Cal Poly All-American Bernie Truax (photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
2022 Pac-12 Conference Preview
23 total allocations/19 allocations in 2021
We'll start off our series of conference previews by heading out west to check out the Pac-12. This is a conference on the rise, as Arizona State is coming off an NCAA trophy-winning performance and in decent position for a second. Oregon State is riding the wave in year two of Chris Pendleton's tenure and boasts an extremely balanced lineup. Stanford was saved in the offseason last year and is under the direction of Rob Koll, which is an excellent sign. Cal Poly is starting to see the fruits of years of solid recruiting and is poised for their best NCAA finish in years (decades). Luke Smith and CSU Bakersfield incrementally improves with in-room development. Finally, the newest addition, Little Rock, continues its hard work on the recruiting trail and will be a force in the coming years.
All of this is to say, it's a good time to be a fan of Pac-12 wrestling. Just a year ago, the conference netted 19 automatic allocations, while it improved by four this season. I'd expect that number to increase next year as the league continues to improve and sixth-year seniors around the country exhaust their eligibility.
Below is our weight-by-weight preview of the action, along with predictions for top-four 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 6th, 2022
Where: Tempe, Arizona
How to Watch: Pac-12 Network
Could Pac-12 title number three be on the horizon for #4 Brandon Courtney? Over the past year-plus, Courtney has gone 34-2, with those two losses coming to Spencer Lee and Patrick Glory. That means that Courtney has not been beaten by a Pac-12 opponent since 2019. Even so, the field is catching up, to an extent. Oregon State's #14 Brandon Kaylor pulled within a point of Courtney during this year's dual, after losing by six points in 2019-20. Kaylor's had a breakthrough campaign highlighted by a third-place finish at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. Just behind the top two is Cal Poly's #28 Antonio Lorenzo. In the abbreviated 2021 campaign, Lorenzo went 4-5 and 2-2 at this tournament. This year he was third at the MatMen Open, losing only to the eventual champion in sudden victory.
The group that's seeking to break into the top-three and steal an allocation from their ranked brethren include Jayden Carson (Little Rock), Suhas Chundi (Stanford), and Eddie Flores (CSU Bakersfield). All three currently sport records under .500. Shundi has lost to both Carson and Flores, and will likely assume the sixth seed, while the other two have not met this season. Though Carson comes in having lost six of his last seven, he pulled within a point of Lorenzo and hung tough with past national qualifiers Joey Prata (Oklahoma) and Bryce West (Northern Illinois).
1st) Brandon Courtney (Arizona State)
2nd) Brandon Kaylor (Oregon State)
3rd) Antonio Lorenzo (Cal Poly)
4th) Jayden Carson (Little Rock)
For a second time in two weights, Arizona State has a wrestler that is currently ranked #4 in the nation with Michael McGee. McGee comes in on an 11-match winning streak and has built off of his sixth-place finish in St. Louis last year. In less than a month's time, McGee picked up wins over three top-ten opponents (#5 Korbin Myers - Virginia Tech, #8 Dylan Ragusin - Michigan, and #10 Micky Phillippi - Pittsburgh), two of which included bonus points. While McGee stood on the NCAA podium last year, he did not claim the Pac-12 title; that distinction went to Devan Turner (Oregon State), who now is a two-time conference champ. This final go-'round for Turner has been his most consistent year, to date. He won the Reno Tournament of Champions and was fourth in Vegas. Turner's lone conference setback was via major decision to McGee.
The opponent that knocked McGee off in the Pac-12 semifinals in 2021 was CSU Bakersfield's Chance Rich. At the NCAA Championships, Rich got hot and made it to the bloodround before falling to Virginia's Louie Hayes. Rich has missed large chunks of the 2021-22 season, but comes in after winning three bouts at the UVU Open. This year, Rich will likely have to go through Turner in the semis rather than McGee. He's looking to snap a personal 0-5 streak against the Beaver 133 lber.
The fourth returning national qualifier at this weight is Stanford's Jackson DiSario, who has qualified for the Big Dance in each of the last two years at 125 lbs. DiSario was shutout by Turner in the semis of the Reno Tournament of Champions this year, but bounced back for third place. Between that bout and dual meets, he was a combined 0-4 against the top-three at this weight.
The final two entrants in this bracket are Abe Hinrichsen (Cal Poly) and Jaylen Carson (Little Rock). Carlson went winless in the league, while Hinrichsen's lone win was an 8-1 victory at Carson's expense.
1st) Michael McGee (Arizona State)
2nd) Devan Turner (Oregon State)
3rd) Chance Rich (CSU Bakersfield)
4th) Jackson DiSario (Stanford)
Who doesn't want to see another round in the #13 Grant Willits/#8Real Woods rivalry? Actually, there are four other teams who wouldn't mind spoiling the next chapter, but I digress. Last weekend, Willits and Woods met for the fifth time in the last three seasons. Woods took both 2019-20 meetings, while the two split last year. Woods got the last laugh by dropping the two-time Pac-12 champion in the opening round of the NCAA Championships, despite being the lower seed. In their meeting on Sunday, Willits was victorious via fall, one that was probably the correct call, but quicker than normal. The loss was Woods' first of the year.
A pair of ranked wrestlers are among those that hope to prevent round six of Willits/Woods. They are #32 Lawrence Saenz (Cal Poly) and #33 Angelo Martinoni (CSU Bakersfield). Both are past national qualifiers; Saenz in 2020 for Fresno State and Martinoni did so last season. The two have not met this season. In their dual it was Saenz who pulled off an 11-2 major decision over Louie Ramos. Two of Martinoni's best accomplishments this year include an eighth-place showing in Vegas and a win via fall over SoCon favorite Shannon Hanna (Campbell).
Conner Ward (Little Rock) and Mykey Ramos (Arizona State) are likely to fill out the rest of the bracket. Though Ward has a 4-16 record, he did log a 5-2 win over Ramos in dual competition.
On Thursday, after automatic qualifiers were released, we outlined the problems that the Big Ten will present in the at-large process. Whoever missed out on the top-two at this weight cannot rely on getting an at-large bit, as they will be scarce.
1st) Real Woods (Stanford)
2nd) Grant Willits (Oregon State)
3rd) Lawrence Saenz (Cal Poly)
4th) Angelo Martinoni (CSU Bakersfield)
149 lbs is one of the better weights in the conference and one of only two weights that includes multiple returning All-Americans. Kyle Parco (Arizona State) and Jaden Abas (Stanford) are those returning AA's. Abas is a returning Pac-12 champion, while Parco was third in the Big 12 for Fresno State, before taking sixth at nationals. Even though Parco was sixth and Abas was seventh, the two did not meet at NCAA's. They did this year and it was all-Parco in an 11-3 major decision. This year, Abas was fifth at the CKLV Invitational and a champion at the Menlo Open.
Right behind the top two is 2021 Pac-12 runner-up Legend Lamer (Cal Poly). Last year at the NCAA Championships, Lamer was the ninth seed. Lamer was actually eliminated in the consolation round of 16 by Parco. The two also met this year and it was 6-3 in favor of the Sun Devil.
The other returning national qualifier at this weight is Cory Crooks of Oregon State. Crooks made the 2021 tournament for Arizona State, but has since moved on as a graduate transfer. He put together a solid 12-8 campaign, but did not earn an AQ for the conference.
The weight class will be rounded out by Josh Brown (CSU Bakersfield) and Joey Bianchi (Little Rock). Brown saw action in a staggering 38 matches this year, winning 23. He was within two points against Parco but surrendered double digits to Abas and Lamer. Bianchi comes in after winning his final two regular-season bouts. That brought his season record up to 14-11.
1st) Kyle Parco (Arizona State)
2nd) Jaden Abas (Stanford)
3rd) Legend Lamer (Cal Poly)
4th) Joey Bianchi (Little Rock)
The clear-cut favorite at 157 lbs is #3 Jacori Teemer (Arizona State), who has never lost to a Pac-12 opponent and is seeking his third straight conference crown at this weight. An NCAA fourth-place finisher in 2021, Teemer hasn't lost this year and is one of the key contenders for a national title at 157 lbs. Even though Teemer is unbeaten in the Pac-12, that doesn't mean he hasn't had close calls. This year, against #15 Hunter Willits (Oregon State), Teemer was taken to tiebreakers before prevailing 2-1. Willits is a three-time national qualifier that won a pair of matches in St. Louis last year and is capable of a podium run.
There's a distinction between the top-two at 157 lbs and the rest of the field, as Willits majored the likely three-seed Charlie Darracott (Stanford). The Cardinal has navigated through the rest of the conference field without a loss. That group includes Brawley Lamer (Cal Poly), Brock Rogers (CSU Bakersfield), and Austin Keal (Little Rock). A win over Lamer is the only victory in the last seven outings for Rogers. Keal has gotten the call recently for the Trojans, but the lone conference opponent he's faced is Teemer, who prevailed via major decision.
1st) Jacori Teemer (Arizona State)
2nd) Hunter Willits (Oregon State)
3rd) Charlie Darracott (Stanford)
4th) Brock Rogers (CSU Bakersfield)
Here it is! The main event of a weight class for the Pac-12! Three returning All-Americans, one of which is the undefeated #1 ranked wrestler in the nation, while another is the 2021 national champion. We've already seen two installments of #1 Evan Wick (Cal Poly) versus #3 Shane Griffith (Stanford). Wick has controlled the series thus far with a 6-2 win the CKLV finals and a 6-1 victory in the final dual of the year for the Mustangs. He is now 16-0 on the year and has tallied bonus points in over 60% of his matches. Griffith has lost three bouts this season, one of which did not come to Wick, and made the CKLV finals after a hard-fought win over #4 Carson Kharchla (Ohio State). His dual season started with a win over returning AA Travis Wittlake (Oklahoma State) and he also survived a 7-6 shootout against #8 Anthony Valencia (Arizona State). Valencia is the third returning All-American at this weight and is a four-time Pac-12 champion. He defeated Griffith in the finals last year, 7-1.
It will take a Herculean effort or something totally unforeseen for anyone other than the big three to gobble up the qualifying bids here. Trying to do such a task is Augustine Garcia (CSU Bakersfield), Matthew Olguin (Oregon State), and Tyler Brennan (Little Rock). Olguin has a win over Brennan and over one of Garcia's teammates and managed to keep Griffith to a decision in his loss. Garcia and Brennan both have season records that hover around .500.
1st) Evan Wick (Cal Poly)
2nd) Shane Griffith (Stanford)
3rd) Anthony Valencia (Arizona State)
4th) Matt Olguin (Oregon State)
We come back down to earth a bit after the insanity of the 165 lb class, with a solid group at 174. One of the conference's breakout stars this year was #13 Adam Kemp (Cal Poly), who has never previously qualified for nationals, but was ranked in the top ten after making the Vegas semi's and falling to sixth place. Kemp competed sparingly after Vegas and fell to Sam Wolf from Air Force in his most recent outing. If he's vulnerable, any of the trio of #27 Aaron Olmos (Oregon State), #31 Albert Urias (CSU Bakersfield), and #33 Tyler Eischens (Stanford) could knock him off. None faced Kemp in dual competition this year.
Olmos was perfect in Pac-12 duals and comes in as a winner of seven of his last eight duals. A loss to Olmos over the last weekend of the regular season accounts for Urias' only blemish over the last month of the year. During that stretch, he picked up a win over Eischens and Wolf. Eischens was a national qualifier in 2020 at 157 lbs. With his current ranking of #33, he'll be on the bubble for qualifying again, if he doesn't make the top-two.
One of Little Rock's best wrestlers is at this weight and a threat to take a spot. Triston Wills has been in the rankings, at times, this year and holds a 12-11 record. Wills holds wins this year over two past national qualifiers.
Arizona State will go with either Zeke Coleman or Ryan Rochford. Neither has tasted victory at 174 lbs since the calendar turned over to 2022.
1st) Aaron Olmos (Oregon State)
2nd) Albert Urias (CSU Bakersfield)
3rd) Adam Kemp (Cal Poly)
4th) Triston Wills (Little Rock)
This weight may fly under-the-radar, a bit, but there is a possible top-ten matchup on the horizon between, #5 Bernie Truax (Cal Poly) and #10 Trey Munoz. A 2021 NCAA All-American and surprise semifinalist, Truax, has moved up a weight class and hasn't missed a beat. The only loss he's suffered on the year, really wasn't an official loss, since it came to Penn Volunteer Assistant Mark Hall at the MatMen Open. At that event, Truax defeated Munoz for the first time, 3-1. In early February, he did it again with a 4-1 decision. Like Truax, Munoz was at 174 lbs last year, as well. Competing for Arizona State, Munoz met the Mustang AA in dual competition and at Pac-12's. In both instances, Truax prevailed, with the postseason meeting resulting in a major decision. Can he keep the streak alive this weekend?
Surprisingly, Truax and Munoz are the only two wrestlers in the league with a winning record at 184 lbs. It would be a big shock for anyone other than those two to grab the allocations, but that's why they wrestle the matches and stranger things have happened.
Cliches aside, CSU Bakersfield's Jacob Hansen may have the best shot at breaking through the top-two. He is 12-12 on the year and has a pair of conference wins on his resume. Hansen's 10-2 major decision over Nick Addison (Stanford) almost helped the Roadrunners pull off a slight upset against the Cardinal. Addison's lone conference win came over Arizona State's expected entrant, Josh Nummer (Arizona State). Nummer took his lumps wrestling an extremely difficult schedule for the Sun Devils, but did edge Little Rock's Tanner Mendoza, 4-3.
1st) Bernie Truax (Cal Poly)
2nd) Trey Munoz (Oregon State)
3rd) Jacob Hansen (CSU Bakersfield)
4th) Josh Nummer (Arizona State)
The only weight in the league with a lone NCAA allocation is 197 lbs. That, of course, was earned by #10 Kordell Norfleet (Arizona State), who checks in with a 12-3 record. Norfleet is seeking to become a four-time Pac-12 champion and earn a top-ten seed for a third consecutive season. Larger than that, he's looking to get on the NCAA podium for a first time, but first things first. The only conference loss Norfleet has suffered in his collegiate career came during his true freshman season, by disqualification. This year he's cruised to a perfect record in the Pac-12 with bonus points in three of his five contests.
Though no one else in the conference is ranked in the top-33, there are three wrestlers in the bracket with past NCAA experience, Josh Loomer (CSU Bakersfield), Ryan Reyes (Oregon State), and Nick Stemmet (Stanford).
Stemmet probably gets the two-seed in this crowded group after Norfleet. He has wins over Loomer and Reyes, but fell to Reyes in an "Extra Countable Match." However, seeding works out; one should get the two and the other the three. Stemmet has had a successful second year in Palo Alto, taking fifth at the Reno TOC and winning 20 total matches. Reyes was third at the Reno TOC and finished the regular season, winning five of his final six bouts, the lone loss coming to Stemmet.
The rest of the weight class is separated by a razor-thin margin as Reyes topped Loomer by a 3-2 score. That was the same score of the conference dual between Loomer and Cal Poly's Trent Tracy. Loomer was a conference champion in 2020 at 184 lbs. Tracy has kept it close with both Loomer and Reyes, down the stretch. He could flip one or both of those results this weekend.
Little Rock should counter with Brooks Sacharczyk, who is 5-20 on the year. The redshirt freshman is looking to snap out of a funk that's seen him go without a win since early December.
1st) Kordell Norfleet (Arizona State)
2nd) Nick Stemmet (Stanford)
3rd) Ryan Reyes (Oregon State)
4th) Josh Loomer (CSU Bakersfield)
Our final weight class looks to pit a pair of streaking big men against each other. #2 Cohlton Schultz hasn't lost in the 2021-22 campaign and is 33-2 for Arizona State with a fourth-place finish at NCAA's last year. Schultz has been able to do double-duty, competing for the Sun Devils, along with international travel as the top Greco heavyweight on the ladder. Schultz's most recent wins were two of his best of the year. In the final two weeks of the regular season, he downed Lehigh AA #7 Jordan Wood in tiebreakers and #19 Zach Elam (Missouri) 8-1.
To get his second consecutive Pac-12 title, Schultz will need to go through #9 Gary Traub (Oregon State), a graduate transfer from Ohio State. Traub started the year with losses in four of his first five bouts, but has rebounded to win 18-straight. Looking deeper into it, all four L's came at the hands of past All-Americans, so none are classified as "bad." Traub's breakout tournament for Oregon State came at the CKLV Invitational, where he came out of nowhere to win the whole thing. In the process, Traub downed four past national qualifiers and three top-15 opponents.
It'll be difficult for anyone else in the bracket to break into the finals, but CSU Bakersfield's Jacob Sieder looks like the third seed. Sieder has wins over Cal Poly Samuel Aguilar and Stanford's Peter Ming. Aguilar also has a head-to-head win against Ming. Little Rock's Josiah Hill is one of the Trojans best wrestlers and has to be accounted for. He went into tiebreakers against Traub and pinned Ming.
1st) Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State)
2nd) Gary Traub (Oregon State)
3rd) Jacob Sieder (CSU Bakersfield)
4th) Josiah Hill (Little Rock)
Team Race Prediction
1st) Arizona State
2nd) Oregon State
4th) Cal Poly