If this weekend’s NCAA Wrestling Championships go according to plan, Delanson’s Nick Gwiazdowski will compete in the final bout Saturday night.
And that match would be for the 285-pound championship.
Gwiazdowski, a redshirt sophomore for former Niskayuna state champ Pat Popolozio’s North Carolina State Wolfpack, takes a 38-2 record and the No. 2 seed into Thursday’s first round at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla.
“I like where I am in my bracket,” said Gwiazdowski, who was an All-American two years ago as a true freshman at Binghamton, then followed Popolizio to the ACC school.
“The last couple of weeks. I’ve been wrestling really well. Even in the room. I’ve really been focused.”
A two-time state champion while attending Duanesburg High School, Gwiazdowski won the ACC tournament championship two weekends ago. He has wins over nearly half of the 33 entries in his weight class, and is 7-for-7 against wrestlers he’s faced in his bracket.
The two wrestlers to beat him this season — top-seeded two-time defending champion Tony Nelson of Minnestota and No. 4 seed Adam Coon of Michigan — are in the other half of the bracket.
“We’ve gotten him into position to compete for a national championship,” said Popolizio, who will have five of his wrestlers (four underclassmen) in the tournament, which is taking place in city where he was a three-time NCAA qualifier while wrestling for Oklahoma State. “We’ve tried to get the best competition, and Nick’s worked hard this season to get where he is.”
Both Gwiazdowski and Popolizio shrug off aspersions cast on the the 38-2 record.
“We went to two major tournaments — Las Vegas and the Southern Scuffle,” said Popolizio. “We’re not the Big 10, which has 10 qualifiers at 285. The ACC isn’t that big.
“But Nick has 14 wins against guys in the weight class, which might be more than anyone else in the tournament, and he’s beaten everyone from his side of the bracket that he’s wrestled.
“If everything plays out as it looks, he should get to the final. But he knows you can’t assume that. You have to beat four guys to get to the final, and five to win it.”
“Some people were saying I only had one good win, but I’ve only got two losses,” said Gwiazdowski, who has racked up 16 pins, one technical fall and nine major decisions. “Just because I haven’t wrestled someone doesn’t mean I can’t beat them. We wrestle our schedule.
“I’ve beaten 15 guys that are ranked in the coaches’ poll. I know to win I have to beat three really good guys. In my weight class, there’s not a clear favorite.”
Gwiazdowski opens with Max Wessell of Lehigh. If seeding holds, he wouldn’t see a new face until the semis, against third seed Adam Chalfant of Indiana.
Should he get to the finals and face Nelson, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve met. Gwiazdowski won their third-place match at last June’s World Team Trials. Nelson took a 1-0 win in the finals of the Southern Scuffle in early January,
“I’ve wrestled him four times in the last year,” Gwiazdowski said. “He knows what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from him. It comes down to executing.”
Popolizio feels Gwiazdowski’s style will help.
“He scores points. His style is to attack,” Popolizio said.
“I really worked at getting bonus points for the team all season,” Gwiazdowski said. “If I can force a guy that doesn’t do a lot offensively to open up, he could make a mistake. It puts him in a position where he’s not comfortable.
“It also helps my confidence. If I get down three or four points, its not over. I know I can score points.”