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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | November 11, 2022

3 can't-miss wrestling duals to watch this weekend

The most exciting college wrestlers to watch this season

After an action-packed first weekend of dual action, college wrestling matches continue, starting on Friday, Nov. 11 when the No. 1 Penn State Nittany Lions make their season debut at home against Lock Haven. The Blue and White always put on a show, and while their season opener will answer some questions about the strength of their freshman and the depth of this new lineup, there are a number of other ranked matches this weekend that also warrant attention.

These are the three additional duals you won’t want to miss this weekend:

Friday, November 11, 7 p.m. ET: No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech

The Ohio State Buckeyes have become known for top consistent performances at the NCAA tournament, routinely earning team trophies and putting athletes on the podium, if not in the NCAA finals. After finishing in a disappointing 9th place in last year’s NCAA tournament, however, the Ohio State Buckeyes have rebuilt and reloaded better than ever, filling their roster with members of the No. 1 high school recruiting class in the country and leveraging senior leadership from their All-Americans. Head coach Tom Ryan’s squad comes into Week 2 ranked No. 4 in the country after roaring through the Michigan State Open last weekend, and this team will have a fun next test in another top-ten team looking for bragging rights: the Virginia Tech Hokies.

The most intriguing factor in the Buckeye lineup right now is No. 11 Jesse Mendez at 133 pounds, as the true freshman made his collegiate debut last weekend with a 4-0 performance at the Michigan State Open highlighted by a win over All-American Lucas Byrd in the finals. Mendez’s performance pushed him from unranked in the national standings all the way to the Top 15, but he’ll have another All-American challenge this weekend in Sam Latona. Up at 133 pounds for the first time in his career, Latona is a tough wrestler, but one who has struggled recently and is looking for a breakout season up a weight. Mendez, despite his age, has the edge on paper, but Virginia Tech will need Latona to find another gear and keep the Hokies in this battle if they want to avoid an early points deficit against the Bucks.

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The Bucks also have a freshman potentially taking the mat at 157 pounds as Paddy Gallagher is listed as Ohio State's ranked starter for the season. Gallagher spent last year in redshirt, building hype for his varsity debut, and he’s already impressed in collegiate competition this season. He comes into this dual with a 4-1 record on the season, following wins over Jaxon Garoutte, Daniel Segura, Anthony Gibson and Corbyn Munson at the Michigan State Open. His next potential match against Virginia Tech's All-American Bryce Andonian will allow him to test himself against someone who is even a tier above Gallagher’s previous competition, as Andonian finished fourth in last year’s NCAA tournament and is known for his big moves and funky style. Andonian will be one of the few Hokies coming into his bout with the edge over his opponent on paper, and bonus points here might be essential for Virginia Tech to stay competitive.

Ohio State has the advantage in this dual on paper at 125, 133, 149, 165, 184, 197 and 285, meaning that this could be a one-sided contest, but the Hokies are strong, and they have a few weapons in their lineup who could put up some points. Freshman No. 25 Eddie Ventresca at 125 pounds is new to the collegiate scene, as are No. 16 Tom Crook and No. 27 Caleb Henson at 141 and 149 pounds, but all took home titles last weekend at the Southeast Open, demonstrating their talents and their potential for points. Of these three young stars, Henson will have the toughest task ahead of him, as he’ll likely face No. 2 NCAA finalist Sammy Sasso in his bout, and Sasso has the potential to put up a bonus here if he can find his famous cradle and put Henson on his back.

Between these two teams, fans could see upwards of 19 ranked wrestlers on the mat, a true treat so early in the season. Virginia Tech will also likely field the only former NCAA champion across the two lineups, as the Hokies have No. 2 Mekhi Lewis slotted to make his dual debut for the year against another top-ten opponent in No. 6 Ethan Smith. Lewis will be favored in this bout, but, of all of the ranked matches in the dual, this is the one you won’t want to miss. Smith earned All-American honors in 2021 and absolutely has the potential to be a high podium finisher again this year in a weight that has been owned by Lewis and Penn State’s Carter Starocci for the last three years.

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Smith’s teammate Kaleb Romero will also have a top-ten opponent in No. 9 Hunter Bolen up at 184 pounds, and both of these athletes have earned All-American honors in the past, with Romero finishing sixth last year and Bolen finishing seventh in 2021. Ohio State has top-15 wrestlers at 197 pounds and 285 pounds too, so if Virginia Tech wants to slow Buckeye momentum and compete, an upset at 184 pounds might be critical. Romero, however, is not an easy athlete to get past.

This dual really has must-watch action across all ten weight classes though, making it an ideal early match to start off another big weekend of college wrestling.

Saturday, November 12, p.m.: No. 11 Oklahoma State vs. No. 14 Lehigh

This year’s matchup between Lehigh and Oklahoma State represents a meeting of two historic powerhouses, two programs with legendary histories hoping to climb back to elite status in an era of college wrestling that has come to be dominated by the Big Ten.

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Oklahoma State head coach John Smith has been public with the media about the program’s rebuild, but there are reasons for Cowboy fans to be optimistic this year. The team returns several All-Americans including NCAA finalist Daton Fix, No. 14 Wyatt Sheets, No. 4 Dustin Plott and No. 15 Travis Wittlake, and Fix has the potential to break through and ultimately win a title this year if he wrestles at his best. Cowboy national qualifiers No. 7 Trevor Mastrogiovanni and No. 10 Carter Young also sit in good positions right now to potentially score some points at NCAAs, but, before then, of course, they’ll have to face tough Mountain Hawks, and both Mastrogiovanni and Young have good, quality opponents at their weights this weekend. Mastrogiovanni will likely start the dual for Oklahoma State, taking on Lehigh freshman Carter Bailey, a newcomer who is 1-1 on the year after beating Mike Manta of Sacred Heart and taking a close loss to All-American Brandon Kaylor.

Young will similarly have a solid opponent in NCAA qualifier Malyke Hines, though Young will be favored and in a position to add another win to his resume and kickstart his second season as Oklahoma State's guy at 141 pounds. Hines comes into this match with a 1-1 record after bumping up to 141 pounds following two seasons at 133 pounds. He's finished as high as the Round of 16 in his career and will want to move forward in the national bracket this year. Young is a good test for him this early in the season.

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Speaking of tests, Lehigh's Tate Samuelson will have quite the potential matchup himself up at 184 pounds as he takes on a Cowboy opponent who jumped two weight classes in the offseason but has earned All-American honors in the past. Travis Wittlake, a former 165-pounder and staple in the Cowboy lineup, will take on the Wyoming transfer in Samuelson for his first bout up at the new weight, and he'll be aiming to start his season undefeated. Wittlake struggled at the end of last season, failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament, but he's back now and ready to roll against the Mountain Hawks.

This 184-pound match is the weight to watch in this dual because of the storylines associated with each of these two guys who will aim to be All-Americans at the end of the year, though the highest-ranked matchup is actually at 157. No. 14 Wyatt Sheets, a No. 33 seed in the 2021 NCAA tournament who came back to finish on the podium, is set to take on No. 9 Josh Humphreys in a good top-15 bout that Lehigh will need to win. The Mountain Hawks are favored in five weights: 157, 165, 184, 197 and 285. Victories in all five of those bouts could lead Lehigh to success in the dual and continue their winning ways, but Oklahoma State has a high bonus potential at 133 with Daton Fix and certainly potential for an upset at 157 and 184. While the Cowboys have the rankings advantage right now, both these teams have intriguing athletes who could compete this weekend and create more shakeups.

Saturday, November 12, 5 p.m.: No. 17 Nebraska vs. No. 8 N.C. State

This weekend also marks an important moment for the Nebraska Huskers in a season that did not start the way the Big Red would have wanted. While their fellow Big Ten counterpart Ohio State made headlines for success at the Michigan State Open last weekend, the Huskers earned attention for a different reason. The team suffered a tough, early-season, non-conference loss to North Dakota State last weekend 20-16, but these guys will have a chance to get back on track now against Army and N.C. State this weekend. The N.C. State, dual, in particular, offers a fun chance for another ACC-Big Ten battle, and Nebraska has a solid chance for an upset over the always aggressive, always entertaining Wolfpack.

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Leading the way for Nebraska heading into this dual is No. 3 Mikey Labriola, a three-time podium finisher and a title threat at 174 pounds. Labriola comes into the bout 1-0 on the year with a victory over Gaven Sax of the Bison, and he’ll likely take on an unranked Wolfpack opponent in a dual where he’ll want to earn bonus before the Pack roll out their series of ranked upperweights. N.C. State’s No. 3 Trent Hidlay, No. 18 Isaac Trumble and No. 24 Owen Trephan will all be expected to win at 184, 197 and 285, giving the Pack a nice buffer of potential points at the end of the dual, though the lineup of lightweights will have a tough challenge ahead against the Huskers. Nebraska has ranked veteran athletes at 125 and 133 in No. 18 Liam Cronin and No. 26 Boo Dryden who have the potential to build the momentum that Nebraska is needing after last week’s loss to North Dakota, and starting the dual with two wins could be key for the Huskers. N.C. State has a slight edge of 141 pounds in No. 20 Ryan Jack, but neither team has ranked wrestlers at 149 now that Ridge Lovett has elected to redshirt, though 157 pounds is a different story.

If this dual starts at 125, expect Nebraska to take an early lead and N.C. State to fight for point at 133 or 141 and potentially even 149 before setting up another top-ten battle between No. 6 Ed Scott of N.C. State and No. 4 Peyton Robb at 157. Nebraska’s Robb comes into the dual with slightly more credentials, as a fourth-place finisher in last year’s tournament, but Scott’s been on an upward trajectory since he arrived at N.C. State in 2020, and he finished in the Round of 12 last year. The last time these two athletes met, Robb pinned Scott in the second period, and both athletes enter this next meeting fresh off big wins from their duals last weekend. The result in this bout could be influenced by the momentum of the dual, but regardless of the outcome, these two athletes, and their respective teams as a whole, will surely put up a good fight.

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