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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    2022 NCAA DI National Championships Preview (141 lbs)

    The top three seeds at 141 lbs Nick Lee (center), Jaydin Eierman (left), and Sebastian Rivera (Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    The 2022 NCAA DI Wrestling Championships are less than a week away! In a few short days, 330 wrestlers will make the trek to Detroit, Michigan, with hopes of a national title on their minds. In addition, fan seating will be at 100% capacity for the first time since Pittsburgh in 2019. Now it's in an area that hasn't hosted nationals since 2007 and even that tournament was not held downtown; it was way out in Auburn Hills.

    Before the action on the mat starts, InterMat will go through each individual bracket and highlight the favorites, top matches to watch, and much more.

    Here are the weight classes already released

    125 lb preview

    133 lb preview

    We'll move on to the 141 lbers as we release two of our weight class previews for the next five days:

    The Top Seed: Nick Lee (Penn State)

    Nick Lee has held the top spot at 141 lbs the whole year after reversing his 2021 Big Ten finals result against Jaydin Eierman in the NCAA finals, two weeks later. Eierman is the only wrestler to have seriously test Lee this year, as the Hawkeye had a late rally to push their dual meeting into sudden victory, yet Lee found a way to win. In his five years competing at Penn State, Lee has gone 114-13, with more than half of those losses coming as a true freshman in 2017-18.

    Despite having a national title and making the NCAA podium on three previous occasions, Lee had yet to win a Big Ten title, until last week. The manner in which he won was quite anticlimactic as Eierman did not compete in the championship bout and medically forfeited.

    Lee's final senior for Penn State has been slightly odd. He has a lower bonus point percentage than at any point of his career; however, he never seems to be in close matches (outside from Eierman). In 2019-20, Lee notched five victories via fall. Over the last two years, he's only combined for one. Regardless, Lee is getting it done and a favorite to grab back-to-back titles, especially considering the health of his two most formidable challengers.

    The Contenders: #2 Jaydin Eierman (Iowa); #3 Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers); #4 Real Woods (Stanford); #5 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado); #6 Cole Matthews (Pittsburgh); #7 Clay Carlson (South Dakota State)

    The Conference Champs:

    ACC: #6 Cole Matthews (Pittsburgh)

    Big 12: #5 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado)

    Big Ten: #1 Nick Lee (Penn State)

    EIWA: #11 Matt Kazimir (Columbia)

    MAC: #16 Quinn Kinner (Rider)

    Pac-12: #4 Real Woods (Stanford)

    SoCon: #22 Shannon Hanna (Campbell)

    Top First-Round Matches

    #16 Quinn Kinner (Rider) vs. #17 Dylan D'Emilio (Ohio State)

    #9 Allan Hart (Missouri) vs. #24 Stevan Micic (Michigan)

    #13 Ian Parker (Iowa State) vs. #20 Parker Filius (Purdue)

    #14 Dresden Simon (Central Michigan) vs. #19 Chad Red Jr. (Nebraska)

    #15 Kizhan Clarke (North Carolina) vs. #18 Ryan Jack (NC State)

    All year this weight class looked like it had the top-three….and everyone else. Lee, Jaydin Eierman, and Sebastian Rivera, have combined to AA ten times with four Big Ten titles and finished first, second, and fourth at nationals in 2021. Some returners that may have been poised to break into the big three, like Dylan Duncan (Illinois) and Stevan Micic, have dealt with injuries and off-the-mat rust, which has led to an even greater distance between the competition.

    As is typically the case in collegiate wrestling, injuries have been a neutralizing factor for some of the contenders at 141 lbs. Sebastian Rivera was injured in mid-February and missed the Scarlet Knights final dual of the year. He advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten Championships, setting up a highly anticipated bout with Jaydin Eierman, but medically forfeited out of the tournament. Up until the injury, Rivera was looking as good as ever, and may have been a favorite here, in some people's. Even with his injury, Sebass still managed to post bonus points in his two Big Ten tournament contests. For the year, Rivera has only failed to rack up bonus once in 24 bouts.

    Also with injury concerns is Eierman, who received Rivera's forfeit then turned around forfeited to Lee in the conference final. Eierman hasn't looked quite as explosive as in the past this year, still has been excellent and brings a 17-1 record into Detroit. He, like Rivera, is looking for that elusive national title. Both have done about all that can be done in college, without having that final honor. If Eierman were to do so, he'd obviously become the first wrestler ever to improve their placement from 5, to 4, to 3, to 2, and to 1 sequentially.

    With some wounded veterans trying to patch themselves up for one last run, that could mean blood in the water for the younger sharks at this weight. The fourth seed is Real Woods, who is looking to get on the NCAA podium for the first time. He had a remarkable freshman campaign, losing only one bout, interrupted by Covid in 2020. Last year, presented plenty of off-the-mat distractions and Woods, still made the Round of 12. This time, he's 14-1 with a quick fall to Grant Willits, representing the only blemish on his record. Woods avenged that loss a bit in the Pac-12 finals as he majored Willits, 8-0. Also in the same quadrant as Woods is #5 seed Andrew Alirez. Alirez made history for his hometown program as he became Northern Colorado's first Big 12 champion last weekend. Alirez has finally been healthy for a full season and flourished with a finals appearance (losing to Woods) at the Southern Scuffle and in Vegas.

    More new faces from in a title-contending sense are the sixth seed Cole Matthews and seventh-seeded Clay Carlson. Matthews got red hot after the MatMen Open and hasn't lost since. That run has included wins over then top-ten opponents Kizhan Clarke and Stevan Micic, along with a : 36-second fall of eventual EIWA champion Matt Kazimir. The Panther's run extended into Charlottesville, where he built his winning streak up to 13 and captured his first ACC crown. Carlson was an All-American in 2021, but did so in relatively surprising fashion. This year, with higher expectations, Carlson has raised his game, too. Carlson started the year with 16 straight wins, a streak that encompassed the CKLV Invitational. In the finals, he secured a winning takedown over Alirez, before getting a fall at the buzzer.

    Quadrant to Watch: The bottom one! We've already mentioned Carlson and he's the seventh seed here. His opening round match is against Frankie Tal-Shahar (Northwestern), one of those freshman that seems to be figuring things out at the right time of year. Below them is the #10 seed Jake Bergeland (Minnesota). Bergeland has quietly put together a really strong season, punctuated by third in the Big Ten. In a normal situation, I'd like to pick him to knock off the number seven; however, he's already lost to Carlson three times this year. Below them is #15 Kizhan Clarke (North Carolina) and #16 Ryan Jack (NC State). Clarke was ranked in the top ten all year and owned a win over Chad Red Jr. He was on the road to an excellent seed before a subpar showing at the ACC's. As luck will have it, one of those wrestlers who upset Clarke at ACC's was Jack. Could Ryan go on a similar run like his brother Ryan? In 2015, the elder Jack downed the 4, 5, and 12 seeds to make the NCAA semi's as an unheralded freshman.

    Oh yeah, this quadrant includes the second-seeded Eierman. If he shows any signs of vulnerability, there are four or five guys here that could take him out. Wouldn't a rematch of Eierman and Jack's memorable Collegiate Duals bout be fun in the second round? Jack jumped out to an early lead, before and Eierman rally; yet Jack came ever-so-close to pinning Eierman defensively at the final buzzer.

    Darkhorse All-American Contender: #19 Chad Red Jr. (Nebraska)

    Ok, so our two darkhorse All-American candidates get mentioned on technicalities, their seeds. Chad Red Jr. went 1-2 at Big Ten's and needed an at-large berth to get in. At that tournament, he repeatedly showed a tenacity to relinquish early leads. Is it a negative sign of things to come? Red Jr's track record works in his favor. Generally, he hasn't peaked at Big Ten's. In 2019 he made the finals, but his other placements at the event were 7th, 4th, and 3rd. However, every time Red Jr has competed at nationals, he's found the podium. Even in 2019, the year of his best Big Ten showing, Red Jr was saddled with the #16 seed. Now coming from the 19th seed shouldn't be intimidating for the vet.

    Red Jr. will have to be ready to go from round one, as he has Dresden Simon, who was ranked in the top-12 for most of the year, before an uneven performance at his conference tournament.

    Extreme (+20 seed) Darkhorse All-American Contender: #24 Stevan Micic (Michigan)

    Once again, someone with an extremely long resume, so picking Micic to possibly make the podium isn't going out on a limb. But, as the 24th seed, his path to the top-eight is not easy. Right off the bat, Micic has Big 12 runner-up, Allan Hart (Missouri), who was a Round of 12 finisher last season. Then #8 Grant Willits/#25 Carter Young awaits, win or lose. If Micic could make it through those first two matches, Nick Lee would be looming.

    One of the underrated themes from Michigan's Big Ten title run was the job that Micic did coming through the backside. Micic dropped his first bout of the tournament, but battled in close match after close match, to take fourth behind Bergeland. That type of perseverance in a senior that's been on the scene as long as Micic and has such sky-high expectations is admirable.

    Micic is either dealing with some sort of an ailment or isn't completely adjusted to the weight class. Maybe even a combination of the two. Even so, nobody wants to run into a 24th seed with the talent and history of the Michigan All-American.

    The Team Race: With the way the brackets have been constructed, this may be the only opportunity for a Penn State/Iowa national final. If that's the case and the team race is close, four points for the winner could be crucial. Now both parties have to advance that far and that may be an issue for the Hawkeye after forfeiting out of Big Ten's.

    If you're looking at team points based on seeds, this is an opportunity where Michigan can make up some ground. Team score-wise, you don't get much for someone wrestling "up" to their 24th seed. But, if Micic, can make the Round of 12 to possibly the podium, it will provide them with points we're not otherwise expecting.

    Projected Quarterfinals

    #1 Nick Lee (Penn State) vs. #8 Grant Willits (Oregon State)
    #5 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado) vs. #4 Real Woods (Stanford)

    #3 Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers) vs. #6 Cole Matthews (Pittsburgh)
    #7 Clay Carlson (South Dakota State) vs. #2 Jaydin Eierman (Iowa)

    Projected Semifinals

    #1 Nick Lee (Penn State) vs. #4 Real Woods (Stanford)
    #3 Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers) vs. #2 Jaydin Eierman (Iowa)

    Projected All-Americans

    1st) Nick Lee (Penn State)
    2nd) Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers)
    3rd) Jaydin Eierman (Iowa)
    4th) Cole Matthews (Pittsburgh)
    5th) Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado)
    6th) Real Woods (Stanford)
    7th) Chad Red Jr (Nebraska)
    8th) Clay Carlson (South Dakota State)

    Round of 12 Finishers: #10 Jake Bergeland (Minnesota); #8 Grant Willits (Oregon State); #14 Dresden Simon (Central Michigan); #17 Dylan D'Emilio (Ohio State)

    Consolation Round of 16: #18 Ryan Jack (NC State); #11 Matt Kazimir (Columbia); #12 CJ Composto (Penn); #24 Stevan Micic (Michigan)

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