The NCAA D1 Wrestling Championships kick off on Thursday in Oklahoma City. When the season opened in November expectations for the team were a top ten finish in March. March has now arrived and with only two projected All Americans the Cyclones would need some extraordinary efforts from their six qualifiers to reach that goal. However, March Matness is always crazy and you never know who is going to emerge as a surprise finalist or All American.
Earl Hall, Tanner Weatherman, and Lelund Weatherspoon have all had moments this season where they looked like All Americans. With some good matches, and a little luck, one or more of them might be able to sneak onto the podium along with Gadson and Moreno to give Iowa State the points boost it needs to reach preseason expectations. And if they are going to do that it will start with Session I on Thursday morning.
How to Watch
Session 1: 11:00AM ESPNU/ESPN3
Session 2: 6:00PM ESPNU/ESPN3
What to Watch For
Earl Hall got what is probably the best draw of any of our wrestlers. But the problem with Hall is that he has been very up and down throughout the season, and at Big XIIs he was definitely more down than up. If he gets hot this weekend he has a legitimate chance to be a low All American. But if he is cold he'll be lucky to survive the first day. Hall will open up against 13 seed Evan Silver of Stanford (23-4). A win there will most likely give him the 4 seed, Josh Martinez of Air Force. Martinez is a very good wrestler but Hall beat him 5-3 at the Cliff Keene Invitational in early December. That win was easily the best win of Hall's season. Martinez injury defaulted out of the finals of the Western Regional the weekend before last. Hall's head to head win plus the possibility of a lingering injury gives Hall an excellent shot at going 2-0 on the day and pushing himself into Friday morning's quarterfinals
If Hall does not get by Silver he'll likely have Nathan Kraisser of North Carolina (25-8) in the first round of consolations on Friday night. Kraisser is one of the better unseeded wrestlers out there and is ranked 16th by Intermat. Hall should be able to beat guys like that. However, if Hall gets dropped by Silver that probably means he is not wrestling well on the day, and that would make me nervous going into this match. Basically if Hall wins his first match he's got a very good shot at the quarterfinals. If Hall loses his first match he's got a very good shot at going 0-2 and watching the rest of the tournament from the bleachers.
I wasn't expecting Gabe Moreno to score us any points in Oklahoma City. Which is good, because his draw is absolutely brutal. Gabe drew a pigtail match and will open up against Nick Lester of Oklahoma. Gabe and Lester have met twice this season with Lester winning 9-0 in the first match and 14-0 in the second match. Combine that with the fact that Gabe always struggles when he has to take the mat soon after weighing in and drawing a pigtail means he'll have about an hour less to recover than he normally would for a tournament, and this has bad news written all over it.
And doesn't get much better in the consolations, where he'd likely get Undrakhbayar Khishignyam of the Citadel (22-3). Ugi took 4th place at NCAAs last year and it is surprising that he was not given a seed this time around. An upset isn't impossible, Gabe beat Ugi 5-4 at the Southern Scuffle, but I'd be very surprised if Gabe has any need to make weight on Friday morning.
Micheal Moreno got the 8 seed and is looking to repeat his All American performance from last season. He has struggled against elite wrestlers throughout this year but the margin has generally been tight, and other than a bad loss to Payton Walsh of Navy, Moreno has always gotten the job done against lesser ranked wrestlers. This tournament is a shot at redeeming a mediocre season for Moreno. He will open up against the winner of the pigtail match at 165, who I'm guessing will be Ramon Santiago of Rider (20-12). Moreno shouldn't have too much trouble with Santiago and might be able to get us some bonus with a major decision. My only worry there is that Moreno has been known to look past guys he should beat and lose matches he shouldn't, as happened at the Scuffle in January.
A win will likely give him 9 seeded Joseph Booth of Hofstra (32-7) . Moreno and Hofstra met at the national duals last month with Moreno earning a pin in overtime. This should be a tight match but as long as Moreno spends Thursday afternoon preparing for Booth instead of fixating on a Friday morning matchup with Taylor he should be able to come away with the win and push himself into the quarterfinals.
A loss against Booth would put Moreno in a dangerous position as he'd have either #7 seed Pierce Hager of Northwestern or Zach Toal of Missouri, who is unseeded but ranked 15th by Intermat, waiting for him in the consolations.
Tanner Weatherman got the 12 seed and is looking to equal or improve his Round of Twelve performance from last season. Weatherman's draw gives him a chance to earn All American honors but he'll need an upset or two along the way to earn it. He'll open up the tournament against Levi Clemons of Chattanooga (20-12). Both of their common opponents were wins for Tanner and losses for Clemons. So Tanner should be able to pick up a first round win and maybe even some bonus.
However, that gives him the 5 seed, one time Iowa State Cyclone Matt Brown of Penn State (28-4) in the second round. Tanner has not beaten any elite guys this year, and Brown's runner up finish last season definitely qualifies him as an elite wrestler so a win here would be a pretty huge upset. Baring Tanner wrestling all three periods like he usually wrestles the last 30 seconds he'll likely get dropped down to consolations on Thursday evening.
Lelund Weatherspoon spent most of the season at 174 pounds for us before moving up to 184 permanently for the last few duals. At 174 Lelund knocked off a number of ranked wrestlers but following the mid-season move up in weight he has had trouble notching many quality victories. Any points that Lelund can provide at NCAAs this year are a plus but mainly he'll just be getting experience before spending the summer in the weight room bulking up to being a proper 184 pounder for next year.
Weatherspoon drew 3 seeded Gabe Dean of Cornell (35-2) for his first round matchup. I don't see that going very well.
In the consolations on Thursday night Weatherspoon will have either Fred Garcia of Lock Haven (24-7) or Lucas Sheradin of Indiana (27-14). These are both the caliber of guys that Lelund had no trouble with at 174 but has struggled to beat at 184. A win would keep Weatherspoon alive into Friday, a loss would send him home and to the weight room to start bulking up.
Gadson got the 5 seed and opens up against unseeded Abram Ayala of Princeton (26-10). Ayala shouldn't give Gadson too much of a challange and there's a good chance Kyven will be able to pick up a bonus point of two.
Thursday evening gets a lot tougher. Kyven should get 12 seeded Taylor Meeks or Oregon State (27-6). Meeks took 4th place at NCAAs last year and started the season ranked #1 but has struggled to repeat his success. If Kyven had been seeded appropriately he wouldn't be having to face a guy like Meeks until at least the quarterfinals. I look for Kyven to have a very Kyven-esque match against Meeks and win it 1-3 off a late takedown or something along those lines to push himself into the quarterfinals.
We should be able to leave session II on Thursday evening with 2-3 guys headed to Friday's quarterfinals and anywhere from 3-5 guys still alive overall. Last year in Des Moines the Cyclones put together an 11th place finish powered by surprise All American runs from Mike Moreno and Matt Gibson and and R12 performance from Tanner Weatherman. If Iowa State is going to end up anywhere near the top ten this year it will have to start with some upsets during Sessions I and II on Thursday. Hopefully the team is up to the challenge!