2021-22 DII Top Ten Sneak Peek (7th-10th)

Ashland University All-American Tristen Weirich (Photo courtesy of Ashland University Athletics)

The start of the 2022 NCAA Division II men's wrestling season is just a few short months away, which means it is time to start predicting lineup changes and roster moves. With the changes brought about due to the pandemic, we know that 2022 will be the season of #SuperSeniors (copyright pending). Athletes can hit the "Reset" button now and pretend that 2021 did not happen. You were an All-American as a true freshman? Good for you, now go out and do it again. Sure, you won a national title as a senior, but can you win a national title as a #SuperSenior? Teams that finished in the top ten at the 2021 national tournament may be hard to unseat if they return all of their starters. This is a season where a transfer could be the difference between earning a team trophy and finishing fifth. Can coaches talk athletes who have already been in college for five or six years into returning for one more run? And the thing I am looking forward to, how many athletes stay off the radar until they pop back into the lineup in the second semester, turning my rankings upside down.

Those are all questions for the season and this right now is the off-season. That means it is time to get out there and look at what the top 10 teams could be bringing back. Let's start with the four teams who finished within 23 points of each other, 10th through seventh.

10th Place: Minnesota State University-Mankato

Head Coach: James Makovsky (28th Season)

The Mavs return a lineup that is very well balanced. In fact, I would love to see them at the NWCA Division II National Dual tournament, but I will have to keep waiting for that. Two #SuperSenior All-Americans power this lineup that also returns national finalist Trevor Turiff who is only a junior. Kolbe O'Brien had some big wins his junior run and sophomore stud Cooper Siebrecht both look ready to make the jump to national qualifiers. They will be losing Matt Blome, with his graduation and departure opening a spot at 197-pounds. I can see them moving Darrell Mason (So) into the starting role at 285, which would provide them a stronger anchor to their lineup. The departure of Blome leaves true freshman Josh Piechowski as the only returning 197 on the roster. The two-time Minnesota state placer could find himself as the man if there is no type of weight class shuffle. Keep an eye on Brock Luthens; he wrestled a very good Super Regional tournament and looked to be making strides to end the season. If the Mavs can add another couple of national qualifiers and one more All-American, they can move up the leaderboard. Oh, and you can put an end to any rumors that Ty Eustice is going anywhere, for now. The Iowa Hawkeye All-American has been integral to the development of athletes like Turiff and has had his name linked to many a head coaching position. Look for Brody Nielsen and Dylan Butts to make jumps in their second sophomore seasons, with him helping them again.

125: Trenton McManus (SuperSenior)
133: Brock Luthens (Sophomore)
141: Kolbe O'Brien (Junior)
149: Kyle Rathman (SuperSenior)
157: Cooper Siebrecht (Sophomore)
165: Brody Nielsen (Sophomore)
174: Trevor Turiff (Junior)
184: Dylan Butts (Sophomore)
197: Josh Piechowski (Freshman)
285: Darrell Mason (Sophomore)

9th Place: Gannon University

Head Coach: Don Henry (38th Season)

Fresh off their first Super Regional title in program history, the Gannon Golden Knights entered the NCAA tournament with more pressure than I am certain they were used to. Things may not have gone exactly according to plan, but they did climb up the leaderboard and posted their best national finish since 2010, ninth. They will return a team to St. Louis that is experienced, talented, and led by one of the nation's best coaches. Don Henry was named the 2021 NWCA Division II National Coach of the Year. The Knights sent eight athletes to the national tournament in St. Louis and it is not crazy to think they could duplicate the feat in 2022. Of the eight wrestlers to step on the mat, three of them reached All-American status, including their national finalist Alex Farenchak (165). Jacob Dunlop (133) finished eighth, while Nick Young (157) advanced to the consolation finals and finished fourth. Overall, Gannon sent seven wrestlers into the quarterfinals, which gives all kinds of optimism for an even better 2022 season. The lightweights should return, with Jacob Dunlop and Charlie Lenox holding down the 133 spots. We may not see Dunlop until semester two, but the SuperSenior duo will be a force to be reckoned with, once again. If you are wondering, what about 2023? Well, the Knights signed 2021 NJCCA All-American Aseel Almudhala (125) of Henry Ford College. If Dunlop takes some time off, expect to see him in the lineup quickly. I expect we could see the return of one more SuperSenior to the lineup, Austin Hertel (141). He is a two-time NCAA national qualifier and is part of one of the best opening salvos to any D2 wrestling lineup. 2020 national qualifier Dom Means (149) will be back and with the qualification process returning to a sense of normalcy, I expect him to make a return trip in 2022. All-Americans Nick Young and Alex Farenchak will lock down the middle of the lineup with a return of 2020 national qualifier Luigi Yates (174). The rest of the upperweights will feature 2021 national qualifiers Cam Page (184), Joel Leise (197), and Freddie Nixon (285). This is one of the best lineups out there and they are going to turn heads at the NWCA National Dual Tournament. They are going to need a better quarterfinals round in St Louis in 2022 to move up the team race, though.

125: Jacob Dunlop (SuperSenior)
133: Aseel Almudhala (So)/Charlie Lenox (SuperSenior) second semester
141: Austin Hertel (SuperSenior)
149: Dom Means (Junior)
157: Nick Young (Junior)
165: Alex Farenchak (Sophomore)
174: Luigi Yakes (Sophomore)
184: Cam Page (Junior)
197: Joel Leise (Junior)
285: Freddie Nixon (Junior)

8th Place: Colorado Mesa University

Head Coach: Chuck Pipher (15th Year)

The Colorado Mesa University Mavs held off Gannon to finish eighth by just half a point. In one of the best moments of the entire 2021 national tournament, senior journeyman Fred Green won the 165lb national championship and then left his shoes on the mat. The retirement of a young man whose college career began in 2016 at Boise State University, then led to the University of Virginia, then to Oregon State, culminating in a two-year run at Mesa that saw him build a 23-1 record as a Mav. The two-time All-American leaves a big hole in the middle of the lineup. The Mavs may only return one national qualifier in 2022, two-time qualifier Donald Negus. The SuperSenior finished fifth last year and, by returning, would become the de facto leader. Just two Mavericks were enough to build a top-ten team; what might happen when this lineup really performs up to expectations. There is plenty of experience starting off the Mavs; SuperSenior Cian Apple was an NJCCA national qualifier and a two-year starter for Pipher. Ryan Wheeler (149) had a miserable true freshman season, going just 1-5. But there is reason to hope; he is coming off an All-American finish in Greco at UWW Junior Nationals. Seth Latham (174) needs to return to his 2020 attack style and earn a second nationals trip. The same can be said of Nolan Krone (184); the 2020 qualifier was absolutely robbed of a qualifying spot under the laughable 2021 process. A loss to Kearney All-American Austin Eldredge in Super Regional VI kept him out of the tournament in a gross miscarriage of the wildcard process. This is a lineup with potential, but it is hard to imagine them duplicating their 2021 results without some athletes really stepping up. I can see them sending more athletes to the tournament, but do they have another champion to replicate Green's big points? Chuck Pipher was out on the recruiting trail and he has landed big transfers before; I expect the cupboard is far from bare.

125: Cian Apple (SuperSenior)
133: Colin Metzgar (Junior)
141: Daniel Magana (R-Freshman)
149: Ryan Wheeler (Freshman)
157: Nick Gallegos (Freshman)
165: Dylan Ranieri (Sophomore)
174: Seth Latham (Junior)
184: Nolan Krone (Junior)
197: Donald Negus (SuperSenior)
Hwt: Gabe Carranza (Freshman)

7th Place: Ashland University

Head Coach: Colt Sponseller (2nd Year)

A team that went from hiring a head coach in November to finishing seventh at the NCAA national tournament less than four months later, will return a wrecking crew of a lineup. The Ashland University Eagles hired former Division I All-American Colt Sponseller and then crowned three Super Regional champions and five All-Americans. Imagine what the coaching trio of Sponseller, Ryan Kirst, and Bret Romanzak will get done with nine months of preparation. They may just decide to invade another country and start their own Olympic squad with these troops. Five, five All-Americans out of six qualifiers. They could find their Super Regional looking very different in 2022 with the return of PSAC teams and the rumored relocation of Indianapolis to Super Regional IV. But they will certainly be battling against West Liberty for the Super Regional III crown again. The lineup will be bookended by All-Americans in Christian Wellman (125) and Tristen Weirich (285). And in the middle, they have two more SuperSenior All-Americans that could return in Carson Speelman (149) and Aidan Pasiuk (184). Throw in the talented and very real title threat Dan Beamer at 174, and you have one ridiculous core of athletes to build around. This lineup will be even stronger with the addition of 2021 transfer Drew Weichers (157); he will enter the lineup after limited time as an Eagle last year. He was a national qualifier for Mount Olive in their first season and now he will take over as an immediate All-American threat. Peter Abraham was a 2020 national qualifier, but he never seemed to get on track in 2021 at one of the toughest weight classes in Super Regional III. He has all the talent necessary to make it back to 2021. This is an Eagles team that would have been shut out of the NWCA National Duals tournament, but now they will have their chance to show all of Division II that they are not some one-year wonder. The clock is ticking though, this is a mature team, seasoned veterans, tested warriors blessed with "old man" strength.

125: Christian Wellman (SuperSenior)
133: Cael Woods (Freshman)
141: Luke Wymer (Sophomore)
149: Carson Speelman (SuperSenior)
157: Drew Weichers (Sophomore)
165: Chance Esmont (Junior)
174: Daniel Beemer (Sophomore)
184: Aidan Pasiuk (SuperSenior)
197: Peter Abraham (SuperSenior)
Hwt: Tristen Weirich (SuperSenior)


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