Fireworks. That’s the only word to describe the college wrestling matches from this past weekend. The Penn State Nittany Lions returned to the mat and looked as close to championship form as this team has looked all season, Michigan pulled out a narrow, rivalry win against the Buckeyes and Navy topped Army 20-13 in another historic dual.
Add the fact that one top-ranked wrestler was taken down by a conference opponent, another top-ranked wrestler made his season debut and a third top-ranked wrestler is out temporarily because of a COVID-19 shutdown, and the intrigue only increases.
The first conference tournament is next weekend, Feb. 28 in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it’s clear that athletes are prepping to peak.
Jake Wentzel, Joe Heilmann, Kaden Russell and the upsets in the ACC
Speaking of the ACC, the Virginia Tech Hokies claimed their rights to the conference crown over the weekend with a 27-12 win against Pittsburgh that kept their undefeated season alive and gave them sole control over the dual championship title.
Last weekend’s Hokie hero Sam Latona used the momentum from his win over NC State’s Jakob Camacho to take down Colton Camacho of Pitt in major decision fashion while teammates Bryce Andonian, Connor Brady, Dakota Howard and Hunter Bolen added bonus point wins of their own, as Howard led the crew with his 21-6 tech fall over Jared McGill. Joey Prata and Hunter Catka also added decisions, with Prata filling in for Tech’s starter Korbin Myers and Pitt sending out backup Louis Newell in that 133-pound bout.
The headline of the dual though was unquestionably 165-pounder Jake Wentzel taking an injury default win over Tech’s 2019 NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis. The NCAA rule book defines an injury default win as a situation “when one of the wrestlers is unable to continue due to an injury or by choice of their coach.”
The rule book states that “an injury default shall be included as a win or loss in each wrestler’s individual season record.” In Lewis’ case, he injury defaulted after injuring his shoulder in the first and then second periods of the match before being unable to continue, awarding Wentzel the win and giving Lewis his first loss since November 2019.
The result will impact seeding at the ACC tournament, but this wasn’t the only wrinkle in ACC rankings at 165 pounds this weekend. North Carolina’s Kennedy Monday, the third-ranked wrestler in the conference heading into the weekend, took a loss to Virginia’s Jake Keating in North Carolina’s 25-9 win over the Cavaliers. Monday jumped out a quick lead against Keating, but the Virginia junior was savvy, quick and persistent. His comeback efforts helped him earn an 18-15 decision that will set up a battle at the conference tournament between Keating, Kennedy, Wentzel and Lewis.
Both Wentzel and Lewis beat Monday already this season in tight decisions, with Kennedy battling Lewis tough before dropping 4-3 and taking a 10-6 loss to Wentzel. Keating also has losses to Wentzel and Lewis, while Wentzel has just one loss to North Carolina State’s Thomas Bullard, who also has losses to Lewis, Monday and Keating, all by decision. This weight is a mess, but oh, so fun.
The other two notable wins in the ACC came from North Carolina’s Joe Heilmann, who topped No. 10 Louie Hayes of Virginia, and Duke’s Kaden Russell who pinned N.C. State’s Isaac Trumble in the first period. The win marked Russell’s first victory of the year and Duke’s only win in the 37-6 loss to the Pack, while Trumble took his lone individual collegiate loss as a result. Trumble has earned a top-20 ranking after his early season win against Pitt’s Nino Bonaccorsi, but he could see that ranking drop as a result of his loss, though he does have a pin against North Carolina’s Max Shaw who currently sits at No. 19. The NC State freshman will be one to watch come the postseason and could be a sleeper worth considering in podium predictions come March.
Bottom line: Based on the NCAA allocations, we can expect 133 pounds, 157 pounds and 285 pounds will be the most competitive and deep. But 165 pounds and 197 pounds are pushing for attention on that list as well.
Penn State tops Michigan, Michigan beats Ohio State and other headlines from the Big Ten
However, the words “conference depth” can’t be uttered without addressing the madness that also happened in the Big Ten this weekend. The Nittany Lions of Penn State are back in full force with a lineup of potential All-Americans. No. 3 Penn State topped No. 2 Michigan in a rescheduled, top-3 conference dual that captured the attention of the BTN audience with an 18-13 showdown score, and emphasized that regardless of who wrestles at what weight, the Lions are back in the conversation.
Freshman newcomer Robbie Howard kicked things off with a solid 6-5 win over 2020 NWCA Honorable Mention All-American Jack Medley, while teammates Roman Bravo-Young and Nick Lee both earned solid victories over Dylan Ragusin and No. 20 Drew Mattin. Ragusin is expected to drop back down to 125 pounds for the postseason, but he’s a battler, and he kept Bravo-Young to a decision up a weight with grit.
RAGUSIN'S SUMMER SUCCESS: Here's what we learned from the breakout performances by Dylan Ragusin
With Penn State out to a 9-0 lead, No. 6 Kanen Storr put the Wolverines on the board with a 4-3 victory against the Nittany Lions' Terrell Barraclough, a redshirt freshman who has quietly kept All-Americans to tight wins this year. Barraclough is 2-2 on the year and may not get the nod for the Nittany Lions in the postseason, but he battled Storr and held the veteran to just a decision. Michigan’s next six points came from the Amine family, as redshirt freshman No. 16 Cam Amine took a big 4-1 win at 165 pounds over No. 6 Joe Lee. No. 1 Myles Amine also wrestled to an 8-5 decision at 197 pounds over No. 14 Michael Beard in just his second match back this season.
Despite the points from the Amines, Penn State sealed the win behind victories from Brady Berge, Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks. Berge, who was on and off last year with an injury, notched an impressive 3-1 win over Will Lewan, while Starocci earned the biggest upset of the night with his 7-1 dominant victory over No. 2 Logan Massa. Starocci came into the season with high expectations but took a loss to DJ Washington of Indiana in his first bout; the win against Massa shows he’s back in the conversation to compete for a title.
At heavyweight, Michigan’s Mason Parris did Mason Parris things, both against Penn State and earlier in the weekend against Ohio State. His two bonus point wins help him solidify himself as one of the most dangerous wrestlers in the NCAA, though he’ll have his biggest test in a few weeks when he takes on Gable Steveson of Minnesota.
Steveson, who led the Gophers to a 27-7 win over Wisconsin over the weekend, is 8-0 on the year with 100 percent bonus and most recently pinned Pete Christensen of the Badgers in the second period. In their one college matchup, Steveson beat Parris 8-6 at the Big Ten tournament, but Parris is hungry for another shot. With a 5-0 record and a 100 percent bonus rate himself, Parris cannot be ignored in the heavyweight conversation. The Wolverines will see Michigan State in their last dual of the season next weekend, while Minnesota will wrestle Northwestern. Both Parris and Steveson will be expected to score bonus points in those bouts and set up a showdown at the conference tournament.
But let’s go back to Parris’ performances over the weekend for just a minute.
His tech fall against Tate Orndorff of the Buckeyes was particularly critical in a dual that came down to 157 pounds for the team win, and that can’t be brushed off.
Ohio State wrestled Michigan tough, undeterred by the team rankings, but took an 18-16 loss after dropping the final bout at 157 pounds in sudden victory. Buckeye veteran Elijah Cleary held strong against No. 8 Will Lewan through three periods and two overtime periods, but Lewan’s riding time proved to be the difference in the match and in the dual. There were highlights for Ohio State, though. In fact, this was about as much of a moral victory as you could draw up, with the No. 12 Bucks showing that you can’t count them out. Ever.
LEADER OF THE LIONS: Everything you need to know about Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson
Ohio State’s Ethan Smith picked up a victory over Cam Amine in a 4-3 battle, while Rocky Jordan’s 13-0 domination over Michigan’s Jelani Embree was also particularly impressive. The Wolverines didn’t wrestle Ragusin or Olympian Stevan Micic against Ohio State, instead sending out freshman Kurt McHenry at 125 pounds and Jack Medley at 133 pounds, with McHenry taking a tough loss to Malik Heinselman and Medley scoring a 6-4 win over Jordan Decatur. Dylan D'Emilio of Ohio State put up a solid win over Drew Mattin, and Sammy Sasso made a top-10 win over Kanen Storr look easy. Despite all of that, this dual belonged to Michigan, but credit to both teams for putting it on the line.
Other notable moments from the Big Ten action over the weekend:
- Wisconsin's 125-pound Eric Barnett went 2-0 on the weekend with two major decisions against Patrick McKee and Matt Vinci. Barnett is 5-2, but has won his last five in a row and earned bonus in four of those five bouts. He could be a point-scorer for Wisconsin at this wild weight if he can keep this hot streak going into the conference tournament.
- In other wildness at 125 pounds, Rayvon Foley of Michigan State beat Devin Scrhoder of Purdue. Foley is now 3-3, while Schroder is 5-3. But Schroder has a win over Heinselman, while Foley has a loss to him. Both guys have losses to McKee as well, and Schroder has also lost to Barnett. 125 pounds is top heavy, but let’s see how the fight for the podium goes in places two through eight.
- Ryan Deakin is back! The senior star for Northwestern is now 2-0 with wins over Garrett Model and Devin Bahr by tech and decision, respectively. Deakin wrestled Bahr in an extra match after the Wisconsin dual to increase his match count, and he’s officially the top-ranked guy in the country at this weight, securing his ranking by taking the mat this weekend.
- DJ Washington notched a first-period pin (in 16 seconds!) over Maryland’s Philip Spadafora. At 5-2 on the year with losses only to Michael Labriola and Logan Massa, it’s safe to say Washington is really, really good.
- Purdue always wrestles gritty matches, and Max Lyon embodied this brand in his 6-1 decision over No. 9 Layne Malczewski of Michigan State. Credit to Lyon. Top-10 wins are never easy, and he did himself some favors with this win.
Crowning the Cowboy Challenge Champs
Daton Fix is back, and the Oklahoma State Cowboys are officially in the team trophy conversation. The 2019 NCAA finalist returned from his suspension to run through the Cowboy Challenge tournament with three falls and a tech, and he, like Deakin, has now earned his No. 1 ranking.
Adding to Oklahoma State’s depth is No. 4 Travis Wittlake, who is also undefeated on the year and took gold at the Cowboy Challenge tournament over the weekend after a major decision against West Virginia’s Peyton Hall in the finals. Wittlake has an impressive 11 matches on the year so far, and he’ll be looking for his second Big 12 title in a few weeks. Heavyweight Austin Harris also won his bracket at the weekend tournament, earning a solid win over Konner Doucet in the finals in tie-breaker fashion.
DYNASTY DEFINED: A complete history of Oklahoma State's 34 NCAA wrestling titles
The Cowboys also have stars at 149 pounds in No. 4 Boo Lewallen, 157 pounds with No. 16 Wyatt Sheets, 174 pounds with No. 12 Dustin Plott, 184 pound with No. 9 Dakota Geer and 197 pounds with AJ Ferrari. Lewallen had one of the most exciting matches of the weekend, despite falling 7-5 in a tiebreaker to All-American Brock Mauller of Missouri. These two guys won’t see each other again until the NCAA tournament, but they’re competitors and treated wrestling fans to what could have been an NCAA finals-level match. Plott and Sheets also dropped tight matches in the finals of the tournament to No. 19 Jacob Wright of Wyoming and No. 10 Hayden Hastings of Wyoming with scores of 3-2 and 8-7, respectively. Geer took a 10-6 loss to Tate Samuselson, also of Wyoming, while Dustin Hone injury defaulted out of the finals at 141 pounds, giving the title to Josh Edmond of Missouri.
The only two finals without an Oklahoma State Cowboy were 125 pounds where Dack Punke of Missouri beat teammate Noah Surtin in overtime, and 197 pounds where chaos ensued, and Stephen Buchanan of Wyoming established himself as the top guy in the conference. Buchanan’s run through the tournament was pretty simple. He had a bye in the first round, and injury default in the second and then battled Noah Adams of West Virginia just as he had done last weekend to pull out the 6-4 win. Adams, on the other hand, had to get past Oklahoma State freshman star AJ Ferrari, and he did so in a close 3-2 battle that took him to the finals. We’ll see all three of these guys again at Big 12s, so stay tuned. But for now it’s Buchanan’s weight class.
FIX VS. SURIANO: A complete list of the dream matches we wish we could see again
Additional Big 12 headline: Iowa State beat Northern Iowa 23-17 in an in-state battle. Ian Parker of the Cyclones picked up a pin against Ethan Basile, while Northern Iowa responded with a pin of its own at 149 pounds from Tristan Lara over Jarrett Degen. ISU’s David Carr notched a tech fall at 157 pounds, as did Northern Iowa’s Brody Teske at 125 pounds. The dual went back-and-forth, but the Cyclones secured the victory at heavyweight with Gannon Gremmel’s win over Carter Isley
Arizona State goes 3-0 with wins over Cal Poly, Northern Iowa and Iowa State
The Sun Devils are putting together quite a season, staying undefeated at 6-0 and adding impressive 34-6, 24-10 and 20-15 wins against Cal Poly, Northern Iowa and Iowa State, respectively. Arizona State is the favorite to win another Pac-12 title in a few weeks, but the Sun Devils aren’t holding back in their duals.
A STAR IN THE MAKING: Cohlton Schultz has been on the radar for quite a while
The two biggest wins of the weekend for the Sun Devils were Brandon Courtney’s 5-3 decision over Brody Tekse of Northern Iowa, and Cohlton Schultz 3-2 tiebreaker over Gannon Gremmel of Iowa State at heavyweight. Schultz also picked up 4-0 shutout win over Carter Isley of UNI while Courtney majored Aden Reeves of the Cyclones. Anthony Valencia and Kordell Norfleet also stepped up for their team and went 3-0 on the weekend, an accomplishment that was particularly meaningful for Norfleet as he celebrated Senior Day in the dual against Cal Poly. Both will be All-American contenders again this year as the Sun Devils look to make some noise in March.
Key quote: "Kordell has taken on a leadership role in this program. He's setting the standard for Sun Devil Wrestling, letting everybody know that every match he is coming to wrestle and he's scoring in all three positions." - Zeke Jones