With every new wrestling season comes new faces and new expectations. Last year, Minnesota true freshman Gable Steveson broke onto the scene at heavyweight, posted an undefeated regular season record and finished third at the NCAA championships. In 2018, Iowa and Cornell freshmen Spencer Lee and Yianni Diakomihalis won their respective weight classes at the national tournament. True freshmen have been winning titles and making waves on the collegiate scene for years, and 2020 will likely follow this trend.
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Ohio State landed what has been regarded as the best recruiting class in the country this year, and the Buckeyes will aim to use their new crop of talent to help take on the reigning national champions Penn State as well as hold off other powerhouse programs including Oklahoma State and Iowa.
Ranking the nation's best incoming freshman is a subjective and difficult task, but these are the nine student-athletes to watch as they start their college careers this fall. These athletes are in no particular order, and they represent nine different teams. All nine should be among the fun names to follow as they compete over the course of their college careers.
Greg Kerkvliet, Ohio State
Kerkvliet will start his Buckeye career as one of the biggest names coming out of high school this year, and though he plans to redshirt this season, keep an eye on this Minnesota native. Kerkvliet won four heavyweight state titles during his career at Simley High School, but his dominance extends beyond Minnesota. The incoming Buckeye also won gold at the 2018 Cadet World Championships and will represent the United States at the U23 world championships this year, despite tearing his ACL during the qualifying tournament. Expect Kerkvliet to make some noise at Open tournaments this year before bursting on the scene next year as a potential starter for head coach Tom Ryan and the Buckeyes.
Watch: Kerkvliet wrestles 2019 NCAA third-place finisher Gable Steveson during a high school dual meet in Minnesota last year:
Cohlton Schultz, Arizona State
Another heavyweight with international experience, Schultz will head to Arizona State as one of the Sun Devils' most highly-touted recruits. Schultz won four Colorado state championships with Ponderosa High School, but he hasn't slowed down since then. This summer, Schultz beat 2016 Olympic team member Robby Smith at the World Team Trials to earn a spot in Final X before ultimately falling to senior world medalist Adam Coon. Schultz was the youngest participant in Final X this year, but his resume suggests he will be a force for years to come. A 2017 Cadet World Champion and 2018 Junior World bronze medalist, Schultz's accomplishments helped him earn the 2019 Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award, a honor bestowed each year to the wrestler who best displays outstanding wrestling success, scholastic achievement and community service. Schultz is the second Sun Devil to win the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award in the last four years.
We're excited to announce that Colorado's @TheCohlTrain is the 2019 national winner of our Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award. https://t.co/T7xp7gNu2w pic.twitter.com/I0BMKBeqwn— NWHOF (@NWHOF) May 7, 2019
The other recent winner? Two-time NCAA champion Zahid Valencia. If Schultz can follow in the footsteps of Valencia, he's on a path to the top of the collegiate podium. The heavyweight class is full of talented young athletes, but Schultz has competed against the best in the world, and he'll be fun to watch as he looks to take on the likes of Anthony Cassar and Gable Steveson in his first year as a Sun Devil.
Andrew 'Boo' Alirez, Northern Colorado
Like Schultz, Alirez is also four-time Colorado state champion who will be staying out West to battle for a national championship at the collegiate level. Alirez wrestled at 152 pounds for Greeley Central High School and will look to make an immediate impact at the University of Northern Colorado this year. During the 2018-2019 wrestling season, Alirez picked up a win over two-time NCAA All-American Nick Lee and two-time NCAA champion Dean Heil at the Dave Schultz Memorial International tournament, and he also earned a gold medal at the 2018 Junior Pan American Games. The Bears went 4-10 last year and qualified three athletes to the NCAA tournament but will look to improve upon that record after signing one of the best recruiting classes in program history, led by Alirez.
Gabriel Tagg, North Carolina
Before we leave for Japan tomorrow, we want to wish this guy good luck as he begins his journey to Junior Worlds in Estonia. #GoHeelsGoAmerica. @gabrieltagg pic.twitter.com/5TElfsWthx— UNC Wrestling (@UNCWrestling) August 1, 2019
Ohio native Tagg will represent the Tar Heels in his blue and white singlet come November, but until then, he'll rock the red, white and blue as the United State representative at 61kg on the Junior World Team. Tagg, who has spent the last year training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, won the UWW Junior national title, the U.S. Open and the Junior World Team trials to build his national resume before taking on the world at the 2019 World Championships in Estonia. He'll be the only North Carolina representative on any of the U.S. World freestyle Teams this year, but he is joining a rising Tar Heel team looking to put a national champion or two on the podium in March at the national tournament in Minneapolis. As a 132 pound high-schooler, Tagg won the Ohio State championship with Brecksville High School in 2018 and will likely fill in for North Carolina at 133 or 141 pounds. The graduation of Gary Wayne Harding opens up 133 while redshirt senior A.C. Headlee still holds the current spot at 141 pounds. Tagg also has a redshirt open that he might employ, but either way, the incoming Tar Heel will be an exciting wrestler to watch as his collegiate career begins.
Joseph 'JoJo' Aragona, Rutgers
Rutgers has never had a true freshman, or even a redshirt freshman national champion. Will JoJo Aragona be the first? He's the first No. 1 overall recruit to sign with the Scarlet Knights, according to the Rutgers press release, and could be the latest athlete to make history under head coach Scott Goodale. Aragona, like recent Rutgers national champions Anthony Ashnault and Nick Suriano, hails from New Jersey, and he picked up his first state title earlier this year with Pope John High School. Now Aragona will have the chance to test himself on the collegiate stage, though he may not start for the Scarlet Knights right away. Aragona is expected to wrestle at 141 pounds, but he could also redshirt to allow Peter Lipari to finish out his career for Rutgers in that weight class. Watch for Aragona to make some noise against well-known opponents, just like he did when he stopped five-time New York state champion Adam Busiello at Beat the Streets this year.
Julian Ramirez, Cornell
Julian Ramirez, one of the biggest recruits for Cornell, will emerge from the New Jersey high school wrestling scene and be expected to score big points at the NCAA tournament when he makes his starting debut for the Big Red — whether that be this year in his true first season or next year as a redshirt freshman. Ramirez graduated from Blair Academy this summer as the winner of the 2019 National Preps tournament at 170 pounds while Blair teammate Michael Colaiocco, who will be wrestling for Penn this year, won the title at 126 pounds.
Congratulations to Michael Colaiocco '19 and Julian Ramirez '19 for making the All-USA teams! #blairwrestling https://t.co/aMwzJSrmWA pic.twitter.com/q2FLv768RP— Blair Wrestling (@Blair_Wrestling) April 19, 2019
Prior to transferring to Blair, Ramirez also won two state titles in Florida. At Cornell, Ramirez is expected to wrestle at 174 or 184 pounds, and if he chooses the later, he'll have to compete for a starting spot against NCAA finalist Max Dean. Ramirez has shown his flair against some of the country's top high schoolers, and he recently earned Outstanding Wrestler honors at the Pittsburgh Classic. College is a different level, but Ramirez background suggests he'll be an added asset for the Big Red and a major point contributor throughout his career.
Carter Starocci, Penn State
The Nittany Lions are always the team to watch, so a list of freshman to watch would be incomplete without a member of the perennial powerhouse program in Happy Valley. Starocci comes to the Penn State wrestling room with a long list of accolades that include two Pennsylvania state championships, Fargo titles and two junior world championship appearances. He is projecting at 174 pounds, which means he's likely to take a redshirt year if Mark Hall chooses to forgo his redshirt and wrestle for another individual title this year. If Hall opts to redshirt, then Starocci could be an option for head coach Cael Sanderson at this weight. Starocci headlines Penn State's 2019 recruiting class, and he'll be a name to watch in the coming years as works to add his name to a long list of Pennsylvania natives who have found success under Sanderson and company.
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Ryan Anderson, Iowa State
Iowa State put together a solid season last year under the direction of head coach Kevin Dresser, and the Cyclones added another top recruit in two-time Pennsylvania state champion Anderson. A graduate of Bethlehem Catholic, Anderson ran through the 145-pound brackets the last two years at the high school level and will look to carry his success to the collegiate stage. Iowa State finished with two All-Americans last year, but they have not had a national champion since 2015. Will Anderson be the one? He's been tested against national competition at Super 32s, a high school tournament that he won, and Ironman, and is considered by Dresser to be a point scorer who will please the crowd in Ames, according to a team release. Anderson is expected to wrestle at 141 or 149 pounds and could take a redshirt this year. Those two weights were filled by NCAA qualifier Ian Parker and All-American Jarrett Degen last year, so Anderson might spend this year training and acclimating, but he could be a powerful force for the Cyclones down the line.
Cameron Amine, Michigan
Never underestimate an Amine. Michigan native and three-time high school state champion Cameron Amine joins the long list of Amine men who have donned the Maize and Blue to wrestle for the Wolverines, and he'll hope to be the latest to add All-American honors to his name. Projected as a powerful middleweight, Amine could fill in the 157-pound spot left open by the graduation of three-time All-American Alec Pantaleo, and if he does crack the lineup in his true freshman year, he could join his cousin and two-time All-American Myles as a starter. He could also take a redshirt year and fill in for Logan Massa at 165 pounds after his graduation. Cameron's father and uncle, along with his cousin Malik and his older brother Jordan, have wrestled for Michigan. Amine finished sixth at Fargo last year after injuring his ankle, but his state title this year suggests that when he's healthy, few people can stop Amine.
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