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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    Five Things We Learned About the Big Ten in Week Two

    Paddy Gallagher's Ohio State home debut (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    The 2022-23 NCAA wrestling season is in full swing as all Big Ten teams now have at least one competition under their belts.

    Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, and Purdue all held their home openers this past weekend. Nebraska and Rutgers competed at the Journeymen Duals in Bethlehem, Pa., and Michigan competed in a couple unique locations, taking on Campbell in a military hangar at Fort Bragg on Veteran's Day and North Carolina at the school's baseball stadium.

    Here are five things we learned from this past week of competition:

    Soldano is making a strong case for himself at 184 pounds

    The Rutgers coaching staff knew coming into the season that they were going to have to make a tough decision at 184 pounds. On one hand, they have sophomore John Poznanski, who capped off a breakout season in 2021 with a fourth-place finish at NCAAs and All-American status. On the other is Brian Soldano, the true freshman coming off his third New Jersey state championship.

    Both have a redshirt available.

    Rutgers did not hold official wrestle-offs, coach Scott Goodale said last week at his team's media day. Instead, they plan to use this early stretch of their season to work out lineup questions.

    It was Soldano who got the call in the Scarlet Knights' first three duals of the season, and it's clear he's not going to make this decision easy for his coaches.

    The true freshman went 3-0 over the weekend, including two ranked wins - 15-5 major decision over Clarion's No. 21 Will Feldkamp; fall over Sacred Heart's Owen Ayotte; and a technical fall over Arizona State's No. 17 Anthony Montalvo. It's hard to imagine much of a better debut.

    But Poznanski certainly shouldn't be counted out.

    "This is the best John's ever looked," Goodale said last week. "He seems very motivated right now."

    Soldano will be able to wrestle in three more events before burning his redshift, thanks to the NCAA's new rule change. Next up for the Scarlet Knights: Stanford, the CSU Open and the Grapple in the Garden with Penn, Drexel and Princeton.

    There's still plenty of time for the wrestlers to prove themselves - and plenty of sleepless nights ahead for the Rutgers coaching staff.

    The 2021 recruiting class has arrived on the collegiate stage

    In a college wrestling landscape that has recently included seven-year seniors and five-time All-Americans, it sure is nice to have some new blood in the mix.

    Three top-five members of the 2021 recruiting class made their debuts in the Big Ten this weekend - Ohio State's Paddy Gallagher and Penn State's Shayne Van Ness and Alex Facundo. And all three looked poised and prepared to take on the collegiate grind.

    While neither of the three faced particularly tough opponents, they each had a presence about them and command of the mat that left their fan bases eager for more.

    The Rec Hall crowd rose to its feet as Van Ness locked up the cradle and turned Lock Haven's Connor Eck to his back for the fall in 6:32. The buzz in the arena continued to build a couple weights later as Facundo piled on takedown after takedown after takedown en route to a 27-12 technical fall in 5:35.

    Gallagher had to work a little bit more for his debut win at the Covelli Center on Friday. The former No. 1 recruit went back and forth with Virginia Tech's Clayton Ulrey until breaking the match open with a six-point move late in the second period, eventually winning 14-8.

    Anticipation has been building around the home arena debuts of all three of these wrestlers since they committed - not just for fans but also for the wrestlers themselves.

    "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing to have a debut at Rec Hall," Facundo told reporters after the meet. "This is a moment that I will be able to have for the rest of my life. It was just exciting. I was waiting all summer and all last year to finally go out there in a Penn State singlet. It was something awesome."

    Michigan has some depth at 125

    This is a good thing. In a perfect world, this is what all teams theoretically should want. You want guys hungrily trying to get into the lineup and fighting every day for a spot that isn't guaranteed. In speaking with Jake Bergeland of Minnesota a couple months back, he mentioned how in order to reach your goals on the national stage, you need to be able to beat the guys in your own room first. Seems like an obvious piece, but sometimes it's a real struggle to get into the lineup. That's the case here with Jack Medley and Kurt McHenry.

    McHenry won the wrestle-off a couple of weeks back, as well as their matchup at the MSU Open. McHenry got the nod against Campbell, winning the match in dramatic fashion with a misdirection single leg in the last 6 seconds. Before that happened, the match was already fireworks, and he showed flashes of the guy who is a two-time Cadet World Champion. Quietly he had actually gone undefeated last season for the Wolverines in limited competition, going 5-0 on the year.

    Medley is a fan favorite for sure, and the epitome of a guy who went in and took what he wanted with hard work and commitment. He has struggled a bit this year in his chances to compete, going 0-2 at the MSU Open, and losing the match to Jack Wagner of North Carolina this past weekend. He began the year as the presumed starter by most, and was ranked in the teens by most publications. Wagner has shown he can compete with the best of them, having taken fourth in the Big Ten during the COVID canceled season, and has many wins over ranked opponents throughout his career.

    Depth is good. Whoever the Wolverines have representing them at the end of this season will deserve it. In the meantime, it looks like it'll be a timeshare though, until one of these two eliminates any doubt and handily takes the spot. We'll see who they go with this Sunday when they take on Columbia in Ann Arbor.

    Maryland is showing promise after two weeks

    You didn't think I'd make it much deeper into the season without a Terrapin update, did you? The wait is over. After starting the year 3-0 as a team with wins over Bloomsburg, Duke, and American, Coach Clemsen and crew traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, for the Tiger Style Invite. They didn't disappoint, either. Maryland had three finalists in Kal Miller at 141, Michael North at 157, and Jaxon Smith at 197.

    Kal Miller won the championship at 141 pounds, with a third-period takedown to seal it over Little Rock's Brennan Van Hoecke, while his brother Ethen placed third after dropping his semifinal match to the eventual champ and second-ranked Brock Mauller of Missouri. Ethen eventually beat Kevon Davenport 3-2 to collect the bronze. That was a notable match for me because I picked Davenport to be a breakout candidate this season in the Big Ten. I still believe that to be the case, which makes this win for Miller so impressive.

    Michael North made the finals at 157 by beating Anthony Federico of Illinois followed by beating 27th-ranked Luka Wick of Cal Poly. Eventually, North lost to Jarrett Jacques of Missouri in the finals, but that was a very respectable tournament. More importantly, this shows continued growth from a guy who showed flashes last year of someone who can be a really tough wrestler for this team. Jacques is a guy who has consistently produced for the Tigers, and expects to compete to be on the podium at the end of the season, so getting a chance to make the finals here and get his hands on a guy like that is a great sign for Michael North.

    Most impressively in my mind was the road that Jaxon Smith took on his way to the finals. He pinned his way to the finals, which is impressive in that pinning someone is the most dominant way to win in college wrestling, but then you include that he pinned 13th-ranked Zac Braunagel of Illinois into that and it looks and feels that much better. Some things are better with context, this being one of those things. In the finals, he held the lead into the third period against two-time All-American and fifth-ranked Bernie Truax of Cal Poly. Smith gave up two takedowns in that final period to end up taking second, but he showed that he belongs with these credentialed guys.

    As the season goes on and Maryland gets into the meat of their Big Ten Schedule, you'll see them get more consistently tough competition, but I expect these guys to be prepared, especially at these weights. They won't have to wait long for a chance to prove themselves though, as they take on 18th-ranked Pittsburgh this Friday. This dual will include Cole Matthews versus Kal Miller at 141, Nino Bonaccorsi against Jaxon Smith at 197, and Dazjon Casto wrestling Michael North at 157. Enjoy the show!

    Boilermakers struggle in Home Opener

    The season started off strong for Purdue as they were dominant in the Clarion Open, and largely looked really good in doing so. They had somewhere between 3 and 4 champions, depending on how you look at it. Ramos at 125, Filius at 141, as well as 133 and 157 being shared titles by Boilermakers. Jacob Matangay and Dustin Norris shared 133, along with Kendall Coleman and Nate Camiscioli at 157. Additional placers at Clarion were Hayden Copass at heavyweight taking second, Cooper Noehre and Ben Vanadia took third at 165 and 184 respectively, and Brody Baumann and Tristan Ruhlman (174 and Hwy) placing fifth, with Hayden Filipovich rounding it out at sixth place at 197.

    The good graces from the Clarion Open ended when New Jersey came to West Lafayette ready to fight. In fairness to Purdue, the dual score is a little misleading, it wasn't a 23-13 beat down by Rider by any means, but I used the phrase "ready to fight" earlier for a reason. They won the close matches, at 133 Dustin Norris took #24 Richie Koehler to overtime, but Koehler got the win 10-8. At 165, Rider's Hunter Mays beat Cooper Noehre 6-5. But where the dual really got away from Purdue was the upset of Parker Fillius at 141 by McKenzie Bell 9-6, and the pin of Hayden Copass at Hwy by David Szuba.

    This is not to throw shade at Purdue. Dustin Norris looked great to begin the match, but didn't finish it out. Parker Filius is a proven commodity and will improve as a result of this. Credit to Mckenzie Bell who wrestled a great match to get the win, but to me, it says more about how much he's improved than any diminishing returns for Filius. These guys will make adjustments as the year goes on.

    Positive notes: Ramos looks awesome at 125. Kendall Coleman looks a whole lot like the guy from before his knee injury. Ben Vanadia looks great at 184, and this dual didn't include Penola at 197, who I expect to have a big year. This loss, though surprising, was more a result of an upset at 141, and a pin at Hwy making the score look more out of hand than it was. Purdue will bounce back, and has a chance to do so this Sunday with a trio of duals starting with Cleveland State (shoutout to Devin Schroeder who will be returning to West Lafayette as a coach with the Vikings), followed by Northern Illinois and Chattanooga. The duals will start at 10am EST and are available to watch through Big Ten Plus.

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