Malik Heinselman (right) and Jack Medley at Friday's dual (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
This week had a Rivalry Week theme in the Big Ten as No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Iowa clashed in State College, Ohio State dominated the state of Michigan and Indiana laid claim to The Hoosier State by beating Purdue.
Here are our takeaways from the week, and BIG Awards at the bottom!
Penn State shows why it’s the team to beat with a win over Iowa
All the hype preceding the No. 1 vs. No 2 clash between Penn State and Iowa last Friday paid off, as the 15,998 fans inside the BJC tied the NCAA record for the largest crowd for an indoor dual meet, and the 388,000 who tuned in on the Big Ten Network set a new viewership record.
While some fans - and coaches - would have liked to have seen action in the individual matches (the team totaled 18 takedowns between them), the overall takeaway from the Nittany Lions’ 23-14 win – their 39th consecutive – was clear: Penn State is going to be pretty darn difficult to beat in March.
Sure, the Nittany Lions have some work to do. But as head coach Cael Sanderson said, “Iowa always does a good job of showing you what you need to work on.”
Penn State’s younger wrestlers, particularly at 141 and 149, weren’t very dynamic on offense – or really offensive at all. Aside from the opening exchange, Beau Bartlett didn’t get a good shot in against Real Woods until the third period. They also struggled to get out from bottom. Max Murin rode Shayne Van Ness for all but about 30 seconds of the second period, and not being able to get out after being taken down early in the first period proved costly for Bartlett in his 4-1 loss.
But those weaker moments were countered by two massive wins to close out the dual. Penn State’s Max Dean used a punishing third-period rideout to extend his record against Jacob Warner to 3-0. Despite the close 2-0 score, Dean never appeared in danger and made it seem less likely that Warner will flip the result of their 2022 NCAA final.
At heavyweight, Greg Kerkvliet bounced back big from his loss to Michigan’s Mason Parris the week prior, recording his first official win (not counting his 8-5 win at the NWCA All-Star Classic) over Tony Cassioppi, 4-1. The victory was significant, as it shows Kerkvliet’s progression, having lost by major decision to Cassioppi in their first matchup, a decision, then in sudden victory, now a win. It’s also significant, as this match is likely to be a semifinal come March.
Penn State’s other three NCAA champs (in addition to Dean) took care of business – although Carter Starocci had to work a little harder for it. True freshman Levi Haines also officially came out of redshirt, recording his 15th win of the season. Despite their losses Friday, Penn State is still poised to score more points at 149 and 165 than it did last year. And while Bartlett can’t make up for the points lost by Nick Lee’s graduation, he should be an All-American contender.
The bottom line is – it looks like the Nittany Lions are well on their way to their 10 NCAA title in 12 seasons.
Indiana breaks 12-year drought against Purdue to own the state
The Indiana Hoosiers traveled into enemy territory on Sunday to face intrastate rival Purdue, and came away with a 17-16 victory – its first over the Boilermakers since 2010. This also marks the first time Indiana has had three conference wins since the 2015-16 season.
“We’ve been wanting this week for a while. We knew it’s been circled in our calendar,” coach Angel Escobedo told local media ahead of the dual. “We haven’t beat them in a long time. They’re a great team but our guys really want to bring it.”
It was a battle throughout – with each team taking five bouts – but D.J. Washington’s major decision ended up giving the Hoosiers the 1-point edge at the end, after trailing the entire dual.
The dual didn’t start out great for the Hoosiers, as they dropped the first three matches – including one they were favored in on paper and a major decision at 141 – to find themselves in a 10-0 hole.
Graham Rooks earned a 12-2 major decision over the flexible Christian Navida to stop the bleeding. But it was junior Nick South’s sudden victory win over Cooper Noehre at 165 that really turned the tide in the Hoosiers’ favor. After ending regulation tied at 1 apiece, South picked Noehre up about a minute into the extra period and body slammed him onto the mat for the decider. South beat his chest and flexed on the home crowd as his bench went crazy.
Washington added to the momentum with a 19-11 major, and Gabe Sollars had a clutch 4-0 win at 197 in his collegiate debut. With his team down by two, it was up to heavyweight Jacob Bullock to deliver the win. It wasn’t flashy, but an escape and a gritty third-period rideout did the trick and cemented the win.
To truly understand the significance of this dual win, you have to understand where Indiana was just 10 months ago after the close of the 2021-22 season. A recent article in the IndyStar does a fantastic job of detailing how dire the situation in the Indiana wrestling room was last year after a 3-8 season and finishing dead last at the Big Ten Championships.
Coaches and wrestlers alike felt frustrated and even a little embarrassed. But an honest team meeting and some journaling helped Escobedo gain perspective, according to the IndyStar (Seriously, read the article).
The Hoosiers’ buzz from winning isn’t likely to last too long, as they host the top-ranked Nittany Lions next. But regardless of what might happen then, Indiana has already proved it can be competitive in the toughest conference in the country and give its fans something to cheer about. Compared to last year, that’s a win.
The Dual - Michigan versus Ohio State
It was Friday night and I could feel the tension building in the gym. Warmups were taking place with a special kind of intensity. The athletes are drilling their favorite takedowns, communicating with their partners to get the feel that they want, and trying to iron things out before the competition begins. This is all rather impressive, especially when you consider they’re 10U Novice wrestlers. I was at my son’s dual meet, so I didn’t get to watch The Dual until after that was finished. I made sure that I could stay off of Twitter though, because I was not about to spoil what I figured would be a really close dual, when I thought I would be able to keep from hearing about the results before watching them.
Largely I was able to avoid any specific spoilers, but I did get an “Ohio State looked good tonight” text. To their credit, they really did. They won the first four matches, including a one-point win for Heinselman at 125, a gritty OT win at 133 from true freshman Jesse Mendez over Dylan Ragusin, and a late third-period takedown for D’Emilio over Cole Mattin at 141. Those first three matches could have gone either way, but 149 was a one-sided affair with Sasso getting a technical fall over Fidel Mayora stepping into the lineup for the injured Chance Lamer.
Michigan grabbed two OT victories with Will Lewan winning in OT against Paddy Gallagher, and Cam Amine getting the rare pin in rideouts over Kharchla. It didn’t come without issue, as Amine appeared to tweak an injury earlier in that match. Ohio State got back to their winning ways, winning three of the last four matchups (174-197), before giving up a pin at Heavyweight. That pin for Mason had him surpass Sean Bormett in the all-time pins list for Michigan.
If you’re Ohio State, you’re happy because winning is better than losing (obviously). Additionally though, they took 7 of the 10 weights, and were two OT losses away from taking 9/10. That’s clearly impressive to do, but in a rivalry dual to do that on the road is pretty intense. They finished out the weekend with another decisive victory over Michigan State in Columbus. This dual included many more bonus point wins for the Buckeyes as well, which is a nice way to roll into their next dual, this Friday night as they host the number 1 ranked Nittany Lions of Penn State.
If you’re Michigan you’re unhappy with the result (again, obvious), but I’m not one to dwell on negatives. Positives include being just as close to winning many of those matches as losing. Again, Michigan only had one loss that wasn’t a regular decision (Sasso over Mayora), but the rest were close enough. Additionally, both Max Maylor (174) and Matt Finesilver (184) showed some improvements against Smith and Romero, who they each lost to earlier in the season at the MSU Open. Still losses, but closing the gap is positive. Lastly, we got a chance to see Rylan Rogers who stepped in at 197, losing 5-3 to returning All-American Gavin Hoffman of Ohio State. That’s encouraging because Rogers is a true freshman, so he can get in this extra match and not burn his redshirt season with the new rules in place that allow that. Even better, Rogers had competed at 184 earlier this year, so hanging with a guy like Hoffman up a weight is solid.
I was able to catch up with Max Maylor after the Maryland dual (which we will get to next), and here’s what he said about his season to this point and his goals moving forward;
Max Maylor After the Maryland Win
Michigan hosts Maryland
Michigan wasn’t finished this weekend though. Saturday they hosted the Maryland Terrapins. I was actually in town for this dual, so it was great to see both Maryland and Michigan competing in person and grabbed some interviews as well. Maryland had wrestled on Friday night as well, losing to Michigan State in East Lansing. Maryland who had solid wins earlier this year over Pitt and Oklahoma, are now struggling back in the B1G schedule. It’s important to have perspective, and that’s what we will do here. They were missing several starters in the lineup due to illness or injury, and you overlap that with a tough road trip, and it’s not a recipe for success. Still, Maryland had a pin at 165 with John Martin-Best getting the win over Alex Wessellman, and Dom Solis and Kal Miller had close matches at 174 and 141, but missing Braxton Brown (125), Jaxon Smith (197), and Ethen Miller (149), is going to limit this team's potential. We certainly hope they’ll be healthy and back into the lineup soon, as it will have a dramatic impact on their overall team results. Here’s a quick interview I got with Maryland Head Coach Alex Clemsen.
Maryland Head Coach Alex Clemsen After the Michigan Dual
If you’re Michigan, you’re probably happy to get this dual at this time. As mentioned before, they too are dealing with some injuries, and were able to give some guys some rest during this dual. Just in time also, because this Friday Michigan travels to Texas to wrestle Oklahoma State at Bout at the Ballpark. Michigan had 8 duals during January, so having one dual this weekend has got to be something they are looking forward to. Not that wrestling Oklahoma State is ever easy, but having a single dual to focus on must be nice. Make sure you check out this event on Rokfin!
Gophers look especially Golden on Senior Night
I called it. During my breakdown of some of the parity in the weights last week, I referenced how Jakob Bergeland was undoubtedly going to get a win over Danny Pucino of Illinois. He did, but what I didn’t predict was that it was going to be a major decision, leaving me with nothing but more questions. Anyway, Minnesota got a nice win over Illinois on Senior Night this last weekend. Illinois has proven this year that they have depth and can beat anyone, but not on this night. I always wonder how much Senior night has an impact on the wrestling, and I’m sure it depends on the athlete, but Minnesota was ready to go on Saturday. I mentioned the major decision from Bergeland, but most of the Minnesota seniors (they have quite a few) got wins other than Michial Foy (who dropped a match to Zac Braunagel in rideouts, which is still respectable), and Jake Gliva who dropped the match to Lucas Byrd.
Included in those Senior wins, was Bailee O’Reilly, who beat Edmond Ruth and ended his 20-match win streak. A theme from the Gophers in this one was quick takedowns and quickly accumulating riding time, which was a big part of O’Reilly’s win here. Edmond made a push at the end, but ultimately wasn’t able to finish out the comeback. The other two upsets the Gophers got in this one was Cael Carlson, who has been splitting time at 165 with Andrew Sparks. Cael jumped into the lineup and got a solid win over Danny Braunagel, who was ranked 19th at that time. Cael has proven when he’s had his chance to be a gamer, and today was no different. At a time in the season when a lot of teams are dealing with injuries in their lineups, and grinding through each weekend one dual at a time, this was an impressive showing from a gritty Minnesota squad.
Next up they have Iowa on BTN this coming Friday night, February 3rd at 9pm EST.
S/O: Coaching milestones: A couple Big Ten coaches earned career milestones this week as Nebraska’s Mark Manning earned his 300th win and Penn State’s Cael Sanderson checked off his 100th conference victory while with the Nittany Lions. With the Huskers’ 24-11 win over Wisconsin, Manning now holds a career record of 300-129-5. The win over Iowa was also Sanderson’s 230th overall. When asked about the significance after the dual, Sanderson replied: “It just means I’ve been around for a long time.” Ohio State’s Tom Ryan earned his 300th career victory against Lehigh at the Collegiate Duals on Dec. 20, and now has a 305-146-2 record.
Welcome to the third 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: Bailee O’Reilly comes through on Senior Night.
Bailee O’Reilly really got it done this weekend! As mentioned above, there were some pretty solid upsets as part of that dual win for the Golden Gophers, but I think this one has the most impact on the postseason. 174 in the B1G is loaded and has about as many studs as you can have. You’ve got Starocci (PSU) and Labriola (Nebraska) at the top, followed by Ethen Smith of Ohio State, then you had Edmond Ruth. This win gets Bailee into the four spot in the B1G (at the moment), and he’s in a position to hold onto that spot. Labriola has Ruth and Smith coming up, so if O’Reilly can hold on through the rest of the regular season he can keep climbing in the seeding. He has to get through Nelson Brands this weekend, but this win helps him to be in position for the B1G Tournament.
B1Ggest Win: Saldate continues his B1G run.
Here’s the thing, when we are asked to write about breakout candidates before the season starts, you really hope they work out. I mean, sure I had some that didn’t pan out (yet…), but I’m going to keep shouting the ones I got right from the rooftops. This is one of them. Saldate has been on a solid run since the B1G schedule has started. His only B1G loss to this point was to Derek Gilcher of Indiana at the Reno Tournament of Champions, a loss he’ll have the chance to avenge on February 10th. He has wins over Lewan (Michigan), Lee (Minnesota), Barraclough (Penn State), and most recently a win over Paddy Gallagher (Ohio State). This is the B1Ggest win to me because he only has Mike Carr of Illinois next week, and a rematch with Derek Gilcher, the following week. If Saldate finishes this run, he’ll have a legitimate chance at a top 4 seed at the B1G Tournament. He hasn’t wrestled Peyton Robb of Nebraska, Kendall Coleman of Purdue, or Levi Haines of Penn State, but that’s not his fault. Anyone lined up across from him, he’s knocked them down. Go Green!
B1Ggest Move: Cam you believe it!
Cam Amine has beaten Kharchla before, and I assumed he was going to get the win this time, but then I’m watching the match and it looks like Cam gets hurt while doing the splits trying to avoid a takedown in OT. Walking back to the center you can see on his face that he’s dealing with something, and a lesser man would have been able to justify taking the L there. Not Cam though. I don’t know how much of that was playing possum, or if he just timed the roll perfectly, but regardless Kharchla is on bottom, tries to roll through to get an escape and Cam completely takes the pressure off for a second, just in time to pounce on him as he pauses on his back for a moment. That was a solid pin in a dual that was getting away from the Wolverines. You’ll notice a theme to these awards, B1G Tournament seeding. With Facundo taking the L to Patrick Kennedy this weekend, and Cam having the chance at Kennedy on February 10th, he could put himself in position to remain the #1 seed. Facundo still has Kharchla this Friday, which will help put more clarity on how that will turn out.
B1Ggest upset: No. 21 Gavin Hoffman (OSU) over No. 14 Cam Caffey (MSU)
It might not have been the biggest upset as far as rankings are concerned (this late into the season, it’s rarer to have major upsets), but then-No. 21 Gavin Hoffman’s 3-2 decision over then-No. 14 Cam Caffey was a nice win for the Buckeye senior in a season where he’s taken some difficult losses. A first-period takedown on a low single was the difference maker for Hoffman, who won the bout 3-2. Caffey had won the only previous matchup between the pair, 3-2 in 2021. With the win, Hoffman improved to 15-4 and jumped Caffey in the latest InterMat rankings on Tuesday, moving up to No. 17. The victory should help give the Buckeye a boost of confidence before heading into Friday’s matchup with defending NCAA champ Max Dean.
B1Ggest win: Greg Kerkvliet flips the script on Tony Cassioppi
In their fourth official matchup, Kerkvliet finally earned his first win (4-1) over Iowa’s Cassioppi. The significance isn’t just that Kerkliet won, it’s how he did it. Kerkvliet scored a takedown less than a minute into the match, and the looks on the faces of the Iowa bench told you all you needed to know – it was pretty much over at that point. A second-period rideout and an escape in the third did it for the Nittany Lion. There’s plenty of wrestling to be done this season, and these two could very well face each other twice more, but this does feel like a turning point in the rivalry. After the dual, Kerkvliet credited his improvements to losing last week. “It showed me the things I have to do,” Kerkvliet said. “So, I hate losing, but Mason Parris showed me the things I have to do for March. So, it was good.”
B1Ggest move: Marco Vespa cradles Spencer Lee … for a second
Yes, it was in a losing effort but Vespa’s low single off the starting whistle into a cradle against the top wrestler at the weight class deserves a nod. Coming out like that in his collegiate dual debut in front of 15,998 fans against a wrestler who’s poised to be one of the greatest to ever do it took a lot of … let’s say guts. Of course, Lee avoided giving up back points, hit a reversal and quickly ended things with four tilts. But the Bryce Jordan Center fans on their feet for a loss showed the effort was appreciated. It also kept what was almost an assured pin for the Hawkeyes off the board, allowing Penn State to lead 6-5 after RBY’s pin at 133 pounds. “(It) brought a little excitement there for … a second,” Sanderson said.