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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | January 11, 2022

Penn State wrestling jumps Iowa, moves to No. 1 in latest NWCA rankings

The top storylines to follow this college wrestling season

After dominant wins over Maryland and Indiana last weekend, Penn State wrestling claimed the top spot in the NWCA poll, overtaking undefeated defending national champion Iowa for the first time this year. Penn State’s rise isn’t the only notable change in this week’s poll though, as last weekend’s action produced a slew of upsets, several headline-worthy wins and a number of notable results in college wrestling. Here’s what you need to know about everything that happened in college wrestling over the weekend and how those results impacted the Top 25.

First, here's the poll:

RANK

TEAM (FIRST)

RECORD

POINTS

PREVIOUS

1 Penn State (8) 10-0 344 2
2 Iowa (6) 8-0 341 1
3 Michigan 4-0 317 3
4 Oklahoma State 8-0 310 4
5 NC State 6-1 292 5
6 Arizona State 3-1 279 6
7 Ohio State 5-0 270 7
8 Virginia Tech 4-3 233 10
9 Missouri 6-2 219 11
10 Wisconsin 6-0 206 16
11 Iowa State 4-1 204 13
12 Purdue 7-2 188 15
13 Cornell 3-2 185 8
14 Minnesota 2-2 177 14
15 Nebraska 3-1 169 9
16 Rutgers 11-1 164 12
17 Lehigh 6-4 139 17
18 Oklahoma 2-2 99 19
19 Pittsburgh 4-3 71 19
20 North Carolina 4-4 66 20
21 Illinois 2-0 62 24
22 Princeton 0-2 40 19
23 Northwestern 2-2 34 23
24 South Dakota State 5-1 29 NR
25 Campbell 4-2 28 NR

Penn State prepares for a 2022 title run, but Iowa and Michigan remain close 

The Nittany Lions looked untouchable this last weekend, beating Maryland and Indiana by a combined score of 75-11. They earned bonus points in 13 of 20 matches across the two duals, totaling three pins, five tech falls and four major decisions. Heavyweight Greg Kerkvliet paced the team with his two tech falls, while Max Dean and Aaron Brooks also scored bonus in both their matches at 197 and 184 pounds respectively. The Penn State upperweight legacy looks to continue, as those three athletes, plus 174-pound national champion Carter Starocci are wrestling like title contenders, but Cael Sanderson isn’t satisfied just winning at the heavier weights.

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Roman Bravo-Young and Nick Lee, the defending champions at 133 and 141, also scored bonus point wins over the weekend and will contend for gold in March, though those two athletes only wrestled against Maryland, allowing Baylor Shunk and Brandon Meredith to take the mat at 133 and 141 against Indiana. Penn State’s squad is strengthening every weekend too as 125-pound All-American transfer Drew Hildebrand made his debut this weekend, and 157-pound NCAA qualifier Brady Berge is also expected to slot back into the lineup in the coming weeks as he temporarily transitions away from his coaching job at South Dakota State back in the role of a student-athlete. 

The Nittany Lions will be hard to beat, but Iowa and Michigan won’t go down without a fight. Iowa also went 2-0 on the weekend to earn six first-place votes, and the two headlines from their duals were the emergence of true freshman Drake Ayala in the starting role at 125 pounds and the return of NCAA finalist Michael Kemerer at 174 pounds. Iowa beat No. 14 Minnesota 22-10 on Friday with wins from its core crew of Austin DeSanto, Jaydin Eierman, Max Murin, Alex Marinelli, Kemerer, Abe Assad and Jacob Warner, while Ayala, Kaleb Young and Tony Cassioppi added wins of their own to Sunday against the Purdue Boilermakers to help the Hawkeyes to a 36-4 win.

Ayala’s victory over Purdue was particularly noteworthy, as he topped Big Ten finalist Devin Schroder for his first top-5 win as a Hawkeye. Iowa will need Ayala to score points at the NCAA tournament to keep Iowa in this fight, and the Hawkeyes will also expect their stars to perform at maximum capacity, likely with bonus points, to hold off this rising Penn State team.

The Nittany Lions will face Iowa on January 28 in a wild showdown of the top two teams in the country, but one week prior, Penn State will take on Michigan, another team that could be in the hunt for a championship at NCAAs in Detroit. Michigan earned a ranked win over the weekend against Pitt 29-9 in a dual that was mostly one-sided but offered a good look at Michigan’s strengths and weaknesses as a team moving forward.

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The highlight of the match was the highly anticipated arrival of NCAA champion and Rutgers transfer Nick Suriano, who majored Pitt NCAA qualifier and American University transfer Gage Curry 18-7 in a statement win. Suriano’s victory earned him the top spot at the weight, and he’ll look to take home gold in his final collegiate season while helping the Wolverines to a championship of their own. Joining Suriano in the bonus-win column were Logan Massa and Myles Amine, who both pinned their opponents at 174 and 184 pounds, as well as NCAA finalist Mason Parris who picked up a major at heavyweight.

Patrick Brucki and Will Lewan also earned ranked wins against Nino Bonaccorsi and Elijah Cleary at 197 and 157 pounds respectively, while Cole Mattin added a decision at 149. Pitt’s points came from Micky Phillippi, Jake Wentzel and Cole Matthews, who picked up a significant upset against Olympian Stevan Micic, but those wins weren't enough to beat the Maize and Blue. Michigan remained firmly at No. 3 while Pitt held on to its No. 19 spot after a win over Army 29-10 hours before the Michigan loss. 

Purdue tops Nebraska to rise three spots while Huskers drop to No. 15

While Pitt remained steady, 15 other teams shifted position in this week’s poll, with Nebraska and Wisconsin experiencing the biggest changes. The Huskers dropped six spots after a ranked loss to Purdue in which the Boilermakers pulled off notable upset wins at 174 and 184 pounds. Gerrit Nijenhuis led the Boilermaker effort with his 6-4 decision win against All-American Mikey Labriola, and while Nijenhuis would go on to be teched by Iowa’s Michael Kemerer later in the weekend, his win over Labriola makes him a podium threat and a key potential scorer for Purdue at the national tournament. Building off of the momentum from his teammate, Max Lyons also picked up a top-10 win, beating Taylor Venz 7-2 in a workmanlike performance that put the Boilermakers in a position to win the dual, even with losses at 197 pounds and heavyweight.

Devin Schroder added to the excellent Purdue performance with his tech fall at 125 pounds while Parker Filius added bonus at 141 pounds. Nebraska is a complete team, so this win is significant for Purdue and moves them up to just outside the top 10 in No. 12. The Big Ten currently has five teams in the top 10 in Penn State, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin, and all five were in action this weekend. The Buckeyes will face Michigan next in a famous rivalry dual this weekend, and both teams will have momentum coming in with Michigan riding the wave of the Pitt win, and Ohio State coming off a solid 27-14 win over Michigan State.

Wisconsin, notably, broke Rutgers’ undefeated streak over the weekend with a 19-14 team win and moved up six spots, sending the Scarlet Knights down four spots to No. 16. Rutgers did pick up a W against Indiana before the loss to the Badgers, but the victory wasn’t enough to hold them steady in the rankings. Wisconsin came through with a powerful lineup top to bottom, and coach Chris Bono’s team picked up wins against the Scarlet Knights at 125 pounds, 149 pounds, 157 pounds, 165 pounds, 174 pounds and 285 pounds, with three of those victories coming against ranked opponents.

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The weekend marked an important breakthrough for Wisconsin 149-pounder Austin Gomez in particular, as he beat NCAA third-place finisher Yahya Thomas earlier in the weekend in Wisconsin’s 19-15 win over Northwestern and then tacked on his major decision against Rutgers’ Michael Van Brill. After taking time away from the sport due to injury and transferring schools, Gomez is looking like the kind of All-American finisher he’s wanted to be. He’ll also be an important part of this Badger team that will face Minnesota next weekend. Though the Badgers went 2-0 in their team duals, the weekend wasn’t perfect, as the team dropped a couple of ranked, upset matches, particularly in the first dual against Northwestern. 

The Wildcats, who remain ranked No. 23 in the country, picked up a win at 125 pounds from Michael DeAugustino who topped Eric Barnett as part of his impressive weekend, and the team also notched wins at 133, 141, 157, 184 and 285 pounds. The heavyweight victory was another notable one for Northwestern as Lucas Davison topped All-American Trent Hillger 4-3 in a tight contest. Hillger has a way of coming through in March, even if he takes unpredictable in-season losses, so this isn’t too dramatic of a result, but it certainly suggests good things about Davison as the conference duals continue.

Lehigh continues to improve with win over Cornell

The EIWA also made some headlines this weekend as Lehigh topped Cornell in a barnburner of the dual, and Princeton dropped a lopsided match to No. 5 NC State. Princeton’s loss dropped them from No. 19 to No. 23 while NC State held steady in the top 5. The Pack will be chasing a fourth consecutive ACC title this year but will likely be pushed by Virginia Tech, who rose two spots in this week’s poll after a solid round robin against West Virginia and Binghamton. 

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Cornell and Princeton, on the other hand, will be expected to battle for the Ivy League regular season title this year before joining Lehigh in the EIWA championship and pushing for top team finishes in that tournament. The Mountain Hawks though have some dangerous elements in their lineup, and this team has continued to improve every week after an unexpected early season loss to Campbell and some tough Ls against top-ranked Iowa, Penn State and Missouri.

The win over Cornell didn’t alter Lehigh’s standings in the top 25, though individual weight rankings will likely shift as a product of these results, and the team score did send the Big Red down five spots to No. 13. Most of Cornell’s stars lived up to their rankings in this dual as Julian Ramirez, Jacob Cardenas, Vito Arujau and Yianni Diakomihalis all recorded wins, but Mountain Hawk upset victories from Jake Logan and AJ Burkhart at 174 and 184 pounds over Chris Foca and Jon Loew, along with decision wins from Josh Humphreys, Jordan Wood, Malyke Hines and Connor McGonagle helped seal the deal for Lehigh. The squad will now have two in-conference duals against Navy and Columbia before facing a top-5 test against the Oklahoma State Cowboys on January 23. 

Campbell, South Dakota State crack Top 25, while other ranked teams swap spots

Speaking of the Big 12, Missouri, Iowa State and Oklahoma all moved up in this week’s poll, despite not competing, with the Tigers and Cyclones each rising two spots and the Sooners shifting up from No. 19 to No. 18. South Dakota State also moved into the rankings at No. 24 following a big team win over Northern Iowa. Campbell, additionally, moved into the top 25, bringing in some representation for the SoCon conference. The Camels have been battling tough for the past several years and topped Lehigh earlier this season.

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