3x NCAA Champion Spencer Lee (Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
The start of the NCAA season is right around the corner, and InterMat has already posted our preseason rankings for each of the ten weight classes. While it is exceedingly difficult to go wire-to-wire as the number-one ranked wrestler in the country, it certainly does happen. Several of the current number ones are returning champions who have already defeated a large share of their contenders. The following looks at each of the top-ranked wrestlers and how they have done against the other 32 ranked wrestlers in their weight class.
285: Gable Steveson (Minnesota)
Ranked Opponents Faced: 13
Record: 26-0 (100%)
Considering Steveson only has two collegiate losses, it should come as no surprise that he has defeated all of the ranked opponents he has faced. However, the sheer number of matches against ranked opposition is extremely impressive. 26 of his 70 matches (37%) since moving onto campus have been against wrestlers who are currently ranked.
Not only has Steveson faced a ton of ranked opposition, he has also scored victories over nearly all of the competitors ranked near the top of the division. Steveson holds victories over eight of the other nine wrestlers currently ranked in the top 10. The only top-10 wrestler he has not defeated on a college mat is Greco World team member No. 4 Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State). Of course, Steveson has previously beaten Schultz in freestyle, including in the 2015 Fargo final.
125: Spencer Lee (Iowa)
Ranked Opponents Faced: 11
Record: 21-0 (100%)
Steveson's co-Hodge Trophy Winner has also never lost to a currently ranked opponent. He has won all 21 of his matches against the 11 ranked wrestlers he has faced. Lee's most frequent ranked opponent is No. 13 Devin Schroder (Purdue). They have met four times over the last two seasons, with three of their bouts occurring in either the Big Ten or NCAA tournaments.
The highest-ranked wrestler that Lee has yet to face in college is No. 3 Vito Arujau (Cornell). Arujau went 31-4 as a freshman in 2019 before sitting out the last two seasons due to an Olympic redshirt and the Ivy League sitting out last year. The two did face off at the 2019 edition of Senior Nationals. Arujau actually scored the first points of the match with an exposure during a scramble. However, Lee stormed back and took the 14-4 victory via match termination.
197: AJ Ferrari (Oklahoma State)
Ranked Opponents Faced: 7
Record: 10-0 (100%)
Ferrari lost only one match in his first season at Oklahoma State. It was a one-point bout against West Virginia's Noah Adams during the regular season. Ferrari then swept through the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments on the way to his first NCAA title. Outside of that loss against Adams, the Cowboy defeated all of his opponents, including seven who are currently ranked.
While Ferrari does hold wins over No. 2 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh) and No. 3 Jacob Warner (Iowa), there are five more wrestlers ranked in the top eight that he has never faced. Many fans are looking forward to a potential match between No. 4 Max Dean (Penn State). The former NCAA finalist for Cornell relocated to Penn State after sitting out the past two seasons.
149: Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell)
Ranked Opponents Faced: 2
Record: 2-0 (100%)
Diakomihalis has not wrestled a college match since the 2019 season, and he is currently ranked at 149 pounds this year. His only career defeat came against Jaydin Eierman (Iowa) during his true freshman season. Eierman is still competing, but he has stayed down at 141 pounds. The Cornell wrestler has only competed against two of the 32 other ranked wrestlers at 149 pounds. He holds a 6-1 decision over No. 16 Mitch Moore (Oklahoma) and an 8-0 major over No. 32 Luke Karam (West Virginia). Interestingly enough, both of those competitors were wrestling for different schools when they faced Diakomihalis.
If he remains at 149 (and he could move to 141), his toughest challenge this year will likely be the returning runner up at the weight, No. 2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State). The two have never met in college, but they have competed against each other in high school and in freestyle. Their most recent match came at the 2020 RTC Cup. Diakomihalis dominated throughout and won a 12-2 superiority victory 35 seconds into the second period. Many expect their skill sets to produce a closer and more exciting match under folkstyle rules.
157: David Carr (Iowa State)
Ranked Opponents Faced: 13
Record: 19-1 (95%)
Carr lost once as a redshirt freshman in 2020 and returned last season for an undefeated season and his first NCAA title. He holds career victories over multiple wrestlers ranked inside the top 10, including wins over No. 4 Jacori Teemer (Arizona State), No. 5 Brayton Lee (Minnesota), No. 6 Kaleb Young (Iowa), No. 9 Kendall Coleman (Purdue) and No. 10 Jarrett Jacques (Missouri).
However, his lone defeat came against No. 3 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern). The bout came during the Cliff Keen Invitational in December 2019. The Northwestern wrestler took a commanding 9-3 victory. It appeared as if Carr and Deakin might rematch in the national final last year, but Rider's Jesse Dellavecchia upset Deakin in the semifinals before falling against Carr in the title bout.
Carr has also never faced off against No. 2 Austin O'Connor (North Carolina) in college. The 149-pound champion from last season will move up to 157 for this year. There is history between them as Carr defeated O'Connor in a Super 32 final, while O'Connor edged Carr in freestyle at the 2018 Junior Open.
184: Aaron Brooks (Penn State)
Ranked Opponents Faced: 9
Record: 12-1 (92%)
Brooks has only one loss since joining the Penn State squad, and he has avenged it in a major way. In only his fifth dual match for the Nittany Lions, he dropped a 9-5 decision against No. 12 Taylor Venz (Nebraska). However, since that match, the two have wrestled three more times, and Brooks has won all three as well as scored a fall.
While there is plenty of young talent at this weight, Brooks has already defeated No. 3 Trent Hidlay (NC State), No. 4 Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa) and No. 5 John Poznanski (Rutgers), with the victories over Hidlay and Keckeisen coming in the NCAA tournament.
With that being said, there will be an interesting addition to 184 pounds this year. No. 2 Myles Amine (Michigan) was a three-time All-American at 174 pounds. Last year, he stayed out of folkstyle action for the majority of the season while preparing for the Olympics. He then returned at 197 pounds and finished this with his only defeat coming against eventual champion AJ Ferarri. Amine followed that up with a bronze medal at the 2020 Olympics at 86 kg. He is expected to drop down 184 pounds this year and challenge Brooks.
165: Shane Griffith (Stanford)
Ranked Opponents Faced: 10
Record: 10-1 (91%)
Griffith has wrestled in only one NCAA tournament. He not only won a title, but he also possibly saved the Stanford wrestling program. Along the way, he defeated multiple wrestlers currently in the rankings, including No. 2 Alex Marinelli (Iowa), Mp. 4 Jake Wentzel (Pittsburgh) and No. 9 Zach Hartman (Bucknell).
Despite the incredible run through the 2021 NCAA tournament, there are still four wrestlers currently ranked in the top 10 that he has never faced. That list is highlighted by veteran No. 3 Evan Wick (Cal Poly), who transferred from Wisconsin in the offseason, and No. 5 Keegan O'Toole (Missouri), who returns to folkstyle after winning a gold medal at the recent Junior World Championships.
The only wrestler to defeat Griffith, excluding his redshirt season, on the college mats has been Pac-12 rival Anthony Valencia (Arizona State). The bout came at last year's conference tournament, and Valencia took a surprising 7-1 decision. These two will likely rematch, perhaps multiple times, this upcoming season.
141: Nick Lee (Penn State)
Ranked Opponents Faced: 14
Record: 17-3 (85%)
Lee entered last year's NCAA final with an 0-2 record against No. 2 Jaydin Eierman (Iowa). Despite that, Eierman was able to pull out the 4-2 decision in sudden victory to claim his first NCAA title. Eierman previously handed Lee a loss at the 2018 NCAA tournament and in the finals of last year's Big Ten tournament.
The only other currently ranked wrestler to defeat Lee is No. 8 Dom Demas (Oklahoma). The match came during the 2019 NCAA tournament, and the Oklahoma wrestler scored a 13-9 decision victory. Somewhat surprisingly, this bout has not been rematched.
While Lee had quite the rivalry against No. 4 Chad Red (Nebraska) back in their days on the Indiana high school scene, things have been different in college. They have wrestled three times in college, and each time, Lee has walked away the victor.
Many are expecting this weight to lead to another rematch between Lee and Eierman. The smart money is probably on that, but there are unknowns for Lee. He has yet to face off against No. 5 Allan Hart (Missouri), No. 9 Ian Parker (Iowa State) or No. 10 Grant Willits (Oregon State) collegiately.
133: Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State)
Ranked Opponents Faced: 12
Record: 14-3 (82%)
Much like his Penn State teammate, Bravo-Young has avenged most of the losses he has suffered against currently ranked opposition. He dropped a pair of matches against No. 4 Austin DeSanto (Iowa) during the 2019 season. However, during the last two seasons, he has won the last three meetings. In their most recent match, Bravo-Young scored a 6-2 decision in the Big Ten tournament, which was his widest margin to date.
The only other currently ranked opponent to defeat the Penn State representative is No. 3 Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers). The bout came in the finals of the 2020 Big Ten tournament, and the pair have not met since. Rivera was up at 141 pounds last year and may end up there again, but he would be an interesting challenge for Bravo-Young at 133.
Outside of Rivera, Bravo-Young has defeated all of the other wrestlers ranked in the top five. The highest-ranked wrestler he has not yet faced is No. 6 Lucas Byrd (Illinois). Penn State and Illinois are not scheduled to wrestle this year, but a bout at the Big Ten tournament is quite possible.
174: Carter Starocci (Penn State)
Ranked Opponents Faced: 9
Record: 8-2 (80%)
Starocci has only had one season in the lineup for Penn State, but he made the most of it with an NCAA title and a surprising upset over No. 2 Michael Kemerer (Iowa) in the finals. Kemerer handed him a seemingly complete defeat via a 7-2 score in the Big Ten final a few weeks prior.
The only other wrestler to defeat Starocci in college is No. 10 Donnell Washington (Indiana). They met in Starocci's first match in the lineup, and Washington scored the upset.
Due mainly to Starocci's first season coming during the curtailed season, there are plenty of highly ranked competitors that he has not faced yet, including No. 5 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech), No. 6 Hayden Hidlay (NC State) and No. 7 Ethan Smith (Ohio State).