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Big Ten Looking to Dominate NCAA Wrestling Tournament

NCAA Wrestling Tournament discussion

The day before the annual gathering of the nation’s best wrestlers hits the mats, the NCAA holds a press conference with five or six coaches from those programs expected to contend for a championship.

Oklahoma State has won 34 NCAA team titles, so it’s pretty much a given that the Cowboys’ head coach is part of the pre-tournament festivities.

John Smith will not be among the coaches this Wednesday.

“It doesn’t bother me that people don’t consider us one of the favorites. We aren’t,? said Smith, who takes eight wrestlers to St. Louis for the 2008 NCAA Wrestling Championship which begins Thursday morning. “We need some things to happen and we have to be ready to fight for everything.?

O-State, after a third place finish in the five-team Big 12 Championship last weekend, enters the final collegiate tournament of the 2007-08 season ranked sixth.

After winning four straight titles from 2003-06, the Pokes finished fifth in Auburn Hills, Mich., in 2007.

Seven NCAA qualifiers return, including three All-Americans — Coleman Scott, Nathan Morgan and Brandon Mason. Jake Dieffenbach was a two-time NAIA champion before joining the squad before this season.

Tyler Shinn, Newly McSpadden, Jack Jensen and Jared Rosholt went a combined 6-8 in their first NCAA appearances. Three of the four had either the No. 1 or 2 seed in the first round.

“I think everybody knows that with the schedule we wrestle, we will be ready,? said Shinn, who finished second at the Big 12s and takes a 15-6 mark to St. Louis. “We didn’t wrestle like we are capable (at the Big 12s). For me, it’s about going and getting that second and third takedown.

“We have to be ready to fight. I think after our showing (last week) you are going to see a different team (in St. Louis).?

Scott, a senior 133-pounder, is a three-time All-American, advancing to the finals as a junior. He takes a 28-4 mark into his final collegiate tournament.

Morgan, also a senior, is a two-time All-American. The 141-pounder is 29-3.

Mason, a junior 174-pounder, advanced to the NCAA semifinals as a sophomore and eventually finished fifth. He is 26-5 and will be one of five Cowboys seeded among the top nine.

Rosholt is coming off a solid Big 12 showing, beating nemisis David Zabriskie of Iowa State in the finals. The sophomore is 29-3.

Dieffenbach dropped a pair of matches in a rugged 165-pound Big 12 bracket. He earned one of the league’s eight wild-card berths and is 19-5.

Jensen is as hot as any Cowboy, posting a pair of upset wins on his way to a third place finish at 184 at the Big 12s. For the first time in his career, Jensen (13-6) entered the rankings last week at No. 14.

Junior Newly McSpadden (21-9) wrestled his way into the 157-pound field, finishing third at the Big 12s.

“I don’t think there is a real clear-cut favorite, just four of five teams with a good shot,? Smith said.

Wrestling begins Thursday at 11 a.m.

The teams

Iowa lost just one dual meet — to Oklahoma State — and is No. 1 entering the NCAAs. The Hawkeyes, with the help of four Virginia Tech transfers, qualified nine and won the Big Ten title.

Tom Brands’ squad has eight ranked among the top eight, led by defending national champion Mark Perry (13-2 at 174) and No. 1-ranked 149-pounder Brett Metcalf (26-1).

Minnesota, the NCAA team champion in 2007, has had an injury-filled campaign, but challenged the Hawks last weekend at the Big Tens. Seven of the Gophers’ nine qualifiers are ranked among the top eight, including Jaysen Ness (35-1 at 125) and Dustin Schlatter (17-3 at 149). Senior Roger Kish (13-6 at 184) was an NCAA finalist in 2006 and is a two-time All-American.

Third-ranked Michigan has just six qualifiers, but five of them are ranked either 1, 2 or 3. Eric Tannenbaum (26-2) beat Perry in the Big Ten finals; Josh Churella (21-3 at 149) lost in the NCAA finals last season; freshman Kellen Russell (25-5 at 141), a Blair Academy product, is No. 2; and Steve Luke (25-2) is No. 2 at 174.

2007 runner-up Iowa State could be a major player when all is said and done. The Cyclones, ranked fourth, qualified all 10 wrestlers and have six ranked among the top 10 led by No. 1 Jake Varner (25-0 at 184).

Sophomore Nick Gallick (23-10) beat Morgan in the Big 12 finals at 141 and is part of a wide-open weight class.