NATIONAL DUALS DAY 1 RECAP Unseeded Huskers make statement by knocking off No 1 Penn State

By Craig Sesker | Jan. 14, 2008, 10:13 a.m. (ET)
National Duals Website

National Duals Brackets

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - In the days leading up to the National Duals, Nebraska was being labeled as a darkhorse or sleeper team.

But there was nothing really all that surprising about what the unseeded Cornhuskers did Saturday before a crowd of 8,031 fans at the UNI-Dome.

Most wrestling observers were well aware the Huskers were a dangerous team and they proved it by pounding No. 8 Northwestern 25-9 in the first round before topping No. 1 Penn State 19-13 in the quarterfinals.

Nebraska entered this event ranked only 10th nationally as a team despite having seven wrestlers ranked in the top 10 in the country.

"Our guys used that as motivation," said NU coach Mark Manning, whose team has seven national qualifiers in its lineup. "But we know that no one is giving you anything and you have to go out there and fight hard. We have the mentality that we need to prove ourselves every time we go out on the mat."

The Huskers now advance to face No. 5 seed Minnesota in the semifinals on Sunday morning at 11. Minnesota, the reigning NCAA tournament champion, has won this event the past two years.

The other semifinal will match No. 2 Iowa against No. 6 Michigan. Third-seeded Iowa State was upset by Hofstra in the opening round before Hofstra fell to Michigan in the quarterfinals.

Penn State's loss marked the fourth time this season the nation's No. 1 team has lost a match. Minnesota, Iowa State and Iowa also have been ranked No. 1 before dropping dual meets.

The only Husker who is not ranked, sophomore Mike Rowe, provided the pivotal win for Nebraska at 141 pounds with a 6-4 win over second-ranked Jake Strayer of Penn State.

Nebraska started quickly against the top-ranked Nittany Lions. Returning national champion and top-ranked Paul Donahoe of Nebraska put his huge gas tank on full display in the third period at 125. Donahoe piled up most of his points in the final two minutes in scoring a 13-4 major decision over No. 7 Mark McKnight of Penn State.

After Nebraska's Kenny Jordan downed Tim Haas 2-0 at 133, Rowe came through with a gritty win over a returning All-American in Strayer. That gave the Huskers a 10-0 lead. It was Rowe's first match of the season after he missed the first semester because of personal issues.

"Mike's maturity is really showing," Manning said. "He's battled through a few issues that a lot of athletes go through in college. But he is growing up and we think he is a guy who can really help us."

Rowe was Nebraska's starter at 133 for part of last season, but he had trouble dropping to that weight class. A top recruit coming of DeMatha High School in Maryland, Rowe bumped up to 141 for this season.

"I just had to go out there and wrestle hard for the team," Rowe said. "I came in prepared to wrestle and when I got my chance I tried to make the most of it."

Nebraska also pulled off a key win at 174 when No. 5 Brandon Browne rallied for a 5-4 win over No. 17 David Erwin. Browne gave up the opening takedown and Erwin piled up nearly three minutes of riding time before Browne rallied.

"Browne showed a lot of resiliency the way he came back," Manning said. "He's a tough kid and he showed why in that match. He just kept fighting and battling."

Nebraska dropped a dual meet earlier this season at Minnesota, the team it meets in the semis, but forfeited at two weights. Donahoe missed the dual with an injury. The Huskers have a full lineup now while Minnesota is missing past NCAA champion Dustin Schlatter (149), who is sitting out this weekend with a hamstring injury.

Nebraska is in the semifinals of this event as an unseeded team for the second time in three years. Nebraska finished third at the 2006 National Duals despite not being seeded. Nebraska's best finish in this event was second in 1993 and 1996, both in Lincoln, Neb.

Iowa flexed its muscle with dominating wins over Cornell (32-3) and No. 7 Missouri (27-9). The Hawkeyes looked dominant in their first competition since falling to No. 3 Oklahoma State last Saturday night at home. Iowa won 17 of 20 matches Saturday. The Hawkeyes reached the semifinals of the National Duals for the first time since 2003.

In Iowa's win over Cornell, returning NCAA champion and second-ranked Mark Perry of Iowa controlled third-ranked Mack Lewnes 7-2 at 165. Lewnes is a freshman. Cornell did pull off a surprise in the dual with Iowa as freshman Mike Grey, ranked seventh, posted a 10-3 win over No. 2 Joey Slaton.

The Hawkeyes capped the day with a strong finish as senior heavyweight Matt Fields fired in on a leg attack to score the winning takedown in the closing seconds against Missouri. The sixth-ranked Fields pulled out a 5-4 win over No. 12 Mark Ellis of Missouri.

"Fields winning like he did, I liked seeing that. Give him credit for the way he came back," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "Now we have to get ready for tomorrow and take the next step. We put on a good show for the fans, but we just have to make sure we take care of business. It's all about getting wins and dominating and wrestling aggressively. We need to keep attacking."

Iowa State and 12th-ranked Hofstra finished in a 18-18 deadlock in the first round. Each team won five matches before Hofstra won the tiebreaker by virtue of most falls. Eighth-ranked Lou Ruggirello, who was ranked No. 1 earlier this year, pinned No. 4 Nick Fanthorpe of ISU at 133.

"I knew it was going to be a pretty even dual and that it may come down to bonus points," Ruggirello said. "I knew the pin was really big for our team. It feels great to be able to help out the team like that. Our team wasn't seeded, but we know we are right there with the top teams that are here."

Minnesota downed No. 4 seed Central Michigan 20-16 in the semifinals. The Gophers won 6 of 10 bouts, including No. 10 Gabe Dretsch's 6-3 win over No. 3 Brandon Sinnott of CMU at 174. Third-ranked Christian Sinnott of CMU edged No. 2 Roger Kish of Minnesota 3-2 at 184.

Another freshman, top-ranked Kellen Russell of Michigan, suffered his first collegiate loss in a 9-3 setback to unranked C.J. Ettelson of Northern Iowa at 141. But the sixth-seeded Wolverines dropped only one other bout in a 30-6 first-round win over tournament host Northern Iowa. Among Michigan's wins was No. 1 Eric Tannenbaum's 8-2 triumph over No. 8 Moza Fay at 165.

Michigan followed with a 19-15 win over Hofstra in the quarterfinals. The Wolverines rallied from a 9-0 deficit in that dual. Each team won five matches, but Michigan received bonus points from Tannenbaum, Josh Churella (149) and Tyrel Todd (184) to earn the win. Fifth-ranked Charles Griffin of Hofstra beat the No. 1 Russell 7-5 in that dual.