Much like the regular season, there was no shortage of upsets Thursday during the NCAA Wrestling Championships at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The national team title contenders weren’t spared, making for a tight race at the top heading into Friday.
Three-time defending champion Penn State holds the lead with 26.5 points, followed by Oklahoma State and Minnesota in second with 21.5 points. Oklahoma and Iowa are tied for fourth with 20.5 points.
All five teams had wrestlers fall victim to upsets in first- and second-round championship matches.
Minnesota was the first to have a highly seeded wrestler go down as No. 2 seed Nick Dardanes dropped a first-round decision to The Citadel’s Matthew Frisch.
Iowa also suffered a surprising defeat in the first round when No. 5 seed Nick Moore fell to unseeded Josh Veltre of Bloomsburg. Moments later, another No. 5 seed went down for Iowa as Ethen Lofthouse was knocked off by unseeded Nick Avery of Edinboro at 184 pounds.
“Takedowns were hard, and points were hard to get (in the first round),” said Iowa coach Tom Brands. “It doesn’t matter why, just go do (it). I don’t know if why is relevant to me and let’s not try to figure it out. Let’s go out there with action. We have a lot of ability. It’s about one match at a time to (come back) and get as high on the stand as you can. We’ve got a lot of work to do on both sides of the bracket.”
With the losses for Minnesota and Iowa, Penn State and Oklahoma State jumped out in front heading into Session II. But that’s when Penn State and OSU would be dealt disappointing losses of their own.
OSU No. 4 seed Jon Morrison was pinned in a first-period cradle by OU’s No. 13 seeded Cody Brewer at 133 pounds. Morrison was 6-0 in his career against Brewer heading into the match.
“I don’t think (Morrison) was ready,” said OSU coach John Smith. “He just didn’t seem focused.
“It’s a tournament, and you’re going to have things happen in a tournament with 10 guys. You just want more surprises than disappointments, and I think that’s where we’re at right now.”
Penn State appeared primed to take a strong lead until No. 3 seed Morgan McIntosh was topped by Virginia Tech’s No. 14 seed Chris Penny at 197 pounds.
The upsets weren’t done at 197 as OU’s No. 7 seeded Travis Rutt fell to unseeded Conner Hartmann of Duke.
If anyone is going to take hold of the team race, it could very well come from a strong performance in the wrestlebacks over the next two days.
“If you have a disappointing loss, whether it be tonight or tomorrow, you’ve got to be ready to fight when you come back through the consolations,” Smith said. “It’s a tough tournament. It’s going to be tough, and you’ve got to come back through (in the consolations). If you’re not willing to show up and fight, you don’t make it through these brackets.”