DES MOINES, Iowa —
Cornell’s Kyle Dake will seek to take his place among the greatest college wrestlers of all time.
Penn State will attempt to solidify its status as the nation’s pre-eminent program — in the backyard of its biggest rival, Iowa — when the NCAA championships start today in Des Moines. The team race figures to be a competition between the Big Ten’s best, led by the Nittany Lions, Hawkeyes and Ohio State and Minnesota, along with Oklahoma State.
But Dake will be the main draw.
The three-time NCAA champion is just three days away from possibly becoming the first wrestler to win four national titles in four different weight classes.
“I think the most important thing for me to recognize is that I’ve got to get there before I can make history,” Dake said.
Dake has bumped up a weight class every season, progressing from 141 pounds to 149 to 157 and, as a senior, 165 pounds.
Dake’s decision to finish his career at 165 pounds put him in line to face defending NCAA champion David Taylor of Penn State, last year’s Hodge Trophy winner as the top overall wrestler in the country.
Dake has beaten Taylor in an exhibition and in an NCAA-sanctioned match already this season. A third meeting would be perhaps the most highly anticipated collegiate match in recent memory — and a victory by Dake would make him the third wrestler with four NCAA titles, joining Pat Smith and current Penn State coach Cael Sanderson.
The team title chase could end up looking very similar to the recent Big Ten championships, which were won by Penn State.
The Nittany Lions have won the last two national titles and appear to be in strong position to do it again. Penn State outlasted Minnesota and Iowa to win the Big Ten, and four Nittany Lions claimed league crowns ahead of the national meet.
Perhaps the only team outside of the Big Ten with a true shot at the national title is Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys, ranked second behind Penn State, will have a qualifier in all 10 weight classes. Eight of Oklahoma State’s starters are Big 12 champions, and Jordan Oliver at 149 pounds is among four All-Americans for the Cowboys. Oliver, a 2011 national champion who worked as a training partner with the U.S. wrestling team for the London Games last summer, is 32-0 this season.
“For us to be successful, we’re going to have to earn some tough, tough wins,” Oklahoma State coach John Smith said.
Oliver (33-0) and 174-pounder Chris Perry (30-2) are No. 1 seeds for the Cowboys.
Six other OSU wrestlers are seeded — Jon Morrison (23-6), No. 7, 133; Alex Dieringer (35-2), No. 6, 157; Tyler Caldwell (29-4), No. 4, 165; Chris Chionuma (27-8), No. 9, 184; Blake Rosholt (13-7), No. 11, 197; and Alan Geologaey (21-6), No. 3, 285.
Other OSU qualifiers are 125-pounder Eddie Kimara (24-14) and 141-pounder Julian Feikert (21-17).
Oklahoma has five qualifiers — Cody Brewer (21-6), 133; Kendric Maple (26-0), 141; Nick Lester (16-11), 149; Matt Lester (16-8), 157; and Patrick “Bubby’’ Graham, (21-4) 165. Brewer is the No. 8 seed. Maple is the No. 2 seed. Graham is the No. 6 seed.