Open tournaments around the country and a select few dual meets over the weekend offered the first look at some of the nation’s top competitors in college wrestling this year, but the NWCA top 25 team rankings stayed mostly steady.
The No. 1 Iowa Hawkeyes starters did not compete on the collegiate stage this weekend, though the program did send heavyweight Tony Cassioppi to the U23 World Championship where he wrestled for gold at 125kg. Whether Cassioppi can really challenge Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson and 2019 Junior World Champion Mason Parris for an NCAA title remains to be seen, but the Iowa heavyweight certainly sent a message with his win and built some momentum for the Hawkeyes ahead of their first competition in two weeks against Princeton.
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No. 2 Penn State sent wrestlers to the Clarion Open, while No. 4 Michigan put forward competitors at the Michigan State Open and came home with a champion in Chance Lamer at 141 pounds. No. 5 NC State also had a series of champs after a weekend of open tournaments, putting six athletes — Stevo Poulin, Ryan Jack, AJ Kovacs, Joey Milano, Isaac Trumble and Owen Trephan — on the top of the podium at the Citadel Open. These Open tournaments featured great action, but the intensity will only increase in the weeks to come.
Here’s what else you need to know about Top 25 college wrestling teams, how they stack up, what their ranking tells us and what to expect from them moving forward:
Lehigh drops out of top 25 following Campbell loss, Ohio State rises after UNC win
The most interesting changes in the top 25 this week happened near the bottom half of the rankings, with the Campbell Camels earning perhaps the biggest week of any team as head coach Scotti Sentes’ squad took down then-No. 24 Lehigh for the first time in program history. The win did not move Campbell into the top 25 — likely a result of the team’s loss to Oregon State over the weekend as well, a team that Lehigh beat last week — but the ranked wins that Sentes' athletes earned over Lehigh are worth mentioning. No. 15 Josh Heil, No. 12 Austin Murphy and Troy Nation beat No. 29 Jimmy Hoffman, No. 24 Jake Logan and No. 30 Brian Meyer, respectively, with Nation’s win over Meyer in particular generating excitement in sudden victory. His teammate Caleb Hopkins built on this momentum to earn a sudden victory of his own at 184 pounds, while Chris Kober added bonus points with his win at 197 pounds, and Anthony Molton and Shannon Hanna earned decision wins. The Camels ended the dual with a 22-11 advantage over the Mountain Hawks to send a message that this SoCon team is here to battle on the national stage. Campbell will compete next at the Wolfpack Open in Raleigh while the Lehigh Mountain Hawks will wrestle in the Journeyman Classic, and Oregon State will wrestle No. 2 Penn State.
While Campbell’s win was potentially the biggest upset, the Buckeyes of Ohio State earned the highest ranked win of the weekend with their impressive 23-12 win over. No. 12 North Carolina. The win moved Ohio State up one spot and dropped the Tar Heels one spot, a result that suggests that while the win for Ohio State was solid, it was still expected. The dual marked the heavily anticipated return of Ohio State 165-pounder Carson Kharchla who picked up a major decision over Sonny Santiago and set the stage for a dual where Ohio State won nearly every coin-flip match.
No. 6 Ethan Smith, No. 17 Rocky Jordan and No. 7 Tate Orndorff all picked up wins over athletes ranked between No. 17-33, while No. 1-ranked Sammy Sasso earned a hard-fought top-five win over NCAA All-American Zach Sherman. Ohio State’s Gavin Hoffman also put on a show at 197 pounds to earn a major decision, while lightweight consistent starter and three-time NCAA qualifier Malik Heinselman battled tough for his 6-2 victory against North Carolina freshman Spencer Moore.
North Carolina’s three wins came at 133, 141 and 157 where Jamie Hernandez topped Dylan Koontz, No. 14 Kizhan Clarke picked up an overtime 3-1 win against Jordan Decatur, and defending national champion No. 2 Austin O’Connor showed off his skills with a pin over Jashon Hubbard at his new weight of 157 pounds. O’Connor and Clarke are now both 3-0 after also picking up wins in North Carolina’s dual victories against Queens University and Life University.
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O’Connor was the only defending NCAA champion in dual action, though all four of Penn State’s champs are expected to take the mat next weekend, as is Stanford’s champ Shane Griffith and Oklahoma State’s champ AJ Ferrari, both who will be competing in the same dual meet in Palo Alto, California. Campbell’s win and Lehigh’s loss did help elevate the Stanford Cardinal into the ranking, and head coach Rob Koll’s team now holds down that spot and makes its first ranking of the year, edging out Lehigh.
Stanford did have seven athletes win Menlo Open titles on the weekend, including Jackson DiSario, Jaden Abas, Charlie Darracott, Griffith, Tyle Eischens, Nick Stemmet and Peter Ming. If the Cardinal can push to the Cowboys this weekend, there could be some more rankings changes next week, but John Smith’s team will no doubt be ready to roll and defend their position.
Teams, athlete to watch moving forward
Speaking of Oklahoma State, the Cowboys moved up to the No. 6, one spot ahead of Virginia Tech, an interesting change given that the Hokies put four athletes — Korbin Myers, Mekhi Lewis, Hunter Bolen and Nathan Traxler — on top of the podium at the Southeast Open in the open division. The Cowboys are tough, but the Hokies have shown their strength as well, and this rankings shift just demonstrates the great depth and parity among teams in the hunt for a trophy in March.
Success at the open tournaments also elevated Oklahoma, a team that went from No. 17 to No. 16, dropping Northern Iowa down one spot. Leading the way for Oklahoma over the weekend was Jacob Woodley, a 2021 All-American who took home gold at 197 pounds with an impressive win over Michigan graduate transfer Patrick Brucki in sudden victory to earn top honors at the Michigan State Open. He was joined on the top of the podium at 133 pounds by teammate Tony Madrigal, who also beat an All-American in Ravyon Foley for gold, and by Joey Prata at 125 pounds.
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All-Americans Evan Wick and Brit Wilson also won titles at the Michigan State Open, as did Alec Hagan and Chase Saldate, though their teams did not earn spots in this week’s poll. Lucas Davison, the winner at 285 pounds in this tournament and Troy Fisher, the winner at 174 pounds, represented No. 25 Northwestern, a team that managed to hold on to that final rankings spot despite the shuffling.
Northwestern’s ability to stay within poll means that 10 Big Ten teams have ranked spots, a representation of the depth of the conference. The Wildcats will have to fight to stay in the poll, as will Purdue and Wisconsin, both teams that moved rankings slightly this weekend following dual results but will be programs to watch as the season continues. Wisconsin, previously tied for No. 22 in the rankings, now sits at No. 23, a subtle move that doesn’t suggest anything negative about the team but is more a product of other movements with teams around that same rankings.
The Boilermakers played a role in this rankings shuffle, going 2-0 on the weekend with victories over Drexel 29-18 and Rider 33-3 to move up from No. 21 to No. 20, dropping Wyoming from No. 20 to No. 21. Two spots above Purdue at No. 19, Rutgers held steady in the rankings, earning wins over NJCU 48-0, Cleveland State 35-3 and Binghamton 34-9.
The Ivy League also continues to impress as well, with Princeton moving up one spot in the polls after taking home two golds at the Southeast Open following the championship performances of Quincy Monday and Luke Stout at 157 and 197 pounds. Columbia, an unranked but solid Ivy League foe, also put two athletes on the podium at the Southeast Open with Joe Manchio and Joshua Ogunsanya representing the Lions in the top spots at 125 and 165 pounds. The Cornell Big Red have the highest ranking in the league right now, bumping up to No. 12 this week, but the talent across the conference as a whole will make for some exciting duals later in the season. If this first full week of action is any indication of what's to come, we're in for a wild season full of individual upsets and team battles across the country.