Michigan State 197 lber Cam Caffey (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
It’s hard to believe, but there’s only one more week of conference duals remaining after this one. Every match matters as wrestlers are polishing up their resumes ahead of Big Ten seedings. A few teams wrestled their final home duals this past weekend. Seniors Lucas Davison, of Nebraska, and Illinois’ Matt Wroblewski both thanked their home crowds with emphatic pins to close out their home dual careers.
A lot happened this week, so here are our takeaways, and BIG Awards at the bottom!
“Are you not entertained” - Cam Caffey probably.
As the season begins to wrap up, each of these teams have left us with some things I’m fairly certain of, so here I plan on listing many of them. First of all, Danny Pucino from Illinois is really good. He really took it to Blake Noonan in this dual, getting an impressive 23-8 tech fall at 141 pounds. He was not someone I was counting on this season for the Fighting Illini, but that’s a me problem. I accept that.
Next, and stop me if you’ve heard this, but Chase Saldate should be the 3 seed at 157. His only loss to a B1G opponent remains to Derek Gilcher of Indiana at the Reno Tournament of Champions, but is still currently ranked below Will Lewan of Michigan, who he has beaten. After this weekend, he should be above Trevor Chumbley of Northwestern. That would leave him as the 4th ranked 157, but again, I would expect that head-to-head win over Lewan would get him into that 3 spot. This is all assuming he can avenge that loss to Gilcher, who he wrestles this Friday night for Senior night in East Lansing.
You know what else I’m certain of, Lucas Byrd is going to be an All-American again. Sure, he has the three losses, but those are to Mendez of Ohio State at the MSU Open, and has proven to be an understandable close loss. Other than that though, he has a close loss to Micky Phillippi of Pitt by a point, and he lost that insane match at Midlands against Michael Colaiocco of Penn. However, his 22 wins are the second most of any ranked 133 on the season (shoutout to Kurtis Phipps of Bucknell on having 27 wins and 8 losses to this point on the season. Who needs rest?), and I’m going to defer to a willingness to compete when I’m deciding who is going to get over the hump. Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it.
The last piece here is that Cam Caffey, the entertaining 197 for the Spartans, can beat anyone on any day. Granted it was a tough weekend for Zac Braunagel, losing on Friday night to Silas Allred of Nebraska, and then dropping the last-second takedowns to Cam to lose, but nonetheless a win over Zac Braunagel this season is nothing to scoff at. Zac has proven that he’s been able to win the gritty and close matches, but the slickness of Caffey on Sunday afternoon was too much for Braunagel. We’ve seen Cam beat eventual national champion Max Dean last season, and we’ve seen him beat a variety of the guys ranked above him at 197. On the right day, Cam Caffey can string together some wins, and MSU’s goal this whole year was to help their guys peak at the right time. I’ll be dialed in watching these guys battle over the next 6-7 weeks to see how that turns out.
Hawkeyes a step below PSU, and a step above the rest.
Iowa largely handled business here. Spencer Lee coasted to a 7-1 win over Patrick McKee of Minnesota. Most of his points came early in the match, with a takedown and 4 backpoints, but then he could kind of hang out until the match ended. He was never really threatened, which is impressive, because McKee is a threatening guy. More impressive though was Real Woods against Jakob Bergeland. I wrote about Jake last week and how great he looked against Pucino on Senior Night, but this week was a little bit different. Woods looked like a guy ready to prove that he’s the man in the B1G. It was still a regular decision at 8-1, but he was in control throughout the match. Speaking of domination, Patrick Kennedy sure is fun to watch isn’t he? He’s always moving forward and attacking, and he has a wide variety of attacks. I mean, a variety of attacks, just so long as they involve hitting the other guy in the head first. Iowa shut it down after winning the first 6 weights, only sending out one starter after those.
This author will not tolerate Jacob Warner slander, so that’s not what’s about to happen here at all. In fact, quite the opposite. Hear me out, this might sound crazy, but is it possible that Michial Foy is good? Stay with me! Remember last year when Stevan Micic lost to Jakob Bergeland in the dual, and the response was largely, “what’s wrong with Micic?” Well, we remember how that finished right? Bergeland beat him again at B1Gs, and eventually ended up as an All-American for the Golden Gophers. It turns out, Jakob Bergeland was just good! Maybe that’s what’s happening here also. Michial Foy has been dangerous when he’s been in their lineup, and this season he’s wrestled very well. In fact, just last week he went into rideouts with Zac Braunagel, ultimately losing, but still. In addition to the Warner win, Foy now has a win over Luke Surber, who just beat Rocky Elam this last weekend, so this is his second noteworthy win of the season. He’ll have a chance to pick up one more big win before B1Gs, going up against Braxton Amos, as Minnesota wrestles Wisconsin for their final conference dual of the year. You can catch that this Saturday at 2pm EST. Meanwhile, Iowa will host Michigan Friday night, and Oklahoma State on Sunday to close out their dual season.
Nebraska should be well-rested moving forward.
Saturday the Boilermakers of Purdue hosted the Cornhuskers of Nebraska. Let’s set the scene. I’m at home with my family after a long day of kids sports and errands. We were going to finish it up with a movie night, which also pairs as a night for me to watch wrestling on mute as I half pay attention to the movie. The movie for the night was Wakanda Forever. It was fine. I wish I could say the same for the dual. Lenny Pinto (184) and Silas Allred (197) have been exciting new additions to the Cornhusker lineup. We were fortunate to watch Taylor Venz and Eric Schultz at those weights for so many years, something new always takes a moment to get used to, but both Pinto and Allred have proven through the course of the season that they were ready to jump head first into the B1G, and to be dependable competitors for Nebraska. For Purdue, Hayden Copass has looked good for them at heavyweight. Since returning from some injuries, he’s gotten a win over Garrett Joles of Minnesota, and a win this week over Cale Davidson. He has just lost to Jaden Bullock of Indiana and to Trent Hilger of Wisconsin, both 2-0. Granted, close losses are still losses, but both of those guys are very talented, so he’s not going to be an easy out for anyone in March.
I sure hope Nebraska’s Liam Cronin (ranked 5th at 125) and Peyton Robb (ranked 1st at 157) are okay. I hope their being out of the lineup in this dual was for rest rather than injury issues, but I don’t see why they wouldn’t compete here against the Boilermakers third-ranked Matt Ramos (125) and sixth-ranked Kendall Coleman (157). I would think that you’d rest against the less competitive matchups, and compete hard against the best competition, but what do I know?. They ended the dual at 157, so the anticipation for the match built steadily, and so much so that I didn’t even remember about the potential Cronin v Ramos match at 125, or the Brock Hardy versus Parker Fillius matchup at 141. At least that match happened, and Hardy continued to look like a legitimate title contender. Especially with how interesting the 157 seeding is going to get at B1Gs, Coleman v Robb was a match that would have really helped paint a clearer picture heading into the final weeks of the regular season. To Nebraska’s credit, the backups at 125 and 157, Jacob Van Dee (125) and Antrell Taylor (157), did wrestle well against Ramos and Coleman, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing to miss out on these two big matches. Nebraska does have Ohio State, Rutgers, and Arizona State left on their schedule before the B1G tournament in Ann Arbor, so rest does seem reasonable. I’m not mad, just disappointed.
PSU vs. OSU: A mix of old and new talent
Two of the most highly anticipated bouts in the Nittany Lions’ 29-9 win over the Buckeyes Friday night featured two decorated veterans in Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young and Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso against two promising freshmen in Jesse Mendez and Shayne Van Ness, respectively.
This time, the experience paid off as Bravo-Young and Sasso added to their win totals. Van Ness was able to get the initial takedown, but other than that, both veteran wrestlers were in control throughout most of their matches, despite strong efforts from their opponents.
Mendez (who finished fourth on MatScouts’ 2022 Big Board recruiting rankings) was active throughout the match, defensively sound and able to avoid the type of mistake that doomed Iowa’s Brody Teske the week prior. However, he wasn’t able to take RBY down. For his part, RBY took the true freshman down three times – including twice with less than 30 seconds left in consecutive periods.
The fifth-year senior was the embodiment of what the Big Ten Network’s Jim Gibbons called “Cool in a singlet,” prancing around the mat and waiting for his opponent to make the slightest mistake. There weren’t many, but RBY’s patience, mat awareness and technical ability - all factors that improve with experience - helped him roll to a solid 8-2 victory.
Sasso, while he doesn't yet have the NCAA title to his name, has a similarly long list of accolades as RBY in his redshirt senior year. Van Ness (fifth on the 2021 Big Board) was able to find Sasso out of position and got to his ankle for that first takedown, but it was pretty much over from there. Sasso added a takedown of his own, a reversal, and a third-period ride-out for the 6-3 win.
Mendez and Van Ness weren’t the only two highly recruited freshmen in action Friday night. Two of them - Ohio State’s Paddy Gallagher (No. 1 on the 2021 Big Board) and Penn State’s Levi Haines (No. 7 on the 2022 Big Board) - faced off against each other. This time, it was Haines with the impressive 14-2 major decision. Gallagher was able to bounce back from that loss in a big way on Sunday (more on that later).
Penn State’s Alex Facundo (second on the 2021 Big Board) was the other freshman to earn a big win, 4-1, over sophomore Carson Kharchla. A controversial hands-to-the-face call gave Facundo the 2-0 lead in the second and a late takedown sealed it at the end.
While Mendez and Van Ness were outmatched this time, they’ll no doubt be better for having had that experience.
OSU stays cool under pressure vs. Northwestern
It didn’t take long for Ohio State to shake off its loss to Penn State, earning a 21-12 win at Northwestern on Sunday. While the final score tipped heavily in the favor of Ohio State, which won seven of 10 bouts, the dual was closer than the final score would indicate. Three bouts went into extra periods and six of the other seven were decided by four points or less - including three by one point.
The outlier being Northwestern heavyweight Lucas Davison’s fall of Tate Orndorff in 6:02 - a fitting Senior Day sendoff in Davison’s last home dual.
But of the three overtime bouts, Ohio State went 3-3. The Buckeyes also took two of the 1-point deciders.
Sunday also served as a nice bounceback for several Ohio State wrestlers who took tough losses against the Nittany Lions on Friday. True freshman Jesse Mendez got things started at 133 pounds against two-time All-American sophomore Chris Cannon. Cannon built up a 3-0 lead in the second period, but Mendez was able to peel out for an escape before the period ended. Another escape in the third and a late takedown sent the match into sudden victory, where Mendez scored off a counter for the 6-4 decision.
The next OT win went to No. 3 Sammy Sasso, who continued his strong weekend at 149 pounds, gutting out a 2-1 win over No. 4 Yahya Thomas in tiebreakers. Paddy Gallagher bounced back from his loss to Levi Haines with a 3-3 win over No. 11 Trevor Chumbley on riding time criteria. Gallagher scored the lone takedown of the bout in the third period but a penalty point and escape for Chumbley sent it into extra periods. Gallagher was able to keep Chumbley from escaping in the first tiebreaker period, which ended up deciding the match.
In addition to Gallagher, Carson Kharchla and Ethan Smith were also able to avenge losses from Friday night. No. 12 Kharchla earned a hard-fought 3-2 win over No. 18 Maxx Mayfield and Smith earned a 7-3 decision over Troy Fisher.
One of the most exciting wins of the afternoon, however, belonged to Wildcat Frankie Tal-Shahar. The sophomore was tied 1-1 in the third with Dylan D’Emilio, when he rolled through a shot into a high-crotch for by far the craziest takedown of the dual (read more about this below). Northwestern’s third win came from No. 8 Michael DeAugustino, 4-1, over No. 10 Malik Heinselman.
Ohio State will want to ride this momentum into next weekend, when it hosts Nebraska for one of the most anticipated Big Ten duals of the season.
Welcome to the fourth 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!
B1Ggest Upset: No. 28 Michial Foy over No. 7 Jacob Warner
We’ve spoken about this already, but the Michial Foy win was clearly the biggest upset by the numbers. Foy, who wasn’t in the Gopher lineup until Garrett Joles bumped to Heavyweight, was able to beat Jacob Warner of Iowa, who was an NCAA finalist last season. Warner has struggled at times this season, but I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose. Some Iowa fans might argue differently. Foy is very much one of the guys who you should expect to see in Tulsa in March, and can clearly wrestle with some of the best in the country. This win was especially impressive, with how he rode out Warner in the third, ultimately cutting him with the confidence that he would get the necessary takedown to seal the deal. He did, and I am sure he will remember that win fondly as his last match wrestled in front of the Minnesota home crowd.
B1Ggest Win: Maryland’s Braxton Brown over Dean Peterson, of Rutgers
The Maryland Terrapins have been dealing with both injuries and illness, as I outlined last week. This week though, they hosted Rutgers, and got things started quickly with 18th-ranked Braxton Brown getting a major decision over then-12th-ranked Dean Peterson. This battle of two B1G 125 pound freshmen was not especially close. I would have expected Brown to start off slowly coming off of an illness that held him out against Michigan last week, but not the case at all. Brown, who remains undefeated in duals on the season, did a really good job staying aggressive, controlling the tie-ups, and being especially physical with his defense. Brown was dominant on top in the second period, riding Peterson for the entire period, and hitting a very nice suicide cradle to score the match's first points. Brown ultimately ended with a major decision and got his record to 19-2 on the season. This week he’ll take on third-ranked Matt Ramos of Purdue Friday night, assuming nobody rests.
B1Ggest Move(s): Cam Caffey’s takedowns against Zac Braunagel
Michigan State’s Cam Caffey hit not one, but two big takedowns at the end of his match against Braunagel of Illinois. Trailing 3-2 for most of the third period, Cam continued to dig in underhooks and stay heavy on the head of the physical and relentless Braunagel. Even with 30 seconds left in the match, Cam found himself hopping on one leg as Braunagel tried to finish off a single leg, but Cam’s slick defense ended up with him flipping the script on Zac, and 10 seconds later was finishing a single leg of his own. He collected the two points, but the tenacity of Braunagel was not deterred. He powers up to his feet and collects his escape to tie the match at 4 with 10 seconds left. He must have blinked, which was a mistake, because before anyone knew what had happened, Cam was finishing a nice high crotch to go up 6-4 with 6 seconds left. The shot from behind the MSU bench of that takedown on BTN was unbelievable. I recommend you go back and watch this wildly entertaining end to a great match.
BIGgest upset co-winners: Paddy Gallagher (OSU) and Silas Allred (Nebraska)
The biggest upset was tough to pick this week from my side of the conference. No. 25 Paddy Gallagher over No. 11 Trevor Chumbley at 157 was the biggest upset in terms of rankings. That win was even more significant for Gallagher as a confidence booster for him and his coaches after taking that tough loss against Penn State’s Haines. But I also wanted to make sure Nebraska’s Silas Allred was given his due. Not only did he pin the then-No. 10 Zac Braunagel on Friday, but he also went on to pin Purdue’s Hayden Filipovich the next day. At 197 pounds, every win matters. Allred’s 2-for-2 weekend catapulted him up from No. 16 to No. 10 in InterMat’s updated rankings. More importantly, he’s now the second-highest ranked Big Ten wrestler at the weight (behind Penn State’s Max Dean), with an important matchup against Ohio State’s No. 17 Gavin Hoffman on the horizon.
BIGgest win: Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola over Illinois’ Edmond Ruth
While the online chirping and postmatch antics between Penn State’s Carter Starocci and Indiana’s DJ Washington might have grabbed most of the headlines at 174 pounds this weekend, Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola is quietly putting together a fantastic season so far as the No. 2 in the weight class. He bolstered his 21-0 record even more this weekend with his win over Ruth, who was ranked No. 12 at the time. Ruth gave a valiant effort, coming back from a 5-1 deficit in the third with a pair of takedowns and an escape to send the match into OT. But Labriola kept his cool when Ruth immediately got in on his ankle off the whistle in SV, fought off the takedown attempt and came around for 2 of his own. Labriola is another Husker who will have an important matchup Friday, as he’s set to take on Ohio State’s No. 6 Ethan Smith.
BIGgest move: Frankie Tal-Shahar’s roll against Dylan D’Emilio
It’s not too often that you see a successful roll out of a shot attempt and into a takedown in college wrestling. It takes a lot of athleticism and guts. But Frankie Tal-Shahaar had both of those things Sunday against Ohio State’s Dylan D’Emilio. The pair were tied 1-1 in the third period when D’Emilio grabbed Tal-Shahar’s right leg and kicked his left foot out from under him. Tal-Shahar rolled through to his knees and into a high-crotch. D’Emilio escaped but Tal-Shahar was able to hold on for the 3-2 win, avenging his loss from Big Tens last season.