Five Tough Draws
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The one thing wrestlers know for sure about this year’s NCAA championships taking place at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia this weekend is that they are going to go up against the best in the country in their respective weight classes. It just so happens for West Virginia University’s five wrestlers competing in this year’s tournament, those top wrestlers are showing up a little earlier in their brackets.
Freshman Nathan Pennsi gets to ease his way into his first national tournament in the 133-pound weight class with an opening-round match against 11th-ranked Scott Sentes of Central Michigan.
Junior Matt Ryan goes up against 10th-ranked Josh Ihnen of Nebraska right off the bat, while Shane Young at 125 and Brandon Rader at 149 could see the top-ranked wrestlers in their respective weight classes in the second round, should they advance.
Senior Donnie Jones doesn’t get a break either at 165 with a tough second-round match should he advance, likely facing third-ranked Tyler Caldwell of Oklahoma.
“Once a bracket is out there’s no ‘oh I’d rather be here’ because once you get to a national tournament there is never a great draw,” said veteran West Virginia coach Craig Turnbull. “You’ve got to be prepared to get your best wrestling out.”
The one possible matchup that Turnbull admitted is unusually concerning is a potential Young-Anthony Robles match at 125. Robles is the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the country despite performing with a prosthetic leg and his unorthodox style could give WVU’s sophomore some unique problems.
“Robles has wrestled his whole life with one leg and from the waist up he’s about a 175-pound man but he weighs in at 125,” said Turnbull. “He’s turned a disability into an advantage in that everything you do as an opponent is based on four appendages – two arms and two legs – and all of your strategies and techniques are based on that.
“If you shoot a single-leg to that side, a double-leg, or you’re on top and you’re used to grabbing an ankle, you’re really confused where this is something he does all the time,” Turnbull said. “He has become very good at his style and they tell me people in the wrestling room who wrestle him every day wrestle him very successfully, but it takes a lot of hours to where you adjust so you can take advantage of him. That’s the one (matchup) I would not like if we win our first round match.”
After a first-round match against Michigan’s Eric Grajales, Brandon Rader could face top-ranked Darrion Caldwell of NC State in the second round at 149. Rader has plenty of national tournament experience, earning All-America honors his freshman season, but his last three years have essentially been shelved because of knee injuries which enabled him to earn a sixth season of eligibility.
Turnbull believes a possible Rader-Caldwell match could be an exciting one for wrestling fans to watch because both wrestlers can accumulate points very quickly.
“This wrestler from NC State has not had a full season and he’s not had that full season of preparation and conditioning, and Brandon watched him in his qualifier on the Internet and noticed that his conditioning looked a little lacking,” Turnbull noted. “I believe Brandon at this time of his career doesn’t have any fear of anyone – now that doesn’t mean he’s going to win – but they’re two very similar wrestlers and they can score big points in bunches that probably means this match won’t go to the end – one way or another - but it will be a really interesting match to watch.”
Pennesi may have a tough opening draw, but Turnbull really likes the poise and moxie his freshman has shown in his two appearances at national tournaments earlier this year in Reno and Las Vegas.
“Pennsi has wrestled extremely well in all the national tournaments,” said Turnbull. “I think he’s going in with an unusual poise for a freshman, kind of like when Brandon Rader was a freshman. He does a great job of getting himself ready to wrestle.”
Jones has the most national tournament experience of any WVU wrestler and Turnbull believes he could be dangerous in his 165-pound bracket as an unseeded wrestler.
“There are no surprises for (him),” said Turnbull. “If things fall right and he gives his best wrestling, absolutely he’s got a chance to be on that podium.”
According to Turnbull, that NCAA tournament is really two tournaments in one.
“You enter to win the first one and if you fall short and get your heart broken by losing a tough match you can have that feeling for about a ½ hour and then you’ve got to put it on the shelf because you are in a whole second tournament where there is no wiggle room. A loss puts you out,” Turnbull said. “You’re coming back through to take that tournament which puts you third.
“I think all five individuals are well-seasoned and well-poised through what has been a very challenging schedule to where I think they all have opportunities to stand on the podium before it’s done,” Turnbull said. “Now it will take their best wrestling, but they understand that, I believe.”
All five are well prepared for NCAAs because they wrestled a difficult schedule designed to get them for this event.
“When we put a schedule together it’s not to pad my record or I get to show this … we’re really trying to put a schedule together that is very challenging and the payoff is each individual will get a chance to find out how good they can become,” Turnbull explained. “To do anything less we’re shortchanging them. Even if we’re taking a few losses as a team, we’re exposing them to the diverse quality across the country and then when it comes to the national tournament, technically, tactically and emotionally, they feel they’ve been doing this all year long and they’re ready to wrestle successfully at this level.
“Hopefully that will come out this weekend.”
Competition begins with Thursday morning’s first session at 11 a.m. Thursday’s second session begins at 6:30 p.m. Wrestling will continue through the weekend. ESPN3.com will have live coverage of the event.
Craig Turnbull, NCAA wrestling tournament
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