This year's NCAA Wrestling Championships features the tightest team race in recent memory. After the semifinals, and heading into the third and final day of competition, three schools have a very real shot at a national championship.
The three-time defending champion Penn State Nittany Lions face incredibly close competition in the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Oklahoma State Cowboys. As of the end of the fourth session of the tournament only team four points separate the three. Penn State has seven wrestlers alive in the final day of the tournament and two in the finals, Oklahoma State features five wrestlers in Saturday's competition and four finalists, while Minnesota brings seven to the final day with two in the finals. As things stand, Saturday's finals will ultimately determine the team championship.
The semifinals featured the expected high-intensity action, and aired live on ESPN. Defending 125 pound champion Jesse Delgado opened the semifinals with a commanding 9-6 win over Northern Iowa's Dylan Peters, 9-6. In the second semifinal, Cornell's Nahshon Garrett survived a late rally from Penn State's Nico Megaludis, and won 6-4.
In the second set of semifinals, Wisconsin's Tyler Graff, a four-time All-American, finally ascended to the NCAA finals after a 6-4 decision over Northern Iowa's Joe Colon. The next mat over, Iowa's Tony Ramos sealed his place in the finals by putting Edinboro's A.J. Schopp on his back in the final seconds and winning, 5-1.
"I knew I would get to him," Ramos said after the match. "I saw him wearing and wearing and wearing. And as soon as I locked up, my hands on that. As soon as I felt it, he started screaming and I knew it was over.
In the 141-pound semifinals, Virginia Tech's Devin Carter became his school's first ever national finalist, beating North Carolina's Evan Henderson, 12-3. Side-by-side with Carter's victory, Ohio State's Logan Stieber downed Penn State's Zain Retherford, 7-3.
Next up. Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern needed tie breakers to beat top seeded Drake Houdashelt of Missouri, 2-1 in the 149 pound semifinals. The other semifinal at this weight saw a surging Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State beat Lehigh's Mitch Minotti, 5-2.
After Kindig's semifinal win, the loud Oklahoma State cheering section went wild again as Alex Dieringer won his 157 pound semifinal against Cornell's Brian Realbuto, 7-4. Meeting Dieringer in the finals will be Minnesota's Dylan Ness, who continued his amazing run be downing Kent's Ian Miller, 6-4. Ness discussed his unique and exciting style after his match.
"I feel like I just could be unpredictable," Ness said. "You never know what I'm going to do out there. I don't even know what I'm going to do out there. I just go out and wrestle, and most of the time it's like in basic or sometimes funky. But I don't know. "
Ness may be the most exciting wrestler in college, but the most dominate wrestler came up next. Penn State's David Taylor dispatched North Dakota State's Steven Monk, 13-5, to become a four-time finalist. One mat over, Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell claimed the other finals spot at 165 pounds, shutting down Virginia's Nick Sulzer, 5-0. After his victory, Caldwell discussed the experience of wrestling in a tournament knowing he would have to eventually face someone like Taylor.
"Yeah, I come to the tournament, you expect a guy like Dave Taylor to be in the Finals, just given his past," Caldwell said. " He's been in there three times now. He's national champ, so you expect that. But also crazier things have happened, so you never know. This tournament, I just kind of focus on who is ahead of me one match at a time."
Following the 165-pound semifinal, the 174-pound semifinal saw two past national champions advance to another finals. Oklahoma's Andrew Howe prevailed over Minnesota's Logan Storley, 6-3, while Oklahoma State's Chris Perry slipped by Iowa's Mike Evans.
Though Sulzer failed to earn the Atlantic Coast Conference another finalist, Maryland's Jimmy Sheptock made up for it in the 184 pound semifinals. Sheptock defeated Old Dominion's Jack Dechow, 3-2. In the other 184 pound semis, Penn State's Ed Ruth avenged his only loss in the last three years, narrowly beating Cornell's Gabe Dean, 5-3.
Meanwhile, in the 197-pound semifinals, midnight struck on Chris Penny's cinderella story as the Virginia Tech senior lost to Missouri's J'Den Cox, 4-1. Soon after Cox's triumph, Ohio State's Nick Heflin raised his arms in victory. Heflin beat Minnesota's Scott Schiller in his semifinal, 2-1
Finally, in the 285-pound semis, Minnesota's Tony Nelson continued the defense of his two straight national titles, controlling Iowa's Bobby Telford, beating him, 4-2. In order to win a third straight championship, Nelson must get past North Carolina State's Nick Gwiazdowski, who won his semifinal over Indiana's Adam Chalfant, 5-4.
Tyler Graff (Wisconsin) 31-4 vs Tony Ramos (Iowa)
Devin Carter (Virginia Tech) vs Logan Stieber (Ohio St.)