2x NCAA qualifier for Gardner-Webb Rodrick Mosley (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Every year there are wrestlers that have "breakout" seasons. Whether it's wrestlers that are coming off a strong redshirt season, or young wrestlers who have a big jump from experience in the next season, it is always fun to see which athletes separate and improve from year to year. In this article series, I am going to highlight a wrestler from every school, in each of the seven different conferences, that have the potential to breakout. That could mean anything from making a surprising splash at the national tournament, to qualifying for the first time, or even getting some important dual wins for a school. Up first, are the nine schools that make up the SoCon Conference.
Appalachian State - Heath Gonyer, 141lbs (So)
After a redshirt season where he went under .500, Gonyer had a very solid year in 2021-22 with a 25-9 record and making the SoCon finals. He had two wins over Wil Gil, a 2022 qualifier from Franklin & Marshall. Gonyer finished the season 10-2 in his last 12 matches, with both losses coming in overtime to #19 Shannon Hanna of Campbell. If he can take another jump, then Gonyer could end up in the rankings and qualify this season.
Campbell - JoJo Aragona, 157lbs (Jr)
One of the top recruits in 2019, Aragona seems primed to be a factor on the national scene this year. In 2020, he was down at 141lbs and finished with a record of 13-12 at Rutgers. After not wrestling in 2021, he transferred to Campbell and had a 4-2 record at 157lbs. He finished 3rd at the conference meet, with both losses coming to 2021 qualifier Cody Bond. If Aragona is able to stay healthy, I expect better results after another season acclimating to 157lbs.
Chattanooga - #23 Brayden Palmer, 133lbs (Jr)
A 2022 qualifier, Palmer has already shown that he can compete at a high level with a 24-9 record. After spending the first two years of his career at Clarion at 141lbs, he looked even better at 133lbs at Chattanooga. He had wins over qualifiers Brian Courtney and Codi Russell and made the SoCon finals. If he can be more consistent throughout the season, then he could climb even higher in the rankings.
Gardner-Webb - #32 Rodrick Mosley, 165lbs (Jr)
Mosley has already qualified twice, so he is someone fans should keep an eye on to make some serious noise in March. At the 2021 tournament, he beat Virginia's Jake Keating, but had close losses to All-Americans Cam Amine and Zach Hartman. At NCAA's in 2022, he once again had two close losses, this time to Izzak Olejnik of NIU and Bubba Wilson of Nebraska. After a 2022 SoCon title, Mosley seems primed to take a jump and be able to better compete in this difficult weight class.
The Citadel - Jonathan Chesser, 285lbs (Fr)
Last year the Citadel graduated #27 Michael McAleavey and looked ready to reload the spot with Chesser. He had a 15-6 record while splitting time between 197/285lbs and redshirting. His results at heavyweight have promise though, with a 12-2 record and seven bonus wins. While Chesser did not beat anyone ranked, he has promise if he continues to grow and develop into 285lbs.
Davidson - Gavin Henry, 184lbs (Jr)
Henry is one of two juniors expected to start for the Wildcat's young team. While he had a record under .500, there were matches that could indicate him taking a step forward. He had a 9-6 win over Matthew Waddell of Chattanooga, a three-time national qualifier. With new coach Nate Carr Jr at the helm, there is an opportunity for someone to step up and have a big impact this season.
VMI - Zach Brown, 184lbs (Jr)
Similar to Gavin Henry of Davidson, Brown did not have the best record last season but did have a win over a 2022 qualifier. At the Journeyman Classic, Brown was able to beat AJ Burkhart of Lehigh 8-3. Brown missed most of the second half of the season due to injury, but could be someone to keep an eye on through the season now that he is healthy again.
Bellarmine - Devan Hendricks, 165lbs (Jr)
Bellarmine is still transitioning to Division 1, so they are unable to qualify for the postseason for a few more years. They still have quality wrestlers though, and Hedricks could be a factor this season. After spending two seasons at 174lbs, he had his biggest career win at 165lbs last season over two-time qualifier Rodrick Mosley.
Presbyterian - David Bertrand, 184lbs (So)
A true freshman starter, Bertrand had a 15-13 record last season. He had some close losses to quality wrestlers last season, so this is more of a projection. He won the Life University and Georgia Opens. Bertrand seems like a candidate that is primed to take a jump next season.