2021 NCAA Round of 12 finisher Wyatt Hendrickson (Photo/Air Force athletic dept)
Air Force Falcons
â€œWe have an experienced team in 2021-2022 who have put in one of the best preseasons in recent memory. Jared Van Vleet and Wyatt Hendrickson return after winning matches at the 2021 NCAA Championships, while Wyatt also brings international experience after placing fifth at the Junior World Championships over the summer. We have a handful of other wrestlers who bring Big 12 experience, and a young group who will push them for starting roles in the lineup. Overall, this is one of the most talented teams we have had, and they back it up with a strong work ethic. We have a very challenging schedule. As a staff, we are fully confident that this team is ready to compete with the best the Big 12, and rest of the nation has to offer.â€ - Assistant Coach Chris Heilman
In addition to Hendrickson and Van Vleet, the Falcons also return a handful of experienced starters who have come close to cracking InterMat's national rankings. Cody Phippen, Dylan Martinez, Jake Thompson, and Kayne Hutchison are all multiple-year starters for head coach Sam Barber's team.
Phippen went 12-4 last year and became the first Air Force wrestler to make the Big 12 semis, but fell to fifth place and did not qualify for nationals. Martinez entered the conference meet on an 8-match winning streak and a 9-2 record, but went 0-2 and did not receive an at-large berth. During his last full season, Thompson won 19 bouts, against 14 losses.
Van Vleet was named a team captain for the 2021-22 campaign.
Air Force had three national qualifiers in 2021, their most since 2014. One of those qualifiers, Cody Surratt (174), has graduated and will not return. Surratt received an at-large berth and was seeded #25th at the tournament.
The Falcons also lose 141 lber Lenny Peterson. Lenny spent the bulk of the 2021 season in the national rankings and scored wins over national qualifiers Dusty Hone (Oklahoma State) and Chase Zollman (Wyoming), but went 0-2 at the Big 12 meet and did not qualify for NCAA's.
While Air Force has gradually improved its recruiting over the last five years and there is plenty of young talent in the room, there are two freshmen middleweights that have stood out to the coaching staff. 2021 Big Board'er Jack Ganos (#179), a Wisconsin state champ, should be a factor. Two-time Indiana champion, Alec Viduya, could work his way into the lineup, as well.
WRESTLERS TO WATCH
We have to mention Wyatt Hendrickson! Before he wrestled for a bronze medal at the Junior World Championships, Hendrickson had an excellent run through the consolations at the NCAA Championships. The freshman Hendrickson pinned Luke Luffman (Illinois), majored Hunter Catka (Virginia Tech), and edged 2019 NCAA fourth-place finisher Jordan Wood (Lehigh) for a spot in the Round of 12. There he lost a hard-fought bout to Trent Hillger. Hendrickson finished his freshman year with a 16-5 record and a bonus-point rate above 52%.
A returner that could be ready to take that â€œnext stepâ€ is 165 lber Vincent Dolce. The junior has really impressed the coaching staff during the preseason. Last season, Dolce went 5-7.
125: Nick Krug/Will Vom Baur
133: Jared Van Vleet/Sidney Flores
141: Cody Phippen
149: Dylan Martinez
157: Giano Petrucelli/Trey Brisker
165: Vincent Dolce
174: Sam Wolf/Harlan Steffensmeier
184: Jake Thompson
197: Kayne Hutchison
285: Wyatt Hendrickson