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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    2023-24 InterMat's Year-End Big 12 Awards

    The 2023-24 season is in the record books, but before moving on, it’s time to salute the top performers in each conference. We’ll start with the Big 12 conference. 

    Big 12 Wrestler of the Year: Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa)

    Only four wrestlers finished the 2023-24 campaign as undefeated national champions and three of them wore Penn State singlets. The other? Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen the winner of the 184 lb bracket. Keckeisen has been excellent for his entire career at Northern Iowa, but also turned it into another gear this season. At the NCAA Championships, Keckeisen was the only wrestler to notch bonus points in every one of his matches. In the NCAA finals, he majored Oklahoma State’s Dustin Plott, an opponent who earned bonus points in every one of his pre-finals matches. 

    For the year, Keckeisen tallied bonus points in over 90% of his matches. That total has put him right in the middle of the Hodge Trophy race. Keckeisen’s NCAA finals win over Plott was his third of the year over the Oklahoma State star and his second that included bonus points. The first of those two major decisions came in the Big 12 finals, where Keckeisen captured his fourth consecutive Big 12 crown. 

    During the regular season, Keckeisen was selected to compete in the NWCA All-Star match. There he edged new Penn State wrestler Bernie Truax in front of Truax’s home crowd and he had to mount a comeback to get the victory. Just over a week later, Keckeisen went out to Vegas for the CKLV Invitational. In Vegas, he dominated the field with bonus points in four of five matches to capture the title. Just to make the finals, Keckeisen needed to defeat two returning All-Americans. 

    For his career, Keckeisen is now 104-5 with four All-American finishes. He was second in 2023 and third in each of his first two seasons. During the 2023 and 2024 NCAA Tournaments, Keckeisen was given the number one seed. Keckeisen has twice made the CKLV finals - winning in 2023. He’ll head into his final year of eligibility a winner of 31 straight and 51 of his last 52 matches.

    Honorable Mention: David Carr (Iowa State)


    Big 12 Freshman of the Year: Ty Watters (West Virginia)

    From day one of the 2023-24 season, true freshman Ty Watters was West Virginia’s starter at 149 lbs. Right away, Watters showed that he had plenty of potential, as he earned a win over returning national qualifier Tom Crook at the Southeast Open. Watters also displayed early in the season his propensity for pins. He secured falls in seven of his first eight duals - a streak that preceded the Midlands Championships. At the Midlands, Watters made the championship finals and helped lead the Mountaineers to a third-place finish, as a team. 

    Down the homestretch, Watters won six of his final seven duals. In the postseason, Watters became only the fourth WVU wrestler to win a conference title since the move to the Big 12. He also was the first freshman conference champion since Brandon Rader in 2006. His performance at the Big 12 Championships provided him with the #5 seed in Kansas City. 

    At his first NCAA Tournament, Watters avenged a regular season loss to Willie McDougald to make the quarterfinals opposite Virginia Tech’s Caleb Henson. Henson defeated Watters and went on to win the national title - he was responsible for two of his six losses on the year. 

    After the Henson loss, Watters clinched All-American status with a second-period fall over past AA Jaden Abas (Stanford). In his next contest, Watters avenged yet another regular season loss by majoring Iowa State’s Casey Swiderski. To lock up a top-four finish, Watters also pinned four-time All-American Kyle Parco (Arizona State). Watters went on to finish fourth in the national which is the highest by a WVU wrestler since 2015. 

    Honorable Mention: Bennett Berge (South Dakota State


    Big 12 Coach of the Year: Damion Hahn (South Dakota State)

    South Dakota State started the 2023-24 campaign with wins over three non-DI foes before suffering close losses to Big Ten opponents Minnesota and Nebraska. After that stretch, Damion Hahn’s team reeled off nine straight wins - a streak that included a win over Michigan, along with Navy and Oklahoma. After a pair of losses, the Jackrabbits ended the year by crushing rival North Dakota State, 34-6. 

    At the Big 12 Championships, South Dakota State finished third with 122 points. It was the first time SDSU had scored over 100 points at the Big 12 meet and tied a program-best with their finish. The Jackrabbits also crowned a pair of champions, Cade DeVos (174) and Tanner Sloan (197). It was the first time since the 2018 tournament that SDSU had multiple champions. Hahn’s team also finished above a Missouri squad that had won the previous two Big 12 tournaments. 

    In Kansas City, South Dakota State set a new program record with four DI All-Americans. DeVos and Sloan made the podium, along with Tanner Jordan and freshman Bennett Berge. That was good enough for a 13th-place finish, which was one spot short of another program high. 

    Honorable Mention: Kevin Dresser (Iowa State)


    Previous Award Winners

    Big 12 Wrestler of the Year

    2023: Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado)

    2022: Keegan O’Toole (Missouri)


    Big 12 Freshman of the Year

    2023: Michael Caliendo (North Dakota State)

    2022: Willie McDougald (Oklahoma)


    Big 12 Coach of the Year

    2023: Sam Barber (Air Force)

    2022: Brian Smith (Missouri)

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