By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
How do you measure success?
Positive comments from coaches.
Thousands of fans creating a deafening din with victory on the line.
By both measuring sticks, the new look NWCA Cliff Keen National Duals were a hit.
This season, the National Duals switched from a one-location tournament to a campus-based tournament. The 24 teams were divided among four regional sites. All four regionals were held on college campuses.
The regional winners wrestled a week later to be National Duals champion. One of the regionals and the finals were held at Oklahoma State University in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson liked the idea of Mat Mayhem and the Final Four competing for a team championship. The Oklahoma State alum said this National Duals format crowns a team champion because all 10 weight classes are represented.
“You have 10 guys in one. You might qualify seven for the other. Is that a team? No,” Robinson said.
Minnesota 125-pounder Zach Sanders said Minnesota students didn’t understand the importance of the National Duals until this season when he could tell them his team was going to wrestling’s Final Four.
“It’s like the NCAA basketball tournament. It’s more exciting,” Sanders said.
Oklahoma State’s semifinals dual against Illinois came down to the heavyweight bout.
True freshman Austin Marsden faced Illinois junior Pat Walker with a berth in the National Duals championship on the line.
Marsden held a 1-0 lead as the third period started. Walker tied the score with an escape early in the final period. The crowd of 4,453 mostly Oklahoma State fans cheered raucously as Marsden took a shot with 16 seconds left and scored a takedown for a 3-1 lead. He let Walker escape with 2 seconds left to make the final score 3-2.
Illinois coach Jim Heffernan asked reporters if there would be that eruption of cheering at the NCAA wrestling championships in March. Heffernan didn’t wait for an answer. He answered it himself, “No!”
“You don’t get the reaction at the national championships with wrestlers on four mats,” Heffernan said.
Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith has been a longtime proponent of campus-based regionals and finals.
Sunday’s second-place finish didn’t change his mind.
“It’s good. It would be silly to not continue with it. There was a lot of good action,” Smith said.
Wrestling and wrestling coaches are reluctant to change, Smith said, but the regionals and finals worked out great.
“We need to make sure we keep it on campuses somewhere,” Smith said.
Day is sports editor for the Stillwater NewsPress.