By Jim & Tony Nordland

       Defending two-time NCAA team champion
Penn State has the inside track and hope to claim their third consecutive championship. A total of 330 wrestlers, including seven returning and three former NCAA champions headline the impressive field for the 83rd annual NCAA Wrestling Championships at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 21st -23rd. Teams that will pose a strong challenge for the Nittany Lions are Big 12 champion Oklahoma State, 2012 runner-up Minnesota, a tough Iowa squad, along with Missouri, Ohio State and the Big Red of Cornell.

     Penn State returns two reigning champions
David Taylor (27-1) at 165 and unstoppable Ed Ruth (28-0) at 184, along with 2011 winner Quentin Wright (27-0) at 197. Cornell has three-time NCAA titlist Kyle Dake (32-0, 132-4 career) at 165 and Steve Bosak (20-2) at 184. Minnesota has Anthony Nelson (28-1)  at 285 and the Hawkeyes have two-time champion Matt McDonough (20-3) in the loaded 125-pound class. Oklahoma State has # 1 rated Jordan Oliver (33-0, 122 -6), a 2011 titlist and three-time AA at 141. Ohio State's returning champion Logan Stieber (21-0) is the pre-tournament favorite at 133 pounds. Another 2011 NCAA champion is senior Dustin Kilgore (39-0) of Kent State at 197 pounds.

New York State has 23 NCAA qualifiers and will be paced by the aforementioned Dake, now a senior, has won three NCAA titles in three different weight classes (141, 149, 157), he will seek his fourth title at 165. Returning All-Americans for the Empire State include Steve Bonanno (17-10, 101 career wins) of Hofstra at 125, Mike Nevinger (36-10) of Cornell and Harvard's Steven Keith (27-8), both at 141, along with potential finalist Donnie Vinson (29-1) of Binghamton in the 149-pound class.

A quick glance at the weight classes:

125 pounds-
Top-seeded Alan Waters (29-0) of Missouri could meet the winner of the Max Soria (26-13) of Buffalo vs Mark Rappo (Penn) after their opening pigtail bout. Hofstra's returning AA Steve Bonanno opens with David Terao (American) and might face #2- Jesse Delagado (21-3) of Illinois in the quarterfinals. Also in the lower bracket is two-time champ McDonough who could meet nemesis Delgado in an exciting lightweight semifinal. Another lower bracket match-up has William Watterson (20-16) of Brown University with a prelim with Joseph Duca (Indiana).

133 pounds- The Pride's Jamie Franco (18-13) has opening prelim with Brandon Gambucci (Duke) and could be pitted against NCAA champ Logan Steiber in the second round. Another top bracket bout features NC State's Sam Speno (16-12) vs Jordan Conaway (Penn State). In the lower bracket is Rider's Jimmy Morris (24-12) who opens with MacKenzie McGuire (Kent State). Tough draw has Nick Wilcox (25-7) of Bloomsburg against Iowa's #2 rated Tony Ramos (27-1).

141 pounds- Ohio State's unbeaten Hunter Steiber (31-0) is the number-one seed and awaits the winner of the Steven Keith vs Joseph Spisak (Virginia). Army's Connor Hanafee (21-13) has a pigtail bout with Joey Lazor (Northern Iowa). Another lower bracket contender is the Big Red's Michael Nevinger (11th seed) who meets Dean Pavlou (Chattanooga). Nevinger could meet #3 Michael Mangrum (36-4) of Oregon State in a quarterfinal clash. Oklahoma's Kendric Maple (25-0) is a returning NCAA placer and is the second seed, possible final is Steiber vs Maple.

149 pounds- The fourth bout of the tournament has third-seeded and returning All-American Donnie Vinson against Ian Paddock (14-7) of Ohio State. At the 2011 NCAA meet Vinson won seven straight matches to earn his NCAA bronze medal and the former Whitney Point product is a two-time state finalist, he is hoping for NCAA gold this year. Paddock hails from Warsaw and was a three-time NYS champion. The Vinson/Paddock winner could meet Dylan Ness (Minnesota), a returning NCAA finalist, in the quarterfinals. The top-seed here is Jordan Oliver (Okla State) and drawing the #2 spot was Jason Chamberlain (26-1) of Boise State. Could be an Oliver vs Vinson final.

157 pounds- Jason Welch (30-1) of Northwestern, a returning AA, is the top seed and Iowa's NCAA runner-up Derek St. John (26-2) drew the second spot. Other top contenders are Joseph Napoli (Lehigh), James Green (Nebraska), James Fleming (Clarion) and Alex Dieringer (30-2) of Oklahoma State.

65 pounds- Kyle Dake is the name here and could face rival and #2 David Taylor. The Empire State is well represented in this weight class with three-time champion Dake and four other potential All-Americans. In the mix for NCAA medals are Ryan LeBlanc (22-8) of Indiana University, Josh Veltre (32-5) of Bloomsburg and Mark Lewandowski (30-7) of Buffalo, all are lodged in the upper tier with Dake. In the bottom bracket is Edinboro's Johnny Greisheimer (19-14) who will meet Bret Baumbach (Stanford) in an opening bout and could face a tough foe in Minnesota's Cody Yohn (24-11) in the second round. Look for the marquee match of the finals with Dake vs Taylor.

174 pounds- NCAA bronze medalist Chris Perry (30-2) of Oklahoma State is the favorite here and his top tier challengers will be Josh Asper (Maryland), Robert Kokesh (Nebraska) and Nick Heflin of Ohio State. Looking to reach the finals from the bottom bracket are Michael Evans (Iowa), Logan Storley (Minnesota) and Big Ten champion Matthew Brown (25-4) of Penn State. Buffalo's John-Martin Cannon (11-8) will meet Sam Wheeler (25-12) of Kent State in an opening preliminary bout.

184 pounds- This weight class features two defending NCAA titlists; Ed Ruth and Steve Bosak. Ruth is the top seed and Bosak drew the #4 position. They could meet in a premier semifinal battle on Friday night. Unbeaten Ben Bennett (27-0) of Central Michigan  is the second seed and a potential finalist. Binghamton junior Cody Reed (18-13) meets Ophir Bernstein (Brown) in an opening bout and could face #3 Robert Hamlin (22-3) of Lehigh in the quarterfinals.

197 pounds- The favorite here is Dustin Kilgore who boasts a 39-0 mark and his finals opponent could be #2 Quentin Wright (27-0) in a battle of unbeatens and 2011 NCAA champions. Binghamton's Nathan Scheidel (26-2) is pitted against Conner Hartmann (Duke) in an opening bout. Maryland's Christian Boley (24-6) will meet Scott Schiller (Minnesota) in another prelim. Both are lodged in the lower bracket and could face the aforementioned Wright in the quarterfinals. Also to watch is AA prospect Kyven Gadson (23-2), the sixth-seed from Iowa State.

285 pounds- 2011 NCAA bronze medalist Dom Bradley (35-1) of Missouri is top-seeded and reigning NCAA titlist Anthony Nelson is slated at the #2 position, he will meet Steven Graziano (19-13) of Penn in a first round draw. Edinboro's Ernest James (22-12) is in the top tier and opens with Kevin Innis of Boston University. Other top heavyweights include Alan Gelogaev (24-3) of Oklahoma State, Chad Hanke (Oregon State) and AAs Bobby Telford (Iowa) and Jarod Trice of Central Michigan.

Mat Notes...
Of the Empire State's 23 representatives, 11 are former NYS champions. At the 2012 NCAAs, New York finished with six All-Americans. Five teams; Penn State, Okla State, Minnesota, Virginia Tech and Missouri qualified all 10 wrestlers. Pennsylvania leads all states with an remarkable 54 NCAA qualifiers. Condolences to the Gadson Family on the passing of Willie, he was 59. Willie Gadson was a high school star at Huntington, LI, a two-time NJCAA Champion and went unbeaten with a 45-0 mark while at Nassau CC. He took his mat skills to Iowa State where he was a two-time All-American. He coached his son, Kyven, to a pair of Iowa high school state titles. Kyven won the Big 12 crown for Iowa State and will compete for All-American honors at 197 pounds at the 2013 championships. Cornell recently won their 7th straight EIWA team championship. Three wrestlers bring impressive win streaks to the NCAAs, Dake has won 72 straight matches, Ruth 64 and Kilgore has 58. Penn State has won three NCAA mat titles, the leader is Oklahoma State with 34, followed by Iowa with 23. For the first time there will be a format change for the championship finals, the first bout will be the 174-pound bout, then followed in weight class order, 184, 197, etc., the finale will be the 165 title match. Tickets for the 2014 NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City go on sale Thursday at 10 AM.