By Jim and Tony Nordland

     Defending team champion Minnesota will be pressed to claim consecutive NCAA crowns, as 80 teams and 350 wrestlers prepare for the 78th annual NCAA Wrestling Championships at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on March 20th-22nd. The top teams appear to be Big Ten champion Iowa, Minnesota, along with a strong Michigan contingent. In the next tier are formidable squads; 2007 runner-up Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Central Michigan and Nebraska. Others hoping to reach the top ten are Ohio State, Hofstra, Northwestern, Penn State and Missouri.

     There are four reigning champions and a former winner in the field at the 2008 NCAA meet. Defending champions are Paul Donahoe (20-3) of Nebraska at 125, Gregor Gillespie (30-1) of Edinboro at 157, Iowa's Mark Perry (16-2) at 165, and unbeaten Josh Glenn (18-0) of American at 197 pounds. Minnesota's Dustin Schlatter (20-3), a 2006 champion, finished with the bronze medal last year, he will compete in the loaded 149-pound class. Both Gillespie and Glenn are former NYS champions.

     NCAA finalists seeking redemption are Coleman Scott (28-4) of Oklahoma State at 133, Josh Churella (22-3) of Michigan at 149, and a pair of unbeatens, Keith Gavin (22-0) of Pittsburgh at 174 and Iowa State sophomore Jake Varner (25-0) at 184 pounds.Three bronze medalists return and will vie for NCAA crowns. That trio includes; Charles Griffin (32-4) of Hofstra at 141, Mike Poeta (32-2) of Illinois at 157 and Northwestern's Dustin Fox (24-1) at 285 pounds.

     Hofstra finished in seventh place last year at the NCAAs and returns a strong nucleus, including  the aforementioned Griffin along with six other NCAA qualifiers. At 125 pounds is Dave Tomasette (30-8), sophomore Lou Ruggirello (34-5) at 133, Jonny Bonilla Bowman (18-11) at 157, red shirt freshman Ryan Patrovich (19-12) at 165, junior Alton Lucas (25-4) at 174 and Joe Rovelli (25-2) at 197 pounds. Ruggirello, Bowman and Lucas all won the Colonial Athletic Championships.

     New York State has 18 qualiifiers and will send a stable of solid contenders at the 2008 edition of the NCAA Championships. Returning All-American sophomore JP O'Connor (22-2) of Harvard at 149 pounds is a potential finalist and teammate Corey Jantzen (13-5) a true freshman could surprise at 141 pounds Other Empire State prepped grapplers to watch are Jasen Borschoff (14-14) of American at 125, David Marble (26-7) of Bucknell at 133, Stephen Hromada (17-9) of UT-Chattanoga at 133, Torsten Gillespie (15-14) of Edinboro at 141, Trevor Chinn (27-10) of Lehigh at 149, Steve Brown (13-8) of Central Michigan at 157, Binghamton teammates, Kyle Fried (22-2) at 149, and Josh Patterson (22-4) at 174, along with Mike Roberts (28-9) of Boston University at 149, and Rider's Ed Bordas (16-6) at 285 pounds.

A quick glance at the weight classes:

125 Pounds- The top seed here is Angel Escobedo (29-1) of Indiana, he will most likely face either Charlie Falck (30-4) of Iowa or Tanner Gardner (33-1) of Stanford in the semifinals. Jasen Borschoff (American) will face Colorado's Anthony Mustari (27-4) in the first round. In the bottom bracket is NCAA champion, Paul Donahoe (17-3) of Nebraska, who drew the third-seed, and has tough opening bout with Nikko Triggas (14-14) of Ohio State. Hofstra's Dave Tomasette, the 11th seed will meet Javier Maldonado (18-6) of Chattanooga. Also lodged in that bracket is second-seeded sophomore and returning NCAA medalist Jayson Ness (35-1) of Minnesota.

133 Pounds- The slight favorite here is  Franklin Gomez (28-1) of Michigan State, in that top tier are challengers Joey Slaton (32-4) of Iowa and Minnesota's Mack Reiter (21-6). In the bottom bracket is Hofstra's Lou Ruggirello, the sixth-seed and he will face Wyoming's Cory VomBaur (20-15) in a preliminary match, waiting for that winner is Stephen Hromada (Chattanooga). Bucknell's David Marble is pitted against second-seeded James Kennedy (27-4) of Illinois, also in that bracket is third-seeded Coleman Scott (28-4) of Oklahoma State and Mike Grey (38-6) of Cornell.

141 Pounds- Unbeaten senior Chad Mendes (26-0) of Cal Poly is top-rated and should reach the finals. His challengers in the top bracket are Nathan Morgan (29-3) of Oklahoma State and Nick Gallick (23-11) of Iowa State. Edinboro's Torsten Gillespie has opening bout with fifth-seeded Manuel Rivera (30-7) of Minnesota. Hofstra senior Charles Griffin is second-seeded and hopes to challenge for a NCAA crown.Other contenders in that bottom bracket are freshman Kellen Russell (25-5) of Michigan and junior J Jaggers (21-5) of Ohio State. Harvard true freshman Corey Jantzen has opening bout with #7 Kyle Ruschel (21-4) of Wisconsin, he could advance to the quarterfinals vs Griffin.

149 Pounds- Perhaps the toughest weight class in the tournament. Top-seeded Brent Metcalf (34-1) of Iowa will face strong challenges in the top tier from Lance Palmer (19-7) of Ohio State and Jordan Burroughs (23-4) of Nebraska. Fifth-seeded Josh Churella (21-3) of Michigan will face Trevor Chinn (Lehigh) in an opening bout. Lodged in the bottom bracket is second-seeded and 2006 NCAA champion, Dustin Schlatter (17-3) of Minnesota. Boston's Mike Roberts meets Darrion Caldwell (26-3) of North Carolina State in a first round match. Kyle Fried has Mitch Mueller (21-11) of Iowa State in his first round bout. Hoping to reach the finals from that bracket is third-seeded JP O'Connor (Harvard), Ryan Lang (17-5) of Northwestern and Bubba Jenkins (22-5) of Penn State.

157 Pounds- Defending NCAA champion junior Gregor Gillespie is top-rated and could face Cornell's Jordan Leen (22-3) in the quarterfinals. Top bracket challengers are CP Schlatter (27-3) of Minnesota, along with fourth-seeded Brandon Becker (22-4) of Indiana, he will face tough Jonny Bonilla-Bowman of Hofstra  in the second round. Lodged in the bottom bracket is second-seeded Mike Poeta (32-2) of Illinois, who could meet Iowa State's Cyler Sanderson (28-4) in an interesting quarterfinal. Also, Steven Brown (Central Michigan) will meet Army's Christian Snook (19-10) in an opening bout.

165 Pounds-
Top-seeded senior Eric Tannebaum (26-2) of Michigan is a three-time NCAA place-winner and hopes to capture the gold medal. He will have strong opposition from fourth-seeded freshman Mack Lewnes (32-3) of Cornell. Hofstra's Ryan Patrovich has opening bout with fifth-seeded Stephen Dwyer (24-5) of Nebraska. Reigning NCAA champion, senior Mark Perry (Iowa) drew the second seed and could face Oklahoma State's Jacob Dieffenbach (19-5) in the quarterfinals. Third-seeded Nick Marable (17-2) of Missouri and Jon Reader (26-7) of Iowa State are formidable foes and could reach the finals.

174 Pounds- NCAA finalist senior Keith Gavin (22-0) of Pittsburgh is the top seed and could meet Brandon Mason (26-5) of Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals. Other top bracket challengers are Brandon Sinnott (26-3) of Central Michigan and Jay Borschel (30-6) of Iowa. Hofstra junior Alton Lucas is sixth-seeded and is paired with Indiana's Trevor Perry (20-12) in an opening bout. Lodged in the lower bracket with Lucas are Brandon Browne (24-1) of Nebraska and Cornell's Steve Anceravage (31-4). Tough first round match-up has Binghamton's Josh Patterson against the second seed Steve Luke (25-2), a junior from Michigan.

184 Pounds- NCAA runner-up Jake Varner (25-0) a sophomore from Iowa State is top-seeded and could meet strong foe in Roger Kish (13-6) of Minnesota in the quarterfinals. Also in that top tier are Jack Jensen (13-6) of Oklahoma State and Oklahoma's Joshua Wetzel (25-3). Second-seeded sophomore Mike Pucillo (25-0) of Ohio State drew the second seed and should advance to the semifinals in the bottom bracket. Possible opponent is third-seeded Tyrel Todd (21-3) of Michigan or Raymond Jordan (17-3) of Missouri. Look for Varner vs Pucillo in an exciting championship bout.

197 Pounds- Returning NCAA champion Josh Glenn (American) is the strong favorite in a very competitve weight class. Possible quarterfinal opponent could be Patrick Bond (20-5) of Virginia. Also perched in the top bracket is Joe Rovelli (Hofstra) who has second round match with Darren Burns (24-5) of UNC-Greensboro. Bottom bracket contenders are second-seeded Phil Davis (21-1) of Penn State, Joel Flaggert (22-5) of Oklahoma and third-seeded Mike Tamillow (30-3) of Northwestern.

285 Pounds- Northwestern senior Dustin Fox (24-1) has the number one ranking, he will face a challenge from Jared Rosholt (29-3) of Oklahoma State in the top tier. Also in the bracket is Rider's Ed Bordas who could face Matt Fields (31-6) of Iowa in a quarterfinal bout. Bottom bracket challengers appear to be second-seeded JD Bergman (24-2) of Ohio State, David Zabriskie (25-5) of Iowa State and third-seeded Ed Prendergast (31-2) of Navy.

   Pennsylvania leads the nation with NCAA qualifiers, as the Keystone State has 46 grapplers in the tournament, followed by Ohio (31), New Jersey (29), California (27), Iowa (20) and New York with their 18 representatives. Of the 18 qualifiers from New York, 12 won New York State Championships
. Two national champions hail from New York, Gregor Gillespie (Webster-Schroeder HS) and Josh Glenn (Johnson City HS), the others are Paul Donahue (Davison HS, Michigan), 2006 champ Dustin Schlatter (Massillon HS, Ohio) and Mark Perry (Stillwater HS, Oklahoma).

Defending NCAA champion and former NYS champion, Gregor Gillespie of Edinboro is the top seed at 157 pounds and hopes to repeat this year in St. Louis.