By Gary R. Blockus
MANHEIM – Bodies were flying and wrestling teams were jostling for position last weekend despite a snowstorm that ran roughshod through the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.
The biggest noise was heard in Champaign, Ill. on Friday when Penn State red-shirt freshman Jason Nolf pinned returning national champion and top-ranked 157-pounder Isaiah Martinez for his first college defeat.
In the end, the performances proved that teams and individuals are beginning to peak heading into the 2016 NWCA Division I National Championship Dual Series that will be held
on Sunday, Feb. 21 on the campuses of eight host Big Ten schools.
This year’s new format features the top ranked Big Ten schools hosting the dual meet champions from the seven other NCAA Division I wrestling conferences, along with one non-Big Ten at-large berth.
Last week’s No. 5, Oklahoma State, scored a pair of huge wins over the weekend, knocking off previously unbeaten No. 4 Missouri on Friday night to end the Tigers’ 37-match win streak as the two teams swapped places in the weekly USA Today/NWCA Division I Coaches Poll.
“The fact that we stopped a streak was a good feeling,” said Oklahoma State coach John Smith. “You have to give respect to them, 37 matches in a row, that is pretty impressive and I’m glad we had an opportunity to put it to an end.”
The Cowboys (8-2) only losses this season have been to No. 2 Iowa and No. 3 North Carolina State. “We have to recognize that we have just so much more that we left out there and we still controlled the match and won the key matches,” Smith said. “If you ever start to settle in and think you’re in a good place, that’s taking some steps backwards. If we’re going to challenge for the championship, I don’t think Missouri is the team to beat. We just need to keep pushing.”
Oklahoma State followed up the Friday win with a 38-3 Big 12 win over Iowa State and is off this week before renewing its Bedlam series with No. 7 Oklahoma in Stillwater on Feb. 5.
Top-ranked Penn State jumped all over Big Ten rival No. 13 Illinois 30-15 last Saturday, including Nolf’s stunning upset of Martinez. Top-ranked Bo Nickal pinned previously unbeaten No. 5 Zac Brunson at 174, and Zain Retherford (No. 1 at 149) pinned Kyle Langenderfer to keep the Nittany Lions rolling. No. 2 Iowa crushed No. 24 Purdue 39-4 last Friday.
On Monday, No. 3 North Carolina (18-0), now with the nation’s longest dual meet win streak (18) after Missouri got knocked off, won eight of 10 matches in a 28-8 victory over intrastate rival and No. 14 North Carolina.
In a bit of a shocker, No. 6 Lehigh earned its first win in six seasons over nine-time defending EIWA champion Cornell in Ithaca 25-13 as the No. 15 Big Red went without top-ranked and unbeaten returning 184-pound national champion Gabe Dean illness) and fellow unbeaten and No. 1 Nahshon Garret (133, injured) and Gabe Dean. Lehigh was missing ranked 157-pounder Mitch Minotti from its lineup as well.
“It’s a shame because I think a lot of people came to see those three wrestle that night,” Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro said. That’s college wrestling. Injuries are always going to be a part of it. Anytime you have a key wrestler out it it, it makes a difference.”
Cornell forfeited at 133 and Lehigh’s Nate Brown (No. 2 at 184) scored a technical fall over John Jay Chavez to spearhead the win and put the Mountain Hawks in the lead contention for the EIWA’s berth in the NWCA National Championship Dual Series.
No. 7 Oklahoma took advantage the friendly crowd of the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman to batter No. 17 Iowa State 28-9 on Friday night to maintain its place as the second-ranked team in the Big 12 and keep to the forefront for a potential at-large bid to the National Championship Dual Series.
No. 8 Michigan earned two wins over the weekend, stopping then-No. 19 Central Michigan 22-12 on Friday at Cliff Keen Arena, and then recharged for 33-6 victory over Big Ten foe No. 22 Indiana that featured No. 14 Davonte Mahomes of the Wolverines edge No. 6 Nate Jackson 9-8 at 174.
No. 9 Ohio State earned an impressive 33-9 win over Michigan State by winning eight of 10 bouts, including a technical fall by returning 125-pound national champion Nathan Tomasello.
Due to the snowstorm last weekend, Wisconsin’s match at No. 12 Rutgers was postponed until Feb. 5.