NCAA 2017 Recap
I was a little late on this one...
I was working on this while preparing for the US Open this past weekend. I meant to send it out earlier, but the days got away from me. This means you’ll also get my US Open recap in the next few days.
The 2017 NCAAs in one word… WOW!
It's taken me awhile to think about all that happened and put it down in a post. As you can imagine I was blown away by Penn State and if wrote anything before now I might have been biased.
Being back brings me back
Four years, that's how long ago it was since I last competed on the NCAA stage. Even though I didn't compete, I still got the same charge of energy. I was amped up the whole week leading up to the event. I know so many of these guys and their potential.
The best part is that March Matness always lives up to the hype and then exceeds it. Championship weekend is the opportunity for EVERY qualifying wrestler to put it all on the line. Throw the records out, throw history out and go give the best of yourself the moment that whistle blows. We saw some incredible performances and some unexpected results. We also saw my boys run off five in a row. I think my heart rate stayed in the red zone from the moment that Zain Retherford stepped on the mat until Bo Nickal had his hand raised. What a night and a season.
The big names did what they came to do. Kyle Snyder and J'den Cox are tough to beat on the international level let alone the collegiate level. They both showed they are two of the best in the world. It's amazing to know that these two athletes competed in the Olympics this past summer and THEN wrestled for NCAA titles. They showed that they were head and shoulders above their competition.
Kyle Snyder moves like a 133 pounder but is as strong as any heavyweight. Think about that for a minute and then it's clear why he is the World, Olympic and NCAA champion. I've learned so much from Kyle from his mindset to his work ethic to his incredible stance and motion. He will continue winning as long as he wants to wrestle.
J'den Cox is able to wrestle in space as well as anyone. His ability to score from anywhere is too much to handle at the collegiate level. It was also so much fun to watch him win in his hometown.
Darian Cruz put together a run that gets the crowd going. He was a 4 seed but few expected him to beat Thomas Gilman in the semis. He went after it and wrestled until the ref blew the whistle. Good things happen when you give it everything you got.
Cory Clark gave the Hawkeyes a tough fought win and Dean Heil continued on his winning ways by collecting his second title in a row.
Under the camera lights
For the first time, I was able to commentate live on air on ESPN. I understood Rick Bobby completely. I didn't know what to do with my hands! I have a deeper appreciation for how hard the job is. You need to provide insight on the wrestling without getting sucked into to being a fan. It is much tougher than it looks especially when your guys are on the mat.
Speaking of my guys being on the mat…
I need to get this out of the way real quick.
Five in a row
The team title was already locked up and now it was time for my guys to shine.
Zain Retherford, two undefeated seasons in a row and later awarded the Hodge. He is a punisher. If you are on bottom you will get turned and most likely pinned. I admit, I grimace when I see the pressure he puts on his opponents.
Jason Nolf, he will score and score some more. Once he learns your rhythm he adapts and racks up the points. He can create offense from distance and turn basic hand fighting into a quick two.
Vincenzo Joseph, I said it early in the evening of the event that he has incredibly strong hips. Imar went for an outside trip and Vincenzo capitalized on a tiny opening and stunned the crowd. We all knew he was capable of this type of performance, but in that moment against a seasoned, multi-time champ he had all of us going crazy! Watch and listen to the best play-by-play announcer in the business Ironhead Jeff Byers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snpDXum5bok
Mark Hall, true freshman, NCAA champion. There was quite a few opinions about pulling his redshirt, but as we all saw, he was ready. Through all the pressure and tight matches he kept his composure to get the wins.
Bo Nickal, he is dangerous from anywhere and everywhere. His finals match against 2x National Champ Gabe Dean showed that Bo can win in all types of situations. We get so used to the fireworks but it was impressive to see him go down early and grind away to a 4-3 win.
I'm asked all the time how does Coach Sanderson do it. If you look at the five champions you'll notice something, they all have a different style. One of the things that Coach does so well is he let's you be you. He refines your techniques and gets you mentally focused, but he doesn't try and make you wrestle like he did.He also lets us have fun. The guys spend a lot of time in different, odd situations and learn to wrestle through them. Of course they work hard and being in elite condition is always important. But the part that I think that we all appreciate the most is Coach makes sure that we appreciate how much fun wrestling is.