Cornell All-American Vito Arujau (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
We're less than a week away from the Collegiate Wrestling Duals presented by Journeymen Wrestling, Monday and Tuesday on the campus of Northwest Florida State College. A star-studded group of teams will participate as six of the top ten and seven of the top-11 will make the trip down to Florida.
Before we get into a preview of the event (Thursday/Friday), we've found five big questions surrounding the duals and their participants. The answers to these questions could substantially impact the rest of the NCAA season.
1) Will we see Iowa's full lineup?
By â€œfull lineup,â€ we mean Spencer Lee at 125 lbs and Michael Kemerer at 174. The Hawkeyes have only appeared in three duals thus far, but neither has appeared in any of the duals. In their absence, Jesse Ybarra (125) and Nelson Brands (174) have filled in admirably. Brands has won all three of his dual appearances, with major decisions in two of them. Ybarra won the Luther Open, before splitting his two actual matches. With both in the lineup next week, the Hawkeyes still â€œcouldâ€ get by NC State or Missouri in their undecided dual meet on Tuesday. But with one or both? Iowa is a sizable favorite.
Word is that Spencer is expected to travel and should be available for the duals. Just â€œhow availableâ€ remains to be seen. People close to the situation don't anticipate that he'll wrestle all three duals, but perhaps one or two. So does Spencer wrestle in a dual that's expected to be â€œless-competitiveâ€ as a tune-up or get saved for either Missouri or NC State on Tuesday? Either matchup could provide an interesting barometer for Lee. As we've seen in the past, just a semi-healthy Lee is good enough to win an NCAA title. Missouri would send out #15 Noah Surtin, while NC State has #5 Jakob Camacho.
There's less optimism about the availability of Kemerer on Monday/Tuesday. The prevailing wisdom is that Kemerer is still a second-semester guy for Iowa. Nelson Brands' success this year at 174 lbs, makes his return less of an immediate priority for the Hawks.
2) Is Vito going down to 125?
One of the long-running narratives of the preseason and early-season for myself and EIWA correspondent Austin Sommer has been what Cornell's lineup will look like? Particularly Vito Arujau and Yianni Diakomihalis. After a couple of duals and the Cliff Keen Las Vegas title at 149 lbs, it seems like Yianni may have a new home. Arujau, on the other hand, remains to be seen.
For years, wrestling fans and media have speculated that Vito would eventually move up to 133 lbs and he might very well, at some point. Those close to the situation have always said that Arujau is lighter than most people realize and has little difficulty making 125, which is also his international weight.
Vito has only taken the mat once this season and it was for the â€œRob Koll Bowlâ€ when the former Cornell coach brought his new Stanford team to Ithaca. During that dual, Arujau wrestled at 133 lbs and majored 2021 NCAA qualifier Jackson DiSario. Word is, Arujau weighed in light enough where 125 would be an option, without a lengthy descent plan.
After seeing Cornell's results (without Vito) at the CKLV Invitational, he's probably â€œneededâ€ more at 125 lbs, as Greg Diakomihalis went 0-2 at the weight. Dom LaJoie got the call at 133 and picked up a pair of wins. LaJoie started for the Big Red at 125 lbs in 2019-20 and went 16-21.
If, in fact, Vito goes 125 for the Duals, it sets up an exciting bout at in pool competition with 2021 Big 12 champion #10 Brody Teske (Northern Iowa). On day two, he could see either 2021 All-American #16 Sam Latona (Virginia Tech) or 2021 NCAA runner-up Brandon Courtney (Arizona State).
3) Will Arizona State unleash Cael Valencia?
Speaking of the Sun Devils, they have a pretty salty lineup! They boast six returning All-Americans and are ranked in the top-15 in eight of the ten weight classes this year. The 2021 NCAA Championships saw Zeke Jones' squad take home a team trophy for the first time since 1995. With such a talented squad in tow, the Sun Devils will be expected to compete for another in 2022. The only problem? Everyone is loaded!
Aside from Arizona State, there are probably nine other teams that think they deserve to hold some sort of NCAA hardware on Saturday night in Detroit. As we prepare to turn the calendar to 2022, a handful of contenders have made late additions to solidify their contender status. Michigan is expected to add 2019 NCAA champion Nick Suriano and two-time All-American Logan Massa made his semi-unexpected return last weekend. Penn State could get help from All-American Drew Hildebrandt at 125 lbs. Oklahoma State has turned to true freshman Carter Young at 141 lbs, rather than an established NCAA qualifier like Dusty Hone.
It's unlikely that Arizona State and lure any difference-making transfers at 174 or 184 lbs (the only two weights not currently ranked for ASU), but the Sun Devil staff does have a blue-chip ace up their sleeve. True freshman Cael Valencia, the latest in a chain of great brothers for the program, is an option at 174 lbs.
In limited action, competing unattached so far, Valencia has gone 8-0. His most notable win came a few weeks ago, when he knocked off #15 Hayden Hastings (Wyoming), the 14th seed at the NCAA Championships, last year. A win over an opponent like Hastings shows he can compete and defeat most current collegiate opponents. But can he sustain that type of production? Arizona State has one of the toughest non-conference slates in the nation. Can he compete with opponents of Hastings' caliber, or better, every outing? Only the ASU staff knows this for sure (or at least has a good idea).
If Valencia were to go Monday, he'd have to face 2019 NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis, who has looked excellent during his move up to 174 lbs. That would be a baptism by fire for the true freshman. ASU also drew Hofstra on day one. Day two would likely consist of a bout against either #12 Chris Foca (Cornell) or #1 Carter Starocci (Penn State).
At the Cowboy Open, the site where Valencia defeated Hastings, he also majored the Sun Devils current starter Zane Coleman, 14-3. While there are many factors the ASU brass has to consider when burning a redshirt, one is just how many points could Valencia bring at the national tournament? Will only a few points be worth it? Is he capable of scoring more? Once again, we don't know that answer and only Jones' coaches have an educated guess.
Now, it's entirely possible that Valencia doesn't compete in Florida and get pulled in January. Of course, the Sun Devils January 3rd dual with Massa and Michigan isn't ideal, but January 9th-16th against Joel Devine (Iowa State), Hunter Kernan (Pittsburgh), and Mikey Squires (Princeton), may make for a more manageable debut.
Whatever ASU's decision is, it makes for great theater.
4) What the heck happens with Mizzou/NC State?
Once the official pairings were released for the duals, this was the one that stuck out most, in terms of competitiveness and high-level matchups. With apologies to Arizona State and Virginia Tech. At least in the first set of pool competition.
So, who prevails and likely faces Iowa?
We'll have a more in-depth look in our actual preview, but just looking at rankings, NC State has the edge at 125, 133, 149, 174, 184. So that sets up for a 5-5 split, barring upsets. One factor that could tilt things in favor of the Tigers is 133 lbs. The Tigers expected to regain the services of Matt Schmitt (seeded #6 at the 2021 NCAA Tournament) and a top-ten caliber wrestler â€œsometime in December.â€ If Schmitt returns for the Duals, he could make it a 6-4 swing in favor of Brian Smith's team.
So, as anyone who's ever watched more than two duals know, rankings can go out the window when you have teams of this caliber squaring off. Six-matches-to-four, a five/five split, doesn't really matter. They're bound to be some unexplainable results, so of course, let's try to find where this dual could go sideways.
125: Even though there's a significant disparity between #5 Jakob Camacho (NC State) and #15 Noah Surtin (Missouri), Surtin has won a battle of common's opponents with a win over Sam Latona, two weeks ago.
141: Mizzou has the ranking edge (14 to 16) and the seniority, comparing Allan Hart to Ryan Jack, a talented, 16th ranked freshman winning this matchup, hardly qualifies as an upset.
157: Once again, Mizzou has the experience with #15 Jarrett Jacques over #23 Ed Scott, but the second-year version of Scott is looking really good. Granted, he hasn't defeated a ranked opponent yet, but Scott has largely dominated all-comers.
165: The possibly under-ranked #3 Keegan O'Toole (Missouri) presents an imposing task for #18 Thomas Bullard, who is trying to rebound from a loss to Will Formato (Appalachian State) on Sunday. Could the dangerous O'Toole add a bonus point or three?
197: Another second-year wrestler that has looked lights-out for the Wolfpack is #15 Isaac Trumble. Maybe knocking off #4 Rocky Elam isn't in the cards, quite yet, but he did upset eventual NCAA runner-up Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh) as a true freshman.
285: However the chips fall; expect this dual to come down to the big guys (provided they start at 125). NC State could start #28 Owen Trephan or 2021 ACC champion Deonte Wilson. Whomever they send out will be competitive and is capable of knocking off #16 Zach Elam (Missouri).
5) Where's the best chance for a day one upset (team-wise)?
Ok, so we're excluding #5 NC State/#10 Missouri and #6 Arizona State/#9 Virginia Tech from this true â€œupset' talk. While wins by Mizzou or Tech would register as upsets on paper, it wouldn't be that earth-shattering. Let's look further into the event.
What I could find as a possible upset, would be unranked Central Michigan topping #21 Lehigh.
There are actually some results between these two squads from the 2021-22 season, as both were at the Journeymen Collegiate Classic and had some of the team members grouped in pools together. Most notable at 285 as heavyweight All-Americans, Jordan Wood (Lehigh) and Matt Stencel (Central Michigan), clashed. Wood was victorious 3-1, but it's basically a toss-up, between very similar opponents. At 149, though Manzona Bryant (Lehigh), makes the national rankings (#30), he was tripped up by a point from Central Michigan's Corbyn Munson.
Other advantageous weights for the Chippewas include 141 lbs with #7 Dresden Simon, along with 184 and 197. At 165 and 174 lbs, Lehigh is favored with returning national qualifiers at both weights; however, CMU's wrestlers at those classes Tracy Hubbard (165) and Jake Lowell (174) aren't too far away from the top-33 and could pull a slight upset.