Yianni Diakomihalis (top) and Ridge Lovett at the 2021 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational (Photos courtesy of Sam JanickiPhoto.com)
The NCAA finals are going down in just a few short hours! Finals matchups were set last night and all of our season-long speculation will get settled. Before the action starts, take a look at the competitors that will do battle on the raised stage at Little Caesars Arena.
125 lbs - #1 Nick Suriano (Michigan) vs. #3 Patrick Glory (Princeton)
It's an all-Jersey final as both finalists call New Jersey home. Top-seeded Nick Suriano joined the Wolverines in mid-season and gave them an instant title contender. In his two previous trips to the NCAA Championships, Suriano made the finals both times, coming away with a title in 2019 at 133 lbs. This year he is unbeaten with a 15-0 record. Though he's had a few close matches along the way, Suriano hasn't been in danger of losing, at all. Glory was set to be the second seed at the 2020 NCAA Tournament, but didn't have the opportunity to compete. He returned this year and claimed a title at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and did not lose until the EIWA finals. For the conference title, Glory was almost teched by Vito Arujau (Cornell). For a spot in the finals, Glory won the rubber match between the two and became the first Princeton wrestler to make an NCAA final since Greg Parker in 2002.
Previous Meeting: None
133 lbs - #1 Roman Bravo-Young (Oklahoma State) vs. Daton Fix (Oklahoma State)
The 133 lb final between Roman Bravo-Young and Daton Fix is the only final that is a rematch of last year's championship. Like 2021, both wrestlers come in with perfect records. Generally, these two have been a class by themselves. Bravo-Young was pushed in the semis by Austin DeSanto (Iowa), yet pulled off a late takedown for the win. They met two other times this season and both were won in a similar fashion. Fix also had a close victory over DeSanto during the regular season. To earn a spot in the finals, Fix had little trouble with Michael McGee (Arizona State) and breezed to a 5-1 win. While both finalists here are dynamic offensively, they also can shut down opponents. I'd expect a bout that follows the blueprint of their 2021 final. One that sees both hesitant to overextend themselves unless there is an obvious opening.
Bravo-Young: 4-2; 2021 NCAA Finals
141 lbs - #1 Nick Lee (Penn State) vs. #15 Kizhan Clarke (North Carolina)
We've got the proverbial Cinderella story with 15th seeded Kizhan Clarke meeting the undefeated, returning champion at this weight, with Nick Lee. Clarke did not automatically qualify out of the ACC and was given the 15th seed. Clarke has been winning tight matches all tournament. His four wins have come with a six-point margin. The UNC law student, Clarke, took out the second-seed, Jaydin Eierman (Iowa), in sudden victory and outlasted ACC-foe, Cole Matthews (Pittsburgh), in a bout decided on riding time criteria. Lee is a perfect 21-0 and is on a 26-match winning streak after suffering a loss in the 2021 Big Ten finals. He wasn't able to separate himself from his semifinal opponent, Real Woods (Stanford), but still managed to get by with a 3-2 victory. This should be an interesting contrast of styles as Lee can fire off attacks with the best of them, while Clarke is measured in his offensive approach and stout defensively.
Previous Meeting: None
149 lbs - #1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) vs. #10 Ridge Lovett (Nebraska)
Don't be deceived by the seed differential here. Ridge Lovett is responsible for pushing Yianni Diakomihalis like no other wrestler during the 2021-22 campaign. Diakomihalis needed sudden victory overtime to get by Lovett at the CKLV Invitational. That loss, and two to Austin Gomez (Wisconsin), account for Lovett's three losses on the year. In the semifinals, Lovett and Bryce Andonian (Virginia Tech) treated the crowd to one of the best matches of the round. Lovett doesn't mind taking risks and doesn't back down from anyone. Diakomihalis is chasing his third title and riding a 74-match winning streak after downing Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) in the semifinals. Sasso and Yianni also met in the CKLV final, too. Throughout this tournament, Diakomihalis has been in control of his matches, more so than the scoreboard may indicate. He hasn't notched a bonus-point win all tournament, but hasn't been seriously threatened either. His wins in the quarters and semis came by identical 6-3 scores to Murin and Sasso.
Diakomihalis: 6-4 SV; 2021 CKLV semifinals
157 lbs - #5 Quincy Monday (Princeton) vs. #2 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern)
What a remarkable story as Princeton has two finalists as Quincy Monday also joins teammate Pat Glory. This is Monday's first time on the podium though he was named a first-team All-American in 2020. Monday won his first EIWA title this year and parlayed that into the fifth seed. In the quarters, he avenged a regular-season loss to Ed Scott (NC State). A match later, Monday got by the defensively sound Will Lewan (Michigan), to earn his spot in the final. Opposite him will be Ryan Deakin, who finally has the opportunity to wrestle in a national championship bout. Deakin is a three-time Big Ten champion, who was seeded first last year and upset in the semifinals. He has now placed at the national tournament on three occasions and earned All-American honors four times.
Deakin: 8-3; 2021 CKLV finals
Deakin: 5-2; 2018 Midlands Championships
165 lbs - #5 Shane Griffith (Stanford) vs. #2 Keegan O'Toole (Missouri)
In each of the past two years, Shane Griffith has lost in the Pac-12 finals. Last year, that didn't matter as he won a national championship out of the eighth position. This time he's back in the finals. Griffith was able to defeat conference rival and top-seeded, Evan Wick (Cal Poly), when it mattered most. The pair wrestled four times this season, with Wick getting his hand raised in the first three. To get the win, Griffith secured the winning takedown with just three seconds remaining in the bout. In order for Griffith to win title number two, he'll need to get by one of the favorites all season, Keegan O'Toole. Last year, as a true freshman, O'Toole only suffered one loss and finished third. Now, O'Toole comes in with a perfect 24-0 record and has racked up bonus points in two-thirds of his appearances. This week, O'Toole has suffocated his opponents and hasn't surrendered a single point in four bouts.
Previous Meeting: None
174 lbs - #1 Carter Starocci (Penn State) vs. #2 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech)
The only champ versus champ meeting we have in store comes at 174 lbs, where both wrestlers won their titles as redshirt freshmen. Carter Starocci is the returning champion at this weight class and hasn't lost since the 2021 Big Ten finals. A 6-1 win over Mikey Labriola (Nebraska) represents Starocci's closest bout of the tournament. In the semis, he put up ten points on four-time NCAA All-American Hayden Hidlay (NC State). Even with Starocci's recent scoring output, he has been tested in close matches during the Big Ten dual season and the conference final. Also attempting to capture his second NCAA title is Lewis, who won the 165 lb bracket in 2019. Lewis was entangled in a tight bout with 2021 Big Ten runner-up, Logan Massa (Michigan), before catching him out of position and shocking him with a fall, late in the third period. Both of these past national champions are extremely difficult to score on, so I'd expect a low-scoring match with a counterattack being the difference.
Previous Meeting: None
184 lbs - #1 Myles Amine (Michigan) vs. #2 Aaron Brooks (Penn State)
The finals order has been determined, with 285 lbs wrapping up the competition; however, this could be the de facto main event. This tournament has only had one meeting between the top two teams; this would be the second. Though Penn State already has the team crown locked up, it's still fun. Plus, we have a contest between an Olympic medalist (Amine) and a returning national champion (Brooks). The two have already clashed twice this year, with each grabbing a win. Brooks came out on top in their dual meeting, while Amine returned the favor in the Big Ten finals. This time he should have a heavily partisan crowd on his side. While both wrestlers are amongst the best pound-for-pound in the nation, each had to gut out sudden victory wins just to appear in the finals.
Brooks: 3-1; 2021-22 Dual Meet
Amine: 6-4SV; 2022 Big Ten Finals
197 lbs - #1 Max Dean (Penn State) vs. #6 Jacob Warner (Iowa)
It's always good to have an Iowa/Penn State match in the finals, so we get to check off that box too. One of the stories leading into Detroit was the unpredictability of this weight class. To an extent, that was correct. At the same time, the top-seed Max Dean did survive and competing on Saturday night for the second time. In 2019, Dean took out unbeaten #1 Myles Martin (Ohio State) to appear in the 184 lb finals for Cornell. Now at Penn State, Dean has been more consistent; however, he has narrowly averted disaster multiple times this season and even within the past two days. Dean was the beneficiary of â€œquestionableâ€ calls in both his Round of 16 and quarterfinal matches, before a decisive semifinal win over Gavin Hoffman (Ohio State). Jacob Warner has gotten onto the podium on two previous occasions, but each time he's lost before the semi's then battled back. This year, Warner pulled slight upsets over #3 Eric Schultz (Nebraska), then #2 Stephen Buchanan (Wyoming), to secure his spot on the raised mat. Considering both of their histories, with each other, and their styles, I'd anticipate a low-scoring, tight match.
Dean: 8-3; 2021-22 Dual Meet
285 lbs - #1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota) vs. #2 Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State)
This will be the final bout of the evening, as it's expected to be the final collegiate appearance by Gable Steveson. The 2020 Olympic gold medalist will seek to add to his collection with a second collegiate title and perhaps his second Hodge Trophy. Standing in the way in an imposing figure in Cohlton Schultz, a Cadet World Champion. Many expected Schultz to fall to one of the Big Ten members in the bottom half of the bracket, but that wasn't the case. He withstood the offensive attacks of 2021 finalist Mason Parris (Michigan) in the quarters, then pulled a rabbit out of his hat in the semi's against Jordan Wood (Lehigh). The Lehigh big man appeared to be on his way to a winning takedown in the final seconds of their second tiebreaker; however, Schultz rolled Wood through and got the winning score of his own.
Previous Meeting: None