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    Observations from the 2023 Big Ten Championships

    The 2023 Big Ten Champion Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo/Mark Lundy; LutteLens.com)

    This has been great. I find myself sitting here in the early afternoon on Sunday, March 5th watching Max Murin and Yahya Thomas wrestle each other to see who is going to wrestle for third or fifth. Bummer of a finish to that match as Thomas hit his head on the floor as they went out of bounds, but the point remains that some of the country's best on the first session of day two were still jostling for position in Tulsa. I've had the great pleasure this weekend of hanging out with colleagues, coaches, athletes, and friends. This is an unforgiving tournament with minimal room for error, some of which I'll get into here shortly. Also, super unpredictable. I thought 197 was going to be crazy, and it was anything but. I thought 141 was going to be fairly predictable, and yet we had a 14-seed rattle off a bunch of wins on the back side, ultimately getting the ninth and final automatic qualifier allocation. As the great American philosopher Gwen Stefani once said, this "stuff" is bananas. Here are the main things that stood out to me from this weekend.

    Iowa looks good. I said this a week or two ago when they blew the doors off of Oklahoma State, but they have continued with this general narrative through this weekend as well. Sure there are some areas that leave you with some questions, Abe Assad being pinned twice being one of those things, but in the end, they qualify all 10 wrestlers for the NCAA tournament. Cody Goodwin confirmed this to Tom Brands, which made him happy. Spencer Lee largely looked better in this tournament than he did during the regular season, as he calmly won by tech fall on his way to the finals. His win over Cronin to cap it off was a nice way to finish off his B1G tournament career. Lee also won the light weights Outstanding Wrestler award, which is only the second time that a Hawkeye has won this award three times (Mark Ironside was the other guy to have done this). Additionally, you've got Patrick Kennedy who is going to be a delight in the lineup for the Hawkeyes for the foreseeable future. His gritty win over Amine in the semifinals was a strong point of affirmation that he is as good as advertised. He lost to Hamiti in the finals 9-6, but he'll make adjustments and continue to improve from here. I say this because that's what he's done all year long, so I expect it to continue. Tony Cassioppi is what we thought he was, it seems. He's very clearly better than all but two Heavyweights in the country, but he'll still have the chance to change that narrative in Tulsa. At the end of the day, if there is going to be any team champ other than Penn State, it'll require a team with all 10 wrestlers, and some super studs, and Iowa has both of those things.

    Purdue is growing up. We all know Kendall Coleman and Matt Ramos. Everyone expected them to perform at a high level, and they certainly did. I knew they were young, but there are sobering reminders of that from time to time as well. For example, when I learned that Hayden Copass just recently turned 19 years old, that surprised me. I mean, the guy is 8 feet tall, so it's a little strange to think of someone that big as a teenager, but that's the reality. At the end of the day, Purdue, who had a tough conference season, showed some growth at this tournament. Parker Filius, the elder statesman of the team, outwrestled his seed (8) by placing fifth and getting some solid wins over Tal Shahar of Northwestern, and D'Emilio of Ohio State who ended up placing 4th, Bergeland of Minnesota, and over Olivieri of Rutgers. Point of information, he is gigantic for 141. It's different standing near him versus just watching on BTN. I spoke with Charles Small about Dustin Norris, the Boilermakers 133 pounder, and his potential. He had a good tournament and even had a pin over Rayvon Foley of Michigan State. In the end, he dropped the last match to Taylor Lamont (Wisconsin) to automatically qualify for NCAAs, but I was impressed by what he did. Getting back to Heavyweight, you got Copass who avenged his loss to Bullock of Indiana in order to make the NCAA tournament. More evidence of growth though is shown that whether they made the tournament or not, Purdue won matches at this tournament at eight of the ten weight classes. Growing pains exist, and that's to be expected, but I feel good about this program and the direction they are headed in. We'll see if Purdue can do in Tulsa what they haven't done in previous seasons with this staff, which is to have an All-American. They have a couple legitimate chances to get that done, and if I had to put money on it, I'd say this is the year!

    Matt Finesilver has a great mustache, and other fun Michigan moments. His mustache is just the beginning though. He matches the excellence of his mustache with equally excellent wrestling. We've seen wrestlers transfer into the B1G before, and there are varying degrees of success with this. This is one of the better success stories though. Finesilver was a one-time ACC finalist before coming to Ann Arbor, and was a three-time NCAA qualifier, but what he did this weekend was super impressive. You don't take third in the B1G by accident. Sure, Aaron Brooks did put on a show against him in the semis, but he tends to do that against most people. Finesilver has shown that he has all the tools necessary to separate himself at the NCAA tournament and to get on that podium. Check out this interview I got with him after it was all said and done. Even shouted out his biggest fan.

    Matt Finesilver Interview

    I was happy for Jack Medley who will finally get to compete in the NCAA tournament. Last year, he took a backseat to Suriano and, in 2020, he had qualified for the NCAA tournament, but it didn't happen due to COVID. He's remained patient and confident though, and that patience is paying off. It even was close at the beginning of the year for him to get the starting job, but here we are in March, he's qualified for the tournament, and is ready to get his chance. Here he talks about what he continues to work on, and the road to this point.

    Jack Medley Interview

    Also, Cam Amine is the strongest man on the planet. I can say that with confidence now. At least 10 different times during his matches the media section looked at each other and asked the same question "how did he do that?" He looked to have tried to hit a bear hug from hopping on one leg at one point. At another point, he just muscled his opponent out of what was a deep shot back into a full stance. It sounds pedestrian as I look through again, but trust me, it was anything but. He has been battling knee injuries consistently throughout this year, and he injury defaulted out of the rematch with Kharchla for third place, but it was still a hard-fought weekend for him. I feel like when he's feeling closer to 100% is when his offense will pick up a bit more.

    We recently learned that Cole Mattin will also be traveling to Tulsa for the NCAA Championships. He's been battling injuries at points this season, but he has some strong wins also, and started the B1G Tournament with a solid win over Joe Olivieri of Rutgers before dropping matches to Beau Bartlett of Penn State, followed by a loss to D'Emilio of Ohio State. Earlier in the season though, he looked like one of the more exciting wrestlers in the country, and was never afraid to fire off 1,000 attacks per minute. So much so that he won the MSU Open on a stalling call in overtime. Happy that Cole is getting this chance to get over the hump and produce at the NCAA Tournament.

    We can't talk about Michigan without talking about the heavyweight finals match between Mason Parris and Greg Kerkvliet of Penn State. Michigan hosting the tournament only had one finalist in Parris, but fittingly so, it closed out the entire event. I think it's safe to say that this was the most anticipated finals match of the night, and included two absolute behemoths in Parris and Kerkvliet of Penn State. Let me set the stage for you. I was on the floor near one of the corners of the mat, over by the crane they used for the BTN coverage and on the side of the mat where the athletes were running out of the tunnel. For most of the night, it was fairly open. I'd have an SID or trainer come watch a match from that area, but then they'd continue on. Not for this match, before I realized what was happening, most of the Michigan team, as well as Coach Bormet and Coach Bolyard were down there with me. The energy was off the charts and the emotional roller coaster we all went on together was not for the faint of heart.

    The floor at the 2023 Big Ten Championships


    When Mason got the final takedown in overtime the entire place went nuts. The Michigan section was deep, and right up front near the mat. Mason Parris has won some big matches for the Wolverines throughout his career. From winning a match to beat Ohio State on the road, to beating Cassioppi in their highly anticipated first match, he just keeps getting it done for Michigan. This one felt different though, he was so excited, and so was the rest of the staff and team that was next to me. There are some matches and experiences that I'll always remember in my life, and this was undoubtedly one of them.

    Maryland I don't think it's much of a secret that I've grown very fond of what they are doing in College Park, Maryland. This is far from a finished product, but I think if you told the fans that this season they would have wins over Oklahoma and Pittsburgh, get a B1G dual win, and have five NCAA qualifiers, that it would be a successful season. In fact, this is the most qualifiers that Maryland has had since 2014, when they were still an ACC school. I hope that Ethen Miller is going to be healthy in Tulsa, but for the moment let's lean into the positives and how he and his brother (seeded 14th out of 14 to start the tournament) both have qualified for NCAAs, along with another freshman Jaxon Smith (197). Speaking of Jaxon Smith, he drops his quarterfinal match against Braunagel in overtime, then has to take the road less traveled to third place. I see why this road is less traveled, because it looks like it must have sucked to make it through. The road included beating Andrew Davison of Northwestern, Braxton Amos of Wisconsin, Jacob Warner of Iowa, and then finally avenging that quarterfinal loss with an OT takedown of his own to place third in the B1G. I was able to catch up with Jaxon after his win over Warner to talk about that match and coming back from his injury to get to this point.

    Jaxon Smith Interview

    Maryland got two more NCAA qualifiers in Braxton Brown at 125, as well as Jaron Smith at Heavyweight, and rightfully so, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that the NCAA delivered on those expectations. Brown finished ninth by beating Jacob Moran of Indiana and Tristan Lujan of Michigan State on the back side, which certainly contributed to his bid for at-large consideration. Mostly though, it was his strong season as a whole that helped him earn this opportunity in his first season of D1 full-time competition. Jaron had a tough tournament, but his season as a whole was strong and he has been consistently ranked most of this season. As it turns out, the B1G at heavyweight remains very tough. Jaron has been a staple in the Maryland lineup for the last several years, and I'm happy to see him have one final chance to compete for the Terrapins in Tulsa.

    Spartans qualify 4 for Tulsa. There were a lot of ups and downs for the Spartans in Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, I think more downs than ups, but you had a solid sprinkling of both. Upside, Chase Saldate wrestled very well, and was very close to making the finals at 157. On his way to the finals, he got an impressive win over Cobe Siebrecht, putting the Hawkeye to his back a couple of times, and nearly getting the fall. Cobe has proven to be a very dangerous wrestler this year, and I think that would lead many wrestlers to approach him more cautiously, but Saldate seems comfortable baiting him into these scramble situations and then capitalizing on them from there. Saldate dropped his next two, the first being a two-point loss to Peyton Robb of Nebraska followed by the Will Lewan special of a 3-1 win in overtime. Chase had gotten the better of Lewan in this same situation last time, but not here in Ann Arbor. He finished the tournament with an impressive win over Kendall Coleman, who had also made the semifinals before dropping some matches on the back side of the bracket.

    Layne Malczewski at 184 and Cam Caffey also qualified for the tournament with 8th and 6th place finishes respectively, but both injury defaulted out of the tournament. Layne was wearing a massive knee brace, as he has done for most of this season, and I saw Cam walking around with his arm in a sling at the end of the event. Not encouraging, but I'm remaining positive and hope that both guys can recover and have strong showings in Tulsa. Speaking of Tulsa, Caleb Fish was awarded an at-large bid for NCAAs as well. He wrestled some very close matches at B1Gs, and almost made the semifinals, dropping a closely contested OT match to Cam Amine of Michigan. He showed at times this season that he can battle with the best, so happy for him to get that NCAA experience as well.

    Minnesota puts 2 in the finals and qualifies 9. First things first, I was bummed about Brayton Lee. That guy started the season ranked first in the country, and clearly couldn't get back to the version of himself that was beating people to a pulp, while occasionally scoring takedowns. The mat return from his match with Lewan in ride-outs clearly is what ended his run. He made no attempt to get back up, and after letting Lewan up during his turn to ride, he clearly couldn't move his right arm. It was hard to watch, but I have so much respect for the guy. He even came back out for his next match, but just wasn't able to do anything. You can only control what you can control, that's the general sentiment that I hear all the time from wrestlers, and you can't control how quickly your body recovers, or if your collarbone just stops working. I truly hope for the best and a more full recovery. Sometimes these things take two full years, and hoping that next season he'll be back to the Brayton Lee we know and love.

    Aaron Nagao (133) and Michael Blockhus (149) both made the finals as 6 seeds, and both dropped close losses to stud opponents. Nagao did his best against RBY, and in the end, had one of the closer matches with him that we've seen, but wasn't able to get it done. Blockhus looked as good as I've ever seen him, and was close to the OT win against Sasso, but in the end, getting stuck under Sasso on a shot for more than a moment usually leads to him cutting the corner and/or locking up a cradle. The same could be said for OT with Blockhus. In the end, Minnesota made the semifinals at half of the weights (125, 133, 149, 174, 184), and had a total of nine qualifiers for the NCAA tournament. Seven qualified using the traditional means, while Garret Joles (HWY) and Andrew Sparks (165, and no relation to Shane), received at-large bids. Minnesota's depth is great, and I'm happy to see how they ride some of this momentum into Tulsa. Final point, I always love the gold Minnesota singlets, and I'm glad that Nagao and Blockhus wore them in the B1G finals.

    Hamiti jumps around. Dean Hamiti had such a great year. His only three losses are to David Carr, Cam Amine, and Quincy Monday. He spent this weekend going through Andrew Sparks (8-0) and Carson Kharchla (14-2) to make the finals, and won in a convincing 9-6 regular decision. It was a more dominant three-point win though than many three-point wins traditionally are. Dean Hamiti has continued to look more dangerous and more impressive with every time we see him, and he's as dangerous as anyone going into Tulsa. I don't know what we do with the seeding in Tulsa at 165, other than Carr at 1, but then it'll get really weird. Probably O'Toole at 2, but also maybe not.

    Outside of Hamiti though, it was a bit of a tough weekend for Wisconsin. I was super-excited watching an interview with Austin Gomez from before the tournament talking about how he was 100%, which is exactly what I would do also because there's no downside to throwing that out there. He even sent out the "Scared money don't make money" tweet, like he had the morning that he beat Yianni. However, in watching him compete, it became pretty clear that he was a little shy of 100%. He drops his first match to Rooks of Indiana, followed by the unfortunate ending to his match with Ethen Miller of Maryland. He picks up Miller in a double leg, and in an attempt to finish the shot, he leaves his feet and lands on top of Miller. From where I was I couldn't figure out if it was a head injury, or ribs, but regardless it was called a slam immediately, and Miller looked clearly hurt. It was called a slam by the referee, and with Miller not being able to continue the match, Gomez lost the match on an illegal slam.

    I have it on good authority that Gomez did apologize to the staff and Miller, and that he didn't intend to hurt him or anyone, which I believe. For someone so capable of mass destruction, he's been largely responsible with what he does and the positions he's put people in. With great power comes with great responsibility, and he absolutely has carried that power with integrity. Whether it is Karma or his proven ability to wrestle with the best when healthy, Austin Gomez did receive an at-large bid to the NCAAs and will be able to compete in Tulsa one last time for the Badgers. I trust that he'll have the right people around him to help him remain positive and driven to be his best in Tulsa. In fact, as I sit here at my computer, I just noticed his tweet the "Now you're all in big, big trouble" GIF from Billy Madison. Yeah, I think he'll be fine.

    The Badgers qualified 8 total (125, 133, 141, 149, 157, 165, 197, HWY), and did have some resilient performances from Joey Zargo at 141 and at 197, Braxton Amos on the backside to earn their automatic qualifier spots, each placing seventh. Garret Model placed 10th at 157, but that'll do it since 157 had 10 total allocations offered. Eric Barnett was pinned by Patrick McKee on the top side of the bracket, but he capitalized on the chance to avenge that loss in the 5th place match, which he did. Especially with these extra years that everyone has, I wonder which guys really hate other guys. I can't imagine Barnett and McKee look forward to these battles. They're crazy every time. Amos also avenged a loss, with his win over Foy in the 7th and 8th place match. In the end, the Badgers probably didn't get everyone they expected through, but they will have a respectable contingent in Tulsa, with the opportunity to make some real noise.

    Lauren's observations

    ANN ARBOR - There's nothing like being on the floor at the conference or NCAA championship finals to remind you about how real and how raw the emotions in this sport can be. At the same time, one athlete is experiencing the highest high of his career, and the other has potentially just been dealt his lowest.

    And because of the unique individual and team aspects of wrestling, you see coaches and athletes trying to balance their personal emotions of excitement or disappointment with celebrating their team and teammates' accomplishments and supporting those who fell short.

    Despite his team winning the 2023 Big Ten championship and picking up the conference's Coach of the Year award, Penn State's Cael Sanderson wasn't in much of a celebratory mood Sunday evening. His wrestlers went 4-for-6 in the finals, suffering losses at 197 pounds and heavyweight.

    "We were super happy to win the Big Ten team championship," Sanderson said. "But as a coach or as a team, your heart is always with the guys who didn't reach their goals. Unfortunately, that happens at pretty much every event, somebody doesn't quite achieve what they want. But you still just celebrate and be happy and move on to the next one."

    Nebraska's Mark Manning was dealing with similar emotions. He embraced his 197-pound champ, Silas Allred, when he came out for the final award ceremony after upsetting Penn State's defending Big Ten and NCAA champ Max Dean. But despite his smiles and excitement at that moment, his first comments when asked about his emotions went to his four wrestlers who didn't get their hands raised.

    "I feel for all the four guys who took a loss in the finals," he said. "A couple were so close to joining Silas in the winner's circle, but in two weeks from now - that's when it really counts."

    While the Big Ten Championships were exciting, they are ultimately - as the coaches are always quick to remind reporters - just a step toward the ultimate goal of winning NCAA titles.

    Three-time Big Ten champ Roman Bravo-Young may have summed it up best:

    "You win and move on."

    Here are some observations from the weekend:

    Penn State still looks like the favorite for the NCAA title

    In the words of Cael Sanderson: "Our guys just won some big matches - and lost some big matches." While there were, of course, both highlights and lowlights for the Nittany Lions this past weekend, they didn't leave much doubt that they should still be the favorite heading into Tulsa.

    The biggest surprises for Penn State were true freshman Levi Haines knocking off previously undefeated, top-ranked Peyton Robb, of Nebraska, for the 157-pound title, and Dean falling to Allred at 197.

    Dean's loss was the biggest blow to Penn State's firepower heading into Tulsa, as it will likely have a detrimental impact on his seed. But in reality, the seeds probably don't matter that much at 197. Outside of the undisputed No. 1 Nino Bonaccorsi, any of those guys could beat any of the others, and have proven as much throughout the season. Still, the loss will likely put Dean in a position where he'll have some work to do to defend his national title.

    On the bright side for Penn State, defending NCAA champs Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks had arguably their best matches of the season in the conference finals. Both widened the gap against two familiar opponents. Mikey Labriola still has yet to score a takedown on Starocci in their three matchups - while Starocci had two in his 6-1 win. Brooks earned the lone bonus-point win of the finals, a 12-2 major decision over Ohio State's Kaleb Romero - a match that ended 3-2 in February. Both look like they'll be hard to beat in two weeks.

    "He stepped things up just a little bit, put a little more pressure forward and just wrestled really well," Sanderson said of Starocci. "He's obviously really good."

    Haines' win also erased any questions about whether he should be considered an NCAA finalist threat, while the top four in this class remain very dangerous. Lost in the debate over whether or not Robb should have had a takedown in the first period was proper recognition of how much power and strength Haines used to counter Robb's counter-shot and pick him up and throw him to the mat for the winning takedown.

    "I just stayed persistent, pulled on his head, felt his open and let it rip," Haines said. "It just goes back to what we're doing in the practice room. I have guys who do similar stuff on me, so it helps me be tough in those positions."

    Bravo-Young was visibly frustrated after his 5-2 finals win over Minnesota freshman Aaron Nagao and getting ridden for nearly the full third period. He'll still be favored for his third consecutive trip to the NCAA finals. Despite falling 5-3 in sudden victory to Michigan's Mason Parris, heavyweight Greg Kervliet wrestled a solid match, and shut out Tony Cassioppi, 5-0, in the semifinals - this third straight (second official) win over the Hawkeye.

    The rest of Penn State's nine qualifiers fell more or less where they were expected to: Beau Bartlett third at 141, Shayne Van Ness fourth at 149 and Alex Facundo seventh at 165.

    If Penn State has another vulnerability heading into Tulsa, it's that it didn't exactly rack up bonus points. The Nittany Lions were one of only three teams not to record a pin over the weekend, but they did lead all other teams in major decisions with seven. They finished the weekend with 10 bonus-point wins (that counted for team points), while Iowa had 14.

    Nebraska is solidly positioned as a trophy contender

    Silas Allred not only beat defending Big Ten and NCAA champ Max Dean in the finals, he kind of dominated him, taking him down three times for the 6-2 victory. The Nebraska junior secured a takedown late in the first period, and then again in each of the other two.

    "I knew one wasn't going to be enough. I knew I was going to have to keep pushing the pace, so I kept working from my ties and waiting for him to make a mistake," Allred said. "He did, and my shot was there and I took it."

    With the win, Allred becomes the third Big Ten champ in program history, and the first since his assistant coach Robert Kokesh in 2015.

    Allred was one of the most unexpected winners on Sunday, coming into the tournament with a 23-5 record. But for Allred, those early-season losses were nothing but learning opportunities.

    "I took some lumps earlier this year," he said. "But all those losses are actually lessons for me. I don't look at an L as a loss, I look at it as a learning opportunity. So, every time I lose, I learn and I get better, and I think I showed that tonight."

    Hopefully, Allred was able to share some of his wisdom with his teammates who fell just short of the podium Sunday evening. Both Peyton Robb and Brock Hardy lost tight matches - Robb 3-1 in sudden victory and Hardy 2-1 against Iowa's Real Woods. Nebraska's coaching staff - along with many other spectators - thought Robb had the takedown on Penn State's Haines, but the no-takedown call stood after an official review.

    Liam Cronin made Spencer Lee wrestle a full seven minutes - a feat within itself - falling 8-2, and Labriola saw his undefeated streak end with the loss to Starocci.

    With two weeks to go until Tulsa, coach Mark Manning is hoping his team can stay healthy and be aggressive to try to flip some of those results.

    "Get a little rest, make sure we're healthy - I think we are - and then just getting fired on all cylinders," he said. "I think we've got a lot of firepower, and just being aggressive. You know, in two weeks, (it's just about) being aggressive buying into that aggressiveness and really working for pins and tech falls."

    One Husker who doesn't need to be told that advice twice literally has "pin" in his name - 184-pounder Lenny Pinto. The freshman spent just 3:12 on the mat the whole weekend, earning two pins, along with an injury default and a forfeit. He pinned Rutgers' Brian Soldano in 1:09 to take fifth. Bubba Wilson also qualified for nationals, placing sixth at 165.

    Despite the losses, putting five wrestlers in the Big Ten finals is still very impressive. Nebraska maintains its third spot in InterMat's tournament rankings, and should have a great shot at finishing the season with a trophy.

    Sasso reclaims Big Ten title and the Buckeyes are bringing 9 to Tulsa

    Sammy Sasso is no stranger to the Big Ten finals, finding himself there for the fourth time on Sunday. Having that familiarity must have paid off, as he came back from an early deficit to beat Minnesota's Michael Blockhus, 7-5, in sudden victory to reclaim his 2021 crown.

    One of the biggest storylines at 149 pounds, however, was that Sasso didn't get the chance to reclaim that crown from the wrestler who took it from his last year - Wisconsin's Austin Gomez, who was clearly still dealing with injury woes. But that doesn't take anything away from Sasso's achievement. He cruised to the finals with a major decision and an 8-2 win over Max Murin.

    As with all other teams, it was an up-and-down tournament for the Buckeyes. In addition to Sasso and runnerup Kaleb Romero, another highlight was the performance of Dylan D'Emilio, who placed fourth as the No. 9 seed at 141 - taking out Cole Mattin, Joseph Zargo and Frankie Tal Shahar on the back side before falling 6-2 to Penn State's Beau Bartlett. D'Emilio has shown good progression throughout the year, taking Hardy to the wire near the end of the season and now avenging his earlier Tal Shahar loss.

    One of the most exciting wins for the Buckeyes over the weekend was heavyweight Tate Orndorff with a seconds-left reversal to beat Trent Hillger, 7-4, and make it to the third-place bout as the No. 7 seed, where he fell to Tony Cassioppi. Ohio State fans certainly made themselves heard in Crisler Arena at that moment.

    Carson Kharchla earned a big win over Penn State's Alex Facundo at 165 to take back a loss from earlier in the season, as he and Ethan Smith finished third. Jesse Mendez, Paddy Gallagher and Gavin Hoffman didn't have the greatest tournaments. The latter two both needed at-large bids to make the trip to Tulsa. Mendez finished sixth as the No. 2 seed, as Chris Cannon and Dylan Ragusin both got revenge for earlier losses.

    But at the end of the day, the Buckeyes are taking nine to Tulsa and have two weeks time to make some adjustments.

    Northwestern to bring well-rounded lineup to Tulsa

    Northwestern didn't quite replicate its feat from last year - qualifying all 10 wrestlers - but got eight through after Sunday afternoon and nine when Troy Fisher received an at-large bid on Tuesday.

    The Wildcats were backside warriors - none more than Andrew Davison, who battled his way through the ninth-place bracket to earn the final automatic allocation at 197 pounds with a late takedown over Indiana's Nick Willham.

    Northwestern is missing the star power it had last year without national champion Ryan Deakin, but will still be bringing a well-rounded lineup to Tulsa.

    Michael DeAugustino, who appears to be battling injury and medically forfeited out of the third-place bout at 125, still picked up some nice wins, including a major decision over Matt Ramos and another top-10 win over Wisconsin's Eric Barnett. Maxx Mayfield also had himself an impressive tournament, finishing one above his seed at sixth. The 165-pound weight class is one of the toughest in the country and Mayfield showed he's right there in the mix with the best of them.

    Chris Cannon, Yahya Thomas and Lucas Davison each came out on the wrong side of some sudden victory matches - twice in Davison's case. Thomas also sustained a pretty scary injury against Max Murin when his head hit the floor and medically forfeited out of his last match. The impact of the injury is not fully known, but he was walking around on the floor during the finals.

    In a recurring theme, Northwestern had a mixed bag of success in Ann Arbor. There are surely a few matches their wrestlers will be hoping to take back in a few weeks with potential rematches.

    Byrd leading Illinois into NCAAs

    If there was any doubt about Lucas Byrd after dropping an early-season bout to freshman Jesse Mendez, he put it to rest this past weekend. Byrd had a strong tournament, falling in sudden victory to runner-up Aaron Nagao, then putting away a bevy of top-20-ranked wrestlers in Joe Heilmann, Dylan Ragusin and Chris Cannon.

    The Nagao loss seemed like a surprising upset at the time. But as we all know now - the freshman is pretty good.

    Byrd's sudden-victory win over Cannon to secure third place was especially impressive. He has never had much issue with Cannon, owning a 5-0 record over him going into that match, but found himself tied 1-1 at the end of regulation after fending off a late takedown attempt and stalking his opponent like prey until the whistle blew. The winning takedown came early as Byrd was able to get in on Cannon's left leg and finish.

    The third-place finish ties Byrd's finish from 2021, and sends him back to the NCAA Championships for the third time. Joining him in Tulsa will be teammates Danny Braunagel, Edmond Ruth, Dylan Connell and Zac Braunagel.

    Zac Braunagel traded matches with Maryland's Jaxon Smith - but lost the one that mattered most, for third place. Beating Smith once was still a feather in the cap after getting pinned earlier in the season. It's really just more proof that anyone can beat anyone at 197.

    Rutgers bounces back from slow start

    The Scarlet Knights did not start off their weekend too hot, winning just three of their 10 first-round bouts. But they were able to battle back to send seven to Tulsa.

    Most notably not earning a seed was 141-pounder Joey Olivieri. The sophomore went 0-2 in the championship bracket at Big Tens, but has a 13-6 overall record with previous wins over qualifiers Kal Miller, Cole Mattin and Dylan D'Emilio. Punching their tickets to Tulsa were Dean Peterson, Joe Heilmann, Tony White, Andrew Clark, Jackson Turley, Brian Soldano and Boone McDermott.

    It was pin-or-be-pinned in Ann Arbor for Soldano, who had one of the more memorable weekends for the Scarlet Knights. He handed Iowa's Abe Assad his second pin of the tournament, then was quickly put on his back by Nebraska's Lenny Pinto in the fifth-place bout. He also gifted wrestling fans with one of the more wild matches of the event in his 12-9 win in tiebreakers over Tyler Dow in consolations on Saturday. Both wrestlers kept looking for the throw. Soldano got the first 6-point move, then Dow countered with 6 of his own. Whenever Soldano takes the mat, fireworks can always be expected.

    Turley's performance also stood out. As the No. 10 seed, the junior took both No. 7 Nelson Brands and No. 5 Edmond Ruth to the wire, falling by just one point in each match. Then he beat Indiana's No. 6-seed D.J. Washington for the coveted final automatic allocation at 174.

    No. 8 Peterson joined Soldano and Turley in finishing above his seed. After losing to Michigan's Jack Medley by a 9-0 major decision in the first round, he battled through the consolation bracket and beat Medley, 7-1, for seventh.

    Indiana takes another step in the right direction

    D.J. Washington picked up an automatic bid Tuesday to join teammates Graham Rooks, Derek Gilcher and Jacob Bullock in Tulsa. The four NCAA qualifiers is the most for Indiana since 2018 - and the most since coach Angel Escobedo took over the program.

    The Hoosier fans showed up and made themselves heard throughout the weekend in Ann Arbor. Gilcher, in particular, got them on their feet when he came back from an early deficit and pinned Wisconsin's Garrett Model with just six seconds remaining. Oh, and this was after cruising to a comfortable 10-2 major decision over former Big Ten finalist Mikey Carr.

    Rooks also used some late heroics to beat Rutgers' Tony White in the first round. The pair were tied 1-1 with 45 seconds remaining when Rooks earned a takedown and rideout to seal it. He went on to upset a banged-up Austin Gomez and make his first semifinal. Gomez was clearly hurting and noticeably limped off the mat, but Rooks had several solid takedowns and battled throughout to earn the 6-5 victory.

    Bullock fought through the ninth-place bracket to earn an automatic qualification after falling to Purdue's Hayden Copass in the consolation bracket. A couple of his teammates, however, weren't so lucky. Washington had to wait for an at-large bid and Nick Willham and Henry Porter just missed the cut and didn't earn at-large bids.

    Ultimately, Indiana was hoping for a better performance than last year's 14th-place finish with 4 points. And with 30 points for 12th, the Hoosiers did just that.

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