All-Americans, NCAA qualifiers and a horde of other talented major college wrestlers matched up on the mats Sunday.
Ironically, however, the most memorable of all of the matches was a first round bout between a relatively unknown and a wrestler ranked first in the nation, which the top ranked grappler won easily in a 10-4 decision. Doesn't sound too interesting? Well, maybe this will help, that top-ranked wrestler was female.
Sara McMann, a junior at Lock Haven, is the No. 1 wrestler in the country at the women's 138-pound weight class. She can't actually wrestle for Lock Haven, because she receives a monthly stipend from USA Wrestling, and is considered a professional athlete. She does train with the men, however, and she travels with the Bald Eagles to a number of open meets, and along with fellow female wrestler Jennifer Wong, she wrestles unattached.
On occasion she pulls one out against the men as she did Sunday in that 10-4 decision over Lehigh's Anthony Shave, in which she nearly registered a pin.
"I didn't really expect to win one today," she said. "I'm more excited about this win than I have been in a while. It's actually more exciting than winning women's meets, because I'm used to winning those, and it doesn't feel as good to beat someone you're used to beating.
"It feels a lot better when I surprise myself by winning."
Though she was surprised to get a win at a college meet, McMann is definitely used to beating the men. She began her wrestling career at McDowell High School in Marion, North Carolina. Despite having to deal with the conservative ideals of the South, the snickering at meets, and one woman in the stands actually saying:
"She should be cooking for those boys instead of wrestling them," McMann let her deep love for the sport drive her forward. She defeated a man for the first time in her freshman year at an open tournament. The boy was also in his first year of the sport, and was deeply upset by the loss.
"I just went over and told him that he did good," she said. "I know how bad first-year wrestlers get it in the first place, and losing to a girl would just make it a lot worse. That's the type of thing that can make a kid quit, and I just hoped he'd learn from it and realize that losing is part of wrestling."
By her junior year, she had broken the starting lineup, and in her senior year she actually had a winning record, earning the respect of the fans and her male teammates.
"It was a little disheartening that people weren't open-minded at first," she said. "But after a while, people just realized that I really must love the sport to be out there. My teammates started looking at me like any other teammate, and as a contributor to the team."
McMann went to the University of Minnesota-Morris, where there is a women's wrestling program, for her first year of college, but didn't like the training she was getting. She placed a call to Lock Haven coach Carl Poff, whose camp she had attended a number of years earlier, and Poff was glad to have her in the wrestling room.
"What she's done in getting to the top of her weight class is such a tribute to her desire and work ethic," Poff said. "She's willing to do absolutely anything to get better. She's really made this work. The guys see how hard she works, and they've accepted her as part of the team."
McMann's day ended shortly after her victory. Penn State's own Scott Moore, who would win the 133 pound weight class, pinned her just 1:10 into their match, and in the wrestleback, she was eliminated by Navy's Jason Humbstead, who pinned her in 1:59. Though Moore never really had any trouble with her, her strength and desire impressed him.
"She's stronger than a lot of guys I've wrestled," Moore said. "She fought off her back pretty well."
"I knew not to take her lightly because she's been in a lot of other tournaments we've wrestled in. It just says a lot about how hard she works and how much guts she has for her to come out and wrestle."
Though McMann says she originally came out for wrestling with a sense of rebellion, her point is not to make a revolution in wrestling.
"I don't go out there trying to prove that women can wrestle," she said. "There was never a doubt in my mind about that. If no women ever wrestled after me, it wouldn't matter to me.
"I just do it because it's what I love to do."