Michigan State Open champion Jake Woodley of Oklahoma (Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
The first weekend of the collegiate season has come and gone! We all got reacquainted with the multi-tasking skills needed to follow a handful of tournaments and duals streaming from your computer or device(s). For some lucky fans, they got the opportunity to attend a live event, something that wasn't possible in many parts of the country last season.
After getting a good night's sleep (thanks Daylight savings) and replaying the action and results in my head, I found ten things I learned from the opening week of the season.
My friend John Foster (of Big Man Breakdown fame on MatScouts) will be proud to know the first three items include heavyweights.
We all know the key stats for Gable Steveson. Within a couple months span, he won the Big Ten, NCAA's, Pan-Am's, and Olympic Games. Save for a comeback for the ages in the gold medal match at the Olympic Games, he rarely needed to break a sweat in the process. Gable is back and atop the 285 lb NCAA rankings, as he should be. But Gable's dominance may overshadow a Golden Era of collegiate big men.
Over the weekend, we saw another example of this as the newly-cut Tony Cassioppi (Iowa) went to Serbia for the U23 World Championships and captured the gold medal with relative ease. Cassioppi's gold medal now gives the current crop at 285 lbs five age-group world champions. In addition to Steveson and Cassioppi, Mason Parris (Michigan) has a Junior World title, while Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State) and Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State) did so at the Cadet level.
If you paid attention to Twitter last night, everyone and their mother was spouting off the five world champions figure and that's impressive. But let's look even deeper:
With Cassioppi's medal, there are now eight age-group world medalists at 285 lbs. Zach Elam (Missouri) and Lucas Davison (Northwestern) are both Junior World silver medalists, while Jordan Wood (Lehigh) won silver at Cadet Worlds. 2021 Junior World rep Wyatt Hendrickson (Air Force) was a match away from adding his name to the list as he suffered losses in the world semis and bronze medal bout.
This bracket also includes nine returning All-Americans. In addition to the wrestlers we've already mentioned above, Trent Hillger (Wisconsin), Tate Orndorff (Ohio State), and Matt Stencel (Central Michigan) have stepped on the NCAA podium before.
What it amounts to is that every match from the NCAA Round of 16 on will be fire and feature two high-level heavyweights. Additionally, World/Olympic Trials for the next decade will be must-watch.
The Clarion Open showed us that there will be no lull at the 285 lb weight class once Gable moves on, and the Parris' and Cassioppi's graduate. High school freshman and Ohio State commit Nick Feldman made the finals of Clarion after posting three impressive wins. Most notable was in the quarterfinals when Feldman tallied four takedowns to down the #26 heavyweight in the nation, Zachary Knighton-Ward (Hofstra). At NCAA's last year, Knighton-Ward posted a 1-2 record.
In his other two bouts, Feldman racked up bonus points on the probable starters for Lock Haven (Colby Whitehill) and Pittsburgh (Jake Slinger). Feldman ended up medically forfeiting in the finals before taking on Maryland's Zach Schrader.
The #3 overall recruit in the Class of 2022, Feldman, may be pressed into starting duties immediately for the Buckeyes as Tate Orndorff is a senior. With his performance on Sunday and another year's worth of adding muscle and tweaking technique, Ohio State could feel confident starting Feldman from day one.
In speaking with NC State staff this year, the coaches repeatedly mentioned that this could be a "new look" Wolfpack lineup. For a few years now, you could set your watch by this lineup that included most of its critical components in the same weights. Much has changed this year, with Tariq Wilson and Hayden Hidlay moving up, while Daniel Bullard contemplates a move down. One of the constants we assumed was Deonte Wilson at 285 lbs.
It's easy to assume why you would pencil an ACC champion and #18 ranked heavyweight into the lineup. But, that may not be the case! Wilson dropped a wrestle-off bout to sophomore Owen Trephan. But wrestle-off's are wrestle-off's. Because of familiarity, strange results can happen at those types of competitions. Some staff's don't even factor them into their line of thinking. In-room results and tournaments may play a more significant role.
Well, on Saturday, NC State kicked off their season at the Battle of the Citadel. Trephan made the finals after a 5-2 win over #30 Michael McAleavey (The Citadel), a returning national qualifier. That win set up another meeting with Wilson in the tournament finals. Once again, Trephan got his hand raised, this time by a 10-3 margin, which is huge at the 285 lb weight class.
Looking at NC State's schedule, this week, the team will host the Wolfpack Open. Could the two meet again? NC State does indeed have a BIG problem, though it's a good one to have.
Okay, well, I was already on the Ned Shuck train. Maybe the general wrestling community will start to take notice of Shuck, first-year head coach of Bellarmine.
Let's look at the backstory behind Shuck's Bellarmine Knights. He took over a program that is in the midst of a transition from DII to DI status, inherited a squad that went 1-9 last year and was shut out twice; only scored more than ten points three times, and didn't get to have a full (or even half) recruiting cycle.
Yet, his team posted a 19-18 win in their season-opening dual meet over SIU Edwardsville. The dual was tied at 18, but the Knights got the decision on "total match points" criteria (57-53).
When the teams met last season, the Cougars dominated 39-6.
Another thing we saw during the Indiana/SIUE/Bellarmine tri was some of Indiana's biggest stars at new weight classes. Brock Hudkins and Donnell Washington moved up to 133 and 184 lbs, respectively. Both went 2-0 at their new weight classes. Hudkins was in the midst of a strong 2019-20 season, until an injury at the Midlands derailed his season. Last year, he only saw action in two duals. If healthy, he could be a darkhorse at 133.
Washington is coming off an appearance at the Junior World Championships and continues to grow. 184 lbs appears to be much deeper than 174 this year, but he certainly has the ability to make a dent in that weight class, as well.
Hudkins, Washington and the rest of their Indiana teammates will get tested next week in tournament action at Appalachian State's Mountaineer Invitational. This event will feature the host school, along with Arizona State, Illinois, and others.
Without the Ivy League last season, the obvious lament was the loss of perennial national power Cornell. The Big Red has dominated the EIWA for almost two decades and has put out some of the finest wrestlers in the conference during that span. Princeton was another loss that hit the conference and the national scene. Chris Ayres' squad has proven that they will be a factor on both levels for the foreseeable future.
On top of the two big Ivy giants, much has been made about the recruiting at Penn. The Quakers seem ready to unleash the fruits of their hard work on the recruiting trail in due time.
But a team that may fly under the radar is Columbia. Zach Tanelli's group has also increased its recruiting profile over the last few years. They also feature a squad with two returning national qualifiers, to go along with their young talent. Yesterday, the Lions showed that they will be much improved in 2021-22, as well.
Starting at the 125 lb weight class, #28 Joe Manchio pulled one of the biggest stunners of the weekend when he knocked off All-American #8 Sam Latona (Virginia Tech) for a title at the Southeast Open. Manchio and 141 lber Matt Kazimir were the Columbia wrestlers with past NCAA experience. Like his fellow qualifier, Kazimir also came away with a title. He defeated past national qualifier Collin Gerardi (Virginia Tech), 4-1, for his championship.
Along with Manchio and Kazimir, 165 lber Josh Ogunsanya was also victorious, Sunday. Columbia, along with Virginia Tech, were the only schools to crown three champions in the open division.
Last season, Oklahoma shocked the Big 12 by tying rival Oklahoma State at the conference meet. That may have been forgotten about after Oklahoma State went on to claim an NCAA team trophy and the Sooners finished in 24th place.
On Saturday, the Sooners were in action at the Michigan State Open and showed that they are for real and cannot be overlooked again. Oklahoma finished with three champs (Joey Prata - 125, Tony Madrigal - 133, and Jake Woodley - 197) and they also had a favorite, Mitch Moore (149), medically forfeit in the finals.
Madrigal and Woodley may have prevailed in two of the tournament's toughest weights. The 133 lber captured a title after defeating a pair of past All-Americans, Lucas Byrd (Illinois) and Rayvon Foley (Michigan State), in back-to-back matches. Woodley's semi/finals bouts included wins over Big Ten runner-up Cam Caffey (Michigan State) and All-American Pat Brucki (Michigan).
Oklahoma also did damage without perhaps their best wrestler, 141 lber Dom Demas, who was competing at the U23 World Championships.
Next weekend, I'll be watching Oklahoma in person as they take on Big 12 rival West Virginia.
One of the biggest possible bouts on the schedule for this weekend was a meeting at 184 lbs between All-American's John Poznanski (Rutgers) and Louie DePrez (Binghamton). The two squared off in the 2021 NCAA quarterfinals and Poznanski won 8-4.
Their 2021-22 meeting didn't come to fruition as DePrez weighed in significantly above the 184 lb weight class. Had the Rutgers dual been closer, maybe he would have been an option at 197. But, at the time, the Scarlet Knights had the dual locked up 22-9, so he didn't go. Now, by weighing in, DePrez is subject to weight descent rules, which limit the amount of weight he can lose per week.
If you stayed up late Saturday night, you were treated to an entertaining tri-meet hosted by #21 Oregon State. Chris Pendleton's team welcomed #16 Lehigh and Campbell, a team that warranted consideration in the dual rankings. Campbell started the night by crushing Lehigh, 22-11. In the next match, Oregon State did the same to Campbell, 23-12. Just to complicate things, Lehigh rose up and downed the host school, 21-12.
In a year with super-sixth-year seniors on pitch counts and most teams returning veteran squads, I'd expect more upheaval than usual from the team's ranked 15 and below. There will be lots of these A beat B, B beat C, and C beat A, types of scenarios as we update dual rankings.
We also have to congratulate Camels head coach Scotti Sentes as they became the first SoCon school ever to defeat Lehigh in dual competition.
For those of you that love to nitpick through the rankings (I love ya!), you may have noticed a name that may not have belonged at the bottom of the final preseason rankings at 133. Purdue's Matt Ramos. Matt is best known for winning a Cadet World title in 2018 at 51 kg. He signed with Minnesota and did not compete in 2019-20 or 2021. After the 2021 season concluded, Ramos ended up in the transfer portal and ended up at Purdue.
In his short time at Purdue, there have been good things coming out of the Boilermaker room regarding Ramos. Saturday was his collegiate debut and Ramos starred with a tech fall in his opening match against Deon Pleasant (Drexel), before pinning 2021 MAC runner-up Richie Koehler (Rider) in extra time. While two matches on the first weekend of the season is an extremely small sample size, let's just say Ramos should be a name to watch going forward at 133 lbs.