Plot twists highlight individual matches
Three wrestlers, including Logan Stieber, chase their third title
OKLAHOMA CITY - If you are looking for plot twists, you have come to the right place.
What exactly does the final session of the 2014 NCAA Wrestling Championships have in store for the 15,000-plus inside Chesapeake Energy Arena?
Oklahoma State's Chris Perry, part of a video-review-filled, controversial win against Oklahoma's Andrew Howe in the Big 12 Conference finals two weekends ago, did it again during Friday night's semifinals. In a victory against Iowa's Mike Evans, Perry, a champion in 2013, walked a tightrope with cameras flashing and coaches screaming. Tonight, Perry faces off with Howe for a third time this season. Howe, a champion in 2010 while at Wisconsin, has wrestled like a man on a mission this week.
There will be bedlam.
"This is what I wanted," said Perry on Friday night. "I know that this is the guy that people think is better than me; hands down, people believe this guy's way better than me, and they think I stole the one in Norman [at the Big 12 Championship]. I want to go out and prove that I can beat him twice."
Howe has also been looking forward to the rematch.
"It was definitely a little kick in the butt," Howe said. "It lit the fire in the last couple of weeks."
Two Penn State seniors will finish their unbelievable careers on the big stage. David Taylor is undefeated and a four-time finalist. The Hodge Trophy winner in 2012 has a career mark of 133-3. His last collegiate match will be against Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell, no slouch himself. The senior is a four-time All-American and lost in the NCAA finals in 2011.
"This tournament's been a little different than I can remember," Taylor said. "Not that I've been nervous, but each match has meant a little more to me just because they're the last ones. When I was a freshman, Troy Letters, who was one of our assistants, told me to seize the moment. I don't think I understood what he meant by that, maybe not until today."
Ruth's career docket is 135-3. In January, Cornell's Gabe Dean ended Ruth's 84-match win streak; Ruth avenged that loss on Friday night and, as the No. 2 seed, meets unbeaten Maryland senior Jimmy "Headlock" Sheptock in the 184-pound title bout.
"It's a good thing to make history," said Ruth, in search of a third-consecutive title. "I try not to think about that too much; history writes itself, as long as you keep doing what you're supposed to do."
Oklahoma State sophomore 157-pounder Alex Dieringer, a powerful, energetic native of Wisconsin likes to score points. In the quarterfinals Friday morning, he beat Boston's Nestor Taffur, 18-11. The anticipation for his finals match with Minnesota's Dylan Ness is off the charts. Ness, a junior who lost in the NCAA finals as a freshman, has been as electric as anyone this season. Dramatic pins, wild finishes, and a handful of highlight-reel moments have pushed the Gopher into his second final. Ness pinned Nebraska's James Green, the top seed, with his patented high-flying tactics.
"Obviously (Ness has) been funking everybody all year," said Dieringer, who beat Ness in overtime in a December dual meet. "I stayed a little too conservative. I have to wrestle a smart match because, out of nowhere, he could just do some crazy high-flyer stuff."
Joining Ruth in search of a third title will be Ohio State's Logan Stieber and Minnesota's Tony Nelson.
Stieber, a junior, is on an elite path. Only three have won four NCAA titles at the Division I level. The Buckeye star meets Virginia Tech's Devin Carter tonight. The Hokie has been injured most of the season, almost a forgotten commodity.
Nelson, one of the most underrated two-time heavyweight champions ever, will try to keep the big-man trophy in Minneapolis. Since 2000, UM has won heavyweight gold five times. The opponent is a sophomore, under the radar to some, Nick Gwiazdowski, who was an All-American as a freshman two seasons ago before transferring to North Carolina State.
Iowa's Tony Ramos, a senior who lost in the finals in 2013, has talked a big game all season. Seeded third in Oklahoma City, Ramos has picked up big points in the third period of all four of his wins. Tonight, Ramos meets Wisconsin's Tyler Graff, who has quietly gone about his business this week. He took care of Northern Iowa's Joe Colon on Friday night and will be in search of the same medal as Ramos.
Two freshmen take the stage tonight. Might one of them be the next four-timer?
Missouri's J'Den Cox could easily be used as a model for a Greek sculpture. The powerful Tiger goes against a veteran in Ohio State's Nick Heflin, an All-American at 174 pounds in the past. Heflin has just one loss in 2013-14. This match includes plenty of horsepower.
Northwestern's Jason Tsirtsis knocked off Missouri's Drake Houdeshelt, the top seed, on Friday night. Tsirtsis has just three losses and faces Oklahoma State's Josh Kindig, who has qualified for nationals twice, but never found his way into the top eight.
Tsirtsis admitted to never having fun at an NCAA tournament when he had personal ties, especially watching his older brother Alex finish in the top eight just once as an Iowa Hawkeye.
"I think [Alex's] downfall helped me," Tsirtsis said. "I think he really helped me prepare for this tournament, as well as my coaches, to where he was able to guide me in the right direction where maybe he wasn't guided."
The evening's festivities will open with Illinois' Jesse Delgado, the champion last March, taking on Cornell's rising superstar Nahshon Garrett, a sophomore who finished third in 2013. Delgado beat Garrett early in the season.
Both call California home.
"I think it's great because I think a lot of people talk smack about California because we may not have as many All-Americans or whatever as New Jersey or New York or some of these other, Iowa, or some of these other states," said Garrett, a native of Chico, Calif.
Ten weights. Ten champions. Ten storylines.