This year’s NCAA wrestling talent includes seven returning national champions, a series of previous redshirts and a slate of hungry freshmen ready to make a mark on the national scene.
Penn State will yet again field a deep roster of NCAA title contenders, but Ohio State and Iowa could threaten to take down the Nittany Lions. South Dakota State, Cornell and Arizona State also return defending national champions, and this year will offer the chance for each of these men to put their off-season work to the test and chase the title of NCAA champion.
Here are 25 returning wrestlers to watch, including at least two athletes from each weight class and five wild card athletes. These athletes are in no particular order but were selected because of their potential impact at the national level, their previous success or the strength of the program.
Spencer Lee, 125 sophomore, Iowa
In his true freshman season, Lee cruised through the 125-pound bracket at the NCAA tournament last year, pinning former national champion Nathan Tomasello on his way to the title. Lee will enter this year with even higher expectations, and he should be a dominant force in the weight class yet again. A Big-10 freshman wrestler of the year and Big-10 sportsmanship award winner, Lee finished last season with a 22-2 record after losses to Oregon State senior Ronnie Bresser at Midlands and Tomasello at the Big-10 championships. This year, the path to both a Big-10 title and a national title could be within reach for the returning national champion, Lee.
Nick Suriano, 125/133 junior, Rutgers
A NCAA runner-up in 2018, Suriano will be looking to earn his first national title this year, but the road won’t be easy. If he wrestles at 125 like he has the past two years, he’ll face defending national champion Lee and returning All-American Bresser, and if he moves up to 133, as he did in Rutgers’ wrestle-offs, he’ll be in the same division as defending national champion Seth Gross. Suriano has the talent necessary to make a deep run at nationals this year in either weight class, and if he does bring home an individual national title, he’ll be the first NCAA champion in Rutgers program history. A Penn State transfer, Suriano started his career with a 16-3 record as a freshman with the Nittany Lions but was unable to compete in the NCAA tournament his first year because of an injury. He then transferred to Rutgers and is laying the foundation for what could become a storied career as a Scarlet Knight.
Seth Gross, 133 senior, South Dakota State
Last year’s NCAA champion at 133 pounds, Gross enter the 2018-2019 with an impressive resume on the mat that also includes an NCAA runner-up accolade from his performance in 2017. He became the first South Dakota athlete to win an individual Division I NCAA title when he won the tournament last year, and he has made a name for himself on the national stage with a second consecutive invitation to the NWCA All-Star classic on Nov. 2. A transfer from Iowa, Gross has built his career at South Dakota State and will look to add to his Jackrabbit legacy this season with another potential national title.
Ethan Lizak, 133 redshirt senior, Minnesota
A two-time All-American and an NCAA finalist, Lizak experienced great success as a 125-pounder, but he will be moving up to a competitive 133 weight class this season. He enters the season ranked No. 5 in the Intermat National Rankings, four spots below defending national champion Seth Gross and also behind two fellow Big 10 opponents: Michigan’s Stevan Micic and Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher. He’ll likely have the chance to take on Gross in Minnesota’s dual against the Jackrabbits on Nov. 25, just days before the Cliff Keen invitations in Las Vegas, where Lizak finished third last year. Look for Lizak to perform just as well, if not better, at 133 pounds this year and be in contention for another All-American honor in March.
Stevan Micic, 133 Michigan, redshirt junior
Begin the journey. pic.twitter.com/eFZsTAH3Xb— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) October 13, 2018
Micic won the Big-10 title at 133 pounds last year and finished second in the weight class at NCAAs behind Seth Gross. He also went undefeated in his dual meets and maintained a perfect Big-10 record. The junior additionally has international experience competing for Serbia that could serve him well as he prepares to challenge some of the other competitive 133-pound wrestlers in the Big-10 and across the nation again this season. Michigan will also be attending the Cliff Keen Invitational in Vegas this winter, giving Micic another chance to test himself against some of the best in the country, including Lizak, before he settles into the remainder of his Big-10 duals and prepares for the postseason in March.
Austin DeSanto, 133 sophomore, Iowa
If transferring from Drexel into the Iowa wrestling room isn’t helpful enough for DeSanto, he will now have defending national champion Spencer Lee as a training partner to help him make the jump from an NCAA threat to an NCAA title contender. DeSanto wrestled against Lee in high school, but the two will be teammates this year and could deliver Iowa big points on the national stage in March. The Iowa sophomore went 30-7 and missed out on All-American status last year after losing to Micic and Scott Delvecchio, but look for DeSanto to not only make the tournament but challenge some 133 veterans in the weight class this year.
Yianni Diakomihalis, 141 sophomore, Cornell
In his true freshman season, Diakomihalis delivered on the expectations of Cornell head coach Rob Koll and brought an individual national championship title to the Big Red. A four-time New York high school state champion, he burst onto the college scene his first year and recorded a 37-1 record, taking down NCAA top seed Bryce Meredith and two-time NCAA title winner Dean Heil along the way to his first-place finish at NCAAs. He also won four additional tournaments his freshman year including the EIWA conference tournament, the Bearcat Open, New York State Intercollegiate, and the prestigious Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invite. In addition, Diakomihalis remained undefeated in conference duals and solidified himself as the man to beat this year at 141 pounds.
Joey McKenna, 141 senior, Ohio State
A Buckeye captain, senior Joey McKenna enters the 2018-2019 season fresh off a third-place finish at last year’s NCAA tournament and a Big-10 championship title at 141 pounds. McKenna came into the Ohio State wrestling room after transferring from Stanford, where he won two Pac-12 titles, and made an immediate impact. He’ll be counted on even more this year for team points, as Ohio State graduated three four-time All-Americans in Kyle Snyder, Nathan Tomasello and Bo Jordan. Expect McKenna to rise near the top of the national rankings in the 141-pound weight class again this year.
Micah Jordan, 149 redshirt senior, Ohio State
Now the oldest Jordan brother competing collegiately for the Buckeyes, Micah Jordan will be eying an individual Big-10 championship title and a shot at the national finals this year, titles that have eluded him during his first four years with the program. The two-time All-American is no stranger to success, as he has earned two Big-10 runner-up finishes and finished fourth and sixth respectively at his last two NCAA tournaments in different weight classes. This year, Jordan’s final season as a Buckeye, will be his last chance to have his hand raised in March, and the Buckeyes will need everything he has if they want a shot at a team title as well.
Matthew Kolodzik, 149 junior, Princeton
Kolodzik enters the year as the pre-season No.1 in the 149-pound weight class in the Intermat rankings, and now, with the graduation of two-time Hodge Trophy winner Zain Retherford, Kolodzik could have a clear path to his first NCAA title. In his first two seasons with Princeton, Kolodzik placed seventh and third in the 141 and 149-pound divisions respectively, all while balancing his mechanical and aerospace engineering course requirements. He has also claimed two EIWA titles during his illustrious Princeton career thus far. Kolodzik will be an asset for the Tigers again this year and will aim to lead his team to another podium EIWA finish while chasing his own individual title.
Anthony Ashnault, 149 graduate student, Rutgers
Ashault returns to the NCAA wrestling scene for the sixth year, after receiving an extra year of eligibility because of a season-ending injury his redshirt senior year. He sits second in the Intermat rankings behind only Kolodzik and will chase his fourth All-American honor this year, a feat that will land him in the Rutgers record books should he accomplish this goal. Previously at the NCAA championships, Ashnault has finished sixth, fourth and eighth, and he's also won two Big-10 titles at 141-pounds in 2016 and 2017. Now at 149 pounds, Ashnault will draw on this experience competing against elite wrestlers in three NCAA tournaments to make himself a title contender at the conference and national level once again.
Hayden Hidlay, 157 redshirt sophomore, NC State
In his first year as a starter for the Wolfpack, Hidlay won the ACC title at 157 pounds and finished second at the NCAA championships to Penn State's Jason Nolf. Hidlay went undefeated his entire redshirt freshman dual meet season and posted and 26-1 overall record. In addition, he earned 2018 All-ACC Academic Team, ACC Academic Honor Roll and NWCA’s All-Academic Team honors for his performance on the mat and in the classroom. Hidlay will enter the 2018-2019 season with more expectations than he did when he started last year unranked, and if the Wolfpack sophomore delivers on these expectations, he could be a finals contender for the second year in a row.
Jason Nolf, 157 senior, Penn State
For the last two years, Nolf has dominated the 157-pound weight class at the NCAA championships, earning back-to-back national titles in 2017 and 2018 after picking up All-American honors for a runner-up finish in 2016. The senior will now enter his final year as a Nittany Lion and look for his third individual and fourth team title at the national tournament. Ranked No. 1 in the Intermat preseason poll for the 157-pound weight class, Nolf is set to cement his name into Penn State and NCAA history this year, and he has the potential to be one of the most forceful and powerful wrestlers in the nation this season.
Vincenzo Joseph, 165 junior, Penn State
Just like his Penn State teammate Nolf, Joseph enters the 2018-2019 season as a defending national champion in his weight class and the No. 1 ranked athlete in the pre-season Intermat poll. He finished last season with a 25-2 record, losing only to Iowa’s Alex Marinelli 9-6 and Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez in the Big-10 finals. Joseph could be tested this winter in Big-10 duals against Wisconsin and Nebraska, where he will face All-Americans Evan Wick and Tyler Berger; though Joseph has proven he can compete, and win, against even the toughest competition within his conference and across the country.
Evan Wick, 165 redshirt sophomore, Wisconsin
Evan Wick battled his way to a third-place finish at last year's NCAA championships as a freshman 165-pounder, becoming the 14th Badger to earn All-American honors in as many years. He's also only the fourth Wisconsin wrestler to earn All-American honors during his freshman season at 165. Wick will likely have the chance to wrestle defending national champion Vincenzo Joseph during the dual meet season when Wisconsin takes on Penn State on Jan. 13. This competitive in-season schedule against Big-10 powerhouses Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa will allow Wick to prepare himself for another deep NCAA tournament run.
Zahid Valencia, 174 redshirt junior, Arizona State
Zahid Valencia has been everything the Sun Devils could have asked for and more in his first three years with the team. After redshirting as a freshman, Valencia went on to finish third at NCAAs the following year and then first last season. He’s picked up two Pac-12 titles and two conference wrestler of the year honors along the way, the first to accomplish such a feat since 2003. This year at 174 pounds, Valencia will be the one to beat. He returns to the mat after a summer competing in freestyle against the best the country, including a competitive dual against four-time NCAA champion and Hodge Trophy winner Kyle Dake, and finishing second at Final X State College. Valencia should have no problem punching another ticket to the NCAA championship and working his way deep into the 174 bracket yet again.
Mark Hall, 174 junior, Penn State
Hall, another threat for the Nittany Lions this year, returns as the NCAA runner-up in the 174-pound weight class, and he will enter this year looking to reclaim the national title he won two years ago. He is a the defending Big-10 champion in his weight class and holds a 63-4 career record. Hall will enter this season with the mission of avenging last year's NCAA loss, and he will potentially have chance to face defending champion Valencia during the dual season when the Nittany Lions take on Penn State on Dec. 14. Look for Hall to be a force in the 174-pound weight class across the dual meet and post-season schedule.
Myles Martin, 184 senior, Ohio State
Martin’s NCAA tournament last year didn’t end the way Ohio State fans hoped it might, but the 184-pounder still finished second in the tournament and set himself up to be ready for a title run in 2019. After being pinned in a match against Bo Nickal, Martin and the Buckeyes lost the chance to take home a team title, but with Nickal moving up to 197 this year, Martin has the chance to own the 184-pound weight class and finish his career on the top of the podium. The Ohio State senior will be one of three Buckeye captains this year, and he brings an impressive resume to the mat for his final season. An NCAA champion in 2016, Martin is a three-time All-American who has never finished lower than fifth in any of his national championship appearances. Now, as the pre-season favorite in his weight class, Martin has the potential to win his second NCAA championship and go down in Ohio State record books as another four-time All-American.
Shakur Rasheed, 184 senior, Penn State
The competition in the Penn State wrestling room has helped groom Rasheed over his past four years with the Nittany Lions, and, after finishing seventh at last year's championships, Rasheed will be aiming for another podium finish during his final year in the blue and white singlet. A Big-10 runner-up and NCAA All-American last year at 197 pounds, Rasheed has the chance now at a more open 184 weight class to make an impact and score big points for the Nittany Lions on the national stage. He enters the season ranked fourth in the Intermat rankings, three spots behind Ohio State’s Myles Martin. If Rasheed can follow in the footsteps of Penn State’s 184-pound starter from last year, Bo Nickal, and earn a top finish at the NCAA tournament, he could be a critical asset for the Nittany Lions again this March.
Bo Nickal, 197 senior, Penn State
If Bo Nickal continues his national championship streak and captures a third-straight NCAA title, he will become the third Nittany Lion to accomplish such a feat. After winning the title at 174 his redshirt sophomore year and then capturing gold again one year later at 184, Nickal will now move up to 197, a weight where he could potentially wrestle Ohio State's Kollin Moore three or more times this year. A three-time All-American, Nickal has advanced to the NCAA finals every year of his career and has only lost three matches since he first donned his Penn State singlet. This streak is unlikely to be broken this year, as Nickal has shown that he can be consistently dominant in across weight classes and now could put on a show at 197.
Kyle Conel, 197 senior, Kent State
Kyle Conel became the story of last year's NCAA tournament after his Cinderella run from an unseeded qualifier to a top-three finisher and an All-American honoree. The Kent State junior advanced into the tournament last season after finishing second at the MAC conference tournament and then winning his pigtail match on the first day of NCAA competition in Cleveland. Yet, Conel didn't stop there. He pinned top-ranked Kollin Moore from Ohio State in the quarterfinals and then ultimately dropped to eventual national champion Michael Macchiavello in the semifinals. Conel's NCAA run turned heads at last year's tournament, but this year, the senior will face higher expectations as he chases his first NCAA title.
Kollin Moore, 197 junior, Ohio State
Another highly regarded buckeye, Moore has the potential to make an impact this year at 197 pounds, but his weight class will be competitive. The two-time All-American finished fourth in last year's tournament after falling to unseeded Kyle Conel, and Conel returns, as does 184-pound defending national champion Bo Nickal, who has moved up to 197. Moore will have the chance to face Nickal later in the season when Ohio State duals against Penn State on February 8th, and the two athletes could potentially compete in the Big-10 tournament as well before nationals in Pittsburgh. Moore spent the summer working out with Olympic gold medalist and three-time NCAA champion Kyle Snyder in preparation for his freestyle tournaments, and that training, plus his national and international experience, will make him a dangerous contender on the big stage this March.
Sam Stoll, heavyweight senior, Iowa
After a series of ACL injuries that prevented him from making a deep run in the NCAA tournament his first two seasons, Stoll finally captured All-American honors last year when he finished fifth at the NCAA tournament. Stoll's journey to the podium, however, required him to fight back in the consolation bracket after an early second-round loss to Maryland's Youssif Hemida, an opponent he will face again in the weight class in the Iowa-Maryland dual on Feb. 8 as well as potentially at Midlands, the Big-10 Championship and the NCAA tournament. Stoll's strenth as a heavyweight comes in his ability to put his opponents on their backs, and he earned the Gorriaran Trophy, an award presented every year to the wrestler with the greatest number of pins in the least amount of time at the NCAA tournament, for his performances last season. This year, The Iowa senior enters the season ranked No. 1 in the Intermat rankings and will attempt to fight for a national title, an honor that has eluded him the past three years.
Nick Nevills, heavyweight senior, Penn State
Nevills enters his senior season with a 61-15 career record and two All-American honors after finishing fifth at the national tournament in 2017 and seventh in 2018. During the regular season last year, Nevills defeated fourth place NCAA finisher Jacob Kasper, fifth-place NCAA finisher Sam Stoll and eighth-place NCAA finisher Youssif Hemdia before advancing to a second-consecutive third-place finish at the Big-10 championships. With Kyle Synder graduated, Nevills could be set to bring Penn State a title in the heavyweight division that has been dominated for the last three years by the Buckeyes. The biggest competition for Nevills will come from within his own conference, as he'll have to take down Stoll and Hemida to earn an individual conference title and ultimately the NCAA championship, but Nevills beat both athletes in the Big-10 tournament last year and has the potential to rise to the top of the podium in March.
Youssif Hemida, heavyweight senior, Maryland
After losing by one point in the Blood Round in 2017 and missing out on Academic All-American by five tenths of a point, Hemida came back last year and earned both All-American and Academic All-American honors, finishing eighth in Cleveland during the 2018 NCAA tournament. Hemdia’s rise to All-American status has given the Terps the momentum they needed after going seven years without a single heavyweight wrestler making the podium at nationals. The heavyweight senior enters a much more open weight class this year, with the graduation of last year's top four NCAA finishers Kyle Snyder, Adam Coon, Amarveer Dhesi and Jacob Kasper; the stage is set for Hemida to make a move.