly, unseeded

Path to Finals: First Round: No. 6 Josh Demas (Ohio State); Second Round: No. 11 Brian Murphy (Michigan); Quarterfinals: No. 3 Dylan Ness (Minnesota); Semifinals: No. 2 Brian Realbuto (Cornell)

Prediction: I honestly, truly believe Kelly can knock off Demas in the first round. Demas is a great athlete, but if Kelly stays technically sound and keeps a high pace, I could see him winning on a third-period takedown. That’d be huge for the team race. From there, Kelly will have to fight tooth and nail to reach the podium.

For the semifinals: I have Martinez against No. 4 James Green (Nebraska) up top and Ness-Realbuto on the bottom. I don’t see Martinez losing in this weight class, but both of those semifinal matches, and the ensuing finals match, look all sorts of delightful.

165 pounds

Favorite: Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State)

Iowa Wrestler: Nick Moore, unseeded

Path to Finals: First Round: No. 7 Pierce Harger (Northwestern); Second Round: No. 10 Jim Wilson (Stanford); Quarterfinals: No. 2 Michael Moreno (Iowa State); Semifinals: No. 3 Isaac Jordan (Wisconsin)

Prediction: This is Moore’s last shot. He’s done poorly at this tournament each of the last two years, so I wonder if he’ll just leave it all on the mat this go around. Truth be told, I think he can sneak into the quarterfinals, where he’ll run into Moreno. Could be an interesting match, but Moore has to get there first.

For the semifinals, I have Dieringer against No. 5 Bo Jordan (Ohio State) up top while Isaac Jordan and Moreno duke it out on the bottom. This is Dieringer’s weight to lose, and I think he’ll come away with this second-straight national title.

174 pounds

Favorite: Robert Kokesh (Nebraska)

Iowa Wrestler: Mike Evans, 3-seed

Path to Finals: First Round: Pigtail winner; Second Round: No. 14 Andy McCulley (Wyoming); Quarterfinals: No. 6 Logan Storley (Minnesota); Semifinals: No. 2 Matt Brown (Penn State)

Prediction: Evans shouldn’t have an issue coming away with his third-straight All-American finish, but where he’ll stand on the podium is up to him. I can see him in the finals, but I can also see him finishing sixth. Again. All told, I think he reaches the quarterfinals with ease, but his match with Storley could go either way. We’ll see.

For the semifinals: I have Kokesh against No. 4 John Eblen (Missouri) on top, Storley-Brown on the bottom, and I think Kokesh wins it all.

184 pounds

Favorite: Gabe Dean (Cornell)

Iowa Wrestler: Sammy Brooks, 9-seed

Path to Finals: First Round: Pigtail winner; Second Round: No. 8 Domenic Abounader (Michigan); Quarterfinals: No. 1 Dean; Semifinals: No. 4 Jack Dechow (Old Dominion)

Prediction: Brooks got a rough draw — and by that, I mean it just might take some extra work to reach the podium, is all. I think he can sneak into the quarters to wrestle Dean, but I don’t see Dean losing this weekend. From there, he’ll fall to the Round of 12, and it’ll be up to him.

In the semifinals: I have Dean against No. 5 Taylor Meeks (Oregon State) up top and No. 3 Blake Stauffer (Arizona State) against (surprise!) No. 7 Nathaniel Brown (Lehigh) on the bottom. Dean takes it all, though.

197 pounds

Favorite: J’Den Cox (Missouri)

Iowa Wrestler: Nathan Burak, 6-seed

Path to Finals: First Round: Vince Pickett (Edinboro); Second Round: No. 11 Alex Polizzi (Northwestern); Quarterfinals: No. 3 Kyven Gadson (Iowa State); Semifinals: No. 2 Morgan McIntosh (Penn State)

Prediction: Burak could very easily sneak into the semifinals with this draw. The hitch is Gadson in the quarters. Burak is legitimately a finished takedown away from being a legitimate national-title threat at this weight — recall, he was closer than close to beating both Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder and Minnesota’s Scott Schiller two weeks ago at Big Tens. All he had to do was finish.

For the semifinals: I have Cox-Snyder up top and Gadson-McIntosh on the bottom. Give me a Cox-McIntosh final. I won’t care who wins that one. I’ll just sit back and watch.


Favorite: Nick Gwiazdowski (N.C. State)

Iowa Wrestler: Bobby Telford, 3-seed

Path to Finals: First Round: Spencer Myers (Maryland); Second Round: No. 14 Joe Stolfi (Bucknell); Quarterfinals: No. 6 Adam Coon (Michigan); Semifinals: No. 2 Mike McMullan (Northwestern)

Prediction: If Telford can manage to fight his way through the bottom side of this bracket, I see no reason to doubt him against Gwiazdowski in the finals. But he must first beat Coon, whose given Telford fits in the past, and McMullan, who has taken the last two matches against Telford. Telford should be able to pin his way to the quarters. From there, the fun begins.

For the semifinals: I have Gwiazdowski against Wisconsin’s Connor Medbery up top and Telford-McMullan on bottom. I think McMullan takes it all this year.

Team Race

1st — Iowa

2nd — Ohio State

3rd — Missouri

I slotted these teams this way because that’s the order I picked them out of a hat. (Not actually, but you’d believe me if that were the case, right?)

But seriously, I’m not sure how, exactly, the team race will shake out. Missouri has three top-seeded wrestlers, but Iowa and Ohio State have some bonus-point potential that I don’t believe the Tigers possess. For the first time in four years, I’m not exactly sure who will be leading after Friday night’s semifinals — which, of course, adds to the fun this weekend will bring.

In all, this weekend will be a blast and a half. ESPN will televise each session and cover every match. And, of course, we’ll keep you up to date both here, with stories, updates, and videos, and on Twitter. Be sure to follow along this weekend and enjoy the action with us. As always, thanks so much for reading.


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