As the other wildcard entry into the tournament, junior Zach Toal is looking to further fulfill some of the thoughts on his wrestling prowess that have kept him around the top-20 for a good part of the season, even though he finished the year with a 23-16 record. Toal has but one win against top-20 competition this year, with that coming over #15 Taylor Massa of Michigan. He also took #3 Tyler Caldwell of Okie State to OT, wrestling both he and #1 Kyle Dake of Cornell closely at points during the season.
At the MAC Championships, he drew #12 Mark Lewandoski of Buffalo (who also exited Toal from the NCAA’s last year for his second loss with no wins) and fell in a tough, 3-2 finish. Even worse, Toal drew the rat-tail match in the 165 pound class (since there are 33 qualifiers, two have to play-down before they enter the main part of the bracket. That match will be against Ryan Leblanc of Indiana, who finished the year 22-8. These two actually have history, as Toal beat Leblanc 2-1 his freshman season. If Toal can repeat the outcome, he will step into the bracket against Zach Strickland of App. State. Strickland finished 23-11 on the year, but one of those 11 was a loss by pin fall to Toal at the Southern Scuffle. From there, Toal would either face Caleb Marsh of Kent State, who beat Toal in the last match at the MAC’s 4-1, or #1 Kyle Dake. Tough draw there. But wins are wins and Toal getting two of them before that matchup could get him in the right frame of mind to also pick up a few on the bottom half of the bracket.
On Kyle Dake, David Taylor and the 165-pound finals
As the NCAA Championships wind their way towards completion in each round, they start at the 125 pound class and work towards the big boys. When the finals take the platformed-stage on Saturday night, the order of matches is the same. Now, it is totally allowable for a dual meet to start at any weight class, and this does happen from time to time during the year. But ESPN and the NCAA has put their chips out and are going to roll the dice big time this weekend. That is because they have already announced the Championship round will start with the 174 class, work up to HWY and then back down to 125, finishing with 165.
That is because you have some potential history. On one side of the bracket is junior David Taylor of Penn State. Taylor was a freshman phenom two years ago, going undefeated through until the finals of the NCAA Championships with not just 38 straight wins, but with 34 of them coming with bonus points. The #3 seed took down #2 and had #4 Bubba Jenkins of Arizona State in the finals, who pulled the upset with a pin. Since then, Taylor ran through his sophomore year unbeaten and has just one loss this year as he is the #2 seed. Of his 92 career wins (92-2), 85 of them have resulted in a major decision or better. Impressive enough…
...but not as impressive as Kyle Dake. Dake went 32-4 his freshman year, but won the 141 pound national title. The next year, he followed that up with a 31-2, record good enough to allow him to win the 149 pound title. Since then, he’s not lost another match (63 straight), storming through last year without a loss in the 157 pound weight class.
This year, Dake has another 32 wins in a row in the 165 pound class. He is already the first person in wrestling history to win three titles in three weight classes. He started this year with a 2-1 OT win against Taylor at the NWCA All-Star Classic, (exhibition) and then beat Taylor again (in a match that does count against records) 3-2 in the finals of the Southern Scuffle. The NCAA has gone all-in on these two getting through the bracket to face each other in what has to be one of the most anticipated championship matches in recent (and perhaps longer) history. Keep an eye on this one.
There have been few things as fun to watch this past season than RS Senior Todd Porter. Porter always seemed to be behind someone in the Mizzou lineup (mostly Dorian Henderson) and he calmly waited his turn until this year. Seizing the opportunity, Porter became known for points in dual meets. He picked up a win against #16 Jon Fausey of UVA out in Vegas. He picked up another win over a ranked opponent against #20 Craig Kelliher of Central Michigan. Then he announced his presence in the class with a major decision win over #1 ranked (and seeded) Chris Perry of Okie State 9-1. At the National Duals, four of his five matches ended up being against top-6 wrestlers, and he pulled off an important 4-3 win against #6 Nick Heflin of tOSU in Mizzou’s domination of the Buckeys. At the MAC’s, he was upset in the 2nd round by John-Marti Cannon of Buffalo, who was 19th in the nation.
At 31-10, many could argue he likely deserved a better drawn than against #2 seed Matt Brown of Penn State, fresh off of his BIG Championship. Of course, if Porter pulls off the upset, he would have some rounds with non/lower ranked wrestlers; but unfortunately, it looks like Porter is going to need to make his noise from the bottom half of the bracket. I certainly expect him to win a couple of matches though before all is said and done for his Mizzou career.
The back-half of Mizzou’s lineup has Toal as the only junior before finishing with four straight seniors. The next in that line is Mike Larson, who finishes his career with his third season at Mizzou after starting at Cal-Bakersfield. Last year, Larson did all he could for the Tigers at the NCAA’s after drawing the #1 seed (he was one of four MU wrestlers to face up against their respective weight class’s top seed). After the 9-4 loss, Larson ripped off three straight wins, two of them by pin and one against the #11 seed. However, he would get tech’ed by the #5 seed one match short of the AA rounds, finishing 3-2. This year, Larson has been a mainstay in the top-20, and stands to be someone MU will count on for points and bonus points, as he is one of the more proficient pinners for the Tigers.
This season, Larson owns wins over five top-20 grapplers on his way to a 28-10 record, and he is well-seasoned, having wrestled 14 matches against a ranked opponent. At the MAC’s, he dropped a tough bout to #6 Ryan Loder of UNI 6-1 in their third match of the season (Larson won the first). He came back to grab third place with a win against #16 Casey Newburg of Kent State in OT. He will start his tournament on Thursday with a match against Ophir Bernstein of Brown, who was 24-9 on the year. A win there could produce the fourth match against Loder. Larson is someone who could be right on the cusp of AA status as the #11 seed, and will need to be someone who at least repeats his 3-2 record from last year for MU to have a shot to rise in the team rankings.
The next senior for the Tigers is Brent Haynes, who will complete his Mizzou career with his fourth straight NCAA Championship berth. Haynes has been a ranked mainstay for the Tigers over the years, and is another wrestler who could complete for AA status if the breaks and matches fall the right way. This season, Haynes owns a 31-9 record with some impressive wins. Among them, wins over #16 Braden Atwood of Purdue, #19 Max Huntley of Michigan and #12 Andrew Campollatano of tOSU. Haynes has a history of big wins, including his championship at the Southern Scuffle last year which included wins over #6 and #2 before #1 Cam Simaz of Cornell forfeited to give Haynes the title.
This season, Haynes made the MAC Championships before taking a tough 17-5 loss against #1 Dustin Kilgore of Kent State. This weekend, Haynes drew the 12 seed and a first round match against Jackson Hein of Wisconsin, against whom he has no history. A win would give him a matchup against either the aforementioned Huntley or #5 seed Taylor Meeks of Oregon State. Meeks owns a pin over Haynes from his junior year and a 8-5 win from earlier this year. He could also end up facing #4 seed Alfonso Hernandez in the quarter if he can get to it, with Hernandez having bested Haynes 7-3 in Vegas. And then Kilgore would lurk in the semis. Needless to say, the seeds are stacked against Haynes, but as someone who has a great tilt and is known for being able to rack up points in a hurry, he is another person who may need to come out of the pack for a big finish.
Speaking of big finishes, senior Dom Bradley is looking to make one. Bradley started his career sitting behind eventual national champion Mark Ellis before finally getting his own shot two seasons ago. Bradley was tremendous in that campaign, taking a third place finish at the NCAA’s. Then, in a year where he likely would have been the #1 ranked wrestler coming into it, Bradley took advantage of the Olympic redshirt season to try to represent Team USA in London. Though Bradley came up short of his dream, the experience propelled Bradley to a 35-1 season this year and a #1 seed in the tournament.
Bradley owns wins over most of the major players in the division, topped with an overtime win over #2 seed Anthony Nelson of Minnesota. In fact, there is only one person in the draw who owns a win over Bradley, and that is #3 seed Alan Gelogaev of Okie State. These two faced off twice this year, with Bradley winning the first 4-3 on his way to his Southern Scuffle Championship (which was capped by the win over Nelson which propelled Bradley to #1 in the country). Later at the National Duals, Gelogaev took a 4-3 win which was Dom’s lone loss on the season.
Bradley crushed his way through the MAC’s for the title and will start his journey to the top step with a match against Stryker Lake of Cornell. These two wrestled at Madison Square Garden back in December, with Bradley winning 7-1. He would face someone unranked in the 2nd round and then open Friday in the quarters likely against either #9 Zac Thomusseit of Pitt or #8 Mike McClure of Michigan State, neither of whom he has faced in his two varsity seasons. The #4 in the tourney is Chad Henke of Oregon State, who I also cannot see a previous match against. Nelson and Gelogaev would face off in the semis if the chalk holds, so being the #1 seed has its advantages. Can Bradley do it? Might he be the first of back to back national champs for the Tigers, as his potential match would be followed by the championships at 125 and possibly Alan Waters taking the mat?
While I do not believe the Tigers will win the NCAA’s this year, I think the teams at the top are closer than they have been in a few years. I think Penn State, Okie State, Iowa and Minnesota will all be up there, and I think Mizzou is certainly in that group. The Tigers will need seeds to hold at the bookends of the classes with Waters and Bradley. They will need McCormick to AA, and then will probably need another wrestler or two to sneak up out of their class and do the same.
The Tigers have a number of folks who can put up wins, but they also have folks who can put up points, and that is where teams make their moves as mentioned at the start of this piece. If MIzzou can make some gains there while also surprising some folks, Sat. night could be very exciting for the team, the program and the school.