2006 Big Ten Wrestling Championships Preview
March 3, 2006
Indiana University is set to host the 2006 edition of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships on March 4-5 at Assembly Hall. This year's event promises to be one of the best in the history of the championships. No. 9 Illinois, which took home its first league title since 1952, enters the postseason as one of nine conference teams ranked in the nation's top 20. Minnesota and Michigan, the league's dual season champion, rank first and second in the country. No. 8 Penn State, No. 11 Iowa, No. 13 Northwestern, No. 17 Indiana, No. 18 Michigan State and No. 19 Wisconsin make up the rest of the conference's ranked teams. The Big Ten also proves itself as one of the toughest wrestling conferences in the nation with more than 50 wrestlers ranked among the top 20 in their respective weight class and five 2005 NCAA finalists.
Dubuque will be challenged by three other nationally ranked opponents, including defending Big Ten champion Simmons. The No. 2 seed, Simmons has also maintained an unblemished record, racking up 29 wins on his way to the earning third-best ranking in the country. Also holding top 10 rankings are Northwestern senior John Velez and Illinois senior Kyle Ott, who sit at No. 7 and No. 8, respectively. Velez finished the Big Ten season 6-2 while Ott completed conference competition at 5-3. Ott finished second in the 2005 championships to Simmons, and has made it to the NCAA finals the past two seasons.
The remaining seeds go to a trio of freshmen who make their first conference championships appearances but are anything but unheralded. Michigan freshman Michael Watts (12-16 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) earned Wrestler of the Week honors for huge efforts in the Wolverines' back-to-back wins over Minnesota and Indiana in the final dual season meets to seal their conference title. Minnesota's Travis Lang, a redshirt freshman, is 24-14 overall at No. 7 and Penn State's Brad Pataky earned the No. 8 see with a 15-6 season.
Ranked third in the nation, Reiter is the only wrestler to complete an undefeated conference dual season. Purdue senior Chris Fleeger is next in line with the second seed and No. 4 national ranking. Fleeger finished the Big Ten dual season 7-1. Before moving up to the 133-pound group, Fleeger won the 2003 Big Ten title and earned All-America status twice as a 125-pound grappler. Third-seeded Wisconsin senior Tom Clum also owns a conference title from the 125 class in 2004. With a 6-1 league mark this year, Clum is makes his fourth championship run with the No. 3 seed.
Clum defeated Michigan's Mark Moos in last year's conference tournament to claim third-place honors. No. 11 Moos returns as the fourth seed this year. Behind him is a trio of freshmen in Penn State's Jake Strayer at No. 5, Indiana's Andrae Hernandez in the No. 6 seed and Ohio State's Reece Humphrey at No. 8. Illinois sophomore Gabe Flores rounds out the seeded grapplers, making his first trip to the Big Ten Championships as well.
Sixth-seeded Cassie Pero, a No. 3 seed a year ago, claimed third place honors in the 2005 event after being beaten out in a close 3-2 decision in the quarterfinals by Northwestern's Ryan Lang. Two more top-five finishers from last year's championships return in Iowa sophomore Alex Tsirtsis (No. 3) finished fifth while Lang (No. 5) took fourth. Rounding out the seeds is fourth-seeded Penn State senior DeWitt Driscoll, Minnesota sophomore Manuel Rivera and Wisconsin's Ed Gutnik.
Ohio State freshman No. 10 J Jaggers makes his first trip to the conference tournament as the fourth seed followed by Purdue senior No. 9 Doug Withstandley, a seventh-place finisher in last year's event who holds the fifth spot in the bracket. A spot behind Jaggers in the national rankings, Wisconsin junior No. 11 Tyler Turner enters the tournament with the sixth seed. He is followed by Michigan State's Darren McKnight and Penn State senior James Woodall, who are ranked 16th and 13th in the country, respectively.
Hoping to thwart Tirapelle's hunt for a third crown are a trio of capable sophomores. Wisconsin's No. 4 Craig Henning (23-5, 7-1 Big Ten) holds the second seed while Minnesota's C.P. Schlatter is the third-best 157-pounder in the country with a record of 31-5 overall and 7-1 Big Ten. Indiana's Brandon Becker is ranked No. 6 and is tabbed with the fourth seed. Iowa senior Joe Johnston (No. 4), Steve Luke (No. 6) Ohio State's Steve Sommer (No. 7) and Penn State senior Nathan Galloway (No. 8) round out the nationally ranked seeds.
Churella will have to fight off a field of seven top-20 competitors in a weight class where the dual season results proved that this title is truly up for grabs. The seeded Big Ten athletes who are more than capable of contending for the title are Penn State freshman No. 12 David Erwin (23-6 overall, 5-1 Big Ten), Wisconsin junior No. 17 Jake Donar (9-9 overall, 4-4 Big Ten), Iowa junior No. 18 Eric Luedke (17-10 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) and Northwestern senior No. 19 Will Durkee (18-10 overall, 3-5 Big Ten).
Michigan State senior R.J. Boudro and Penn State junior James Yonushonis also own top 10 rankings, while Michigan's Nick Roy, Minnesota's Gabriel Dretsch and Illinois' Donny Reynolds all hold spots among the nation's best 15 grapplers. Completing the bracket seeds is Wisconsin's No. 16 Kelly Flaherty and Ohio State redshirt freshman No. 20 Blake Maurer.
Rounding out the ranked grapplers is Northwestern sophomore No. 11 Dustin Fox, Iowa junior No. 18 Ryan Fuller and Penn State senior No. 19 Joel Edwards.