Nebraska's Isaiah White will meet No. 16 Demetrius Romero of Utah Valley (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
It is only the second week of the NCAA wrestling season, but there are already some important and intriguing individual matches. The following is a preview of a featured bout in each of the ten weight classes. The list of competitors includes eight top-ten ranked wrestlers, a returning NCAA champion and a showdown between the top two wrestlers at 197 pounds.
125: No. 6 Zeke Moisey (Nebraska) vs. No. 7 Louie Hayes (Virginia)
After a surprising runner-up finish in his freshman season at West Virginia, Moisey was able to make his way back on the podium for the first time since last season. In the offseason, he transferred to Nebraska, where he will look to become a three-time All-American. He will make his debut here since he did not compete at the Daktronics Open like many of the veteran Nebraska wrestlers.
Hayes is looking to build on a strong first season, but his sophomore campaign has already hit a road bump of sorts. He reportedly missed weight Virginia's opening dual against Indiana. The Cavaliers went on to win, but Hayes also did not compete at the Hokie Open. Last season, he went 31-8 and qualified for the NCAA tournament. Even though he failed to place, Hayes did pick up one of his best wins on the season in the NCAA bracket. He defeated No. 8 Sean Fausz (NC State) in overtime. Hayes had previously lost ot Fausz at the ACC tournament 12 days prior.
If Hayes is able to get his weight under control he should be able to take this match. Moisey might come out more aggressively with a new training environment. However, Hayes should be able to control the pace of the match and score when he needs to.
Prediction: Hayes (Virginia) dec. Moisey (Nebraska)
133: Brian Courtney (Virginia) vs. No. 8 Montorie Bridges (Wyoming)
Courtney joined the Virginia squad last season as a heralded recruit. During his redshirt season, he went 21-9 at 141, and he won both the Appalachian Open and the National Collegiate Open. This year, he will likely get the opportunity to hold down the 133 spot. In his season debut, Courtney defeated Indiana's Garrett Pepple via a 4-2 score.
Bridges was a little bit under the radar last year until he knocked off Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State) in late December. This year, he will not be sneaking up on anyone. He finished eighth at the NCAA tournament to become an All-American and defeated the likes of No. 10 John Erneste (Missouri), No. 13 Josh Terao (American), No. 12 Rico Montoya (Northern Colorado) and No. 4 Tariq Wilson (NC State). Last weekend, Bridge won four straight matches to take home the Cowboy Open title.
This match should be Bridges' wheelhouse. His offensive arsenal should give Courtney a lot of trouble. When the Virginia wrestled faced ranked competition during his redshirt season he struggled to keep up against gifted offensive wrestlers.
Prediction: Bridges (Wyoming) maj. dec. Courtney (Virginia)
141: No. 3 Jaydin Eierman (Missouri) vs. No. 7 SaDerian Perry (Old Dominion)
After finishing fourth at last year's NCAA tournament, Eierman certainly wrestled like a man who lost his last match over the summer in freestyle. He competed at Final X in the true-third match where he defeated Andy Simmons to take a spot on the U.S. National Team. A few months later, he picked up perhaps the biggest win of his career as he pinned world silver medalist Beka Lomtadze of Georgia at the Poland Open. He begins this season ranked third and is certainly a finals contender.
Last season, Perry made an unlikely run through the NCAA tournament and became Eastern Michigan's first All-American since 1999 and only their fifth ever. In a cruel twist of fate, EMU dropped their wrestling program following the season and left Perry without a team. After several high-profile recruiting visits, he signed with ODU and will compete for them at 141. Perry got off to a strong start of the season at the Princeton open. He defeated Thomas Miers (Columbia) and Garrett Lambert (Hofstra) before pulling out of the field.
Eierman proved himself to be one of the best wrestlers in the country at this weight last year, and his summer showed that he is continually making improvements. Perry had a strong NCAA tournament, but he took his lumps in the regular season. The winner here should be able to set the tone for the rest of their season.
Prediction: Eierman (Missouri) tech. fall Perry (Old Dominion)
149: No. 16 Austin O'Connor (North Carolina) vs. Tanner Smith (UTC)
Things got off to a strong start last year for O'Connor as he defeated teammate and All-American Troy Heilmann in the wrestle-offs. During his redshirt season, O'Connor went 20-3 with two of those loses coming against former NCAA champion Jason Tsirtsis (Arizona State) and No. 10 Pat Lugo (Iowa). This season, many expect him to make an impact at 149. Although he dropped a match against No. 8 Mitch Finesilver (Duke) at the Hokie Open, he also defeated Josh Heil (Campbell), who came in second at the Southern Scuffle last season.
Like Perry, Smith had to find a new home after Eastern Michigan dropped their program. He redshirted last season in Ypsilanti and put together an undefeated 22-0 record. Smith did not face the toughest competition, but he did win the Michigan State Open, Eastern Michigan Open, Cleveland State Open, Alma Open and the Edinboro Open. There is a good chance he will end this season in the rankings.
Smith remains a bit of a wildcard. He had a strong season, but his level of opposition leaves a lot of questions. O'Connor showed flashes of being an All-American contender, but he also dropped some matches as well. After spending his redshirt year adjusting to the college style, he should be able to take this match dominantly.
Prediction: O'Connor (North Carolina) maj. dec. Smith (UTC)
157: No. 15 Kaleb Young (Iowa) vs. Nick Monico (Kent State)
For his first two years in Iowa, Young has bounced around between 165 and 174. This season, he will come down and get the chance to regularly start at 157. Iowa has not competed yet this season, but Young did defeated teammate Jeremiah Moody in the wrestle-offs. Moody had a strong season wrestling freestyle and won a UWW Junior National title.
Monico went 20-12 last year with his best showing probably coming at the Navy Classic where he finished fifth. Despite not having the best overall record, he proved to be a tough competitor who could keep it close with some of the best in the division. Monico dropped matches against Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State), Grant Leeth (Missouri) and Matt Kolodzik (Princeton) all by regular decision.
Young has defeated better wrestlers in his career, so he should be able to pick up the victory here. The real question is how he will look at the new weight. It is possible that he will be able to open up with his leg attacks against smaller wrestlers, but at the same time, he might struggle after cutting weight. This match will be a good preview of his season at 157.
Prediction: Young (Iowa) maj. dec. Monico (Kent State)
165: No. 9 Isaiah White (Nebraska) vs. No. 16 Demetrius Romero (Utah Valley)
White transferred to Nebraska last season after winning a Division II NCAA title at Notre Dame (Ohio). He qualified for the NCAA tournament in his first year at Nebraska, but 165 was a grinder division. White went 2-2 at the tournament and failed to place. The path through 165 does not get much easier this year, but White does hold wins over No. 17 Andrew Fogarty (North Dakota State), No. 11 Branson Ashworth (Wyoming) and No. 2 Evan Wick (Wisconsin).
Romero went 26-9 last season with a perfect 11-0 record in duals. He qualified for the NCAA tournament but went 1-2 and fell out of the field. During the year, the former Boise State competitor defeat many now-graduated ranked wrestlers and Forgarty.
These two last met in the first round of the NCAA tournament. White won that match via 9-4 decision. As previously stated, the 165 division is not getting any easier this year. The winner of this match should be on track to end up on the podium, while the loser will certainly have things to work on. White's ability to score at distance on the feet makes his a strong favorite.
Prediction: White (Nebraska) dec. Romero (Utah Valley)
174: No. 12 Mikey Labriola (Nebraska) vs. Kimball Bastian (Utah Valley)
As a redshirt last season, Labriola went 18-2 with both of his losses coming against No. 10 Dylan Lydy (Purdue). However, during his exhibition season, he also defeated Joey Gunther (Illinois), Jacobe Smith (Oklahoma State) and No. 13 Johnny Sebastian (Northwestern). Last weekend, Labriola ran through the field at the Daktronics open where he defeated No. 20 Devin Skatzka (Minnesota) and picked up four other bonus-point victories.
Bastian placed fifth in the Big 12 to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament last season. He failed to place at the tournament, but he did score an upset victory over No. 20 Brandon Womack (Cornell). Earlier in the season, Bastian had an impressive showing at the Reno Tournament of Champions where he finished second.
This match might end up closer than a lot of people expect. Bastian has done a good job in the past of slowing matches down and giving a scare against higher ranked wrestlers. He is unlikely to break through and defeat Labriola, but it might end up being a close one.
Prediction: Labriola (Nebraska) dec. Bastian (Utah Valley)
184: No. 12 Cash Wilcke (Iowa) vs. Andrew McNally (Kent State)
For the last two seasons, Wilcke has filled a need for the Hawkeyes at 197. This season, he gets to come down to a much more natural weight. Last season, he won his first 13 matches and held a top-ten ranking. However, the weight was very strong in the Big Ten, and he picked up multiple losses. He qualified for the NCAA tournament and went 3-2. He was eliminated in the consolation bracket after a loss against No. 3 (197) Kollin Moore (Ohio State).
McNally went 18-16 as a redshirt freshman last year. He failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament, but he is off to a strong start this year. McNally has already built a 9-0 record. Last weekend he won the Clarion open with three falls, a major decision and an overtime victory over Trevor Allard (Bloomsburg).
Wilcke should be a big favorite in this bout. Hawkeye fans are likely very excited to see what Wilcke can do at a lower weight this year. McNally is likely a borderline qualifier, but he should also serve as a good early season test for Wilcke.
Prediction: Wilcke (Iowa) maj. dec. McNally (Kent State)
197: No. 1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) vs. No. 2 Kyle Conel (Kent State)
Nickal will be looking to pick up his third straight NCAA title, but he will be looking to do it at a new weight. He will move up to 197 this season after spending his previous two at 184. Over the past three seasons, Nickal has gone 90-3 with two of those losses coming against Myles Martin (Ohio State).
Conel comes into this season as the second-ranked wrestler at 197. Oddly enough, he entered the last NCAA tournament entirely unseeded. He went on a magical run through the tournament, which included a pair of wins over No. 3 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) as well as wins over No. 4 Jacob Holschlag (Northern Iowa) and No. 6 Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State).
As will be the case for almost all of his matches this season, Nickal will be the favorite going into this bout. However, there are two major factors, which make this meeting interesting. First, nobody knows for sure how Nickal will look up 13 pounds from last season. Second, Conel has rightfully earned the reputation as an upset threat.
Prediction: Nickal (Penn State) maj. dec. Conel (Kent State)
285: Demetrius Thomas (Pittsburgh) vs. Jacob Sieder (CSU Bakersfield)
Thomas transferred to Pittsburgh after spending his first two seasons at Williams Baptist. While there, he was a two-time NAIA finalist and one-time champion. In his two seasons at the NAIA level he won 67 matches including multiple wins over NCAA Division I competitors such as Austin Myers (Missouri) and No. 17 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin). Last weekend, he won the Clarion Open and along the way defeated top recruit Seth Nevills (Penn State).
This match should be a rout for Thomas. Sieder has gone 10-15 in three seasons for the Roadrunners, and he is probably best at 197. However, for a lot of fans, it will be the first time seeing Thomas, who could end up being a player in the heavyweight division.
Prediction: Thomas (Pittsburgh) by fall over Sieder (CSU Bakersfield)