Northern Illinois All-American Brit Wilson (photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
2022 MAC Championships Preview
22 total allocations/35 total allocations
The DI postseason gets kicked off on Friday as the MAC Championships start day one of their two-day competition. 13 schools will be fighting for 22 total allocations to the 2022 NCAA Championships. That number represents a significant drop from 2021, as Missouri qualified through the conference last year and every season since 2013. With a Tiger-less tournament, will it be Tom Borrelli and his Central Michigan squad who ascends back to the top of the MAC? His team has the starpower with a pair of top-12 ranked seniors and a host of gritty veterans. Others who could threaten yet another CMU title include Lock Haven. Scott Moore's team has a handful of young, talented wrestlers with gaudy records. Clarion has quietly improved each year under Keith Ferraro and could be ready to strike. Northern Illinois may not have the depth of other teams, but certainly has some big tournament firepower.
Below is our weight-by-weight preview of the action, along with predictions for top-six finishers at all ten weights, and a team race projection. Wrestlers bolded are ones that we have pegged to receive the automatic qualifying bids available in their respective weight class.
When: March 4th/5th, 2022
Where: Athens, Ohio
How to Watch: ESPN+
125 lbs is an odd weight class in the MAC. You have one dominant figure, who has asserted himself head and shoulders above the competition in #20 Anthony Noto (Lock Haven). After Noto, there are five or six others who are NCAA qualifier "worthy" and have spent time in the national rankings. In a typical year, two of three would have either snapped up qualifying bids or received at-large berths. With the competition nationwide, it's anyone's guess. You don't want to leave it in the selection committee's hands, that's for certain!
Noto suffered a loss on the opening weekend of the year and has proceeded to reel off 23 victories in a row. That span includes tournament wins at the Shorty Hitchcock and Mat-Town Opens. In MAC duals, Noto has bonus points in four of his conference wins.
Outside of Noto, there are two wrestlers in this bracket with past NCAA experience, Bryce West (Northern Illinois) and Jake Ferri (Kent State). West was fifth in the conference last year at 133 lbs, while Ferri was third at this weight. The 22-8 Ferri probably has the best resume this year, outside of Noto. He's defeated West and a pair of young studs at this weight, Joey Fischer (Clarion) and Tristan Daugherty (Buffalo).
Fischer and Daugherty met in dual action and it was the Bull who got the edge, in tiebreakers. The Clarion freshman started his year with a win over Lock Haven national qualifier, Luke Werner, in tournament competition. Daugherty is looking to right the ship after dropping his last four duals of the year.
Another strong candidate for the second seed is Brock Bergelin (Central Michigan). Bergelin spent a few weeks in the rankings, but dropped out after two non-conference losses to end the year. Provided he has a good showing, and there are minimal upsets nationwide, he'll be the running for an at-large berth.
A couple of Ohio wrestlers comprise the next group of competitors. Logan Heil (Cleveland State) and Oscar Sanchez (Ohio), have both had their moments. Sanchez narrowly took the dual between these two and possesses a 17-8 record.
Finally, we have Tyler Klinsky (Rider), who, despite an 11-10 record, is responsible for Bergelin's only conference loss.
1st) Anthony Noto (Lock Haven)
2nd) Brock Bergelin (Central Michigan)
3rd) Jake Ferri (Kent State)
4th) Joey Fischer (Clarion)
5th) Oscar Sanchez (Ohio)
6th) Tristan Daugherty (Buffalo)
Like at 125 lbs, there's only a single, precious allocation out there for grabs. While Noto was the odds-on favorite at 125, there's no such favorite at 133. #31 Richie Koehler (Rider) was the only wrestler in the conference able to secure an automatic qualifying bid for the conference. In late January, Koehler suffered a sudden victory loss to Cam Soda (Edinboro). It was his first and only conference loss of the year. Koehler was a conference runner-up and national qualifier last season.
The most decorated wrestler in this bracket is #33 Derek Spann (Buffalo). He's qualified for NCAA's twice, once after making the MAC finals in 2019 and the next after finishing fourth in 2020. Spann started the year with losses in four of his first eight bouts, but seems to be wrestling his best at the right time. He comes into the postseason on an eight-match winning streak. Koehler and Spann did not meet in the regular season.
The other returning qualifier at this weight is Bloomsburg's Cole Rhone. Last year, Rhone punched his ticket to St. Louis with a fourth-place conference finish. He's 10-5 this season. Aside from Koehler, Rhone's other conference loss came at the hands of George Mason's Michael Rapuano. Rapuano is a true freshman that has jumped into the Patriots starting lineup and responded with a winning record. The Connecticut native also has a win over Soda.
After Koehler/Spann, I wouldn't want to seed this weight. There are plenty of quality wrestlers all of which have traded wins with each other. Gio DiSabato (Ohio), Gable Strickland (Lock Haven), and Brendon Fenton (Kent State) all currently have winning records. Jacob Manley (Cleveland State) is 8-10, but has wins over Strickland and DiSabato. But a loss to Fentonâ€¦and so on.
1st) Derek Spann (Buffalo)
2nd) Richie Koehler (Rider)
3rd) Gio DiSabato (Ohio)
4th) Cole Rhone (Bloomsburg)
5th) Gable Strickland (Lock Haven)
6th) Brendon Fenton (Kent State)
This is where things start to get fun! A weight class with multiple bids, but just like the previous weight (at the next one), it's hard to make sense of all of the results. But, first things first, the favorite is #12 Dresden Simon (Central Michigan), who is aiming to become a three-time MAC champion. Simon was the ninth seed at this weight class in 2021 and ended up advancing to the NCAA bloodround before his elimination. This year, Simon has won 17 of 20 bouts and boasts wins over three-time All-American Stevan Micic (Michigan) and Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational champ Clay Carlson (South Dakota State). Even with such a strong campaign, Simon still had a conference blemish, as he was pinned by #26 Gabe Willochell (Edinboro). Willochell comes into the postseason hot, as he's won five straight matches; two via fall.
Despite Willochell's ranking and quality wins, he did not earn an automatic bid for the conference. The remaining two were grabbed by Seth Koleno (Clarion) and Kyran Hagan (Ohio). During his final dual, Willochell defeated Koleno, 12-8. Koleno has a solid 19-6 record and a head-to-head win over Hagan. Hagan and Willochell split matches and the Bobcat has only lost once since early December.
Another ranked wrestler in the mix that didn't lock up a qualifying bid is #25 Quinn Kinner (Rider). The Ohio State transfer, Kinner, has only lost in the conference to Simon and has pinned Willochell and decisioned Koleno. He's managed to keep high-powered #1 Nick Lee (Penn State) and #3 Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers) to three and four-point decisions during their 2021-22 meetings.
Also in the mix is 2021 MAC fourth-place finisher and national qualifier Saul Ervin (SIU Edwardsville). Two of Ervin's best wins on the year include a decision over Frankie Tal-Shahar (Northwestern) and a major over Koleno. One of Ervin's conference losses came to George Mason's true freshman Kaden Cassidy. Cassidy started his collegiate career with six straight wins and has knocked off #14 CJ Composto (Penn) at the Keystone Classic.
Others in this bracket with winning records heading into the postseason are Ben Freeman (Buffalo) and Josh Mason (Bloomsburg)
1st) Dresden Simon (Central Michigan)
2nd) Quinn Kinner (Rider)
3rd) Gabe Willochell (Edinboro)
4th) Saul Ervin (SIU Edwardsville)
5th) Seth Koleno (Clarion)
6th) Kaden Cassidy (George Mason)
Now we've got a weight class with a bunch of allocations available, yet even more qualified entrants fighting for them. #23 Alex Madrigal (George Mason) is the highest-ranked of the group, plus he has a clean slate, in terms of conference record and, more importantly, losses. None of his three losses came via MAC opponents. Madrigal is looking to make his third NCAA tournament and his first at GMU, after doing so previously for Old Dominion.
Trying to sort out this weight class after Madrigal can get messy. The other three in the rankings are #27 Brent Moore (Clarion), #32 Marcus Robinson (Cleveland State) and #33 Corbyn Munson (Central Michigan). Moore has made a remarkable comeback after leaving Virginia Tech due to injuries and it was perceived his career was over. The 2018 ACC champion, Moore, is 21-5 with four wins over his final five duals. That lone loss? It came to Robinson, 10-3. A 2021 conference runner-up, Robinson is 16-3, with only one loss since the calendar turned over to 2022. But, that loss came to Ohio's Alec Hagan (Ohio). Hagan, however, had a late-season defeat via Munson. Now, Munson was in the rankings for the majority of the year, but dropped out after February losses to Kody Komara (Kent State) and John Arceri (Buffalo).
Komara overcame a 2-7 skid during the dual season to finish with three consecutive wins. Before that, he lost to Hagan, Robinson, and Arceri. The Buffalo grappler got better towards the end of the season, but did have a loss to Anthony Cheloni (Northern Illinois), thrown in between some quality wins. In addition to his Arceri win, Cheloni is also responsible for defeating #19 Willie McDougald (Oklahoma) early in the season.
This is the type of weight that could be wrestled ten times and the results would greatly differ ten times.
1st) Alex Madrigal (George Mason)
2nd) Brent Moore (Clarion)
3rd) Corbyn Munson (Central Michigan)
4th) John Arceri (Buffalo)
5th) Marcus Robinson (Cleveland State)
6th) Alec Hagan (Ohio)
The 2021 MAC Championships were the site of Johnny Lovett's breakout tournament, as he came in with a 4-2 record, then took third place and went on to notch a pair of wins at nationals. Lovett finished his regular season with a win over then-#9 Will Lewan (Michigan) in a non-conference battle. While Lovett dropped a bout to a MAC opponent (not expected to enter the tournament) in an open tournament, he went unscathed in conference duals.
After Lovett, there are plenty of capable wrestlers seeking to claim that second bid (or perhaps his). They include #29 Jordan Slivka (Ohio), #32 Ben Barton (Lock Haven), and #33 Alex Carida (Bloomsburg). Both Barton and Carida have past NCAA experience. As does Michael Petite (Buffalo). Barton is a winner of his last six bouts and didn't lose to a conference opponent. His most relevant win here is a one-point decision over Carida in mid-January. That Barton-loss is the most recent of the year for Cardia, who holds an eight-match winning streak. Petite closed the regular season with an upset of Slivka, less than a week after taking Lovett to sudden victory. As is the case with multiple Buffalo wrestlers, he could be hitting his stride at the right time of year.
This weight also should get challenges from Anthony Gibson (Northern Illinois) and Avery Bassett (George Mason). Gibson has had his moments where he looks the part of an NCAA qualifier. During the 2019-20 campaign, he notched a win over All-American Grant Leeth (Missouri), down at 141 lbs. Bassett is another competitor with an impressive, current winning streak. He comes into the postseason as a winner of his last seven contests.
1st) Johnny Lovett (Central Michigan)
2nd) Ben Barton (Lock Haven)
3rd) Jordan Slivka (Ohio)
4th) Michael Petite (Buffalo)
5th) Alex Carida (Bloomsburg)
6th) Avery Bassett (George Mason)
Quietly, #15 Izzak Olejnik has put together quite the year for Northern Illinois. He's got a 20-4 record and his "worst" loss is to 2021 NCAA runner-up #14 Jake Wentzel (Pittsburgh). Against MAC opponents, Olejnik hasn't faced anyone who has been able to stay within four points of him. Will this be the year that he finally brings home a MAC title after finishing second in each of the last two years? In 2021, Olejnik assumed the #18 seed in St. Louis and left with a pair of wins.
#28 Ashton Eyler (Lock Haven) is the only other MAC wrestler in the current rankings. He's gotten his hand raised the last 17 times he's stepped on a mat. In the middle of that streak was a 5-3 win over returning national qualifier #32 Joe Grello (Oklahoma) at the Virginia Duals. The last opponent to defeat Eyler was also his only conference loss of the year, to Noah Grover (Buffalo). Grover was only 1-2 in February, with losses to Olejnik and Tracy Hubbard (Central Michigan).
The third automatic qualifying spot for the conference was captured by Cleveland State's Riley Smucker. At 16-3, Smucker easily put together his best year in a Viking singlet. He logged wins over conference contenders Grover and Hubbard. In late January, though, Smucker was tripped up by Kent State's Brady Chrisman in sudden victory.
1st) Izzak Olejnik (Northern Illinois)
2nd) Ashton Eyler (Lock Haven)
3rd) Riley Smucker (Cleveland State)
4th) Tracy Hubbard (Central Michigan)
5th) Noah Grover (Buffalo)
6th) Brady Chrisman (Kent State)
The frontrunner for MAC Freshman of the Year has to be Ohio's #20 Sal Perrine at 174 lbs. Perrine won 15 of his first 16 collegiate bouts, with his only loss coming to returning All-American Ethan Smith (Ohio State). That hot streak included a tournament title at the freshman/sophomore division of the Michigan State Open, along with the Navy Classic. After a one-point loss to #29 Mason Kauffman (Northern Illinois) in mid-January, Perrine proceeded to win his next six matches (and counting?).
Kauffman has had a rather interesting year. He suffered four losses before the end of November, but came back to make the finals of the MatMen Open. Later in the season, he fought through a three-match losing skid. Interestingly enough, none of Kauffman's nine losses have come against MAC competition.
Next in line, with conference losses coming to Perrine and Kauffman, is Bret Fedewa (Central Michigan). The Chippewa veteran strung together more wins this year (20) than all four previous seasons combined (19). Fedewa's biggest win of the season came over #10 Cade DeVos (South Dakota State) and helped CMU to a 21-17 upset of the Jackrabbits.
It's likely that we'll see some combination of John Worthing (Clarion), Logan Messer (George Mason), Jay Nivison (Buffalo), and Tyler Stoltzfus (Lock Haven) fighting it out for top-six spots on the podium. Messer is yet another true freshman that has posted an impressive record (22-7) during his first year in Fairfax. Worthing has nearly gone perfect in 2022, with Kevin Gschwendtner (SIU Edwardsville) responsible for his only loss since January. Nivison started the year at 165, but has really thrived since moving up. Stoltzfus could get into the qualifying mix if he can reverse close decisions losses he's had to Worthing and Nivison.
1st) Sal Perrine (Ohio)
2nd) Mason Kauffman (Northern Illinois)
3rd) Bret Fedewa (Central Michigan)
4th) Logan Messer (George Mason)
5th) John Worthing (Clarion)
6th) Jay Nivison (Buffalo)
There's no question who the favorite is at 184 lbs, as #18 Brit Wilson (Northern Illinois) is looking to capture his third consecutive MAC title at this weight. The 2021 NCAA sixth-place finisher, Wilson, started the year with 16 straight wins, a streak that spanned the Michigan State Open and the Cougar Clash. In conference action, Wilson was never seriously threatened. The only bout against a MAC opponent where he failed to register bonus points, was a 5-0 win over Peter Acciardi (Buffalo).
So who's in the driver's seat for that precious second allocation? The trio of Colin McCracken (Kent State), DeAndre Nassar (Cleveland State), and Ethan Ducca (Edinboro) are all the clubhouse leaders. McCracken and Nassar were both national qualifiers in 2021. Nassar was third at this weight class, while McCracken received an at-large berth at 197 lbs. Though his 13-8 record isn't spectacular, McCracken won his final seven matches and his only MAC loss was to Wilson. McCracken also owns a 3-1 head-to-head win over Nassar at the Cleveland State Open. That loss was one of only four on the year for Nassar. Ducca is responsible for earning the second automatic qualifying bid at this weight after a 14-4 campaign. Even so, he does have three conference losses. One of which is to McCracken, while the others are to Colin Fegley (Lock Haven) and Kyle Davis (George Mason).
The next tier at this weight is Davis, Fegley, Acciardi, Ben Cushman (Central Michigan), Zayne Lehman (Ohio), and Max Wohlbaugh (Clarion). Each is capable of a big win, as proven by their 2021-22 results; they just need to string together two or three this weekend.
1st) Brit Wilson (Northern Illinois)
2nd) Colin McCracken (Kent State)
3rd) Ethan Ducca (Edinboro)
4th) DeAndre Nassar (Cleveland State)
5th) Colin Fegley (Lock Haven)
6th) Kyle Davis (George Mason)
There's only one allocation available at 197 lbs, so you know action will be fierce trying to get that lone spot. The conference has a pair of wrestlers currently in the 197 lb rankings with #30 Will Feldkamp (Clarion) and #33 Ben Smith (Cleveland State). Each has had a strong year, losing only seven matches combined; however, they did not meet each other. Feldkamp dropped his final dual of the year, a non-conference loss to Navy, which snapped a 12-match winning streak. During that heater, Feldkamp pinned more than half (seven) of his victims. Smith was a first-time national qualifier in 2021 after making the MAC finals. While in St. Louis, Smith logged a 12-4 major decision over Oregon State's JJ Dixon. He's also in the midst of a good run, having lost only twice since mid-November.
Kind of a darkhorse, behind the big two, is Aaron Bolo. Despite a record that's seems unsightly, at 11-7, Bolo has not lost to any MAC opponents this year. His defeats have generally all come against highly ranked out-of-conference foes. In past years, he has defeated by Feldkamp and Smith.
Aside from Smith, the only wrestler in this group with past NCAA experience is Matt Correnti (Rider). That was way back in 2017 as Correnti was a true freshman at Rutgers. This year he's been limited to three wins in nine total bouts.
Cody Mulligan (Edinboro), Jon List (George Mason), Parker McClellan (Lock Haven), Sam Mitchell (Buffalo), and Carson Brewer (Ohio) could all fight for the 4-8 spots on the podium. Each seems to have a win or two against someone else in this group, yet also a loss (or two).
1st) Aaron Bolo (Central Michigan)
2nd) Will Feldkamp (Clarion)
3rd) Ben Smith (Cleveland State)
4th) Cody Mulligan (Edinboro)
5th) Parker McClellan (Lock Haven)
6th) Jon List (George Mason)
We've got the opportunity to witness history at 285 lbs as #8 Matt Stencel (Central Michigan) attempts to become the first-ever (and probably last) five-time MAC champion. Should he do so, Stencel would be on track to receiving a top-nine seed at NCAA's for the fourth consecutive year. Stencel's looking to channel his 2019 form, when he finished seventh in the nation. With a record of 15-4, all of the Chippewa big man's losses have come to wrestlers currently ranked in the top seven nationally. You'd have to go back to the 2017-18 season, Stencel's redshirt freshman year, to find the last time he lost to a MAC opponent (Stephen Suglio - Kent State). Looking to change that is #27 Isaac Reid (Lock Haven), who has had an excellent year for the Bald Eagles. He is also unbeaten against conference foes and hasn't lost since early January to #6 Wyatt Hendrickson (Air Force). To get title number five, Stencel will certainly have to earn it.
The gap between the top two and the rest of the league is rather large. Colton McKiernan (SIU Edwardsville) was a national qualifier in 2019 and is the only other returning NQ in the field. In addition to Stencel, McKiernan has also lost to Terrese Aaron (Northern Illinois).
The next stud at this weight is probably Rider's true freshman David Szuba. Szuba has defeated Aaron and is 15-10 overall. His losses have come to Stencel, Reid, and Tyler Bagoly (Clarion). As we go around in circles, Bagoly has lost to McKiernan and Shane Noonan (Bloomsburg). Jacob Cover (Kent State), Jordan Greer (Ohio), and Toby Cahill (Buffalo), all have quality wins that lead you to believe they could make an impact here.
1st) Matt Stencel (Central Michigan)
2nd) Isaac Reid (Lock Haven)
3rd) Tyler Bagoly (Clarion)
4th) David Szuba (Rider)
5th) Colton McKiernan (SIU Edwardsville)
6th) Jordan Greer (Ohio)
Team Race Projections
1st) Central Michigan
2nd) Lock Haven
4th) Northern Illinois