Plenty of questions set to be answered during 2007-08 college wrestling season
Craig Sesker USA Wrestling

Can the Minnesota Golden Gophers repeat? Will Iowa State make another run at the team title?

Will returning NCAA champions Paul Donahoe of Nebraska, Gregor Gillespie of Edinboro, Mark Perry of Iowa and Josh Glenn of American win it all again?

Can Minnesota?s Dustin Schlatter, a 2006 NCAA champion, return to his gold-medal form this season?

Who will the new Hodge Trophy award winner be?

How will talented newcomers Brent Metcalf of Iowa and Corey Jantzen of Harvard fare this season?

These are among the many storylines that fans will be following when the 2007-08 college wrestling season kicks off in early November. The final answers will come at the NCAA Championships on March 20-22 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Minnesota starts the season as the consensus No. 1 pick in college wrestling. The Golden Gophers lost two-time NCAA champion heavyweight Cole Konrad, but everybody else is back for Coach J Robinson?s squad.

Dustin Schlatter is back for his junior season at 149. An NCAA champion as a freshman in 2006, Schlatter slipped to third last season as he battled injuries late in the year. Minnesota also returns All-Americans in Jayson Ness (125), Mack Reiter (133), C.P. Schlatter (157) and Roger Kish (184).

Gophers senior Manuel Rivera (141) likely would have been an All-American last season, but suffered an injury late in the season.

?The outlook and the attitude on our team is really good right now,? Minnesota coach J Robinson said. ?Our guys are really excited about coming back as the defending national champions and there is a lot of anticipation about this season.?

The Gophers - fresh off a recent trip to the White House where President Bush honored them for winning the 2007 NCAAs - are led by a strong senior class. The Gopher seniors include Reiter, Kish, C.P. Schlatter, Rivera and national qualifier Gabe Dretsch (174).

?We have a great group of seniors who are giving us a lot of leadership and direction,? Robinson said. ?This is their last chance to get what they want and there is a sense of urgency for these guys.?

Robinson said he has a ?great group? to work with.

?These are veteran guys who know how to focus on the task at hand,? he said. ?They really pull for each other and really support each other, and that makes a big difference.?

Minnesota?s top challengers appear to be 2007 NCAA runner-up Iowa State and Big Ten rival Iowa.

Iowa State lost three top wrestlers in NCAA champion Trent Paulson, NCAA runner-up Kurt Backes and All-American Travis Paulson, but second-year Cyclone coach Cael Sanderson has one of the top young teams in the country.

ISU is led by sophomore Jake Varner (184), who placed second to Northwestern?s Jake Herbert last year. Herbert is taking an Olympic redshirt this season, so Varner, Kish and Michigan?s Tyrel Todd are expected to battle it out for the title this year.

Iowa State also returns national qualifiers in sophomores Nick Fanthorpe (133), Nick Gallick (141), Mitch Mueller (149), Cyler Sanderson (157) and David Zabriskie (heavyweight). The Cyclones won the Big 12 title in 2007.

Fanthorpe, Gallick, Mueller and Cyler Sanderson each are expected to bump up one weight class for their sophomore seasons.

?We did lose three outstanding student-athletes in the Paulsons and Backes, but we are returning six incredible and motivated NCAA qualifiers,? Coach Sanderson said. ?Our sophomores have made a great deal of progress. They are leaps ahead of where they finished the season last year. We also return three seniors with varsity experience and have some freshmen ready to make an impact. The key for our team this year is to stick to the plan, maintain the great attitude and attack with everything we?ve got.?

ISU also welcomes redshirt freshman Jon Reader, one of the nation?s top recruits coming out of high school, into the lineup at 165.

?We are not concerned with the rankings,? Sanderson said. ?We are focused on becoming the best team we can be. I expect the national team race to be really exciting and we plan to be right in the middle of it.?

Hawkeye coach Tom Brands begins his second season in Iowa City with a team picked in the top three in the preseason.

?We?re ranked No. 3 and we plan on being higher than that by the end of the year,? Brands said. ?If we?re fired up every day we go in the practice room we?re going to be where we want to be. We need an upgrade in toughness and an upgrade in consistency. We have a lot of work to do.?

Perry, the senior who upset two-time NCAA champion Johny Hendricks of Oklahoma State in the 2007 NCAA finals, leads the way for the Hawkeyes.

?That?s what Perry has trained his whole life for,? Brands said of his NCAA title. ?Now he has to get hungry again to win another one.?

Metcalf makes his much-anticipated collegiate debut for Iowa this season at 149 pounds. He redshirted at Virginia Tech two years ago before following Brands to Iowa prior to last season. Metcalf was unable to compete last season after Virginia Tech refused to release him from his scholarship.

Metcalf was undefeated in open tournaments last season and also fared well while competing internationally in freestyle at the Senior level. Metcalf jumps into a loaded 149 class that includes Schlatter and NCAA runner-up Josh Churella of Michigan. Junior World freestyle champion Bubba Jenkins of Penn State also drops down to 149 after qualifying for nationals at 157 last season. The Big Ten also has a returning All-American at 149 in Ohio State?s Lance Palmer (fourth).

Metcalf is one of five transfers from Virginia Tech who are now eligible for Iowa. Fellow transfers Joe Slaton (133), Dan LeClere (141) and Jay Borschel (174) also are expected to challenge for starting spots for the Hawkeyes.

?It?s huge having those guys on the mat now,? Brands said. ?They?re ready for the next level of their career. They will add depth and I?m excited to see how they perform.?

Iowa also has All-Americans in its lineup in Charlie Falck (125) and Alex Tsirtsis (141) along with national qualifiers in Ryan Morningstar (157), Dan Erekson (197) and Matt Fields (heavyweight). Fields had a strong offseason, winning University Nationals and faring well on an overseas trip to Europe.

?We?re another year into our program and we?re starting to see some good things,? Brands said. ?Guys are more comfortable with the coaching staff and they?re buying into what we?re trying to do.?

Oklahoma State is another team that should be firmly in contention this year. The Cowboys return NCAA runner-up Coleman Scott (133) along with All-Americans Nathan Morgan (141) and Brandon Mason (174).

Oklahoma State also has top competitors returning in national qualifiers Tyler Shinn (125), Newly McSpadden (157), Jack Jensen (184) and Jared Rosholt (heavyweight).

Ohio State has four All-Americans back this year with Palmer, J Jaggers (141), Mike Pucillo (184) and J.D. Bergman (heavyweight) returning to the lineup. Bergman, who has placed third and fourth nationally at 197, may bump up to heavyweight for his senior season. The Buckeyes also brought in the nation?s No. 1 recruiting class.

?We have great leadership in the four returning All-Americans. They will lead the way,? Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said. ?In addition, we have several upperclassmen who will battle at 133, 157 and 174. The key in our dual-meet season will be the consistency of our returning wrestlers and the development of our young guys. Bringing in the No. 1 class in the nation certainly gave us some great talent to develop in key weight classes. Having success at 125, 165 and 197 will be extremely important for our program as well. Our emphasis as always is about consistent hard work and self-improvement.?

Michigan returns a strong quartet of All-Americans with Churella, Todd, Eric Tannenbaum (165) and Steve Luke (174) all back this season.

Donahoe is Nebraska?s only returning All-American, but the Cornhuskers are a preseason Top 10 team with national qualifiers back in Jordan Burroughs (149), Chris Oliver (157), Stephen Dwyer (165), Vince Jones (184), Craig Brester (197) and Jon May (heavyweight). Kenny Jordan (133), a Junior College national champion, also is expected to make a key contribution for Nebraska. Newcomer Brandon Browne (174) is another Husker who is ranked in the preseason top 20.

?We have a lot of guys besides Donahoe who haven?t proven themselves yet,? Nebraska coach Mark Manning said. ?We?re real excited about this season, but we?re still in the process of putting it all together. We just have to take each week and continue to get better. The attitude and commitment level of our team is excellent.?

133-pounder Tyler McCormick is Missouri?s only returning All-American, but look for Tigers Max Askren (197) and Raymond Jordan (184) to rebound after disappointing finishes at the 2007 NCAAs. Askren was the No. 1 seed at the NCAA meet, but went 0-2 in Auburn Hills, Mich., to end his freshman season.

Northwestern also could be very strong despite losing Herbert to the Olympic redshirt. The Wildcats return NCAA runner-up Ryan Lang (141) along with All-Americans Mike Tamillow (197) and Dustin Fox (heavyweight). Fox is the top returning finisher at heavyweight after placing third at the 2007 NCAA meet.

Cornell is led by two-time All-American Troy Nickerson (125) and All-American Jordan Leen (157). Leen is expected to move up from 149. National qualifiers Adam Frey (141), Steve Anceravage (165), Joey Hooker (174), Josh Arnone (184) and Zach Hammond (heavyweight) also are back. Anceravage may move up to 174. Newcomers Mike Grey (133) and Mack Lewnes (165) may contribute right away.

Central Michigan and Indiana each return three All-Americans. The Chippewas bring back placewinners in Mike Miller (165), Brandon Sinnott (174) and Bubba Gritter (heavyweight). Past All-American Wynn Michalak (197) also is back. Indiana returns All-Americans Angel Escobedo (125), Andrae Hernandez (133) and Matt Coughlin (165) along with a past All-American in Brandon Becker (157). Coughlin is bumping up two weights after placing seventh at 149 this past season.

Penn State also looks strong with Jenkins back along with All-Americans Phil Davis (197) and Jake Strayer (133). Davis placed second at the 2006 NCAAs before slipping to fifth last season.

Gillespie, who upset Dustin Schlatter in the 149 semifinals last season en route to the title, is expected to bump up to 157 this season.

Glenn, a senior, is the favorite to win a strong 197 class that also includes Davis, Tamillow, Michalak, Askren and Brester.

Jantzen, younger brother of past NCAA champion Jesse Jantzen of Harvard, was ranked No. 1 at his weight class coming out of high school. He won his final 86 matches in high school and was a two-time New York state champion.

Jantzen finished seventh as a prep senior at last season?s Midlands Championships, beating a number of top college wrestlers. He also wrestled freestyle in the 2006 New York AC Holiday International Open. Among the wrestlers he beat in that tournament was past NCAA runner-up Chris Fleeger, who placed fourth at the 2007 U.S. World Team Trials.