Top College Wrestlers Meet in St Louis for 2004 NCAA Division I Championships as Cowboys Gallop Off With Team
Article by Mark Palmer, Photos by Danielle Hobeika
NCAA Outstanding Wrestler: Harvard's Jesse
Jantzen turns Zach Esposito of Oklahoma State in the 149 lb
NCAA finals to become Harvard's first National Champion since
"Meet Me In St. Louis” may be a classic movie
musical… but it also served as a call to the top-ranked college
wrestlers to do battle in the 2004 NCAA Division I wrestling championships
held at Savvis Center in St. Louis on March 18-20.
the second straight year, a Missouri city hosted the NCAAs. Last
year’s championships in Kansas City had more strange occurrences
and plot twists than a murder mystery, with a bunch of top-ranked
wrestlers knocked out of contention early on for various reasons,
including illness… using a chokehold… and, in a couple
first-day upsets, losing to an unseeded opponent.
comparison, the 2004 NCAAs lacked the sense of the bizarre…
but proved to be no less dramatic or entertaining, with a number
of early-round upsets that hurt some top-ranked wrestlers.
State repeats as team title winner. For the second straight year, the Cowboys managed
to ride off with a team title before the finals even began. By the
time the last match was wrestled, the Pokes had racked up 123.5 points
to earn their 32nd title. This team championship was no
real surprise, considering the preseason predictions of wrestling
analysts across the country… Oklahoma State’s strong performance throughout the 2003-04 season… and the fact that
there were three Cowboys in the finals.
Oklahoma State 123.5
Lehigh, Ohio State 77.5
Iowa State 70
Jesse Jantzen, Harvard
of the Year:
Greg Stroebel, Lehigh
the big surprise in team standings was Iowa’s second-place finish
with 82 points. This was an incredible move up after placing eighth
last year, the Hawkeyes’ worst showing in thirty years. It was also
sweet victory for a team that had struggled through much of the regular
season, which prompted continual speculation on Jim Zalesky’s future
as head coach.
pleasant surprise was Ohio State sharing third-place
honors with Lehigh; both schools earned 77.5 points, and each had
an individual champion. Only two weeks earlier, the Buckeyes had
placed eighth at the Big Ten championships they hosted in Columbus,
so the turnaround might be considered a major reversal.
fifth-place finish (with 74 points) could also be considered surprising,
since the Cornhuskers didn’t break into the top ten last year. On
the other hand, three top ten teams from 2003 -- Penn State, Arizona State and Cornell – were no longer part of that elite club this
State surprised the crowd by tying Lehigh for 3rd place honors
in the team race only 2 weeks after placing 8th at the Big Ten
may be a reality. “Parity”
has been a buzzword in college wrestling circles the past few years,
as the wealth of top mat talent is no longer limited to a couple programs
such as Oklahoma State or Iowa.
2004 NCAA finals may signal that parity is indeed here. Fifteen schools
were represented in the finals – one of the most diverse assortments
in years. Oklahoma State had three finalists; Iowa, Nebraska
and Penn State each had two.
schools each had one finalist. Some of these schools are familiar
to recent finals-watchers: Iowa State, Illinois, Lehigh, Minnesota,
Ohio State, and West Virginia. However, there were some singlet colors
not often seen in the championship bouts, including Harvard, Missouri,
Northern Illinois, Ohio University, and Stanford.
aplenty. It wouldn’t be an NCAA tournament without some
unexpected surprises. Among some of the early round upsets:
125 lber Mario Stuart (left) upset 4th seed Tom Clum of Wisconsin
in the preliminary round
lb unseeded freshman Mark McKnight of Buffalo got a 2-2 tiebreaker
win over third-seeded Matt Valenti of Pennsylvania in the first
in round one, 2004 Big Ten 125 lb champ Tom Clum of Wisconsin
lost to unseeded Mario Stuart of Lehigh 8-2;
Joe Dubuque, seeded sixth at 125, was pinned by Matt Pitts of
Tennessee-Chattanooga in a pigtail match;
seed Mark Moos of Michigan was surprised by unseeded Jeremy Hartum
of North Carolina State 5-4;
149 lbs, Iowa’s Ty Eustice was defeated by David Dies, the unseeded
wrestler from Brown, 6-5;
the same weight class, Trent Paulson of Iowa State, seeded fifth,
lost in the last seconds of his match with West Virginia’s unseeded
184, Ohio State’s unseeded Blake Kaplan beat fifth seed Travis
Pascoe of Nebraska 4-3.
quarterfinals featured a couple more upsets…
Penn State wrestler Josh Moore of Penn State beat defending two-time
champ Johnny Thompson of Oklahoma State 8-6;
Poly’s Darrel Vasquez, ranked seventh, surprised second-seeded
Mark Jayne of Illinois 9-8 in a thriller that took two tiebreakers to determine the winner.
addition, there were some upsets in the semifinals outlined below.
Matt Gentry defeated returning NCAA Champion Ryan Bertin of
Michigan in the semifinals at 157 lbs. Gentry went on to win
the Championship title, making him the first Stanford wrestler
in history to become an NCAA Champion
Louis stories. Some of the more interesting stories to come out of the 2004 NCAAs:
year of the undefeateds. Five
wrestlers came to St. Louis with unblemished records: Stanford’s Matt Gentry, Greg Jones
of West Virginia, Virginia’s Scott Moore,
Jake Percival of Ohio, and Alex Tirapelle of Illinois. Only one
– Gentry – left the Savvis Center with his perfect
one 2003 NCAA champ in the finals. Of
the six NCAA champions crowned in Kansas City who competed this
season in college, only one found himself in the finals: Minnesota’s
Damion Hahn at 197 lbs. Travis Lee of Cornell, Oklahoma’s Teyon
Ware, Michigan’s Ryan Bertin, and Oklahoma
State’s Jake Rosholt and Johnny Thompson all failed to make it
into the finals. (Two 2002 NCAA champions who weren’t finalists
last year made it to the finals in 2004: West Virginia’s Greg Jones, and Ohio
State’s Tommy Rowlands.)
Big 12 losers became NCAA champs. Three
wrestlers from the Big 12 conference took home NCAA titles: Jason
Powell of Nebraska, Zach Roberson of Iowa State, and Oklahoma
State’s Chris Pendleton. Interestingly, all three men lost in
the Big 12 finals two weeks earlier in Ames, Iowa.
Some of the most exciting match-ups of the entire
three-day championship took place Friday evening at the semifinals,
which determined which two wrestlers in each weight class would do
battle for individual titles on Saturday night. Here are the results
of the semis:
Sixth-ranked Kyle Ott of Illinois defeated tenth-seed
Vic Moreno of Cal Poly 3-2… and Nebraska’s top-seeded Jason
Powell beat fifth-seed freshman sensation Sam Hazewinkel 6-2.
Zach Roberson (right, Iowa State) defeated 2003 NCAA Champion
Travis Lee of Cornell in the 133 lb semifinals
133: Penn State’s Josh Moore, seeded sixth, edged
number seven Darrel Vasquez of Cal Poly 5-4… while fifth-ranked
Zach Roberson of Iowa State stunned top-ranked defending champion
Travis Lee of Cornell 6-3.
141: In another upset of a 2003 NCAA champ, Nebraska’s
Matt Murray (ranked seventh) toppled Oklahoma’s Teyon Ware 5-4… and,
in another shocker, fifth-seeded Cliff Moore of Iowa scored a 14-2
major decision over previously unbeaten Scott Moore of Virginia.
149: Oklahoma State’s Zack Esposito beat Cornell’s Dustin
Manotti 5-2… while top-ranked Jesse Jantzen of Harvard racked up an
11-4 decision over Michigan’s Ryan Churella.
157: Three of the five wrestlers who entered St. Louis
undefeated were in this weight class… and all made it into the
semis. Unbeaten Matt Gentry of Stanford (seeded second) knocked off
defending champ Ryan Bertin (ranked third from Michigan) by scoring
a sudden victory takedown in overtime, 6-4. In a meeting of the unbeatens,
number-four ranked Jake Percival of Ohio handed Illinois’ top-ranked
Alex Tirapelle his first loss of the season, 4-2.
165: In a battle of Pennsylvania colleges, number two
Troy Letters of Lehigh beat third-ranked Matt King of Edinboro 4-2…
while top-seeded Tyrone Lewis of Oklahoma State beat Minnesota’s
fourth-ranked Jacob Volkmann 3-1 in overtime.
174: The only freshman in the finals, Missouri’s Ben Askren
(ranked sixth), defeated second-ranked senior Tyler Nixt of Iowa 4-2…
while Oklahoma State’s top-seeded Chris Pendleton pinned Purdue’s
Ryan Lange (ranked fourth) at 2:08.
184: Another defending champ falls: Third-ranked Jake
Rosholt of Oklahoma State lost to Northern Illinois’ Ben Heizer
(ranked second) 4-1… while top-ranked Greg Jones of West Virginia
handled Iowa’s number four seed Paul Bradley 8-3.
197: In a spirited bout, tenth-ranked Ryan Fulsaas of
Iowa beat upstate rival Sean Stender of University of Northern Iowa
(third seed) 8-7… while 2003 champion Damion Hahn of Minnesota
proved his top-seed ranking by beating fourth-seeded Ryan Bader of
Arizona State 2-1.
285: In another battle of the Keystone State, second-ranked Pat Cummins of Penn
State edged University of Pennsylvania’s third-ranked Matt Feast 3-2.
In a match-up of agile big men, top-seeded Ohio State heavyweight
Tommy Rowlands bested fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooner Leonce Crump 5-2.
While the Saturday evening finals session didn’t
have the upsets and surprises of earlier rounds, there was still plenty
of drama as twenty individuals faced off to see who would be champ
in each weight class.
Jason Powell turns Illinois' Kyle Ott on his way to a technical
fall in the 125 lb finals
last year, two unbeaten wrestlers faced off against each other, this
time at 157: Percival vs. Gentry. Unlike last year when there were
four freshmen in the finals, this year, only one made it to Saturday
night – Missouri’s Askren. In 2003,
there were two defending champs in the finals; this year, there was
only Hahn of Minnesota.
to the drama: ESPN 2 televised the finals live in its entirety to
a nationwide audience for the first time in years.
The opening battle was a demonstration of total
domination. Nebraska’s Jason Powell scored at will on Kyle Ott
– including a three-point nearfall in the first period -- racking
up an 18-2 tech fall victory over his Illinois opponent.
133: This match pitted two wrestlers who had defeated
past champions on their way to this finals showdown. Fifth-seeded
Zach Roberson of Iowa State scored two takedowns to win the decision
over Penn State’s Josh Moore who had been seeded sixth. Final
Sixth-seeded Cliff Moore of Iowa defeated Nebraska’s
Matt Murray (ranked seventh) in a finals bout that saw only one
point scored in the first two periods. However, Moore got two
takedowns in the third, making the final score 5-2.
Top-ranked Jesse Jantzen of Harvard built up
a five-point lead in the first minute of his finals match with
Oklahoma State’s Zack Esposito
(seeded second). Despite being penalized for stalling and locked
hands in the third period, Jantzen won the match 9-3. The last
time Harvard had an NCAA champ: 1938.
Until this match, neither grappler had tasted
defeat all season. Second-ranked Stanford wrestler Matt Gentry
started the action by scoring a takedown on Ohio’s Jake Percival
halfway through the first period. Percival scored two escapes
to knot the score at 2-2… until near the end of the third Gentry
scored a reversal, winning 4-2. Gentry is the first Cardinal
champion in the long history of the program.
Troy Letters of Lehigh defeated #1 seed Tyrone Lewis of
Oklahoma state by scoring an early takedown and backpoints
in the first minute of the 165 lb finals match
165: In a battle of #1 vs. #2, second-seeded Troy
Letters of Lehigh built up a 4-0 lead in the first period over
Oklahoma State’s top-rated Tyrone
Lewis… and never looked back, winning by a 5-2 margin. For Letters,
this was sweet salvation for last year’s heartbreaking finals
loss to Matt Lackey of Illinois (who used a powerful footsweep in the closing seconds to put a
close match out of reach).
174: In their fifth face-off of the season, top-seeded
Chris Pendleton of Oklahoma State found himself up against Big
12 rival – and first-year Missouri wrestler -- Ben Askren.
The Cowboy got a takedown, a two-point nearfall, and a cradle
to rack up a 6-1 lead over the sixth-seeded Tiger in the first
period… and added more points to amass a convincing 11-4
victory. Pendleton was the only Oklahoma State wrestler to win
an individual title in 2004.
184: Greg Jones of West Virginia has experienced
the best and worst of the NCAAs. In 2002, he was crowned champion;
last year, he was the first defending champ to be beaten in an
opening-round match in the 70+ year history of the NCAAs. This
year, the top-seeded Mountaineer added a second title to his career
resume with a 10-5 victory over second-ranked Ben Heizer of Northern
Illinois. Jones scored a total of four takedowns.
finalist Ruan Fulsaas of Iowa shoots in on defending NCAA
Champion Damion Hahn in the 197 lb finals
197: One of the great rivalries in collegiate wrestling
is Minnesota vs. Iowa. It’s only fitting that at least
one NCAA title bout would feature Gopher vs. Hawkeye: defending
champ Damion Hahn – who swept victory away from Jon Trenge
in the final seconds of their finals match last year – faced
off against fierce rival Ryan Fulsaas of Iowa, who was seeded
tenth. It was what Hahn later described as a “streetfight”
complete with a freakish collision that knocked a tooth from Fulsaas,
and caused a bloody gash in the Gopher’s scalp. Hahn held
on to get a 7-2 victory. He his only the third Minnesota wrestler
to ever win two NCAA titles (the others being Verne Gagne in the
1940s, and Tim Hartung in the 90s.)
285: Another great rivalry: Ohio State’s Tommy Rowlands
met familiar foe Pat Cummins of Penn State. In fact, Rowlands’
only loss the entire season came at the hands of the Nittany Lion.
But the Buckeye big guy managed to score two takedowns in the
first two periods to hold onto a 6-2 victory. It was Rowlands’
second NCAA title, having won in 2002, but knocked out of title
contention last year due to a serious ankle injury at the NCAAs.
Oklahoma State led the way with seven wrestlers who placed eighth or higher at the
NCAAs. Ohio State had five All-Americans,
while Iowa, Iowa State, Lehigh, and Nebraska had four each. Here’s
the entire list of wrestlers and their schools, in the order of placement
first through eighth:
Chris Pendleton of Oklahoma State wrestle Ben ASkren of Missouri
in the 174 lb finals
1. Jason Powell (Nebraska); 2. Kyle Ott (Illinois);
3. Sam Hazewinkel (Oklahoma); 4. Mario Stuart (Lehigh); 5. Matt Valenti (Pennsylvania); 6. Vic Moreno (Cal Poly); 7. Rob Rebmann (Drexel); 8. Joe Dubuque
1. Zack Roberson (Iowa State); 2. Josh Moore
(Penn State); 3. Johnny Thompson (Oklahoma State); 4. Darrel Vasquez
(Cal Poly); 5. Travis Lee (Cornell); 6. Foley Dowd (Michigan);
7. Mark Jayne (Illinois); 8. Matt Sanchez (Cal
141: 1. Cliff Moore (Iowa); 2. Matt Murray (Nebraska);
3. Scott Moore (Virginia); 4. Jason Mester (Central
Michigan); 5. Nate Gallick (Iowa State); 6. Teyon Ware (Oklahoma); 7. Cory Cooperman (Lehigh); 8. Coyte Cooper (Indiana)
149: 1. Jesse Jantzen (Harvard); 2. Zach Esposito
(Oklahoma State); 3. Ryan Churella (Michigan); 4. Dustin Manotti (Cornell); 5. Jeremy Spates (Missouri); 6. Jeff Ecklof (Oklahoma);
7. Travis Shufelt (Nebraska); 8. Jeff Ratliff (Ohio
157: 1. Matt Gentry (Stanford); 2. Jake Percival
(Ohio); 3. Ryan Bertin (Michigan); 4. Alex Tirapelle (Illinois); 5. Johnny Hendricks (Oklahoma
State); 6. Travis Paulson (Iowa State); 7. Kenny Burleson (Missouri); 8. Phillip Simpson (Army)
165: 1. Troy Letters (Lehigh); 2. Tyrone Lewis (Oklahoma State); 3.Matt King (Edinboro);
4. Jacob Volkmann (Minnesota); 5. John Clark (Ohio
State); 6. David Bolyard (Central Michigan); 7. Jacob Klein (Nebraska); 8. Tim Foley (Virginia)
174: 1. Chris Pendleton (Oklahoma State); 2. Ben Askren
(Missouri); 3. Tyler Nixt (Iowa);
4. Brad Dillon (Lehigh); 5. Ryan Lange (Purdue); 6. Eric Hauan
(Northern Iowa); 7. Pete Friedl (Illinois); 8. Nate Yetzer (Edinboro)
184: 1. Greg Jones (West Virginia); 2. Ben
Heizer (Northern Illinois); 3. Jake Rosholt (Oklahoma State); 4. Paul Bradley
(Iowa); 5. Blake Kaplan (Ohio State); 6. Brian Glynn (Illinois); 7. Kurt Backes (Iowa
State); 8. Travis Frick (Lehigh)
197: 1. Damion Hahn (Minnesota); 2. Ryan Fulsaas (Iowa);
3. J.D. Bergman (Ohio State); 4. Ryan Bader (Arizona State); 5.
Chris Skretkowicz (Hofstra); 6. Sean Stender (Northern Iowa);
7. Matt Greenberg (Cornell); 8. Kyle Cerminara (Buffalo)
1. Tommy Rowlands (Ohio State); 2. Pat Cummins
(Penn State); 3. Leonce Crump (Oklahoma); 4. Cole Konrad (Minnesota);
5. Matt Feast (Pennsylvania); 6. Greg Wagner (Michigan);
7. Will Gruenwald (Oklahoma State); 8. Scott Coleman
attendance: Host city St. Louis was hoping to break attendance
records set four years earlier at the 2000 NCAAs in the same arena
(then called Kiel Center), with a stated goal of surpassing 100,000
total attendance. Unfortunately, actual numbers didn’t fulfill
those goals. The announced attendance for the finals was 15,081 fans
-- almost 1,500 less than last year. The 2004 total attendance figure
of 87,675 was 9,000 less than four years ago.
Louis will have another opportunity to break its own record. Next
year, the NCAAs will return to Savvis Center. Wrestlers
and fans are already saying “Meet Me In St Louis” again
next year for the 75th edition of the NCAA Division I