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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | November 7, 2022

Jesse Mendez leads a freshmen wave in wrestling's opening weekend

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The opening weekend of the 2022-2023 college wrestling season brought everything fans love: crazy upsets, top-tier talent, elite matchups and wild bouts.

Here are three key highlights from the first weekend of the season, as well as some analysis and predictions about upcoming duals you need to know heading into another week of action.

Young stars rose to the occasion

With every new season comes an influx of new talent, and this year is no exception. Young stars sent a message to the country that age is not an inhibitor. The NCAA’s new redshirt rules will make tracking these newcomers particularly interesting, and at least a few true freshmen will likely earn the permanent starting spots for their teams as matches continue.

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One of those dangerous young athletes who will likely not only start for his team but also compete for a podium spot is none other than the No. 1 pound-for-pound high school recruit from the Class of 2022, Jesse Mendez. A true freshman for the Buckeyes, Mendez made his collegiate debut this weekend at the Michigan State Open and roared through the early part of his 133-pound bracket. He beat Wilfried Tanefeu of Michigan by tech fall and then pinned ​​Cody Moosman in the second period. Haiden Drury of Utah Valley held Mendez to a decision but still couldn’t put up a single point against the quick and strong Buckeye.

In his most competitive match of the day, Ohio State’s Mendez took out two-time All-American Lucas Byrd of Illinois 3-2 on a third-period takedown in the finals of the tournament, solidifying himself as the champion of his bracket and certainly moving himself into the national rankings.

Mendez was one of eight Buckeyes to win a Michigan State Open title over the weekend, as Malik Heinselman, Sammy Sasso, Ethan Smith, Kaleb Romero, Brendan McCrone, Nic Bouzakis and Luke Geog also won their respective weight classes.

McCrone, Bouzakis and Geog competed in the freshman/sophomore division, as opposed to the Open division, but their success, and their dominance, suggest a positive future for these Buckeyes.

Ohio State started the year with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, and while the team also has a number of returning All-Americans and national qualifiers at 125, 141, 149, 165, 174, 184, 197 and 285, this new crop of stars adds even more depth to this dangerous Big Ten program.

Ohio State, however, wasn’t the only team that saw impressive performances from freshmen athletes over the weekend.

Virginia Tech ended the weekend with four freshmen and redshirt freshmen champions at the Southeastern Open with three of those athletes earning their titles in the Open division as redshirt Eddie Ventresca took control of 125 pounds, Tom Crook earned the top spot at 141 pounds and Caleb Henson won at 149 pounds.

Ventresca beat his teammate Cooper Flynn in the lightest weight, suggesting he’ll likely be the guy to slot in for All-American Sam Latona at 125 pounds now that the veteran has moved up to 133 pounds. Crook and Henson also look to be starters this year, increasing the strength of a Hokie team that consistently challenges for the top spot in the ACC.

Princeton and Pittsburgh also walked away from their first weekend of wrestling with freshmen Open champions, as Kole Mulhauser won his 174-pound bracket at the Princeton Open, and Maclane Stout claimed the top spot in the 197-pound bracket at the Clarion Open. Mulhauser is expected to start this year for the Tigers, while Stout will likely redshirt as 2021 NCAA finalist Nino Bonaccorsi holds down the spot for his final season at Pittsburgh.

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In dual action, the Iowa State Cyclones also debuted several new faces in the lineup this weekend in their bouts against Little Rock, Campbell and Wisconsin, and two freshmen in particular helped elevate the Cyclones to a perfect record on the weekend. At 141 pounds, Iowa State true freshman Casey Swiderski notched victories against NCAA qualifiers Shannon Hanna and Joe Zargo, while teammate Paniro Johnson put up a similarly impressive performance with victories over Little Rock’s Joe Bianchi and Wisconsin’s 2022 Big Ten Champion Austin Gomez.

Cyclone freshmen Jacob Frost and MJ Gaitan also notched wins against Little Rock at 141 and 174 pounds respectively. The Cyclones will take on California Baptist next weekend, a team that ended its weekend 1-1 after a victory over Vanguard and a loss to Cal Poly, and Swiderski and Johnson will be expected to continue their success through this next non-conference dual.

North Dakota State’s win over Nebraska highlights the depth of the Big 12

Iowa State’s win wasn’t the only upset victory from a Big 12 team over the weekend. North Dakota State also made headlines with a narrow victory over No. 8 Nebraska. The Huskers started the year as a team that could compete for a top-four trophy in March, though they’ll need all of their starters in the lineup to make that goal a reality, and this early season loss to the Bison slows their momentum.

Nebraska did notch victories in the first two matches of the night as Liam Cronin and Boo Dryden both kicked off their season as ranked athletes with victories, but the Bison started taking control at 141 and 149 pounds behind wins from Dylan Droegemueller and Michael Weber at 141 and 149.

The absence of 2022 NCAA finalist Ridge Lovett at 149 pounds hurt the Huskers, but Nebraska All-American Peyton Robb kept his team ahead with a crucial ranked win at 157 pounds over last year’s Elite 90 Award winner Jared Franek. Robb is a title threat this year, and his win over No. 9 Franek is a good sign of things to come, though, on Friday, his team needed bonus points from their veteran star.

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North Dakota State took control of the dual after a pin from Michael Caliendo at 165 pounds, and, despite Husker wins from Mikey Labriola and Silas Afred, the Bison ultimately were too much for Nebraska to handle.

A tech fall from DJ Parker put six more points on the board for North Dakota State, and Juan Mora sealed the deal with a 2-1 decision over No. 28 Cale Davidson.

North Dakota State will compete next in the Bison Open while the Huskers will take on Army and N.C. State next weekend in two duals that will once again challenge Nebraska but could also be opportunities for wins that would put the team back on track.

Lehigh and Maryland start the year undefeated after multiple Week 1 wins

The North Dakota State dual brought some early excitement to a big weekend of college wrestling, and Lehigh kept the intrigue going, as the Mountain Hawks battled to a gritty 20-13 win over No. 19 Oregon State on Saturday afternoon in Pennsylvania.

This was a dual Lehigh was expected to win on paper, but the Beavers have been steadily improving and brought a dangerous lineup to Grace Hall for the matchup, creating added intensity.

Ultimately though, veteran No. 10 Josh Humphreys set the tone for his team with a technical fall over No. 30 Isaiah Crosby and helped elevate the Mountain Hawks to victory.

Humphreys’ definitive win over a ranked opponent is a good sign for the senior, as he continues his career-long quest to finish on the podium in an NCAA championships. The middleweight EIWA champ has long been a staple of this program, and he’ll look to end his career as an All-American at the 2022-2023 season.

Lehigh has just one All-American on the roster right now, Penn State transfer Michael Beard, and Beard earned a tough decision win in his first match as a Mountain Hawk against fellow transfer wrestler Tanner Harvey of Oregon State.

Teammates Max Brignola, Jake Logan, Nathan Taylor and Connor McGonagle added critical wins of their own in this top-20 dual.

Beard, Brignola, Logan and Humphreys all also won, and won with bonus points, in Lehigh’s 44-0 shutout win over Sacred Heart later in the weekend. Malyke Hines, Brian Meyer, Tate Samuelson, Elijah Jones and Carter Bailey added bonus points of their own in that matchup as well. Lehigh is one of the few teams in the Top 25 with ranked athletes at every weight class, and the Mountain Hawks will aim to put as many of those athletes as possible on the podium in March.

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While the Lehigh Mountain Hawks have finished in the top 25 for 19 of the last 25 years, another team on the East Coast is looking to make its way into the rankings discussion for the first time in over a decade. The Maryland Terrapins, a Big Ten program that has struggled as of late, started its year strong with a powerful 3-0 performance following wins over Duke, American and Bloomsburg in College Park on Saturday.

The Duke victory, which came by way of a 37-0 shutout, marked the program’s first shutout since 2014 when the Terps topped Johns Hopkins 49-0, and the performance showed positive improvements across all ten weight classes.

Maryland will be aiming for its first Big Ten wrestling win in school history this season, and with the country’s eighth-best recruiting class finally taking the mat, head coach Alex Clemsen looks to have the necessary components of a stronger Big Ten team. Redshirt freshmen Jaxon Smith and Ethan Miller were particularly impressive over the weekend, notching bonus points in all three of their matches. This squad is gritty and tough, but their schedule will only get more difficulty as the season continues.

In addition to Maryland and Lehigh, the Air Force Falcons, VMI Keydets, Indiana Hoosiers, Citadel Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers and N.C. State Wolfpack also notched dual victories this year to start their season undefeated.

The first part of the season is always filled with fun, unexpected results, but these teams have weathered the storm of the first week and will head into the next set of duals with high confidence and enthusiasm.

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