Nick Suriano at the 2019 NCAA finals (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Ever since LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to join Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat, many NBA fans and pundits have called the current state of the league the â€œplayer empowerment era.â€ Obviously, college wrestling can't be a direct comparison, but the influx of transfers has allowed wrestlers to move around the country and find a spot that works for them.
The transfer portal has not only had an effect on individual wrestlers, but this past season it had a pretty significant impact on the NCAA tournament team race. Iowa won their first national title since 2010 with a pair of transfers in the lineup. Those same transfers will need to contribute once again if the Hawkeyes hope to bring home another championship.
The following looks at the highest NCAA tournament point scoring performances from wrestlers that previously transferred from the last five tournaments.
Jaydin Eierman transferred to Iowa after three All-American seasons at Missouri. He redshirted his first season with the Hawkeyes, but entered the starting lineup this past season. Eierman won the Big Ten tournament and entered the NCAA championship with an undefeated record. On his way to the finals, he picked up bonus points in three of his four matches. Even though he came up short in the finals against Penn State's Nick Lee in sudden victory, he added 21.5 points to Iowa's team score. Eierman's total was tied for the seventh most with NCAA champions Aaron Brooks (Penn State) and AJ Ferrari (Oklahoma State). If Iowa hopes to pick up another team title, they will likely need another strong performance from Eierman, who has already announced his return.
After a true freshman season at Penn State, Nick Suriano returned to his home state and transferred to Rutgers. The New Jersey high school legend then became the first NCAA champion in program history as he bested Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) in a controversial sudden victory final. Suriano added 23 points to the total of the Scarlet Knights. Two weights later, his teammate Anthony Ashnault became the second NCAA champion in program history. Rutgers finished with 51.5 points, which was good enough for ninth place.
After winning his title, Suriano took a redshirt to prepare for the Olympics. Unfortunately, he was eventually forced out of the Trials due to the Covid protocol. Suriano also sat out the 2021 season. In theory, he has a year remaining, but it is currently unknown if he will return to Rutgers, transfer to yet another school or walk away from college wrestling.
Seth Gross started his career at Iowa before transferring to South Dakota State. While on the squad, he won an NCAA title at 133 pounds in 2018. He finished with 28 points, which was tied for third with fellow champions Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) and Michael Macchiavello (NC State). In the process, Gross became South Dakota State's first Division I NCAA champion and helped the Jackrabbits finish 12th with 42 team points.
After his title, Gross had one more season of eligibility. He returned to South Dakota State but wrestled only one match before sitting out with an injury. Gross then qualified for another season and followed coach Chris Bono to Wisconsin. He went 27-2 during his final year, but never got a shot at a second title after the international pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA tournament.
Gross was also the highest-scoring transfer during his sophomore season. He finished with 19.5 team points after making the finals of the 2017 NCAA tournament. There he faced off against former teammate Cory Clark in a match that was an instant classic. Gross' team point total was bolstered by a technical fall over Joseph Palmer (Oregon State) and a pair of major decisions over Eric Montoya (Nebraska) and Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State).
Nick Gwiazdowski started his career at Binghamton before following coach Pat Popolizio south to North Carolina State. The accolades quickly followed as he won heavyweight NCAA titles as a sophomore and a junior. During his senior season, he was on a collision course with Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder, and the pair ultimately met in the NCAA finals. Eventually, Snyder won the match in sudden victory and denied Gwiazdowski his third NCAA title.
Despite the runner-up finish, Gwiazdowski finished with 19.5 team points for the Wolfpack. His total was tied for 16th with Penn's Casey Kent.
Transfers are more a part of collegiate wrestling than ever before. In some ways, the ability to attract high-quality transfers is nearly as important as signing top high school recruits for college coaches. Transfers were essential to Iowa's title run, and they will need to be again this year.
During this past offseason, the Hawkeyes dipped into the transfer portal again to pick up former Northern Iowa wrestler Drew Bennett as well as Brennan Swafford, who wrestled last year for NAIA Graceland. Rival Penn State added former Cornell finalist Max Dean at 197 pounds, while Michigan added former Princeton All-American Patrick Brucki at the same weight.
It remains to be seen who brings home the 2022 NCAA team title, but it does seem certain that the winning squad will receive significant contributions from a wrestler who previously transferred.