Throughout the entire college wrestling season, NCAA.com has been tracking the taking note of unexpected winners, upset champions and standout wrestlers. We've profiled the 5 teams we underestimated this year, and the five individuals that we underestimated this year, so now that it's tournament time, let's take a look at some potential sleepers at the 2019 national championship.
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All five of these sleepers come into the tournament with a seed lower than ten but also have less than ten losses. These are the five athletes who could surprise some people in Pittsburgh.
125 pounds: Sean Fausz, North Carolina State, senior
The NCAA stage is set for Sean Fausz to wrap up his senior year exactly the way he wants to, but like any good heartwarming finale, he'll need to pull off a few upsets, take down some big names and battle through a tough bracket if he wants to end up on the podium.
Fausz comes into the tournament as the No. 15 seed on the bottom half of the bracket, meaning he takes on No. 18 Devin Schroder in an interesting first-round matchup but a a matchup that he should win. The winner of this dual faces the daunting winner of undefeated Nicholas Piccininni versus Bryce West. Can Fausz pick up that first win and battle either Piccininni or West to a win? Potentially, but the tricky thing about Fausz is that he just hasn't been tested as much as some of his 125-pound peers this year. The veteran Wolfpack wrestler comes into the tournament with an 11-2 record, losses only to undefeated Jack Mueller of Virginia and wildcard athlete Cole Verner of Wyoming. The Verner loss is particularly concerning in that it came by fall, but Fausz won ten matches after that before dropping a major decision against Mueller. He has fine wins, but he's missing the big-name wins from his 2018-2019 resume, though he's been in this position before. Fausz came into the 2017 tournament as a No. 12 seed and beat Noah Gonser and Tim Lambert before dropping to eventual champ Darian Cruz and All-American Sean Russell.
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The quarterfinal match is one that Fausz will be shooting for again this year, and if he upsets Piccininni or beats Schroder and if everyone else wrestles to seed, he'll face Patrick Glory of Princeton in the quarters this year, another tough bout. Fausz's road to the podium isn't easy, but here's the thing about seniors in their final NCAA tournament appearance: magic happens. We can go back to another 125 pounder in David Terao at the 2016 NCAA tournament when the unseeded Eagle came back to battle Nathan Tomasello in the third-place match and pick up a hard-fought All-American honor. Or we can look at Campbell's No. 16 Nathan Kraisser who took eighth in 2017 to see another example of these performances. Fausz, like the other 32 athletes in his weight, has a shot, and if he's healthy and mentally ready, he could do some damage alongside his fellow Wolfpack lightweights Tariq Wilson and Jamel Morris.
133 pounds: Montorie Bridges, Wyoming, sophomore
The reality of 133 pounds this year is that the bracket is littered with sleepers. Daton Fix, Stevan Micic, Nick Suriano and Micky Phillipi hold the top four spots, but the road to the semifinals for each of those athletes will require them to potentially push past rising stars, conference champions, former All-Americans and unexpected powerhouses. The weight class is fun, and that's where Wyoming's Montorie Bridges comes in. The Cowboy finished second at the Big 12 tournament behind No. 1-seeded Fix, and he holds a 29-8 record. Only two of Bridges' losses came after Cliff Keen, one of them coming against North Carolina's Tariq Wilson at the North Carolina State-Wyoming dual and the other against Fix in the conference tournament. In between those losses, Bridges picked up quality wins over Iowa State's Austin Gomez, American's Josh Terao, North Carolina's Gary Wayne-Harding and Cornell's Charles Tucker.
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Bridges has found success at this tournament before, placing eighth in 2018, and now he's back for more in his second national tournament. Seeded No. 12, Bridges will take on Cam Sykora in the first round, and a win puts him against the winner of No. 5 Luke Pletcher and No. 28 Tim Rooney. That second match poses a bigger challenge to Bridges than his first round, but at 133 pounds, no wrestler can be dismissed. Bridges also took Pletcher to sudden victory in their only other meeting this year at Cliff Keen. Wyoming has been a program on the rise, and if Bridges can pick up a few early wins, build his momentum and gain confidence, he could make a surprise run at the this tournament and be in contention for a second All-American honor.
184 pounds: Louie DePrez, Binghamton, redshirt freshman
Catch up with head coach @KJBorsh and our four NCAA qualifiers (@ztramp_41, @AnthonySparacio, Lou DePrez & Vincent DePrez) about this past weekend and what punching their ticket to the show means to them 📽️⤵️#EmbraceTheGreen pic.twitter.com/F8B3QdqbfH— Binghamton Wrestling (@BearcatsWrestle) March 15, 2019
Louie DePrez is going to have some fun in Pittsburgh. The redshirt freshman Bearcat is seeded No. 11 in an exciting 184-pound weight class with just five losses on the year, one of which came against top-ranked Myles Martin. He'll join his senior brother Vincent DePrez on the Binghamton NCAA roster and look for his first All-American honor in a bracket where he has a great chance for a deep run. DePrez's first matchup comes against No.22 Mason Reinhardt of Wisconsin, an opponent DePrez has never wrestled, and should he win this match, he'll take on the winner of No. 6 Drew Foster and No. 27 Christian LaFragola. Foster pinned DePrez in their last meeting at Cliff Keen, and DePrez majored LaFragola in their bout this year, so DePrez knows he can pick up a win over LaFragola if given the chance. He's more likely to face Foster, but if he drops down into the consoles, he could make a run for the podium and not have to face a higher-ranked wrestler until the fourth round when, if all goes according to seed, he'll face Ryan Preisch of Lehigh. DePrez took a loss to Preisch 5-3 at the EIWA championships, but that's a flippable match. A win against Preisch — or a different opponent in this round depending on the bracket breakdown — puts DePrez on the podium.
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He'll enter the tournament as the highest seeded Binghamton wrestler and one of the four Bearcats wrestling in the tournament for the first time. DePrez could make his mark on the tournament and wrap up his successful freshman year campaign with a victory, and the coolest part about his story is that he will wrestle all his matches with his older brother and nationals teammate, cheering him on. The DePrez brothers are one of six sets of siblings at this tournament, and for the older DePrez, Vincent, this year represents his last shot to wrestle alongside his brother. Will Vincent have the chance to watch his brother march in the parade of All-Americans on the last day of the tournament? Will two DePrez march together? Louie has an easier path than any of his three teammates, including his brother, but regardless of the outcome, the DePrez family, and particularly Louie will be worth watching this weekend.
197 pounds: Josh Hokit, Fresno State, junior
Throughout the dual-meet season, we failed to give some of the West Coast teams the attention they deserve, so we're doing that now with this warning: Watch out for Josh Hokit. The Fresno State junior will make his NCAA tournament debut against No. 17 Stephen Loiseau of Drexel in a match where Hokit is favored and will face No. 1 Bo Nickal (or the winner of the pigtail match in the unlikely event that a wild, wild upset occurs in Nickal's first-round match) if he wins. Hokit has never faced Loiseau or Nickal, and if he drops down to the consoles early to face the loser of the Nickal match and has to wrestle Ethan Laird or Red Jones, he'll also face a first-time opponent. Hokis' run will depend on how many close matches he can finish because a consoles run doesn't look so bad for the Bulldog if he wrestles to seed. Playing out the bracket to seed with Hokis in the consoles after a loss to Nickal in the second round means he'll wrestle No. 1 Jake Woodley of Oklahoma, then No. 8 Nathan Traxler of Stanford.
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Hokis did not wrestle Traxler in the Stanford-Fresno State dual because he was playing football for the Bulldogs (yes, you read that right) and did not start his junior campaign until the Reno tournament of Champions in December. A major upset win against Traxler would put Hokit against Iowa State's Willie Miklus, a wrestler who blanked him 6-0 in their last meeting but an athlete he also won against in the Iowa State-Fresno State dual during sudden victory. A win against Miklus puts Hokit on the podium. Hokit has just six losses on the season this year and 21 wins, so if he can avoid two losses over the first two days of the tournament, Hokit will leave Pittsburgh with some hardware. This road isn't easy, but neither is being a two-sport Division I athlete in football and wrestling. Hokit's a tough linebacker turned running back who is dangerous on the mat and could be a surprise in this weight class.
285 pounds: Sam Stoll, Iowa, senior
Sam Stoll's job in his final NCAA appearance is to prove that he's the same threat that he was last year when he picked up three pins in a combined 8:50 to earn the Gorriaran Award and finish fifth for his first All-American performance. The Gorriaran Award honor puts him in a category with Bo Nickal and David Taylor, but his record this year shows some worrisome losses that ultimately led him to land a No. 29 wildcard seed in the 2019 tournament. He'll face No. 4 Jordan Wood of Lehigh in his opening match, and the two have never wrestled against one another before. Wood's only losses this year have come against top-ranked Derek White, No. 3 seeded Gable Steveson and No. 2 Anthony Cassar, while Stoll has dropped to Steveson, Jacob Aven, White, David Jensen, Conan Jennings and AJ Nevills. A loss in the first round drops Stoll into the consoles where he will battle the loser of No. 13 Matt Voss and No. 20 Zach Elam.
A win over Wood keeps Stoll alive on the championship side, but dropping down after the first bout doesn't ruin Stoll's run. Depending on how the winners play out in some of the other matchups around him, Stoll could chase a podium spot on the backside, and if everyone wrestles to seed, he'll take on Elam first and then Nevills. A win over Nevills would put Stoll against No. 11 Thomas Haines, and a win over Haines puts him against Demetrius Thomas of Pittsburgh. If he can beat all three of those higher-ranked wrestlers (or their opponents, depending on how those bouts go), he'll end up on the podium. We've addressed the concept of senior magic before with Fausz, now the question for Stoll is if he can find some of that too.