Friday, June 3, 2022

Down Goes the #1! - Part 12

 Today we take a look at all of the times at the NCAA Division I wrestling tournament between 1993 & 1996 when the #1 seed was upset before the NCAA finals. 

1993 134 - #4 Cary Kolat Penn State Upsets #1 Troy Steiner Iowa 8-4 in Semi-Finals 

1993 was a year for youth as two of the best true freshmen to ever grace the mats of NCAA DI wrestling both came into Ames, Iowa to prove to the world they were going to be every bit as good in college as they had been in high school. One of those true freshmen was Cary Kolat of Penn State who at Jefferson Morgan not only won four Pennsylvania High School State titles, but also placed at the Midlands while still in high school. To this day he's still considered by many to be the greatest high school wrestler of all time.  At the collegiate level, he did not disappoint. He upset four time All American Troy Steiner of Iowa, who after a 5th place finish in 1990 as a freshman had finished runner-up & national champion respectively in 1991 & 1992. As Kolat would finish as the NCAA runner-up, Steiner battled his way back to 3rd.  As a true sophomore, Kolat took 3rd place in 1994.  A transfer & redshirt now at Lock Haven, Kolat would win back to back NCAA titles in 1996 & 1997.  Both Kolat & Steiner went on to international success post college.  Kolat won PAN-AMERICAN Gold, World Cup Gold & Silver as well as World Silver & World Bronze. Steiner won World Cup Gold in 1992& PAN-AMERICAN Gold in 1996. They also both got into coaching.  Steiner coached at both Oregon State as well as Fresno State. After turning the Campbell wrestling program around into a successful one that contends for Southern Conference titles year in and year out, Kolat is now coaching at Navy. 

1993 142 - #5 Lincoln McIlravy Iowa Upsets #1 Shannyn Gillespie Lock Haven 12-7 in SF

The other true freshman everyone had their eye on in 1993 was Iowa's Lincoln McIlravy. Expectations were high for the young Hawkeye and he did not disappoint. Fresh out of high school where he had won five state titles, McIlravy upset #1 seed Shannyn Gillespie 12-7 in the semi-finals in route to winning his first NCAA title. Gillespie took 3rd. Winning title #2 as a true sophomore in 1994, McIlravy was upset in the 1995 NCAA finals. Taking a redshirt in 1996, he came back to claim his third NCAA title in 1997. Gillespie a four time EWL finalist & two time champion did not place at the NCAA's in 1994. 

1993 158 - U.S. Earl Walker Boston Upset #1 Matt Lindland Nebraska 13-4 in R1 

Matt Lindland had won a NJCAA title for Clackamas as a sophomore in 1991. He was now at Nebraska in his senior season, a BIG 12 champion, undefeated looking to win the NCAA title. All looked good until he ran into Earl Walker a sophomore from Boston who upended him 13-4. It'd be Lindland's final collegiate match as Walker finished one match shy of placing. Despite the disappointment of his final collegiate appearance, Lindland did not let it deter him one bit from his future success. Nose to the grind he found himself an Olympic Silver medalist in 2000, following it up with a World Silver medal in 2001. Since that time he's had success as both an MMA fighter & as a Hollywood actor.  As to Walker, he would earn All American honors as a junior in 1994 with a 3rd place finish. All in All he put together a record of 86-12, winning four NEIWA (New England Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) titles for the Terriers. 

1994 126 - #9 Dave Nieradka Oregon State Upsets #1 Nick Purler Oklahoma State 2-1 in QF

Not everything is within our control. Sometimes the deck is stacked against you & that's just the way it is. Nick Purler of Oklahoma State had qualified for the NCAA championships as a freshman & was having a pretty successful career as a Cowboy. Unfortunately because of NCAA violations, Oklahoma State was ruled ineligible for the 92'-93' post-season & Purler had to miss out on an opportunity that could have been his junior season. He bounced back in a big way for his senior season, winning the BIG 12 title & earning the #1 seed. He would be upset however when he dropped a 2-1 match to Oregon State's Dave Nieradka in the quarter-finals. Nieradka finished in 6th place as Purler came back to claim 7th.  Also a senior at the time, Nieradka was also 6th in the 1993 NCAA championships. Today Purler runs a successful wrestling academy. 

1994 134 - #5 Babak Mohammadi Oregon State Upset #1 Cary Kolat Penn State 6-4 S.V. in SF

Thus far in Babak Mohammadi's career at Oregon State he had been 6th in 1991 & 5th in 1992, taking a redshirt in 1993. He came back in a big way in 1994 when he came into the NCAA tournament & knocked off #1 Cary Kolat of Penn State in route to a runner-up finish. Kolat finished in 3rd. Mohammadi would again make the NCAA finals in 1995. As already noted, Kolat redshirted in 95', winning back to back titles now for Lock Haven in 96' & 97'. 

1994 167 - U.S. Laszlo Molnar Cal State Fullerton Upset #1 Shaon Fry Missouri 5-4 in SF

It ain't over till it's over. If that saying has any truth to it whatsoever, it was certainly displayed in 1994 by senior Laszlo Molnar of Cal State Fullerton. When the Hungarian born grappler entered his final NCAA championships he hadn't done much to capture the eyes of the wrestling community. In fact, he hadn't even won a PAC-12 title. Yet he won, then he won again & he won again after that. Now this unseeded wrestler that no one knew and no one expected anything out of was in the NCAA semi-finals. His opponent? #1 seed Shaon Fry of Missouri, the 1993 NCAA Runner-up who was hoping to become the Tiger's first NCAA champion. Molnar again pulled off an upset in an epic 5-4 battle.  Losing by a hair in the NCAA finals, Molnar would finish in 2nd place as Fry came back to claim 3rd. 

1994 177 - U.S. Reese Andy Wyoming Upsets #1 Les Gutches Oregon State F 1:39 in QF

If anyone ever tells you that the headlock doesn't work in high level competition against high level opponents simply hold up your hand & say, "refer to Reese Andy."  I've seen a lot of good headlocks in my 30 years of being a fan of his sport, but I've seen few thrown with the quickness, tenacity & just plain meanness of Andy's. When he secured the head & the arm you might as well have been on a roller coaster at Six Flags Great America because you were going for a ride. The three time State champ out of Montana a little over a minute & a half to send the #1 seed Les Gutches of Oregon State into the consolation bracket as he advanced into the semi-finals.  Andy finished as the NCAA runner-up as Gutches finished in 5th place.  The next season of 1995, Andy would finish in 6th place as Gutches won his first of what would be two NCAA titles.  Having to wait a full two seasons this would be where Gutches got his opportunity for revenge. In what would be both his & Andy's final collegiate match, the NCAA finals of 1996, Gutches won an 8-2 decision.  Post college Andy had a successful career in ultimate fighting as Gutches succeeded on the international level.  Along with World bronze, this included gold medals at the World, Good Wills Games & PAN-AMERICAN levels. 

1995 118 - #4 Eric Ivins Oklahoma Upsets #1 Mike Mena Iowa 11-6 in Semi-Finals 

If you study the year of NCAA wrestling 1993-1994, you'll notice something rather peculiar about the post season. You'll see that Eric Ivins of Oklahoma finished 2nd at the BIG 12 championships (an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament) but you won't find his name anywhere on the bracket sheet at nationals. You see Ivins failed to make weight for the championships. The next season Ivins bumped up to 126 lbs & ranked at the higher weight class it was a shock to the wrestling world when he dropped back down to 118 for the BIG 12 championships. Despite his doubters, Ivins more than proved that he knew what he was doing. After winning the BIG 12 title, he worked his way to an NCAA runner-up finish knocking off BIG 10 Champ & #1 seed Mike Mena of Iowa in the semi-finals.  Mena who was a sophomore at the time had finished 7th his freshman season. He went on to place 3rd, then taking 5th his junior season before earning a runner-up finish himself his senior season of 1997. 

1995 158 - #8 Eric Smith Ohio State Upsets #1 Joe Burke Seton Hall 3-2 in QF 

It ain't over till it's over. Said that earlier in reference to someone's collegiate career & now I'm saying it in reference to a wrestling match. When Eric Smith of Ohio State went for the takedown against Seton Hall's Joe Burke there was but mere seconds left on the clock. He was down 2-1 & as the buzzer sounded the referee held up two fingers. The #8 seed had just upset the #1 seed 3-2 in the NCAA quarterfinals. Undeterred from the loss, it was all business for Burke as he worked his way back to a 3rd place finish. It looked as though he'd meet Smith in the consolation final, but Smith medical forfeited to 4th place.  Burke who had been 4th in the nation the previous season finished his career at 148-20.  Smith claimed a second All American honor in 1996, placing 5th. 

1995 HWT - #5 Justin Greenlee Northern Iowa Upsets #1 Kerry McCoy Penn State in SF

This match fascinates for a variety of reasons. First and foremost Kerry McCoy of Penn State had defeated Justin Greenlee of Northern Iowa 7-4 in the 1994 NCAA finals.  The 4-3 win for Greenlee over McCoy here in the 1995 quarterfinals was revenge for the Panther over the Nittany Lion. Being an Iowa boy, I think what fascinates me most about this moment is that Greenlee would then face Tolly Thompson of Nebraska in the finals, who defeated him for the NCAA title. Greenlee went to high school at Waverly-Shellrock as Thompson went to high school at Janesville. That's only a 7 mile drive from High School to High School, 15 minutes at most. Makes me wonder if there has ever been another time in history when two wrestlers from two different schools that were extremely close to one another met in the NCAA DI finals. Greenlee who had also been 8th in the nation as a sophomore in 1993, graduated also claiming three West Regional titles as well as 1993 PAN-AMERICAN Gold to his resume.  McCoy who finished 3rd, took a redshirt in 1996, coming back in 1997 to claim his second NCAA title.  Post college he won PAN-AMERICAN Gold as well a World Silver in 2003 before getting into coaching at both the collegiate and international levels. 

1996 118 - #4 Sheldon Thomas Clarion Upsets #1 Mike Mena 6-4 in SF 

If you ever want to debate who the greatest wrestler is that ever came out of the state of Delaware, all I ask is that in your argument you include Sheldon Thomas of Clarion. The four time state champion who was 5th as a sophomore in 1995, came into the NCAA's in 1996 & walked out the champion, having knocked off #1 Mike Mena of Iowa along the way.  Finishing 124-18, Thomas was 3rd as a senior in 1997. 

1996 134 - #4 Steve St John Arizona State Upset #1 Mark Ironside Iowa 6-4 S.V. in SF 

When I first met Mark Ironside in September of 2003 he didn't seem to like my first name much. I think it's probably because I share the same first name of the guy who upset him in the NCAA semi-finals his sophomore year. He talked about that match to me and a few other wrestlers at a practice one night reliving the moment in his head, every bit as angry about it then as he was when it had happened. I'm sure if you asked him about it now, it'll still tick him off. Ironside's glory lay ahead of him as he'd win back to back NCAA titles in 1997 & 1998. Yet this night belonged to the Sun-Devil. Steve St. John who had finished 4th in 1994 & 3rd in 1995, nailed a slick duckunder to upend the Hawkeye in route to an NCAA runner-up finish. It'd be the last time Ironside ever lost as he claimed the bronze with vengeance going undefeated his next two seasons. 

    1996 150 -  #9 Bill Lacure Michigan Upsets #1 Ross Hughes Penn State 5-4 tiebreaker in QF 

Russ Hughes had defeated eventual 1996 NCAA champion Chris Bono of Iowa State multiple times during the season setting himself up to be the NCAA champion at 150 lbs. Unfortunately he'd run into a redhot Bill Lacure of Michigan who upset him in a tiebreaker 5-4 in the quarterfinals.  Hughes would extract revenge on Lacure defeating him 3-1 for 3rd place. A year later Lacure earned a #3 seed but found himself finishing one match shy of a medal. He bounced back as a senior in 1998 earning another 4th place finish. 

1996 167- #5 Daryl Weber Iowa Upset #1 Markus Mollica Arizona State 6-4 in SF

Having been on the receiving end of upsets at 118 & 134 lbs, it was now time for the Hawkeyes to do a little upsetting of their own. Daryl Weber who had thus far been 6th twice during his career pulled off a huge upset for the black & gold when he upended two time NCAA champion Markus Mollica of Arizona State 6-4 in the semi-finals.  As Weber claimed the NCAA title, Mollica who had also placed 5th as a sophomore in 1994, came back to place 4th. 

1996 HWT - #5 Justin Harty North Carolina Upset #1 Tolly Thompson Nebraska 6-5 in SF 

Tar Heel wrestling legend Justin Harty was a lot of first in terms of North Carolina wrestling. The first four time ACC champion as well as the first four time NCAA All American. Having been 8th in his freshman & sophomore seasons, he pulled off a huge upset in the NCAA semi-finals when he squeaked past 1995 NCAA champion Tolly Thompson of Nebraska. A Harty finished 2nd, Thompson came back to place 3rd. Both seeing their final year of eligibility in 1997, Harty would finish out his career with a 6th place finish as Thompson being the collector of falls that he was pinned his way to a second 3rd place finish, this time adding a Gorriaran award along with it.  Post college Thompson would earn World Bronze in 2005.  For the record, Thompson is on the list of NCAA champions who never won a state title. 


Trust me Down Goes the #1! Part 13 will not disappoint! To be posted soon! 

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