DES MOINES – It won’t be lightest to biggest this year.
College wrestling fans will get a fresh take on the order of national championship matches.
The NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee consulted ESPN, which televises the tournament, and decided to begin Saturday’s bouts of the NCAA Championships at Wells Fargo Arena at 174 pounds. The matches will continue in order, ending at 165.
The format change could conclude the national tournament with a match between Cornell’s three-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake (32-0) and Penn State’s national champion and two-time finalist David Taylor (26-1). Many regard it as the marquee match of the event.
“It’s just kind of exciting for me, at least,” Dake said at a pre-tournament news conference Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena. “Being the last match, it’s kind of like the main event. It’s just something cool the NCAA is doing.”
Dave Martin, NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee Chairman and Oklahoma State deputy athletics director, said the finals format is a change, but the concept is not new. The option has been available for coaches to begin dual meets at different weight classes for a few years.
Dake doesn’t have a preference of when he takes the mat, as long as he is in the finals attempting to become the third four-time NCAA Division I champion.
“It wouldn’t matter if I was the last match or the first match,” said Dake, who has titles at 141, 149 and 157. “Honestly, I could care less, I just want to go out and wrestle.”
Former upper-weight NCAA champions Ed Ruth, of Penn State, and Kent State’s 197-pounder Dustin Kilgore like the change. Kilgore noted that many times people are leaving the arena when heavyweights are competing. He said this will allow heavyweights to get added exposure they deserve, because they are just as dedicated as everyone else.
Ruth, the top seed at 184, welcomes being one of the first competitors instead of waiting longer to wrestle.
“I like the format because I’m one of the heavier weights now; it’s nice to be first at least once,” Ruth said. “First or second, it doesn’t matter as long as I am one of the earlier matches.”
Iowa’s Matt McDonough is accustomed to being in the first weight class being wrestled. His teammate, Derek St. John, who is seeded second at 157, could immediately precede the possible Dake-Taylor bout. It makes the final bout special for everyone.
“Being the last one out there, you’re the last thing everyone sees, so there’s the exciting factor there,” McDonough said. “When everyone goes home you’ll be the last thing on their mind if you perform the way you’re supposed to.”
Penn State Coach Cael Sanderson said “main events” are successful in other sports. He doesn’t think it could hurt college wrestling. Sanderson mentioned some coaches and fans will resist the change, because it bucks tradition.
Success will depend on the show the wrestlers display.
“I think it falls on the kids and puts a little more on them, but that’s what they want,” Sanderson said. “You want to be the best and you want to be the big match. Now you have that chance. I’m not saying that I’m for it, I haven’t really put a lot of thought into it, but it doesn’t really matter what I think anyways. It should be fun.”
Dake has beaten Taylor twice this year, including once in an all-star exhibition. If Dake advances and wins the 165 title, he will become the first four-time champion to win at four different weights. He was the first to accomplish the feat at three weights last year.
He has shown his versatility, handling the different types of foes.
“There are just different styles,” Dake said. “The smaller guys are faster. The bigger guys are stronger. There are positives and negatives with going up each weight class. Everything ends up evens itself out.
“Each year has been successful for me, so I don’t feel like there have been many challenges.”
KILGORE RETURNS FOR TITLE RUN
Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore is looking to reclaim his national title after stepping away from college wrestling for a year.
Kilgore won the 2011 197-pound NCAA title in Philadelphia, and then took an Olympic red-shirt season last year to focus on freestyle training. The two-time All-American and three-time NCAA qualifier said it doesn’t feel any different than two years ago.
“I’m back with my family at Kent State,” said Kilgore, who is the undefeated top seed. “I’m doing the same things I did last time to become a national champion. It feels good to be back.”
Plus, Kilgore is competing in his preferred discipline. He was ready to return to folkstyle wrestling.
I like folkstyle a lot more than freestyle; I wish the world would change, but that’s not going to happen,” Kilgore said. “It feels good; it wasn’t really much of a change at all coming back in.”
The season has appeared to have flown by, according to Kilgore. He has put in the work with coaches and teammates to be in position for another title.
“I have a lot of anticipation for this tournament and becoming a champion again,” Kilgore said. “Those are my goals and I am going to do anything I can to accomplish it.”
Iowa State Coach Kevin Jackson said 197-pounder Kyven Gadson and the Cyclone teams have taken adversity in stride this week.
Gadson’s father, Willie, a former two-time All-American in the 1970′s for Iowa State, last week after a battle with cancer. Funeral services for Willie Gadson was Monday, and members of the program attended to show support and respect for the Gadson family.
“Kyven has dealt with this like the champion he is and been raised to be,” Jackson said. “He has embraced this opportunity to wrestle for an NCAA championship. I’m not sure how much more motivation he needed for an NCAA title. Obviously something like his father passing is nothing I’ve had to deal with, but he seems to be handling it very well, along with his teammates. I think it’s a motivating factor and we will see first thing in the morning how it has affected him.”
Gadson won the Big 12 Championship on March 9 and is the No. 6 seed at the NCAA tournament with a 23-2 record. He will face the winner between Cornell’s Jace Bennett (30-14) and Illinois’ Marion Gonzalez (14-7).
Gadson is one of seven Cyclones wrestlers in the NCAA field.
Northwestern assistant coach and former University of Iowa national champion Jay Borschel bolted from Des Moines and the Wildcats wrestlers Wednesday morning.
According to family members, Borschel rushed back to Evanston, Ill., to be with his wife, Jillian Perry, who went into labor with their first child. It is possible Borschel will return to Des Moines after the birth to help coach Northwestern wrestlers in the NCAA tournament.
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