Monday, June 6, 2022

Down Goes the #1! - Part 13

 Now we're into the late 90's. Some great upsets of #1 seeds before the NCAA finals took place during these times. 

1997 118 - #5 Lindsey Durlacher Upsets #1 Sheldon Thomas Clarion 

The talk of the 1997 118 lbs bracket was Iowa's Jesse Whitmer. The senior who had yet to make varsity until his final year that won the NCAA title, but he wasn't the only grappler in collegiate wrestling's smallest weight class to make some noise.  Illinois' Lindsey Durlacher who had placed 4th a year prior came in and knocked off the 1996 Champion Sheldon Thomas of Clarion 3-1 in the semi-finals in route to a runner-up finish. Sheldon came back to finish 3rd.  Post college Durlacher continued to international success winning World Bronze in 2006 along with PAN-AMERICAN Silver medals in 2003 & 2007. We unfortunately lost Durlacher in a snowmobile accident years ago. 

1997 126 - #4 Mike Mena Iowa Upsets #1 Dwight Hinson Iowa State 4-3 in Semi-Finals 

Having been on the receiving end of having been upset as the #1 seed two years in a row, it was now Mike Mena's turn to do the upsetting. Against rival Dwight Hinson of cross state enemy Iowa State inside the home of the Panthers of Northern Iowa, Mena pulled off an epic upset 4-3in the semi-finals.  Mena went on to place 2nd as Hinson took 4th. Hinson who placed 3rd in 1995, 2nd in 1996 & then 3rd again in 1998, along with being a three time BIG 12 champion, falls somewhere on the list of best to never win an NCAA title. 

      1997 177 - U.S. John Van Doren Lehigh Upsets #1 Mark Smith Oklahoma State 10-9 in QF 

As many upsets as their were at the 1997 NCAA tournament, many call Lehigh's John Van Doren 10-9 decision over Oklahoma State's Mark Smith in the quarterfinals the biggest. Not only did he upend the Cowboy here, but he proved himself again when he defeated him a second time 3-2 for 3rd place. Van Doren would be a match short of placing in 1998 as a junior but come back to claim a 5th place finish in 1999 as a senior. 

1997 190 - #5 Lee Fullhart Iowa Upsets #1 Jason Robison Edinboro 7-4 in Semi-Finals

1997 was Dan Gable's final year as the head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes. The greatest coach in the history of collegiate wrestling was not predicted to take home the team title in his last tournament. It was going to take his wrestlers going above and beyond expectation for their beloved coach to bring home one more gold plated trophy. One of the wrestlers who took the initiative and stepped up to the challenge was sophomore Lee Fullhart. In points vital to Iowa's national championship, Fullhart not only upset the #1 seed Jason Robison of Edinboro in the semi-finals, he went on to win the NCAA title. Having finished 4th as a freshman in 1996, he would be 3rd in 1998, finishing out his illustrious career as the NCAA runner-up in 1999. It should be noted a three time BIG 10 finalist, Fullhart is an NCAA champion that never won a BIG 10 title.  As to Robison, he was 7th in 1995 as a true sophomore, redshirting in 1996. He would finish out his senior season of 1998 the NCAA runner-up. A three time EWL champion, he later was the head coach of the Washington & Jefferson program. 

       1998 142 - #8 Mike Harp Missouri Upsets #1 Steve Schmidt Oklahoma State 8-5 in QF

Seeing how Steve Schmidt of Oklahoma State had handled Mike Harp of Missouri in the BIG 12 finals just weeks prior 8-3, it didn't seem likely that the Tiger would pull off the upset in the quarterfinals, but that is exactly what happened. In his final tournament Harp would finish in 6th place, only of the only L's in the Win/Loss record of Schmidt.  Schmidt who had been 4th in 1996 as a sophomore & 2nd in 1997 as a junior, finished out his career with a 7th place finish. 115-5 in his career, he was a three time BIG 12 champion. 

1999 165 - #9 Steve Blackford Arizona State Upsets #1 Joe Heskett Iowa State 2-2 t.b. in QF

This match sticks out in my mind for a multitude of reasons. When I first began my interest in collegiate wrestling way back in 1991, I was all Iowa. Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa. I knew all of the Hawkeyes up and down the lineup, but outside of the black & gold, I didn't know much. We had always gone to Carver Hawkeye arena for dual meets, but now Dad took up an interest in Iowa State & we started going to duals at Hilton Coliseum. Freshman Joe Heskett impressed me on the mat, but he really impressed me off of it. I noticed as I sat up in the stands that all of the little kids at the dual gathered around him after the meet was over. Being a young 7th grader, I was still into getting autographs and meeting the wrestlers. I'll never forget how Joe Heskett treated me and my father. While the other wrestlers were cool & nice, Joe walked right up to my Dad shook his hand and thanked him for coming out to support the Cyclones. He then thanked him for bringing me to the meet & thanked me personally for coming. I watched Joe do this with a bunch of moms, dads and kids that day. He made time to talk to, encourage and inspire everyone around him. They guy's positivity was contagious. My Dad told Bobby Douglas that day that he had made and extremely wise decision in recruiting Heskett. I think Bobby knew that Dad was talking far beyond his talents and skills on the mat. 

Then there was Steve Blackford the Arizona State Sun Devil from Iowa who had wrestled for West Des Moines Dowling Catholic in high school. Along with Minnesota's LeRoy Vega, he was the first wrestler outside of the Iowa schools that I paid attention to. Dad was a big fan of his.  So when this match took place in 1999, it was one of those where you just felt sick to your stomach cause you wanted both of them to win, but you knew only one was going to walk off the mat the winner. This time it would be Blackford as he somehow or another kept Heskett on the mat during the tiebreaker. The two would meet again in the consolation finals, this time Heskett being the victor 7-2. 

Blackford would go on to a 3rd place finish in 2000 as a junior & perhaps even more impressive getting upset first round in 2001, he'd work his way all the way back to a 5th place finish.  Heskett would take NCAA runner-up honors in 2000 & 2001, finally getting the NCAA title his senior season of 2002. 

1999 174 U.S. Kevin Boross North Carolina State Upsets #1 Mark Smith Oklahoma State 3-2 in R2

An ACC champion who would finish as the ACC runner up in 2000, Kevin Boross of North Carolina State was never an All American, but his claim to fame was knocking off #1 Mark Smith of Oklahoma State at the 1999 NCAA tournament. As to Smith, he's a victim of his own last name. Anyone else who won three BIG 12 titles & made All American status three times would be treated as the talent that they are. It's really not fair and it isn't right, but it is the legacy that he is left with. The one Smith brother who never won an NCAA title. In wrestling we often talk about intestinal fortitude & I think in the case of Mark Smith it ought to be brought up. 30 years of watching wrestling I've seen a lot of seniors who get upset early on have an inability to bounce back. They realize that their dream of winning a national title will never be a reality and they are unable to shake it. Smith put his nose to the grind and worked his way through the consolations coming back to finish 5th. With expectations as high as they could be for anyone, I'd call that intestinal fortitude.


Down Goes the #1! - Part 14 we'll make like Buck Rogers & head into the 21st Century! 

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