Mason Shrader and Johnny Lovett at the 2022 CMU Maroon and Gold match (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
The season officially got underway with a pair of duals on Tuesday night. Prior to that, college wrestling fans could only really satiate their thirst with intrasquad matches known in the wrestling community as wrestle-offs. In some cases, these matches determine the starters for the season while other teams treat the events solely as exhibitions. Oftentimes, the competitors are regular training partners, so there can be some wild results. The following are a few of those results that could be a sign of the future or entirely meaningless altogether.
149: Mason Shrader decision over No. 14 Johnny Lovett (7-4)
Lovett is a two-time NCAA qualifier at 157 pounds who last year picked up wins over Andrew Cerniglia (Navy), Doug Zapf (Penn) and Will Lewan (Michigan). He is expected to drop down to 149 pounds for his redshirt junior season, and he enters the year in the InterMat rankings. Despite the accolades, it was his teammate who scored the 7-4 victory at the Maroon and Gold match on Oct. 24.
Shrader went 13-8 as a redshirt last season. His best finish that year was probably a second-place finish at the Michigan State Open in the freshman/sophomore division. Shrader started his high school career at 103 pounds before winning a Michigan state title as a senior at 140 pounds.
Despite the loss, Lovett should be a physical force down at 149 pounds. If he is able to control the weight, he should have a realistic shot at making the All-American podium.
174: No. 18 Donnell Washington decision over Nick South (7-4)
As a true freshman in the 2021 season, Washington handed No. 1 Carter Starocci (Penn State) one of only two losses of his college career so far. The victory showed the kind of talent that Washington has, and he has been a bright spot for the rebuilding Indiana program. After qualifying for the NCAA tournament at 174 pounds, he moved up to 184 last season. Washington qualified once again but struggled at times in the Big Ten meat grinder and dropped both of his matches at the NCAA tournament.
Washington is expected to move back down to 174 pounds this year, and that campaign got off to a solid start in the wrestle-offs on Oct. 28. He scored a 7-4 decision over South who has been a two-year starter for the Hoosiers. South started at 165 in 2021 before moving up to 174 last year. On the high school level, South was a two-time Indiana state champion and finished second at Super 32.
184: No. 14 Tate Samuelson decision over AJ Burkhart (4-1)
After qualifying for the NCAA tournament four times for Wyoming, Samuelson has transferred to Lehigh for one final run at the podium. Last season he went 20-9, but he split his only two matches against EIWA opposition. There should be plenty of new and interesting matches this year.
In the Brown and White match, Samuelson defeated the team's starter at this weight from last year. Burkhart went only 14-15 last season, but he qualified for the NCAA tournament with a strong 5-1 performance at the EIWA tournament.
Samuelson will have a tough road to becoming an All-American, but he certainly has the experience. He got off to a good start against a solid teammate, and as previously stated there will be many new matches this season.
149: Kyle Dutton decision over Joey Bianchi (3-2)
Dutton had a very strong showing at Fargo this past offseason. He won a Junior national title at 145 pounds, defeated Beau Mantanona along the way, had the highest match-point differential and was named outstanding wrestler. The Missouri state champion carried the momentum into the wrestle-offs where he picked up a victory over last year's starter. Bianchi held down the starting spot for the Trojans and finished with a 15-13 record. Bianchi got the starting spot for the Trojans in their season-opening match against Ouachita Baptist. It will be interesting to see who starts the rest of the season, but Dutton clearly earned himself some respect. It is hard to not get excited about his future in Little Rock.
165: Bryce Hepner decision over No. 6 Carson Kharchla (2-1)
Perhaps the most shocking result to come out of the wrestle-offs came during the Ohio State wrestle-offs. After going undefeated during a redshirt season in 2019-20, Kharchal missed the entire 2021 season due to injury. Last year, he finally entered the starting lineup and established himself as one of the top wrestlers at 165 pounds. He scored victories over Julian Ramirez (Cornell), Alex Marinelli (Iowa) and Jake Wentzel (Pittsburgh) and ultimately finished seventh to become an All-American.
Despite the accolades, his season got off to a tough start against a teammate. Hepner was able to prevent Kharchla from notching a two-point score and took their match by a 2-1 margin. Last year, Hepner was a spot starter at 157 pounds and finished 12-6. He failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament after going 1-2 at the Big Ten tournament. Kharchla will almost certainly remain the starter at this weight, but Hepner proved he has the potential to be a solid backup if necessary.
285: Dayton Pitzer major decision over Jake Slinger (11-1)
After starting his career at George Mason, Slinger transferred to Pittsburgh. He was the starter last year at heavyweight and picked up wins over the likes of Zach Schrader (Maryland), Boone McDermott (Rutgers) and Quinn Miller (Virginia). However, he might have some competition in the room this year.
Pitzer scored a major decision over Slinger in the Oct. 28 Blue-Gold dual. He was a top-50 recruit in last year's class and was a multiple-time Pennsylvania state champion. Pitzer was a 220-pound wrestler at the high school level, so there was some thought that he might need a redshirt year to acclimate to the size of college heavyweights. However, this performance might mean the time is now.
125: No. 28 Eddie Ventresca decision over Cooper Flynn (3-1 in SV)
Flynn was a Super 32 and National Prep champion in 2020 and signed with Virginia Tech as a top-50 recruit. He redshirted his first year on campus for the Hokies and finished with a 15-3 record. Interestingly enough, two of his three losses came against his teammate.
That same teammate bested him once again during the wrestle-off. Ventresca also redshirted last year after winning a New Jersey state title on the high school level. He went 15-6 and as previously stated picked up a pair of victories over Flynn. With the victory, it seems like Ventresca will be the starter this year. With veteran Sam Latona moving up to 133 pounds, it looks like Flynn will at least start the season out of the starting lineup.
174: MJ Gaitan dec Manny Rojas (3-2)
Iowa State coach Kevin Dresser brought in a strong recruiting class this past year. Two of those fresh prospects faced off in the wrestle-offs. Gaitan, a California state and Super 32 champion, scored the one-point victory over Rojas, who was a top-20 recruit and a multiple-time Michigan state champion. Both are expected to redshirt this year at 174 pounds, but it shows the type of talent that is currently populating the Cyclones room. Gaitan also scored a victory via fall over Cyclone's veteran Julien Broderson, who is also expected to vie for the starting role at 174 lbs.
157: Jason Kraisser dec Isaac Judge (5-4)
For the last few seasons, there was little question about who would start for Iowa State at 157 pounds. David Carr cemented himself as one of the top wrestlers in the country with a national title. However, he will move up to 165 pounds this year. Judge started the past two seasons at 165 pounds and was expected to drop down and claim the spot at 157 pounds. Kraisser, who started his career at Campbell before transferring, won the wrestle-off by one point and looks to be the guy going forward at the weight.