Technically, the Western Wrestling Conference is still considered the West Regional, but next year, the WWC will officially be enacted as a qualifier.
Utah Valley is still ineligible due to the moratorium on teams re-classifying to Division I and won’t be eligible for post-season competition until 2009-10, which means the nation’s leader in wins during the regular season, Ben Kjar, won’t be wrestling this weekend in Fargo.
Northern Iowa, to no one’s surprise, is the favorite for team title, but the question is how many qualifiers can coach Brad Penrith push through? Twenty wrestlers will qualify out of the Region, which was devoid of an All-American last year.
Two UNI wrestlers finished in the Round of 12 and one, 165-pounder Moza Fay, returns.
Who are the best shots in the West to head to the show in St. Louis and where can we see wildcards coming from?
Note: All “seeding projections” come from the pre-seeds prior to the tournament, some seeds may change during the coaches meeting prior.
125 pounds With Kjar, it would be easily the best weight in the conference, and even without, it’s probably the best weight in the conference. Last year, three wrestlers got the right to head to the NCAA championships. Tony Mustari of Northern Colorado looks to make his second trip to the NCAAs. The sophomore from Greeley comes in 28-5 and has won seven straight dual matches heading into the event. Expect a challenge from Eric Hoffman of North Dakota State, who fell earlier this season to Mustari 5-3. Hoffman, a Region champion last year and former NJCAA national champion, is 12-3 coming in. Northern Iowa’s Caleb Flores is capable of pulling an upset, as is Wyoming’s Cody Grant. Air Force’s Zach Valdez will be the probable fourth seed with a 15-4 record and a win over Grant. South Dakota State will enter 10-8 Alan Marvin. Expect the top two here.
133 pounds Despite only wrestling the second half of the season and a mediocre 5-5 record entering the regional, Northern Iowa’s Josh Baldridge will likely be the top seed. Baldridge beat likely second-seed Eric Sanders of North Dakota State 3-0 in their only meeting this season. Sanders has been waiting for his first NCAA Division I appearance since arriving on the campus at North Dakota State and this should be his year. Cory VomBaur of Wyoming is a dark-horse at the weight, while Air Force will enter true freshman Derek Gillespie and South Dakota State will enter veteran Derek Pirner. Look for two to qualify here.
141 pounds Three wrestlers could receive the top seed, but the clear separation is between a pair of nationally-ranked wrestlers and the rest of the pack. Three-time NCAA qualifier C.J. Ettelson of Northern Iowa and Wyoming’s Carter Downing could both have an argument for the top seed. Factoring in Air Force’s Jake Kreigbaum, another former NCAA qualifier, who is also undefeated in conference duals. This weight could bring a third qualifier, but if 125 takes three and 141 takes three, that leaves the possibility that second-place finishers from at least two weights won’t qualify, which could be detrimental for smaller programs looking for that extra exposure at nationals. It’s almost a certainty that Ettelson, despite a mediocre 12-8 record, will qualify, but it’s more dependent on where he finishes that will dictate the wild card. But it won’t exactly be the easiest run, since Gabriel Mooney of North Dakota State and Adam Everson of South Dakota State are solid entries.
149 pounds At first glance, this is an ugly weight. While four wrestlers have records of .500 or better, the resumes overall at 149 pounds make it a distinct possibility that only one wrestler will qualify. The top-seed will be Northern Iowa’s Nate Pickerell, but the 2-3 situation is a little cloudy, although it doesn’t matter, since they’d meet in the semifinals anyway. Pickerell wrestled away the starting spot from Charlie Ettelson and has gone 18-7 on the year. His top competition could be either Ryan Adams of North Dakota State (9-2) or Cole Dallaserra (13-8) of Wyoming. Daniel Prater of Northern Colorado brings in an 18-11 mark, while South Dakota State’s Sean Flynn and Air Force’s Chris Szabolcs are under .500.
157 pounds Don’t look for anything other than the conference champion here due to four of the six wrestlers having records below .500. North Dakota State’s Adam Aho has the best record, at 23-6, but has lost to both Tony Dorward of Air Force (16-18) and Tyson Reiner of Northern Iowa (3-6). Reiner could be the top-seed by virtue of his win over Aho, but there is no earthly way anyone more than the champion will go here. Dorward has a propensity to be in close matches and can get to the .500 mark should he win the region.
165 pounds Another weight that can look for an additional wildcard because five of the six wrestlers are over .500. Northern Iowa’s Moza Fay is the favorite and an All-American contender, while Stephen Crozier of Air Force (23-12), Devan Lewis of Northern Colorado (17-10), Ryan Meyer of South Dakota State (20-9) and Eric Coxbill of Wyoming (24-10) all have quality wins this season. Meyer is a returning NCAA qualifier and should see Coxbill, a JUCO All-American, in the semifinals. Two is a definite, but three a possibility in terms of qualifiers.
174 pounds With only two wrestlers over .500, two bids might be a stretch, but Alex Dolly of Northern Iowa and Tyler French of Air Force are the best shots at qualifying. Dolly will be the top seed and is unbeaten against WWC foes, while French is 4-1 and comes in with a 23-12 record. If either one is picked off by the remaining four entries: Shannon Fettig (NDSU), Ryan Johnson (Northern Colorado), Justin Retallic (SDSU) or Kyle Morrow (Wyoming), they can kiss their NCAA hopes goodbye.
184 pounds It’s a possibility that two might qualify here, but the winning percentages will be a little low. South Dakota State’s best possibility at getting a qualifier other than Ryan Meyer is 184-pounder Tyler Sorenson. The sophomore is 9-1 in limited action this year but does have a 7-6 victory over Northern Iowa’s Andy O’Laughlin (10-14). O’Laughlin will be the #2, while Ken Moenkedick of North Dakota State could be the #3 by virtue of his previous win over Jacob Devlin of Air Force. O’Laughlin could get a bid despite being under .500.
197 pounds Clear cut #1 and #2 as Andrew Anderson of Northern Iowa comes in 17-9 and unbeaten in the conference. He’ll be followed by North Dakota State’s Jacob Bryce, a scrappy kid who comes in with a 12-9 record. After those two, only Northern Colorado’s Patrick Carey stands a realistic chance at knocking either of the top seeds off, while Wyoming and Air Force still haven’t decided who their going with at the weight. Two bids.
285 pounds South Dakota State doesn’t have an entry, leaving this to just five wrestlers, with the head of the class being Northern Colorado’s Reece Hopkin, a returning NCAA qualifier. Dustin Bauman of Northern Iowa is a probable #2 seed, while Tyler Hemmesch of North Dakota State is going to be the #3. Air Force’s entry, Anthony Stegeman comes in 24-13, while Wyoming’s Jason Still is 4-14.