Chance Lamer at the Michigan State Open (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
With our eyes starting to look down the road to the 2022-23 collegiate season, it's almost time to put some new faces in the rankings and probable lineups. Before doing so, we first must look back at how some of the elite recruits from the Class of 2021 performed while competing unattached. These top recruits will be asked to fill in for their respective teams, many of which are seeking NCAA team trophies in the 2022-23 season. Based on the early returns, will these young stars be able to make a seamless transition to the everyday grind of starting on a prominent DI team? Below is the evidence we have learned thus far.
Remember, #4 Drake Ayala (Iowa), #6 Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin), and #11 Carter Young (Oklahoma State) are not included in this exercise because they either started all year for their respective schools or were pulled from redshirt.
#1 Paddy Gallagher (Ohio State)
The Ohio State staff resisted the urge to pull Paddy Gallagher's redshirt even though they did not have a national qualifier at 157 lbs. Gallagher got his lone tournament win of the year when he got the title at the Ohio Intercollegiate, which was the first he entered. Gallagher's first loss came to Buffalo's national qualifier, Michael Petite, in sudden victory at the Cleveland State Open. While certainly not a terrible loss, it may have been a sign that Gallagher could've taken some lumps in the Big Ten. His second defeat (may not even count as official, but it's a redshirt season) came against Penn State prospect Levi Haines, who was a top recruit from the Class of 2022. Gallagher was generally dominant against the majority of his competition; however, he did not register any wins over past or future national qualifiers.
#2 Alex Facundo (Penn State)
With some uncertainty surrounding the 165 lb weight class in the preseason, there was some thought that Alex Facundo may get the nod in year one. Those dissipated a bit after a loss in week one to John Martin Best (Maryland) at the Clarion Open. In his next outing, at the Southern Scuffle, Facundo went 2-2. His two setbacks came against eventual national qualifiers Thomas Bullard (NC State) and Caleb Fish (Michigan State). He did post a victory over Evan Barczak (Drexel), who has qualified for nationals twice. Facundo finished the year with four bonus-point wins to take the Mat-Town Open.
#3 Richie Figueroa (Arizona State)
Former Cadet World medalist Richie Figueroa was only in action in one event for Arizona State during his redshirt season. On the last weekend of the regular season, Figueroa traveled to enter Iowa State's fabled Last Chance Open. There he pinned two opponents Caleb Fuessley (Iowa State) and Davian Guanajuato (SIU Edwardsville), both in the first period. The limited sample size doesn't indicate exactly how "college-ready" Figueroa is, but the Sun Devils could have a good problem on their hands as two-time NCAA All-American Brandon Courtney is expected to return at 125.
#5 Shayne Van Ness (Penn State)
We didn't learn much about Shayne Van Ness after his redshirt season. He entered the season-opening Clarion Open and bonuses a pair of opponents before medically forfeiting out of the tournament. It would be his only tournament of the year. Based on Penn State's track record with elite recruits, you'd expect Van Ness to be ready to roll in 2022-23, but there is no hard evidence from his initial year in State College.
#7 Lenny Pinto (Nebraska)
Lenny Pinto redshirted but did not compete for the Huskers last season.
#8 Chance Lamer (Michigan)
One of the more active wrestlers on this list was Michigan's Chance Lamer, who won 17 of his 19 contests battling unattached. During his first weekend of competition, Lamer was awarded two medical forfeiting, but also picked up a solid 10-4 win over veteran Lawrence Saenz (Cal Poly). That came at 141 lbs, but the next time we saw Lamer he was at 149 lbs for the Cleveland State Open. Although he suffered a loss to Corbyn Munson (Central Michigan), Lamer pinned NCAA qualifiers Graham Rooks (Indiana) and John Arceri (Buffalo), along with splitting matches with MAC Runner-up Marcus Robinson (Cleveland State). Lamer went undefeated down the stretch, winning the Purple Raider Open and the Edinboro Open, though he didn't face any notable names at either. Even so, Lamer got bonus points in seven of those ten bouts.
#9 Alejandro Herrera-Rondon (Oklahoma)
Alejandro Herrera-Rondon is an interesting prospect. He is one of the best from the top position of anyone from the Class of 2021 and showed early on in his redshirt campaign. Herrera-Rondon outscored his competition 20-1 to take home a title at 157 lbs in the Freshman/Sophomore division at the Michigan State Open. In his other events, Herrera-Rondon saw largely non-DI competition, which he generally blew past. His two losses came to teammate Jared Hill and Oklahoma State's Luke Mechler, to the tune of 6-1. With longtime stalwart Justin Thomas moving on, either Hill or Herrera-Rondon will be the heir apparent at 157 lbs.
#10 Dean Peterson (Rutgers)
In-state product Dean Peterson only saw action in one tournament during the 2021-22 season for Rutgers. At the Mat-Town Open, Peterson downed Lukas Richie (Penn) 8-3 and edged former blue-chip recruit Julian Chlebove (Arizona State) in sudden victory. Peterson's lone setback came against Bucknell's Dylan Chappell to the tune of 4-0. Though Chappell did not start for the Bison, he did rack up an impressive 24-8 record competing unattached. Peterson competed at 133 at the Mat Town; however, he could be in the mix to start at 125 lbs next season.
#12 Joel Vandevere (Northwestern)
Joel Vandevere redshirted but did not compete for the Wildcats last season.
#13 Cael Valencia (Arizona State)
The two-time NCAA trophy-winning Sun Devils of Arizona State had some difficulty with the 174 lb weight class this year. There was some thought that Cael Valencia may have been pulled from redshirt, especially after some promising early returns. Valencia was victorious at the first two tournaments he entered, the Mountaineer Invitational and the Cowboy Open. At the Cowboy Open, Valencia upset four-time national qualifier, Hayden Hastings (Wyoming), who ended the year in the NCAA Round of 12. Hastings got revenge a few weeks later with a pin at the Reno Tournament of Champions, one of two losses by fall for Valencia at the event. He finished the year at the Last Chance Open and went 0-2 against a pair of quality non-starters from Iowa State and Minnesota. The restraint from the ASU staff, keeping Valencia in redshirt, proved to be a sound decision for 2021-22. With more time in the room and experience under his belt, Cael should be a big factor for Arizona State next year and in the future.
#14 Alek Martin (South Dakota State)
There was no shortage of mat time in year one for Alek Martin at South Dakota State. In his first appearance for the Jackrabbits, Martin went 2-2 with losses to a pair of Minnesota wrestlers, Drew Roberts and Sebas Swiggum. One of the positive notes for Martin's season was that at the end of the year, in early February, Martin reversed the result against Swiggum with an 8-0 major decision. That type of result proves that Martin was trending in the correct direction, despite taking a few lumps along the way. Martin's best win came at SDSU's Daktronics Open, when he took down returning national qualifier Tristan Lara (Northern Iowa) in sudden victory.
#15 Victor Voinovich (Oklahoma State)
Victor Voinovich started his redshirt season by winning his first 14 matches. The bulk of those wins came against non-DI competition in regional open tournaments. Even so, Voinovich did see some top DII competitors and was forced to win some tight matches. Voinovich's most notable performance was taking third place at the Southern Scuffle. He advanced to the semifinals after a 5-3 win over past NCAA Round of 12 finisher Zach Price (South Dakota State). In the semis, Voinovich was blanked by Josh Finesilver (Duke) for the only blemish on his ledger. Along the way, Voinovich also logged a victory over Chris Sandoval (Northern Colorado), another former national qualifier. Voinovich should fill in fine for Kaden Gfeller next year at 149 lbs.
#16 Wyatt Henson (Iowa)
We broke down Wyatt Henson's redshirt season when discussing his transfer to Oklahoma.
#17 Jagger Condomitti (Nebraska)
Early in the year, Jagger Condomitti saw action at the Grand View Open at 165 lbs. There he faced a cavalcade of 165's for Iowa State. Condomitti downed Logan Schumacher, but fell to Grant Stotts and Isaac Judge. Later in the year, Condomitti dropped to 157 and ran the table at the Hastings Open, with two falls, a tech, and an 8-2 decision. With national qualifiers (and 3 All-Americans) returning from 149-174, the Nebraska lineup may be tough to crack in 2022-23.
#18 Caden McCrary (North Carolina)
In each of the first two weeks of the regular season, Caden McCrary saw action unattached for UNC. McCrary opened the year by winning five of six bouts at the Southeast Open, losing only to fellow redshirting freshman Kyren Butler (Virginia). A week later, McCrary suffered a pair of losses to Zach Harrington (Newberry) and teammate Wil Guida. The Guida loss came in tiebreakers and would prove to be a thorn in the side for McCrary, who lost to him again, in February, at the Newberry Open. The second Guida loss was also in extra time. With NCAA runner-up Kizhan Clarke out of the equation, Guida, McCrary, and Lachlan McNeil will all fight for the starting role at 141 lbs in 2022-23.
#19 Tate Picklo (Oklahoma)
As the record may indicate, there isn't much to learn from Tate Picklo's redshirt season. He entered the Rocky Mountain Open in mid-February and posted a 21-9 major decision over Mahonri Rushton (Utah Valley), before medically forfeiting out.
#20 Cooper Flynn (Virginia Tech)
It was an all-around solid redshirt season for Cooper Flynn, who had teammate, Eddie Ventresca, responsible for two of his three losses on the year. Flynn's other defeat was from Tristan Daugherty (Buffalo), who looked like a possible national qualifier, at times, for the Bulls. Flynn logged wins over three-time NCAA qualifier Korbin Meink (Campbell) and North Carolina's starter, Spencer Moore, at the Wolfpack Open. Though he didn't place at the Scuffle, Flynn did defeat fellow redshirting freshman, Braxton Brown (Maryland), who had an impressive year of his own. Flynn finished the season with a title at the F&M Open, highlighted by a win over past national qualifier Jacob Allen (Navy).