The stars shined bright in Week 4 of the 2021 college wrestling season, with Spencer Lee and Gable Steveson earning bonus-point wins for their respective teams. But last weekend also featured a number of major upsets, key victories and notable moments. Here's what you need to know about what happened on the mat over the last few days, and what to make of these results.
Undefeated Binghamton earns ranked win
The EIWA conference is always loaded and fun, and while the absence of the Ivy League programs weakens the star power slightly, Binghamton let the conference know on Saturday that the Bearcats have chosen to step into the spotlight. Head coach Kyle Borshoff's team came together as a unit and stopped the Army Black Knights in a major upset win, putting the brakes on an Army team that has been sending a consistent number of top athletes to the tournament every year and establishing itself as a Top 25 team season after season.
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"What those guys did out there, it's hard to do. I need to come up with more adjectives because the only one that comes to my mind is just how incredible that was," Borshoff told BUBearcats.com after the win. "I am so proud of our guys. There were four matches listed as 'toss ups' and we were able to win all of them."
What Borshoff's guys did was win seven of the 10 matches, two with bonus and one in overtime, to top Army 23-10. Army coach Kevin Ward was not nearly as positive after the dual as Borshoff, but the night really did belong to his opponent. Freshman Micah Roes helped kick things off for the Green and White as he secured his tough 10-8 OT win and passed the baton to Anthony Sobotker to pick up the 10-5 decision at 133 pounds. Zack Trampe scored a bonus point win for the Bearcats, but Brevin Cassella, Jacob Nolan, Lou DePrez and Cory Day were all needed with their wins as well. Day's win also came by bonus against the No. 17 heavyweight in the country. Binghamton faces conference powerhouse Lehigh next, but momentum is in the Bearcat's favor as they continue through this unusual, unpredictable season.
Spencer Lee, Gable Steveson continue their bonus streak
Who is the best wrestler in the country? The NCAA tournament will answer this question for each of the ten weight classes, but the awarding of the highest honor in college wrestling, the Hodge Trophy, is more of a subjective choice. The Hodge Trophy is considered to be wrestling's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, and is presented each year to the most dominant wrestler in the country.
In such a short season, the race for the 2021 Hodge Trophy begins early, and, this year, it's a two-man race. Spencer Lee and Gable Steveson, both on opposite ends of the weight class spectrum, entered last year's tournament as No. 1 seeds. Both looked to run through the competition on the way to their third and first titles, respectively. This year, both men are showing their strength early, bonusing all of their opponents in the first few weeks. No wrestler has ended a season with a 100 percent bonus rate, but these guys will aim to change that.
Lee, an Iowa senior and two-time NCAA champion, added to his impressive wins this weekend with a first-period fall against Patrick McKee, his second fall of the year, and his second consecutive match that ended within the first period. He was expected to battle Michigan's impressive rookie Dylan Ragusin this weekend, though a new Michigan lockdown order as a result of COVID may change that. Last year, Michigan's Jack Medley was the only athlete to hold Lee to a decision, so the pressure will be on Ragusin to try and do the same — if these athletes meet this weekend or in the Big Ten tournament.
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With Lee as the first athlete lineup for the Hawks, he has a way of setting the tone for Iowa, and he did that over the weekend against Steveson's Gophers. His pin, a tech from 133-pounder Austin DeSanto, and major from 141-pounder Jaydin Eierman showed why Iowa has one of the best 1-2-3 punches in college wrestling, and the Hawkeyes' power doesn't end their. Max Murin, Kaleb Young and Alex Marinelli all picked up ranked decisions at 149, 157 and 165, respectively, while junior Jacob Warner and senior Michael Kemerer added bonus at 197 and 174 pounds. Sophomore Nelson Brands fought for his decision win against Isaiah Salazar to keep himself undefeated, and the Hawkeyes would've had a chance for a shutout with No. 3 Tony Cassioppi wrapping things up at heavyweight, but Cassioppi couldn't handle Steveson.
When the two heavyweights — Cassioppi and Steveson — walked to the mat, Steveson knew it was his house. He let the music finish, he let the announcers give him his proper into, and then he went to work majoring Cassioppi to put four points on the board for the Gophers — ruining Iowa's hopes of a shutout and keep his bonus streak alive. So far this season, Steveson has teched twice, pinned once and now added a major to his impressive results resume.
Cassioppi was his first big test, and his next challenge awaits in the Big Ten tournament where he'll see Mason Parris of Michigan. But Steveson is wrestling on another level. He has a unique swagger and his results speak for themselves. He wants to win the Hodge, and the race between him and Lee will be one to watch.
Finding a way to finish
Steveson's finish gave Minnesota a chance to feel a little better about being dominated the Iowa, but he wasn't the only heavyweight and the other athlete to step up for his team.
It's time to honor the closers, the ones who rose to the occasion, finished for their teams and sealed the win or added a moral victory. Across the Big Ten and Big 12, these closers on ranked teams made their mark, and while every wrestling dual is a team event, sometimes teams need that critical performance from an individual.
For Ohio State, that critical performance came from a few athletes, but the Bucks' 19-14 win against Rutgers was secured when Tate Orndorff rallied from his two losses last weekend and powered past Christian Colucci 4-2 to finish off the dual. The matchups weren't pretty for the Buckeyes, but wins for Orndorff, Malik Heinselman, Sammy Sasso, Ethan Smith, Kaleb Romero and Gavin Hoffman proved to be enough to squeak out the victory. Rutgers battled tough, and, anchored behind top-ranked Sebastian Rivera, the Scarlet Knights will be a team to watch moving forward, but Saturday still belonged to Ohio State.
The heavyweight race is heating up though, as Illinois' Luke Luffman — the same Luffman that beat Orndorff last weekend to push Illinois past Ohio State — once again came through with a clutch win to keep the Illini undefeated.
Trailing 16-17 with the match on the line, Luffman went to work against Jamarcus Grant for a 4-0 decision win and a dual victory. He put the exclamation point at a quintessential team victory that also included a pin from Lucas Byrd, a major from Dylan Duncan, and decisions from Michael Carr and DJ Shannon.
Illinois is looking more and more like a team that could do some damage across all ten weight classes at the Big Tens, and the Illini lineup is full of bracket busters, no one more so than Luffman. Who's next for the star Illini heavyweight? None other than Minnesota's Gable Steveson, the king of the weight and the man looking to embarrass every athlete he faces. But, if these three weeks have taught us anything, it's to never underestimate Luke Luffman.
Unlike the Illini, who have won every time they've stepped on the mat this season, Northwestern's trajectory has been a little different this season. And it was in danger for a brief period on Saturday of adding another loss to its record.
Wrestling Maryland, the Wildcats had a 12-10 lead after the 165-pound bout and were in a tight one at 174 pounds that could have swung the dual in favor of the Terrapins, a potential first for Maryland this season. Northwestern's Troy Fisher, however, found a way to finish the win 5-4 and keep the advantage in favor the Wildcats.
An unsportsmanlike conduct call against Maryland took away two team points and extended Northwestern's lead, but the Kyle Cochran proved that Maryland was still in this battle with his major decision over Jon Halvorsen at 184. The closer credit then belonged to Northwestern's Lucas Davison and Jack Heyob in a serious way when the dynamic duo put away the Terrapins with two workmanlike decisions to give Northwestern its first win of the season. Northwestern stood up and sent a message, downing the Terps 21-12 in a dual where Maryland won more matches than it has all season.
Also in the Big Ten, Wisconsin's 125-pounder Eric Barnett didn't close out a dual for his team, and he certainly wasn't the sole reason why the Badgers topped Purdue for their first ranked win of the season, but his performance needs to be mentioned.
Barnett came into his bout against No. 2 Devin Schroder with an 0-2 record, dropping bouts to Malik Heinselman and Justin Cardani, but, on Sunday, he put his weight class on notice win a pin over Big Ten finalist Schroder. His six-point win helped the Badgers pull away from the Boilermakers and created a situation where he teammates could both lose at 133 and 141 pounds and keep the win alive.
Kyle Burwick did take down Nate Cummings in the next bout though, separating the lead even further for the Badgers and giving them the 22-14 win even with Dominic Dentino's loss to Parker Filius in the final matchup. The win was important for a Wisconsin team that has struggled to stay in the Top 25.
When the pressure is on, some wrestlers step up and others struggle, but like many of the unsung heroes of this weekend, Iowa State's Cannon Gremmel found a way to win with the dual on the line.
Trailing 16-15 to Oklahoma as a team when the big man walked to the center of the mat, Cyclone senior Gremmel stayed calm and went to war against Oklahoma's Josh Heindselman. The suspense continued for over seven minutes as the match went into overtime, but it was Gremmel with the escape and the rideout in extra time that gave the Cyclones a ranked win over the No. 18 Sooners.
Teammate Ian Parker also picked up a key ranked win at 141 pounds over Oklahoma All-American Dom Demas, while lightweight Kysen Terukina, 157-pound All-American David Carr, redshirt sophomore Isaac Judge and redshirt freshman Julien Broderson also added victories. Oklahoma has some serious manpower this year, but the weekend belonged to the Cyclones who are now 4-1 with just the one loss to No. 6 Missouri.
NC State, Virginia Tech, Carolina earn ACC wins
Unlike the Big Ten, the talent in the ACC is more compact. With just six teams in the conference, these guys get to know each other quickly, and they come ready to compete in every dual. All three winners from the weekend sit in the Top 15 of the rankings, and each showed why they belong in those spots through their performances.
On Friday, NCAA.com asked the question: Can Pittsburgh contend with N.C. State? The answer: Maybe in March. But right now, head coach Pat Popolizio has a trophy-contending squad that buried the Panthers from 125 pounds to 285 pounds.
Pittsburgh won just two matches in the ACC showdown, with NC State notching victories at every weight except 133 and 149, both of which were decided by less than three points. All-American Wolfpack sophomore Jakob Camacho started things off with a major decision over Colton Camacho, while teammate Hayden Hidlay also added bonus with a tech fall over Tyler Badgett.
Tariq Wilson picked up a key ranked win at 141 pounds though, while Thomas Bullard and unranked Isaac Trumble scored huge upset victories over No. 7 Jake Wentzel and No. 5 Nino Bonaccorsi of Pitt.
Micky Phillippi did beat No. 16 Jarrett Trombley of N.C. State for Pitt's only ranked win, while Luke Kemerer of the Panthers also won at 149. Phillippi will be one to keep an eye on in the always exciting 133-pound weight class, and he's one of just two guys to have a college win over No. 1 Daton Fix of Oklahoma State.
The takeaway from all of these exciting matchups is that NC State is ready for championship season, and the Pack is just getting started.
The Virginia Cavaliers, currently unranked, battled tougher with the Tar Heels than the Panthers did with the Wolfpack, and put up 15 points in a tight dual against the No. 8 Hokies.
Virginia Tech's stars came to wrestle though, with No. 10 Sam Latona picking up a tech at heavyweight and veteran Korbin Myers notching a major at 133 pounds. Mekhi Lewis, a 2019 NCAA champion, beat No. 15 Jake Keating confidently 8-2 while No. 2 Hunter Bolen at 184 pounds fought for a 10-3 decision. Ranked 149-pounder Bryce Andonian notched a major as well, giving the Hokies their 18 points, and Tech needed every one of those points.
Virginia won 141, 157, 174, 197 and 285, sending the message that unless Virginia Tech put out a top-12 guy, Virginia was going to win. The Cavaliers have a history of battling the Hokies tough, as they put up 16 points against Virginia Tech last year. But the question will be how they continue to do in a conference with depth and skill. Led by No. 3 Jay Aiello at 197 pounds, Virginia can't be ignored, but they didn't quite have enough firepower to take down Tech this weekend.
The ACC weekend lineup also featured a North Carolina Tar Heels squad that put up big points against Duke, winning the Tobacco Road rivalry dual 29-9, even without star Austin O'Connor.
One of the key questions heading into the weekend was how O'Connor would perform in his first ACC dual of the year given his history of dominance, but the All-American wasn't in action. Instead, UNC gave up three points at 149 pounds as No. 19 Josh Finesilver of Duke topped UNC's Nick Lirette. Duke also won at 125 pounds and 285 pounds, but Carolina's ranked guys came through in their respective weights.
No. 10 Zach Sherman put up a major against Patrick Rowland, while No. 10 Kennedy Monday earned the tech against Eric Carter. Clay Lautt took an injury default win at 184, and teammates Timothy Decatur, Sonny Santiago, Gavin Kane and Max Shaw also notched victories of their own. North Carolina didn't need its full squad to grab the win, but the Tar Heels will need everything they have if they want to battle for an ACC title in March.
Wrestling continues across all conferences next week as we look to February, but for now, it's Iowa and everyone else. The No. 1 Hawkeyes have put themselves in a tier of their own, both in the Big Ten and in the country. All eyes will be on Penn State and Michigan to see if those two teams can close the gap, while other squads set themselves up to compete for a top-four trophy.