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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | July 19, 2019

College wrestling: 7 breakout candidates who could become All-Americans this year

Relive Zahid Valencia's tournament run becoming a two-time champion at 174

Eighty men stand on the podium every year at the NCAA wrestling tournament with trophies, honors and national recognition, representing each of the ten weight classes. Forty others end their tournaments the previous night in the infamous “Blood Round.” This round, also known more formally as the ‘Round of 12’ is everything the nickname suggests: it’s intense, it’s emotional, and it’s the last chance for wrestlers to earn the coveted title of NCAA wrestling All-American.

NCAA TOURNAMENT: Final brackets Final team scores 

Of the forty athletes who ended their tournaments in the Blood Round last year, over half will return this season looking for their first All-American honor. These are the seven athletes from that group that will be particularly interesting to watch this year as they aim to wrestle their way back to the tournament and pick up the honor that they missed out on in 2019: 

Micky Phillippi, Pittsburgh, 133 pounds

Identifying Micky Phillippi as a potential breakout athlete to watch isn't shocking, and his quest to earn All-American honors in 2020 is expected. However, as a No. 4 seed in last year's tournament, his spot on the podium was expected then too, further proving that nothing is ever guaranteed. Phillippi began his college career at the University of Virginia but transferred after his freshman year and sat out a year, per NCAA rules. Training in a new environment at the University of Pittsburgh in the 2018-2019 season, Phillippi burst on to the national scene his redshirt freshman season with a 21-4 record, including a win over NCAA finalist Daton Fix in the Oklahoma State-Pittsburgh dual in January.

NCAA TOURNAMENT INFO: How the NCAA wrestling tournament works

He also picked up wins against All-Americans Ethan Lizak, Luke Pletcher and Tariq Wilson during his season but could not string together enough wins on the national stage to finish in the top eight. The Panthers' lightweight started the NCAA tournament with a decision over Fresno State's Gary Joint and then added another victory against rising star Austin Gomez. A loss to Ohio State fourth-place finisher Luke Pletcher moved Phillippi to the consolation bracket where he fell in a tight 4-3 decision to Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young. Phillippi's resume suggests he has the talent and drive to make a deeper run in 2020, and he'll be a name to remember in the years to come. Phillippi will also don the red, white and blue in late October at the U23 World Championships after accepting the spot turned down by Charles Tucker of Cornell. He'll be one to watch on the collegiate, national and international stage this fall. 

Austin Gomez, Iowa State University, 133 pounds

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Tough pill to swallow. I’ll be back.

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Like his Pittsburgh counterpart, Iowa State's Austin Gomez has his eyes on a podium finish during his sophomore season. He'll also make a run in the 133 weight class, a group that could be considered one of the deepest weight classes in the country with returning national champ Nick Suriano and 2018 NCAA champ Seth Gross both expected to compete. Six of the eight All-Americans in the weight class from last year also return. These opponents could present a problem to Gomez, but another year in the Iowa State wrestling room will only help his chances of picking up the honor that escaped him last year. 

PODIUM FINISHERS: Meet the 80 All-Americans at the 2019 NCAA wrestling tournament

Gomez accumulated a collection of impressive wins during his freshman season, including a particularly memorable win over Austin DeSanto in the Iowa-Iowa State dual and a statement fall against 2019 All-American Roman Bravo-Young at the Southern Scuffle. These wins, and Gomez's 24-7 redshirt freshman record, prove that he is more than capable of ending up on the podium next March. 

Matt Findlay, Utah Valley, 141 pounds

A versatile local Utah star, Matt Findlay is an easy wrestler to root for this season. As a sophomore, Findlay qualified for his first NCAA tournament and picked up wins against Corey Shie, Sa’Derian Perry and Michael Carr before losing to Oklahoma’s Dom Demas in the Blood Round. His trajectory from an 11-9 redshirt freshman season to his 17-4 sophomore season suggests that Findlay is just getting started, and after another year of training with a Utah Valley squad that saw a breakthrough season last year, Findlay could be the dark horse to watch at 141 pounds. The weight class is strong with two-time national champion Yianni Diakomihalis returning and only one All-American graduating, but if Findlay continues to progress as he has, this could be his year to break through. Findlay could also bump up and wrestle in the more open 149 weight class, and his potential for All-American honors would be just as strong. 

STANDINGS AND STATISTICS: Division I wrestling championship records | Wrestling teams ranked 

The Utah Valley junior isn’t just successful on the mat, however. He also picked up the 2019 NCAA Elite 90 Award presented annually to the wrestler competing at the national tournament with the highest GPA. Holding a 3.94 GPA in Biology, Findlay hopes to become a physician after medical school. He’ll look to add “NCAA wrestling All-American” to his already impressive athletic and academic resume this coming year and will be a fun athlete to watch throughout the season. 

Max Murin, Iowa, 141 pounds

The depth of the Iowa roster this season is such that any starter competing for the Hawkeyes has a legitimate chance to All-American, and redshirt sophomore Max Murin is no exception. Murin started his freshman season strong, posting significant conference wins against Nate Limmex and Peter Lipari, and he secured one of the final NCAA automatic bids in his weight class at the Big Ten tournament, finishing seventh. Murin's performance at the conference tournament and in the second half of the season led to his No. 22 seed in Pittsburgh, but the Hawkeye battled through the national tournament bracket to advance to the Round of 12. He picked up big wins against Tristan Moran and Michael Carr before dropping to Nick Lee and missing out on his All-American spot with a loss to Chad Red in the Blood Round. Red and Lee will both return to the mat in 2020 and challenge Murin again, but this could be Murin's year to pick up a podium spot. 

WATCH: Relive the dream for the ten individual 2019 NCAA wrestling champions

The Iowa training environment only continues to improve, and with All-Americans Spencer Lee, Austin DeSanto, Pat Lugo, Kaleb Young, Alex Marinelli and Jacob Warner all returning, Murin has everything he needs in terms of a successful training environment. Will he add his name to the long line of Hawkeye All-Americans? That remains to be seen, but Murin is certainly in a good position to achieve that goal. 

Dylan Lydy, Purdue, 174 pounds

Over the course of two seasons, Purdue's Dylan Lydy has gone from a 16-19 redshirt freshman for the Boilermakers to a 29-10 Round of 12 junior with All-American goals in his final season. He's started 47 of Purdue's 49 team duals since entering the starting lineup in the 2016-2017 season, missing just two matches due to injury. Lydy started his collegiate career at 165, but the jump to 174 as a sophomore proved successful for the grappler, and he immediately made leaps and posted a 71.43% winning record his first season at the upper weight. He also leads his team in all kinds of statistics including total matches, wins, Big Ten dual wins and tournament wins. Lydy is also the top-ranked Boilermaker in ranked opponents defeated, ranked opponents faced, decisions, points scored in the third period and wins in overtime.

Lydy earned his first bid to the NCAA tournament as a sophomore with a fifth place finish in the Big Ten tournament, and he followed that performance with another fifth place finish in 2019 to earn a second shot at the national podium. Both years, however, the Blood Round got the better of Lydy. In 2018, Jordan Kutler of Lehigh was the victor over the Boilermaker in the Round of 12, sending Lydy home trophy-less. One year later, Lydy took a first round loss to Army's Ben Harvey, another wrestler who would go on to lose in the Blood Round. Lydy dropped down to the consolation bracket where he kept his All-American hopes alive with a sudden victory win over Vincent Deprez of Binghamton, a close 5-4 decision over Matt Finesilver, and a noteworthy 4-2 win over Ohio State's Ethan Smith before dropping a tiebreaker to Michael Labriola of Nebraska. In both seasons as a 174 pounder, he earned Academic All-Big Ten honors, but in his senior season, Lydy will be looking for more. He's chasing that trophy, and he's primed to make it happen this season.

Nathan Traxler, Stanford, 197 pounds

Nathan Traxler is a leader, and the junior Cardinal has already left an impact on the Stanford program through his accomplishments, but he's still missing one title: All-American. As a sophomore during the 2018-2019 season, Traxler served as team captain and won the Pac-12 title, leading his team in falls and wins. He lost just one dual meet in his second season, against Christian Brunner of Purdue 4-3, and he also picked up six ranked wins. A fourth place finish at Cliff Keen and a second place finish at the Southern Scuffle served as highlights from Traxler's year, but now he wants to pick up a top eight finish on the biggest stage. 

Like many of the other Round of 12 wrestlers on this list, Traxler's record from his freshman to sophomore season suggested significant improvement. The Cardinal went from 19-12 in his rookie year to 30-7 in his second year wearing the Stanford singlet, and he'll come into this year as the top ranked wrestler in his conference. The challenging part for Traxler on his journey to All-American honors will be the depth at 197 pounds in the rest of the country. Ohio State's Kollin Moore will be the No. 1 pre-season athlete with Princeton's Patrick Brucki and Fresno State's Josh Hokit also fighting for top spots in the weight. Returning 2019 All-American Jacob Warner and 2018 third-place finisher Kyle Conel who could wrestle this year for Penn State will also be dangerous, but Traxler has battled the best before, and he could find his way to the podium with the right collection of wins.

Mason Parris, Michigan, 285 pounds

Like Phillippi, Parris will be a projected early All-American favorite if he starts his sophomore year with the same immediate success he saw as a freshman. The young Michigan heavyweight cruised to early wins at the start of his collegiate career, picking up two falls, including one over All-American Matt Stencel, in his first three matches. He then strung together a winter resume that included ranked wins over All-Americans Amar Dhesi, Trent Hillger and Youssif Hemida. 

Here's a look at him taking down Hemida during the Maryland-Michigan dual: 

 

Seeded fifth in the 2019 NCAA wrestling tournament, he was expected to score big points for Michigan but ran into a Big Ten foe and 2018 All-American Sam Stoll in the first round. Stoll would later suffer a similar fate to Parris and drop a Blood Round match to miss out on 2019 All-American honors. The early loss to Stoll, however, forced Parris to work his way up the backside of the bracket where he lost to pinning machine Matt Stencel and walked away as a Round of 12 qualifier. 

This summer, however, Parris has been showing that he has the strength and skill to compete with the best in the country. He qualified for the Junior World Team at the World Team trials in Raleigh, North Carolina with two best-of-three wins over Hillger. Look for him to carry this momentum into a success sophomore folkstyle season this year. 

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