Here’s a look ahead at some of the interesting storylines still to come and athletes to watch that may have been under the radar at the start of the year:
Southern Scuffle features another slate of top-tier matchups
The annual Southern Scuffle held in Chattanooga, TN is the best way to start the new year.
MIDLANDS & SOLDIER SALUTE: Here are the key results from the other major winter tournaments
This season, nearly two dozen teams are competing in this southern event with the hopes of picking up some individual-ranked wins and setting themselves up for a strong second half of the year. The Missouri Tigers won this event in 2022, but with the absence of former Scuffle champs Keegan O’Toole and Rocky Elam, the Tigers will have a harder time defending their crown. They’ll be pushed most intensely by fellow Big 12 foe, Oklahoma State, as the Cowboys bring a number of ranked wrestlers and national qualifiers to the mat including three-time NCAA runner-up Daton Fix and All-Americans Travis Wittlake, Dustin Plott and Wyatt Sheets.
On an individual level, Stanford’s Shane Griffith will start the year looking for his second career Scuffle title at 165 pounds while Northern Colorado’s Andrew Alirez works to win his first crown in Chattanooga following a hot start to the season for the veteran Bear wrestler. The Scuffle always brings great storylines and exciting bouts, and this year will be no different. But the excitement doesn’t end when the finals are over on January 2. The rest of the wrestling season brings even more intrigue and interest and teams begin preparing for conference duals and peaking for the postseason.
The rise of Iowa State expected to continue behind strong freshmen and stellar leadership
The Iowa State Cyclones have been one of the biggest stories of the season thus far, as they came out of the gates on fire with dominant wins over Little Rock, Campbell and, most notably No. 11 Wisconsin. The team has no fear and no doubts. Led by NCAA champion David Carr and All-Americans Marcus Coleman and Yonger Bastida, the Cyclones gave the Iowa Hawkeyes everything they had during the annual Cy-Hawk dual, winning five matches and finishing within three points of the 2021 NCAA champion Hawks.
FRESHMAN IMPRESS: Casey Swiderski and Paniro Johnson stood out from Week 1
Iowa State’s freshmen have also been particularly impressive and have given this team an extra boost in duals against other top-five programs, allowing the Cyclones to rise to No. 4 in the NWCA rankings. At 141 pounds, new Cyclone Casey Swiderski made early headlines for his wins over Joe Zargo and Shannon Hanna, but it’s his grit and fearlessness that really define this wrestler and make him so dangerous. Against Iowa’s All-American Real Woods, Swiderski wrestled with the kind of confidence and fierceness needed to compete against a rival program in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. While Woods prevailed 4-2, Swiderski avoided giving up a takedown and he made sure Woods knew that this rivalry wasn’t over.
Swiderski’s teammate, 149-pounder Paniro Johnson might just be the breakout athlete of the year. After beating Wisconsin’s Austin Gomez during opening weekend, Johnson then topped Max Murin of Iowa in the Cy-Hawk to build the hype around himself and his program. In a highly-anticipated match against three-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis, Johnson suffered a 3-1 loss in overtime, but he showed he could compete with the champ. He then notched a solid win over Penn State freshman phenom Shayne Van Ness to reassert himself as one of the best guys in the weight. Johnson will be fun to watch as the season progresses, and knowing that he’s training in the same room as Swiderski, Carr, Coleman and Bastida should make the rest of 149 pounds even more worried.
More potential for upsets as all ten weights remain deep
While Johnson and Swiderksi have shaken up the already volatile 141 and 149-pound weight classes, upsets have been rampant across all ten weights already this season. Three NCAA champions — Diakomihalis, Aaron Brooks and Max Dean — have all taken losses, as have a number of NCAA finalists and All-Americans, sending shockwaves through the wrestling world and highlighting the depth of the field this year. Diakomihalis’ loss was the first major upset of the year, and he lost in reasonably convincing fashion to Wisconsin’s Gomez, causing Diakomihalis to start his season 0-1 for the first time in his career.
GOMEZ TAKES DOWN NO.1: Here's how the Wisconsin All-American topped Yianni Diakomihalis
Dean’s losses came next, as he dropped back-to-back bouts against Ethan Laird of Rider and Michael Beard of Lehigh. Dean has since returned to form, knocking off Iowa State’s Bastida as well as Max Shaw of North Carolina, Tanner Harvey of Oregon State and Cameron Wood of Central Michigan. He’ll have a string of tough opponents coming up next though, starting with Wisconsin’s Braxton Amos on January 6th and continuing the following weekend with a potential rematch against Michigan State’s Cameron Caffey on January 22, the only athlete who beat Dean in the 2021-2022 season.
Max Dean takes out Yonger Bastida 3-1. Iowa State forced to FF at HWT and Penn State will take the win pic.twitter.com/y19YPzoPfK— Wrestling on Rokfin (@rokfinwrestle) December 21, 2022
While Dean’s losses were surprising, the fact that his teammate and fellow national champion Aaron Brooks took a loss so early in this year’s season is even more shocking. Brooks has lost just three times in his entire collegiate career, once to All-American Taylor Venz in rookie season, once to NCAA finalist Myles Amine in the Big Ten finals last year, and once last month against Coleman. Brooks and Dean will be expected to bounce back stronger than ever, and their Penn State coaches have a strong track record of having their athletes ready to go in March when the lights are the brightest. Diakomihalis is in a similar situation, and as he continues to shift his focus back to folkstyle, he’ll likely still be the favorite heading into the spring. But these upsets do add excitement to the field and show that anyone is beatable on any given day. Can another wrestler upset a different NCAA champ? What will be the next major upset? If 2023 is anything like 2022, expect a year full of surprises.
No. 2 Iowa battles No. 1 Penn State on January 27
Speaking of 2022 Nittany Lion National champs, the Penn State team will have a number of notable duals this year leading up to the national championship, but none more so than the highly-anticipated matchup against the Iowa Hawkeyes, the 2021 NCAA champions. Both teams boast at least nine ranked wrestlers, with depth at multiple weights, and each squad has at least one national champion in the lineup who will be expected to score big and score often. Iowa, of course, is led by three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee who has teched or pinned both Penn State wrestlers he’s competed against so far in his career. Lee’s health is always a concern, and he hasn’t wrestled a full schedule yet this year, but he said in an interview with the Des Moines Register’s Cody Goodwin that he wants to compete, particularly if his team needs his points, and the Penn State matchup will no doubt be one of those situations. With Penn State’s Gary Steen, Lee will again be looking for the fall or the tech, and he’ll need all the points he can get to keep Iowa in this one.
PENN STATE SCHEDULE: Complete breakdown, analysis of the Nittany Lion dual schedule
Penn State’s dangerous lineup of returning champs at 133 pounds, 174, 184 and 197 pounds will pose a challenge for the Hawks, even though Iowa does have tough athletes at each of those weights. At 133 pounds, Nittany Lion two-time champ Roman Bravo-Young could look for bonus against either of Iowa’s options at that weight, Brody Teske or Cullan Schriever, though they are both national qualifier-caliber athletes. Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks will likely want similarly dominant results against Iowa’s Nelson Brands and Abe Assad at 184 pounds, and, given that this dual is at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, the crowd will be in Blue and White cheering their guys to those extra points. Iowa’s best chance for an upset of one of Penn State’s returning champs comes at 197 pounds, where Iowa’s Jacob Warner has kept matches close against new Nittany Lion Max Dean in the past. Warner has yet to beat Dean, but if Iowa is going to pull off the upset against Penn State, the Hawks will need to flip some expected results.
Campbell vs. App State rivalry adds more heat to the Southern Conference
While the Hawks and the Nittany Lions may be the stars of the show on the weekend of the 27th, another rivalry dual will take place the following day, one that will pit two North Carolina schools against each other with Southern Conference pride on the line. The App State Mountaineers, currently ranked No. 24 in the country, made news earlier this year when they pulled off a huge win over the higher-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels just before the holiday, beating their in-state foes 19-16 in Chapel Hill. The win marked App’s second win over Carolina in seven years and demonstrated just how far the program has come recently under the leadership of longtime head coach John Mark Bentley.
“@appstate is a wrestling school.”— Shannon Scovel (@ShannonScovel) December 16, 2022
That’s what @CoachJMBentley told me this summer when I profiled his team for @NCAAWrestling & that’s what his athletes just proved again today. Big ranked road W for @AppWrestling. This is a team to follow!
Read more ➡️ https://t.co/JgSz4FS8x6 https://t.co/4et70T1ROC
The rise of the Mountaineers along with the growth and improvement of their conference rival Campbell has made North Carolina such a fun collegiate wrestling state, and the intensity surrounding the upcoming Campbell vs. App State dual will certainly be something to look forward to in 2023.
APP STATE WRESTLING: App State and Jon Jon Millner build a strong wrestling resume in NC
The Mountaineers take on the Camels on February 19, and these two teams have split their last several meetings. Take a look at the scores from the last ten rivalry duals:
|February 13, 2022||APP STATE||19-13|
|January 23, 2021||CAMPBELL||21-17|
|February 13, 2020||CAMPBELL||20-13|
|January 20, 2019||CAMPBELL||19-17|
|January 25, 2018||APP STATE||18-12|
|December 14, 2016||APP STATE||24-13|
|January 6, 2016||APP STATE||28-12|
|January 11, 2015||APP STATE||50-3|
|January 10, 2014||CAMPBELL||26-15|
|January 15 2013||APP STATE||16-15|
N.C. State striving towards a fifth consecutive ACC title
App State and Campbell will once again battle each other in a recently more competitive Southern Conference, while another North Carolina team, the N.C. State Wolfpack, will work to defend their ACC title once again. The Pack have fought with the Virginia Tech Hokies for the last several seasons, going back and forth in the dual but finding a way to win the conference at the end of the year for the last four seasons. Led by head coach Pat Popolizio, N.C. State has been a notable national team for years, and while they look to be just outside the top-four trophy teams right now at No. 6, this is a program that can make some noise in Tulsa if they perform to their potential. National finalist Trent Hidlay paces this team at 184 pounds, but 197-pounder Isaac Trumble, 141-pounder Ryan Jack and 157-pounder Ed Scott all have the potential to be All-Americans this season as well.
The Hokies will once again look to challenge N.C. State at the conference level, and Tech nearly topped the Ohio State Buckeyes to start the year as well, showing off just how strong this ACC program can be. The Pack, though, are currently undefeated on the year with notable wins over No. 17 Nebraska, and No. 20 Lehigh, No. 22 UNI, No. 24 App State, No. 25 Cal Poly. Depth defines this N.C. State team, and while Virginia Tech may have more All-Americans in their lineup currently with Sam Latona, Hunter Bolen, Mekhi Lewis and Bryce Andonian, the Pack match up well and have a squad that can push for another conference title.
Oklahoma works towards its first potential Bedlam win in nearly 10 years
Rivalries are always fun, whether it’s Penn State vs. Iowa, Appalachian State vs. Campbell or N.C. State vs. Virginia Tech, but few rivalries have the kind of history that Bedlam does. Dating back to the 1920s, Bedlam pits Oklahoma against Oklahoma State typically twice a year, and while the results have been lopsided for almost the entire last decade in favor of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the Sooners never back down and always come to the mat fired up for battle.
The first Bedlam bout of the season occurred on December 11, with Oklahoma State taking the win 21-15, but these teams will meet again on February 16 for a rematch that will once again give Oklahoma a shot at the team that has bested them as of late. In the first Bedlam dual this season, Oklahoma pushed the Cowboys, winning 125 pounds, 141 pounds, 149 pounds, 165 pounds, and 285 pounds. The dual started at heavyweight, with an Oklahoma decision win from No. 18 Josh Heindselman, and the Sooners had the dual tied up 15-15 heading into 197 pounds. The problem for Oklahoma was that Luke Surber, OSU's starter who cut down after wrestling at heavyweight last year, was just too strong for No. 30 Keegan Moore of the Sooners, so Surber's first-period period over Moore sealed the deal for the Cowboys.
If Oklahoma flips just one of these matches and avoid the fall, the Sooners could notch the win in this upcoming match, a result which would send the Big 12 rankings into a frenzy and create a lot of interest and excitement within the conference. From Oklahoma State's perspective, the Cowboys will want to see more bonus points from their lineup as a whole to avoid being in the situation they were in in the last dual. No. 2 Daton Fix majored his opponent, while Suber, of course, secured the pin and All-American Dustin Plott notched a major as well, but All-American Travis Wittlake needed overtime for a match where he too should be looking to put up more team points. Kaden Gfeller also came two points shy of bonus, so while Oklahoma is very much in the mix in this dual, a few additional team points from the Cowboys could have made this dual a little less close in the box score.
Iowa State currently paces both Oklahoma programs in the Big 12 in the conference in the national rankings with Missouri in second, but a win over the Cowboys could squeeze Oklahoma back into the Top 25 and make this conference race even more fascinating. Oklahoma State, however, will want to do whatever it can to avoid giving up a rare Bedlam loss.
Daton Fix aims to earn an NCAA title after finishing second during the last three seasons
The Oklahoma State Cowboys have a long history of wrestling success that extends even beyond their Bedlam wins, as they own the greatest number of NCAA wrestling titles in history with 34. This history inspires athletes and recruits, and for Oklahoma natives, there’s something particularly special about representing the Orange and Black.
COWBOY CHAMPS: Complete list of Oklahoma State's 34 NCAA wrestling titles
One of those homegrown wrestlers, Daton Fix, has come so close to bringing home an individual national title for his Cowboys in his four seasons with Oklahoma State but has fallen just short in his last three efforts. Fix, a distinguished freestyle wrestler with an impressive resume, advanced to the national finals as a redshirt freshman, only to drop to Rutgers’ Nick Suriano in overtime. The following year, the scene played out almost the exact same way for Fix. He ran through his conference schedule, won the Big 12, earned the top seed at NCAAs and once again fell in overtime, this time to Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young. Flash forward a year, and Fix is once again facing Bravo-Young in the finals, and once again losing in close fashion to the Nittany Lion.
Bravo-Young is back again this year and chasing his third national title while Fix looks for his first NCAA championship. Is this the year the Cowboy figures out his Penn State foe? Oklahoma State would love to have another individual champion to add to its list of national winners, and Fix has the skills necessary to make that happen, but he’ll have to overcome the mental and physical barrier of potentially wrestling one of the fastest, slickest guys in the NCAA in Bravo-Young if he hopes to accomplish this goal.
Princeton hopes to crown its first champ since 1951
Much like Fix, Princeton’s Patrick Glory and Quincy Monday know what it feels like to come up just short. These two Tiger finalists at 125 pounds and 157 pounds nearly achieved their collegiate goals as well in 2022 at the NCAA tournament, but both athletes lost in their final bouts, with Glory dropping 5-3 to Michigan’s Nick Suriano and Monday falling 9-2 to Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin.
PRINCETON WRESTLING: Glory and Monday elevate the Tigers to new heights
Now back for their senior seasons, Glory and Monday have one last change to make history for the Princeton Tigers. This Ivy program, while on the rise, has not had a national champion since 1951, and these two athletes would like to break that streak. Monday's in an ideal position to make that dream a reality in particular, as he's currently the top-ranked wrestler at 157 pounds. With last year's champion Ryan Deakin out of the mix this year, Monday will still have some competition from All-Americans Peyton Robb, Bryce Andonian, Austin O'Connor and Brayton Lee, but he's the man to beat right now. Monday also showed at Midlands that he could go up to 165 pounds and potentially be just as dangerous, as he recently beat Wisconsin All-American Dean Hamiti to capture the tournament title at the heavier weight. This versatility and strength gives Monday options, but it also sends a message to the athletes in both weight classes — 157 and 165 — that Monday is strong, fast and here to make some noise.
MOST OUTSTANDING WRESTLER.— The Ivy League (@IvyLeague) December 31, 2022
At the conclusion of the tournament, @tigerwrestling’s Quincy Monday was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler of the @MidlandsChamps. Congratulations, Quincy! 🌿🤼 https://t.co/w9kxSHvvZJ pic.twitter.com/Mk003Vecj2
Patrick Glory, of course, also has the ability to win a title, but his path is slightly more difficult, as he'll likely have to go through three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee. Glory has made it clear in previous interviews with NCAA.com that he's not afraid of anyone, and he likes wrestling as the underdog. He's ready to compete against whoever is in front of him, and he's ready to win a national title. Princeton is set to dual Oregon State on January 13 and Arizona State on January 15, so, if Glory wrestles, he could see All-American Brandon Kaylor and Brandon Courtney back-to-back. Glory's performance against these two guys will be a great indicator of where he's at right now, and Glory's resume and previous results suggest that he's a national champion-caliber wrestler again.
Spencer Lee and Yianni Diakomihalis chase their fourth NCAA titles
For every national runner-up who leaves the NCAA tournament heartbroken, there is a national champion feeling overwhelming joy, relief and exuberance. Spencer Lee and Yianni Diakomihalis, the leaders of the Iowa and Cornell programs respectively, have felt that pride of a national title three times each throughout their career. As both wrestlers gear up for a quest towards a fourth national title, let’s take a look back a their careers and what led them to this goal in 2023:
|wrestler||SPENCER LEE||YIANNI DIAKOMILHALIS|
|YEAR||SEASON RECORD||NCAA TOURNAMENT WINS||SEASON LOSSES||SEASON RECORD||NCAA TOURNAMENT WINS||SEASON LOSSES|
|2017-2018||22 - 2||Alonzo Allen, Luke Welch, Nick Piccininni, Nathan Tomasello, Nick Suriano||Ronnie Bresser, Nathan Tomasello||37 - 1||Nick Zanetta, Nicholas Gil, Dean Heil, Jaydin Eierman, Bryce Meredith||Jaydin Eierman|
|2018- 2019||23 - 3||Bryce West, Sean Fausz, Sean Russell, Nick Piccininni, Jack Mueller||Sebastian Rivera (x2), Nick Piccininni||29 - 0||Peter Lipari, Chad Red, Dom Demas, Jaydin Eierman, Joey McKenna||N/A|
|2020- 2021||18 - 0||N/A — COVID Cancellation||N/A||0-0||N/A — Olympic Redshirt||N/A|
|2021||12 - 0||Patrick McCormick, Killian Cardinale, Devin Schroder, Drew Hildebrandt, Brandon Courtney||N/A||0-0||0-0 — Olympic Redshirt|
|2021-2022||3 - 0||N/A — Medical Redshirt||28 - 0||Zach Sherman, Willie McDougald, Max Murin, Sammy Sasso, Ridge Lovett|
|2022- 2023||Current Record: 5 - 0||Best win: Drake Ayala||N/A||Current Record: 3 - 1||Best win: Paniro Johnson||Austin Gomez|
As the above data suggests, neither Lee nor Diakomihalis have had a traditional college career. They've both had interruptions to their folkstyle goals, whether that be because of injuries, COVID or Olympic aspirations, but both have put themselves in elite company with their three titles. Only four athletes have ever won four NCAA titles in their college careers, and while Diakomihalis has a loss already this year and Lee's working with his rehabilitated knees, both of these former champs will likely be favorites to add their names to the history books this March. 2023 could be a special year, for Lee, for Diakomihalis and for college wrestling.