INDIANAPOLIS – With the 330-wrestler field set, the Columbia wrestling team will send three wrestlers to the 2012 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in senior captain Kevin Lester and juniors Jake O'Hara and Steve Santos.
Columbia last sent three wrestlers to the NCAAs in 2007-08 when Anthony Connstantino, Ryan Flores and Brandon Kinney represented the Lions. Columbia has had wrestlers qualify the national championships in each of the last 10 seasons, with two or more going seven times and three or more four times.
This year’s NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships will be held from March 15-17 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo. The championships’ three days will feature six sessions and numerous activities and presentations from around the wrestling world. U.S. Olympians and USA wrestlers will be on hand for autographs and Friday and Saturday will feature book signings by Randy Couture. For the full list of events, click here.
For the fourth year, ESPN3 will provide an exclusive four-screen, four-mat viewing experience unique to wrestling on the multi-screen sports network. Beginning Thursday, March 15, at noon, ESPN3 viewers will have the opportunity to view hundreds of individual matches throughout the three day tournament, utilizing the resource. Shawn Kenney and three-time All-American Jim Gibbons will voice sessions one and two on ESPN3.
For the sixth-consecutive year, two of the four quarterfinals, as well as the semifinals, will be televised on ESPNU in a revised side-by-side format to maximize the HD viewing experience, allowing viewers to catch the action in two matches at the same time.
ESPNU will televise the Championship Medal Round and the individual weight class Championships on Saturday, March 17, with the Finals at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. During the Finals, two referees per match will wear a microphone, providing fans with even more access and understanding of the action.
In total, ESPN will showcase more than 50 hours across multiple platforms to cover every angle of the 2012 NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Lester (31-11) is making his second trip to the NCAAs after going 2-2 at last year’s tournament in Philadelphia, Pa. This season, Lester has been a dominant force at heavyweight, smothering his opponents with a team-high 13 pins on the year. His 31 victories rank second on the squad. At last week’s EIWA Championships, Lester took third place to clinch his NCAA auto-bid after a determined run through the wrestlebacks. In his last four bouts en route to his ticket to the NCAAs, Lester had one major decision and a pair of pins.
Lester’s first-round opponent is a familiar one in fellow-unseeded 285-pounder Wesley Schroeder (17-16) of Eastern Michigan. At the Pitt Duals on Jan. 7, he defeated Schroeder, 8-4, to help Columbia defeat Eastern Michigan, 30-12.
Lester is at the top portion of the bracket and if he defeats Schroeder once again, he will likely have to face former Lions wrestler and No. 1 overall seed Ryan Flores (17-0) of American. Flores would have to defeat Edinboro’s Ernest James (30-10) and Missouri’s Devon Mellon (18-12) on Thursday for a potential match against Lester Thursday evening. Flores and Lester squared off in the second round of the 2011 NCAAs when Flores took an 18-5 major decision to send Lester to the wrestlebacks.
At 149, Santos (23-9) is making his first appearance at the NCAAs and it comes on the heels of a breakout season for the junior from Brick, N.J. He has been arguably Columbia’s most consistent wrestler this season. Santos went 11-2 in duals and can never be counted out of a match. He totaled five pins, four major decisions and two technical falls this season and suffered only one loss that was by more than four points. He went 4-2 at EIWAs and took fourth to earn his NCAA auto-bid.
In his first NCAA Championships bout, Santos will take on fellow unseeded wrestler Owen Wilkinson (22-14) of Lock Haven. If Santos gets past Wilkinson, he will face the winner of the bout between No. 3 seed Cole VonOhlen (36-2) of Air Force and Kaleb Friedley (20-11) of Northwestern.
O’Hara (28-14) has also enjoyed a breakout year at 157 en route to the first NCAA tournament appearance of his career. O’Hara has been a grinder this year with long, dominating wins over his opponents as reflected in his team-high 10 major decisions and three technical falls. His 28 wins rank third on the team. O’Hara went 3-2 at EIWAs and placed fifth to earn his NCAA auto-bid.
O’Hara’s first opponent will be seventh-seeded Dylan Alton (24-5) of Penn State. He previously squared off against Alton at the Nittany Lion Open on Dec. 4 when Alton took a 12-3 major decision. If O’Hara defeats Alton, he would face either No. 10 seed Anthony Jones (21-8) of Michigan State or Albert White (24-9) of Oklahoma State. O’Hara faced Jones at the Michigan State Open on Nov. 12 when Jones took a 9-5 decision.