As we noted when we discussed Iowa's 2014-15 wrestling schedule last week, the 2015 incarnation of the 2015 NWCA National Duals wrestling tournament will be held in Iowa City this February. At the time, all we really knew was that Iowa would host a regional match on February 15 and that they would also host the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals on February 22.
Now we know a bit more about the format and the field of teams competing in the event. The event has undergone several format changes over the years; most recently, it was a two-week event featuring eight mini-regionals (featuring four teams apiece wrestling in a one-day mini-tournament), with the eight winners of those mini-regionals advancing to a single location for a two-day final tournament. This year the event will feature sixteen teams and again be spread over two weekends. The first weekend (February 15) will feature eight different dual meets (featuring the sixteen National Duals participants) spread across the country. The second weekend (February 22) will feature the winners of those eight dual meets converging on Iowa City for a one-day, eight-team tournament featuring quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals.
The first-round match-ups on February 15 have also been announced:
- Drexel at Cornell
- George Mason at Lehigh
- Virginia at Iowa
- Oklahoma at UT Chattanooga
- American University at Missouri
- Minnesota at North Dakota State
- Kent State at Illinois
- Ohio State at Edinboro
Notably absent from that field are Penn State and Oklahoma State, two of the top three finishers at last year's NCAA Tournament and two of the current heavyweights of the sport. At one point Penn State was expected to be a part of this year's National Duals field, but apparently plans changed somewhere along the line. That said, their absence isn't terribly surprising -- they've sat out National Duals for five season and Cael Sanderson has been an outspoken public opponent of several proposals to integrate National Duals with the NCAA Tournament in order to determine a team national champion. (Tom Brands has also been an outspoken critic of those same plans.) It's slightly more surprising that Oklahoma State is not taking part in National Duals (they hosted the event in 2012 and also competed in 2013), but they did sit out last year as well.
The 2015 field is still pretty strong, though: it features six of the top ten teams at the 2014 NCAA Tournament and is headlined by Minnesota, the three-time defending NWCA National Duals champion and last year's NCAA runner-up. Minnesota appears poised to contend for titles at both the NCAA Tournament and National Duals; if they manage to win both, they'd be the first team since Iowa in 2010 to do so.
Aside from Minnesota, the field also features two East Coast heavyweights in Cornell (#7 at last year's NCAA Tournament and loaded to make a run this season) and Edinboro (#5 at last year's NCAA Tournament and featuring some major NCAA Championship contenders, including A.J. Schopp at 133 and Mitchell Port at 141). The other heavyweight is Ohio State; the Buckeyes had a solid team last year (6th place finish at the NCAA Tournament) and they're adding some serious firepower this year (most notably, Hunter Stieber returning at 149 after a redshirt year and incoming super-frosh Kyle Snyder at 197). Along with Iowa, those five teams figure to be the teams to beat at this year's event; the fact that only one of Edinboro and Ohio State will actually make it to Iowa City is pretty remarkable. There's no doubt that Ohio State-Edinboro is the headline match of the first round.
As for Iowa's opponent, they'll face Virginia in the first round. The Cavaliers finished 23rd at last year's NCAA Tournament and featured one All-American, Nick Sulzer at 165 lbs. Sulzer was a junior last year, so he'll be a factor this season. In fact, Sulzer, who finished 3rd at 165 a year ago, could enter the season as the favorite to claim a national title at that weight this year. A potential match between Sulzer and Nick Moore could pit two wrestlers ranked in the top five.
Sulzer is obviously the 'Hoos' star, but they have a few other interesting wrestlers as well. They qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 8 of 10 weights last year and return six of those wrestlers. They also add incoming recruit Garrett Peppelman (likely at 165 or 174), a top-20 recruit nationally, per d1collegewrestling.
PROJECTED VIRGINIA LINE-UP
(Records/NCAA/ACC results from 2013-14, unless otherwise noted.)
125: Nick Herrmann (JR, 18-12, NCAA qualifier, ACC 4th place)
133: George DiCamillo (SO, 33-10, NCAA qualifier, ACC 1st place in 2012-13)
141: Joseph Spisak (SR, 16 seed; 19-14, NCAA qualifier, ACC DNP)
149: Gus Sako (SR, 7 seed; 19-5, NCAA qualifier, ACC 2nd place)
157: Blaise Butler (JR, 10 seed; 22-8, NCAA qualifier, ACC 1st place)
165: Nick Sulzer (SR, 3 seed; 36-3, NCAA 3rd place, ACC 1st place)
174: Garrett Peppelman?
197: Zach Nye (JR, 21-11, NCAA qualifier)
Outside of 165, there don't appear to be any strength vs. strength showdowns in an Iowa-Virginia dual. Virginia's strength is in the middle weights (Sako, Butler, and Sulzer appear to be their best wrestlers), while Iowa's strength should be in the lower weights and upper weights. The middle weights (particularly 149 and 157) are actually the biggest question marks in Iowa's lineup. That said, my way-too-early projection is that Iowa will be a strong favorite at 5-6 weights (125, 133, 174, 184, 197, and 285), a potential underdog at three weights (149, 157, and 165), and a toss-up at the final weight (141). Barring a handful of upsets and/or some serious bonus point chicanery, that should add up to an Iowa dual meet victory and a spot in the following weekend's quarterfinals.
Here's an updated look at Iowa's 2014-15 schedule: