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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    InterMat's 2021 College All-Freshman Team

    2021 ACC champion Sam Latona (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    The 2021 collegiate season is in the books, but there's still plenty to talk about in this, the most unusual of all wrestling seasons. One bit of normalcy in this uncertain season was some new freshmen that burst onto the scene. Even as many argue against giving wrestlers sixth and seventh (or eight) years of competition, the college game continues to evolve in favor of younger wrestlers. For the third time in four NCAA Tournaments, and the fifth time in seven, we saw two freshmen ascend to the top of the NCAA podium. Seeing a freshman win a national title used to be a rare occurrence; however, at least one has gotten his hand raised on the big stage on Saturday night for the last seven NCAA Tournaments.

    Those two national champions weren't the only freshmen that had their share of success at the national championship. 13 other freshmen made their way into the top-eight of their respective weight classes, with two finishing in third place. That made for some difficult choices at a few different weights. After some debate, here's Intermat's All-Freshman team for the 2021 season. Please note that Intermat's Freshman of the Year was already announced on March 24th.

    125 - Sam Latona (Virginia Tech)

    Typically the 125 lb weight class is filled with impact freshman and there are some difficult choices to be made about the top spot. From 2014-19 there was only one season with less than two freshmen who achieved All-American honors at 125 lbs (2016). This year, Sam Latona was the only rookie to make the podium at this weight in St. Louis. While most fans took notice of Sam after a 20-2 redshirt campaign in 2019-20, Latona announced himself to the entire collegiate wrestling community after a dramatic win over reigning ACC champion Jakob Camacho (NC State) in dual meet action. The last-second four-point move propelled the Hokies over their conference rival and helped them earn a regular-season ACC title. Latona would add a second win over Camacho in the finals of the ACC championship, which locked up a perfect regular season for the Alabama-native and a second-seed at the NCAA Tournament. While Latona at nationals, he did pick up a win over the eventual third-place finisher (Patrick McKee - Minnesota) in the championship round. Sam finished his initial season in Blacksburg with a 14-3 record, three major decisions, and three wins over eventual All-Americans.

    Second Team - Robbie Howard (Penn State)

    NCAA fifth-place finisher Lucas Byrd (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    133 - Lucas Byrd (Illinois)

    Interestingly enough, the Big Ten was responsible for all four of the All-Americans that won their final match of the year, national champion Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State), third-place finisher, Austin DeSanto (Iowa), along with freshmen Lucas Byrd (fifth) and Chris Cannon (seventh). Byrd finished his freshman year with a 17-4 record and three of those losses came to wrestlers that placed in the top-four at nationals. The freshman from Cincinnati, Ohio, may have gone overlooked for the bulk of his freshman year, but made the country take notice as he pushed DeSanto to the brink in the Big Ten semifinals. Lucas clinched his place on the podium by downing two-time ACC champion Micky Phillipi (Pittsburgh) in the bloodround 6-2 in tiebreakers. Philippi came into the tournament as the fifth seed, while Byrd was seeded seventh. Byrd clearly claimed the spot on the first team with a pair of victories over second-teamer Cannon. He downed the Wildcat 7-1 for third-place in the Big Ten and again, by a 4-1 margin, in the consolation quarters at nationals.

    Second Team - Chris Cannon (Northwestern)

    Dylan D'Emilio (Photo/Sam Janicki; SamJanickiPhoto.com)

    141 - Dylan D'Emilio (Ohio State)

    Perhaps the most difficult choices for this team took place at 141 lbs, as there were only four freshman national qualifiers at the weight. What separated Dylan D'Emilio from the pack is that he was the only one from the quartet to earn a win at nationals. He picked up three, in fact. At the beginning of the season, many would not be surprised to see a Buckeye freshman get first-team honors, as Anthony Echemendia was penciled in as Ohio State's starter. D'Emilio ended up getting the nod down the stretch and responded with wins over national qualifiers Drew Mattin (Michigan) and Parker Filius (Purdue) in February. A 3-2 showing at the Big Ten Championships left D'Emilio without an automatic bid, but he was selected as an at-large and seeded 30th. After dropping his first match, Dylan bounced back with three straight wins, including downing the 19th (Lane Peters - Army West Point) and 20th (Brian Courtney - Virginia) seeds. D'Emilo finished the year with a 10-8 record for the Buckeyes.

    Second Team - McKenzie Bell (Rider)

    Kyle Parco during his consolation run (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    149 - Kyle Parco (Fresno State)

    It's unreal that 149 lbs saw a pair of wrestlers made the podium, both from California schools that have vowed to cut their programs after the 2021 season. While most fans expected Jaden Abas to contend for All-American status this season, not many could have projected that Kyle Parco would have done so, as well. Parco competed at 141 lbs during the regular season, but bumped up after losing a wrestle-off heading into the postseason. That proved to be a good move for the Bulldog, who finished third in the conference and headed into nationals with the 17th seed. The loss at the conference tournament was the only blemish on the resume for Parco prior to St. Louis. Kyle's first NCAA tournament started with a win over EIWA champion PJ Ogunsanya (Army West Point). He then met the top-seed, Sammy Sasso (Ohio State), and gave the Buckeye all he could handle before falling, 11-10. In back-to-back-to-back matches, Parco took out the #9 Legend Lamer (Cal Poly), #6 Bryce Andonian (Virginia Tech), and #7 Jonathan Millner (Appalachian State) seeds, ensuring a place in the top-six. Parco has already signed to continue his collegiate career at Utah Valley University.

    Second Team - Jaden Abas (Stanford)

    Cade DeVos in regular season action (Photo/SDSU athletics)

    157 - Cade DeVos (South Dakota State)

    This was the most difficult decision of the entire team. There were four or five 157 lbers that could have warranted discussion for one of the top two spots. Ultimately, it was a first-round win by Cade DeVos over fellow freshman, #15 Chase Saldate (Michigan State), that cemented his place on the first team. DeVos' two remaining bouts at the national tournament came against eventual All-Americans. As a whole, DeVos' record this year does not look impressive; however, he squared off with some high-caliber competition. Eight of his 11 losses came at the hands of opponents who earned top-ten seeds at nationals. Aside from the win over the Big Ten's fourth-place finisher, Saldate, DeVos also notched a pair of wins over Jacob Wright (Wyoming), who had only lost twice heading into the Big 12 Championships.

    Second Team - Andrew Cerniglia (Navy)

    Keegan O'Toole in his NCAA 3rd place bout (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    165 - Keegan O'Toole (Missouri)

    One of the top recruits in the high school Class of 2020, Keegan O'Toole did not disappoint during his true freshman season. O'Toole lost to eventual NCAA runner-up Jake Wentzel (Pittsburgh) in the NCAA quarterfinals for his only setback of the year. The young Tiger bounced back with wins over four top-ten seeds to grab third place. O'Toole finished the year with an astounding 65% bonus-point rate after racking up six falls and five technical falls. He also faced a solid schedule pre-NCAA's. Six of his 13 wins before St. Louis came against wrestlers that would ultimately compete at the national tournament. The Mizzou freshman also staked his claim to the top spot among freshmen at 165 lbs as he picked up a head-to-head win over the second team's Cameron Amine in the Round of 16 at the NCAA Championships.

    Second Team - Cameron Amine (Michigan)

    2021 NCAA Champion Carter Starocci (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    174 - Carter Starocci (Penn State)

    A 19-0 redshirt season set the bar extremely high for Carter Starocci as he took over the 174 lb weight class for Penn State. While replacing a national champion and three-time finalist like Mark Hall is a difficult proposition for any wrestler, Starocci matched his predecessor by winning a title as a freshman. After losing his debut to Donnell Washington, Starocci won nine consecutive bouts to roll into the Big Ten finals. There he fell to Iowa's three-time All-American, Michael Kemerer. The PSU 174 lber was able to avenge that loss in the national finals with a 3-1 win in sudden victory. Starocci finished the year with four wins over eventual All-Americans, an impressive figure for a COVID-shortened season that saw him only wrestle 16 matches. Throughout the year, Starocci showed maturity beyond his years by four wins in extra time, all coming against veteran competitors.

    Second Team - Donnell Washington (Indiana)

    Parker Keckeisen's NCAA 3rd place bout (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    184 - Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa)

    184 lbs saw a pair of freshmen square off in the national third-place bout and it was Parker Keckeisen who prevailed 5-4 over John Poznanski to take home the honors. Keckeisen's 6-4 loss in the NCAA semis, to eventual champion Aaron Brooks (Penn State), was the first, and only, setback of the year for the Panther. Though he didn't see action in dual competition until late January, Keckeisen made his presence known quickly by upsetting All-American Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State) in his second career dual. A week later, he downed eventual All-American Brit Wilson (Northern Illinois). With his win over Tate Samuelson (Wyoming) in the Big 12 finals, Parker became the third consecutive (all-different) Panther 184 lber to win a conference title. Keckeisen earned his place in the NCAA quarterfinals when he locked up a takedown in the sudden victory period to drop fifth-seeded Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech), 4-2. At Nationals, Parker was victorious over the fifth, sixth (Poznanski), and seventh (Wilson) seeds.

    Second Team - John Poznanski (Rutgers)

    2021 NCAA champion AJ Ferrari (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    197 - AJ Ferrari (Oklahoma State)

    Who would have guessed that after the NCAA Championships, one of the new darlings of the wrestling world would be AJ Ferrari? Celebrations, quotable interviews, and social media dances aside, Ferrari showed his mettle on the mat by controlling the top-seeded Myles Amine (Michigan) in the NCAA semis, before neutralizing, high-scoring Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh) for the title. Ferrari was thought to be one of the top recruits in the Class of 2020, evidenced by a Cadet World bronze medal in 2018 and did not disappoint on the college mat. Ferrari's first five collegiate bouts resulted in bonus points, with three coming via tech fall. He lost only once during 21 collegiate matches and finished the year on a nine-match winning streak. Ferarri's larger-than-life personality sometimes obscured the fact that he demonstrated extraordinary grit on the mat and a high wrestling IQ.

    AJ was already named Intermat's Freshman of the Year in late March.

    Second Team - Rocky Elam (Missouri)

    Arizona State's Cohlton Schultz (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    285 - Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State)

    For the second consecutive NCAA Tournament, we saw two freshmen climb the NCAA podium at 285 lbs, a feat that previously had not been accomplished since 2012. A head-to-head win in the consolation quarters ensured that Cohlton Schultz got the nod over Greg Kerkvliet. The win represented Schultz's highest-scoring contest of the year. He put up 14 points against Kerkvliet's eight. Interestingly enough, both were Cadet World Champions in 2017, Kerkvliet in freestyle, Schultz in Greco. The Sun Devil big man cruised into the NCAA Championships with a 10-0 record and a Pac-12 title under his belt. Schultz's breakout came during the regular season when he defeated veteran's Carter Isley (Northern Iowa) and Gannon Gremmel (Iowa State) on the same day. He would later earn a second win against Gremmel during the consolation semis at nationals. Cohlton finished the year in fourth place in St. Louis, with both of his defeats coming against Iowa's Tony Cassioppi.

    Second Team - Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State)

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