The National Wrestling Coaches Association’s latest attempt to strike the right balance with its National Duals event has been met with commendation and controversy.
For the past five years, the NWCA has continually adjusted the format and location of its dual tournament in an effort to attract college wrestling’s top programs, but the timing of a multi-team advancement setup became a sticking point for coaches.
Then Penn State coach Cael Sanderson pitched a different model, one that mimics college football’s bowl system.
Eight representatives from six conferences hit the road this weekend to compete in Big Ten arenas for the National Duals Championship Series.
The new system has been considered by coaches a step in the right direction. The top teams are all part of the process again. But it hasn’t been free from dispute.
Sunday’s championship event pitted top-ranked Penn State against No. 3 Oklahoma State, rather than an undefeated second-ranked Iowa squad that posted a win over the Cowboys.
“We’ve been ranked behind Penn State all year,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “I guess if there was controversy to it, that would be the controversy, should we wrestle Penn State or not? That was the one flaw, but that was talked about.
“We used our imagination at the beginning of this thing and saw that might be an issue. But I still think this is a better format, especially with the time of year it is, because of the team advancement concept and what you’re trying to pack into a small amount of time at the end of the year.”
The Hawkeyes, instead, will wrestle Monday night at home against fourth-ranked North Carolina State. But No. 5 Virginia Tech downed the Wolfpack on the final week of the regular season to win the ACC and the Hokies felt they deserved the trip to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
North Carolina State (22-1) set a school record for victories and posted wins against Oklahoma State and Missouri.
“It’s not something where you look at North Carolina State and go ‘Who’s that?’ and they’re off the radar in wrestling,” Brands said. “Believe me, they’re on the radar, and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
The Wolfpack lineup features four wrestlers ranked sixth or better: No. 3 Kevin Jack at 141, No. 4 Tommy Gantt at 157, No. 6 Max Rohskopf at 165 and two-time NCAA heavyweight champion Nick Gwiazdowski, whose 81-match winning streak includes a 10-1 victory against Iowa freshman Sam Stoll in December.
Stoll hasn’t lost since that bout at the Midlands Championships. How much has he progressed since then?
“We’ll find out in a hurry,” Brands said. “I think that was a 10-1 or 11-1 match and I’m not sure that the score is that lopsided my mind. That might be some propaganda and hope on my part, but not with our guy. I don’t look at it like that. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it. But we’re going to find out as well.”