From left Eddie Ventresca, Jaxon Smith, Shayne Van Ness, Lachlan McNeil. Bottom: Levi Haines (photos courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Our post-NCAA coverage has seen award winners announced for each of the seven conferences. One of the last items from our 2022-23 coverage is the InterMat All-Freshman team. The future is bright as our first team combined for six All-American honors and contains representation from four of the seven conferences.
Below are the wrestlers selected for the first team with a notation for second-team selections.
125 lbs - Eddie Ventresca (Virginia Tech)
It was a bit of an up-and-down regular season for Eddie Ventresca who spent most of the year trying to solidify the starting role at 125 lbs for the Hokies. That led to an unsightly 27th seed at his first NCAA Tournament; however, that didn't discourage the redshirt freshman from New Jersey. Ventresca pulled upsets in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament which earned him a spot in the NCAA quarters. Ventresca scored wins over Big 12 champion Stevo Poulin (Northern Colorado) in the opening round, before edging two-time All-American Patrick McKee (Minnesota).
Ventresca nearly knocked off #3 Liam Cronin (Nebraska) and found himself in the semifinals; however, he was taken down in sudden victory in the quarters. Though his path to the podium looked daunting, Ventresca managed to get the best of another multi-time All-American (Eric Barnett - Wisconsin) in the bloodround. He finished his tournament by dropping another surprise All-American (Killian Cardinale - West Virginia) for seventh place.
Second Team: Stevo Poulin (Northern Colorado)
133 lbs - Aaron Nagao (Minnesota)
It wasn't a surprise that a wrestler from the Big Ten won this award, but prior to the postseason, most would have expected Jesse Mendez (Ohio State) to get the call. Aaron Nagao seized control of the honor defeating Mendez and returning All-American Lucas Byrd (Illinois) to make the Big Ten finals. That led to the eighth seed at his first NCAA tournament.
Nagao was tested in his second NCAA bout and passed by pinning perennial podium threat Micky Phillippi (Pittsburgh). After another loss to Big Ten finals opponent, Roman Bravo-Young, Nagao left nothing to doubt by majoring Iowa State's Zach Redding to ensure a spot on the NCAA podium. He finished the year by shutting out Mendez for fifth place. Nagao's record for the 2022-23 season was 23-6.
Nagao's future is uncertain as he's currently in the transfer portal. He hasn't ruled out a return to Minnesota, but also has mentioned interest in Penn State, Iowa, and Cornell.
Second Team: Jesse Mendez (Ohio State)
141 lbs - Lachlan McNeil (North Carolina)
Like many freshmen, Lachlan McNeil took some early lumps during his first year as a starter. He lost three times in the first two weeks of the season, but righted the ship and went on a 12-match winning streak in the middle of the season. He showed his growth by majoring Tom Crook (Virginia Tech) in their dual meeting and at the ACC Tournament. Crook was an opponent that downed McNeil on the opening weekend.
At the NCAA Tournament, McNeil really stood out with a win over fellow star freshman #7 Vince Cornella (Cornell) in the second round. Though McNeil was the lower seed (#10) it was the second time this year that he defeated Cornella. After losing to the eventual champion, Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado), McNeil won three straight matches to advance to the third-place bout. His final victory came over the Big Ten runner-up Brock Hardy (Nebraska) who was the fourth seed.
The last time a North Carolina freshman wrestled in the third-place match it was Austin O'Connor in 2019. I'm sure UNC fans would love for McNeil's career to mirror his teammates.
Second Team: Vince Cornella (Cornell)
149 lbs - Shayne Van Ness (Penn State)
Shayne Van Ness was a big-time recruit for Penn State who had a solid regular season, but nothing that was spectacular, at least from a freshman with his pedigree. Van Ness finished fifth in the Big Ten with two of his losses coming to Iowa's Max Murin. Murin was responsible for three of his seven losses on the year. That placement set Van Ness up with the 12th seed going into his first national tournament.
Though he had a rocky first three NCAA matches, Van Ness managed to come out on top in each instance and advanced to the quarterfinals. In each bout, Van Ness trailed early but wore out his competition with his pace, gas tank, and continued attacks. In the semis, Van Ness faced Yianni Diakomihalis, who was en route to his fourth NCAA title. He led the Cornell star late in the second period, before Yianni turned it on and prevailed 8-3. Undeterred, Van Ness came back with wins over fellow freshman phenom Caleb Henson and returning two-time AA Kyle Parco to take third.
Second Team: Caleb Henson (Virginia Tech)
157 lbs - Levi Haines (Penn State)
It's no surprise who takes the honors at 157 lbs as Levi Haines was the only freshman to make the national finals in 2023. Haines was also the only freshman to win a Big Ten title this season. He did both as a true freshman in a veteran-laded 157 lb bracket.
For more on Haines' freshman year, check out our Big Ten Conference Awards.
Second Team: Daniel Cardenas (Stanford)
165 lbs - Michael Caliendo (North Dakota State)
Caliendo earned All-American honors despite competing in one of the deepest weight classes in the nation.
For more on Caliendo's freshman year, check out our Big 12 Conference Awards.
Second Team: Alex Facundo (Penn State)
174 lbs - Tate Picklo (Oklahoma)
174 was an odd weight class for freshmen this year as there were only three that qualified for the NCAA Championships. Tate Picklo qualified for the national tournament after taking fifth in a Big 12 weight class that featured three past/future All-Americans. At the Big 12 Championships, he was able to earn a win over one of them (Demetrius Romero), though Romero got even at NCAA's. Picklo went 1-2 in Tulsa with a win over Lock Haven's Tyler Stoltzfus.
Picklo started the year competing at 184 lbs where he amassed a 10-2 record before dropping to 174 lbs in early-January. He started to hit his stride at the new weight a few weeks later with wins over Julien Broderson (Iowa State) and Lance Runyon (Northern Iowa) in the same weekend. During the final week of the regular season, Picklo downed Cade DeVos (South Dakota State), who went on to take third in the league and made the NCAA Round of 12.
With a transition coming up in Norman, Picklo should be a strong building block for the Sooners next head coach.
Second Team: Luca Augustine (Pittsburgh)
184 lbs - Lenny Pinto (Nebraska)
The Big Ten had a freshmen talent infusion at 184 lbs as three of their national qualifiers were freshmen in 2023-24. The best of the bunch was Nebraska's redshirt freshman Lenny Pinto. Pinto finished fifth in the Big Ten and went on to earn the #13 seed at his first national tournament. Though he ended up 1-2 at the NCAA Tournament, Pinto still finished the year 24-11.
He proved to be one of the more exciting wrestlers at the weight. Six of his 24 wins came via fall. Interestingly enough, only four of his victories came via regular decision. Pinto actually earned wins over both of the other Big Ten freshman national qualifiers at this weight. One by fall, Brian Soldano (Rutgers) and another by decision, Dylan Connell (Illinois). Early in the 2022-23 campaign, Pinto handed eventual NCAA semifinalist Trey Munoz (Oregon State) his only loss of the regular season. With at least two 2023 All-Americans not returning, expect Pinto to be in the mix for the podium next year.
Second Team: Brian Soldano (Rutgers)
197 lbs - Jaxon Smith (Maryland)
It wasn't easy for freshmen to make a name for themselves this year in the stacked and deep 197 lb weight class, but that's what Jaxon Smith did in 2022-23. One of the leaders of a resurgent Maryland program, Smith showed he was ready to get in the mix at 197 by pinning returning national qualifier Zac Braunagel (Illinois) during his second competition of the year. Smith nearly made the Southern Scuffle finals, losing in tiebreakers to a returning All-American and then forfeited out to sixth place.
Smith's big breakout event was his first Big Ten tournament when he lost to Braunagel but battled back for third place, earning another win over the Illinois veteran, along with 2022 NCAA runner-up Jacob Warner (Iowa) and Braxton Amos (Wisconsin).
At nationals, Smith earned a place in the quarterfinals after pinning the sixth seed, Isaac Trumble (NC State), in the Round of 12. A quarterfinal loss put Smith in the bloodround against returning champion Max Dean of Penn State. The young Terp came up just shy of the upset and a spot on the podium, falling 3-2. With some of the departures at the weight and another year in the Maryland room, expect Smith to contend for a high national finish in 2024.
Second Team: Carson Floyd (Appalachian State)
285 lbs - Nathan Taylor (Lehigh)
After five-time EIWA champion Jordan Wood exhausted his eligibility in 2022, it appeared like Lehigh may take a step back at the 285 lb weight class. That wasn't the case as the school had an EIWA heavyweight finalist for a sixth consecutive year as redshirt freshman Nathan Taylor finished as a runner-up. Taylor made his presence felt immediately as his pin clinched over returning qualifier Josh Heindselman clinched an early-season dual win over Oklahoma.
During the regular season, Taylor picked up five wins over eventual national qualifiers. He scored his biggest win of the year when he knocked off Harvard's Yaraslau Slavikouski in the EIWA semifinals. Taylor ended up second in an EIWA weight class that took seven to Tulsa. Taylor's lone win at nationals came over conference foe Dorian Crosby (Bucknell), who he defeated by a major decision, 11-1.
Second Team: Trevor Tinker (Cal Poly)