PSU's Nick Suriano was ranked No. 2 before defaulting at the Big Ten Championships (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)
The team race for the 2017 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships is shaping up to be an interesting one. All the contenders have their workhorse wrestlers who will need to come through in order for their teams to be successful. However, who are the X factor type guys who could make an unexpected contribution? The following takes a look at those very wrestlers for all team currently listed in the InterMat tournament rankings top 10.
No. 1 Penn State: Nick Suriano
The Nittany Lions have been the title favorites for most of the season, but Ohio State's upset win at the Big Ten Championships has shown them to be vulnerable. Suriano injured his ankle in the NWCA Dual Championship match against Oklahoma State and has not wrestled since. He weighed in for the conference tournament but defaulted out. For most of the season, Suriano appeared to be a lock for a high All-American spot with victories over No. 3 Darian Cruz (Lehigh), No. 4 Tim Lambert (Nebraska) and No. 5 Ethan Lizak (Minnesota). Now, his All-American chances are in question due to injury.
No. 2 Oklahoma State: Austin Schafer
Going into this season, it looked like heavyweight might be a hole in the Oklahoma State lineup. Instead Schafer has moved up from 197 pounds to fill the void. This season he went 22-1 and picked up bonus points in 69.57 percent of his matches. Along the way, he registered signature wins over No. 8 Michael Kroells (Minnesota), No. 12 Jared Johnson (Chattanooga) and No. 15 Nathan Butler (Stanford). This past weekend, he captured his first Big 12 title with bonus points in every match. If the Cowboys are going to make a legitimate run at their first NCAA title since 2006, they will need a big performance from Schafer.
No. 3: Ohio State: Myles Martin
It might seem odd to call a returning NCAA champion an X factor. However, Martin moved up in weight this season and had some issues. With that being said, he showed once again that he can turn it on in March with yet another upset over previously undefeated No. 2 Bo Nickal (Penn State) in the Big Ten semifinals. Martin's seven losses might drag down his seed but remember he entered last year's tournament as the No. 12 seed before winning it all. With a strong performance from Martin, the Buckeyes might be able to take their second title in the past three seasons.
Iowa's Alex Meyer finished fifth at the Big Ten Championships (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)
No. 4 Iowa: Alex Meyer
Last year Meyer lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament but managed to wrestle his way back to finish eighth. After injuries to Sam Stoll and Cory Clark, the Hawkeyes will likely need a huge performance from Meyer to have any shot at their 24th national title. This year was another up-and-down season for the senior. He ended up finishing fifth at the Big Tens, but he did defeat several ranked wrestlers during the season including No. 15 David Kocer (SDSU), No. 16 LeLund Weatherspoon (Iowa State) and No. 5 Mark Hall (Penn State).
No. 5 Virginia Tech: Zach Zavatsky
Zavatsky entered the 2016 NCAA tournament as the fifth seed, but he ended up finishing one match short of All-American status. The Hokies still ended up finishing fourth. With a stronger performance from Zavatsky, the ACC champions might be able to move up the podium. This season, the sophomore has only lost two matches and avenged one of those losses, No. 10 Michael Macchiavello (NC State), this past weekend at the ACC Championships.
No. 6 Missouri: Jaydin Eierman
After an impressive redshirt season, Eierman was expected to make some noise this season. He did just that putting together a 24-5 record and winning his first MAC championship. During the season he suffered close losses to returning NCAA champion No. 1 Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) and No. 6 George DiCamillo (Virginia). Could Eierman become the next freshman to take a big step up at the NCAA tournament and shock people with a deep run?
No. 7 Nebraska: Colton McCrystal
This season McCrystal has shown himself to be a boom or bust type of competitor. He has suffered some tough losses but also scored some signature wins. Despite posting nine losses, McCrystal has defeated the likes of No. 12 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State), No. 19 Ryan Diehl (Maryland), No. 16 Tommy Thorn (Minnesota), No. 20 Jimmy Gulibon (Penn State), No. 15 Javier Gasca (Michigan State) and returning NCAA finalist No. 8 Bryce Meredith (Wyoming). The top of this weight is loaded with hammers, but McCrystal might end up going on a run.
No. 8 Cornell: Dylan Palacio
Palacio never really got on track this year and only wrestled five matches before the EIWA Championships. However, in that tournament, he showed very little mat rust and captured the championship, beating No. 11 Russell Parsons (Army West Point) along the way. In previous seasons, he has defeated No. 5 Joe Smith (Oklahoma State) and No. 14 Clark Glass (Oklahoma). Cornell just won their 11th straight EIWA championship, and a big performance from Palacio might help the team get another team trophy.
No. 9 Michigan: Conor Youtsey
Despite having a year of eligibility left, Youtsey, a two-time All-American, appeared to be done competing. However, after a series of injuries opened the door at 125 pounds, he returned to the lineup. In the shortened season, Youtsey went only 5-6, but he managed to qualify with a fifth place finish at the Big Ten Championships where he scored a win over No. 5 Lizak (Minnesota). As a returning All-American, the Wolverine clearly has the pedigree to steal a podium spot at this year's tournament.
Minnesota's Mitch McKee battles No. 1 Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
No. 10 Minnesota: Mitch McKee
As a true freshman, McKee took some lumps this season. However, the blue chip prospect managed to finish sixth at the Big Ten Championships and in the process upset No. 6 Eric Montoya (Nebraska). After a season with 19 losses, an All-American spot seems unlikely, but McKee is still a six-time Fargo champion who could be peaking at the right time.