ST. LOUIS – The “March to the Arch” is complete and the 330 wrestlers who have qualified for the 2009 NCAA Wrestling Championships are less that 24 hours away from the first of thousands of whistles that will lead to the crowning of 10 NCAA champions.
Penn has six wrestlers in the field, and each Quaker has his eyes set on one goal – the podium on Saturday night. Why is a spot on a white, nondescript podium so desirable? That is because if your name is called to climb atop, you are an NCAA All-American – and possibly a national champion.
“The wrestling season is like a roller coaster,” head coach Rob Eiter said. “There are lots of ups and downs. We are prepared for a very big up this weekend. We have trained very well since the conference tournament and are mentally prepared to show the country that we are ready for success.”
Rollie Peterkin is Penn’s only seeded wrestler, earning the No. 8 seed at 125 pounds. Last year, Peterkin advanced to the Round of 12 at the NCAA Championships, one win away from All-America status. This year, he starts his tournament with Michigan State’s Eric Olanowski. Peterkin is 21-5 on the season, with all five of his losses coming to wrestlers who will compete at the NCAA Championships. He also has six wins over wrestlers slated to wrestle this weekend. Olanowski finished seventh at the Big Ten Championships and is 21-17 on the season. The two have six common opponents this season, and Olanowski is 1-5 against those wrestlers while Peterkin is 4-1 against those men. The two have not met previously.
Senior Rick Rappo is entering his final collegiate tournament – the second time he has qualified for the NCAA Championships. Rappo has drawn the fifth-seed, Marcus Hoehn of Missouri. Rappo enters the tournament with an 18-7 record and a third-place finish at the EIWA Championships. Anyone questioning Rappo’s standing in the field can look at his win via fall over the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Michigan’s Kellen Russell. Hoehn is 29-8 and won the Big 12 championship. The two have three common opponents this season. Rappo is 3-0 against those wrestlers while Hoehn is 3-1.
Cesar Grajales, ranked 14th in the country, is unseeded in the tournament and for the second year in a row received a tough draw after missing out on a seed. This year, he will wrestle third-seeded Darrion Caldwell of N.C. State. Caldwell is a returning All-America and is 33-1 on the season. The two wrestled this season at the Cliff Keen Invitational, with Caldwell pulling out a 4-1 decision. Grajales is 27-9 this season and 6-9 against NCAA Championships qualifiers. The 149-pound weight class is one of the deepest in the country, and Grajales has wrestled the best the country has to offer this season, will all but one his losses coming to ranked opponents.
Matt Dragon is back at the NCAA Championships after missing last year’s tournament while sitting out with injury. His reward? A pigtail match with eighth-seeded Adam Hall of Boise State. Dragon is 25-7 this year, with a 4-7 mark against NCAA qualifiers. One of those losses came to Hall at the Cliff Keen Invitational, a 14-3 major decision. The two have six common opponents from the season. Hall is 5-3 against those wrestlers while Dragon is 2-5 against them.
Scott Giffin is in his second NCAA Championships in his sophomore season. He is 16-10 this season. His opponent is the 10th seed in the bracket, Kurt Brenner of West Virginia. Brenner is 18-4 this season, and won his third EWL title in a row. The two have eight common opponents. Brenner is 5-4 against those wrestlers while Giffin is also 5-4. Giffin has defeated all four wrestlers who have put a loss on Brenner.
Trey McLean is hoping to cap his collegiate career in style at 285 pounds, wrestling in his second NCAA Championships. He has drawn Inidana’s Nathan Everhart in a pigtail match, with the winner wrestling Cleveland State’s Rashard Goff. Everhart is 25-15 this season. McLean is 18-10 and 5-8 against NCAA qualifiers.
Wrestling gets underway on Thursday morning at 11 a.m. with the pigtails and the first round. The finals are Saturday night. ESPN and its family of networks are providing unprecedented coverage of the tournament, with live coverage starting with Session III on Friday morning (the quarterfinal session). Here is ESPN’s schedule:
Friday, March 20
Session III: 11 a.m. EST on ESPNU HD/ESPN360.com
Session IV: 7 p.m. EST on ESPN2 HD/ESPNU HD/ESPN360.com
Saturday, March 21
Session V: 10:30 a.m. EST on ESPNU HD
Session VI: 6:30 EST on ESPN HD/ESPN360.com
In addition to the live television coverage, Penn Athletics will provide updates throughout the tournament at www.PennAthletics.com