The consistent storyline thus far in the 2021 wrestling season is the dominance of the Iowa Hawkeyes. This team further separated itself from the rest of the Big Ten conference over the weekend with a dominating 36-6 win over No. 9 Illinois.
Questions, however, still remain around how much of a threat Penn State will be to an Iowa title and how many All-Americans Iowa can put on the podium.
N.C. State, Oklahoma State and Nebraska also will attempt to put themselves in position to battle for a team trophy in March.
Here's what we learned from last week's dual action and how these results could impact the rankings moving forward.
Penn State shakes off rust with two wins
Penn State, the 2019 NCAA champions, went 2-0 in its first weekend back on the mats since March. But the wins were hard-fought and less dominant than some of Penn State’s previous performances.
Senior Nick Lee and sophomores Aaron Brooks and Seth Nevills led the team with bonus points against Indiana and Northwestern.
Junior Roman Bravo-Young, sophomore Brady Berge and freshman Joe Lee also notched two wins. Berge’s wins suggested that the veteran junior is healthy and ready to roll, while the Joe Lee wins also say good things about the future of the freshman and the potential for championship points at a weight where Penn State has been in the NCAA finals for the last three years.
Despite forfeiting at 125 pounds for both duals, Penn State wrestled tough, putting forth a different lineup in both duals that allowed fans to preview some of their depth as well as some of the areas that the team will look to improve before March.
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Against Indiana, the early forfeit put the Nittany Lions in a six-point hole early, and Bravo-Young battled for his three-point decision against Kyle Luigs to cut the Hooisers’ lead in half. A Big Ten finalist last year, Bravo-Young bonused half of his opponents in 2020, and he returned to that elite form in the second match when he pinned Frankie Tal-Shahar of Northwestern in the second period for six points.
Penn State never trailed against the Wildcats after Bravo-Young’s pin but they did trail Indiana after 149 pounds when Indiana’s Graham Rooks upset No. 10 Jarod Verkleeren 4-3. Terrell Barraclough replaced Verkleeren in the lineup at 149 pounds against Northwestern after Verkleeren’s loss, but he also took an L in a tough, close 3-2 decision against No. 20 Yahya Thomas.
The other big upset from the duals came at 174 pounds when Indiana’s DJ Washington beat No. 5 Carter Starocci 10-9 to keep Indiana in the dual. Starocci came back and picked up a solid 4-1 win against the Wildcats, but the loss to Washington was particularly unexpected after Starocci’s impressive summer performances and his undefeated redshirt season in 2020.
Nick Willham followed Washington’s upset with a win of his own over Penn State’s Levko Higgins before Seth Nevills of Penn State sealed the deal for Penn State with a pin over Rudy Streck for the 24-15 win. Nevills also put up a tech fall against Northwestern’s Brendan Devin later in the afternoon, though those points weren’t necessary for the 29-13 win in the same way that they were against Indiana.
The Hoosiers had a solid weekend themselves, pushing Penn State and then topping Northwestern 18-16. Indiana will wrestle Rutgers, Michigan State and Nebraska next weekend in a ranked quad that will give the Hoosiers even more top matches and continue to prep them for the Big Ten Championships in early March.
Penn State will wrestle a midweek dual against Wisconsin on Tuesday next in an effort to pick up some matches after having its first two duals postponed because of COVID-19. The Badgers are 1-3 on the season with a win over Purdue and losses to Illinois, Ohio State and, most recently, Nebraska. Wisconsin will be the first ranked team the Nittany Lions will see this year and should be a good test for Cael Sanderson and Co. before Penn State takes on Iowa on Feb. 12.
The always fun Penn State-Ohio State dual will take place the following weekend, Feb. 19, in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes are 4-1 after two dominating performances this weekend against Michigan State and Maryland, 24-9 and 41-0.
Iowa rolled past Illinois despite a missing starter
The absence of expected Penn State starters Robbie Howard at 125, Beau Bartlett at 149, Michael Beard at 197 and Greg Kerkvliet at heavyweight in the lineup hurt the Nittany Lions and made their two duals against Northwestern and Indiana closer than predicted, but they weren’t the only team missing starpower. No. 1 Iowa was also without a major point-scorer as 165-pound Alex Marinelli sat out the dual because of COVID protocols. He’s expected to be out for the full 17-day quarantine period but may return before the Big Ten championships, if not a week before.
The Hawks didn’t need Marinelli to secure another dominant win though as they raced past No. 9 Illinois 36-6 behind three pins and three major decisions.
For the third time in as many duals, two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee pinned his opponent in the first period and kept his 100% bonus rate alive, a feat that has never been maintained throughout an entire season.
No. 5 Austin DeSanto and No. 1 Jaydin Eierman followed with a major decision and a pin respectively. No. 6 Max Murin and No. 7 Kaleb Young also kept things rolling for the Hawks with wins over No. 8 Michael Carr and Johnny Mologousis to stay undefeated themselves and reinforce the depth of Iowa’s lineup through every weight.
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Iowa’s only two losses came at 165 pounds when backup Joe Kelly took a respectable 10-6 loss to Illinois’ Luke Odom, and when Nelson Brands dropped a sudden victory match to Zach Braunagel at 184 pounds.
In between those two duals though, sixth-year senior Michael Kemerer dominated DJ Shannon at 174 pounds in a 10-2 major, while Jacob Warner and Tony Cassioppi closed about the dual with a decision and a pin.
The Iowa hype is real, and this is a team that has a legitimate possibility of crowing several NCAA champions and putting ten guys on the podium in March.
Gable Steveson remained a powerful factor
While Spencer Lee is certainly a contender to win a second Hodge Trophy with his performances so far this season, there’s another guy out in the Midwest who wants to be part of that conversation as well. Minnesota’s Gable Steveson has sent a message in his first six duals that he’s the biggest, baddest heavyweight in the country, and he added to his impressive 2021 resume over the weekend with two tech falls against Boone McDermott and Jamarcus Grant. The win against McDermott in particular proved critical, as the Gophers trailed Rutgers 18-16 heading into Steveson’s match. Minnesota’s firepower at the end of its lineup helped avoid the shutout against Iowa last weekend and elevated the Gophers past the Scarlet Knights 21-18 most recently. He also contributed to Minnesota’s dominant 32-4 win over Purdue over the weekend as well. Gable Steveson is a force of nature.
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Aside from the heavyweight success, Minnesota put forward solid performances across the board against the Rutgers and Purdue. Patrick McKee picked up two ranked wins against Devin Schroder and Nic Aguilar, Brayton Lee took down No. 5 Kendall Coleman at 157 pounds, and Own Webster notched two ranked wins over Max Lyon and John Poznanski at 184 pounds. Andrew Sparks also continued his impressive rookie season with two wins over Gerrit Nijenhuis and Brett Donner.
Rutgers put up a fight though, notching two upset wins from Michael Van Brill and Jackson Turley. A loss to Purdue, 18-15, dropped the Scarlet Knights to 0-4, but the storyline to follow in New Jersey is 141-pounder Sebastian Rivera’s quest for an NCAA title.
The three-time All-American has finished sixth and third in his two tournament appearances, but he had the No. 1 seed before last year’s tournament was cancelled due to COVID. Rivera, a Northwestern graduate, is now finishing up his career with the Scarlet Knights in style, having bonused all but one of his opponents and adding a bonus last weekend with a 14-3 win over Marcos Polanco. Rivera’s weight class is stacked with Iowa’s Eierman and Penn State’s Lee also in the title conversation, and he’ll see both of those guys at Big Tens.
The Cowboys maintained their hold over the Big 12 and there were shakeups in the Top 20
Despite the competition in the Big 12, the Oklahoma State Cowboys continue to force a spotlight on their impressive team this year. The Cowboys rank No. 5 nationally, and Oklahoma State has separated itself from the conference — the success continued last weekend with ranked wins over Iowa State and Northern Iowa.
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Northern Iowa put up a fight against head coach John Smith’s squad, and took the early lead in the dual behind big wins from Brody Teske and Kyle Biscoglia at 125 and 133.
The next win for the Panthers though wouldn’t come until 184 when Parker Keckeisen upset No. 9 Dakota Geer in sudden victory for three more team points. Despite the upset win there and another decision at heavyweight, Oklahoma State was too much for UNI. The Cowboys rattled off two majors at 157 and 165 pounds behind performances from Wyatt Sheets and Travis Wittlake and notched decision wins from Dusty Hone, Boo Lewallen, Dustin Plott and AJ Ferrari for a 20-12 team win.
Oklahoma State’s bigger challenge came from the Cyclones, as they only just edged out head coach Kevin Dresser’s squad, 16-15, behind wins from Trevor Mastrogiovanni, Lewallen, Wittlake, Dakota Geer and Ferrari.
The win from Ferrari was the only ranked win in that list, as he beat No. 20 Yonger Bastida 5-2, but the dual really came down to Lewallen’s bonus points against Ben Monroe in a 10-1 major. That one point proved to be the difference-maker in a matchup with no ranked upsets, as the Cowboys clung to their undefeated record and began to look ahead to Bedlam next weekend.
Oklahoma, for its part, picked up two wins over the weekend against No. 21 Stanford in upset fashion, 21-12, Little Rock 34-6, and South Dakota State, 21-13. The Jackrabbits, however, then turned around and beat No. 21 Stanford and Little Rock to move to 4-4 on the year. Pins from Danny Vega and Tanner Sloan helped notch the victory against the Cardinal for South Dakota State, and Sloan in particular showed that he’ll continue to be a threat at 197 pounds, as he’s now 10-0 on the season with 90% bonus.
The 197-pound weight in the Big 12 is also interesting because of the continued dominance of West Virginia’s Noah Adams, a junior who notched the No. 2 seed heading into last year’s NCAA tournament and added to his impressive resume with a major decision against Jacob Seely of Northern Colorado over the weekend. Adam’s performance, combined with wins from teammates Killian Cardinale, Ryan Sullivan, Jeffrey Boyd, Alex Hornfeck, Peyton Hall and Michael Wolfgram, helped West Virginia secure a ranked 25-11 win against No. 17 Northern Colorado. Sullivan’s pin gave the Mountains six valuable points and added a second bonus point win to his season total.
West Virginia will see Wyoming this coming weekend, and its performance this weekend suggests that the Mountaineers will certainly be a team to watch in the last few weeks of the regular season.
N.C. runs the ACC, but the Pack will see Tech next weekend
Raise the roof, Wolfpack fans! N.C. State rolled into Carmichael Arena on Friday night for what was expected to be a tight match with local rivals North Carolina, and the Wolfpack put on a show.
All-Americans Jakob Camacho and Hayden Hidlay teched their opponents, while freshman sensation Isaac Trumble picked up a pin against Max Shaw of North Carolina.
N.C. State also won critical ranked matches at 141 and 174 pounds, as All-American No. 11 Tariq Wilson topped No. 10 Zach Sherman 9-6 and No. 11 Daniel Bullard beat No. 9 Devin Kane 7-4 with perseverance and power. Trent Hidlay also notched a ranked win at 184 pounds with a 5-1 decision over No. 15 Clay Lautt while heavyweight Deonte Wilson finished out the dual with a 6-1 workmanlike win over Andrew Gunning.
Here's Trent Hidlay talking about why he came to N.C. State to wrestle with his brother, Hayden:
Though the Heels lost in a more significant fashion than they would have liked, there were bright moments for head coach Coleman Scott’s squad.
Jamie Hernandez picked up a close win at 133 pounds, and Kennedy Monday wrestled tough for a 4-2 win over Thomas Bullard. Both Hernandez and Monday took losses later in the weekend against Virginia Tech, with Monday battling for a close 3-2 loss to NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis and Hernandez dropping 11-2 to Korbin Myers.
North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor, on the other hand, picked up two wins in the ACC duals, one in major decision fashion over Ed Scott of N.C. State and one 11-4 over No. 12 Bryce Andonian.
The Tar Heels also picked up Ws at 141 pounds and 197 pounds against the Hokies, but Tech was too tough, beating North Carolina 23-9, behind two majors at 125 and 133, and the five decisions at 157, 165 174, 184, and 285 pounds.
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Virginia Tech will take on the Wolfpack next weekend in a battle of ACC leaders, and this dual will hold particular importance for the conference crown now that No. 12 Pitt has taken a loss. The Virginia Cavaliers beat the Panthers 17-16 over the weekend, creating more chaos in the conference but also building anticipation for what will be a star-studded ACC tournament with team pride on the line.