ST. LOUIS - Defending champion Penn State has three top seeds, all of them unbeaten, in the NCAA wrestling tournament.
Frank Molinaro is 28-0 at 149 pounds, David Taylor is 27-0 at 165 pounds and Edward Ruth is 26-0 at 174 pounds for the Nittany Lions, who are ranked No. 1 in the country under former four-time NCAA champion and Olympian Cael Sanderson heading into the three-day, sold-out event that begins this morning.
Minnesota is ranked second and Iowa third, with Oklahoma State, Cornell and Missouri, coming off a Big 12 championship in its final year before moving to the SEC, also fielding strong teams. Missouri is the only school in the tourney to qualify in all 10 weight divisions, but has only two seeds.
"We have to realize our firepower," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "We have it narrowed down to eight guys, so we have to go out and get it done."
Oklahoma State's Jordan Oliver, the defending champion at 133 pounds, said coach John Smith has talked to the roster about going for a title, "but that will all take care of itself as long as we do our individual parts."
"Everyone just going out there and being greedy."
There are five defending champions in the field, 133-pound Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State, 141-pound Kellen Russell of Michigan, 157-pound Kyle Dake of Cornell, 184-pound Quentin Wright of Penn State and 285-pound Zachary Rey of Lehigh.
Penn State's Taylor, a sophomore, has a 65-1 career record with the lone loss in the final last year.
"He's extremely talented and he wants to be the best," Sanderson said. "He knows what he needs to do and he doesn't really need a whole lot of motivation."
Top seeded heavyweight Ryan Flores is seeking to become only the second champion for American.
"I have been wrestling for 15-16 years now and there's just four days left in my college career, so to be putting pressure on myself and be looking for one thing, that's too much," Flores said. "I mean, this is my last hurrah, I just have to do everything I can to enjoy it."
Dake, a junior, is seeking a third straight title in a third different weight class.
The 174-pound field is one of the strongest, with three unbeaten, and Stanford's Nick Amuchastegui is the third seed despite a 20-0 record, behind Penn State's Ruth and Oklahoma State's Chris Perry, who is 26-0.
"To tell you the truth, it didn't really bother me too much at all," Amuchastegui said. "Knowing that if I end up winning this year, it will be because I beat the toughest kids in that weight class and did not have to sidestep any of them."
More than 110,000 fans are expected, which would break the tournament record. Despite going head to head with the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the event is sold out for the third consecutive year.
In his third season as coach, Sanderson led Penn State to its first title since 1953 last year. Sanderson was 159-0 at Iowa State and is the only wrestler in NCAA history to win four most outstanding wrestler awards at the tournament.