The Pac-12 In the Preseason Rankings

The 2021 Pac-12 Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo;

Preseason in Pac-12 Country

As September draws the summer to a warm conclusion, teams across the Pac-12 begin their preparation for the forthcoming -- and very much welcome -- season of wrestling. We at InterMat published our preseason rankings two days into the month, as many teams began their return to the mat, setting the stage for the months ahead.

Whether the mat time falls under university-sponsored or RTC-sponsored, for our purposes, is irrelevant. The point holds that hammers across the conference are back in the forge, preparing to perform when official, intercollegiate competition begins in November. With the 2021 World Team Trials upon us, many of the college athletes have spent time assisting their respective RTC counterparts "peak" for the (freestyle/Greco) season's make-or-break event. Others are preparing themselves for a run at the Senior World Team. Just weeks after the Olympic Games, the intensity in rooms across Pac-12 country has surely returned to a familiar, albeit confrontational, level.

While the conferences' coaches put their athletes through various preseason litmus tests, we, the fans, will indulge in the national rankings, with a particular focus on Pac-12 teams and athletes.

Nearly half the conference ranked

The Pac-12 enters the 2021-2022 season with twenty-seven (27) wrestlers ranked in the top-33 of their respective weight classes. Five of the six conference teams are represented in the preseason rankings (all but Little Rock), with an average of 4.5 ranked wrestlers per team. Oregon State leads with eight total ranked wrestlers, followed closely by Arizona State (7) and Stanford (6). Cal Poly and CSU Bakersfield combine for the remaining six ranked wrestlers, with four Mustangs and two Roadrunners ranked, respectively.

Preseason Tournament Rankings - Pac-12 Teams

Arizona State #3
Stanford #13
Cal Poly #20

Three teams are present in the tournament-team rankings, with Arizona State, ranked top-3 in the nation, leading the way. Stanford's loyal Cardinal squad, led by NCAA Champion Shane Griffith, enter at 13th in the country. Finally, Cal Poly's rapidly improving Mustangs cap the top-20. On the dual-team side of the rankings, Arizona State's talented lineup and incoming recruiting class enter the year at 8th in the country. Oregon State's NCAA qualifier-heavy roster earns a 24th-ranked distinction.

Preseason Dual Rankings - Pac-12 Teams

Arizona State #8
Oregon State #24

Building Dam All-Americans

Oregon State Head Coach Chris Pendleton enters his second year at the helm with both a staff and team hungry for their first All-American honor(s) -- and they've built up a depth chart to show it. With a conference-leading eight ranked wrestlers, the Beavers have the personnel to reascend to the national prominence and conference distinction they enjoyed in the early- to mid-2010s, earning six conference titles between 2010 and 2016. The Beavers are represented in the preseason national rankings at all but 165lbs and 174lbs, led by two-time, defending Pac-12 Champion and 3x NCAA Qualifier Grant Willits, #10 at 141lbs.

Preseason Ranked Oregon State Beavers (8)

Brandon Kaylor (125) #33
Devan Turner (133) #13
Grant Willits (141) #10
Cory Crooks (149) #25
Hunter Willits (157) #15
Tanner Harvey (184) #16
JJ Dixon (197) #27
Gary Traub (285) #24

With wrestlers ranked in the #10 to #33 range, Pendleton and company will need wrestlers to jump a level, or two, to crack the All-American ceiling. Luckily for the staff, there is no shortage of NCAA tournament experience among their ranks, with all six 2021 NCAA qualifiers returning, in addition to national qualifying transfers in the form of Cory Crooks (149), Tanner Harvey (184), and Gary Traub (285). When we consider Grant Willits, his brother Hunter Willits (3x NCAA Qualifier at 157), and Devan Turner (3x NCAA Qualifier and 2x Pac-12 Champion at 133) each reached the round-of-16 in the recent NCAA tournament, there is plenty of potential for a podium finish or a few from the Beavers.

In consideration of the gaps at 165 and 174, the Beavers have a few options, including a pair of Made-in-California hammers. Matthew Olguin, the 3rd-place finisher at the 2021 Pac-12 Championships, returns at 165 after missing the national tournament behind two All-Americans (Shane Griffith of Stanford, 1st; Anthony Valencia of Arizona State, 8th). At 174, there are indications that Trey Munoz (a Pac-12 finalist and NCAA Qualifier for Arizona State in 2021) is on-campus in Corvallis. Should Munoz compete, he has the potential to inject another top-20 wrestler into the Beavers' lineup.

Although not present in the tournament-team rankings, the Beavers are a strong contender to finish at least in the top-25 when it is all said and done in March. Much of this assertion leans on their top-to-bottom strength, surely the reason Oregon State is featured in the dual-team rankings at #24. If the Beavers can exceed their preseason rankings at NCAAs while securing a few All-American honors, they will have a dam strong score to show for their well-built team.

Cal Poly Studs Horsing History

With four wrestlers ranked, a strong core of performers is expected from Cal Poly and the Mustangs enter the year #20 in the nation. Both 2021 NCAA Qualifiers for the Mustangs, two wrestlers who propelled their program into the top-25, return to the lineup for sixth-year Head Coach Jon Sioredas. Legend Lamer (149), who reached the national round-of-16 a year ago, and Bernie Truax (184), who stormed to the semifinals at 174lbs, will take the mat alongside Lawrence Saenz (141) and Evan Wick (165). At present, Truax is the highest-ranked Pac-12 wrestler at 184lbs. Saenz, an NCAA Qualifier for Fresno State a couple of seasons ago, will aim to regain his previous form and earn himself a second trip to the national tournament in his second year with the Mustangs. Evan Wick returns to his home state with a reputation preceding him. After three memorable seasons in the B1G at Wisconsin, with three All-American honors to show for it, Wick immediately provides Cal Poly with their most prominent national-title contender in nearly a decade.

Preseason Ranked Cal Poly Mustangs (4)

Lawrence Saenz (141) #32
Legend Lamer (149) #13
Evan Wick (165) #3
Bernie Truax (184) #6

In the wake of Cal Poly's best NCAA tournament in recent memory, Coach Sioredas is surely eager to eclipse their latest performance with his ever-improving roster. Sioredas's stable includes his first Mustang NCAA placewinner, in Bernie Truax, and a serious national title contender, in Evan Wick -- two strong horses to spearhead the Mustang effort in exceeding their 2021 tournament. When we consider that Legend Lamer suffered losses to two All-Americans during his national tournament (Yahya Thomas of Northwestern, 3rd; Kyle Parco of Fresno State [since transferred to Arizona State], 6th), the Mustangs may reasonably expect three All-Americans in 2022. The upper limit for the Mustangs this year provides the opportunity to reinvigorate the program to performances unseen since the 2008 to 2012 era, a span that saw Cal Poly earn seven All-American honors, including four top-3 All-American finishes. For Coach Sioredas, the efforts of rebuilding a program for half a decade are beginning to pay dividends. One might get the feeling that this is just the beginning of this chapter of Cal Poly wrestling.

Roadrunners Strike Lightning

The homegrown, California-laden Roadrunners crack the national rankings with two wrestlers, namely returning NCAA Qualifiers Chance Rich (133) and Angelo Martinoni (141). After shedding his interim tag at the conclusion of the 2021 season, CSU Bakersfield Head Coach Luke Smith and company are aiming to earn the program's first All-American honors since 2014. With Rich and Martinoni, they have two solid 'Runners on the course. Rich made the national round-of-12 in 2021, taking losses to fellow round-of-12 finisher Zach Price of South Dakota State and 8th-place All-American Louie Hayes of Virginia. To his credit, Martinoni took losses to the tournament's 5th and 6th seeded wrestlers, who both coincidentally finished in the round-of-12 (Dom Demas of Oklahoma and Allan Hart of Missouri, respectively).

Preseason Ranked CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners (2)

Chance Rich (133) #14
Angelo Martinoni (141) #24

CSU Bakersfield would be wise to use their one-two punch at 133 and 141 to catalyze the development of a strong core in their lineup. With a host of CA Community College State Placewinners, an NJCAA All-American (Jayden Smith, 184/197), and a B1G transfer (Tyler Dean, 149) joining the program, Coach Smith has recruited a talented group of athletes -- as well as coaches -- to his flock in Bakersfield to elevate the level of the program to that of the recent past, when the Roadrunners were qualifying half their lineup to nationals.

Youthful Trojans To Earn Distinction In Battle

Little Rock enters year three with a young team composed of zero seniors and one junior, according to WrestleStat, having lost a handful of seniors to graduation. As with most everything attained so far in their young history, the Trojans will be challenged to earn their rankings on the mat when the season rolls around, as they are not yet represented in the InterMat national rankings. Expected to return is Triston Wills (174), a 3rd-place finisher at the Pac-12 tournament -- the second-highest individual performance so far in the program's young history.

Loyalists Compose Stanford Squad

For first-year Cardinal Head Coach Rob Koll, there's a lot to look forward to with his new team. The Cardinal return a strong core, with five of their seven 2021 national qualifiers back on the Farm -- a National Champion and fellow All-American among them. Not to be overlooked is Tyler Eischens (174), a past Junior Greco World Team member and 2020 national qualifier at 157lbs, who returns to the lineup. Altogether, Stanford is represented in the national rankings by six national qualifiers, with Stanford wrestlers leading the Pac-12 at three weight classes (Real Woods, 141; Shane Griffith, 165; and Tyler Eischens). #7 Jaden Abas, defending Pac-12 Champion, enters the preseason a step behind Arizona State's #6 Kyle Parco at 149lbs. Woods, a 2020 conference champion who missed the podium in 2021 after advancing to the national quarter-finals, is poised to earn his first All-American placewinning honor. There remain a few questions in the Stanford lineup outside of the six ranked wrestlers. A possibility for Stanford at 184lbs is Judah Duhm, a Pac-12 Runner-up in 2019.

Preseason Ranked Stanford Cardinal (6)

Jackson DiSario (125) #30
Real Woods (141) #7
Jaden Abas (149) #7
Shane Griffith (165) #1
Tyler Eischens (174) #31
Nick Stemmet (197) #28

At the 2021 NCAA tournament, not only did Griffith, Abas, et al. put their entire program on their backs -- in an overwhelming show of unity and loyalty to each other and the staff under then-head coach Jason Borrelli -- they also ended a three-year drought of All-American placewinners for the Cardinal, after having four wrestlers fall in NCAA round-of-12 over the course of the 2018 and 2019 seasons. (In 2020, Woods, Griffith, and since-graduated Nathan Traxler were named to All-American teams.) With the bulk of their darling team on the mat for another season, it seems inevitable that Coach Koll will earn his first All-Americans at Stanford in his first year.

Sun Devils Set Standard

The leaders for the conference in the rankings are, of course, the defending conference champion Arizona State. With all five of their conference champions returning, the Sun Devils will be a tough act to follow in-conference as they enter the year the #3 tournament-team and #8 dual-team in the country. As it stands, Sun Devils are the highest-ranked Pac-12 wrestlers at six(!) weight classes in the national rankings, with seven top-9 ranked wrestlers overall.

A returning trophy-team (4th) from last season, expectations are unquestionably high for Arizona State as they field six 2021 All-Americans (five from last year's squad with the addition of Fresno State transfer Kyle Parco) alongside Kordell Norfleet (197), who fell in the round-of-12 after advancing to the NCAA quarters. With All-Americans composing the majority of the Sun Devil lineup, Head Coach Zeke Jones and staff are poised to follow up their best overall postseason performance to date in 2022. Their five individual conference titles in 2021 are tied for second-most during Jones's tenure, with eight NCAA qualifications tying Jones's best year (in 2018, the Sun Devils earned six conference titles and also qualified eight to NCAAs). Five All-American placewinners was also a tenure-high for Jones, after six wrestlers were named to All-American teams in 2020. After checking the team-trophy box on his list, Jones and company are undoubtedly setting their sights on a top-3 team-trophy at the end of the year. With national title contenders in NCAA finalist Brandon Courtney (125), NCAA 4th-place All-Americans Jacori Teemer (157) and Cohlton Schultz (285), as well as All-American Anthony Valencia (who entered the 165lbs bracket last year with an unblemished record and a victory over eventual NCAA Champion Shane Griffith), a team-trophy is well within bounds for Arizona State. Repeat All-American performances from Michael McGee (133) and Kyle Parco (149) will be instrumental in any team-trophy effort.

Preseason Ranked Arizona State Sun Devils (7)

Brandon Courtney (125) #4
Michael McGee (133) #9
Kyle Parco (149) #6
Jacori Teemer (157) #4
Anthony Valencia (165) #7
Kordell Norfleet (197) #8
Cohlton Schultz (285) #4


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ban basketball (1) about 3 months ago
Great written article. Just like reporters/journalists are supposed to do.

Go Cardinal...
Earl (1) about 3 months ago
Thanks....Darius is extremely talented.
ban basketball (1) about 3 months ago
BIG OOPS that I forgot to post the warning with the original post. Here goes, folks. I hope that I've done no damage.

*WARNING: Dangerous words about to ensue. Protect the kids from this danger NOW!*