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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | January 7, 2022

5 college wrestling storylines you must know for this weekend, including Iowa’s lightweight situation

The top storylines to follow this college wrestling season

The Matmen Open and the Southern Scuffle brought lineup adjustments, new champs and emerging stars. And as teams head into conference competition, the storylines continue to multiply. Here are the five things to watch for in the college wrestling duals this weekend: 

1. Iowa’s lightweight situation 

The biggest news in the wrestling world over the weekend was Iowa’s Spencer Lee announcing his decision to pursue surgery as an option on both of his torn ACLs. The three-time NCAA champion and two-time Hodge winner won his 2019 title after tearing an ACL against Jack Mueller in the finals, and he tore his other ACL in the 2021 Big Ten finals against Devin Schroder before going on to dominate the competition at the 2021 NCAA championship. 

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With Lee out of the lineup at 125 pounds, Iowa will be missing one of its most prolific point scorers and one of the biggest favorites at the NCAA tournament. The Hawkeyes now have some decisions to make, but fortunately, they have options, and we could see one or both of those options this weekend. 

Iowa’s Jesse Ybarra, the 125-pounder who wrestled for Lee in the first few duals of the season, is listed as a probable starter for Iowa’s weekend duals against Minnesota and Purdue, and Ybarra has been solid so far. He’s 5-1 on the year with his only loss coming against Kysen Terukina of Iowa State in decision fashion, and head coach Tom Brands said he likes what he sees in Ybarra. If Ybarra holds down the spot through the weekend and ends up being the guy moving forward for Iowa at this weight, he needs to show that he can qualify for NCAAs and win a match at the national tournament. Iowa is going to need all of its starters to put up points if the Hawkeyes want to contend with Penn State and Michigan — and 125 pounds is not a weight it can afford to miss out on. 

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Ybarra’s tough, but he’s also not Iowa’s only option at 125 pounds. Immediately after Lee announced his intentions to undergo surgery, all eyes turned to true freshman Drake Ayala, a three-time Iowa state champion who is currently in redshirt and finished third at the Southern Scuffle. Ayala is 10-2 on the year with both of his losses coming against All-American Pat McKee, and questions immediately started swirling about whether Lee’s decision to pull out of the season would lead Brands to pull Ayala’s redshirt and let the freshman compete right away. Brands answered that question on Wednesday when he released the probable starters for the Minnesota and Purdue duals this weekend and had Ybarra’s name, and Ybarra’s name only, listed as the 125-pound probable starter for the Hawkeyes.

Cody Goodwin of the Des Moines Register reported earlier this week that both Ybarra and Ayala will be ready to go, but, as of now, Ybarra is looking likely to get the nod against Minnesota, a logical decision given that Ayala just wrestled Minnesota 125-pounder McKee last weekend at the Scuffle and doesn’t need another test against the All-American right away. The question will be how Ybarra does against McKee, if he performs better than Ayala did, and if he holds down the position for the Purdue match as well.

2. Gable Steveson expected to be back in action 

Speaking of Iowa and Minnesota, the lightest weight isn't the only weight class in that dual that will bring fireworks. Minnesota fan favorite, Olympic gold medalist and NCAA champion Gable Steveson is also expected to return for this dual after not being on the mat since November 28.  

Let's take a look back at Steveson's results so far this year:  

  • November 20, 2021: Major Decision 20-7 vs. Luke Surber (Oklahoma State) 
  • November 28, 2021: Tech Fall 22-6 5:00 vs. AJ Nevills (South Dakota State) 

Steveson left no doubt that he was the best in the country after those wins, but he hasn't faced a top-15 opponent yet this year. This weekend though he will likely take on No. 6 Tony Cassioppi on Friday night and Northwestern's No. 14 Lucas Davison on Sunday. Watching him compete is a joy both for Minnesota supporters and those who just love seeing Steveson show off his talents. 

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Steveson is 4-0 against Cassioppi with two of those wins coming by bonus, so expect him to layer on the points and deliver the Gophers a moral victory, regardless of the team result, in what is going to be a fun, exciting contest overall against No. 1 Iowa.

Steveson co-won the Hodge Trophy last year along with Iowa's Spencer Lee, and he was honored by WIN Magazine for his dominant, undefeated, national championship performance where he put up an 82.35% bonus rate for the year and topped Junior World Champion Mason Parris and former Cadet World Champion Greg Kerkvliet on his way to heavyweight NCAA gold. Now, he'll look to repeat that result, starting with two important matches this weekend. 

3. Cornell and Princeton pace the Ivy League and look to showcase talent against ranked foes 

Princeton Tigers head coach Chris Ayres has become famous for scheduling challenging out-of-conference bouts for his team, and Sunday’s ranked battle against No. 5 NC State is no exception. Both teams come into this contest having only lost to No. 1 Iowa, and while NC State is the favorite based on rankings, expect Princeton to put up a fight. 

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The Tigers have three ranked wrestlers — No. 1 Pat Glory (125), No. 5 Quincy Monday (157) and No. 22 Travis Stefanik (184) — listed as probables and all of them will face elite Wolfpack competition. Those first two ranked weights for Princeton, 125 and 157, are perhaps the most interesting weights of the dual though, as Glory will likely take on No. 10 Jakob Camacho, and Monday will be expected to wrestle No. 11 Ed Scott. Camacho and Glory have not wrestled before, but this match will mark Glory’s first as the top-ranked lightweight in the country, and he’ll be looking to make a statement against a guy who most recently competed against Spencer Lee hard for seven minutes. Glory will need a win at this weight, likely by bonus points, to keep Princeton in the fight, and such a result won’t come easy against Camacho.

NC State is favored at 141 and 149 with Ryan Jack and All-American Tariq Wilson before leading into 157 pounds where Princeton once again has the edge on paper in what will be a competitive top-15 battle. Wolfpack second-year freshman Ed Scott most recently made headlines at 157 pounds for pinning Iowa’s All-American Kaleb Young at the Collegiate Duals, and he’ll look to continue that momentum against a competitive Quincy Monday who wants to hold down his top-five ranking. These two also haven’t met previously, but, much like 125 pounds, Monday is going to need to come up big for his team to keep the Princeton energy high. 

Princeton’s next ranked wrestler, Travis Stefanik, will be taking on the younger of two Hidlay brothers at 184 pounds, but not before NC State rolls out the older Hidlay brother, Hayden, at 174. NC State has been open about the program’s commitment to bonus points this season, and Hayden Hidlay will want to take his opportunity against unranked Princeton opponent to live up to that team mission.

At 197 pounds and 285 pounds, Princeton also faces a tough competitors from N.C. State including a young Isaac Trumble who wrestles everyone tough and No. 23 heavyweight Owen Trephan who is 13-5 on the year. Win or lose, this dual is key opportunity for Tiger wrestlers to compete against the best of the ACC and one of the top-five teams in the country. 

Speaking of dangerous Ivy League squads competing against Top 25 opponents, Cornell will also be in action this weekend against ranked EIWA opponent Lehigh, which means fans will get to see two-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis face another strong opponent, this time in No. 30 Monzona Bryant. Cornell’s No. 2 Vito Arujau, if he wrestles 125, will also have a top-33 opponent in No. 11 Jaret Lane, and Arujau, much like Glory, will be looking to make a statement about his talents at a weight class that just lost its biggest star in Spencer Lee last weekend. Arujau finished fourth in his only NCAA appearance so far, and he’s 1-1 against the current No. 1 ranked wrestler at the weight, Patrick Glory, in his career. Those two will be favorites at 125, along with Nick Surinao, heading into the 2022 NCAA tournament, but, until then, they’ll both aim to rack up as many dominant wins as possible before likely meeting at EIWAs and nationals. For Arujau, that means fighting for bonus against Lane and trying to assert himself as the man to beat at the lightest weight. 

Cornell has eight ranked wrestlers on its roster, including Arujau and Diakomihalis, but only five of those will faced ranked Lehigh opponents, and only one will see a Mountain Hawk foe in the top-10. Lehigh’s highest-ranked wrestlers will take the mat at 157 pounds and 285-pounds as Josh Humphreys and Jordan Wood, respectively, look to continue their winning seasons.

Humphreys is off to a strong start in his junior season, holding an 8-1 record and recently picking up a fall and a major decision against Jarrett Jacques and Kaleb Young at the Collegiate Duals. Wood is also in a great position to make some noise at his weight again this year, as he enters the Cornell contest with a 9-1 record, the only loss coming by one point to Tony Cassioppi of Iowa. Wood has one All-American honor to his name while Humphreys is looking for his first podium finish after consistently qualifying and winning several matches at the NCAA tournament. Their tests against the Big Red will likely come against Hunter Richard at 157 pounds and Lewis Fernandez at heavyweight, and Lehigh will expect their stars to record wins against both of those athletes. 

4. Can Rutgers stay undefeated? 

After finishing last season without a dual win, Rutgers has been one of the biggest stories of the year, as the Scarlet Knights continue to put on dominant performances to stay undefeated. With wins over NJCU, Cleveland State, Binghamton, Clarion, Davidson, Chattanooga, Hofstra, North Carolina, American and Army, Rutgers has impressed early, but the competition is about to get tougher for the Scarlet Knights. Head coach Scott Goodale’s team will see Indiana on Friday night at 7 p.m. ET before the embarking on biggest challenge of the season in a dual meet against No. 16 Wisconsin in Madison at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Indiana has four ranked wrestlers, and two of them will be favored against the Scarlet Knights, though, even if those athletes win by bonus, the Hoosiers will likely struggle to surpass Rutgers. Wisconsin, however, is a different story. The Badgers, on paper, are favored in six matches, and if the dual goes chalk, Wisconsin will emerge victorious and break Rutgers' streak.

Let's break down how this dual is expected to play out: 

125 pounds: Wisconsin has the edge with No. 4 Eric Barnett over No. 30 Dylan Shawver, though Shawver's tough and does have a win over Pat McKee, a wrestler who pinned Barnett last year at NCAAs. 

133 & 141 pounds: Rutgers has a chance to regain control and make up for a loss at 125, if Barnett beats Shawver, because 133-pounder Sammy Alvarez also has a slight advantage over No. 25 Kyle Burwick on paper, and 141-pound Scarlet Knight leader Sebastian Rivera, who is ranked No. 4 is also known for his bonus points and aggressive style. If, for some reason, Rutgers trails after 133, look for Rivera to turn up the heat and run up the scoreboard, even against a quality opponent.  

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149 pounds - 174 pounds: This is the danger zone for Rutgers. Wisconsin's lineup of No. 11 Austin Gomez, No. 33 Garrett Model, No. 8 Dean Hamiti and No. 17 Andrew McNally are all ranked ahead of their Rutgers' foes, though if Rutgers All-American Jackson Turley can get himself back on track, he could certainly push McNally and even pick up the win, which could radically shift the dual. Turley beat McNally 7-5 at NCAAs in 2021, and he'll be needed to keep his team in this fight. No. 19 Michael Van Brill at 149 pounds is also a potential threat against Gomez, so look for that one to be tight. Rutgers' hopes for a win really depend on how well they can navigate these four weights and if bonus points at 141, 184 and 197 can keep things even. 

184 pounds & 197 pounds: No. 5 John Poznanski and No. 7 Greg Bulsak pace the Scarlet Knights at the upperweights, and while Wisconsin will field ranked wrestlers in No. 33 Chris Weiler and No. 24 Junior world champion Braxton Amos at this weight, this is going to be an important two weights for Rutgers to separate. 

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285 pounds: Wisconsin's Trent Hillger, more affectionately known by his team as Thor, will anchor the Badgers here at heavyweight and look to continue his undefeated season. It's going to be tough for Rutgers at this point, and, if you're Wisconsin and the dual comes down to heavyweight, Hillger is a good person to have in your lineup taking the mat with the win on the line. 

5. Pitt’s new double-header against Army, Michigan will offer tough competition

No. 21 Pittsburgh had a plan this weekend to take on the rising and sneaky competitive Penn Quakers at home, and while COVID-19 disrupted that schedule, the Panthers quickly found an alternative option. Now, instead of taking on Penn, Pitt will welcome Army and No. 3 Michigan to the Fitzgerald Field House for a double-header on Sunday at noon and 2 p.m. ET that will feature 23 total ranked wrestlers across these three teams.

Leading the way for Pitt is No. 8 Nino Bonaccorsi, who finished second at the NCAA tournament last year and recently took silver at the Matmen Open behind No. 7 Greg Bulsak of Rutgers. Bonaccorsi could, if everyone wrestles as expected, have two ranked wrestlers in these duals, as Army will likely send No. 25 JT Brown out on to the mat, and Michigan is expected to field No. 9 Patrick Brucki at the weight. Bonaccorsi is 6-1 on the year with his best wins coming against Ohio State’s Gavin Hoffman and Maryland’s Jaron Smith, though victories against either or both of his weekend opponents on Sunday would certainly be notable as well. 

Pitt middleweight wrestlers No. 21 Elijah Cleary at 157 pounds and No. 13 Jake Wentzel at 165 pounds could also have two ranked opponents between Army and Michigan, with Cleary potentially facing No. 15 Will Lewan of Michigan as well as No. 28 Markus Hartman of Army, and Wentzel expected to take on No. 10 Cam Amine of Michigan and No. 32 Dalton Harkins of Army. Cleary is 1-1 against Lewan with both matches going to extra time, but the Panther transfer has not faced Hartman in the past; Wentzel also never wrestled Amine or Harkins in college. Adding to the ranked excitement is No. 23 Cole Matthew of Pitt who is scheduled to compete against No. 3 Stevan Micic and No. 33 Corey Shie in his two matches, both wrestlers that Matthews has previously not wrestled in college and athletes that will give him different tests to see where Matthews is at in his quest for All-American honors in March. 

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Of these three teams, Michigan has the obvious advantage on paper, boasting 10 ranked wrestlers with seven of them in the top 10, not including graduate transfer Nick Suriano, who is expected to slot in at the top three at 125 pounds when he makes his anticipated return to the mat. If Suriano wrestles at 125 pounds, he’ll bump out Michigan’s No. 18 Jack Medley, who continues to wrestle the best guys in the country at a tough pace, and take No. 31 Gage Curry, a transfer from American University who has qualified for nationals in the last four seasons. If Suriano doesn’t wrestle, he could take the mat next against Rutgers in a storybook start for the 2019 NCAA champion, given that he transferred from Rutgers following his national title and is now coming back as a member of another Big Ten team. Assuming Suriano goes 125 pounds, Michigan’s No. 8 Dylan Ragusin will hold down the spot at 133 pounds, and he could see No. 7 Micky Phillippi this weekend against Pitt in another top-10 matchup. 

This double-header in Pittsburgh is so full of fun matchups that it’s tough to just pick a few to watch, but the Panthers will have their hands full with the Wolverines and should be set up for a competitive battle with the Black Knights as well. 

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