College wrestling cannot go a week without a freshman making some sort of national noise.
Michigan rookie heavyweight Adam Coon claimed top honors at the Cliff Keen/Las Vegas Invitational the first Friday in December. Less than 10 days later, Penn State’s Zain Retherford knocked off two-time national champion Logan Steiber.
On his way to a Midlands Championship at 125 pounds, Iowa’s Thomas Gilman beat 2013 NCAA champion Jesse Delgado of Illinois.
A couple of days later, at the Southern Scuffle, Cornell’s Gabe shocked Penn State’s Ed Ruth, a two-time NCAA champion who had not lost a match since, it seemed, the Reagan Administration.
A pair of Pittsburgh first-year starters, Edgar Bright and Mikey Racciato, sparked the Panthers to a dual victory against Oklahoma State. And just last weekend, Minnesota’s Sam Brancale, not among the nation’s elite 125-pounders, pinned Gilman to spark the Gophers in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
They seem to be everywhere, first-year starters making an immediate impact. Amateur Wrestling News’ January 28 rankings listed 40 freshmen, including eight at 125 pounds. Only time will tell, namely three days this March in Oklahoma City at the 2014 NCAA Championships.
Wrestling hard seems to be a common teme.
“You can’t worry about all that stuff, about who is ranked where,” Dean said after his Scuffle victory against Ruth. “Of course, you do the scouting and try and find out what you can, but it still comes down to going out and wrestling hard for seven minutes. If you go hard for seven minutes, good things are usually going to happen.”
Dean, from Lowell, Mi., is 25-2 and ranked second at 184 pounds.
“You have to go hard every opportunity you get and let the chips fall where they may,” said Coon after his Midlands title.
Coon, from Fowlerville, Mi., is 23-1 and ranked second.
Perhaps the loudest noise has come from the Retherford camp. A Benton, Pa., product, Retherford won two state titles and lost just three bouts in 133 starts in high school. At 20-0, the Penn State 141-pounder ranks second.
Cool, calm, and collected seems to apply
“That’s what the great wrestlers have, they are calm and relaxed but ready, confident and not really worried about who they are wrestling,” said Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson, who started his undefeated career at Iowa State with a perfect rookie campaign. “Zain is a tough kid, he loves wrestling, a real student of the game. Whatever his parents did, I am going to try and do the same thing with my kids.”
Like his fellow first-year collegians, Retherford has a simple plan,
“Anything can happen, you have just have to work on improving every day.”
The ultimate goal, regardless of the banter about the importance of dual meets and the regular season, is the NCAA championships every March. Plenty of freshmen have crashed and burned under the bright lights of college wrestling’s premiere event. Others have shined during the past decade.
Stieber beat Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver in the 133-pound final two seasons ago. Minnesota’s Dylan Ness advanced to the NCAA finals at 149 pounds in 2012.
At the 2010 NCAA Championships, Iowa’s Matt McDonough and Cornell’s Kyle Dake were champions.
In 2009, then wrestling for Wisconsin, Andrew Howe, now a senior for the University of Oklahoma, lost in the finals at 165 pounds.
Iowa State’s Jake Varner was a finalist in 2007. Minnesota’s Dustin Schlatter started his collegiate career with an NCAA title in 2006. Iowa’s Mark Perry was a national finalist in 2005.
Again, only time will tell for this year’s crop of rookies.