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Shannon Scovel | September 9, 2022

25 of the most interesting college wrestlers to watch in the 2022-23 season

The most exciting college wrestlers to watch this season

Every fall brings new anticipation for the upcoming college wrestling season, and this year is projected to inspire some of the most interesting storylines in recent memory. Penn State, the defending national champion, returns four of its five individual champs, while Iowa, last year’s third-place team, will have lightweight superstar Spencer Lee back in the lineup as he chases his fourth individual national title. 

Lee, however, won’t be the only wrestler trying to make history. Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis will also be looking for his fourth championship title as he strives to become just the second Big Red wrestler to accomplish this feat. 

Diakomihalis and Spencer Lee headline the list of wrestlers to know this season, but each weight class contains its own unique set of stars.

Here’s a list of 25 of the most interesting wrestlers in the country that you need to know ahead of the 2022-23 season. This list includes a number of NCAA champions, finalists and All-Americans, though this is not a pound-for-pound ranking. Instead, this is a list of athletes with interesting backstories and personal journeys who bring an exciting style of wrestling to the mat each time they compete.

1. Spencer Lee, Iowa, 125 pounds

Spencer Lee is Iowa wrestling. The three-time NCAA champion and two-time Hodge Trophy winner became the face of the Hawkeye program after his freshman season when he beat now two-time NCAA champion Nick Suriano in the national finals, and he has only added to his resume since then. Lee dominated Virginia’s Jack Mueller in the 2019 national tournament for his second title and then made headlines after taking home his third championship crown in a 7-0 shutout win against Brandon Courtney. Following that victory against Courtney, Lee announced on live television that he wrestled the tournament without an ACL in either of his two knees. This moment, and his “no excuses” speech on ESPN, intensified the spotlight on the seasoned star, but his chase for a fourth title last season was derailed due to an intensifying pain in his knees. Lee has since had surgery to repair both ACLs, and he’s expected to be back on the mat in front of a sold out home Hawkeye fanbase later this year for his sixth and final season. 

TRACKING LEE: Here’s how the Iowa senior performed in each of his 12 matches of the 2021 season

Lee’s return to the weight class now adds even more depth and fireworks and creates an added challenge for any wrestler around the country hoping to make noise. The Iowa senior, however, has made it clear that his goals on the mat are bigger than his own personal achievements. He wants to bring another team national title back to Iowa City, and he’s proven before that he’s capable of doing just that. Lee and the Hawkeyes face an uphill battle against the powerhouse athletes of Penn State, but with Lee back in the mix, the Black and Gold have the sparkplug they need in their lineup to inspire team success. If Lee continues the trajectory he’s on, he’ll look to become the fifth four-time NCAA champion in college wrestling history and the first to do so from Iowa. This stat is something that will surround the Spencer Lee story all season, and it’s a stat that will no doubt draw eyes to the Hawkeye and his performances throughout the year. 

2. Yianni Diakomihalis, Cornell, 149 pounds

Much like Lee, Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis will be chasing his fourth NCAA title this season after a similarly unconventional career with the Big Red. Diakomihalis, a 2021 and 2022 senior world team member at 65kg, burst onto the collegiate scene as a freshman when he beat Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith at that 2017 Cliff Keen Invitation in November, solidifying himself as a title contender. He then went on to beat Meredith again at the 2018 NCAA tournament for his first title, but not before he also notched wins against Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman and NCAA champion Dean Heil, a true testament to his talent. Diakomihalis followed up this stellar freshman performance with a second title win over Ohio State’s Joey McKenna in a funky controversial match before taking an Olympic redshirt ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Games. Despite falling short of his goals of making the Olympic team, Diakomihalis ended up traveling to the Games as bronze medalist Kyle Dake’s training partner, learning from Cornell wrestling's most accomplished graduate. 

Dake set the standard for the Big Red wrestling program when he won four consecutive NCAA championships at four different weights and became the first wrestler to accomplish this feat. The 2023 NCAA tournament will mark the 10-year anniversary of Dake’s achievement and will also serve as the site of Diakomihalis’ quest, as he chases his own fourth title. Diakomihalis' third title last season came in a strong 11-5 finals win over Nebraska’s Ridge Lovett after taking two Olympic redshirts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year will be different. As one of the most experienced athletes in the field at 149 pounds, Diakomihalis is intentional in his wrestling, making calculated moves faster than his opponents and finishing each of his attacks. His journey this season will be one for the record books, making him a can’t-miss wrestler. 

3. Roman Bravo-Young, Penn State, 133 pounds 

Four years ago, as a true freshman, Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young was a valuable contributor on a legendary Penn State team that included the likes of three-time NCAA champions Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf, as well as two-time NCAA champ Vincenzo Joseph and 2017 national champion Mark Hall. The young lightweight star finished eighth in the national tournament that year as a true freshman, an impressive finish that resulted from critical wins over Cornell’s Chas Tucker and Pitt’s Micky Phillippi. 

PENN STATE CHAMPS: Complete results and analysis from the 2022 NCAA wrestling tournament 

But now, heading into the 2022-2023 season, Bravo-Young has grown into the role left behind by Nickal, Nolf, Joseph and Hall. He won his own titles in 2021 and 2022, both against Olympic Trials finalist Daton Fix, and he hasn’t lost a match since March 2020. His trademark speed and slickness have also helped him pick up statement wins against All-Americans Austin DeSanto, Korbin Myers, Chris Cannon, Ridge Lovett, Luke Pletcher in his career thus far, and he’s further separated himself from everyone else in his weight over the last two seasons. Though Bravo-Young considered leaving college wrestling at the end of last season and forgoing his final year of eligibility, the champ instead decided to return. He wants one more title. Alongside his fellow multiple-time national champion teammates Aaron Brooks and Carter Starocci, Bravo-Young is ready for his last ride. Though his excellence is not always fully appreciated because he’s part of such a dominant team with a long history of success where winning is the expectation, there’s no denying that Bravo-Young is one of the most interesting, must-watch wrestlers in the field. 

4. Keegan O’Toole, Missouri, 165 pounds

A funky phenom, Keegan O’Toole has made an immediate impact during his first two years with Missouri, finishing third at 165 pounds in 2021 and winning the weight class last season. His strength and skills are evident in his offensive wrestling style, but he’ll certainly have a target on his back this year as he looks to defend his title.

Wrestling in the MAC his freshman year, O’Toole flew a little under the radar but came into the NCAA tournament as the No. 6 seed, a result of his 12-0 record. His only loss of the tournament came against eventual NCAA finalist Jake Wentzel of Pitt, but he worked through the backside of the bracket following that loss to beat Luke Weber, Anthony Valencia, Zach Hartman and Travis Wittlake for bronze. O’Toole has not lost a match since that 2021 NCAA tournament. 

Missouri’s shift to the Big 12 last season brought more exposure to the young Tiger, as he had the chance to dual against Wittlake and fellow All-American Peyton Hall in the regular season, but, regardless of the competition, O’Toole continued to thrive. He’s racked up an average bonus rate of over 64 percent in both of his last two seasons, demonstrating that he’s not only skilled, but he’s dominant. As a product of Askren Wrestling Academy in Wisconsin, O’Toole has been mentored by some of the best in the sport, and he’s primed to defend his crown this March. 

5. Shane Griffith, Stanford, 165 pounds

Looking to challenge O’Toole for the 165-pound title again this year will be none other than Stanford’s Shane Griffith, a 2021 NCAA champion and 2022 NCAA finalist who has become the face of his Cardinal program and continues to impress every time he takes the mat. Griffith made headlines in 2021 when he took down Jake Wentzel in the national finals while wearing an all-black singlet, protesting the decision of the Stanford administration to cut the program. Following his win, and a general outpouring of support from fans and alumni, Stanford decided to save wrestling and nearly a dozen other sports, allowing Griffith the opportunity to continue representing his school. The champ returned to campus a hero, but a hero with the expectation of producing another title. 

THE SHANE GRIFFITH STORY: How a national champion ignited support to “Save Stanford Wrestling

An early season loss to Cornell’s Julian Ramirez ended Griffith’s hope for an undefeated 2022 season, and three losses to Evan Wick at the Cliff Keen Invitational, the Cal Poly-Stanford dual and the Pac-12 finals further impacted his record and his tournament seed. Griffith, though, is Mr. March, and he turned up the intensity at the NCAA tournament. He started his national finals run with a tech fall over Cael Carlson before beating All-American Zach Hartman, Big Ten Freshman of the Year Dean Hamiti and then Pac-12 champion Wick back-to-back-back. Griffith’s crafty style gave him an edge in critical moments, particularly in the Wick match, and his ability to stay calm under pressure makes him a serious threat. He was on track to take home gold again. Ultimately, Keegan O’Toole found a way to slow down Griffith for the weight class title, and he topped the defending champion in a high-quality, highly entertaining national finals. Look for these two to put themselves on a collision course to meet again, perhaps in the national finals if they wrestle like they did last year. 

6. David Carr, Iowa State, 165 pounds

David Carr is all class. After winning the 2021 NCAA tournament at 157 pounds following a dramatic semifinal win over Hayden Hidlay and a championship victory against Jesse Dellevecchia of Rider, Carr came into 2022 with high expectations. He blew past his competition in the early part of the season, earning a bonus rate of 70.5 percent in his first 17 matches and putting himself on the Hodge Trophy Watch List for most of the year. Carr then won his second Big 12 title in March and earned the No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament, where he was expected to repeat his flawless performances from the year before. His tech fall against Derek Holschlag of UNI in the opening round suggested that Carr was peaking well and wrestling at championship form, but the second round result looked different. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Oregon State’s Hunter Willits went point-for-point with Carr all through regulation and then, in the first tie-breaker, took Carr to the mat for the winning takedown in one of the biggest moments of the tournament. That was it. Carr was out of contention for a national title. But in response to this unexpected adversity, David Carr did David Carr things. He rallied, match after match, and worked his way back for bronze, all while cheering matside for each of his teammates as they chased their goals as well. Iowa State finished 17th in the team rankings, but the camaraderie this group showed on the national stage, and the leadership Carr demonstrated after his loss, inspired great fanfare. Carr is expected to bump up to 165 pounds this year, and he’ll have to compete with 2022 NCAA champion Keegan O’Toole in his conference and 2021 NCAA champion Shane Griffith at the national tournament. But if 2022 showed the world anything, it’s that Carr’s resilient, focused and determined. He’s a champion, and he’ll look to add another individual championship trophy to his collection this season in a uniquely top-heavy deep weight class. 

7. Carter Starocci, Penn State, 174 pounds

“I'm looking to dominate.” That was the message Penn State’s Carter Starocci had for the press after his competitive semifinals match against Hayden Hidlay of NC State at the 2022 NCAA tournament. That statement sums up Starocci: he’s confident, self-assured and driven, always expecting to win and always hungry for more. 

Starocci’s arrival in State College back in 2019 immediately led fans to make parallels between his potential and the success of Penn State’s champion 174-pounder at the time, Mark Hall. Both wrestlers brought high-level high school accolades into the Penn State room and both wrestled with the belief that they would win every match. Much like Hall, Starocci put together an impressive redshirt season, building up more hype, but he then lost his opening dual as a starter against Indiana’s DJ Washington. The loss did not deter Starocci from believing he could still win a national title, and he told The Daily Collegian in the weeks following the dual that he knew he was the best but had to “go out there and prove it.” Proving himself, however, didn’t take long. Starocci followed up that loss with wins over All-Americans Logan Massa, Kaleb Romero and Mikey Labriola before dropping in the Big Ten finals to Iowa’s Michael Kemerer. Two weeks later, Starocci would reverse that conference tournament result, topping Kemerer in sudden victory to win his first national title.

History then repeated itself almost identically the following year, minus the two losses, as Starocci rolled through the competition at 174 pounds all year before beating Connor O’Neill, Adam Kemp, Mikey Labriola, Hidlay and Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis in the national finals. Now a two-time NCAA champion, Starocci holds a 56-2 career record and is striving for yet another championship. He’s a wrestler who competes with fearlessness and freedom, a winning combination for a Penn State athlete with a history of success. 

8. Aaron Brooks, Penn State, 184 pounds 

Much like his Penn State teammate Carter Starocci, Aaron Brooks also embodies excellence, and his two national titles reflect that reality. Brooks has been a consistent leader at 184 pounds in his career with the Nittany Lions thus far, winning all but two matches in as many seasons and helping his team to a national championship last season. Both of the wrestlers with wins over Brooks  — Myles Amine and Taylor Venz — have graduated — making the Nittany Lion the early, obvious favorite in his weight this year, though he has faced tough competition in the past from Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen and NC State’s Trent Hidlay, both of whom have wrestled Brooks to 3-2 matches throughout their careers. Brooks, however, doesn’t wrestle with fear. He embraces the Penn State mantra of gratitude and shared in his NCAA press conference last year that he’s guided by God and a belief that his coaches have prepared him to find success in each moment. 

Brooks has been a Big Ten champion, a national champion, and now, he’s is looking ahead, aiming for world and Olympic titles. In an interview after his NCAA finals win over Michigan’s Myles Amine, Brooks told reporters: “2023, it's a big year to win the world titles. Setting up for finals, 2024. I think I'm going to take this year to relax, train hard, because then the next two years I'm chasing more dreams.” The Hagerstown, Maryland native has experience wrestling on the international stage already, as he won the Cadet World Championships in 2017 and finished second at the Junior World Championships in 2018, and he’s put himself in a position to be dangerous on the senior level as well. Penn State has a history of developing collegiate stars into international champions too, particularly at the upperweights, so Brooks has no shortage of mentors to follow from his own program. As 2023 inches closer and the Nittany Lion junior prepares to chase his third collegiate championship and potentially senior level goals as well, don’t miss Brooks in action. Penn State has not yet released its dual schedule, but, if history is any indication of future results, Brooks will be expected to dominate just about everyone in his path leading up to the NCAA tournament before he begins his quest for a third-consecutive gold. 

9. Mekhi Lewis, Virginia Tech, 174 pounds

Mekhi Lewis has wrestled the best of the best, both at 165 pounds where he started his career, and now at 174 pounds where he’s looking to win a national title this upcoming year. The Hokie star made a name for himself early in his career when he beat Penn State star Vincenzo Joseph at the 2019 NCAA tournament as a redshirt freshman to become the first individual national champion in Virginia Tech wrestling history. The win also came just six months after Lewis had won junior world gold, and these two accomplishments turned him into a national name. 

COVID and injuries prevented the champ from returning to full form during the 2020 and 2021 seasons, but Lewis staged a comeback in this most recent season, making his long-awaited return to the NCAA finals after tournament wins against Dennis Robin, Lance Runyon, Clay Lautt, and Logan Massa. In his championship bout against Penn State’s Starocci, Lewis pushed the pace, scoring the first takedown against the defending champion. The match would stay close and ultimately advance to two tie-breakers. In a battle of riding time, Starocci held Lewis down for just over 15 seconds and fended off last-minute attacks from the Hokie, forcing Lewis settled for silver. The Hokie though, still has two years of eligibility left, and, if he stays healthy, he’s capable of pushing Starocci again and possibly becoming the first Virginia Tech wrestler in school history to win two NCAA titles. 

10. Ridge Lovett, Nebraska, 149 pounds

Watching Ridge Lovett wrestle is just fun. He’s passionate and fiery, and he always brings his full self to the mat. There’s joy in seeing him take on his opponents, and he plays to the crowd’s excitement with every point. Lovett’s been a solid member of the Nebraska lineup for the last three seasons, and while he’s had moment of brilliance as well as his fair share of breakthrough matches, he captured the spotlight this season in a different way, as he worked his way to the NCAA finals for the first time in his career to face then two-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis. 

Lovett came to Lincoln, Nebraska in 2019, the fall before the COVID outbreak, and immediately found his way into the starting lineup, wrestling to a 17-8 record before the tournament cancellation. His last match that year, a 4-3 decision against Michigan’s Joey Silva allowed him to end the season on top, but Lovett was just getting started. As a sophomore, the Husker went 9-3, but his biggest moments came in the Big Ten tournament when he beat Graham Rooks, Max Murin and Michael Blockhus to advance to the conference finals. Lovett went on to drop a 5-2 decision to eventual NCAA finalist Sammy Sasso in that tournament, but the performance showed that he was on that elite level. Twelve months later, Lovett was a finalist again, this time at the NCAA tournament after posting wins against Jaden Abas, Josh Heil, Tariq Wilson and Bryce Andonian. His performance against Diakomihalis in that championship wasn’t enough to take home gold, but Lovett is back again, and he’s coming for that top spot again. His message in the press conference after his semifinal was clear: “I know I can hang. I know I can beat him.” This is the kind of approach that makes Lovett such a fascinating, dynamic wrestler to watch and someone to keep an eye on.

11. Bryce Andonian, Virginia Tech, 157 pounds

Virginia Tech has nicknamed Bryce Andonian “Hollywood,” but the best description of Bryce Andonian’s wrestling style is wild. A Kirtland, Ohio native, Andonian moved to Blacksburg in 2019 and started in the lineup right away, posting an 18-6 record in his abbreviated true freshman year. Andonian’s growth from 2020 to 2021 was evident immediately, as he opened his sophomore season with a 12-9 win over Campell’s Josh Heil and then, several matches later, pinned Josh Finesilver of Duke, a wrestler who had majored him the year before. The Hokie was making moves and making headlines, drawing attention for his creative scrambling and fast-pace style that brought the Virginia Tech faithful to their feet. Andonian’s sophomore season ended in the Blood Round, as he fell to Kyle Parco 7-4, but, again, this was all just part of his development and a necessary stepping stone towards his breakout 2022 season. 

Andonian came into his junior year with big goals, and he began his championship quest with none other than NCAA finalist Sammy Sasso in his opening bout of the season. Sasso ultimately took the win 11-7, but Andonian showed he could keep up with the Buckeye star on the mat and was capable of pushing the pace against the seasoned All-American. As the year progressed, Andonian worked his way through the challenging, deep 149-pound weight class, winning some major matches and losing others, but always staying in the fight. Under the bright lights in Detroit, Michigan at the national tournament, though, Andodian turned up the intensity. He beat Max Brignola of Lehigh in a tight 9-7 match before taking down All-American Jon Jon Millner of App State and Austin Gomez of Wisconsin in traditional Andonian-style offensive matches. The Gomez bout in particular electrified the crowd, and he would meet the Badger again before the tournament’s end, as the two competed in the bronze-medal match after Andonian’s loss to Lovett and then subsequent second win against Millner. Andonian’s performance at this tournament, and his general approach to matches has made him a fan favorite, and he’ll be particularly interesting to watch this year as he works to replicate and even improve upon his success up a weight at 157 pounds. 

12. Austin Gomez, Wisconsin, 149 pounds

Austin Gomez’s comeback story is one for the ages.  Who could have predicted that, after four seasons at Iowa State and two medical redshirts, Austin Gomez would jump two weight classes, transfer to Wisconsin and win a Big Ten Title? And that Gomez would then return for one more year? This is a story only possible because of the faith of the Badgers' coaches and Gomez’s belief in himself. It’s the story of a guy who found a way to rediscover joy in the sport that had left him looking for more, and it’s a success story of someone who now has one more shot at gold. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Gomez began his college wrestling journey back in 2017 in Ames, Iowa, at 133 pounds where he amassed a perfect 8-0 record during his redshirt season. His potential was there, and the Cyclones knew they had a star on their hands.

Adversity for Gomez though, began that season. He took an early hit to the head while wrestling that led to his first concussion, the first of what would be four head injuries that would ultimately push him out of the sport temporarily. But before stepping away from Iowa State wrestling, Gomez did complete one year in the starting lineup, finishing in the Round of 12 at the NCAA tournament. His Blood Round match with Austin DeSanto of Iowa would be the last one he would wrestle for two years.

Concussion and the weight cut forced Gomez to reevaluate his next move, and, a little less than two years later, he found a new home for himself in the Wisconsin wrestling room at 149 pounds. The change proved to be exactly what Gomez needed. He won 15 of his first 17 regular season matches and then advanced to his first Big Ten finals where he took down NCAA finalist Sammy Sasso for gold. Then, at the NCAA tournament, Gomez kept rolling, topping Marshall Keller, Josh Finesilver, Kaden Gfeller, Tariq Wilson and Sasso to finish fourth. The evolution of Austin Gomez’s career has been full of ups and downs, but the Badger is on an upswing now, and he’s primed for a run at a national title. 

13. Austin O’Connor, North Carolina, 157 pounds 

Austin O’Connor’s performance in the 2021 NCAA tournament finals against Sammy Sasso turned him into a star, but it was his wrestling in 2022 that showed just how gritty and tough O’Connor really is. Heading into last season, O’Connor was hailed as a title favorite again, and the spotlight followed him as he moved up a weight class and won his first three matches. Then, in a bout against Peyton Robb of Nebraska, O’Connor took an upset loss that could have created doubt for the Tar Heel, but instead, he turned the disappointment into motivation. He won his next 14 matches including victories leading into the ACC tournament. O'Connor, however, was quietly battling an ACL injury, and he ultimately went 1-1 at ACCs with a win over Wade Unger and a loss to Ed Scott

This result gave O'Connor the No. 11 seed at the NCAA tournament, and he ended up taking an opening round loss to The Citadel's Dazjon Casto in sudden victory to move down to the consolation bracket after the first session.

In true warrior fashion, O'Connor battled back, beating Wisconsin's Garrett Model 5-2, Wyoming's Jacob Wright 4-2, Cornell's Hunter Richard 8-1 and then Lehigh's Josh Humphreys in the Blood Round 4-3 to become an All-American. O'Connor was then set to meet Iowa State's David Carr in a battle of former NCAA champions, but the Tar Heel medically forfeited his way out of the tournament.

His heart in those matches though elevated O'Connor's reputation and showed his determination in the face of adversity. O'Connor will be back at 157 pounds this year, but Intermat reported that O'Connor is continuing to recover from his injury and may not start the season in November with the rest of his team. Instead, he's expected to return later in the winter as he continues to heal. Regardless of when the veteran champ takes the mat again, he's certainly a threat at 157 pounds this coming season. The graduation of defending national champion Ryan Deakin also creates an opening at this weight, and while Casto and Robb return, O'Connor is in the mix as someone that could look to finish his career with another title this season at this middle weight. 

14. Trent Hidlay, N.C. State, 184 pounds

Trent Hidlay loves to put on a show, and he’s done just that for the last two years as a star 184-pounder for NC State. The Pennsylvania native burst on the scene as a redshirt freshman, posting a 10-2 record and advancing to the NCAA finals against Aaron Brooks in 2021 where he held the Nittany Lion to just one takedown. Since that match, Hidlay has accumulated a number of accolades including another ACC title, a U23 world team spot, an All-American finish in last year’s NCAA tournament and ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors. He’s proven he’s capable of competing with the best in the weight, and he’s become one of NC State’s most electric wrestlers. 

Hidlay returns to the mat this year an even more experienced star, someone who battled adversity last year but also someone with a track record for pushing through and finding ways to win. In an emotional social media post after his fifth-place performance in last year’s NCAA tournament, Hidlay explained that he battled serious illness through the tournament and, though he wanted more, he felt proud of his tough performance. Expect him to be back in Reynolds Coliseum this season throwing chairs, raising the roof and doing Trent Hidlay things. 

Over the course of Hidlay’s career, his only collegiate losses have been against truly elite wrestlers. He lost to two-time NCAA champion Zahid Valencia, All-American Louie DePrez, All-American Hunter Bolen, NCAA champion Aaron Brooks and NCAA All-American Parker Keckeisen. That’s it. Valencia is the only wrestler to have bonused Hidlay, and Brooks and Keckeisen are the only guys to ever beat Hidlay in an NCAA tournament. Hidlay is a champion-caliber athlete, and if he can stay healthy and maintain his intensity, he’ll be someone in the NCAA title conversation again at 184 pounds. 

15. Patrick Glory, Princeton, 125 pounds

Princeton’s Patrick Glory has been on a mission for the last three years to win a national title at 125 pounds. It’s a goal that drives him every day, and it’s a dream that he nearly accomplished at the end of last season, coming up just short in the 2022 NCAA finals against Michigan’s Nick Suriano. Now, as he prepares his final season with Princeton, Glory is ready to go all in one last time and try to chase down gold in a weight class that has previously been owned by one of the most dominant athletes in college wrestling: Spencer Lee. 

Glory’s quest for a national title began in 2018 when he started his career with the Tigers and posted a 30-7 record his rookie season, finishing sixth in the country and showing the wrestling world that he was ready to compete with the best.

The Princeton star then went undefeated his sophomore season, winning EIWAs and earning the No. 2 seed before the NCAA tournament was cancelled. Glory’s performance earned him distinction as a Hodge Trophy finalist, but the frustration of that cancellation, and the subsequent Ivy League cancellation of the 2021 season meant that Glory had unfinished business.

In 2022, the Tigers and their Ivy League peers returned to a more normal season, and Glory excelled. He beat every single one of his dual-meet foes and notched a key rivalry win against Cornell’s Vito Arujau on Feb. 5 to earn the top seed at the EIWA tournament. Though he would ultimately drop to Arujau by major during the conference finals, Glory delivered revenge in the NCAA semifinals, outsourcing his opponent to 13-5 in his own major decision to book his first trip to the national finals. Glory did not come to the NCAA tournament to finish second in that match, but he said in a previous interview with NCAA.com that he learned important lessons in that match that he expects will move him forward toward his own title this year.

“As you start getting to the very best and the very top, you’re going to have tight matches, you’re going to have close matches,” Glory said. “[It’s about] not getting frustrated when that happens, not getting flustered in not being able to score.” 

Glory will still have to get past Spencer Lee of Iowa, a wrestler he has yet to beat, if he wants to win gold, but Glory is driven and determined, and he’s someone wanting to put on a show in his last run.  

16. Daton Fix, Oklahoma State, 133 pounds

 In his last three NCAA tournament appearances, Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix has been so close, just seconds away, from achieving ultimate glory in college wrestling. He’s at an elite level, and he’s represented the United States on the senior world team, bringing home a silver medal in 2021, but he’s chasing an individual NCAA title. 

Fix has been a leader for the Cowboys since his rookie season when he battled his way to the national finals with a nearly perfect record only to meet Rutgers’ Nick Suriano in a battle of top-tier 133-pounders. The match was back-and-forth, and, for a moment, with just seconds on the clock, Fix looked like he might take home the title. However, Suriano prevailed, and his controversial takedown in sudden victory helped the Scarlet Knight claim gold. Fast forward to 2021 and Fix earned a spot in the finals again, this time against Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State. Once again the match went to overtime, and once again Fix came up just short.

The 2022 tournament resulted in a similar story. Through his entire career, Fix has just four losses, one against Suriano, one against Micky Phillippi and two against Roman Bravo-Young. This nearly perfect record shows just how much Fix has distinguished himself from just about everyone else at 133 pounds. He’s crafty and smart in wrestling, and he’s someone who wrestles with all of his power. The question will be: Can he figure out a way to get past Roman Bravo-Young and win a title of his own? This will be the pivotal topic associated with the Fix storyline all year, and it amplifies the interest in this Oklahoma State superstar.  

 17. Max Dean, Penn State, 197 pounds 

Penn State’s Max Dean has been on quite a journey over his last several seasons in college wrestling, starting his career at Cornell and earning two All-American honors before transferring to Penn State and winning a national title. Throughout this entire duration though, Dean has been a force in the upperweights, and he's not slowing down. In his first season as a college wrestler, Dean posted a 32-6 record and an eighth-place finish, an impressive result for such a young starter.

His sophomore year, though, would prove to be his breakthrough year, as Dean tore through his first few matches of the 2019 NCAA tournament before pulling off one of the biggest upsets of his career by beating Ohio State's Myles Martin 5-4 in the national semifinals. He dropped the title match to Northern Iowa's Drew Foster but returned to that championship stage two years later to finally pick up a championship of his own.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Coming into the 2021-22 season, Dean wasn't necessarily the favorite. He was up a weight class, from 184 to 197, and he had competition. He made noise when he bonused his first six opponents at the start of last season, though close matches with Patrick Brucki, Greg Bulsak and Jacob Cardenas suggested that while Dean could find ways to win, he might not be competing for a Hodge Trophy just yet. A loss to Cameron Caffey of Michigan State in January ended Dean's undefeated run and created questions around the weight class order, but Dean silenced the doubters at the Big Ten tournament by avenging his loss against Caffey and picking up his first Big Ten title. He then continued this trend, wrestling close matches throughout the NCAA tournament but finding a way to win in the finals against Iowa's Jacob Warner. 

Dean is now the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the country at 197 pounds, and he'll hold this title until someone proves otherwise. Part of the particular interest around Dean's career trajectory too is his relationship with Penn State. As a Nittany Lion, Dean won his first title, and he's certainly training with some of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the country, giving him the potential to be even more dominant this year. With great results, comes great interest. 

18. Cole Matthews, Pittsburgh, 141 pounds

Cole Matthews, a 2022 NCAA semifinalist, continues to be underrated in the college wrestling scene despite being ranked No. 1 in Intermat’s preseason ranking. His story is a tale of adversity, persistence and grit, and it’s one that could end with Matthews making a title run this coming season. 

As a freshman, Matthews took the first steps towards his collegiate wrestling goals by putting up a solid 20-9 record and qualifying for the NCAA tournament as a No. 27 seed with a 20-9 record. He missed his chance to compete on the national stage that year because of that COVID cancellation, but this wasn’t the end of the adversity for Matthews. In his sophomore season, Matthews battled an ACL injury that hindered his performance greatly. He managed to qualify for the NCAA tournament and win a match, but he ended the year with a 7-7 record. Matthews' junior year, of course, led to a different story, as the Pitt star came into his own, won the ACC tournament for the first time in his career and became a sensation on the mat. He showed the nation in 2022 the skills he had been harboring for the last two years in the Pitt wrestling room and made himself impossible to ignore as a top-tier name at the weight.

Matthews’ fifth-place finish in last year’s tournament and his record of wins over guys like Olympian Stevan Micic, NCAA finalist Kizhan Clarke and All-American Real Woods suggests that he’s absolutely capable of taking home gold in nine months. He may not have been given the respect he deserved in the past, but this year, he’ll be the name to know and the guy to beat at 141 pounds.  

19. Vito Arujau, Cornell, 125/133 pounds 

Vito Arujau is used to wrestling on the big stage. A four-time state champion in high school, Arujau has competed in Cadet and Junior World Championships, NCAA semifinals and Olympic Trials finals. He's finished on the collegiate national podium twice, and he's been wrestling with the top athletes in the country for years. But now Arujau is ready to win an NCAA title. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Vito Arujau (@varujau_lgr)

In his previous two NCAA tournament appearances, Arujau wrestled at 125 pounds and hit some of the best to ever compete at the weight. He took NCAA tournament losses to Sebastian Rivera and Patrick Glory in 2019 to finish fourth and then dropped to Glory again in 2022 to settle for bronze. In fact, Glory is the only active NCAA wrestler with a win over Vito Arujau. However, Arujau is set to move up to 133 pounds, creating more intrigue around his competition schedule and expectations in 2023. Can he compete with two-time NCAA champion Roman Bravo-Young? He's done it before, in freestyle, and he certainly has the quickness and mat awareness to stay with the Nittany Lion in folkstyle. The last time these two athletes met, Arujau topped Bravo-Young twice in the 2018 U23 World Team Trials, outscoring him 10-0 and 15-4 in dominant fashion. Arujau also also split freestyle matches with NCAA finalist Daton Fix and has a freestyle win over two-time NCAA champion Nick Suriano. In a previous interview with NCAA.com, Arujau noted that he prefers the international style of wrestling, but he's still a dangerous threat in folkstyle, and he's capable of bringing gold back to Ithaca at a new weight this year. Athletes moving up weight classes are always interesting, and Arujau's early matches this year will be ones to watch to gauge where the star is at as the season picks up steam. 

20. Cohlton Schultz, Arizona State, 285 pounds

Cohlton Schultz is an interesting wrestler to watch in general, but his semifinal match against Jordan Wood at the 2022 NCAA wrestling tournament might just be one of the wildest moments of the entire tournament. In one of the last matches of the last session on Friday night, Schultz and Wood took the mat for a standard heavyweight battle. Each wrestler earned one escape point to create a tied match heading into overtime. Then Schultz found another gear. In the tiebreaker, Schultz spun around from underneath Wood for the reversal, and then, after Wood looked to throw him, flipped Wood to his back for the takedown. The move was textbook Schultz and represents everything that makes this wrestler fun to watch. 

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As a Greco-Roman specialist and elite upper-body wrestler, Schultz has been known to move his opponents around with ease and score points when necessary in the past as well. He's a two-time Pac-12 champion, a two-time senior world Greco team member and the Gorriaran Award winner from last season for the most amount of pins at the NCAA tournament in the least amount of time. The biggest thing holding Schultz back from an NCAA title has been Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson, the Minnesota star who beat him 6-2 in the national finals. If Steveson doesn't come back, Schultz will be the top-ranked wrestler at the weight and will look to become Arizona State's first national champion since Zahid Valencia in 2019. 

21. Dean Hamiti, Wisconsin, 165 pounds

Dean Hamiti might just be the most entertaining wrestler to watch at 165 pounds, if not the entire NCAA. Wisconsin’s Hamiti made a name for himself as a true freshman last year, finishing third at the Big Ten tournament and sixth in the NCAA tournament after wins over All-American Peyton Hall, NCAA finalist Jake Wentzel and national qualifiers Julian Ramirez and Drew Nicholson. This Badger star had a breakout season last year and put himself on everyone’s radar, and now he’s set to make noise again in this sophomore season. 

A native of Joliet, Illinois, Hamiti impressed Wisconsin head coach Chris Bono during his high school career with his “unorthodox style of wrestling,” and the young Badger has certainly brought that same approach into his college matches. Hamiti finished last season 28-4 with his only losses coming against 2021 NCAA champion Shane Griffith, three-time Big Ten champion Marinelli and 2022 Big Ten finalist Cam Amine. Griffith and Amine will be back, but Marinelli’s graduation lessens the depth of the weight in the Big Ten and creates an opening for Hamiti to step in and battle with Amine as well as other conference leaders for weight class supremacy. Hamiti could also gain early season experience against elite talent, as the Badgers have scheduled a number of interesting non-conference duals this year, including a November bout against Iowa State where the Wisconsin star could meet 2021 NCAA champion David Carr at 165 pounds. Regardless of who Hamiti is wrestling, his skill set and style make him a wrestler to watch and someone capable of making another deep run in the national tournament come March. 

22. Quincy Monday, Princeton, 165 pounds

Quincy Monday had been building towards his NCAA finals appearance last year for the last three seasons, and, like his Princeton teammate Patrick Glory, the road hasn't been easy. Princeton was hit particularly hard by the COVID disruptions, as they lost both the 2020 postseason and the 2021 season entirely which would have been Monday's sophomore and junior seasons. In his first season with the Tigers, Monday posted a 24-13 record and qualified for the tournament, but his 24-4 sophomore year in the 2020 season showed that he was just scratching the surface of his potential. Monday's run to the finals in 2022 demonstrated just how skilled this athlete was and how much fans missed out by not being able to watch Princeton, as a team, compete in 2021. Now a senior in his final year of eligibility, Monday has a chance to win it all. 

Quincy Monday is no longer an underdog, but he still sees himself that way. The mindset of wanting to prove people wrong is one that both Monday and Glory have embraced, and it's one that motivates them within the Ivy League.

In a previous interview with NCAA.com, Monday said: “I feel like we still have that chip on our shoulder. We really want to go out with a bang and put an exclamation mark on the top of [next] season.” He's now set to join a stacked weight class of 165 pounds that also includes NCAA champions Keegan O'Toole, Shane Griffith and David Carr, but he's not afraid. Monday has been underestimated and underrated because he missed a year of competition due to COVID and because he misses out on some of the hype surrounding matches in conferences like the Big Ten. But make no mistake — Monday's a title contender. Don't doubt him. Instead, get ready to watch Monday take care of his "unfinished business" this year against the best in the country. 

23. Patrick McKee, Minnesota, 125 pounds

Over the past two seasons, Minnesota’s Patrick McKee has developed a reputation as a fighter, a gritty wrestler who refuses to give up and has a knack for winning key consolation matches. His results have been somewhat unpredictable, particularly in the regular season, but McKee is someone who can find a way to win when the pressure is on.

In the 2022 Big Ten tournament and the 2022 NCAA tournament, McKee lost his opening-round match but battled back for a top-five spot, demonstrating his mental toughness and focus.

In the most recent national tournament specifically, McKee took his opening round loss to Caleb Smith of App State before going on a run on the backside of the bracket and beating Travis Mastrogiovanni, Brody Teske, Killian Cardinale, Eric Barnett and Brandon Courtney for fifth place.

Part of what makes McKee so interesting is that he’s never someone to count out — he’s always ready to battle for the next best thing. This perseverance, he said in a previous interview, comes from the experience of wrestling a Big Ten schedule, where every weekend involves a dual against a nationally competitive wrestler. “You're gonna have these ups and downs,” he said in a conversation back in January. “Whether it's emotionally, whether it's physically, whether you're battling some injuries, or whether you lose some matches that you shouldn't lose. A lot of guys let themselves get too hyped up after a win and get too satisfied, so I think that it's super important for me to just stay hungry and keep wanting to improve at every single position.” 

The 125-pound weight class, of course, is dominated by Spencer Lee, but the depth of the weight remains intriguing once again as a number of All-Americans, including McKee, return to battle one another for spots on the podium. McKee comes into the year ranked No. 5, and he has a history of creating chaos in rankings and brackets, so watch out for this Minnesota lightweight to generate disruption at 125 pounds this year, specifically in the postseason. 

24. Greg Kerkvliet, Penn State 285 pounds

Greg Kerkvliet, a two-time All-American for the Penn State Nittany Lions, came into college with significant hype after winning four Minnesota state titles, taking gold at the 2017 Cadet World Championships and earning a silver medal at the 2018 Junior World Championships, all before starting his freshman year. After originally committing to Minnesota, Oklahoma State and then Ohio State, Kerkvliet ultimately found his home with the Nittany Lions and began his quest for collegiate glory as a redshirt freshman in 2020. His 9-0 undefeated season further built interest in the Penn State big man, but 2020 brought added challenges for Kerkvliet including COVID complications and an injury. The young Nittany Lion star would go on to finish that season with a 10-4 record and a seventh-place finish at NCAA, an impressive performance but one that he knew he could improve upon. 

Kerkvliet’s speed and power serve as his biggest assets on the mat, and he flexed those strengths early in his sophomore campaign, winning nine of his first 11 matches of the year by bonus and rising up the heavyweight rankings in a year when the weight class was particularly deep.

A 7-2 loss to Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi ended Kerkvliet’s undefeated streak, but he rebounded with wins over Rider’s David Szuba and All-Americans Christian Lance and Tate Orndorff before dropping to Cassioppi again in the Big Ten tournament.

At the NCAA tournament though, Kerkvliet outpaced his Hawkeye foe, finishing fourth after wins over Brandon Metz, Orndorff, Lance and Mason Parris, despite a loss to Olympic champion Gable Steveson in the semifinals of that tournament. With Steveson potentially out of the mix at heavyweight this year, though, Kerkvliet has a chance to win it all. He’ll have to be ready to compete against Cohlton Schultz, the Arizona State Greco star and 2022 NCAA finalist whom he lost to 14-8 in their only meeting, but Kerkvliet is getting better every day while training in one of the best wrestling rooms in the country. The Nittany Lions also have a track record for putting big men on the top of the podium. Will Kerkvliet be the latest star to earn this honor? 

25. Real Woods, Iowa, 141 pounds

Real Woods always wanted to go to Stanford. He wanted to compete for the Cardinal, and he wanted to win national titles. Woods verbally committed to Stanford in summer 2017 and wrestled his first match for the Cardinal in November of 2019, posting a win against Jacob Atkins and starting a roller coaster of a career the young Woods could not have predicted. As a redshirt freshman, the young star attracted attention quickly. He won the Princeton Open, the California Collegiate Open, the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Open and the National Collegiate Open, with his only loss of the year coming against eventual two-time NCAA Nick Lee in the Southern Scuffle finals. The hype was building around Real Woods, and everything looks like it was going according to his plan. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Real Woods (@realvvoods)

Woods similarly put together an impressive resume in the 2019-20 season, winning his first Pac-12 title and heading into the NCAA tournament as the No. 3 season with his lone loss of the year coming against Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher. COVID, of course, ended that tournament before Woods could even wrestle a match.

He planned to return to Stanford and try to chase glory the following year, only to find out that Stanford planned to cut the program following the 2021 season. Despite COVID and the threat of the program being cancelled, Woods persisted through the 2020-2021 year but just missed the podium at NCAAs that season, finishing the Blood Round after a loss to Clay Carlson.

His improvement to an All-American spot and a sixth-place finish would have been enough to make Woods an interesting wrestler to watch in 2022-23, but then, he added more intrigue to his story when he announced his plans to transfer to Iowa following his early graduation from Stanford. Now Woods will be a Hawkeye, filling a spot left behind by NCAA finalist and fellow transfer wrestler Jaydin Eierman. He’ll have the chance to be part of an Iowa squad looking for a team title, and he’ll have two more chances to work towards fulfilling his childhood dream of winning an NCAA title, even if he’s wearing a different singlet than he might have planned. The Real Woods story is ongoing, but every chapter continues to be interesting. 

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