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  • Photo: Mark Lundy

    Photo: Mark Lundy

    B1G Takeaways from the Final Week of the Regular Season

    Iowa 3x NCAA Champion Spencer Lee (Photo/Mark Lundy; LutteLens.com)

    Well, that’s it, folks. The regular season, at least for Big Ten teams, is behind us and March Matness lies ahead. While the feeling is bittersweet, the anticipation for Big Tens and NCAAs outweighs any sadness.

    This week, several storied seniors wrestled their final duals – with both Spencer Lee and Roman Bravo-Young bookending their dual careers with falls. Other teams wrapped up notable seasons and set new records.

    Here are our takeaways, and BIG Awards at the bottom!

    RBY bookends his dual career with pins

    Throughout his career at Penn State, Roman Bravo-Young has consistently said that his main goal when wrestling is to “put on a show.”

    And as he had his hand raised for the last time at Rec Hall on Sunday, ending his collegiate dual career the same way it started – with a pin, it’s safe to say he delivered.

    He played with his opponent, Clarion’s Mason Prinkey, like a cat with a mouse, throwing him to the mat multiple times and racking up six takedowns and four nearfall before getting the pin at 4:31. The match almost didn’t even last that long as RBY trapped Prinkey in a headlock and threw him to the mat about 10 seconds in for two swipes.

    RBY denied it when asked if he let Prinkey out on purpose in order to extend his final Rec Hall performance.

    “I was trying to pin him there,” he said. “He’s a little squirmy. He kept trying to dig the underhooks.”

    That pin was RBY’s fourth of the season and the 12th of his career. His first was in 5:31 against Kent State’s Tim Rooney in 2018. Another early indication of the excitement RBY would bring wrestling fans was five duals later against Lehigh when he made the “SportsCenter Top 10” with a “flying squirrel” against Brandon Paetzell at Rec Hall.

    While his collegiate dual career is over, there’s still plenty for RBY to accomplish before hanging up his blue-and-white singlet.

    “It’s kind of weird being done,” he said. “It was a surreal moment but just like anything else in life, you’ve got to move on. Like Cael (Sanderson) said, the job’s really not done and I’m excited for nationals.”

    Indiana wraps up its best dual season since 2016-17

    Indiana came into this season with a chip on its shoulder, wanting to prove to the wrestling world that it’s better than last year’s 3-8 (1-7 BIG) record and last-place Big Ten Championships-finish would indicate.

    Well, it completed the first half of that mission, finishing the dual season 8-5 (3-5 BIG) – its best regular season finish since the 2016-17 season and the best under head coach Angel Escobedo. Sunday’s win against Chattanooga also marked Indiana’s most wins over DI opponents since 2010-11.

    Indiana’s 32-3 thumping of Chattanooga was highlighted by two ranked wins and mild upsets. Then-No. 24 Henry Porter earned an 8-3 decision over then-No. 21 Brayden Palmer at 133 and No. 13 D.J. Washington topped No. 10 Rocky Jordan, 4-1, at 174. This was the second ranked victory in consecutive weeks for the freshman Porter. Heavyweight Jacob Bullock also finished off the dual with an exclamation point – a 17-1 tech fall in 5:19.

    The Hoosiers have had several highlights so far this season, including their come-from-behind win against intrastate rival Purdue to break a 12-season losing streak, their win on criteria on the road at Maryland and Bullock earning arguably the best win of his career – over Ohio State’s Tate Orndorff.

    But the season’s not over yet and the next challenge – the Big Ten Championships – awaits.

    The Hoosiers will enter Big Tens with five wrestlers ranked by InterMat (updated Tuesday) – No. 20 Porter, No. 28 Graham Rooks, No. 24 Derek Gilcher, No. 10 Washington and No. 25 Bullock.

    Nebraska finishes with 2 undefeated wrestlers for the first time since 1961

    Nebraska erased a nine-point deficit Sunday to earn a 25-15 Senior Day win over Arizona State in a battle of top-15 teams (per InterMat’s tournament rankings), completing its regular season 12-3.

    The Cornhuskers also achieved something Sunday that they haven’t achieved in more than six decades – they ended the season with not one but two undefeated wrestlers.

    Top-ranked Peyton Robb rolled to a 17-1 technical fall over Max Wilner at 157 and No. 2 Mikey Labriola battled for a 9-6 decision over Cael Valencia at 174. The victories bring Robb to 23-0 and Labriola to 24-0.

    Labriola, who was honored on Senior Day, hasn’t yet faced Penn State’s top-ranked Carter Starocci this season, but he did take out the preseason No. 2 and 2022 NCAA runner-up, Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis, 3-1 in sudden victory at the Cliff Keen Invitational. He also has four other top-10 wins, with No. 5 Ethan Smith, of Ohio State, No. 6 Demetrius Romero (medical forfeit), of Utah Valley, No. 8 Bailee O'Reilly, of Minnesota, and No. 9 Edmond Ruth, of Illinois.

    Robb hasn’t faced as many top opponents but has two wins over No. 7 Ed Scott, of North Carolina State. He also has wins over No. 11 Chase Saldate, of Michigan State, No. 13 Cobe Siebrecht, of Iowa, and No.15 Trevor Chumbley, of Northwestern.

    Both of their undefeated records will be heavily put to the test in Ann Arbor, where they could face wrestlers such as Starocci, Kendall Coleman and Levi Haines. But regardless of what happens then, an undefeated regular season is clearly an accomplishment, as Nebraska joins Penn State and Iowa as the only teams with multiple undefeated top-33 wrestlers – with two apiece.

    Ohio State’s Mendez finishes strong freshman regular season, despite falling to Arujau

    Ohio State’s top-10 dual with Cornell on Saturday stood out more for who didn’t wrestle than who did – with both teams missing significant portions of their starting lineups.

    But while several top matches – including No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis vs. No. 3 Sammy Sasso – didn’t happen in Ohio State’s 22-14 win, at least one did, with Cornell’s No. 3 Vito Arujau earning a 6-1 decision over No. 8 Jesse Mendez.

    Arujau handed Mendez just the third loss of his true freshman season, one of the other two coming to top-ranked RBY. Similar to the match against RBY, Mendez struggled to get any takedowns, his only points in both bouts coming by way of escapes.

    But elite competition aside, Mendez still put together a solid campaign in his debut season for the Buckeyes. The former top recruit finished the regular season 13-3, with notable wins over Illinois’ No. 9 Lucas Byrd, Michigan’s No. 11 Dylan Ragusin and Northwestern’s No. 12 Chris Cannon.

    He’ll end the regular season as the second-highest ranked Big Ten wrestler at 133 pounds – with head-to-head wins over the next three – which is good news when it comes to conference seeding and avoiding the same side of the bracket as RBY.

    Iowa looks healthy and ready for the road through Ann Arbor to Tulsa

    I have some awesome memories when it comes to Iowa and Oklahoma State wrestling. I was on the elliptical just before my son’s birthday party while watching the Grapple on the Gridiron in 2015. I was on my couch in my living room watching Piccinnini get the pin over Spencer Lee. It’s one of those great rivalry duals that through the years you make sure you can watch, because something awesome will happen. Another great thing about this rivalry is that usually both of these teams are in the top 10, and there are a lot of toss-up matches. This year was no different on paper. Oklahoma State was 14-2, and really looked great in the weeks leading up to this dual. Iowa was 14-1, with their lone loss coming to Penn State. This year had, in my mind, toss-up matches at 149, 157, 165, 174, 184, and 197. When you have 5 toss-up matches, it’s bound to make a great dual right? Not when those five toss-up matches end up going 4-1 in favor of one team. This is not me saying the dual wasn’t fun. This is me saying good for Iowa in being prepared to wrestle and get the gritty wins.

    Particularly the wins at 174 and 184 for the Hawkeyes were impressive. Neither Nelson Brands nor Abe Assad were favored, and both wrestlers have struggled this year with injury issues and generally missing time. Both Plott and Wittlake have looked really solid this year, and at points early in the season, I started to wonder if Plott was a dark horse NCAA Champion guy. I don’t think that’s the case this season anymore, but still, a nice win for Brands who we hope is hitting his stride at this point in the season. The swan song season for Spencer Lee continues to grow in infamy. Trying to explain to people what he’s done this year will sound like it’s made up, but it isn’t. He did a defensive cartwheel in order to catch his opponent on his back and pin him within the first minute of the match against rival Oklahoma State. That sounds fake, but we all watched it happen. Sith lord Spencer remains more powerful than we could have ever imagined.

    Gold, Silver, and Bronze in the State of Michigan

    This is an exercise for me, but other Michigan-centric folks will enjoy it as well. Let’s take a quick jaunt through the results of the Michigan, Michigan State, and Central Michigan duals. Here we’ll award Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals to the three wrestlers from the three schools, through all ten weights. Simple enough concept, but in certain areas, I will use my own discretion in awarding these medals, so it will largely be based on wins and losses, but there is some subjectivity when I feel it’s needed.

    125 Bronze goes to Tristan Lujan of Michigan State University. Tristan had a great start to the year, and had some impressive wins. I always liked Lujan, and he had made some improvements this season on finishing his shots quickly. As the B1G schedule got going and he had tougher competition, he really started to struggle. That is to be expected. You wrestle tougher opponents, you should theoretically win less, or have a harder time winning, but that was the case with Lujan. Silver goes to Sean Spidle of Central Michigan, who has a win over Lujan from Friday night, and has really come on strong here at the end of the season. He looks to have more confidence in his offense, compared to how he looked at the beginning of the season. He also looks to be a bit healthier, and possibly managing the weight a bit better, but regardless of the contributing factors, his recent results made me feel like he was going to have a chance against our gold medalist - Jack Medley. The energizer bunny struggled a bit just to get the spot earlier in the year, dropping the intrasquad match to Kurt McHenry, as well as their head-to-head match at the MSU Open. However, Jack Medley never quits, and always brings his best every single day, and has a fiercely positive attitude. Those factors have helped him solidify his spot in the lineup and he also seems to really be hitting his stride heading into Ann Arbor.

    133 The bronze goes to Vince Perez of Central Michigan. Perez got to be a full-time starter this season and has shown some improved wrestling throughout the year. I remember seeing some coverage of the team over the summer on workouts, and extra work guys are putting in, and Vince was always featured in that content. I like what we’ve seen in his first full year in the lineup. Being a starter can be a real kick in the teeth for some people. The mental toughness needed to make it through the grind has broken many people. It didn’t break Vince, and I look forward to how he’s going to grow from this experience. Silver goes to Dylan Ragusin of Michigan. This was tough because he’s looked better than Rayvon recently, and in the end, it’s more likely that he has a better postseason than Rayvon, but these are regular-season awards. Rayvon has won the dual matchups, and decisively this season, so I’m going with Ann Arbor Pioneer High School’s finest, Rayvon Foley, who was 2-0 against these two anyway, so I feel fine about this one in the end.

    141 The bronze medal goes to Central Michigan University. CMU struggled to have a consistent starter at 141 this year. They had Mason Breece compete against MSU, and Jimmy Nugent (not sure if he’s related to Ted. Probably.) compete against Michigan, neither won so it seems safe to award them the bronze here without a consistent starter and going 0-2. Jordan Hamdan is the silver medalist here. A close win over Breece, and got smoked by our Gold medalist Cole Mattin. Cole had a strong start to the year with an MSU Open title and a win over Mosha Schwartz of Oklahoma (currently ranked 7th in the country). More recently he has battled some injuries, but came back just in time to get the pin over Nugent in what some would call a Stranglehold (pun heavily intended). I hope any injury concerns are out of the way for Mattin, and that he is able to hit the ground running.

    149 The bronze medal goes to Peyton Omania, which is impressive considering he also has a World Bronze Medal at Junior Worlds in Greco-Roman wrestling back in 2019. Omania has the explosiveness and that extra level with the Greco background, but has lost to both CMU and Michigan in this race, so third place it is. Chance Lamer gets the silver here. I hope he’s okay, because he looks to have aggravated an injury against Lovett Sunday night, but he’s been so competitive in every match all year. Young wrestlers do young wrestler things, and he’s not the exception to that rule, but where he is different is he never seems to stop attacking. He always thinks he’s about to get right back in the match, and operates with the fearlessness that all young wrestlers don’t maintain throughout the season. Bright future ahead for him. Johnny Lovett of Central Michigan gets the gold medal here, but for him let's make it a championship belt. Truth be told, his indication that he was wearing the championship belt after beating Lamer on Sunday was the genesis for this article, so he gets the belt. He has struggled at times dropping down to 149 this year, but he really took it to both Omania and Lamer, and those are solid wins to head into the conference tournament with.

    157 The bronze medal goes to Corbyn Munson of the Chippewas. That’s tough for me to type, because this weight is both extremely tough, and extremely deep. He lost in OT to Saldate on Friday night, and had a close loss to Lewan on Sunday, but nonetheless, I can’t make any arguments to raise him from here. He had some strong wins on the year, beating Ed Scott of NC State earlier this season (currently ranked 7th in the country)/, but couldn’t get the wins against his B1G in-state counterparts. Lewan started the season ranked third in the country, but he takes the silver medal here. He’s made improvements to the way he’s competed in matches, but his wrestling still seems to lack the ability to score points in bunches against top competition. He’s proven he can do it in March, so I’m not saying he can’t, but he has an awful lot of ride-out wins this year. More than many have in a career I would think. Chase Saldate is awarded the gold medal here. He’s 2-0 against these teams, was undefeated in B1G dual action this season, should be a top 4 seed at B1Gs, and could legitimately win it. Saldate is a hammer on top, has solid attacks, and really solid defense. Strong recipe for success.

    165 The bronze medal goes to Tracy Hubbard of Central Michigan. I have been such a huge Tracy Hubbard fan. The guy does not cut weight to make 165. He just kind of walks around at the weight. He also is incredibly nice in every interaction I’ve had with him. That means a lot. Also, he’s a gamer. As an alumni of CMU, I have seen him show up in big moments more than not, and those memories are always going to be fun. Thanks Tracy for your career at CMU. It’s been a pleasure to watch and wish you all the luck at MACs. Silver goes to the Spartan, Caleb Fish. A solid win over Hubbard on Friday, and a close loss to Amine in their dual. Fish is a Michigan kid, so I always hear people tell me stories about how athletic he is and what he’s going to turn into. This year I feel like I’ve seen a lot of that. I have confidence that he will surprise people at B1Gs and NCAAs and go further than many think. Watch out for him on your side of the bracket. Cam Amine is the gold medal winner for the Wolverines. He has 2 wins against the in-state contingent, which is coincidentally the number of All-American finishes he has as well. The way he wrestles, and how he does so with the level of success that he has, leads me to believe that he might be frighteningly strong. I mean, compared to other D1 college wrestlers. He controls the tie-ups in just about all positions, and eventually gets where he wants. Watch his next match through this lens.

    174 Ceasar Garza takes the bronze here. He has had a solid freshman season for the Spartans, and as I referenced with Chance Lamer before, he continues to go after his opponents and shows improvement on the season. He’ll develop into something special as his career continues. Michigan’s combination of Joseph Walker and Max Maylor takes the silver here. The Wolverines have split this weight between the two wrestlers all year with Max beating Garza and Walker losing to our gold medalist in Alex Cramer of CMU. Cramer, a transfer from Old Dominion when they dropped their program, qualified for NCAAs in 2021, but wasn’t able to compete due to injury, and then redshirted last season to continue to recover from the injury. Needless to say, I’m excited about his continued development and for the impact he’s had in the lineup for the Chippewas this season and moving forward.

    184 Bronze goes to Ben Cushman of Central Michigan. Ben has been a staple in the Chippewa lineup for many years now. He wrestled valiantly against Layne Malczewski of Michigan State, and I would argue that there were some questionable calls in that match that hurt his chances of winning, but nonetheless. Malczewski of Michigan State takes the silver here. He is 20-3 on the season and currently ranked 13th in the nation. One of his losses however came to our gold medalist, the transfer from Duke, Matt Finesilver. Mustache Matt has been a huge addition to the Wolverine lineup, and has continued to show improvement as the season goes on. He’s closed gaps on some of his losses on the year, and has continued to develop since being in a more competitive room.

    197 In third place we have Brendin Yatooma of Michigan. Brendin has competed for the Wolverines for most of the season at 197, and has had some ups and downs on the year. He’s shown improvement over the season and has a great mustache, but he’s 0-2 against the state of Michigan, so he collects the bronze here. Cameron Wood took the W over Yatooma on Sunday night, therefore he’s the silver here. Wood has been in the lineup for most of the year, and has had ups and downs as well, but continues to show improvements also. The gold medal here goes to Spartan great, Cam Caffey. Cam has been in their lineup for years, and is certainly a fan favorite. Currently ranked 19th at the wildly deep 197 weight class, and he’s 17-3 on the year. Excited to see what he is able to do at B1Gs and how that weight will unfold in the postseason.

    HWY Bronze goes to Ryan Vasbinder of Michigan State. He transferred in from McKendree where he was a National Champion at 197 pounds. He’s transitioning to B1G heavyweight relatively well, considering that weight in the B1G has been a meat grinder for many years. Silver goes to Bryan Caves of Central Michigan. When you lose a 5x MAC Champion from your lineup, you’re likely not going to have someone step in and deliver on expectations, but I feel like Caves has. He’s wildly strong, and has shown technical improvements since I first saw him compete at the MSU Open. November Bryan Caves probably doesn’t take the silver here, but February Caves does. Gold goes to Mason Parris who has crushed it this season. He’s been dominant and remains undefeated and ranked first in the country. I have absolutely loved Mason Parris since his first moments in the Michigan lineup. Like Tracy Hubbard, Mason has only ever been great when interviewing him and talking through his career. We’ll all miss him after his career at Michigan is complete, but for the time being, let's enjoy these last couple of weeks.

    Awards!!

    Welcome to the sixth installment of our BIG Awards section, where we each hand out weekly honors for both of our picks for the biggest upset, win and consequential move of the teams we cover. Congrats to the winners!

    Kevin’s picks

    B1Ggest upset:
    Taylor Lamont got a huge win over then-14th-ranked Kyle Biscoglia of Northern Iowa on Saturday. The OT win was ultimately one of the wins that helped the Badgers get the 23-17 win over the Panthers. Since transferring to Wisconsin this year, Lamont has struggled at times, compared to his All-American seasons when he was with Utah Valley, but this win shows that he is as dangerous as advertised, and shouldn’t be overlooked at all entering the conference tournament, and likely NCAAs.

    B1Ggest win: Nelson Brands' win over Dustin Plott of Oklahoma State was huge for him. Entering that dual, he was 5-4, so he’s getting a win over an All-American like Plott has got to be huge for his confidence level heading into B1Gs. He’s been so patient with getting into the lineup and finding the ideal weight for him throughout the years, so it’s nice to see him getting healthier and accumulating some big wins for the Hawkeyes.

    B1Ggest move: Dylan Ragusin used every bit of the cylinder when getting the pin over Vince Perez of Central Michigan. He was working to finish a takedown on the edge of the mat, keeping one foot in bounds as he tried to drag Perez back onto the mat. Perez attacked the leg of Ragusin from the mat, but inadvertently got his head too close to his bottom leg. Dylan locked up the cradle, and it looks like they circle around for a moment as he locks it up tighter. Dylan is a smart guy, and as such, uses his head literally and figuratively to stay within bounds as he adjusts the cradle to get the pin. Very impressive that he was able to have such great mat awareness in getting the fall for the Wolverines.

    Lauren’s picks

    B1Ggest upset:
    No. 24 Henry Porter (IU) over No. 21 Brayden Palmer (Chat)

    For the second week in a row, this award goes to Indiana freshman Henry Porter. Fresh off his first ranked win of the season last week, 10-5 over Michigan State’s then-No. 17 Rayvon Foley, he did it again, this time topping Chattanooga’s No. 21 Brayden Palmer in an 8-3 decision. Talk about peaking at the right part of the season. The freshman has shown his potential throughout the year, exhibiting a fearlessness to go out and score points and a maturity to stay calm under pressure. He’ll enter the Big Ten Championships at 20-7, a pretty solid true freshman campaign.

    B1Ggest win: Nebraska’s Liam Cronin earns a top-10 win on Senior Day

    Yes, I know, this awards section looks pretty similar to last week’s. But, hey, there aren’t too many other wrestlers putting together as impressive a senior campaign as Liam Cronin. Of course, the elephant in the room here is Spencer Lee, who sits atop this weight class and is having not only arguably the best senior campaign this year but also in the conversation for all time. But Conin, a seventh-year senior who’s never placed at NCAAs, just earned his third straight top-20 win with a 7-1 defeat of 2021 NCAA runner-up Brandon Courtney, ranked eighth at the time, in sudden victory. The pair were knotted up at 1 apiece to end regulation, then a takedown and four-point nearfall in SV did the trick for Cronin. He now sits at No. 4 at 125 pounds with an 18-3 record and is in a good position heading into Ann Arbor.

    B1Ggest move: Nebraska’s Lenny Pinto doing … whatever he did to pin Anthony Montalvo

    Nebraska freshman Lenny Pinto showed a glimpse of why he’s going to be one of the more dangerous wrestlers at 184 pounds this season – earning a pin in 1:05 over Arizona State’s No. 29 Anthony Montalvo on Sunday. But it wasn’t so much that he got the pin as how he got the pin. Pinto fought off a throw attempt to put Montalvo on his back but the Sun Devil escaped back points and went on the attack himself, earning a takedown and two swipes. But then Pinto reversed him and got the pin, as the crowd lost its collective mind. Me describing this sequence isn’t going to do it any justice. Definitely do yourself a favor and watch it for yourself.

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