Hipps: Best first-round matchups at the NCAAs

Last spring the NCAA's wrestling committee voted to up the number of seeded wrestlers from 12 to 16 at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, which went into effect this year. However, despite that fact, there are still several highly accomplished wrestlers who failed to earn a top-16 seed and have been matched up with seeded wrestlers in the opening round. At 141 pounds alone, two returning All-Americans, K. Undrakhbayar (The Citadel) and Mike Nevinger (Cornell), enter this year's NCAA tournament unseeded and face highly seeded wrestlers right out of the gate.

So before you leave your seat to go to the bathroom or buy your Dippin' Dots in Thursday's opening session, glance at the bout numbers on the brackets and make sure you don't miss any of the 10 first-round matchups below.

Ryan Taylor is coming off a third-place finish at the Big Tens (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
125: No. 7 Ryan Taylor (Wisconsin) vs. Jared Germaine (Eastern Michigan)
This is a battle of two wrestlers coming off strong performances at their respective conference tournaments. Taylor, a redshirt freshman, finished third at the Big Tens, losing only to Penn State's Nico Megaludis by one point in the semifinals, and avenging a loss to Cory Clark of Iowa in the third-place match. Germaine has flown under the radar this season at Eastern Michigan. He turned in a runner-up finish at the MAC Championships, losing to UNI's Dylan Peters, 4-3. Germaine has a 20-2 record this season, and picked up a 9-3 win earlier this season against North Carolina's Nathan Kraisser.

Ugi enters the NCAAs with a 22-3 record and unseeded at 141 (Photo/The Citadel Sports Information)
141: No. 3 Zain Retherford (Penn State) vs. K. Undrakhbayar (The Citadel)
It seems unfathomable -- and unfair -- for these two wrestlers to meet in the opening round of the NCAAs. Penn State's Retherford has put together a tremendous true freshman, beating two-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber of Ohio State, and losing only once (to Stieber) heading into the NCAAs. Ugi, an NCAA fourth-place finisher last season, was granted another semester to compete by the NCAA midseason. He comes in with a nice record of 22-3, but lacks notable wins this season and took losses to No. 12 Richard Durso of Franklin & Marshall, No. 16 Joe Spisak of Virginia, and unseeded Gabe Moreno of Iowa State.

141: No. 7 Zach Horan (Central Michigan) vs. Mike Nevinger (Cornell)
Horan was upset in the MAC semifinals by Northern Iowa's Joey Lazor, who caught fire in his conference tournament. Horan, a four-time Pennsylvania state finalist, reached the round of 12 two seasons ago as a true freshman and redshirted last season. Nevinger is a two-time All-American who has battled injuries this season. At the EIWAs, Nevinger fell to Hofstra's Luke Vaith, 3-0, in the semifinals, defaulted against Richard Durso, and then won his fifth-place match to earn an automatic bid in the NCAAs. Horan will be looking for his first All-American finish, but a first-round loss to Nevinger would send the Central Michigan sophomore down a long road to reach the All-American podium.

141: No. 13 Steve Dutton (Michigan) vs. Josh Dziewa (Iowa)
These two Big Ten wrestlers are familiar with each other having already met twice this season. Dutton came out victorious in each of the first two meetings, 3-2 on Feb. 9, and 7-0 at the Big Tens less than two weeks ago. Dutton, a New York native, has been in the NCAA tournament twice -- both times with Lehigh. He comes in to the NCAAs with a record of 8-4, with all four of his losses coming to wrestlers seeded in the top five. Dziewa has notched some big wins this season. His most notable victory came over sixth-seeded Chris Dardanes. However, it's the inconsistency that has plagued Dziewa this season and caused him to enter the NCAAs unseeded. If the Hawkeyes want to stay in the NCAA team race, they need to pull some upsets, and this could be one.

149: No. 4 Kendric Maple (Oklahoma) vs. Tywan Claxton (Ohio)
When it was announced that Kendric Maple was moving up a weight class this season to 149 pounds, many expected him to do what he did last season at 141 pounds, when he finished as an undefeated NCAA champion. However, that has simply not happened this season. The Sooner senior has already taken four losses (five if you count the NWCA All-Star Classic loss to Logan Stieber of Ohio State) and enters the NCAAs as the No. 4 seed. Maple's first-round opponent is Ohio's Tywan Claxton, who is best known for putting the only blemish on top-seeded Drake Houdashelt's resume this season. Claxton was a Division II All-American at King University prior to transferring to Ohio. He came into the MAC tournament as the top seed (over Houdashelt), but finished a disappointing fifth, losing his true fourth-place match and needing an at-large bid to even get in the NCAA tournament.

Jason Tsirtsis defeated Jake Sueflohn to claim the Big Ten title (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
149: No. 5 Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern) vs. Bryce Busler (Bloomsburg)
The Big Ten champion Tsirtsis should have been seeded ahead of Minnesota's Nick Dardanes, as I pointed out in a seeding blunders story, and now has a very difficult road to the NCAA finals. His first NCAA tournament starts with a match against unseeded Bryce Busler of Bloomsburg. Tsirtsis and Busler met earlier this season, with Tsirtsis winning that match 2-0 at the Keystone Classic in November. It was the first blemish on Busler's record this season after he started the season 7-0 with wins over Maple and Mitch Minotti of Lehigh. Busler has not been able to return to his early season form, but is still a very capable wrestler and a tough first-round opponent for Tsirtsis.

157: No. 2 Derek St. John (Iowa) vs. Joey Napoli (Lehigh)
Interestingly, St. John and Napoli were the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds respectively at last year's NCAAs in Des Moines. St. John went on to win the NCAA title, while Napoli went 0-2 and bowed out of the competition on the opening day. DSJ comes in as the No. 2 seed again this year after finishing runner-up at the Big Tens to Nebraska's James Green. Napoli, like the aforementioned Ugi, has a nice record (12-3), but lacks quality wins, which hurts him in the seeding process. The two wrestlers have not met this season despite Iowa and Lehigh wrestling in a dual meet and both teams being at the Midlands. Last season, however, St. John topped Napoli, 6-0, in a dual meet in early December.

157: No. 13 Dylan Alton (Penn State) vs. Brian Murphy (Michigan)
Alton was an All-American (third place) as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago, but failed to reach the All-American podium last season and has struggled with injuries and consistency this season. He is coming off a disappointing eighth-place finish at the Big Tens, where he lost three times. One of those losses came to Michigan's Brian Murphy, who he could see in the first round. The two wrestlers have split this season, with Alton winning the first meeting in sudden victory on Super Bowl Sunday. Murphy, though, has to first get past Oklahoma's Justin DeAngelis in his pigtail match. Murphy, a three-time state finalist at Glenbard North (Ill.), is putting together a solid true freshman campaign. He took top-seeded James Green of Nebraska into sudden victory at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational before losing 7-5. He also notched a win over two-time All-American Dylan Ness of Minnesota.

165: No. 7 Pierce Harger (Northwestern) vs. Zach Toal (Missouri)
Based strictly on seeds, it's reasonable to think that Harger should be considered a strong favorite in his first-round match. However, seeds can be deceiving and that's certainly the case in this instance. Harger and Toal, both Ohio natives, are very evenly matched. This is tossup any way you slice it. The two wrestlers have not met this season, but did battle each other last season at the NCAAs, with Toal winning 4-2. What hurt Toal in the seeding process this year was the upset loss he took at the MAC Championship to Northern Illinois' Shaun'Qae McMurtry, which he avenged in the third-place match. The winner of the Harger-Toal match will likely face Northern's Iowa's Cooper Moore, a wrestler who has beaten both Harger and Toal this season.

Ethen Lofthouse defeated Kevin Steinhaus to reach the Big Ten finals (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
184: No. 5 Ethen Lofthouse (Iowa) vs. Vic Avery (Edinboro)
Lofthouse has always performed well at the NCAAs and has two All-American finishes on his resume to prove it. Last year he entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 12 seed and finished fifth. This season he has battled injuries and split time in the lineup with teammate Sammy Brooks. His only losses, though, have come to the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 wrestlers, Maryland's Jimmy Sheptock and Penn State's Ed Ruth. Avery, a Massachusetts native, won the EWL title and comes in with a record of 23-5. The fact that he is not seeded is surprising. He is currently ranked 12th by InterMat. He was an NCAA qualifier two seasons ago as a true freshman, and won nearly 30 matches last season while redshirting. Edinboro coach Tim Flynn always seems to have his Fighting Scots peaking when it matters most, and Avery is a wrestler who could do some damage in Oklahoma City. Iowa and Edinboro met in a dual meet early in the season, but Avery was held out. Expect to see a very competitive match between Lofthouse and Avery.


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dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
I don't think you are right about Dziewa beating Kindig...I think you mean Collica. I think the Sabatello/Dardanes match is also going to be a thriller. Sabatello has the ability to beat Dardanes...could hurt Minnesota in regards to team points.
Andrew Hipps (1) about 4 years ago
Thanks for the comment. You are right ... That was a mistake, but the point remains. Dziewa has beaten some quality wrestlers: No. 6 Chris Dardanes, No. 10 Todd Preston, and No. 12 Richard Durso (twice). Tough first-round draw against Steve Dutton. Danny Sabatello wrestled Dardanes tough at the Big Tens, losing 10-9. Should be an interesting match. The winner will probably get Joey Lazor, who is wrestling with a lot of confidence. There will certainly be some upsets in the first round.
TooOld (1) about 4 years ago
Another good first-rounder could be at 149, with #3 Villalonga vs. Mike Racciato of Pitt. Racciato is inconsistent (22-13), but he has some quality wins, including pinning #8 Josh Kindig and PSU's James English (who lost to both Nick Dardanes and Hunter Stieber by a single point).

Also, Gwiz may not have a walkover at heavyweight; his opponent, Wessell of Lehigh, is one of only three guys to beat J.T. Felix of Boise State this year. (The others were named Coon and Telford.)
greff (1) about 4 years ago
nobody touching Gwiz outside of Nelson this year and maybe not even him!!!
jtindall (2) about 4 years ago
What about the best pigtail match Rosholt vs. Gonzalez Rosholt former AA and Gonzalez former big 10 champ with the winner facing J'Den Cox.
Andrew Hipps (1) about 4 years ago
That is an interesting pigtail. One of my favorite pigtail matchups ever was in 2010 when NCAA champion Mike Pucillo (Ohio State) wrestled NCAA runner-up Mike Miller (Central Michigan) at 184 pounds. Miller won 4-2.