Tony Nelson hoped to become Minnesota’s first three-time heavyweight champ… but that dream was dashed by North Carolina State’s Nick Gwiazdowski, who defeated the Golden Gopher big man, 4-2, in the 285-pound finals at the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City Saturday night.
With the title, Gwiazdowski becomes the third heavyweight champ for NC State, joining 1993 champ (and future pro wrestler and mixed martial arts competitor) Sylvester Terkay, and the late Tab Thacker, one of the largest heavyweights ever (tipping the scales at over 400 pounds), 1984 titlewinner and future actor (“Wildcats”, the “Police Academy” movie series). The only schools with more heavyweight champs: Oklahoma State, which can claim ten individuals who won a total of 15 titles, and Minnesota, where five wrestlers nabbed seven titles. (Illinois, Ohio State and Oregon State also each had three individuals win heavyweight titles.)
Nelson hoped to end his college career with a third title to accompany the ones he won in 2012 (beating defending champ Zach Rey of Lehigh in the finals) and 2013 (topping familiar foe Mike McMullan of Northwestern in the title bout). Nelson now joins Cole Konrad as a two-time NCAA heavyweight champ for Minnesota, along with one-time heavyweight titlewinners Leonard Levy and Verne Gagne in the 1940s, and Brock Lesnar in 2000.
Nelson’s senior year had been challenging. In early 2014, he lost four matches to college rivals he had always defeated in previous matches (he had only two losses the two previous seasons)… until Minnesota head coach J Robinson took him off the roster in the weeks leading up to the Big Tens to recover from nagging injuries.
Nelson and Gwiazdowski had wrestled each other. In collegiate folkstyle, Nelson won both matches; however, in freestyle, Gwiadowski had defeated the Gopher big man.
How Gwiazdowski (43-2 season record) got to the finals: Rd. 1: dec. unseeded Maximillian Wessel (Lehigh), 6-2; Rd. 2: dec. unseeded William Smith (Rutgers), 6-3; Qtrfinals: dec. No. 7 Mike McClure (Michigan State), 4-1; Semifinals: dec. No. 3 Adam Chalfant (Indiana), 5-4.
How Nelson (30-5 record) got to the finals: Rd. 1: dec. unseeded Blaize Cabell (Northern Iowa), 1-0; Rd. 2: pinned No. 16 Amarveer Dhesi (Oregon State), 4:23; Qtrfinals: pinned No. 9 Connor Medbery (Wisconsin), 1:26; Semifinals: dec. No. 5 Bobby Telford (Iowa), 4-2.
- 1st Period: Gwiazdowski takes a shot, but fails to get a takedown. No scoring.
- 2nd Period: Gwiazdowski chooses down, does not escape. Again, no scoring… but Nelson accumulates two minutes of riding time.
- 3rd Period: Nelson takes down; Gwiazdowski cuts him lose to make the score 1-0 Nelson. Gwiazdowski scores a takedown to make it 2-1. Nelson takes an injury timeout after he twisted his left ankle; his NC State rival grabs Nelson’s right leg, keeping the foot inbounds… then scores an edge-of-mat takedown with 30 seconds left to make the final score 4-1 for Gwiazdowski. With Nelson’s riding time, the final score is 4-2 for the new champ Gwiadowski.
Quotes from the champ:
- About the transfer from Binghamton University to NC State in 2012, following head coach Pat Popilizio: "When I came to NC State, (coach) Beasley told me I'm going to be a three-time national champion with what we can do (here). The first step, it's always in the back of my mind. So that's good. It's like I beat this guy before. I can do it again. And if anything, I've gotten better since that point."
- How I prepared for the NCAAs: “I guess just being confident in what I do… Not a lot of guys can wrestle like me. And I go out there really nervous. I’m sweating.”
- On the decision to cut Nelson loose at the start of the third: “We knew he’d get riding time point anyway. But if we took neutral, he wouldn’t get a point. So it worked… I just him down. Injury time – that’s really, it’s something when you see your opponent do something wrong. It’s there you’ve got to attack… After that first (shot) I got in the first period, I knew I could take this guy down.
- On whether Nelson’s riding hurt your confidence: “It hurt my confidence in bottom, I’ll tell you that much. But I felt him breathing heavy on top of me. I started controlling my breathing to relax a little bit.”
- Scouting Nelson: “He’s good at what he does. Outside those things, if you could exploit him, you can exploit him. Get angles. That kind of thing. He’s strong. He’s tall. And he knows what he’s good at. Top wrestling. Got a defense. He doesn’t come back well from a hole (deficit). No offense to Tony. He’s a very good wrestler but that’s one of the things we knew about him. He’ll win a 1-0 match any day. I knew that if I scored some points, it would benefit me.”
Quote from the former champ:
- “It’s disappointing,” Nelson told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “My goal was to be three-timer, and I fell one short. Not the best way to end a career.”
2014 NCAA All-Americans – Heavyweight (285 pounds)
- Nick Gwiazdowski (North Carolina State)
- Tony Nelson (Minnesota)
- Mike McMullan (Northwestern)
- Bobby Telford (Iowa)
- Mike McClure (Michigan State)
- Adam Chalfant (Indiana)
- Jeremy Johnson (Ohio)
- Austin Marsden (Oklahoma State)
Take a look back: For all College Wrestling Examiner articles on the 2014 NCAAs, click here... and check out Mat Bracketology, College Wrestling Examiner's weight-by-weight analysis of seeded wrestlers, by clicking on the Mat Bracketology link.
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