Richie Figueroa (left) and Brandon Courtney (photos courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Before any wrestlers make an impact in the postseason they have to earn a starting role on their own team. In some instances that may be more difficult than it sounds. We've found 11 scenarios around the country that have at least two high-profile wrestlers who are battling for a spot in their respective starting lineups.
Iowa - 133 lbs (Cullan Schriever vs. Brody Teske)
One of the most high-profile weight class battles takes place in Iowa as Cullan Schriever and Brody Teske see who will replace three-time NCAA All-American Austin DeSanto. Schriever saw action in two duals last year and hung tough with AA's Lucas Byrd (Illinois) and Chris Cannon (Northwestern). Teske transferred in from Northern Iowa, where he made two Big 12 finals and was a match away from All-American status at 125 lbs in 2021.
Arizona State - 125 lbs (Brandon Courtney vs. Richie Figueroa)
Normally, a two-time NCAA placer and national runner-up would be a lock to start at any school. Arizona State has talent at 125 lbs where there's at least some question whether or not Brandon Courtney will continue to be the guy for the Sun Devils. That's because ASU has redshirt freshman Richie Figueroa, a 2018 World silver medalist in the mix. Figueroa was one of the top recruits in the Class of 2021, but only saw action in two matches last year. This spring he was third at the U20 World Team Trials.
Nebraska - 165 lbs (Bubba Wilson vs. Jagger Condomitti)
With Peyton Robb moving down from 165 to 157 last season, it was redshirt freshman Bubba Wilson that emerged as the Huskers starter at 165. Wilson had a big regular season win over Michigan All-American Cam Amine, then finished sixth in the Big Ten and won a match at nationals. Jagger Condomitti was 8-2 last season competing unattached; however, he lost two of three matches against DI competition.
Virginia Tech - 125 lbs (Eddie Ventresca vs. Cooper Flynn)
This one is unique as most of the battles on this list take place between a younger and older teammate. Both Eddie Ventresca and Cooper Flynn are redshirt freshmen for the Hokies, ready to step in for All-American Sam Latona, who has since moved up to 133. These two met twice last year in open competition and Ventresca swept the series. Flynn, however, had a better record against outside competitors. Ventresca has a spot in the preseason rankings, based on his wins over Flynn, but all signs out of Blacksburg indicate this one is really close.
Missouri - 184 lbs (Sean Harman vs. Colton Hawks)
Last year's returning national qualifier, Jeremiah Kent, will not be back in 2022-23, so Sean Harman has moved up from 174 and will challenge Colton Hawks for the spot. Harman has filled in admirably at 174 lbs with wins over #4 Dustin Plott (Oklahoma State) and #14 Hayden Hastings (Wyoming). During his two years of attached competition, Harmon has gone 28-10 for the Tigers. Hawks saw action in three duals during the 2021 season and has generally wrestled tough competition to tight matches. He fell 3-1 to Cornell All-American Jonathan Loew at the Southern Scuffle last season and 5-4 to Northern Illinois AA Brit Wilson the previous year. He'll need to turn close losses into wins to permanently stay in Missouri's loaded lineup.
Minnesota - 133 lbs (Aaron Nagao vs. Jake Gliva vs. Vance Vombaur)
Oh, the Gophers have options at 133 lbs! The incumbent is Jake Gliva who qualified for NCAA's in 2022, but finished with a 13-15 overall record. One of those losses came to true freshman Vance Vombaur who redshirted and put together a 13-3 record with wins over Northern Iowa's national qualifiers Kyle Biscoglia and Jack Skudlarczyk. Also redshirting for Minnesota was Aaron Nagao. Last week, Nagao represented the United States at the U23 World Championships in freestyle and finished fifth in the world. Nagao was a Southern Scuffle runner-up last year and downed SoCon champion Codi Russell (Appalachian State) along the way. I'd imagine these three meet each other in some form or fashion in early-season open tournaments.
Oklahoma State - 149 lbs (Kaden Gfeller vs. Victor Voinovich)
This one wasn't expected to happen as it appeared that Kaden Gfeller was set to move on without using his last year of NCAA eligibility following his 2022 bloodround showing. Now, it appears as if Gfeller will return to Oklahoma State. It looks like the plans are that stud redshirt freshman, Victor Voinovich, will start initially while Gfeller gets back down to weight. Voinovich went 16-1 last year with his only loss coming at the Southern Scuffle, where he went on to finish third. Gfeller is still looking to AA for the first time after winning a pair of Big 12 titles and receiving the seventh and ninth seeds at NCAA's.
North Carolina - 133 lbs (Jaime Hernandez vs. Joey Melendez)
Initially, this wasn't on my rough draft of situations to monitor, but after the UNC wrestle-offs, you have to pay attention. #11 Jaime Hernandez was pinned by teammate Joey Melendez in the first period of a 0-0 match. What can we make of it? Not sure, yet. Hernandez was an ACC runner-up in 2020, but had his next two seasons derailed by injuries. Melendez was UNC's starter in 2019-20 and amassed a 16-9 record, though he didn't make the national tournament. Since that point, Melendez has yet to wrestle another match for the Tar Heels.
Illinois - 125 lbs (Justin Cardani vs. Maximo Renteria)
Over the past couple of decades, Illinois has had plenty of success with wrestlers from California. Could Maximo Renteria be next in line of a state that's produced Isaiah Martinez, Jesse Delgado, and the Tirapelle brothers? Renteria put together a rather pedestrian 5-6 record while redshirting in 2022-22; however, reports out of Champaign are that he will push returning starter Justin Cardani for the slot. Cardani made the NCAA Tournament for a second time after finishing ninth in the Big Ten, but did not win a match in Detroit. Whoever emerges as the starter will be thrown into a deep B1G weight class that features ranked wrestlers from 11 other conference schools.
Lehigh - 133 lbs (Connor McGonagle vs. Carter Bailey vs. Ryan Crookham)
Another school with multiple good options at one weight is Lehigh at 133 lbs. Connor McGonagle is a two-time national qualifier who has dropped down from 141. He's qualified twice despite not producing a winning record in either season. A move down could give him more consistency going forward. The Mountain Hawks also have Carter Bailey coming off a redshirt. Bailey started the year at 125, but moved up to 133. Altogether, Bailey picked up four wins over past/future national qualifiers during his 16-9 record. With a full offseason to prepare for the weight, Bailey should be even better. Finally, Lehigh has local product, Ryan Crookham, one of the highest-ranked wrestlers in a decade to sign with the school. Crookham is a true freshman, so it's not a necessity to start him right away, especially considering the quality of wrestlers in this weight class. However, if Crookham could make it interesting.
Oklahoma - 133 lbs (Tony Madrigal vs. Wyatt Henson)
In late April, Wyatt Henson announced that he was transferring from Iowa to Oklahoma. The blue-chipper from the Class of 2021 had just concluded a redshirt season that saw him go 18-2 competing unattached. The two losses came at the Southern Scuffle where he took fifth place. Along the way, Henson defeated a pair of NCAA qualifiers. Potentially blocking Henson from a starting role is veteran Tony Madrigal. Madrigal has been inconsistent throughout his career but has had some big moments. Last year, he started the season with six straight wins, including a Michigan State Open title that saw him defeat the likes of All-Americans Rayvon Foley (Michigan State), Lucas Byrd (Illinois), along with Dylan Ragusin (Michigan).