Every point will be precious at NCAA wrestling

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY – This one is referred to as the individual tournament, but it almost certainly will require a complete team performance for Iowa to win its 24th NCAA wrestling championship.

The Hawkeyes qualified all 10 wrestlers for this week's three-day bonanza at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, but none is seeded in the top two — meaning it'll take some upsets to get one or two or three guys into Saturday night's finals.

Typically, the path to a team championship requires herculean individual performances. But history has shown it can be done, albeit rarely, without them.

In 2001, Minnesota won a team championship without a finalist — but the Gophers had 10 all-Americans, including six wrestlers getting third or fourth.

Two of Iowa's 23 team titles came without a Hawkeye national champion. Dan Gable's first NCAA-winning team won by a half-point in 1978 behind two runner-up finishes, and Tom Brands' 2009 champions (also in St. Louis) had one second-place finisher in Brent Metcalf.

Neither of those teams reached 100 team points, and both benefited from a balanced field. That appears to be the case this year, where the first team to 100 might win.

"The formula is to put a string of matches together at each weight," Brands said this week when asked if his team could win without a finalist. "I think we have some tough customers that are geared the right way as far as individual goals and how they think."

Seven Hawkeye wrestlers are seeded in the top six. Cory Clark at 133 pounds, Mike Evans at 174 and Bobby Telford at heavyweight are seeded third. Brandon Sorensen (149) is fourth, Josh Dziewa (141) fifth, and Thomas Gilman (125) and Nathan Burak (197) sixth. And Sammy Brooks (184) is seeded ninth, giving the Hawkeyes eight strong all-America (top eight) candidates.

But with first place being awarded 16 points and eighth place three, "all-American" doesn't mean the same thing in the team race.

Iowa needs more third- and fourth-place finishes than sevenths and eighths.

The key, Sorensen pointed out, is "having all 10 guys moving forward. And even if you do fall, keep moving forward on the backside. Just keep moving forward. Something happens, you're over it."

On top of the 16-12-10-9-7-6-4-3 scoring tree for the top eight, any wrestler earns one team point for advancement in the championship bracket and a half-point for each consolation-bracket win.

"You don't look forward in the bracket," Telford said. "You've got to win one match at a time. Each match in this tournament, it's not a freebie or a giveaway."

Even Iowa's two unseeded guys — Michael Kelly at 157 and Nick Moore at 165 — need to do whatever they can to pick up a point here, a half-point there.

"I don't look at those two guys as just bonus, on top of what we've got," Brands said. "Those guys factor in critically in what we're trying to accomplish."

There's also coveted bonus points in the team scoring system — two extra points are awarded for wins by fall or forfeit, 1.5 for technical falls and one for major decisions.

"Every day we talk about bonus points," Brands said. "The formula doesn't change because you get to the last event of the year."

Top-ranked Missouri will take a top-heavy approach to what it hopes delivers its first NCAA championship. The Tigers, who beat Iowa in the National Duals final on Feb. 22 in Iowa City, bring all 10 of their wrestlers to St. Louis — just a two-hour drive from Columbia. Three are seeded No. 1. Another is third, another is fourth.

If Missouri crowns three national champions — Alan Waters (125), Drake Houdashelt (149) and J'Den Cox (197) are top seeds — that's 60 team points plus bonuses. That alone would stake the Tigers to a big lead, which means Iowa and anyone else chasing them (such as Ohio State or Minnesota) can't afford weak spots.

The whole three-day event will come down to a slew of close matches. Every point will be precious in St. Louis.

"Stay smart. Wrestle stingy," Telford said. "Keep winning, man."



When, where: Thursday through Saturday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo.

Schedule: Thursday — 11 a.m., first session; 6 p.m., second session. Friday — 10 a.m., third session (includes quarterfinals); 7 p.m., second session (includes semifinals). Saturday — 10 a.m., fifth session (includes third-, fifth- and seventh-place matches); 7 p.m. (finals).

Television: ESPN, ESPNU and ESPN3 (online)

Our coverage: Reporters Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) and Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow), along with photographer David Scrivner (@DavidScrivner), will bring you all the action — starting Wednesday with wrestler and coach interviews from St. Louis. Visit DesMoinesRegister.com and HawkCentral.com for coverage all week long.

Video breakdown: Hamilton and Leistikow preview the NCAA Championships from our video studio in Des Moines at DesMoinesRegister.com.