Before we kick off the quarterfinals for the 2011 NCAA Wrestling Championships in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, let's go over a few news and notes. Attendance was high. MMA fighters got involved. Injuries sidelined the promise of previous champions.
First, some good news:
NCAA Wrestling Day 1 attendance: 17,289. Thanks for your support!
The Wells Fargo Center has held up to 20,000 for basketball games, so expect an easy sell out for the finals. It's also encouraging to see huge fan attendance early. I think the move out of the midwest and into Philadelphia is already paying dividends.
Second, the Philadelphia Inquirer is all over this story with news coverage as well as photos of the event. This is my personal favorite and the caption reads: "Frank Perrelli of Cornell (Delbarton) lifts Trent Sprenkle of North Dakota State University, where Perrelli would win 4-3, during the 125 pound first round bout at the NCAA Wrestling Championships at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA on 3/17/11."
Third, Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and two-time Greco-Roman wrestling Olympian Dan Henderson is attendance for an autograph session. I've said it before and I'll repeat the refrain here: MMA can't save wrestling, but it can buy wrestling some time to help save itself. The more MMA's popularity can help scholastic wrestling in America gain more attention, the better both sports become.
Sadly, there is some bad news. The top seed at 149lbs, Darrion Caldwell, is out due to the same injury that cost him his entire 2009-10 season:
North Carolina State wrestler Darrion Caldwell, the 2009 NCAA 149-pound champ, reinjured his shoulder in his second match Thursday at the 2011 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Philadelphia, and is no longer in title contention.
Caldwell, the top seed at 149 this year, was wrestling unseeded Eric Grajales of the University of Michigan Thursday evening. After an edge-of-the-mat scramble in the first period, Grajales got up off the mat... but the NC State matman remained on his back. After a few minutes, Caldwell stood up, walked off the mat, and forfeited the match to Grajales at 2:02.
Caldwell won the 149-pound crown at the 2009 NCAAs in thrilling fashion, upsetting defending champ Brent Metcalf of the University of Iowa, 11-6, in the finals. Caldwell's win is one of the greatest upsets in NCAA wrestling finals history. One prominent wrestling historian ranks it second only to the 1970 NCAA 142 lb. title bout where Dan Gable of Iowa State lost to the University of Washington's Larry Owings. It was Gable's only loss in his entire high school and college career.
Tom Brands and the University of Iowa are not having their best season or tournament, but Grant Gambrall has thus far competed well:
“It’s about doing it right all the time and always being 100 percent focused on what you’re doing. Not thinking about other things.”
Gambrall was focused never trailing against LeBlanc, scoring a takedown in the first and then put things away with a six-point third period against the fifth-seed. The sophomore from Iowa City West is confident he can compete with anyone in a wide-open weight class.
“I know I can beat all these guys if I wrestle well,” Gambrall said. “If I wrestle my match, go to my offense and I stay in position and battle in every position.”
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said it is a positive that Gambrall is feeling good and that success can be a quick cure.
“I know winning solves a lot of mentality problems,” Brands said. “When he’s winning like that I know his mood level goes up.”
Gambrall had a pair of tough decisions before the match with LeBlanc. Gambrall edged Corey Peltier of Maryland, 3-2, and then scored a takedown as time expired to ice an 8-5 win over Appalachian State’s Austin Trotman.
“In a tournament like this, I think you have to improve every round,” Gambrall said. “Get better as the tournament goes on. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of doing that so far.”
More news and notes coming today. Let's see if Penn State can keep this up.