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College’s Brightest Mat Stars Shine at 2004 NWCA All-Star Classic
 
 
Despite the weather conditions outside – overcast skies, drizzle and patches of fog – the best and brightest stars of NCAA Division I college wrestling came out in full force to dazzle the crowd inside the Vadalabene Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for the Marines All-Star Classic presented by Real Pro Wrestling on Monday, November 22, 2004.
 
Although this was the thirty-ninth version of this annual event put on by the National Wrestling Coaches Association, there were a couple of firsts at the 2004 All-Stars:
  • It was the first time the event had been hosted by a Division II school. (SIU-Edwardsville -- located just outside St. Louis -- recently reinstated its wrestling program, thanks to the efforts of the athletic department, staff and alumni.)
  • For the first time in recent memory, the All-Star Classic was not held on the first Monday of February.
 
The 174 lb bout at the All-Star Classic was a rematch of the 2004 NCAA finals, featuring Chris Pendleton of Oklahoma State and Ben Askren of Missouri
The stars come out early.  In the past, the All-Stars had been scheduled as a late-in-the-season event.  However, over the years, there had been issues with the late date.  Winter weather problems were an annual concern; last year, snow kept attendance down at the All-Star Classic in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  In addition, with a late-season All-Stars, many of the top wrestlers were unable to compete because of injuries after the long season, or because their coaches kept them from competing to maintain their top form for the championships.  So, hoping to prevent weather and wrestlers’ condition from being a factor, the 2004 edition of All-Star Classic was scheduled to be something of an early-season event, before the regular dual season launched into full swing.
 
Major star power.  The National Wrestling Coaches Association sent invitations to the two top Division I wrestlers in each weight class, based on pre-season rankings.  Not every #1 and #2 ranked wrestler was able to participate; only half of the ten weight classes featured match-ups between the first and second-rated competitors.  However, this did not dim the star power of the event.  Every wrestler at the 2004 All-Star Classic was ranked seventh or higher in his weight class.  Just about every competitor could claim All-American status; five had been crowned NCAA Division I champions.  
 
Out for injuries.  Fans were notified that two of the scheduled competitors – Travis Lee of Cornell University, and Jon Trenge of Lehigh – were unable to make the trip because of recent injuries.  In the 133 lb All-Star match, Lee was replaced by Sam Hiatt of Northern Illinois University.  At 197 lbs, Oregon’s Scott Barker filled in for Trenge after getting a call at noon Sunday.  Within 90 minutes Barker was on a plane to St. Louis, arriving late Sunday evening.
 
The Results
 
125 lbs:   Oklahoma’s Sam Hazewinkel – ranked number one in pre-season polls – opened the evening action with a first-period takedown of third-ranked Nick Simmons of Michigan State.  That was the extent of the scoring as the Sooner sophomore won the match 2-0. 
 
133 lbs:  Mark Jayne of the University of Illinois thought he’d be facing Cornell’s Travis Lee, the 2003 NCAA champ at 125 lbs.  Because of Lee’s late injury, Sam Hiatt was asked to make the trip downstate from Northern Illinois University to take on Jayne.  Into the third period the scoring was limited to one escape per wrestler, tying the score at 1-1.  However, with just thirty seconds left, fourth-ranked Jayne scored a takedown to defeat the seventh-ranked Hiatt 3-1.
 
141 lbs:  Regulation wasn’t enough time to settle things between third-ranked Teyon Ware of Oklahoma – the 2003 NCAA champ at this weight -- and Lehigh’s Cory Cooperman (ranked fourth).  With the score tied 1-1 in regulation (each point scored on escapes), the Sooner was able to score an escape with fourteen seconds left in the second overtime for a final result of 2-1 Ware.
 
149 lbs:  In the first match of the evening between the first and second-ranked wrestlers, Oklahoma State’s Zack Esposito demonstrated his top rating by defeating #2 Dustin Manotti of Cornell 8-3.  Esposito scored two takedowns early in the match to build a 4-1 lead, and never looked back.
 
157 lbs:  This weight class featured two All-Stars who each wrestled in high school in Ohio, but had never faced each other on the mats… until now.  Second-seeded Jake Percival of Ohio University, runner-up at the 2004 NCAAs, scored three first-period takedowns on Ryan Bertin of the University of Michigan, the 2003 NCAA champ in this weight class.  Despite Bertin scoring a number of points in the second and third periods, Percival maintained the lead, winning the match with a final score of 11-7.
 
165 lbs:   In a hard-fought match-up between #1 and #2, defending NCAA champ (and top-ranked wrestler) Troy Letters of Lehigh defeated senior David Bolyard of Central Michigan by the score of 3-2.  Bolyard scored first with a takedown in the middle of the first period.  Letters tied the score with an escape in each of the first two periods.  Bolyard chose down at the beginning of the third period, and was unable to escape, allowing Letters to score enough riding time to be the deciding factor in the Lehigh victory.
 
174 lbs:  There’s a real rivalry emerging between #1 Chris Pendleton of Oklahoma State and #2 Ben Askren of Missouri.  The two Big Twelve rivals have wrestled each other a handful of times; most recently, at the 2004 NCAA 177 lb. finals, where Pendleton prevailed to take the crown.  The Cowboy handed Askren his first loss of the season with a 6-3 final score.  Pendleton scored his points with two takedowns, an escape, and riding time. Score of the Pendleton vs. Askren career rivalry: 5-1 in favor of the Cowboy.
 
184 lbs: West Virginia’s Greg Jones won his third career All-Star Classic match with a 3-2 victory over Paul Bradley of the University of Iowa.  Jones, a two-time NCAA champion and top-rated wrestler in his weight class, scored first with a takedown on the second-ranked Hawkeye, which was followed by a Bradley escape to make the score 2-1 at the end of the first period.  The senior Mountaineer scored an escape at the start of the second to make the score 3-1.  Bradley got a one-point escape at the beginning of the third but still ended up on the losing end of the 3-2 final score.
 
197 lbs:  It was an unexpected homecoming for Scott Barker, who wrestled in high school in the St. Louis area and had been on the University of Missouri team until he was released by coach Brian Smith.  The seventh-ranked Barker was brought in from the University of Oregon as a last-minute substitute for the injured Jon Trenge to face off against Ohio State’s J.D. Bergman.  Barker scored two escapes early in the match to lead 2-1.  However, the Buckeye scored a series of takedowns to end the match with an 8-3 victory.
 
Heavyweight:  There was no scoring in the first period of the final match of the evening, pitting Steve Mocco, the nation’s top-ranked big man now wrestling for Oklahoma State, and Minnesota’s Cole Konrad, ranked second.  Mocco scored an escape early in the second period, which the Golden Gopher answered with an escape of his own in the third period, sending the match into overtime tied at 1-1.  The Cowboy got an escape in the first overtime, then rode Konrad in the second overtime to lasso the 2-1 victory.
 
A big night.  In addition to the All-Star Classic, the evening also included a high school dual between two of the best teams in the region (Granite City, Illinois vs. Oak Park in Missouri), along with a speech from legendary wrestler/coach Dan Gable, and some exhibition matches featuring youth and other collegiate wrestlers.  The event was well-attended; 3,190 fans nearly filled Vadalabene Center.
 
Meet me in St. Louis next March.  For most of these All Stars, this will not be the last trip to the St. Louis area.  They hope to return to the Gateway City in March 2005 for the 75th Anniversary NCAA Division I Championships, to be held at the same location as the previous year: the Savvis Center in downtown St. Louis.  

 

 

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