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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    2022 NCAA DI National Championships Preview (285 lbs)

    The top three seeds at 285 lbs, Gable Steveson (center), Cohlton Schultz (right), and Tony Cassioppi (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

    174 lb preview

    184 lb preview

    197 lb preview

    We'll move on to the 285 lbers as we release two of our weight class previews for the next five days:

    The Top Seed: Gable Steveson (Minnesota)

    The biggest favorite of the weekend has to be Gable Steveson at 285 lbs. The 2021 co-Hodge Trophy Winner, Steveson, is well on his way to winning the award again in 2022 and shouldn't have to share it this time. Steveson is 13-for-13 this year, claiming bonus points every time he's taken the mat, along with a pin and four tech falls. What's even more remarkable about Steveson's domination is that he's done it against a field as talented as we've ever seen at 285 lbs. Aside from him, four others in this bracket have captured age-group world titles, at one time or another in their careers. There are seven other wrestlers in the group of brought home a medal from an age-group world championship. Even with all that talent, you have to go to back to last year's national tournament to find a time where Gable was "held" without bonus. That occurred twice in St. Louis and accounted for the only occurrence last season.

    Steveson was one of the mainstream breakout stars from the Olympics last summer as his remarkable comeback in the gold medal match made the rounds of sports highlight shows. With that extra fame, combined with new NIL rules, many fans and media members thought we'd already witnessed Steveson's last collegiate match. However, the NIL rules allowed him to sign with the WWE, while still competing for the University of Minnesota. Because of outside obligations, Gable did not appear in every single event for the Gophers, but he did make sure to hit the important duals and ones with top-ranked opponents. Only one of his ten duals came against a non-qualifier and eight came against wrestlers seeded in the top-20. That doesn't account for the three All-Americans he dispatched at the Big Ten Championships.

    In Lincoln, Steveson became the first Minnesota wrestler to win the Big Ten three times, since Tony Nelson did so in 2012-14. The top seed that resulted at nationals made him the first heavyweight to earn the top-seed three times in his career. It seems like a safe bet to assume that Gable will tack five more wins on his career record, to finish 86-2 and a winner of his final 47 bouts. Ever the showman, I'd also expect some sort of flare surrounding the win, rather than settling for a two-point win.

    The Contenders: Gable…and?

    The Conference Champs:

    ACC: #10 Nathan Traxler (Virginia Tech)

    Big 12: #5 Wyatt Hendrickson (Air Force)

    Big Ten: #1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota)

    EIWA: #6 Jordan Wood (Lehigh)

    MAC: #8 Matt Stencel (Central Michigan)

    Pac-12: #2 Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State)

    SoCon: #15 Taye Ghadiali (Campbell)

    Top First-Round Matches

    #16 Zach Elam (Missouri) vs. #17 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin)

    #12 Christian Lance (Nebraska) vs. #21 Tyrie Houghton (NC State)

    #14 Luke Luffman (Illinois) vs. #19 Luke Surber (Oklahoma State)

    #10 Nathan Traxler (Virginia Tech) vs. #23 Quinn Miller (Virginia)

    #15 Taye Ghadiali (Campbell) vs. #18 Lewis Fernandes (Cornell)

    This weight class was the one I was most eagerly anticipating, as far as seeing how the seeds were doled out. It's no secret that the place to be is on the bottom half (away from Gable). Since this bracket features two other undefeated wrestlers, #2 Cohlton Schultz and #5 Wyatt Hendrickson, there were plenty of possible solutions to the seeding mess. What made things worse was that Schultz didn't hit any of the big dogs from the Big Ten and Hendrickson saw even fewer. Guys like Tony Cassioppi, Greg Kerkvliet, and Mason Parris beat up on each other, which made their records look less spectacular.

    Sitting on the bottom of the bracket is Schultz, the Junior world champion in Greco. Schultz's best win of the regular season came in his final dual when he outlasted #6 Jordan Wood in tiebreakers. He comes in with an 18-0 record and six falls. Last year, Schultz was an NCAA fourth-place finisher whose two defeats in St. Louis have accounted for his only collegiate losses. Those, of course, came to Cassioppi, who takes the third seed. A pair of wins over Kerkvliet at their dual and in the Big Ten semifinals helped boost Cassioppi over his Penn State counterpart. Those are Kerkvliet's only losses of the year, but he gets the fourth seed. Another meeting with Steveson could be fun, as Kerkvliet was one of two to limit Gable to a regular decision last year and also competed against him in high school, back in Minnesota.

    A fourth-place finish at the Big Ten's by 2021 NCAA runner-up, Mason Parris, gave him the seventh seed and sets up an intriguing quarterfinal bout with Schultz. Those two or Cassioppi would be the frontrunners to meet Steveson in the finals.

    Seeded ahead of Parris is #6 Jordan Wood, who made history by becoming the first (and likely last) five-time EIWA champion. #8 Matt Stencel also accomplished the same feat in the MAC. Both are past All-Americans that will have a say in who finishes on the podium this year.

    The mysterious Henrickson will be must-watch in the early rounds for those not familiar with the Air Force big man. A Junior world fifth-place finisher, Hendrickson, is 24-0 with an eye-popping 16 falls. Early in his Big 12 final bout, Hendrickson was in some trouble; however, he quickly rebounded and majored Luke Surber, 16-6.

    Quadrant to Watch: We already highlighted a potential quarterfinal bout on the bottom of the bracket between Mason Parris and Cohlton Schultz. But those two will both have to get their hands raised twice, which is no small feat considering the competition. Parris could see Nathan Traxler in the Round of 16; Traxler has only lost twice this season and was a match away from placing last year. Schultz likely has the winner of Taye Ghadiali and Lewis Fernandes in the Round of 16. Ghadiali has only lost twice this year and both have been extremely close, to Traxler and Stencel. Fernandes has been solid, but not spectacular, during his first run as the starter for the Big Red.

    Darkhorse All-American Contender: #14 Luke Luffman (Illinois)

    This is a deep weight, so there are a handful of guys who could be mentioned here. Based on the way the brackets could break, we've got Luffman advancing to the bloodround. Luffman is coming off a strong showing, taking sixth in the loaded Big Ten. That may not seem too unusual, but Luffman did log wins over #12 Christian Lance and #17 Trent Hillger while in Lincoln. If Luffman puts together a strong run on the backside, it's likely he'll face either Stencel/Davison to place. Davison has two very close wins over him earlier in the season.

    Extreme (+20 seed) Darkhorse All-American Contender: #21 Tyrie Houghton (NC State)

    All year we speculated on who would end up getting the call for NC State and it ended up being Tyrie Houghton, who went on to make the finals at the ACC Championships. Houghton first jumped into the spotlight when he was sent out to face Zach Elam and Cassioppi at the Collegiate Duals. While he fell in both contests, Houghton had his moments and proved he could hang with some of the best in the country. A week later, he was fifth at the Southern Scuffle and outlasted teammate Owen Trephan in his final bout. Even with a loss in the opening round to Lance, Houghton has a path to win a few matches and could meet Luffman in the consolation Round of 16.

    Projected Quarterfinals

    #1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota) vs. #9 Lucas Davison (Northwestern)
    #5 Wyatt Hendrickson (Air Force) vs. #4 Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State)

    #3 Tony Cassioppi (Iowa) vs. #6 Jordan Wood (Lehigh)
    #7 Mason Parris (Michigan) vs. #2 Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State)

    Projected Semifinals

    #1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota) vs. #4 Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State)
    #3 Tony Cassioppi (Iowa) vs. #6 Mason Parris (Michigan)

    Projected All-Americans

    1st) Gable Steveson (Minnesota)
    2nd) Mason Parris (Michigan)
    3rd) Tony Cassioppi (Iowa)
    4th) Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State)
    5th) Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State)
    6th) Lucas Davison (Northwestern)
    7th) Wyatt Hendrickson (Air Force)
    8th) Jordan Wood (Lehigh)

    Round of 12 Finishers: #10 Nathan Traxler (Virginia Tech); #14 Luke Luffman (Illinois); #12 Christian Lance (Nebraska); #8 Matt Stencel (Central Michigan)

    Consolation Round of 16: #16 Zach Elam (Missouri); #21 Tyrie Houghton (NC State); #13 Tate Orndorff (Ohio State); #17 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin)

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