Purdue's 125 lber Matt Ramos in the 2023 NCAA Semifinals (Photos/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
As the 7 pm hour drew near in the central time zone, fans in Tulsa's BOK Center were ready for a long night of excellent wrestling. I would argue that Session IV at the NCAA Wrestling Championships is the best athletic event known to man. Dreams are made and crushed as wrestlers earn All-American honors or lock up a spot in the national finals.
Only a few minutes after the national anthem, the entire night was turned upside down. Three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee lost. And was pinned. This weekend was thought to be a coronation for Lee and Cornell 149 lber Yianni Diakomihalis as they were both only five matches away from winning their fourth national title. Unfortunately for Lee, no one told Purdue's Matt Ramos about the script.
Early in the first period, as he's known to do, Lee attempted to bully Ramos into a takedown, but was unsuccessful. It was the Boilermaker who struck first with a takedown and backpoints to take a 4-0 lead. While rare, that sight wasn't totally unfamiliar to fans, as Ramos had Lee on the ropes in their dual meet before losing via fall. In the previous round, Lock Haven's Anthony Noto turned Lee for the full allotment of four back points.
Trailing 4-0, Lee chose top in the second period and it proved to be a good choice. He turned Ramos and led 5-4 with riding time after the second stanza.
In the final period, Lee appeared to get close to a takedown on the edge. The call was challenged by the Iowa staff and the official's initial call was overturned and ruled a takedown for the Hawkeye star. With Lee's riding ability, a 7-4 lead looked like the end for Ramos. As we've seen in the previous two rounds, Ramos wouldn't quit until the final whistle.
Ramos managed to get an escape and then quickly stuff a half-attempt from Lee, which led to a front headlock. The Boilermaker then went for the hail mary and rolled Lee and caught him on his back. After a valiant effort from Lee, Ramos stepped over to get a perpendicular pinning position and the official signaled for a fall with :01 left on the clock.
Just like that, all 15,600+ fans were on their feet. Many were cheering. The section wearing Iowa's black and gold went quiet in stunned disbelief. Regardless of your rooting interests, everyone in the arena was shocked as they witnessed firsthand one of the biggest upsets in collegiate wrestling history. National sports websites have already tabbed it one of the biggest in collegiate sports history.
I turned to NCAA Wrestling and Turner Sports' Shannon Scovel and we both remarked on how difficult it would be to focus on the remaining nine matches, as we both struggled to comprehend what we just witnessed.
The rest of the round went on as scheduled and there were plenty of interesting developments.
Just a match after Lee was upset, three-time NCAA runner-up Daton Fix was dominated by Cornell All-American Vito Arujau. Arujau and teammate Yianni Diakomihalis will both wrestle in tomorrow night's championship finals. Diakomihalis survived another scare from Penn State freshman Shayne Van Ness and poured on the points late in the match to win 8-3, a margin that looks larger on paper than in actuality.
Arujau will meet two-time national champion Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State. Bravo-Young needed sudden victory to hold off Arizona State's three-time All-American Michael McGee. He is one of five Penn State wrestlers who will wrestle for a national title.
Freshman Levi Haines, Carter Starocci, Aaron Brooks, and Greg Kerkvliet also pushed through to the finals. After a controversial takedown call loomed large in Haines, Big Ten finals win over Peyton Robb, the first-year phenom left nothing to doubt and secured two takedowns to prevail 5-3. Starocci and Brooks both looked totally in control of their semifinal wins and will be chasing title number three. Kerkvliet pulled a slight upset by downing #2 Wyatt Hendrickson, the first All-American from the Air Force Academy in 20 years.
The defending champion Nittany Lions will take a 116.5 to 77 lead over Iowa into tomorrow's medal rounds. After Lee's loss, the Hawkeyes rallied to have a strong round and put 141 lber Real Woods into the finals and saw Max Murin (149), Nelson Brands (174), and Jacob Warner (197), pull out bloodround wins.
Woods will square off with Northern Colorado's #2 Andrew Alirez in the only meeting between two undefeated wrestlers. Alirez was the first Bear wrestler to make the national finals since 1969.
Diakomihalis will have the sole focus of the "four-time champion" talk as he faces #2 Sammy Sasso. The two met twice in the 2021-22 season and Diakomihalis wasn't severely tested in either contest.
The true freshman, Haines, will tangle with 2021 national champion #1 Austin O'Connor. O'Connor comes in with a perfect record and is one that doesn't get thrown off of his gameplan easily.
With all the other excitement, it's easy to forget that we'll be treated to another round in the David Carr/Keegan O'Toole trilogy. Carr has won both battles between these past national champions. He used tough riding in the third period to edge Princeton's Quincy Monday.
Speaking of rematches, we have a pair at 174 and 184 with Starocci/Mikey Labriola and Brooks/Parker Keckeisen. The Nittany Lions have been victorious in their previous meetings.
One of the big talking points for fans in the week leading up to the tournament was the unpredictability of the 197 lb weight class. Top-seeded Nino Bonaccorsi was taken down early, but recovered to cruise to a 10-4 victory over Ethan Laird. On the other half, South Dakota State's Tanner Sloan flipped the Big 12 finals result against Rocky Elam with a convincing 7-2 victory.
Penn State's Kerkvliet will hope the third time is the charm at heavyweight as he'll face top-seeded, undefeated Mason Parris. The Wolverine big man was completely dominant in a 16-1 tech fall victory over Tony Cassioppi. In a dual meet, Parris needed late heroics to get by the Hawkeye heavyweight. None were necessary this time.
Four the full list of semifinal and Round of 12 (Bloodround) results Click Here