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ST. LOUIS University of Oregon redshirt junior Ryan Dunn capped his trip to the NCAA Wrestling Championships Friday morning with a top-24 finish against the nation’s best in the 133-pound weight class.
The Estacada, Ore., native lost his Friday opener at the Scottrade Center to Wisconsin redshirt senior and ninth seed Zach Tanelli, 13-4, and ended the year with a 23-9 overall record and a 1-2 mark in his NCAA debut.
The Badgers’ recent fifth-place Big Ten finisher (22-9) registered two takedowns to go up 4-1 at the end of the first period. He added an escape to open the second period before Dunn claimed his first takedown to draw within, 5-3, but Tanelli responded with a reversal and near-fall to go up, 10-3, entering the third period. Dunn chose down and got a fourth point for his quick escape, before Tannelli ended the match with another takedown and riding time point for his 13-4 win.
“Tanelli was strong and solid technically,” Dunn said. “He kept the tempo going and wouldn’t give me any position to open up on him. I was hoping to do better overall, especially in an environment where you have thousands of people who love the sport you want to do your best for them.”
Tannelli was on guard against further upsets after he lost his Thursday opener, 7-6, on a late reversal to Central Michigan redshirt sophomore Conor Beebe. In the wrestleback brcket later Thursday, he beat Cal Poly freshman Boris Novachkov, 11-0, and Brown senior Jeffrey Schell, 6-3.
Dunn continued action in the double-elimination format after he sported a 1-1 record Thursday. He opened the day with a 12-11 decision over Lock Haven freshman Billy Ashnaut where he overcame a 5-0 deficit. In the evening follow-up in the championship bracket, Dunn lost, 6-1, to returning NCAA runner-up Coleman Scott, a senior from Oklahoma State the same person he had narrowly upset five weeks before in Eugene.
Dunn, a product of Estacada High School in southeast Portland, came to the Ducks as a two-time prep state champion. He went 17-5 as a redshirt freshman in 2005-06 and 20-13 and 2006-07 as a sophomore and is the Ducks’ current active wins leader (60).
“My dream in high school was to be an NCAA champion,” Dunn said, “and now I’m here trying to achieve that what more could I ask for. I wasn’t the most recruited guy coming out of high school but I didn’t wrestle many big tournaments either - mostly in Oregon - and UO was the only school that pursued me seriously. When I look back this year, there were a lot of high points, not just in matches, but also the practices and the typical weathering of ups and downs. Those experiences and memories are worth more than any trophies or awards.”
Another highlight of the season for the Pac-10 runner-up Dunn came three weeks ago in the Pac-10 Championship in Eugene when as a fourth seed, he upset the top seed and then-No. 15 ranked T.J. Dillashaw of Cal State Fullerton, 6-2, in the semifinals before he lost a narrow 3-1 decision in the championship to Corey Fish of Boise State. Three weeks before, the same Mac Court faithful roared in approval when he scored a lake takedown in the Oklahoma State dual to upset then-No. 1-ranked Scott, 5-3.
He opened the season In November with four early matches against eventual NCAA qualifiers and beat Wyoming’s Cory Vornbauer twice (pin 5:58, 5-3), led No. 6-ranked Andrae Hernandez of Indiana on his home mat before losing, 7-5, then returned to beat Liberty’s Christian Smith, 3-2, the next day. In December’s Reno Tournament of Champions, he lost to Oklahoma State’s Scott, 14-6, and Central Michigan’s Conor Beebe, 10-7. In January, he beat then-No. 17 Filip Novachkov of Cal Poly, 5-2, then lost to Fish at Boise State, 9-3. In the league tourney, he added another 6-4 win over Novachkov before his aforementioned bouts with Dillashaw and Fish.
“I’ve been lucky to have such great support from my family, friends, coaches, and fans,” Dunn said. “Many people have come up to me since Pac-10s and have told me how meaningful and exciting those matches were. I even have had some coaches contacting me from different states asking for tapes to show their wrestlers how to scramble better. I don’t remember a lot from those matches it’s kind of a blur and it’s nice compliment. The credit really goes to the others who have devoted their time to help me and other wrestlers get here.”
The Ducks’ other qualifier, redshirt freshman heavyweight Charlie Alexander, competed Thursday and lost his championship bracket match to Virginia Millitary Institute freshman Joshua Wine, 3-0, and his wrestleback contest to Columbia freshman Ryan Flores in overtime, 2-1.
“Coming into the season, one of the few specific goals I had was to make it to nationals,” Alexander said. “I’ve had a good season but there’s also a lot of room for improvement. Wine was a tough wrestler on top, and I took a few a shots against him but just couldn’t finish them. Flores was good, but I should have been able to beat him. That’s a part of wrestling, coming back and being immediately ready to go again.”
Alexander finished fourth in the recent Pac-10 Championships in Eugene, and staked a 23-12 overall record that led Duck newcomers. His 18-4 season dual record was the best on the team (just ahead of Dunn’s 16-3 mark), and Alexander spent the whole season ranked top three in the Pac-10 heavyweight rankings as the top underclassmen.
“The coaches told me to go out and just wrestle and not let the atmosphere intimidate me,” Alexander said. “I wanted to win at least a few matches here. Regardless, I have to remember that it’s been a big transition from a year ago. In high school it’s basically a three-month season, while here the biggest meets are still months away at that point. Wrestling at Mac Court was great. I’ve been looking forward to that experience for a while, so to be able to wrestle in front of friends, family and other fans was great.”
Action resumes Friday evening and continues through Saturday evening, and more event information and results are available at the www.NCAAsports.com and www.intermatwrestle.com websites.
The Ducks (10-13) wrapped up their 10th year under the guidance of head coach Chuck Kearney, a former All-American for UO at 177 pounds when he placed fifth in the NCAA Championships as a senior in 1988.
“This was Ryan’s and Charlie’s first exposure to this tournament which has all the premier wrestlers in the nation,” Kearney said. “They’ve learned first-hand that there’s not much difference between top ranked and the 20th-ranked wrestler.”
“Ryan has done a great job of putting together the season he did, while dealing with the adversity he’s had to face,” Kearney said. “I think he realized that he has the ability to compete at this level, and with another year of training and competition he knows he could advance further and be an All-American.“
“Charlie has made fantastic improvements as a freshman,” Kearney continued. “He and Ryan have had great attitudes and often put their teammates before themselves. Seeing this level of talent will re-energize them to work hard in the spring, summer and fall and work, especially on some of the weaknesses that might have been exposed here that’s how you get better, by wrestling the best, then working harder to improve.”
The trip to St. Louis also extended the NCAA ties of other members of the Duck coaching staff. Tenth-year associate head coach Rick Stewart was an NCAA champion for Oklahoma State at 157 pounds as a sophomore and junior in 1980 and ’81, and added All-America honors as a freshman (seventh) and senior (third). Assistant Coach Jason Powell was an NCAA 125-pound champion for Nebraska at the same St. Louis site as a senior in 2004 after he scored third as a junior and fifth as a sophomore. Volunteer coach Tony Overstake was also an NCAA veteran for the Ducks at 157 pounds.
“I have to commend our staff on their continued commitment and focus to molding the student-athlete,” Kearney said. “We kept true to developing them as athletes and people despite the trying circumstances. They’ve continued to motivate the guys to being their best when it wasn’t easy and helping them learn the mark of being a true champion in life.”
The NCAA Championships marks the end of the Oregon wrestling program’s 55th year of existence. The Ducks have been guided by only six coaches Kearney (1999-present), 1984 Olympic head coach Ron Finley (1971-98), Art Keith (1966-70), Ed Jones (1965), Mike Reuter (1959-64) and Bill Hammer (1954-58).
In that stretch the Ducks have featured an Olympic silver medalist (heavyweight Greg Gibson, 1984), another Olympian (Jeff Stuebing, 163 pounds, 1984) and two NCAA champions (John Miller, 115, 1969; Shane Webster, 184, 2006) among their 32 All-Americans.
At the conference level, UO has featured two Pac-10 Wrestlers of the Year (Stuebing, 167, 1981) and Bill Nugent (1982) and three Pac-10 Tournament MVPs (Stuebing, 167, 1981 Dan Vidlak, 118, 1989, 1992) among its 69 conference champions.
Team-wise going back to 1957, UO has posted 17, top-25 team finishes in the NCAA Championships, including a high placing of 11th in 1980. Conference-wise, Oregon celebrated three Pac-10 titles (1975, 81, 82) under Finley, and the two-time Coach of the Year helped Oregon stake 11 more runner-up league placings (1956, 57, 58, 64, 66, 74, 76, 77, 80, 88, 89). Kearney, a former assistant to Finley, repeated the feat as head coach in 2002.
Wrestling fans witnessed one of the finest years of competition ever in Eugene in 2007-08. Earlier in the season, 4,380 people roared in approval for the nation’s top collegiate wrestlers at the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) All-Star Classic in November. Afterwards, eight duals against league rivals and various non-conference opponents, including 34-time national champion Oklahoma State, preceded the Pac-10 Championships’ fourth trip to Mac Court.
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