USA Wrestling NCAA Session I Noteb...

NCAA Session I Notebook: All No. 1 seeds remain unbeaten, freshmen update, hometown SIU-E starts strong

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | March 16, 2017, 5:17 p.m. (ET)

Freshman Zahid Valencia of Arizona State, beating Christopher Pfarr of Minnesota in the first round, has stretched his record to 35-0. Photo by Larry Slater.

Each session, TheMat.com will post a notebook with interesting things from that session and from the 2017 NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Mo. We lead off with our Session I observations.

All top-seeded wrestlers entered NCAAs undefeated. Has that happened before?

People along press row were trying to remember when the last time that all 10 of the No. 1 seeds at an NCAA Div. I Tournament were undefeated. In our unofficial inquiry, nobody could remember when/if that happened, but we will continue to ask. (If you know this answer, please email gabbott@usawrestling.org and we will include it in one of the notes stories.

In case you don’t have an NCAA program in front of you, here are the top seeds and their unbeaten records coming into the tournament: Thomas Gilman of Iowa (125, 27-0), Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State (133, 19-0), Dean Heil of Oklahoma State (141, 27-0), Zain Retherford of Penn State (149, 23-0), Jason Nolf of Penn State (157, 22-0), Isaiah Martinez of Illinois (165, 27-0), Zahid Valencia of Arizona State (174, 33-0), Gabe Dean of Cornell (184, 30-0), J’Den Cox of Missouri (197, 23-0), and Kyle Snyder of Ohio State (285, 12-0).

That is a combined 243-0 coming into the first round. And after the first round, when each of the top seeds won their preliminary match, they have stretched it to 253-0.

The closest match came at 141, where No. 1 seed and returning national champion Heil edged Brock Zacherl of Clarion, 6-5. The other nine top seeds scored bonus points, with one pin, three technical falls and five major decisions. Scoring the pin was two-time NCAA champion and Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox of Missouri, who scored a pin over Jeric Kasunic of American in 2:20. Scoring the most points was returning champion and Olympic champion Kyle Snyder, who scored a 25-10 technical fall over Jake Gunning of Buffalo.

Battle of the Freshmen seeking to break through

Each year, wrestling fans keep a close eye on the newcomers, the 61 freshmen who are competing in the NCAA Championships in their first year of eligibility. Included are 41 redshirt freshmen and 20 true freshman.

The most prominent freshman this year is No. 1 seed and undefeated 174-pounder Zahid Valencia of Arizona State. This past Junior World Team member, who took a redshirt season, is the only undefeated freshman so far this year. He won his first match with a 19-5 major decision over Christopher Pfarr of Minnesota.

The freshman in the news the most has been Penn State’s Nick Suriano at 125 pounds, who was pulled from the tournament on Wednesday, attempting to recover from injury which happened during the National Duals finals match against Oklahoma State. He weighed in at the Big Ten Championships but did not wrestle, received a wildcard, and was given a No. 3 seed.

“We were trying to give him as much time as possible. And it was going to be a day-before type of decision. And we were trying to get him to a point where he would be competitive enough to compete and to protect himself. And I don't feel like he's in that position. So he's not going to wrestle,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson told the media on Wednesday during the NCAA press conference.

When Suriano was dropped, the bracket was not redrawn, and his first-round opponent Kyle Akins of Buffalo advanced. That leave the highest seed in his quarterbracket as No. 6 Ethan Lizak of Minnesota, who won his first match but was pushed hard in beating Christian Moody of Oklahoma, 17-13. Also winning in that quarterbracket were No. 11 seed Josh Terao of American and No. 14 Freddie Rodriguez of SIU-Edwardsville.

Another big freshman story came out of Penn State, when Coach Sanderson pulled true freshman and Junior World champion Mark Hall out of redshirt at mid-season to compete at 174 pounds. He had won the Southern Scuffle over the holiday season. Hall promptly lost his first match after being added to the lineup to Alex Meyer, 7-5, but came back to place second in the Big Ten and earn the No. 5 seed. Hall opened with a win in a tough scrap with unseeded David Kocer of South Dakota State, 8-2.

The overall record for the freshmen in session one, not including Suriano’s forfeit, was 24-33.

There were two matches between freshmen. No. 10 Jack Mueller of Virginia beat Travis Piotrowski of Illinois in a 16-1 technical fall at 125. Mueller’s tech over Piotrowski was his nation-leading 12th this season. Also in the round, No. 12 Luke Pletcher of Ohio State beat Salvator Profaci of Michigan, 8-5 at 141.

A nice upset by a freshman which could impact the team race was at 197, when Iowa freshman Cash Wilcke beat No. 13 Tom Sleigh of Bucknell, 4-2 in overtime.

Missouri is the host school, the closest school SIU-Edwardsville had a big session

National power Missouri is the host university for the NCAA Championships when they are held in St. Louis, and there is a strong Mizzou fan turnout every time it is held here. However, the Div. I wrestling program which is closest to St. Louis is across the Mississippi River, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, the Southern Conference team led by Jeremy Spates, a Mizzou grad who is son of retired Oklahoma coach Jack Spates.

According to MapQuest, SIU-E is just 23 miles from St. Louis. The Cougars have three NCAA qualifiers, No. 14 seed Freddy Rodriguez at 125, Jake Residori at 174 and Jake Tindle at 197. It was a strong session for the “hometown” Cougars, winning three of their four matches.

Residori made the biggest impact, beating Matt Reed of Oklahoma in his pigtail, 7-6, then knocking off No. 7 seed Kyle Crutchmer of Oklahoma State,6-5. He beat the two Big 12 finalists in the same session. Residori’s upset may have drawn the most attention of any of them, because of his hometown status and the win’s effect on the team race.

Rodriguez drew a familiar Southern Conference foe, Vito Passone of Appalachian State. This year, Rodriguez beat him 22-7 in December. This time, it was a 19-4 technical fall.

Tindle was beaten by No. 10 seed Kevin Beazley of Old Dominion by pin in 2:27.

The SIU-E fans coming back and forth across the river will have two guys still alive on the championship side going into session II. SIUE has 4.5 points after three matches, more than double the points from last season.

Other Notes

Brothers Dean (Oklahoma State) and Josh Heil (Campbell) are both wrestling at 141 pounds. Dean won his first match, while Josh was defeated. They are on opposite sides of the bracket… In his first 107 matches at Nebraska, TJ Dudley (184) had one win by technical fall. In his last 32 matches, he has 11 techs, including his 17-1 technical fall over Michale Fagg-Davies of Rider this morning.

There were eight past All-Americans who lost in the first round… The highest seed to lose was No. 6 Clay Ream of North Dakota State, who lost to Paul Fox of Stanford, 8-4… Two weight classes had no seeded wrestlers lose, at 165 and 184…