When the action got underway at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday morning, the NCAA Wrestling Championships were a five-team race.
Now, it’s down to three.
Penn State (91 points), Minnesota (90.5 points) and Oklahoma State (87.5 points) pulled away from the field to make for a tight competition between the three schools heading into Saturday’s medal-round competition.
OSU advanced the most wrestlers into the finals by winning four in a row from 149 to 174 pounds during Friday night’s championship semifinals. Penn State and Minnesota advanced two to the championship finals, but those schools were more productive in the wrestleback rounds with seven All-Americans each to the Cowboys’ five.
“It’s great for the fans to have a close team competition like this,” said Minnesota coach J Robinson. “I mean, that’s what they want. Every match counts, and that’s what gets people excited and brings intensity to the whole thing. And I think that’s what we want to do to grow the sport. It’s fun, because no one knows what’s going to happen.”
Penn State, the favorite entering the tournament, saw past champions David Taylor (165 pounds) and Ed Ruth (184 pounds) reach the finals. But the three-time defending team champion failed to advance any surprises into the finals, which Minnesota and OSU both did to close the gap.
Minnesota’s No. 9 seed, Dylan Ness (157 pounds), has been the major difference for the Golden Gophers.
“That’s Dylan,” Robinson said. “You know, everybody says, ‘Well, what about Dylan?’ But Dylan is Dylan, you can’t coach it. What you’ve got to do is make sure he feels good about himself, and Dylan will take care of the rest.”
For Oklahoma State, it’s been No. 11 seed Josh Kindig.
“You’ve got to wrestle to win here,” said OSU coach John Smith. “You’ve got to compete, you can’t shut down. You’ve got to be able to score some points, and he dug out some tough matches. In the end, it’s just a real blessing that he’s got an opportunity to wrestle for a championship.”
Depending on how close the team race remains after Session V on Saturday morning, the championship finals matches at 157 and 165 pounds might make a strong case as the main event of the evening.
The 157-pound match pits Ness against OSU’s Alex Dieringer. Penn State’s David Taylor will face OSU’s Tyler Caldwell at 165 pounds.
The order of the finals will be announced on Saturday afternoon.