Cohlton Schultz and Greg Kerkvliet at the 2021 NCAA Championships (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
After one day of action from Niceville, Florida, the finals of the pool competition have been set. As expected, top-ranked Iowa was not tested by either #21 Lehigh or Central Michigan and cruised to the finals of the Red Pool. Meeting the Hawkeyes will be #5 NC State, who overcame #10 Missouri in the best dual of the day. A pair of second-year freshmen upset top-15 opponents and helped the Wolfpack to victory. The Blue Pool featured #6 Arizona State, who crushed Hofstra and Virginia Tech, to earn a spot in Tuesday's final match. #2 Penn State relied on their upperweight superstars to comeback from a 16-8 deficit after the 165 lb bout.
Monday's action sets the stage for a meeting between #1 Iowa State and #5 NC State in one pool, with #2 Penn State taking on #6 Arizona State in the other. Both duals are jam-packed with great matchups, and each could come down to the wire.
Before getting into our preview of the final bouts, here's a schedule of the day's action.
All times are Eastern.
2pm - Central Michigan vs. Binghamton, Hofstra vs. Northern Iowa
4pm - Missouri vs. Lehigh, Virginia Tech vs. Cornell
6pm - Iowa vs. NC State
8pm - Penn State vs. Arizona State
#1 Iowa vs. #5 NC State
125 - #1 Spencer Lee vs. #5 Jakob Camacho
Intriguing matchup here, as three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee just saw his first action of the year yesterday. To be specific, it was his first official matches of any sort in almost nine months, to the date. While Lee put up a major decision and a tech fall and didn't surrender a single point, he did look a bit rusty. Or at least not like a three-time defending champion. At the same time, his opponent, Jakob Camacho, is looking to rebound after an upset loss to #15 Noah Surtin. Camacho got down early and mustered a late rally, but it ended up not being enough. Like anyone who faces Lee, if Camacho limits damage in the first period and a half, he may be able to steal it late. Obviously, that's easier said than done. Also, if Lee's knee isn't responding well after his first two matches, Iowa coach Tom Brands could turn to Jesse Ybarra.
Pick: Lee by decision (3-0 Iowa)
133 - #3 Austin DeSanto vs. #17 Kai Orine
Austin DeSanto continued his winning ways and sliced through his first two opponents like and knife and hot butter. Or, however the expression goes. Combined, DeSanto needed just over six minutes to dispose of Vince Perez (Central Michigan) and Satoshi Abe (Lehigh). He outscored the duo by a total score of 36-6. Perez didn't even make it out of the first period. Today's competition for DeSanto will stiffen as he'll face unbeaten Kai Orine. Orine only saw action in one bout yesterday, but did his job and defeated former NCAA qualifier Connor Brown (Missouri), who is typically a 125 lber. This will easily be Orine's most significant test, to date. Aside from teammate Jarrett Trombley, he has yet to face a ranked opponent as the Wolfpack starter. Trombley also could get the call here, as well.
Pick: DeSanto by major decision (7-0 Iowa)
141 - #2 Jaydin Eierman vs. #16 Ryan Jack
Seventh-year senior Jaydin Eierman has been on the collegiate scene so long that he was in a weight class with Ryan Jack's older brother, Kevin, for two seasons, though they never met. In 2017, the elder Jack outplaced Eierman (3rd to 5th), but Eierman turned the tables in 2018 (4th to 6th). Yesterday, Eierman had his eyes opened, getting in a huge, early hole to #7 Dresden Simon (Central Michigan), 9-2. He responded with a rally that saw Eierman ride out the Chippewa star for a 13-12 victory. In the nightcap, Eierman had more trouble than one may have expected, but still prevailed 8-3 over Connor McGonagle (Lehigh). Like Orine, Ryan Jack didn't go against Binghamton, but was needed against #10 Missouri. There Jack would face #14 Allan Hart. Jack got into an early hole and couldn't cut into the lead and fell, 9-3. Like his teammate at 133, this will be Jack's biggest test of the young season, though maybe it's a decent time to face Eierman.
Pick: Eierman by major decision (11-0 Iowa)
149 - #8 Max Murin vs. #3 Tariq Wilson
This will be a bout between two longtime veterans that have been used sparingly by their respective head coaches in the first two months of the season. Max Murin had an up-and-down day on Monday. He started with a solid 14-5 major decision over Central Michigan's Corbyn Munson. That represented his highest scoring output since the 2020 Big Ten Championships. In the second dual of the day, Murin was taken down by Manzona Bryant (Lehigh) in sudden victory. Earlier in the day. Munson had a solid comeback to edge Bryant. Sixth-year senior Tariq Wilson continued to shine at his new weight class and turned in a pair of wins Monday. He jumped out to an early lead on #18 Josh Edmond (Missouri) and withstood a late rally to win 11-8. This is the third collegiate weight class for the two-time NCAA third-place finishing Wilson. In 2020, he and Murin were in the same 141 lb bracket. Though they never met, Murin was seeded 7th at NCAA's and Wilson 15th. That being said, Wilson is the play here.
Pick: Wilson by decision (11-3 Iowa)
157 - #8 Kaleb Young vs. #23 Ed Scott
This matchup may look lopsided on paper, but after yesterday it's way closer than the numbers would indicate. In the opener, Kaleb Young notched a solid 6-0 victory over #19 Johnny Lovett (Central Michigan). He even led #10 Josh Humphreys (Lehigh) into the third period, but gave up a reversal and two sets of nearfalls to lose 11-2. It marked the only time in his collegiate career that Young surrendered any sort of bonus points. Today he'll face a wrestler that is also tough on top in second-year freshman Ed Scott. Since moving up to 157 lbs, Scott has looked remarkably good. His only blemish in 2021-22 was a one-point loss to a teammate on the opening week of the year. Scott's top ability was a big reason why he was able to knock off #15 Jarrett Jacques (Missouri) in the second match of the day. It also provided a spark for the Wolfpack, teamwise. I also wonder if Young is okay. Humphreys was brutal with the power half he used to turn the Hawkeye.
Pick: Scott by decision (11-6 Iowa)
165 - #1 Alex Marinelli vs. #18 Thomas Bullard
Throughout the course of his Iowa career, Alex Marinelli has only lost one regular-season bout. Monday, he didn't come close to losing number two. He stalled out Tracy Hubbard (Central Michigan) in the opener, before solving a tricky Brian Meyer (Lehigh) for a 6-2 win. Finally, we'll have a match with some history between its competitors. In each of the last two NCAA Tournaments conducted, Marinelli has been the #1 seed at 165 lbs and met Bullard in the Round of 16. In both instances, Marinelli was able to rack up bonus points. With a close dual meet hanging in the balance, I think the defensive-minded Bullard may be able to limit damage by The Bull. In his last bout, Bullard kept #3 Keegan O'Toole (Missouri) to a 9-3 regular decision.
Pick: Marinelli by decision (14-6 Iowa)
174 - #2 Michael Kemerer/Nelson Brands vs. #5 Hayden Hidlay
The man that Iowa wrestlers and fans call â€œGrandpaâ€ was seen on the Hawkeye bench sporting the second-best mustache of the tournament (props to Hofstra's Trey Rogers) and even weighed in Monday morning. Even so, I wouldn't hold out for a first appearance of the year for Kemerer. Jumping back in against an opponent of Hayden Hidlay's caliber isn't how things typically work. Iowa still has someone more than capable at the weight, as Nelson Brands went 2-0 yesterday. Brands solved the defensive riddles of Jake Logan (Lehigh) late in their bout to take a tight, 3-2 win. A bout between Brands and Hidlay may be the most physical affair of the day. Both are no strangers to a hard handfight. Hayden has moved up two weight classes, but it's difficult to tell by the eye-test or weighing his results. He continued a bonus point-scoring streak with his win over NCAA qualifier Jake Nolan (Binghamton), though it was snapped with his win over #14 Peyton Mocco (Missouri).
Pick: Hidlay by decision (14-9 Iowa)
184 - Abe Assad vs. #3 Trent Hidlay
Yesterday also marked the return of Abe Assad to the Hawkeye lineup. Assad was famously pinned by high schooler Clayton Whiting at the Luther Open and has been conspicuously absent since. He returned with a vengeance and pinned Ben Cushman (Central Michigan) before majoring AJ Burkhart (Lehigh). In a limited sample size, Assad is showing the form that made him the #11 seed at the 2020 NCAA Championships, as a true freshman. He'll get a test Tuesday from one of the best in the weight class, with NCAA runner-up Trent Hidlay. Before an upset at 197, Hidlay's 13-5 major decision over #11 Jeremiah Kent (Missouri) looked like a possible dual-winner for the Wolfpack. Through five matches this year, Hidlay has logged bonus points in all five and looked more dangerous offensively than in the past.
Pick: Hidlay by decision (14-12 Iowa)
197 - #7 Jacob Warner vs. #15 Isaac Trumble
What to do at 197 lbs as we have a â€œSteady Eddyâ€ (Jacob Warner) set to take on a high-ceiling youngster that experienced some highs and lows on Monday. We'll start with Warner, who cruised to a pair of one-sided regular decisions over solid competition yesterday. Warner wasn't able to pile up points, but was never seriously threatened, at any point. Isaac Trumble got down early to All-American Louie DePrez (Binghamton) in his first match and never rebounded. But in the Missouri dual, his 5-3 win over Junior World Champion and NCAA All-American Rocky Elam sealed the deal for Pat Popolizio's team. Could Trumble build off his teammate's momentum at 174/184 again and take out his second AA of the tournament?
Pick: Trumble by decision (15-14 NC State)
285 - #6 Tony Cassioppi vs. #28 Owen Trephan/Deonte Wilson
Our picks have the Hawkeyes trailing for the first time this dual and during the entire time in Florida. But, what better man to turn to than their All-American Tony Cassioppi. Pre-tournament, we thought Cassioppi's round-robin path was among the toughest in the entire event, as he drew top-ten opponents from Central Michigan and Lehigh. Cassioppi was leading CMU's Matt Stencel before an apparent knee injury forced the Chippewa big man to default. A late takedown against the stingy Jordan Wood gave Cassioppi his second win of the day. NC State will have plenty of options at this weight, though none are over enticing against an opponent of Cassioppi's caliber. Owen Trephan seems to have emerged as the starter based on head-to-head wins over 2021 ACC champion Deonte Wilson. That being said, Wilson has gotten the nod in the last couple of dates heading into Florida. Also, if the dual is clinched before 285 lbs, the NC State could turn to Tyrie Houghton, as they did against Missouri. Houghton never backed down from #16 Zach Elam and grabbed a takedown at the buzzer that pulled the score to a single point.
Pick: Cassioppi by decision (17-15 Iowa)
#2 Penn State vs. #6 Arizona State
125 - Jakob Campbell vs. #3 Brandon Courtney
Penn State has struggled to fill in for injured 2021 NCAA qualifier Robbie Howard in the earlygoing this year and those continued Monday as Bucknell-transfer Jakob Campbell fell to 0-3 on the year. That could be deceiving, though, as his two opponents were #5 (133) Vito Arujau (Cornell) and #10 Brody Teske (Northern Iowa). His third loss this year was to #11 Jaret Lane (Lehigh). It doesn't get any easier for Campbell, as he'll face the returning NCAA runner-up Brandon Courtney. Courtney looked as good as ever yesterday with a fall against Hofstra and an 8-4 win over returning All-American Sam Latona (Virginia Tech). After going 14-11 as a part-time starter in 2018-19, Courtney has compiled a 49-6 record since.
Pick: Courtney by major (4-0 Arizona State)
133 - #1 Roman Bravo-Young vs. #14 Michael McGee
One of the key matches to watch this dual will take place at 133 lbs with returning, undefeated NCAA champion Roman Bravo-Young meeting AA Michael McGee. I'm not sure if it will be overly close, but it will be a lot of fun to watch, with lots of good action. Bravo-Young did as you would expect and notched a pin and nearly teched Cornell's Dom LaJoie in the Monday night session. But, McGee will represent the highest-ranked opponent of the year for the Nittany Lions star. McGee looked as good as ever with an exciting 8-7 win over #4 ranked Korbin Myers (Virginia Tech). That marked the first regular-season loss for Korbin Myers since February 22nd, 2019. Earlier in the year, McGee suffered a one-point loss to then-unranked Job Greenwood, but that looks like a longtime in the review after his showing Monday. Though both were in the same NCAA weight class last year, they did not meet.
Pick: Bravo-Young by major (4-4 Tie)
141 - #1 Nick Lee vs. #15 Jesse Vasquez
After being held to â€œjustâ€ regular decisions in his last two dual outings, Nick Lee came back Monday with a pair of major decisions over #26 Cael Happel (Northern Iowa) and Cole Handlovic (Cornell). With a tight dual expected here, the 2021 NCAA champion may need to roll up bonus points again to ensure his team's victory Tuesday night. Freshman Jesse Vasquez will get his first serious test of his collegiate career when he faces off with the returning champ. Vasquez came into this event 5-0, but hasn't faced any top-tiered competition. In his first bout Monday afternoon, Vasquez looked to be headed to a major decision against Justin Hoyle (Hofstra), but faded a bit and won 14-9. He later downed NCAA qualifier Collin Gerardi (Virginia Tech) in a match that appeared closer on the scoreboard than it actually was in real life.
Pick: Lee by decision (7-4 Penn State)
149 - #22 Beau Bartlett vs. #5 Kyle Parco
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see one of the top potential matches of the tournament as Virginia Tech's #6 Bryce Andonian didn't weigh-in and couldn't compete against #5 Kyle Parco. Both wrestlers have a wide-open style and put points on the board. Parco, a surprise All-American for Fresno State in 2021, has proven he's no fluke with a 10-0 start to the year. Neither opponent he saw on Monday presented much of a challenge and Parco dominated to the tune of 31-1. It will make for a good clash of styles when Parco and Beau Bartlett square off. Bartlett is typically methodical in his attacks and sound defensively. Bartlett picked his spots in a 4-3 win over #28 Tristan Lara (Northern Iowa), before falling to two-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell). It'll be interesting to see which wrestlers' strength dictates the match here.
Pick: Parco by decision (7-7 Tie)
157 - Joe Lee/Tony Negron vs. #3 Jacori Teemer
Another unsettled weight for the Nittany Lions has been 157 lbs. 2021 NCAA qualifier (at 165 lbs) Joe Lee was assumed to be the frontrunner in the preseason, but he was majored by Terrell Barraclough in the wrestle-offs. Barraclough saw some action, but recently Tony Negron has gotten the call. Negron fell 5-2 to Derek Holschlag (Northern Iowa) in the first dual yesterday. That created an opening for Lee to make his 2021-22 debut, which he did against Cornell's Colton Yapoujian. Lee couldn't figure out Yapoujian's defense and was beaten 4-2. This evening, it doesn't get any easier as 7-0, #3 Jacori Teemer is looming. Teemer is off to a blazing start, scoring double digits in each of his first six bouts, before being held in check by an ever-improving Connor Brady (Virginia Tech). Teemer still managed a win in sudden victory over the Hokie. If the Sun Devils win, it may be because they get bonus here.
Pick: Teemer by major decision (11-7 Arizona State)
165 - #26 Creighton Edsell vs. #6 Anthony Valencia
A nice development for Penn State has been the emergence of Creighton Edsell at 165 lbs. Edsell came into this event unbeaten and recently had defeated returning national qualifier Brian Meyer (Lehigh). Yesterday though, Edsell suffered through his first two losses of the year, falling to #23 Austin Yant (Northern Iowa) and #9 Julian Ramirez (Cornell). Now, Edsell will have to contend with the newest member of the Mexican National Team, Anthony Valencia. Valencia showed no signs of jetlag, after traveling to make the team on Saturday, as he only needed :27 seconds to pin Mario Biancamano (Hofstra) in his first match. Against Virginia Tech, he survived a late charge from Clayton Ulrey to hang on, 11-9.
Pick: Valencia by decision (14-7 Arizona State)
174 - #1 Carter Starocci vs. Zane Coleman/Ryan Rochford
Like the Cornell dual, Penn State could find themselves trailing again after 165 lbs, but their final four is unmatched in college wrestling. Returning champion Carter Starocci showed he was unflappable as he was tested by the Big Red's Chris Foca. Deadlocked in a 2-2 bout and starting the third period on top, Starocci rode out Foca for the period and earned riding time in the process. In the grand scheme of things, that win will be more valuable for Starocci than if he rolled to a major. A major decision is what he did in the opening match against Northern Iowa's Pat Schoenfelder. The Sun Devils used both Zane Coleman and Ryan Rochford yesterday. Coleman has seen the bulk of the action for Zeke Jones' team and sports an 8-3 record. Rochford got the unenviable task of dealing with 2019 NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis and was the victim of a tech fall. Whoever gets tabbed to start will have to avoid bonus points, which is a tall task.
Pick: Starocci by major decision (14-11 Arizona State)
184 - #1 Aaron Brooks vs. Josh Nummer
Carter Starocci wasn't the only Penn State national champion that was forced to dig deep on Monday. Aaron Brooks had to fend off a challenge from his 2021 NCAA semifinal opponent Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa), in his first bout. Keckeisen pushed Brooks in the third period, but ultimately couldn't penetrate his defense. A 3-2 win for the Nittany Lion champ extended his current winning streak to 27 matches. Brooks also had a game opponent in his second match, #15 Jonathan Loew (Cornell); however, he nearly pinned Loew early in the bout, which blew the contest open and he coasted to a 15-3 win. Josh Nummer is expected to get the call and try to limit his Penn State counterpart. Nummer couldn't do so yesterday against All-American Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech), as he fell via tech fall.
Pick: Brooks by tech fall (16-14 Penn State)
197 - #3 Max Dean vs. #8 Kordell Norfleet
Max Dean also got his first scare of the 2021-22 season when he emerged victorious after a close call against former teammate Jacob Cardenas (Cornell). Dean won a late scramble and rode Cardenas out for a 4-2 win. Coming into that match, Dean did not have a match closer than ten points. Norfleet has dealt with solid competition in his first two matches yesterday, but shined with 14-3 major decisions over returning national qualifiers #26 Trey Rogers (Hofstra) and Dakota Howard (Virginia Tech). For the Sun Devils to be in position to win the dual, they'd have to get a win somewhere between 174-197 and this is the most logical spot.
Pick: Dean by decision (19-14 Penn State)
285 - #4 Greg Kerkvliet vs. #3 Cohlton Schultz
This is a rematch of the 2021 NCAA consolation quarterfinal bout between Cohlton Schultz and Greg Kerkvliet. There it was Schultz who came out on top with a 14-8 decision. Whenever the two meet, it marks the rare time that a pair of Cadet World Champions collide on the collegiate scene. During their 2021 meeting, Kerkvliet was only a few weeks removed from a scary knee injury that threatened his season, so we expect a different wrestler this time around. Both come into this match unbeaten and the result could play a huge role in NCAA seeding, as the winner could be on the opposite side of the bracket from Olympic champion Gable Steveson (Minnesota). But that's a little ways down the line. Schultz will turn to his Greco-Roman roots and look to impose his will with an underhook or a bodylock. Kerkvliet has more of an arsenal of leg attacks. But, if Kerkvliet is overly aggressive, Schultz is talented enough to take advantage.
Pick: Kerkvliet by decision (22-14 Penn State)