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Shannon Scovel | October 5, 2021

The 25 most exciting wrestlers to watch in the 2021-22 NCAA wrestling season

The top storylines to follow this college wrestling season

The biggest stars perform best when the lights shine the brightest, and with the return of fans to arenas all over the country, the spotlight will certainly be on the nation's top college wrestlers this year. But who puts on the biggest show? Which wrestlers compete in a way that makes them must-watch performers every time they step on the mat? Here is a list of 25 of the most entertaining, skilled and flashy competitors on the NCAA wrestling scene this season. While this list is subjective and not based entirely on tournament finishes, all 10 champs from 2021 made the list because, let's be honest, elite wrestling is exciting. These are the wrestlers you won't want to miss this upcoming season. 

1. Gable Steveson, Minnesota

With the skill and speed of a lightweight and the power and strength of a heavyweight, Minnesota's Gable Steveson is the whole package. His Olympic gold medal and his now-iconic back layout celebration doesn't hurt his brand either. Steveson put himself in a class by himself after running away with the heavyweight title last season, beating the likes of Junior World Champion Mason Parris, Junior World silver medalist Greg Kerkvliet, two-time All-American Tony Cassioppi. He finished the year with his third All-American honor, his second Big Ten title and his first NCAA title.

But the Steveson era is only just beginning.

GABLE FOR GOLD: Minnesota heavyweight champ wins 2021 Olympic title at 125kg 

Following his success at the NCAA tournament, Steveson rolled through Olympic Trials with two finals wins over World Team member Nick Gwiazdowski and earned a spot on the 2021 Olympic Team. Oh, and you know he pulled out the same backflip celebration after that win too. His dominant Olympic performance and legendary last-second takedown finish in the gold-medal match solidified Steveson's position as the most exciting collegiate wrestler to watch this upcoming season. Steveson knows he's the best of the best ‚ÄĒ and he doesn't back away from that label. ¬†

2. Spencer Lee, Iowa

First period tech falls. That's the Spencer Lee trademark result. After pinning or teching¬†all of his opponents during the 2021 dual season and Big Ten tournament, Lee continued his dominance on the national stage,¬†winning his third NCAA title and his second Hodge Trophy. Lee shut out Brandon Courtney of Arizona State in the 2021 NCAA 125-pound championship bout and told reporters after the bout that he tore his second ACL in the Big Ten finals eight days prior to his national championship. The injury meant that the Hawkeye was competing with no ACLs after injuring the first one in 2019, but Lee¬†confirmed that wrestling was not a sport for excuses. Iowa needed him if it was going to take home the team title and leave on a high note after a series of tough finals matches ‚ÄĒ Lee filled that role perfectly.

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A leader for the Hawks over the last four seasons, Lee puts on a show every time he takes the mat, and his success has rubbed off on his team. He's a large reason why Iowa is in contention to compete for top team honors again this year, and, if he's healthy, he'll likely be just as dominant, if not more so, than we've seen in the past. Lee has yet to earn a 100% bonus rate for an entire season, though he came so close to achieving that goal last season. This coming year, the Iowa star will chase his fourth and final NCAA title, as his folkstyle greatness will be on display for one last season. 

3. AJ Ferrari, Oklahoma State

Cowboys, baby! Oklahoma State’s true sophomore AJ Ferrari will enter his second season for the Pokes as the defending champion at 197 pounds, but more than that, he’ll return to the mat as a Stillwater celebrity. Since his electric 2021 NCAA championship match against Nino Bonaccorsi of Pittsburgh, Ferrari’s legend has only grown with every first pitch and campus appearance. He loves the microphone as much as he loves the mat, so when Ferrari is competing, you can’t help but watch to see what he’ll do. The Cowboy has a killer double-leg and his power is unmatched at his weight. Did someone say 665-pound deadlift? Ferrari has teased that he might be moving up to heavyweight for the coming season which could create a fascinating clash with Steveson if the Minnesota heavyweight returns, but whichever weight class he decides to wrestle, this Cowboy is chasing titles. 

4. Shane Griffith, Stanford 

Perseverance is the only word that can be used to describe Stanford’s Shane Griffith. After his school announced plans to cut wrestling after 2021, Griffith came into last year’s national tournament on a mission. He was going to show why Stanford wrestling mattered. Griffith, leading the way at 165 pounds, took down No. 1 Alex Marinelli and No. 5 Zach Hartman in the quarters and semifinals of the national tournament and then beat No. 3 Jake Wentzel of Pittsburgh with a confident 6-2 decision. A leader on and off the mat, Griffith carried the entire university on his back in St. Louis, and there’s no doubt he’s capable of doing something similar in 2022. Shane Griffith is a must-watch athlete because of his character and his style. 

5. Roman Bravo-Young, Penn State

Penn State’s first 133-pound national champion, Roman Bravo-Young, has to be one of the fastest wrestlers in the NCAA, and his quickness certainly played a key role in elevating him to this first title against Daton Fix in March. Bravo-Young led off the championship finals in St. Louis at the 2021 national tournament, and his title set a tone for the Nittany Lions that helped them win all four of their finals matches. Since finishing eighth at the NCAA tournament as a freshman, Bravo-Young has jumped levels, and his 2021 title proved that.  The senior Nittany Lion will face another loaded 133-pound bracket as he looks to defend his title in 2022, but he's proven himself to be the kind of steady, elite performer that embodies the Penn State value of wrestling free. Roman Bravo-Young has elements of former Nittany Lion legend Jason Nolf's style in his wrestling, but he's added his own twist to his skills, making him fun to watch in any match. 

6. Yianni Diakomihalis, Cornell 

Two-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis will make his NCAA return this year after two Olympic redshirts, and the Cornell junior only adds more firepower to the already deep lighter middleweights. Diakomihalis has not yet announced whether he will compete at 141 or 149 pounds this season, but his previous two titles came at 141 pounds, and he's certainly a championship favorite at either weight. Known for his scrambling and wrestling IQ, Diakomihalis is dangerous, and, with a 66-1 career record so far, the Big Red star has proven that he's almost unbeatable. The only wrestler to have a win over Diakomihalis is Iowa's Jaydin Eierman, though Diakomihalis is 3-1 against the Hawkeye.

CHAMPION Q&A: Five questions with Yianni Diakomihalis after his 2018 championship

After spending two full seasons training with the Spartan RTC in Ithaca in an attempt to make the Olympic Team, Diakomihalis is now back on the college wrestling scene and ready to lead his team into the national trophy conversation yet again. He is strong, he's talented, and he's been preparing for this moment for a long time. He's perhaps the biggest name to have sat out the 2020-2021 season, and his legacy will only build further this coming season, particularly now that he's made his first senior world team at 65kg just weeks before the college season starts. 

7. Carter Starocci, Penn State

Penn State's Carter Starocci is a champion, both mentally and physically. After finishing third at the Senior World Team Trials earlier this month and beating Penn State legend Jason Nolf, Starocci announced to the world that he wasn't satisfied. He's a winner, and that's what he sets out to do every time he takes the mat.  Starocci's tough, and the word around the Penn State room is that he's one of the hardest workers Cael Sanderson has seen as a coach. The 2021 174-pound title winner could also be one of the best athletes to ever come through State College, and his freshman title is a great start. In his first season with the Blue and White, Starocci finished with a 14-2 record, his only losses coming against DJ Washington in his debut match and Michael Kemerer in the Big Ten finals. Starocci reversed his result with Kemerer to take home his first title, following in the footsteps of Penn State legend Mark Hall who also won NCAAs as a freshman after losing his debut match and flipping a result against a rival who also beat him in the Big Ten finals. Calm and collected, Starocci carries himself with class, even in his highly anticipated bouts with fierce opponents. There's no question that Penn State's superstar 174-pounder is a must-watch wrestler in the 2021-2022 season, and he's someone that is expected to rise up this list as time goes on. 

8. Mekhi Lewis, Virginia Tech

Mekhi Lewis made a statement in 2019 when he pushed through a deeply competitive 165-pound bracket and took down two-time NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph at the NCAA tournament to claim his first ‚ÄĒ and Virginia Tech's first ‚ÄĒ individual national championship. Lewis went from being a freestyle star on the Junior World Scene to being someone that was talked about as being a future Olympic contender. There was a mystique to the middle-weight wrestler that comes with every NCAA title, but Lewis' efforts to repeat his performance were delayed. The Hokie champ took a smart Olympic redshirt in 2020, missing out on the heartbreak that was the COVID season, and he returned in 2021 with hype.¬†

HOKIE HERO: Relieve Lewis' run through the 2019 NCAA tournament

In his final match of the 2021 regular season though, against Jake Wentzel, a competitor who would ultimately go on to make the NCAA finals, Lewis found himself in a tough spot early, down 3-0 in the third, but he wouldn‚Äôt even have a chance to fight back. A visible injury to his shoulder took Lewis out of the match by injury default and impacted his ability to do anything but make weight for the ACC tournament. Lewis went on to qualify for the NCAA tournament and win two matches against Brian Meyer and Tanner Skidgel before having to medical forfeit out in the Round of 12, leaving questions about his ability to defend his crown unanswered. Lewis also pulled out of the Olympic Trials and has not returned, making him an interesting athlete to follow in the 2021-2022 season. We know Lewis‚Äô potential ‚ÄĒ¬†he‚Äôs an NCAA champion ‚ÄĒ and if he‚Äôs at full health, he‚Äôs a dangerous machine.¬†

9. Nick Lee, Penn State 

The Nittany Lions love the way 2021 NCAA champion Nick Lee wrestles. Lee wins, but, more than that, he leads. You can hear Penn State teammates and fellow champions Roman Bravo-Young, Aaron Brooks and Carter Starocci rave about the character and mindset of their veteran on podcasts, in interviews and on social media. Nick Lee’s their guy, and his “chop wood, carry water," philosophy aligns with his disciplined wrestling. Lee isn’t flashy, but he’s tough, and he doesn’t rest. The 141-pounder won a competitive, hyped NCAA final against Jaydin Eierman in 2021, and now he’s back to defend his title. Lee will also be looking for his first Big Ten title this season and aims to bring a conference and national team title back to State College in his final season of eligibility. 

10. Austin O’Connor, North Carolina

While Penn State and Iowa battled it out for team pride and dominance on that famous March Saturday night in St. Louis, North Carolina's Austin O'Connor was busy making a statement for the ACC and bringing joy to Tar Heel fans around the country. O'Connor came to Chapel Hill in 2018 for his redshirt year, and quietly worked his way to becoming the best at his weight. In his first season, O'Connor went 20-3, prepping himself for a redshirt freshman season where he would avenge an ACC finals lost to Mitch Finesilver twice and go on to finish third in the country. The O'Connor era had begun. 

CHAMP FROM CAROLINA: Austin O'Connor wins 149-pound wrestling title 

As a redshirt sophomore, O'Connor ran through the ACC, winning all of his bouts overall as well with the exception of Midlands loss to Big Ten Champion Pat Lugo. Everything was set for O'Connor to chase the podium again, but COVID, of course wrecked those plans. O'Connor took that adversity and turned 2021 into his storybook year. He went undefeated with confidence, rolling on to the mat with swagger and skill, and taking care of each of his opponents, one by one. In the NCAA finals match against Ohio State star Sammy Sasso, O'Connor was focused and workmanlike, holding on for a 3-2 win and his first national title. This year, O'Connor will throw his hat in the ring at a new weight, bumping up to 157 and looking to take on the likes of Ryan Deakin and David Carr. O'Connor looks big and strong, and he'll be someone fun to watch as we track the defending champions. 

11. Aaron Brooks, Penn State 

Penn State has had a number of elite stars come through the program in recent year, and if previous performance is any indication of future success, Aaron Brooks will be another one of those generational stars. A fully-developed 184-pound champion, Brooks had a standout freshman season in 2020, marked by just one loss to Taylor Venz of Nebraska, a wrestler Brooks later pinned on his way to a conference title. When COVID hit, Brooks and his Penn State teammates would any way that they could to train, whether that was drilling in the living room and working on technique in the backyard. The young wrestler was committed to using this time to make himself better, and that's exactly what he did.

BROOKS ON TOP: Everything you need to know about Aaron Brooks' championship win

Brooks sophomore season was one for the record books as he went 14-0 with 50% bonus and forced his way to a national title, the most recent Penn State champ at that weight since the graduation of Hodge Trophy winner Bo Nickal. Brooks has a likable charisma to him, and he somehow manages to wrestle both controlled and free. He'll return to 184 pounds again this year and look to build on the wins that he's had, alongside teammates Bravo-Young, Lee and Starocci, in an effort to establish another Penn State dynasty. 

12. David Carr, Iowa State

It's only appropriate that Brooks and David Carr come back-to-back on this list, given the support that these athletes provide to one another and their close friendship. Carr and Brooks, along with Bravo-Young, Starocci and Steveson made history when they became the first five Black wrestlers to all win the NCAA tournament in the same year, and these athletes celebrated that achievement by honoring one another. Carr, in particular, is uniquely well-liked liked by his competitors, respected by his teammates and courteous in press interviews. There's a good nature to David Carr, and watching him is fun just because he looks like he's having a blast taking down his opponents. 

Cody Goodwin of the Des Moines Register has argued that Carr could have a Spencer Lee effect at Iowa State, and the dominant Cyclone does seem to carry himself with that leader mentality, encouraging young recruits to come to Iowa State and wrestle with the champ. Carr might have been under-appreciated last year and perhaps discounted in his bracket, given that he was also competing in a weight with Northwestern's Ryan Deakin and NC State's Hayden Hidlay, but Carr did what he set out to do, and he became a national champion for the Cyclones 30 years after his father, Nate Carr, did the same thing. Carr's been training hard this summer, and he's coming for that second title. Watch out. 

13. Mason Parris, Michigan

Michigan's Mason Parris is one of the best heavyweight wrestlers in the world. The only problem is that he has the best heavyweight in the world in his conference. Of Parris' three losses in the last two years, all of them have been against Minnesota's Gable Steveson, and with Steveson returning again this year, Parris will once again have a mountain to climb if he wants to stand on top of the podium in March. Outside of his matches against Steveson though, Parris is dominant, destroying all of his competition and putting on a show for the Michigan fanbase. He bonused all of his opponents expect Steveson last year, including pinning Iowa's Tony Cassioppi, a third-place finisher in last year's NCAA tournament, in the first period. 

Parris is part of this new generation of heavyweights that bring unparalleled athleticism to the mat, particularly given their size, and aren't afraid to scramble. Michigan as a whole will be dangerous this year with the return of bronze medalist Myles Amine, All-American Cameron Amine and a lineup of rising stars, but Parris is absolutely a key figure in this team's legacy. 

14. Jaydin Eierman, Iowa 

In his first three years of college at Missouri, Jaydin Eierman thrived, finishing fifth, fourth and third in his NCAA tournament appearances. He liked being a Tiger, but he loves being a Hawkeye. Since transferring to Iowa for graduate school, Eierman joined an already stacked Hawkeye team and slotted in perfectly at 141 pounds. He then redshirted the 2020 season before winning Big Tens in 2021 and finishing second at NCAAs ‚ÄĒ his highest finish yet. Now Eierman is back for one more ride, this time hoping to finish on top. With one of the funkiest styles in college wrestling and some of the most elite training partners in the sport, Eierman is 100% dangerous. Few can scramble like "The Riddler," and he turns heads in every match. Take a look back at some of Eierman's highlights from 2021 including a pin against Tariq Wilson in the NCAA semifinals, a funky fall over Dresdon Simon at the same tournament¬†and a tech fall from the opening round.¬†

15. Daton Fix, Oklahoma State 

Oklahoma State's Daton Fix reads heartfelt letter from his parents

Daton Fix came into Oklahoma State in 2017 with high expectations for himself and his team, and three years laster, he's made two NCAA finals and two senior world teams. During that time, he's taken just three college losses and been utterly dominant at 133 pounds. Returning for his fifth year as a Cowboy, but, eligibility-wise, his sophomore year as a varsity wrestler, Fix has the experience and knowledge to wrestle to be one of the best in the world, never mind one of the best on the college scene. He'll have defending champion Roman Bravo-Young at his weight again, along with Micky Phillippi of Pittsburgh, the only other wrestler to hand Fix a loss, but Fix is coming into this year stronger and more focused than ever. The opportunity and experience he'll gain on another senior world team will certainly give him an edge, and with the momentum that the Cowboys have had in the last couple weeks with new recruits and facility upgrades, there's a feeling of excitement in Stillwater. Daton Fix is back, and he's ready to battle. 

16. Trent Hidlay, NC State 

Raise the roof! NC State's Trent Hidlay has been a sensation for the Wolfpack since he stepped on campus in the fall of 2018, but last year was the first season he had a chance to showcase his talents on the national stage. After finishing with a 23-4 record in 2020 before the COVID-19 cancellation, Hidlay stormed through his redshirt sophomore season with a 10-2 record and a runner-up finish at the 2021 NCAA championships at 184 pounds. He pushed Penn State's NCAA champion Aaron Brooks until the final seconds, and his grit earned him major respect from the wrestling community. The younger of the two Hidlay brothers on the Wolfpack team, Trent brings an unparalleled energy to the mat, and his enthusiasm can be seen in his celebrations, his social media presence and his power as a wrestler. The Hidlay brothers will return for the 2021-2022 season under the brand name "The Brothers of Destruction," and there's no doubt that they'll be blowing the roof off Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh this winter. 

17. Hayden Hidlay, NC State 

Hayden, the older Hilday brother, became the first four-time All-American for the NC State Wolfpack with his fifth place finish at the 2021 NCAA championships, and the veteran also has an impressive record of four ACC titles and zero ACC dual losses on his resume. While all of Hayden's accomplishments came at 157 pounds, the Wolfpack leader has announced that he's bumping up to 174 pounds for his final season to wrestle back-to-back with his brother, Trent. The Hidlay brothers know how to compete, and they are coming back with a plan. 

Hayden showcased his bigger build for the first time at the 2021 Senior World Team Trials at 79kg, and while his top-six place finish may not seem particularly noteworthy, Hidlay gave everyone a match. He pushed Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs and put up three points against the King, and while he did lose that match, he responded with wins over Tommy Gantt and Daniel O'Malley in the consolation bracket. Hidlay couldn't quite match the power and strength of Nolf, despite hanging in with the three-time champ in freestyle, and he gave up a tech fall to the Penn State legend to end his tournament off the podium. The moral of the tournament though was that Hidlay will be a full 174-pounder this year, and his strength at this new weight will be a site to see. 

18. Austin DeSanto, Iowa

Austin DeSanto is a character. The senior Iowa Hawkeye isn't big on social media, he isn't here to brand himself or even be the hero in a story, but he's a menace on the mat, and therefore a must-watch athlete every time he competes. DeSanto gained a reputation early in his career for being a little chippy and aggressive, perhaps to a fault, and his antics earned him a one-match suspension during the 2018-19 season and nearly cost his team points at the 2021 national tournament. However, DeSanto is a fighter, and he's a tough wrestler. He goes 100% all the time, and he's not someone to mess with.

After finishing in the Round of 12 as a freshman at Drexel, DeSanto followed his high school rival, Spencer Lee, to Iowa where he has earned All-American honors the last three years. His third-place finish in the 2021 marked his best performance, and he'll once again be a contender at 133 pounds. DeSanto does have a win against NCAA champion Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State, though the Nittany Lion has gotten the better of DeSanto in their last several meetings. All this to say, don't count out DeSanto. He's certainly the definition of "exciting to watch."

19. Sammy Sasso, Ohio State

Described as a "savage" by his coach, Sammy Sasso is aggressive and determined, a true leader for the Ohio State Buckeyes. As a redshirt freshman, Sasso had put himself in the best possible position to chase a national title during his first tournament run, but COVID interfered with his plans. He continued on his trajectory though in his second go-round, finishing his dual season undefeated and winning the Big Ten tournament before falling one match short of a national title. Sasso has a forcefulness to him, a focused grit that defines his tenacious wrestling style, and he's quickly become leader in Columbus. There's no doubt that Sasso is capable of winning a national title this upcoming season, and with O'Connor out the weight, his competition is even less. Is this Sasso's year? Quite possibly, as he's proven that he can handle big moments and be the man. The Buckeyes will start their conference schedule in East Lansing, Michigan against Michigan State and then open up their home slate against the Michigan Wolverines on January 14. Sasso's matches at 149 pounds will be events you'll want to tune in for during those conference seasons openers, and you won't want to stop watching until the season ends in late March.  

20. Sebastian Rivera, Rutgers

At Northwestern, Sebastian Rivera made a name for himself with his aggressive, fearless wrestling style and his gregarious personality. Since transferring to Rutgers after the 2020 season, that forcefulness and fierceness has only continued. Rivera's accomplishments speak for themselves, as he's finished sixth and third in his two NCAA tournament appearances for the Wildcats and, perhaps more impressive, won two Big Ten titles at two different weights, beating out NCAA champion Spencer Lee at 125 pounds in 2019 for the gold and NCAA champion Seth Gross for top honors in 2020 at 133 pounds.

MIND OF A CHAMPION: How Rivera prepared for the 2021 NCAA tournament

In the Rutgers Scarlet and Gray, Rivera finishing third in the Big Ten championship at 141 pounds and fourth in the NCAA tournament last season. Rivera has one final season left, and he's expected to drop back down to 133 pounds for this final round, a weight where he'll meet NCAA champion Roman Bravo-Young and NCAA finalist Daton Fix again. Rivera's beaten Bravo-Young before, could he do it again and finally take home top honors at the national championship? No matter how he finishes his wrestling career, Rivera has cemented himself as one of the most interesting, charismatic lower weights, and his swagger makes him an exciting wrestler to watch, regardless of his result. 

21. Patrick Glory, Princeton 

Patrick Glory and the Princeton Tigers are hungry. After the cancelled 2020 NCAA tournament and the Ivy League's decision to skip the 2021 season, the defending conference champions want a chance to step out on the mat and show the country what they're capable of. For Glory, in particular, returning to the mat means another chance to chase a national title in what will be a highly-competitive weight class at 125 pounds, led by the three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee of Iowa. Glory finished sixth at the NCAA tournament as a true freshman in 2019, topping Alonzo Allen, Brent Fleetwood, Rayvon Foley and Michael McGee, and he was undefeated heading into the 2020 tournament. Now a junior academically, Glory has developed into the face of the Tigers program, and he'll also represent the United States this fall at the U23 World Championships. Pat Glory's quickness, style and strength make him a fun wrestler to watch always, but he'll be particularly exciting to watch this year as he aims to prove to the country that he can compete with the best in the country at 125 pounds. 

22. John Poznanski, Rutgers 

There’s so much to like about the intensity with which John Poznanski wrestles and the way he carries himself. The Rutgers freshman finished his rookie season with an 11-4 record and a fourth-place finish at the NCAA tournament in a tough 184-pound bracket. Poznanski is the kind of guy that goes after it in every match, undeterred by his opponent’s experience or accomplishments. He showed this grit early in his 6-1 opening match against Joseph Walker, and he carried this attitude throughout the entire shortened season. A true New Jersey student-athlete, Poznanski puts his whole self into his matches, and his character caught Rutgers’ head coach Scott Goodale’s attention in the recruiting process more than anything. 

‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a super kid with all the characteristics you would ever want,‚ÄĚ Goodale told MyCentralJersey.com after recruiting Poznanski. ‚ÄúThese types of guys are rare. He comes from a great family, has an incredible work ethic and is very mature. He has so much belief in our vision and what we are trying to do. We‚Äôre getting a winner.‚Ä̬†

Both Poznanski and Goodale have talked openly about how the Rutgers athlete has faced challenges in his life, most notably being blinded in one eye after being diagnosed with Coats Disease as a child, but Poznanski’s never-say-die attitude continues to be a major strength of the upper weight. The expectations will be even higher for Poznanski heading into 2022, but the Rutgers star is ready. 

23. Vito Arujau, Cornell 

When Vito Arjuau finished fourth in the 2019 NCAA championships at 125 pounds as a true freshman, his talent and potential was on full display, but he was still young. He was still an "up-and-coming" collegiate All-American. Three years later, that Big Red star is an even more developed, skilled, sharp competitor ready to make his splash in the NCAA stage again after two years of freestyle. He's gone on to win silver at the 2019 Junior World Championships, gold at the 2020 Senior National Championship and gold at the 2021 Pan American Championships, as well as a runner-up finish at the 2021 Olympic Trials. Arjuau has proven that he can compete with the best lightweights in the country, and his potential is limitless in folkstyle as well. This 2021-22 Cornell team is stacked, and Arjuau will be a key part of that success. He's quick on his feet, technically savvy and as powerful a lightweight as they come. If he wrestles at 125 pounds this coming season, he'll have to compete with the decorated champion Spencer Lee if he wants to win a national title, but Arjuau should never be counted out of the conversation.

24. Michael Kemerer, Iowa

"Grandpa Mike," as Michael Kemerer is affectionately referred to by his Iowa teammates, announced this spring his decision to return for his seventh season with the Hawkeyes, and the 174-pound NCAA finalist will now chase an individual title for another year. He'll help lead one of the most experienced, seasoned college teams of all time in the 2021-22 Hawkeyes and will be one of half a dozen seniors looking to make their final mark. Kemerer, like his teammate Jaydin Eierman, has seen steady and consistent improvement throughout his career, but he's always been a threat, and this year is his chance to end up on top. As a redshirt freshman, Kemerer took third at the NCAA tournament with big wins over All-Americans Tyler Berger and Joe Smith, and he followed that up with a fourth-place performance as a sophomore. Injuries held Kemerer out of his redshirt junior year, but the dominant upper-weight returned for a sensational 2020 season that included beating No. 1 Mark Hall of Penn State in a dual in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Like all college wrestlers that season, Kemerer's momentum was halted by the pandemic, but his 2021 season, where he won his first Big Ten title and finished second at the national tournament to Penn State sensation Carter Starocci, showed that Kemerer is inches and seconds away from his first NCAA title. There's a lot of energy in Iowa City right now after the Hawks won the team title in 2021, and there's no doubt that this energy will be palpable at 174 pounds when Kemerer takes the mat for the first time this season. 

25. Gary Traub, Oregon State

Most of the athletes on this list are NCAA finalists, NCAA All-Americans, or NCAA champions. They've proven themselves to be able to achieve success when it matters most, and their names are engraved somewhere in their university's wrestling rooms. Oregon State's Gary Traub might be the exception to this pattern, but that doesn't make the heavyweight any less exciting to watch. As as Ohio State Buckeye heavyweight, Traub captured the hearts of fans with his grit and heart. Wrestling some of the best in the country across the Big Ten, Traub became known for his gas tank at the end of tight matches, earning the appropriate "Gas Tank Gary" nickname that would echo across the Covelli Center when Traub stepped up to compete. Traub has a strong career at Ohio State, qualifying for the NCAA in 2020 in his first year as a starter but missing out on the chance to chase the podium because of the pandemic. He served as the backup to Ohio State's Tate Orndorff last season before announcing his intentions to transfer to Oregon State for 2021 and compete as a Beaver, a decision that no doubt thrilled head coach Chris Pendledon and Oregon State fans in general. The Gas Tank will make his debut for his new team in a new conference this year, but expect him to bring the same toughness and enthusiasm that he showed in his years wearing the Scarlet and Gray. 

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