2021 NCAA All-American Jaden Abas (Photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Week one of the collegiate wrestling season was a bit of a teaser, enough to whet the appetite of fans that have longed to see their favorite schools and wrestlers in action. Not all teams competed in week one, but it was...it was something! Duals/Tournaments and actual matches.
Just a week later, we're inundated in wrestling action. Most schools have competed in some form or fashion. Fans and media members alike are left to make blanket judgments about a team or individual's future after wrestling a couple of matches. But we wouldn't have it any other way; it's wrestling season! And this time, fans are able to take part.
After action in week two, we were able to make these eight headlines regarding some of the most important results or situations that occurred.
Penn State's Lineup Takes Shape (Sort of)
On Saturday, we got our first taste of the 2021 NCAA runner's-up Penn State. The Nittany Lions competed in a couple of duals against Sacred Heart and Oregon State. As expected, Penn State rolled in both matches, though that isn't the story.
What we're paying attention to is how the PSU lineup has taken shape and how it can evolve in the coming weeks/months. On Wednesday evening, it was noted that 2021 NCAA All-American Drew Hildebrandt had appeared in the PSU student directly. Hildebrandt announced he wasn't returning to Central Michigan and most assumed his collegiate career was finished (after five years at CMU). Recently, his name appeared in the transfer portal, which led to speculation of a possible Penn State transfer. And why not? The Nittany Lions seem to need help at 125 since 2021 national qualifier Robbie Howard is still recovering from an injury. Saturday's starter, Baylor Shunk, went 1-1 in his first taste of dual meet action, teching Sacred Heart's Kyle Randall and losing a 16-9 decision to #29 Brandon Kaylor (Oregon State). This is quite the developing situation.
Elsewhere in the PSU lineup, Beau Bartlett got a pair of wins at 149 and will break into the national rankings tomorrow. At 157 lbs, Joey Blumer suffered losses in both duals. Another option at the weight, Matt Lee, was majored in the Bearcat Open finals, while 2021 NCAA qualifier at 165, Joe Lee, has yet to compete. Another unsettled weight is 165. Creighton Edsall captured wins in both duals, while blue-chip freshman Alex Facundo did not compete.
Perhaps the most intriguing battle is going on at 197 lbs between former AA's Max Dean and Michael Beard. Dean got the call in both duals and responded with bonus points in both contests. Beard was in action at the Journeymen Collegiate Challenge and did the same in three matches. Trying to read between the lines, maybe Dean has the upperhand since he got the call in dual action, but based on results, neither hurt their case. The Nittany Lions are back on the mat Thursday night against Army. Beard already has a major decision over the Black Knights likely starter, JT Brown. After that, we'll have to wait a few weeks before seeing PSU in action.
The Ivies are Back!
Actually, the Ivy League kicked off competition last week as Columbia and Princeton traveled to the Southeast Open, but the remainder of the schools hit the mat at either the Journeymen or the Bearcat.
Ivy League wrestlers accounted for two titles in the â€œAâ€ brackets at the Journeymen, with Michael Colaiocco (Penn - 133) and Josh Kim (Harvard - 174) coming away with hammer trophies. At the Bearcat Open, three Ivy Leaguers emerged victorious with Angelo Rini (Columbia - 133), Chris Foca (Cornell - 174) and Jonathan Loew (Cornell - 184).
The year away from competition certainly made it hard to account for these Ivy League wrestlers in the rankings. With actual results from some time in the last two years in tow, we may see more of their wrestlers featured amongst the top-33.
Next week, we'll see the Ivy League really jump into competition, head first. Princeton will travel to top-ranked Iowa, while Columbia gets a visit from #6 Michigan, and Brown takes on #21 Purdue. Cornell plays host to former head coach Rob Koll and his Stanford squad. Harvard travels to Penn to take part in the Keystone Classic. Suffice to say, all six teams will get tested in the next seven days.
More Arizona State firepower?
With six returning All-Americans, we all know that #7 (#3 in tournament rankings) is a serious threat to take home another team trophy in 2022. After seeing the Sun Devils run through the Appalachian Invitational, they may possess more potential than we ever imagined. Currently unranked (but not for long), 141 lber Jesse Vasquez turned heads with his dominant performance, as he walked away with a title. Vasquez picked up bonus-point wins over a pair of returning national qualifiers, #22 Cayden Rooks (Indiana) and #28 Anthony Brito (Appalachian State).
As a high schooler, Vasquez etched himself into California state lore by becoming only the fourth wrestler to win four state titles. Last season, Vasquez competed at 149 lbs and went 4-2, but didn't get the call in the postseason, in favor of veteran Cory Crooks.
With Vasquez in the lineup, the Sun Devils lapped the field in Boone, with eight champions and another in third place. ASU also showed depth at 133 lbs as another former top-recruit shined. Julian Chlebove notched wins over #17 Jared Van Vleet (Air Force) and Van Vleet's teammate Sidney Flores on his way to a third-place finish.
Arizona State wrestles one of the most ambitious non-conference schedules this year, but for good reason, as they are loaded, even more loaded than we thought a few weeks ago.
Alirez's biggest win
One of the biggest no-no's in assembling collegiate rankings is to value or overvalue freestyle results. It can be hard, because we've watched the matches and saw the result(s). One current collegiate star who has shined brightly in freestyle, moreso than in NCAA competition, is Andrew Alirez. But unlike others who haven't been as proficient in folkstyle, Alirez generally hasn't had the opportunities to prove his mettle in college. He has battled a variety of injuries which have seen him go in-and-out of the Bears lineup. In 2019-20, Alirez was fourth in the Big 12, as a true freshman, and earned the 14th seed at nationals. The tournament would be canceled. Last year, has was given an at-large berth, but couldn't compete.
So going into his third year of college competition, at a new weight, it was difficult to determine precisely how good Alirez was and where he fits in at 141 lbs. The â€œeyeballâ€ test tells me he's excellent, but there wasn't a whole lot of solid evidence (folkstyle-wise), to back up that hypothesis. But, after Sunday's win over #7 Allan Hart (Missouri), the picture suddenly gets more clear. Alirez got a sudden victory decision over an opponent who was the sixth seed in St. Louis last season and was a match away from earning All-American honors. He'll undoubtedly move up from his current ranking of #14.
By the way, Northern Colorado is slated to meet Oklahoma next Sunday, so could a meeting with Dom Demas be in the pipeline?
Stanford is back!
On Saturday afternoon, Stanford hosted #2 Oklahoma State in the first wrestling event held at the Palo Alto University in 616 days. The larger takeaway from any single result was that Stanford wrestling is alive and well. New head coach Rob Koll and his brand-new staff already have a strong recruiting Class of 2022 signed and the future looks bright for a team that was left for dead by the school over a year ago.
Two positives for Stanford in their 29-7 loss to Oklahoma State were the showings of All-American Jaden Abas and national champion Shane Griffith. Abas put it on a quality opponent, Kaden Gfeller, and was able to tack on a bonus point. Griffith, shut out a top-six ranked Travis Wittlake to extend his career record to 45-1.
Jake Slinger is Mr. Clutch
A slightly undermanned Pittsburgh team picked up a pair of wins over MAC opponents, in large part due to the efforts of their big man, Jake Slinger. Without three national qualifiers and NCAA runner-up Nino Bonaccorsi, Pittsburgh's Friday night dual with Buffalo was in doubt headed into the final match of their dual with the Bulls. The visiting Panthers held a 15-12 advantage as Slinger took the mat. No worries, as he iced the team win for Keith Gavin's squad :32 seconds into the middle stanza.
Just one day later, it was deja vu all over again. This time Pitt had the services of 125 lb national qualifier Gage Curry, but were still missing Austin Matthews (141) and Gregg Harvey (184), along with Bonaccorsi for their dual with Edinboro. In those three matches, the Fighting Scots outscored Pittsburgh 14-0. That led to a slim 22-20 lead for Pitt heading into the final bout. This time Slinger had to face one of Edinboro's top recruits from the Class of 2020, Max Millin. Once again, in the second period, Slinger secured a fall and locked up a win for his #19 Panthers.
Next Sunday's dual is sure to be another close one, as Pittsburgh is slated to take on in-state rival, Lehigh.
The Pack Runs Deep!
Last week, we got a hint of the depth of the NC State program as Owen Trephan knocked of teammate Deonte Wilson at the Battle of the Citadel. He also logged a wrestle-off win over the 2021 285 lb ACC champion.
285 lbs won't be the only weight class where the Wolfpack will be able to roll out multiple NCAA qualifier-level talents. At the school's Wolfpack Open, NC State accounted for both finalists at 133 lbs, with Kai Orine shutting down #19 Jarrett Trombley for the title. Unranked Ed Scott took the 157 lb title by pinning teammate AJ Kovacs in the finals. Scott was returning the favor from a week ago, where Kovacs won at The Citadel, 9-8.
At 165 lbs, the incumbent, Thomas Bullard, met fellow Wolfpack teammate Donald Cates in the finals, but crushed 15-0. Up a weight, true freshman Jake Null won the 174 lb bracket by downing #21 Gavin Kane (North Carolina), 8-5. Chance are, Null will redshirt as Hayden Hidlay is penciled (or penned) in a 174.
Don't forget about veteran Nick Reenan who cruised to the title with a win over #17 Caleb Hopkins (Campbell) in the championship bout. Reenan has qualified for nationals three times (at three different weights) and could be a podium threat if healthy at 184 lbs. However, the Pack has NCAA runner-up Trent Hidlay returning at the weight. What if one of them bumps up? NC State wrestlers placed 1-2-3 at the Open at 197. Actually 2-2-3, as #18 Isaac Trumble and Jacob Ferreira did not take the mat in the finals. Ferreira earned a spot in the championship match after downing #33 Levi Hopkins (Campbell) in the semis. Also, true freshman, Brock DelSignore, was third and picked up a win over two-time SoCon champion Chris Kober (Campbell) in the process.
Long story short, we're not sure of what the Wolfpack lineup will look like in early March at the ACC Championships. But, whichever ten wrestlers don black and red singlets will be fully capable and battle-tested, just to earn the starting role.
Mizzou Takes 18 of 20
The Missouri Tigers put the Big 12 on notice as they returned with a pair of duals against new conference rivals North Dakota State and Northern Colorado. Neither school is currently ranked and are not expected to threaten for Big 12 supremacy this season; however, both are quality teams. North Dakota State entered the competition with six ranked wrestlers, while UNC had four.
Both teams would combine to win two of their 20 matches versus opponents from Mizzou. Even in those two matches, the Tigers were favored, slightly.
While most of the Mizzou lineup went 2-0, a pair of second-year freshmen were particularly good. 133 lber Trey Crawford picked up a win over #31 Kellyn March (North Dakota State), and 149 lber Josh Edmond got by past national qualifier Chris Sandoval (Northern Colorado).
Things were so good for Missouri that one of their recent signees, Clayton Whiting, was able to defeat 2020 NCAA #11 seed Abe Assad (Iowa) at the Luther Open.