USA Wrestling NCAA Session II Note...

NCAA Session II Notebook: Programs with interim coaches, Theobold on big win over Collica

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | March 16, 2017, 11:48 p.m. (ET)

Virginia Tech coaches at the NCAA Tournament, assistant coach Mike Zadick (left) and interim head coach Tony Robie (right). Photo by Jim Thrall.

Each session, 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 II observations.

Three programs with interim coaches make their run at the nationals

This year’s NCAA Championships have a unique situation at three different programs, as interim coaches are completing the season after changes in their coaching staffs. The men who are leading their troops through the post-season, with no idea what the future holds, are interim coaches Tony Robie of Virginia Tech, Travis Paulson of Iowa State and co-head coaches Drew Headlee and Matt Kocher of Pitt.

Virginia Tech and Iowa State are connected in their situation. Iowa State announced that Kevin Jackson would not be returning next year, then announced the hiring of Virginia Tech Coach Kevin Dresser before the season ended. Dresser did not finish out the post-season, heading to Ames immediately. Virginia Tech placed assistant coach Robie in charge to finish things up. At Iowa State, Jackson requested that he not coach in the post-season, and assistant coach Paulson was assigned to coach the Cyclones the rest of the way.

Virginia Tech, which won the ACC title with Robie at the helm, came to St. Louis with seven qualifiers and goals of winning another trophy as a top four team, and battling for a higher placement.

Tech went 7-0 in the first session, with technical falls from Joey Dance at 125 and Sal Mastriani at 157. In the second round, the Hokies went 5-2, with losses from Mastriani and Zach Zavatsky. Moving into the quarterfinals will be No. 2 seed Dance, No. 6 Solomon Chishko (149), No. 4 Zach Epperly (174), No. 4 Jared Haught (197) and No. 3 Ty Walz (285). The team sits in eighth place with 18 points, but still within striking distance with a good day on Friday.

Controversy and distraction? Walz will have none of it.

“There aren’t any distractions. We are selfish, We are smart. We are professionals,” said Walz when asked about the coaching situation.

Robie is proud of how the team has dealt with the situation, and credits both the athletes and the coaching staff.

“Our guys have done a good job not focusing on the past, just looking forward at what is in front of us and really performed well. I give a lot of credit to coaches (Mike) Zadick and (Derek) St. John, Our staff has come together to get everybody going in the right direction. Our whole deal is that we have to make this about us the rest of the season. We have done a good job. We have a lot of momentum. I feel good about where our guys are at,” said Robie.

Iowa State will not have just one wrestler going on Friday. The Cyclones went 1-5 on the day. Two-time All-American Earl Hall lost to Pat D’Arcy of Princeton and Connor Schram of Stanford at 133. Markus Harrington fell to Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State and Benjamin Honis of Cornell at 197. All-American Lelund Watherspoon opened with a win over Peter Galli of Stanford at 174, then fell to Bo Jordan of Ohio State, 10-4. Weatherspoon will compete in the consolations Friday morning against Ryan Christensen of Wisconsin.

All four of Pitt’s wrestlers are still alive, but none are in the championship bracket on Friday morning. Winning their first round matches were Dom Forys at 133, TeShan Campbell at 165 and Ryan Solomon at 285, but they lost in the second round. Losing his opener was Taleb Rahmani at 157, but he rebounded with a win in the first consolation round. All are still capable of coming back for All-American status, but will need to get on a nice run.

“We have focused on what these guys do best, and the guys who are here, they have been through some ups and downs, that we have gone through. But they have been pretty focused on the task at hand,” said Headlee.

Thoughts from No. 15 Theobold of Rutgers after beating No. 2 Collica of Oklahoma State

Fans love upsets, and pay attention when seeds get knocked off on the first day of the NCAA Championships. The highest seed to lose on Thursday was No. 2 Anthony Collica of Oklahoma State, who lost in overtime to Rutgers Ken Theobold of Rutgers at 149 pounds. Collica was Big 12 champion, while Theobold was fifth in the Big Ten.

The scoreboard said 9-3, sudden victory, but it was a crazy position that made the difference. Tied at 3-3 after regulation, Theobold came out scramble on top, but it was not one of those easy takedowns to call. Theobold either had a takedown and backpoints, or no score at all, perhaps based upon the position you watched it from. Oklahoma State coaches asked for a review, and the officials confirmed the score, giving Theobold both the takedown and backpoints and a big upset win.

Some thoughts from Theobold after his big win…

• “I was thinking the whole time that the ref made the first right call and they would carry through with it. I kept thinking in my head to be ready for a second overtime period. I was focusing. I saw that he was tired. I wanted to capitalize on that, so I kept my composure. I was ready for another overtime, if need be.”

• “It is all up here (pointing to head). It is all mental. This tournament brings out the best in people, no matter what the rankings are. It starts at 0-0 at this tournament. I just came in here. I have to focus on tomorrow. The tournament is still not done yet. My job is still not done yet. I have to prepare for tomorrow.”

• “When you come to this tournament, you want to do your best. I feel I am at my peak right now. There is a whole lot of tournament left. Anything can happen. You saw the big upset I did. The same thing could happen tomorrow to me if I don’t keep on my toes all the time.”

Other Notes

For the first time in school history, Rider will be sending three wrestlers to the quarterfinals of the NCAAs, with B.J. Clagon at 157, Chad Walsh at 165 and Ryan Wolfe at 197. They are tied for No. 16 in the standings with 11 points in Coach Gary Taylor’s final season.

Iowa’s Big Ten champion Sammy Brooks scored a second round pin over Dakota Geer of Edinboro and now has 100 career wins… For the third-straight year, Wisconsin’s Isaac Jordan is in the quarterfinals at 165 pounds. He comes off a runner-up finish last year, and holds the No. 4 seed this year…

There are four unseeded wrestlers in the semifinals: Alex Kocer of South Dakota State at 149, Paul Fox of Stanford at 157, B.J Clagon of Rider at 157 and Conan Jennings of Northwestern at 285…. The brackets that have had the least upheaval on day one is 133, 165 and 197, where seven of the top eight seeds still remain going into the quarterfinals.