The NCAA wrestling championship is the biggest stage in college wrestling, every student-athlete's dream tournament. It's a chance to make a mark on the sport, and a chance only 330 individuals earn every year.
In 2019, 285 wrestlers made the field in Pittsburgh through automatic qualifications at their conference tournaments. That left 45 spots open for wildcards. Six of the 10 weight classes awarded four wildcards, while 149 offered five, 165 put up five, 174 filled six and 197 gave out five.
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Let's meet these 45 athletes, analyze their seeds and figure out what they have to do to end up on the podium at the end of the three days of high-intensity wrestling.
Alonzo Allen, Zeke Moisey, Rico Montoya, Cole Verner
Two-time All-American Zeke Moisey kept his collegiate wrestling career alive when he earned an at-large bid the NCAA tournament after failing to place at the Big Ten tournament in a competitive 125-pound bracket. The Cornhusker comes in as the highest-seeded of the wildcard athletes in this weight, and he has a history of success as a lower seed at the NCAA tournament. During his freshman year, he became the first unseeded wrestler to advance to the NCAA finals since 2003. He’ll be the one to watch this year as he enters as a No. 18 seed. Alonzo Allen and Rico Montoya will return to the tournament for at least the second time, while Verner will make his debut. Verner’s a transfer from Western Wyoming where he finished second and third in his two appearances at the NJCAA National Championships. All four of these athletes avoided the dangerous pigtail match, and they’ll look for an upset with the hopes to chase an elusive All-American honor.
BONUS ATHLETE: Army's Trey Chalifoux is in! The junior alternate from Army will now wrestle in place of Arizona State's Ryan Millhof, who injured his hand at the Pac-12 Championships. Chalifoux is not technically a wildcard athlete, but he'll be a wildcard to watch, as he assumes the No. 33 seed and will wrestle in a pigtail match on Thursday morning. The winner of the pigtail will face No. 1 Daton Fix.
Noah Gonser, Mario Guillen, Mason Pengilly, Cam Sykora
Seeded No. 21 in the stacked 133-weight class Cam Sykora became the fourth North Dakota State Bison to qualify for the national tournament when he picked up his wildcard bid. The junior did not place at the Big 12 tournament, but with a 20-8 record, he could be landmine in the bracket. His first matchup will come against a competitive Montorie Bridges of Wyoming, an athlete he lost to in a tight 6-5 decision at Cliff Keen. Bridges finished eighth last year, and if Sykora pulls over the upset, he could chase a similar finish at the end of this year's tournament. Right behind Sykora at No. 22 is Noah Gonser of Campbell. Gonser, also a junior, will face No. 11 Tariq Wilson of N.C. State, the sophomore who went on a surprise third-place run in last year's tournament. He and wildcard No. 31 Mason Pengilly of Stanford are both on the same side of the bracket, and depending on how things fall, could potentially meet each other in the third consolation round, though both would have to get past a rough road of higher-ranked wrestler to create the wildcard battle.
"Wrestling has taught me that if I want something in life, I can get it if I'm willing to put in the necessary time and work to attain that."— Stanford Athletics (@GoStanford) February 15, 2019
My Stanford Story: Mason Pengilly#GoStanford pic.twitter.com/B6zQnzpIbi
Mario Guillen of Ohio rounds out the 133-pound wildcards with his No. 23 seed and 17-3 record. Guillen's only losses came against Kent State's Tim Rooney, Buffalo's Derek Spann and Iowa State's Austin Gomez. Rooney, Spann and Gomez will all be represented in the 133-pound bracket, but Guillen won't see any of them again until late in the consolation finals or if two of them advance to the finals. He faces a tough first-round match against a young Penn State superstar in Roman Bravo Young, but even losing this match wouldn't ruin his All-American chances. If you have a spot, you have a shot, and that's what these four wrestlers are going to be focused on as they head into the 133-pound gauntlet.
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Matt Findlay, Sam Krivus, Nate Limmex, Corey Shie
Matt Findlay of Utah Valley enters the tournament as the sixth wrestler on the Wolverines' roster, and he'll join the school's first ever Big 12 Champion Demetrius Romero as well as Kimball Bastian, Will Sumner and the Orndorff brothers, Tanner and Tate in Pittsburgh. The sophomore is making his first tournament appearance and will come in with a No. 20 seed, putting him against No. 13 Kyle Shoop of Lehigh in the first round. This is a winnable match for the Wolverine, but if he does win, he'll take on a tough opponent in the winner of wildcard Corey Shie and No. 4 Josh Alber of Northern Iowa. Alber is a four-time qualifier looking for his first All-American honor, and assuming he survives Shie and the winner of Findlay's first- round match, he'll find himself in the quarterfinals. Shie is a No. 29 seed from Army, and he holds a 27-14 record heading into his battle with the 31-5 Alber. What does that seeding mean for Findlay and Shie? Two upset wins for the wildcard athletes put them in the quarters, but if they both win their opening bouts, they'll have to face each other for the Bloodround spot.
📣 BRACKETS, GET YOUR BRACKETS! ➡ https://t.co/GxMzVs7zWq— Purdue Wrestling (@PurdueWrestling) March 13, 2019
For the first time, @ncaawrestling brackets are seeded 1-33. Where our guys landed ⬇#AlwaysAggressive #BoilerUp #NCAAwrestling pic.twitter.com/I2nzrE5eGo
The last two wildcards, Sam Krivus of Virginia and Nate Limmex of Purdue hold No. 26 and No. 30 rankings respectively, meaning they'll face No. 7 Mitch McKee and No. 3 Nick Lee in their bouts, both in the lower half of the bracket. Those two top-ten opponent pose problems for the wildcards wrestlers, but the bouts still create some excitement. Watch for Krivus and Limmex to come into these opening bouts hungry and battling- a win in either of their two matches would be highlight and headline worthy as the tournament kicks off Thursday morning.
Malik Amine, Parker Kropman, Shayne Oster, Russell Rohlfing, Matthew Zovistoski
Malik Amine's wildcard makes him the second Amine representing the Wolverines in Pittsburgh, and though he has six less wins than his older brother, the younger Amine is in Pittsburgh with the goal of picking up All-American honors with his sibling. Returning to the tournament for the second time in his career, Amine holds a No. 33 ranking, putting him in the most dangerous spot in the bracket: the pigtail match. He'll face No. 32 Tanner Smith of Chattanooga in a competitive dual. Smith has an 11-7 record to Amine's 11-9 resume, and the winner's reward will be a chance at No. 1 Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers. Pigtails are never a great spot for a wrestler, but if Amine wants a shot at the podium, he'll need to not only survive his pigtail but also put up a fight against Ashnault and potentially make a deep run in the consolation bracket.
Amine is joined on the top side of the bracket by Russell Rohlfing of CSU Bakersfield and Matthew Zovistoski of Appalachian State, athletes that are ranked No. 25 and No. 29 respectively. Rohlfing holds a 16-11 record and will take on No. 8 Jarrett Degen of Iowa State in his first bout while Zovistoski will face No. 4 Brock Mauller of Missouri. Drawing top-ten seeds is usually an inevitable part of being a wildcard, but this top half is strong, and these three guys face an uphill battle to the podium.
Parker Kropman and Shane Oster picked up wildcard seeds on the bottom of the bracket, meaning the biggest threat that faces them if they want a shot to stay alive in the championship bracket are No. 2 Micah Jordan, Oster's first opponent, and No. 3 Mitch Finesilver, Kropman's first competitor. Jordan and Finesilver are both chasing their first national title, and they are in a much better position than Kropman and Oster to accomplish that goal. Kropman holds a winning 10-8 record while Oster is 12-12 and looking for a win to put him over .500. The consolation bracket looks pretty good for both guys, if they end up there, because Oster won't have to face another top-10 opponent next if he drops to Jordan first. A loss to Finesilver would put Kropman in a consolation pigtail where he would face the loser of Tanner Smith and Amine. Kropman would have a longer journey to a top-eight finish, but a few wins in the consoles could give any of these four guys the confidence to make a run.
Eric Barone, Zac Carson, Joshua McClure, Justin Thomas
February and March haven't gone as well as Eric Barone likely hoped they would go after holding a Top 20 ranking for most the season. The Illinois junior, however, will still have a chance for a national run after picking up a wildcard and earning himself a spot in the tournament at a No.15 seed. Barone will start his tournament in a advantageous match against No. 18 Logan Parks of Central Michigan where he should post a win, and will need to post a win if he wants to move into the second round. Awaiting him in the next round of the championship bracket, should he move on, will be the winner of No. 2 Tyler Berger and No. 31 Benjamin Berton. The No. 15 seed won't buy him much comfort, but he is in the best shot of any of his wildcard peers at putting up a fight for an All-American shot.
Justin Thomas of Oklahoma picks up the next spot at No. 21, Zach Carson of Ohio comes in at No. 22, and Joshua McClure of North Carolina rounds out the wildcards at the No. 24 spot. Thomas and McClure will compete on the top half of the bracket, facing No. 12 Taleb Rahmani and No. 9 Christian Pagdilao respectively. Carson will face Ohio State's No. 11 Ke-Shawn Hayes. All four wildcard athletes have a reasonable shot to move on to the second round, which would be a fun series of upsets to watch. Barone is the only one of the four to have a higher seed in his first bout, and only McClure has to take on a top-ten athlete. McClure's opponent, Pagdilao only has two more wins and three fewer losses, so a few flipped matches against ACC opponents and McClure would boast a similar resume. This is his time to prove that he's peaking at the right time, and if he does win, he would need one more win to battle No. 1 Jason Nolf in the quarterfinals.
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The 157-pound bracket is dominated at the top by Nolf, but with the next seven spots open for grabs, these wildcards will be battling to stay alive in the championship bracket or climb back on the back end. Don't count out Barone despite his recent losses, and keep your eye on Carson, Thomas and McClure to make a run. None of these athletes have more than nine losses, and any wildcard has a chance, just like any automatic qualifier because now all that matters is March.
Colston DiBlasi, Connor Flynn, Joseph Gunther, Nick Kiussis, Jonathan Viruet
The 165 pound bracket is fun. And these wildcards make that weight even more fun. Connor Flynn leads the 165 pound wildcards with the No. 15 seed with Jonathan Viruet not far behind at No. 17. Joseph Gunther and Nick Kiussis also found themselves in the Top 30. Colston DiBlasi rounds out the wildcards in spot No. 30, but he's a danger given his ability to put his opponents on their back. DiBlasi ranks second nationally with pins at 17.
Interestingly, none of these five athletes picked up the No. 33 spot, the unfortunate position where Oklahoma State's Joe Smith sits. If Smith wins his pigtail match against Northwestern's Tyler Morland, he'll face top-ranked Alex Marinelli of Ohio, the 2019 Big Ten champion. The loser of that match will drop down into the consolation bracket and wrestle the loser of the wildcard Jonathan Viruet and No. 16 Thomas Bullard of North Carolina State.
Now let's play this bracket out a little further. The loser of that previously mentioned consolation bracket match will be out of the tournament, while the winner will advance to wrestle the loser of the second round championship bout. The four wrestlers that could end up in that match are No. 2 Vincenzo Joseph (unlikely, but this is March), No. 31 Evan Delong, No. 18 Gordon Wolf, and No. 15 Connor Flynn. If it's Flynn that finds himself in that second consolation...we could have a wildcard vs. wildcard match. That's what this tournament is all about. These guys are ready to make a run, regardless of their seed, and they may even face each other.
Jake Covaciu, Joe Grello, Hayden Hastings, Devin Kane, Jacob Oliver, Travis Stefanik
The 174 pound weight class is the bracket with the most wildcards and packed full of firepower and crazy duals. Starting things off for the wildcards is a fiery matchup between No. 32 Jake Covaciu and No. 33 Devin Kane in the pigtail. These two, an Indiana sophomore and a North Carolina sophomore, will fight for the right to compete against top-ranked Mark Hall in the top of the championship bracket. The loser of the pigtail will drop down to face the loser of the dual between No. 3 Zahid Valencia and No. 30 Dean Sheery of Rider, while the loser of the match between Mark Hall and the pigtail winner will face the loser of the No. 17 Neal Richards and No. 16 Brandon Womack match. The pigtail is set up evenly, with Covaciu holding a 17-12 record heading into his first NCAA tournament, and Kane bringing a 15-13 win-loss record into his tournament debut. These two young athletes have never faced each other before, further intensifying this match.
No. 31 Travis Stefanik of Princeton holds the third-to-last seed in the weight ahead of the previously mentioned wildcards, and he'll face No. 2 Daniel Lewis of Missouri in his debut match of the tournament. A true freshman, Stefanik will walk on to the national stage for the Tigers for the first time this weekend and face one of the best in the weight class for his NCAA tournament debut. Those bright lights could yield some magic for the young grappler, and though he's never faced Lewis before in his career, he comes from a program that seeks out challenges and embraces the chance to go against the best. His journey will be a tough one, but Stefanik is in the tournament, and that's all he needs to make a run.
The remaining three wildcard athletes No. 29 Joe Grello from Rutgers, No. 28 Jacob Oliver from Edinboro and No. 25 Hayden Hastings of Wyoming all face top-10 opponents, and of these three, Grello is the only one to have seen his opponent. The Rutgers' sophomore dropped to Amine 6-0 at the Big Ten tournament, but he has the opportunity to pick up a win in his tournament debut either with an upset or in the consolation bracket against the loser of No. 13 Brit Wilson and No. 20 Spencer Carey. Grello and Oliver have a chance to face if they both move to the third consolation round.
On the same side of the bracket is Oliver who has just five losses, one of the them coming against a fellow wildcard athlete, Hastings. He's also lost to Dean Sherry, Michael O'Malley, David McFadden, and Andrew Morgan. Hastings has a 25-13 record and will face No. 8 Taylor Lujan in his first bout. If he wins, he'll face the victor of the No. 9 Devin Skatzka and No. 24 Lorenzo De La Riva, and if he loses, he'll drop down to the consoles and battle the loser of that same match. His journey, like his five peers in this weight, is ladened with All-Americans. Their ability to survive will depend on their ability to pull off upsets.
Cameron Caffey, Dom Ducharme, Kevin Parker, Tate Samuelson
Of the four wildcards in the 184 pound weight class, two have a more more challenging path to the second round that runs through top-three opponents. Two have a smoother path that, with a less dramatic upset, could keep them alive in the championship bracket. Wyoming's Tate Samuelson picked up the highest wildcard seed at No. 18, and he'll face No. 15 Chip Ness of North Carolina is his opening bout. The two athletes have never battled before, and Ness is a force, but Samuelson enters the match in good position. He's posted just six losses, two of them coming at the Big 12 tournament which resulted in his sixth-place finish. The true freshman Cowboy will face No. 2 Shakur Rasheed if he survives Ness and Rasheed wins his dual, but if he drops down to the consoles, he'll take on the loser of the Rasheed vs. Parker dual. Samuelson's boasts one more win but four less losses than his Princeton peer, and if Parker loses to Rasheed and then Samuelson or Ness, his tournament will be over.
A fellow Big Ten wrestler, Cameron Caffey also picked up an at-large bid with his ninth-place finish at the conference tournament, and he will be one of three Spartans to take the mat in Pittsburgh. Caffey sits on Samuelson and Parker's side of the bracket, and takes on No. 14 Dylan Wisman of Missouri in a winnable early match. These two have battled just once in their careers, with Wisman pulling out the 6-4 win at the Purple Raider Open in January 2018. This time, Wisman has the advantage in seed. But Caffey has the higher win percentage, having taken a W in 29 matches to Wisman's 16, and taking the same amount of losses, seven, as his opponent. Calling a Caffey win an upset might be a stretch, but if he pulls off a win in the second round, against the winner of wildcard athlete No. 30 Dom Ducharme and No. 3 Zack Zavatsky, that would be news. Zavatsky has just three losses on the year, one to Max Dean and two to Drew Foster, and he's the ACC champion at this weight. If either Ducharme or Caffey beat him either in the first or second round, that would cause some serious shifts in the 184 brackets for many fans but also causing the madness that has come to define this tournament.
Michigan State Athletics and @PNCBank are recognizing Cameron Caffey and Stephanie Pajot as March's #PNCAchievers Student-Athlete of the Month. They are recognized for displaying well-rounded achievement in the classroom, community & competition.https://t.co/5JXhzWJD9G pic.twitter.com/MT3UMmsgg9— Spartan Athletics (@MSU_Athletics) March 8, 2019
Greg Bulsak, Rocco Caywood, Sawyer Root, Jacob Seely, Kellan Stout
In honor of the @ncaawrestling Championships taking over Pittsburgh next week, let's throw it back to earlier in the year when the squad took a little tour of the city😂#pinzburgh » #H2P » #tbt pic.twitter.com/fnIMoCAOpj— Pitt Wrestling (@Pitt_WRES) March 14, 2019
We've been impressed with Rocco Caywood all season, but the Army senior couldn't mange an automatic bid at 197 pounds from the EIWA conference tournament, and he'll enter the tournament as a No. 12 wildcard. The position suits Caywood well, as he'll actually come into his first round as the favorite. Caywood will wrestle No. 21 Thomas Lane of Cal Poly, and should he win, he'll have a chance to wrestle the winner of No. 5 Jacob Warner and No. 28 Drew Phipps.
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Sawyer Root also comes into the tournament with a decent draw, as the No. 22 Citadel senior will wrestle No. 11 Christian Brunner of Purdue. The battle with the Big Ten wrestler will test Root, as it will be his first contest against an athlete from that conference on the year. Root's wrestled more matches than anybody else in the weight, and could take down the Boilermaker if he finds some March magic. This is a bout that could scream upset, but Root needs to find the right positions and use his strength to pick up some points. He's at a disadvantage against the Purdue junior, but he still has a better spot in the bracket than fellow wildcards Kellan Stout, Greg Bulsak and Jacob Seely. No. 23 Stout will take on No. 10 Tom Sleigh of Arizona State while No. 25 Bulsak and No. 30 Seely will wrestle Stanford's No. 8 Nathan Traxler and No. 3 Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State respectively. It's a tough road for these 197-pounders, but if history says anything, it's that one of them will find themselves the winner of at least a few matches they aren't supposed to win, based on seed.
Jacob Aven, Chase Singletary, Sam Stoll, Jeramy Sweany
We'll have more to say on Sam Stoll later this week, but for now, let's take a moment to talk about how this Iowa All-American and former Gorriarian Trophy winner is now a wildcard. Stoll failed to place at the Big Ten tournament after picking up losses to Gable Steveson and Jacob Aven of Purdue, but his at-large bid wipes that record clean. All that matters now for Sam Stoll is these three days in March. What does his entry into the bracket mean for the rest of the athletes in the 285 pound weight class? Simple, they should worry. Stoll has underperformed this season compared to his previous years as a Hawkeye, but he has a shot to finish strong in this tournament. He'll face Lehigh's Jordan Wood in the first round as the No. 29 seed in the tournament. The senior Hawkeye brings two more years of NCAA tournament experience to the tournament compared to his opponent, and Wood has not yet picked up an All-American honor while Stoll finished fifth in 2018. If Stoll wrestles to his potential, he's poised to upset a few heavyweights including Wood, but he can't perform like he did at Big Tens if he wants another podium finish.
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Singletary and Sweany also hail from big time programs, with Singletary representing the Buckeyes at No. 16 as their tenth wrestler in the tournament and No. 24 Sweany coming in as the seventh wrestler for the Big Red. Singletary has a good battle set up with No. 17 David Jensen of Nebraska in a winnable first-round match, while Sweany will face No. 9 Matt Stencel in a fun heavyweight challenge. Stencel is a problem for any of his opponents because he puts people on their backs and leads the weight class in falls and technical falls. What builds some intrigue here is that these two athletes have not wrestled in 2019, but when they faced off in 2018, Sweany picked up the pin. Can he do it again? If he does, and if he and Singletary can both pull off wild upsets in the second round, they could create a wildcard quarterfinals. Heavyweight is a tough bracket, and Sweany and Singletary both fall on No. 1 Derek White's side, but they'll be enjoyable wrestlers to watch in their early matches.
No. 23 Jake Gunning of Buffalo was expected to round out the heavyweight at-large wrestlers, but he withdrew from the tournament on Wednesday. Taking his place is Jacob Aven of Purdue who will assume the No. 33 seed. All wrestlers seeded 24-33 have moved up a spot as a result of Gunning's withdraw. Aven finished eighth at the Big Ten tournament and will come into the tournament with an 11-21 record, though he does have a win against fellow heavyweight wildcard Sam Stoll. The opportunity to wrestle in this tournament is a huge chance for Aven and gives him one last weekend to shine on the big stage before the senior closes out his college career. He'll face West Virginia's Brandon Ngati in the pigtail match, an athlete he dropped 6-5 to in an earlier dual this season. Aven could pick up the win this time, and if he does, he'll face Oklahoma State's Derek White at the top of the bracket.
There's a reason they call these guys wildcard wrestlers though, and there is a reason this tournament is so popular: NCAA wrestling is all about the upsets, the highlights and the madness.
Wrestling starts Thursday. So let's get wild.
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