Words and photography: Nils Ericson


Oklahoma isn't known for the grandeur of its landscape. The sky is immense and immersive, and winter does the countryside no favors. With vernal season only a breath away, over the course of four March days the grounds of OKC's Chesapeake Energy Arena blossomed in a rainbow of collegiate color for the 2014 NCAA Division 1 Wrestling Championships. It is a largely ignored ritual: singlet-clad men grappling, twisting, holding, spinning, and bleeding with one another. A quietly rapturous choreography of gore, guts, and glory, more heartland soul than big-rating dance. 

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L-R: Scott Patrick (Davidson Wildcats) lost in the first round of the 184-weight class. Mike Evans (Iowa Hawkeyes) lost in the semifinal of the 174-weight class.

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L-R: Joe Roth (Central Michigan Chippewas) finished seventh in the 133-weight class. Chris Penny (Virginia Tech Hokies) finished sixth in the 197-weight class.

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Nick Moore (Iowa Hawkeyes) lost in the first round of the 165-weight class.

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L-R: Vic Avery (Edinboro Fighting Scots) was eliminated in the second round in the 184-weight class. James English (Penn State Nittany Lions) finished seventh in the 149-weight class.

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L-R: Kyven Gadson (Iowa State Cyclones) meets Taylor Meeks (Oregon State Beavers) in the quarterfinal round of the 197-weight class.

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Coach of the 2014 NCAA Champions, Penn State Nittany Lions, Cael Sanderson.

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L-R: Mitchell Port (Edinboro Fighting Scots) finished third in the 141-weight class. Tyler Wilps (Pitt Panthers) finished seventh in the 174-weight class.

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Adam Chalfant (Indiana Hoosiers) finished sixth in the 285-weight class.

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L-R: Though he finished seventh, English's final round victory gave Penn State the points needed to secure the national title. Nathan Burak (Iowa Hawkeyes) finished eighth in the 197-weight class.

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Collegiate wrestlers come from across the country, but most are from agrarian states like Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, with fabled Rust and Farm Belt work ethics. For a wrestler, the tournament's circus-like atmosphere fades the moment he enters the ring to face an opponents, and split-second calculations mix with speed, strength, and sweat.