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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    Five B1G Takeaways from the First Half of the College Season

    Kendall Coleman (left) and Peyton Robb in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational finals (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    What a great start to the season we've all had the pleasure of watching. If you had told me that both Yianni and Aaron Brooks were going to lose before the end of 2022, I would have told you that you're a crazy person and that you should really seek professional help. Cue the Michael Jordan “stop it, get some help” GIF. Regardless, that's what has happened. So let's take a moment to talk about some B1G-centric storylines and look into what we have in store for the future.

    Gomez over Yianni and 149 as a whole.

    I woke up this morning feeling dangerous, which is nice because I had some writing to do. It's hard to accurately quantify how important confidence is at this level, but what's undeniable is how you can't get an upset win over a 3x NCAA champ without a specific level of confidence. Austin Gomez has that necessary amount of confidence, and then some, and I love it.

    His confidence isn't unwarranted. He only has the 1 loss this season to Paniro Johnson, of Iowa State, currently ranked 3rd. Paniro's only loss is to Yianni, and as mentioned, Yianni's only loss is to Austin, so it's a fun triangle of losses amongst the top 3 at 149. The B1G has a strong contingent of wrestlers at the weight still, but AG has a track record of having beaten them all to this point, most recently in a come-from-behind fashion against Sammy Sasso in the All-Star Classic. As we get through the New Year, and into conference duals, and through the conference schedule, it'll be interesting to see how NCAA seeding will look.

    B1G at 157

    We started the season with two B1G wrestlers ranked 2nd and 3rd in the country, and that's where we land now. The difference is that instead of Brayton Lee and Will Lewan, we have Peyton Robb and Kendall Coleman. This weight class as a whole has had a lot of movement from 2-infinity, but the constant at 1 remains Quincy Monday, of Princeton. He hasn't wrestled much this year, but when he has, he's looked solid.

    Peyton Robb has been amazing so far this season, and looks to be improving from where he has been the last couple of years. Improving from where he has been the last couple of seasons is damn impressive, because not everyone continues to improve throughout their college seasons, but he certainly has. Kendall Coleman looks to be close to where he was before the knee injury, and I'm sure the confidence associated with these sorts of wins will only improve the results. Trevor Chumbley has shown that his MSU Open title was not a fluke, and that despite losing an NCAA Champ in Ryan Deakin, Northwestern will be just fine at 157.

    Another fun new addition at 157 this year is Cobe Siebrecht, of Iowa who has proven that he is ready when the lights come on. Tom Brands mentioned to us that he has been impressed with what he's been able to do on the main stage to solidify himself as their guy at 157, and I expect that to continue. Most of Iowa's matches this season have been at Carver-Hawkeye, so it'll be interesting to see how he performs as they travel, but he's shown that he can be a real guy in the B1G.

    Big Men on Campus

    Are you prepared for how awesome heavyweight is about to be in the B1G? I am decidedly not. I mean, I'm excited for it, but I don't think I quite grasp how awesome it's going to be yet. I mean, week in and week out we will get some combination of the following athletes trying to beat one another: Greg Kerkvliet, Mason Paris, Tony Cassioppi, Lucas Davison, Trent Hilger, Tate Orndorff, Jaron Smith, Boone McDermott, Garrett Joles and Jacob Bullock. Those are the currently ranked Heavyweights in the B1G, and 6 of them have previously been All-Americans.

    Another fun fact about Heavyweight in general, the top 4 guys have been age group World Champions at some point, in Kerkvliet (Cadet 2017), Parris (Junior 2019), Cassioppi (U23 2021), and Schultz (Grego U17 2017). Some of these guys have proven to be above the rest of the pack, but I still don't know that I expect anyone at Heavyweight this year to go undefeated. There is too much athleticism and power amongst the pack, as well as a diversity of attacks, for anyone to make it through unscathed. We should still get some interesting matchups before the New Year, but mark my words, 2023 in the B1G is going to be electric.

    Dean goes down and chaos reigns at 197

    Any time a top-ranked defending national champ goes down, it's big news. But Max Dean didn't just lose once, he lost twice – in the same weekend, first to Rider's Ethan Laird then to former teammate Michael Beard, of Lehigh. Dean had a nice bounce-back performance last week at The Collegiate Duals, going 3-0, including a win over then-No. 2 Yonger Bastida, of Iowa State. The Nittany Lion senior now sits at No. 5 in a weight class where it seems like any given wrestler could beat any of the others. In fact, most of them have at one point or another.

    Dean remains the top-ranked Big Ten wrestler at the weight, but his path to finishing the rest of the regular season without adding another loss won't be easy. The main match to circle is Jan. 27 against Iowa's Jacob Warner. Warner, the NCAA runner-up last season to Dean, dropped two close matches to the Nittany Lion, including the 3-2 final and an 8-3 dual loss in which Warner led until the third period. While Dean leads this series 2-0, it still feels like it could go either direction.

    There are also a number of other potential landmines Dean could run into throughout the Big Ten season. Those include Michigan State's Cam Caffey, whom Dean lost to last season, Ohio State's Gavin Hoffman, whom he had one close match with last year, and a dark horse candidate, Maryland freshman Jaxon Smith. Dean could very very well make it through the rest of the season unscathed, but it feels like anything could happen in a weight that promises to be key come March.

    Freshmen emerge on the national stage

    One of the most exciting things about the first half of the season is seeing which freshmen emerge as national contenders. The Big Ten has 14 freshmen in the InterMat rankings as of Dec. 22, with Maryland leading the way with four. Rutgers has three freshmen ranked and Penn State and Ohio State each have two.

    Maryland's freshmen, in particular, have been critical to their successful 5-0 dual start and first ranked win since 2013. Capitalizing off the momentum of a big summer on the international stage, Jaxon Smith is now making a name for himself domestically. Ranked No. 10 at 197, a weight that seems like it could be anyone's game, Smith is 6-2, including a win over No. 13 Zac Braunagel, of Illinois. His teammate Braxton Brown is 5-0 at 125, and Ethen Miller and Kal Miller have contributed to key wins this season.

    Nebraska's Lenny Pinto is a new addition to the top 10 at 184, after his Cliff Keen finish (6th) and revenge win over Cade King, of South Dakota State. Rutgers' Brian Soldano has also made a lot of noise at that weight as a true freshman, ranked No. 12 at 10-1. His teammate Dean Peterson, is ranked No. 18 at 125, despite still splitting time in the starting lineup.

    Penn State freshmen Shayne Van Ness and Alex Facundo have proven themselves to be as advertised, both taking their first losses last week to top-5 opponents. Ohio State's Jesse Mendez shot into the rankings when he knocked off last year's fifth-place finisher Lucas Byrd, of Illinois, at the beginning of the season. While Mendez has been out of the lineup the past couple of weeks with an unspecified injury, another true freshman, Nic Bouzakis has been filling in just fine, going 3-0 at The Collegiate Duals. And Henry Porter has injected a jolt of energy into Indiana's lineup.

    The Big Ten schedule will put a lot of these freshmen to the test to sort out who might really have a chance at the medal stand. Penn State's Van Ness will get opportunities to take on three top-10 opponents in Wisconsin's Austin Gomez, Iowa's Max Murin and Ohio State's Sammy Sasso. Rutgers vs. Ohio State on Jan. 15 could present Soldano, Peterson and fellow ranked freshman Tony White with ranked matchups in Kaleb Romero, Malik Heinselman and Sasso, respectively. Depending on his injury status, Ohio State's No. 20 Paddy Gallagher could get shots at several ranked wrestlers, including Nebraska's No. 2 Peyton Robb and Michigan's No. 10 Will Lewan.

    All that's certain is that there's a lot of good wrestling ahead.

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