The top three seeds at 174 lbs Carter Starocci (center), Mekhi Lewis (left), and Logan Massa (Photos courtesy of 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
141 lb preview
149 lb preview
157 lb preview
165 lb preview
We'll move on to the 174 lbers as we release two of our weight class previews for the next five days:
The Top Seed: Carter Starocci (Penn State)
Last year, Carter Starocci surprisingly reversed the result of his Big Ten final loss to Michael Kemerer and edged the Hawkeye to become a national champion as a freshman. Just two weeks earlier, Kemerer defeated Starocci, 7-2. Starocci's title made him the third Penn State freshman to capture one during the Sanderson era. Both previous winners were in 2017, with Vincenzo Joseph and Mark Hall. Joseph ended up repeating the following year, while Hall was taken down. Which path will Starocci follow?
With another year of experience under his belt and a full season of competition with a target on his back, Starocci has been tested often. His perfect record indicates he's passed those tests. Starocci has often had to dig deep and rely on grit and intelligence to get by opponents like Michael Kemerer, Chris Foca, and Logan Massa (x2). So for a wrestler that has plenty of close calls, will the next one fail to go his way?
For most other opponents, outside of the top-eight, Starocci has opened up plenty this year. His bonus point percentage has risen from 25% last year to 66% in 2021-22. If he were to run the table and finish the year unbeaten, Starocci certainly should receive some Hodge Trophy consideration. Through almost two seasons of collegiate competition, Starocci sports a 32-2 record.
The Contenders: #2 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech); #3 Logan Massa (Michigan), #4 Hayden Hidlay (NC State), #5 Michael Kemerer (Iowa)
The Conference Champs:
ACC: #2 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech)
Big 12: #6 Dustin Plott (Oklahoma State)
Big Ten: #1 Carter Starocci (Penn State)
EIWA: #8 Mickey O'Malley (Drexel)
MAC: #22 Mason Kauffman (Northern Illinois)
Pac-12: #26 Tyler Eischens (Stanford)
SoCon: #19 Thomas Flitz (Appalachian State)
Top First-Round Matches
#16 Adam Kemp (Cal Poly) vs. #17 Nick Incontrera (Penn)
#12 Cade DeVos (South Dakota State) vs. #21 Bailee O'Reilly (Minnesota)
#13 Matt Finesilver (Duke) vs. #20 Hayden Hastings (Wyoming)
#11 Peyton Mocco (Missouri) vs. #22 Mason Kauffman (Northern Illinois)
#15 Anthony Mantanona (Oklahoma) vs. #18 Lance Runyon (Northern Iowa)
This weight class has been one of the most top-heavy of the ten brackets. Of the top-five seeds, four have appeared in an NCAA final and two are past champions (Starocci and Mekhi Lewis). After the top group of contenders, there is a significant drop-off. The second seed here is the 2019 national champion at 165 lbs, Lewis. The first national champion for Virginia Tech, Mekhi, was injured late in the 2021 season and tried to compete at nationals, winning a pair of matches, before ultimately defaulting out. This year, up a weight, Lewis won his first seven matches, before suffering a loss to Hayden Hidlay in the regular-season finale. Despite being given the third seed at ACC's, Lewis avenged the loss to Hidlay in the conference semis and went on to grab his second title. Hidlay, is a past NCAA runner-up at 157 lbs, who jumped up two weights for his final season. During his time in Raleigh, Hidlay has amassed a 105-10 record with four ACC titles and three NCAA All-American honors. He'll assume the fourth seed.
Checking in as the third seed is Logan Massa. A two-time NCAA All-American himself, Massa returned to Michigan in December to help his teammates potentially win a national title. Massa's only two losses of the year have come to Starocci, while he's posted wins over All-Americans Mikey Labriola and Ethan Smith.
Lurking at the fifth seed is veteran Michael Kemerer. The three-time NCAA All-American has never finished lower than fourth at nationals. Kemerer suffered a pair of close losses in the regular season, which relegated him to the fourth seed at Big Ten's. There he advanced to the semifinals and locked up a bid to Detroit, before medically forfeiting out after an apparent shoulder injury. Kemerer's probably never been 100% at all this year, but if he's closer to the former he showed from early-January, he's capable of winning it all.
The sixth seed here is semi-surprising, with Dustin Plott getting the nod. Plott had overall a solid season, but suffered a loss to a non-starter from Missouri and was pinned by Northern Iowa's Lance Runyon. Even so, Plott is the Big 12 champion and got a revenge win over Runyon along with Missouri's Peyton Mocco in the championship bout. Aside from Kemerer, Plott hasn't seen the upper echelon from the Big Ten and ACC at this weight. One win he does have is a 6-3 decision over the eighth-seed Mickey O'Malley, the EIWA champion. O'Malley could have some tough sledding in the second round as he takes on multiple-time AA Mikey Labriola. Labriola and seventh-seeded Ethan Smith are the Big Ten All-Americans that round out the initial group of contenders.
Quadrant to Watch: Overall, this bracket has been fairly evenly distributed. There isn't one quarter that sticks out as more loaded than the others. But having to pick one, I'd go for the third. A first-round matchup between #14 Chris Foca and #19 Thomas Flitz (Appalachian State) is interesting. Foca was in the top ten at one point and has that type of talent. Late in the year, he's taken a couple of injury defaults. He medically forfeited out of the EIWA's and needed an at-large berth just to get to Detroit. If he's still ailing, Flitz could be a good upset candidate in round one. The potential 6/11 match could be a Big 12 finals rematch with Plott and Mocco. Plott got the one-point win last time, but Mocco is capable of flipping that result. However that plays out, the winner is likely to see Logan Massa.
Darkhorse All-American Contender: #18 Lance Runyon (Northern Iowa)
Lance Runyon almost missed the first three months of the year due to injury, but made his presence felt immediately and pinned Plott in his second dual of the season. Runyon then notched wins over two eventual national qualifiers, prior to the conference tournament. At Big 12, Runyon settled for sixth place and an automatic berth to nationals. He's got the look of a wrestler that missed a lot of mat time and is still rounding into shape. Even with a first-round match against Anthony Mantanona (Oklahoma), an opponent responsible for two of his three losses, Runyon still has a decent path to the bloodround, even with an early setback.
Extreme (+20 seed) Darkhorse All-American Contender: #21 Bailee O'Reilly (Minnesota)
Like a lot of things related to college wrestling in March, this one is contingent on health. Before the Big Ten Championships, Bailee O'Reilly had the look of a wrestler that suffered a few conference losses, but would shock some people once he hit non-Big Ten competition. Even amongst B1G competition, O'Reilly was turning in sizable wins over everyone outside of the top-tier. In his first match in Lincoln, O'Reilly majored Andrew McNally (Wisconsin), 11-3. Then he was injured and had to default out of a match with Labriola. If semi-healthy, the first-round bout between him and #12 Cade Devos could be a good one. Before O'Reilly established himself as Minnesota's starter, he dropped a one-point bout to DeVos in open competition.
#1 Carter Starocci (Penn State) vs. #9 Mikey Labriola (Nebraska)
#5 Michael Kemerer (Iowa) vs. #4 Hayden Hidlay (NC State)
#3 Logan Massa (Michigan) vs. #6 Dustin Plott (Oklahoma State)
#7 Ethan Smith (Ohio State) vs. #2 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech)
#1 Carter Starocci (Penn State) vs. #4 Hayden Hidlay (NC State)
#3 Logan Massa (Michigan) vs. #2 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech)
1st) Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech)
2nd) Carter Starocci (Penn State)
3rd) Logan Massa (Michigan)
4th) Hayden Hidlay (NC State)
5th) Mikey Labriola (Nebraska)
6th) Ethan Smith (Ohio State)
7th) Michael Kemerer (Iowa)
8th) Dustin Plott (Oklahoma State)
Round of 12 Finishers: #10 Clay Lautt (North Carolina); #11 Peyton Mocco (Missouri); #12 Cade Devos (South Dakota State); #18 Lance Runyon (Northern Iowa)
Consolation Round of 16:#16 Adam Kemp (Cal Poly); #20 Hayden Hastings (Wyoming); #13 Matt Finesilver (Duke); #8 Mickey O'Malley (Drexel)