NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS JOURNAL Updated March 22 Ohio State making big impact in Ryan s second year

By Craig Sesker | March 26, 2008, 2:48 p.m. (ET)
ST. LOUIS - There were a handful of teams being mentioned as contenders for the 2008 NCAA team title.

Ohio State wasn't among them.

But that didn't faze the eighth-ranked Buckeyes, who sit in second place with three finalists entering the final day of the NCAA Championships.

While second-year Iowa coach Tom Brands has gained his share of recognition, and it's well-deserved, second-year Ohio State coach Tom Ryan also has made an immediate impact on his program in Columbus.

Ryan has put together a great coaching staff with Lou Rosselli, Tommy Rowlands and Joe Heskett.

Ryan already has pulled in a No. 1 recruiting class. With all the talented wrestlers in his own backyard in Ohio, Ryan and the Buckeyes may be here to stay as one of the nation's best programs.

It was good to see a very good wrestler like OSU senior heavyweight J.D. Bergman stay on the front side of the bracket this year. Bergman entered this year's NCAAs with a 14-5 career record in this tournament, but he had lost his first match each of his three previous trips to this event.

Bergman came back to place third as a freshman and fourth as a junior. He will face Dustin Fox of Northwestern in Saturday night's finals. Bergman is a top international prospect in freestyle and Greco-Roman.

The USA Wrestling Olympic Preview Show is scheduled for this afternoon at 5:30 at Union Station with Olympic freestyle coach Lee Kemp scheduled to be joined by 2004 Olympians Brad Vering and Daniel Cormier. I am looking forward to a great turnout.

I'm also looking forward to a great night of wrestling in the finals. Iowa already clinched the title, but there is still a great battle going on for second. The individual battles are always good, no matter how the team race looks.

Friday, March 21

ST. LOUIS - Fans can't complain about a shortage of activities to be involved with during the NCAA Championships.

During my break between sessions on Friday, I ventured over to Union Station with Stillwater News Press sports editor Roger Moore and Oklahoma State radio play-by-play man Rex Holt to see what was happening.

We grabbed a quick lunch before hitting the Wrestling International Newsmagazine Memorabilia Show. Then it was over to the Team USA freestyle practice.

Numerous freestyle standouts were there, including World silver medalist Mike Zadick, and the legendary Dan Gable stopped by. Gable agreed to be hooked up with a wireless microphone and talked to fans about what the wrestlers were working on.

Gable, the best ambassador the sport has, also talked with fans and young wrestlers while posing for a number of photos. His impact on the sport continues to be immense.

It was good to see some of our top women's freestyle wrestlers - Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann, World bronze medalist Jenny Wong and past World Team member Mary Kelly - working out with the team.

After the practice, I caught part of the Semifinal Preview Show in the Fan Fest area outside Union Station. The weather was almost perfect the last couple of days and a huge crowd gathered.

We are holding a USA Wrestling Olympic Preview Show in the same location between sessions on Saturday. Olympic coach Lee Kemp, along with 2004 Olympians Brad Vering and Daniel Cormier, will be featured from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Vering and Cormier are coming off breakthrough performances where each won their first World medal in 2007. Vering won a World silver medal in leading the U.S. to the World Greco-Roman team title in 2007. Cormier won a World bronze medal in freestyle last year.

Hope to see a lot of you over there tomorrow at Union Station.

Thursday, March 20

ST. LOUIS - Eight teams are within 7.5 points of the lead after Day 1 of the NCAA Championships.

The quarterfinals and semifinals always offer some great wrestling, but Friday's two sessions will offer so much more this year with the team race expected to be so close this year.

Thursday's second session wrapped up just before 10 p.m. local time and already the talk was about how critical the semifinals will be.

I'm excited about our coverage on TheMat.com. We're doing a lot of interviews with athletes and coaches that fans can find on our Special Section page. We also have our stories that appear on our site.

Iowa, as expected, looked very strong but losing Dan LeClere will be something that may hurt the Hawkeyes down the road.

Nebraska also looked very strong as did Iowa State and Central Michigan. A handful of other teams are in the mix as well.

The crowds were very good, a little over 15,000 for each session, at the Scottrade Center. Hopefully, we can pack the place a little more the next couple of days.

It's just before midnight, so it's time to get a little rest.

Wednesday, March 19

ST. LOUIS - The wrestling competition was still more than 24 hours away, but wrestlers and coaches already had their game faces on during the NCAA Championships press conferences Wednesday afternoon.

It was a toss-up between Iowa stud Brent Metcalf and Hawkeye coach Tom Brands about who was more eager to kick this tournament off. Metcalf did not hesitate when asked if his lack of experience would factor against him. "Absolutely not," he said when asked about it. Not exactly a surprise answer, but you have to love this kid's outlook.

One of the best parts of the NCAAs is it provides an opportunity to see old friends I haven't seen in a year.

I went to dinner Wednesday night with two of the people I respect most in this profession - Andy Hamilton of the Iowa City Press-Citizen and Roger Moore of the Stillwater News Press. They are, in my opinion, at the top of the list when it comes to wrestling journalists in the United States.

Andy and Roger both provide great insight and knowledge into the sport and their coverage is virtually unmatched at any other newspaper in the country. Our dinner at Landry's seafood restaurant in Union Station was enjoyable with the talk centered around the upcoming tournament.

We were trying to handicap the tournament and point out tough matchups in the first round. It's fun to make predictions, but it never turns out the way you think it will. That's the beauty of athletics.

Roger obviously is a little biased toward the Oklahoma State team he covers, but after talking with him you definitely cannot overlook the Cowboys this weekend. Coleman Scott and Nathan Morgan could win it all and OSU has potential big point scorers in Brandon Mason, Jared Rosholt, Jake Dieffenbach and Tyler Shinn. And OSU coach John Smith, whose teams have won four national titles, obviously knows what he's doing.

Speaking of the Smith family, four-time NCAA champion Pat Smith stopped by our table to say hello to Roger. Pat looks like he could still mix it up on the mat. Pat is one of the great champions in our sport and one of only two four-time national champions in the sport's history along with Cael Sanderson.

I also had an opportunity to reminisce with my best friend from high school, Darren Miller, who now works in communications at the University of Iowa. Darren is very good at what he does and he also is the funniest person I know with his unique brand of humor. It's been great to reconnect with him at Big Tens and again this weekend.

My brother, Kent, a top high school and college wrestling official who recently worked the Junior College and Division III national tournaments, is staying with me in St. Louis. He's as knowledgeable as anyone about this sport and it will be fun to hang out with him this weekend.

I am so happy we are back in St. Louis. Our hotel, the Sheraton City Center, is right across the street from the Scottrade Center. The venue is the home of the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League and is a perfect setting for this event.

We are less than 12 hours from the start of the first of six great sessions of wrestling. Again, I can't wait.

Tuesday, March 18

ST. LOUIS - I'm like a kid waiting for Christmas morning right now.

Ever since I started wrestling as a fourth-grader more than three decades ago, one of my favorite weekends of the year was this one when the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships were contested.

I grew up near Iowa City, in the one-stoplight town of Tipton, Iowa, at a time where Dan Gable was building the Iowa Hawkeyes into a national powerhouse.

I attended my first college wrestling event when my father took me and my brothers to the fabled Fieldhouse in Iowa City. I grew up admiring Hawkeye greats like Randy Lewis, Ed and Lou Banach, Jim Zalesky, Pete Bush and Barry Davis.

Anybody who has never attended the NCAA wrestling tournament is missing out on one of the great spectacles in sports.

It is unfortunate this event is held at the same time as the opening weekend of that other NCAA tournament, but it's still an incredible event to see three phenomenal days of wrestling action.

I will witness my 12th NCAA tournament this weekend at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The atmosphere at this event is always electric and the intensity level is as high as you will see it at any wrestling competition at any level.

This promises to be one of the most wide-open and entertaining NCAAs ever. Iowa is the favorite, but look for schools like Michigan, Iowa State, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Ohio State and others to be in the hunt as well.

Iowa clearly has made a quantum leap this year with Brent Metcalf and three other transfers making a huge impact in the first year as Hawkeye starters. But how well will these Iowa newcomers do in the pressure-packed NCAA tournament?

Coach Tom Brands has brought back the intensity and dominating Hawkeye style that had been missing in recent years in Iowa City.

This may be premature, but Metcalf may be the biggest thing to hit college wrestling since Cael Sanderson walked off the NCAA mats for the final time in 2002. This kid has a high level of intensity and a fire I haven't seen since Cael completed his brilliant 159-0 career at Iowa State. Metcalf has an enormous gas tank and his relentless, attacking style has been great for the sport. No matter what school you root for, this kid is a pleasure to watch. I can't remember a college wrestler, aside from Sanderson, so adept at putting an opponent on his heels.

I flew into St. Louis early Tuesday night and the electricity is already in the air in the city's downtown area. I hung out with InterMat wrestling guru Jason Bryant over at Union Station and just hearing him go through the brackets had me eager for the first session to get underway.

They have talked about putting the NCAAs in St. Louis every year, like they do with the College World Series in Omaha, and I wouldn't mind a bit if they did. The location in St. Louis is ideal for wrestling fans with restaurants, watering holes, hotels, etc., all being so close to the venue.

St. Louis is a major upgrade from last year when we were out in the middle of nowhere in Auburn Hills, Mich. The venue was great, but nothing was close to it. This will be a great week for the fans, once it stops raining in St. Louis.

Speaking of Sanderson, Iowa State's second year head coach, his Cyclones are wrestling as well as anybody right now. Sanderson knows a thing or two about peaking at this time of the year and expect his crew to make an impact.

Michigan has a handful of wrestlers who could do some major damage, led by Big Ten champion and three-time All-American Eric Tannenbaum. And in a year where parity has been a recurring theme, don't be surprised if the Wolverines make a serious run at winning the team title.

Will this finally be the year that Nebraska puts it all together? Coach Mark Manning's Huskers have wrestlers seeded third, third, fourth, fifth and eighth. If those guys live up to their seeds, and get some help from their teammates, Nebraska definitely will be in the hunt.

Don't forget about Dustin Schlatter of Minnesota. He lost to Metcalf, but Schlatter was the toast of the sport two years ago when he won an NCAA title as a true freshman.

I would love to see a Metcalf-Schlatter rematch in the finals. But with the 149-pound class so loaded, who knows who will be on the elevated platform on Saturday night.

Other than that bout, the other rematch I would enjoy seeing would match Mike Poeta of Illinois and returning national champion Gregor Gillespie of Edinboro at 157. They had a memorable battle in the finals of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. The late scramble where Poeta somehow came out of top for the winning points may have been the most entertaining sequence of the collegiate season.

No matter which 20 wrestlers reach the hallowed ground of the finals on Saturday night, I'm sure they will put on a great show.

Can't wait to find out what happens.
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