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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    2023-24 InterMat's Year-End Pac-12 Awards

    The 2023-24 season is in the record books, but before moving on, it’s time to salute the top performers in each conference. We've already hit on the ACCBig TenBig 12 , EIWA and MAC; so now we're onto the Pac-12. 

    Pac-12 Wrestler of the Year: Richie Figueroa (Arizona State)

    Coming into the 2023-24 season, Richie Figueroa was ranked third in the nation and was expected to be one of the favorites at 125 lbs. Figueroa was fresh off a redshirt freshman campaign that saw him win the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and finish undefeated; however, he wasn’t the guy in the postseason. That distinction went to Brandon Courtney - who went on to finish third in the nation. 

    With the starting role at 125 lbs all to himself, it was time for Figueroa to break out and claim 125 lbs for himself, right? Not initially, Figueroa was in and out of the Sun Devil lineup with an injury and then suffered a few losses upon his return. 

    The tide started to turn during the final weekend of the regular season when Figueroa notched wins over Luke Stanich (Lehigh) and Caleb Smith (Nebraska). At the Pac-12 Championships, Figueroa defeated a pair of quality opponents Nico Provo (Stanford) and Brandon Kaylor (Oregon State) to earn a conference title. 

    Figueroa’s Pac-12 title was able to give him a boost into the eighth seed in Kansas City. In just his second NCAA bout, Figueroa had to deal with two-time All-American Patrick McKee (Minnesota). The youngster from California was able to avoid any dangerous positions from McKee and poured it on for a 16-5 major decision. Next up was McKee’s Big Ten finals opponent, top-seeded Braeden Davis (Penn State). Figueroa was able to display an opportunistic offensive, along with stout defensive and mat savvy, to pull the upset. The same could be said for the semifinals and Figueroa’s win over returning AA Anthony Noto (Lock Haven). 

    Figueroa completed his incredible run to an NCAA title with a 7-2 decision over Iowa’s Drake Ayala. He took a commanding 4-0 lead with a takedown at the edge in the closing seconds of the second period, then iced the match after surviving a prolonged scramble late in the third period for a second takedown. 

    All year we lamented about how chaotic the 125 lb weight class was…and it was. With Figueroa coming out on top and having an offseason to grow mentally and physically, this weight class could have a lot less turmoil in 2024-25 - at least at the tippy top. 

    Honorable Mention: Trey Munoz (Oregon State)
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    Pac-12 Freshman of the Year: Nasir Bailey (Little Rock)

    The highest ranked signee (#21 in Class of 2023) in the short history of Little Rock wrestling, Nasir Bailey was the day one starter for the Trojans. Right away, Bailey was very good; starting with a title at the TigerStyle Tournament and wins in his first seven collegiate bouts. Even his first loss (4-0 to returning champ Vito Arujau) was a positive sign about his long-term prospects. At that same event, Bailey posted a 16-0 tech over CKLV finalist Evan Frost (Iowa State) - an eventual NCAA sixth-place finisher. 

    After the Arujau loss, Bailey finished the regular season by winning 15 of his last 16 matches, a span that saw him take third at the Southern Scuffle and go unbeaten in conference duals. The dominance in the Pac-12 would carry on to the postseason, when Bailey grabbed a Pac-12 championship after an 8-3 win over Julian Chlebove (Arizona State). In doing so, he became the first Little Rock wrestler to win a Pac-12 crown. 

    There were more “first’s” at the NCAA Championships as Bailey used an overtime takedown over Bucknell’s Kurt Phipps to become the school’s first All-American. Not content at a spot in the top-eight, Bailey also defeated ACC champion Kai Orine (NC State) and Big Ten runner-up Dylan Ragusin (Michigan) to ensure a berth in the NCAA third-place match. There he was defeated by EIWA Freshman of the Year, Ryan Crookham (Lehigh), who had also beaten Bailey on the front side. 

    In addition to carving his name into Little Rock wrestling lore, Bailey amassed a 29-4 record during his true freshman campaign. Three of the four losses came to wrestlers who ended up finishing in the top-three in Kansas City. 

    Honorable Mention: Stephen Little (Little Rock)

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    Pac-12 Coach of the Year: Neil Erisman (Little Rock)

    There were a couple of really difficult decisions in our conference awards this year. This wasn’t one of them! In just their fifth year of existence, Neil Erisman’s Little Rock Trojans captured the Pac-12 dual title after posting wins over Arizona State, Cal Poly, and Oregon State. After only winning nine total duals during their first four years, Little Rock had 15 this season. 

    Individually, only one Little Rock wrestler had qualified for the tournament prior to 2023-24. Early in the season, it was evident that more would join the club. That proved to be true and five Trojan wrestlers made the trip to Kansas City. Four of the five won matches and Little Rock produced not one, but two All-Americans, with Bailey and Stephen Little. The kicker is that both are freshmen! 

    With the possibility of all five national qualifiers returning, plus some young talent waiting in the wings, this is likely just the beginning for Little Rock wrestling. 

    Honorable Mention: Zeke Jones (Arizona State)

     

    Previous Award Winners

    Pac-12 Wrestler of the Year

    2023: Michael McGee (Arizona State)

    2022: Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State)

     

    Pac-12 Freshman of the Year

    2023: Daniel Cardenas (Stanford)

    2022: Trey Munoz (Oregon State)

     

    Pac-12 Coach of the Year

    2023: Jon Sioredas (Cal Poly)

    2022: Chris Pendleton (Oregon State)

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