ST. LOUIS, Mo. — March Matness is in full-tilt with the 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships slated for this weekend (March 16-18) in St. Louis.
The staff at Michigan Grappler is diving into each weight class with full analysis and predictions leading into this weekend’s action.
Here’s a look at 125:
Last year’s runner-up Thomas Gilman of Iowa and Virginia Tech’s Joey Dance enter as the top seeds and favorites for a finals clash.
That being said, if recent history has taught us anything, that’s could change in the blink of an eye.
This weight class has been chocked-full of upsets in recent years with unseeded guys like David Terao and Zeke Moisey taking down names like Jesse Delgado and Nahshon Garrett on the way to All-American status.
Both Gilman and Dance have experienced first-hand the havoc these guys have caused. Gilman was pinned by Moisey in the semifinals two years ago and Dance, who was seeded No.2 last season was upset by 15-seeded Tarao in just the second round.
I don’t see this year playing out any differently. Someone at the top is bound to get knocked off, it’s just a matter of when and who?
Second Round Matchups:
#9 Josh Rodriguez (NDSU) vs #8 Nick Piccinni (OKST)
The two wrestled for the first time two weeks ago in the Big 12 title match with Piccinni taking the narrow 7-5 decision. I like the senior, Rodriguez, over the freshman, Piccinni, in this rematch.
#11 Josh Terao (AMER) vs #6 Lizak
Yes, there is another Terao in the field this and he’s looking follow in his older brother’s footsteps by making some noise on the big stage.
Lizak is without question one of the most talented 125-pounders in the Big Ten but exposed some weaknesses in high-pressure matches late in the season.
I think Terao capitalizes on a third-period mistake to complete the upset.
#7 Sean Russell (Edin) vs #10 Jack Mueller (UVA)
Both wrestlers have put together solid season but I like the freshman, Mueller, to duplicate his 6-2 win over Russell back in January.
**Dark horse Candidate: Conor Youtsey (Mich) vs #2 Joey Dance
Don’t ever count out Michigan’s Connor Youtsey. The fifth year senior and 2-time All-American has made a career out catching fire under the bright lights.
He showed he may have some magic left after an upsetting Lizak in the Big Ten Championships. He also beat Dance back in 2015.
Does he have another run left in him? We'll see
#1 Thomas Gilman (IOWA) vs #9 Josh Rodriguez (NDSU)
Gilman defeated Rodriguez, 4-1, in their only meeting back on 2015. I think Gilman builds an early lead and heads to the semis with a 7-2 decision.
#5 Tim Lambert (NEB) vs #4 Darian Cruz (LEH)
This one should be a barn burner with both wrestlers holding a win in two career meetings.
Lambert has put together a solid senior campaign and in search of his first trip to the podium.
Cruz, a junior, has just two losses on the year to PSU’s Nick Suriano and Ethan Lizak, both of which were defeated by Lambert this season.
Lambert wins via 6-4 sudden victory.
#3 Suriano (PSU) vs #11 Terao (AMER)
Can’t say I’d be shocked if Terao pulled the upset here, especially since Suriano did not wrestle the Big Ten Championships.
However, I think Suriano wrestles a smarter match against an aggressive Terao and advances to the semis with a 7-4 decision.
#2 Joey Dance (VT) vs # 10 Mueller (UVA)
Mueller didn’t have much to offer Dance back in their January ACC dual meet losing by 11-3 major decision.
I think Mueller closes the gap a bit but Dance cruises to the semis with a 10-5 decision.
#1 Thomas Gilman (IOWA) vs #5 Tim Lambert (NEB)
These two have been going at for four-straight years with Gilman holding the upper hand in all seven of their meetings.
Lambert has been on another level this season though and shrunk the gap between them considerably.
Gilman won, 6-3, in their regular season duel meeting took a 4-0 decision in the Big Ten title match.
I think eight is the lucky number for Lambert as finally edges his longtime nemesis and earns a trip to the finals on the strength of a late third-period takedown to win, 4-3.
#2 Joey Dance (VT) vs #3 Nick Suriano (PSU)
This one could go either way in my mind. Suriano possesses the talent and ability to knock off Dance I just can’t trust that he won’t collapse under the pressure after his Big Ten Tournament showing.
Ultimately, I think Dance overcomes last season’s disappointment and earns a trip to the finals with a 4-1 decision.
#5 Tim Lambert vs #2 Joey Dance (VT)
These two have squared off just once in their careers. Dance took a 7-4 decision back in February.
I see this one going down to the wire with the winner being whoever gets the first takedown.
Dance is an absolute magician on his feet which and I think he uses patented high-crotch outside leg finish grab a first period takedown.
Lambert gets out quick to knot the score, 2-2, in the second period.
Dance escapes early in the third and scores on off desperation shot from Lambert to secure the 125-pound crown, 5-2.
157 lb. NCAA Championship Preview
285 lb. NCAA Championship Preview
Seeing my breath in the bitter cold February mornings here in Pennsylvania brings back fond memories. The roads were lined with snow, ice and salt from months of plowing and shoveling. I grew up in a small PA town. My high school, Mount Pleasant was not generally known for it’s athletic teams but had produced some great individual athletes. But when I stepped into the school in 1994, Mount Pleasant had yet to have a PIAA State champion. Not in wrestling. Not in any sport. Many had fallen just short and silver was the unfortunate standard.
I would continue the silver standard by losing consecutive state final matches in both my sophomore and junior seasons. Wrestling clubs, which currently offer the opportunity for the best wrestlers in the area to congregate weekly in one mat room, did not exist in the mid-nineties. And as many teenagers I know, my father’s advice of running 3 miles everyday to be in great shape had gone unheeded for my high school years up unto this point.
But prior to my senior year I decided to take his advice and began the dreadful task of running the recommended daily regimen. With practice after school and schoolwork in the evenings, the only time to really get the extra workout in was pre-dawn. Each morning my mother would get up and drive me 3.2 miles from our home to the local Sunoco station also known as the ‘Open-Pantry’. She would pull into the lighted parking lot and I would climb out and mumble “See you in twenty,” before shutting the door.
I breezed through the first month of the season with a perfect record winning both the Beast of the East and PowerAde tournaments without much competition. An unfortunate car accident would sideline me in early January for the entire month. I was unable to do anything during this time, including working out of any kind. No running, no wrestling no lifting. I once again began to feel the fear of future failure creep in.
Once my doctor gave me the green light, I resumed my regular workout schedule that again included my early morning running routine. On one particular frozen February morning, my mother advised me that it was seven degrees out and implored me “not to run this morning.” “I gotta go ma,” I responded. We hopped in our blue Toyota Corolla and away we went.
My mom was right. It was brutally cold out that morning. As I stepped out of the car in the Sunoco parking lot, I could see my breath fog up the air around me like smoke from a cannon. Not a soul was seen as I made my way up and down the countryside roads, hugging the snow-banked sides.
My lungs were burning and my stomach was cramping. My face was frozen and the thought of stopping and walking was clearly at the forefront of my thoughts. I had just climbed the last large hill and was in the middle of a long straight away stretch just about a mile from home when I noticed headlights coming toward me in the distance. As the lights grew closer, I could tell it was a truck. Closer and slower it came. I tightly hugged the side of the road as the truck neared. It was slowing down. No, it was stopping. As the truck reached me, I could see the window rolling down. My heart was pounding and all thoughts of pain and my current suffering had subsided. Behind the wheel was a bearded man. We locked eyes. “Go get it Waller!” he yelled as he hit the gas and sped off. Stunned by this stranger’s comment, I nodded as I backpedalled and watched his taillights fade out of sight.
I turned and ran the last mile home as hard as I could. I felt no pain and no suffering. Lingering fear over my encounter with a stranger coupled with bewilderment and an awkward sense of appreciation for this stranger’s statement carried me the rest of the way home.
One month later I would win the PIAA State Championship and become my high school’s first-ever state champion.
Pennsylvania roads aren’t paved with gold during the winter months (or anytime for that matter). And along with the snow and salt, I can guarantee you there will be failure along them. But you can also find success somewhere along the way, if you’re willing to find the daily motivation to get up and continue on that same road toward a goal that many aren’t even willing to look down.
On that freezing February morning, a stranger had taken away my pain and doubt, and filled me with a sense of motivation (not to mention fear!). He didn’t know me, but he knew what road I was on. One filled with potholes full of failure, disappointment, and shortcomings. But he was kind (or crazy) enough to stop and let me know that my journey wasn’t going unnoticed and that he too wanted his town’s first state champion. I never found out whom that bearded man was but I’m glad he was there that morning.
Throughout my coaching career, I have been blessed to coach NCAA Champions, All-Americans, and U.S. World and Olympic Team members. All of them pulled motivation from different areas of their lives. Whether it was faith, family, past failures, or their community, they all found it. They found it everyday and for every workout.
The whereabouts of my PIAA State medals are unknown. I lost track of them. It doesn’t really matter. Medals and trophies don’t define your success. Experiences do. Everyone takes their own individual and unique path toward their goals. And whatever those goals are, it’s going to take a tremendous amount of motivation to get there. Don’t be afraid to look in stranger places to add more fuel to your fire. Because you never know where your next challenge will come from and who or what it might be.