NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW
     By Jim & Tony Nordland

     Minnesota is the favorite at the 77th edition of the NCAA Championships which will be held at the Palace at Auburn Hills, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, on March 15th-17th. The Golden Gophers will be seeking their third NCAA mat title, after winning titles in 2001 and 2002. Defending champion Oklahoma State, winners of the past four NCAA meets will provide a strong challenge, but might not have enough fire power to claim the title. Other strong contenders will be Iowa State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Hofstra, Cornell, Penn State,  Central Michigan and Ohio State. Five defending NCAA champions head the field including Oklahoma State's two-time champion 
Johny Hendricks (30-0) at 165, Ben Askren (36-0) at 174 of Missouri, Penn's Matt Valenti (27-2) at 133, and Minnesota teammates, sophomore Dustin Schlatter (35-0, 74-1 career mark) at 149 and Cole Konrad (30-0) at 285 pounds. Five NCAA finalists also return and seek redemption, sophomore Troy Nickerson (12-2) of Chenango Forks HS, now Cornell at 125, Brian Stith (24-2) of Arizona State at 157, top seeded Jake Herbert (27-0) of Northwestern at 184, junior Roger Kish (32-2) of Minnesota also at 184, and Penn State junior Phil Davis (24-3) at 197 pounds. Two bronze medalists that will vie for NCAA crowns include Sam Hazewinkel (21-0) of Oklahoma at 125 and Iowa junior Mark Perry (23-4) at 165 pounds. Other returning All-Americans that will challenge for NCAA crowns are Nick Simmons (34-1) of Michigan State at 133, top seeded Ryan Lang (25-0), a junior from Northwestern  at 141, Matt Storniolo (16-1) of Oklahoma at 149, senior Trent Paulson (26-4) of Iowa State at 157, Islip's Mike Patrovich (17-4) of Hostra at 165, two 197-pounders Josh Glenn (22-1) of Johnson City HS, now at American University and Jerry Rinaldi (22-3) of Cornell University.
Hofstra (18-4) and Cornell (8-5) hope to finish in the NCAA top ten and if either squad has a hot tournament, possibly a top five finish. The Pride return two All-Americans, the aforementioned Patrovich (4th at 174) and Chris Weidman (6th at 197) of Baldwin HS. Three-time CAA champions also seeking NCAA medals are junior Charles Griffin (29-5) at 141, possible finalist James Strouse (37-3) of MacArthur HS, at 157 and junior Joe Rovelli (31-5) at 184 pounds, along with three other qualifiers give Hofstra a very formidable tournament team. Cornell also boasts solid individuals; Nickerson, along with workout partner, Adam Frey (15-2) at 133, sophomore Jordan Leen (34-4) at 149 and Steve Anceravage (20-4) at 165, along with Rinaldi who finished fourth at 197 pounds last year.
New York State has 19 prepped wrestlers in the tournament including two returning All-Americans, sophomore Gregor Gillespie (29-2) of Webster-Schroeder HS, now at Edinboro at 149 and Penn's Matt Herrington (24-6) of Troy LaSalle HS. Gillepie finished seventh and Herrington placed fifth in their respective weight classes at the 2006 NCAA meet, both are former two-time state champions. Many Long Island wrestling experts feel the New York contingent is one of our best in recent years and could have six NCAA finalists.

   There are 330 wrestlers from 80 colleges competing this weekend and featured are 41 returning All-Americans, including Sam Hazewinkel and Nick Simmons who are seeking their fourth NCAA medals. The last time the NCAA Championships were held in the state of Michigan was in 1942. Ben Askren, clearly the most dominant collegiate wrestler won the OSW Award at the 2006 NCAA meet, and now has an 80 match win streak. If Minnesota (20-1) falters, look to Big 12 team champion Iowa State and first-year coach
Cael Sanderson to provide a strong challenge with their ten NCAA qualifiers. Minnesota's lone dual meet setback came at the hands of Hofstra, 18-17, back in November. Pride coach Tom Shifflet was a three-time All-American at Edinboro and a former NYS champion for Sweet Home HS in 1990. Of the 80 wrestlers that earned All-American status at the 2006 NCAAs, eight were from New York, only Pennsylvania had more, with 11, and again the Keystone remains the leader in producing All-Americans. The last NCAA champion from the Empire State was Jesse Jantzen (Harvard) at 149 pounds in 2004 and the only NCAA champion from Hofstra was Nick Gallo (126) in 1977. Incidentally, both were voted the outstanding wrestler in the tournament. For the first time, the  NCAA finals will be televised live at 8:00 PM on ESPN.                                          
James Strouse is having a great season for Hofstra and has his sights set to become a NCAA All-American this year at 157 lbs.
Mike Patrovich, returning NCAA All-American for Hofstra, is back at 165 pounds this year and currently ranked sixth.
Chris Weidman, a returning All-American for Hofstra, is back after finishing sixth last year.
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