Keegan O'Toole (left) and Shane Griffith in the 2022 NCAA finals (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
The college wrestling schedule has finally reverted back to some semblance of normal following the changes forced by the pandemic over the last two seasons. The normal mid-season tournaments, the Midlands and Southern Scuffle, will take place. There will also be a new tournament dubbed the Soldier Salute that is effectively a home event for the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes. The following are some of the top men's matches fans might be lucky enough to see this week across the three tournaments.
125: No. 2 Patrick Glory (Princeton) vs. No. 3 Michael DeAugustino (Northwestern)
Glory wrestled in the Princeton Open to start the season and did not return to action until the Tigers' last dual in mid-December. In his first dual meet action of the season, Glory scored a 4-1 decision over No. 18 Dean Peterson (Rutgers) to improve his season record to 6-0. Last season, the Princeton wrestler made the NCAA finals and finished with a 20-2 record. He is expected to contend for a title once again this year.
DeAugustino finished fourth at the last NCAA tournament and entered this season high in the rankings. However, so far, he has only completed one match. He began his season with a 15-3 major decision victory over Patrick McCormick (Virginia) in November. DeAugustino then returned at the Cliff Keen Invitational. However, he bowed out of his first match in the second period after suffering a lower-body injury. This would be a showdown between two of the top wrestlers at 125 pounds, but it might not happen due to injury.
141: No. 3 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado) vs. No. 4 Allan Hart (Missouri)
Alirez knocked off No. 1 Cole Matthews (Pittsburgh) in the All-Star Classic, but since the bout was an exhibition he still sits at third in the rankings. However, Alirez has shown that the result was in no way a fluke. He has won all six of his matches on the year with bonus points. The former top recruit looks healthy and determined to storm the podium this year after falling in the round of 12 last season.
A bout against Hart will be a strong test for the Northern Colorado wrestler. The two wrestled twice last year and each match was close. Alirez scored a 3-1 sudden-victory decision in a dual, and then edged Hart 6-4 at the Big 12 tournament. The Missouri wrestler is a three-time national qualifier who has started his senior season with a 4-1 record. His lone defeat came against No. 19 Jesse Vasquez (Arizona State). However, following the defeat, Hart got back on track with wins over No. 15 Tom Crook (Virginia Tech) and No. 11 Dylan Droegemueller (North Dakota State).
149: No. 2 Austin Gomez (Wisconsin) vs. No. 5 Kyle Parco (Arizona State)
Gomez is a major contributor to the rankings confusion at the top of the 149-pound division. In the first three weeks of the season, he suffered an upset against No. 3 Paniro Johnson (Iowa State) and then turned around and upset multiple-time champion No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell). After finishing fourth last year at this weight, he holds a 6-1 record and is poised to make a run at the top of the podium.
At the Midlands tournament, Gomez will get a chance to cement his seed against another top-ranked 149 pounder. Parco was a surprise All-American for Fresno State at the 2021 NCAA tournament and then transferred to Arizona State. Last year, he was a regular in the top ten of the rankings and finished eighth to become an All-American again. So far this season, Parco has built an 8-2 record that includes victories over No. 9 Brock Mauller (Missouri) and No. 8 John Millner (Appalachian State).
157: No. 3 Kendall Coleman (Purdue) vs. No. 4 Jared Franek (North Dakota State)
Coleman is a three-time NCAA qualifier who appears to be rounding into form this season. He has started the year with a 16-1 record with his only defeat coming against No. 2 Peyton Robb (Nebraska) at the Cliff Keen Invitational. Other than that one match, the Purdue wrestler has gone undefeated. While he did suffer a loss at the Cliff Keen tournament, he also scored a very impressive victory over Big Ten rival No. 10 Will Lewan (Michigan).
Franek is coming off back-to-back seasons that ended in the round of 12, and he is also hoping to make a charge at the podium this season. Like Coleman, his only loss of the year came against Robb. Franek has also picked up some very tight victories over ranked wrestlers. Early in December, he scored a tiebreaker victory over No. 11 Brayton Lee (Minnesota). Then less than 10 days ago, he edged No. 13 Jarrett Jacques (Missouri) in sudden victory.
165: No. 1 Keegan O'Toole (Missouri) vs. No. 2 Shane Griffith (Stanford)
Last season Griffith entered the NCAA tournament as the fifth seed, and it looked like he was going to go on another Cinderella run through the bracket. However, that momentum came to a halt in the finals against O'Toole. The Missouri wrestler edged out the 6-5 victory for his first NCAA title. Outside of the finals match, O'Toole allowed zero points in the tournament. He has gone undefeated to start his third year in the lineup and has already bested No. 5 Peyton Hall (West Virginia), Danny Braunagel (Illinois) and Evan Barczak (Drexel).
After back-to-back finals appearances, Griffith has gotten off to an unexpectedly hot start to the season. He has won all 10 of his matches and picked up victories over No. 8 Justin McCoy (Virginia), No. 22 Connor Brady (Virginia Tech) and No. 29 Rodrick Mosley (Gardner-Webb).
174: No. 4 Dustin Plott (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 11 Peyton Mocco (Missouri)
Plott qualified for the NCAA tournament last year by winning the Big 12 tournament. He went on to finish sixth and became an All-American. His opponent in that conference tournament final was Mocco who would go on to end his season in the round of 12. Mocco was close to finishing on the All-American podium and only one point away from a Big 12 title.
The Oklahoma State wrestler has won all five of his matches so far this season and picked up a 10-5 decision over No. 15 Bailee O'Reilly (Minnesota). Mocco has managed to notch seven victories, but he also dropped bouts against No. 10 Edmund Ruth (Illinois) and No. 3 Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech).
197: No. 1 Rocky Elam (Missouri) vs. No. 6 Yonger Bastida (Iowa State)
These two had quite the three-match series last season. Their first meeting of the year came in February as part of a dual. Elam held a 4-0 lead going into the third period. However, Bastida stormed back against the exhausted Elam to secure an 8-6 win in sudden victory. The rematch came at the Big 12 tournament where Bastida picked up another victory by a 4-3 score. Elam eventually got the last laugh, for that season at least, as he bested Bastida 1-0 at the NCAA tournament.
Elam would go on to finish fourth at the NCAA tournament to become a two-time All-American. He has wrestled only three matches so far this season, but that includes wins over No. 19 Kordell Norfleet (Arizona State) and No. 28 Owen Pentz (North Dakota State).
Bastida made the conversion from freestyle and folkstyle extremely quickly as the Cuban-born wrestler became an All-American in only his second competitive season of the American style. This year, it appears as if he has made another step forward. He has gone 8-1 to start the year with wins over No. 12 Braxton Amos (Wisconsin) and No. 7 Jacob Warner (Iowa). Bastida's only defeat came against returning champion Max Dean (Penn State).
285: No. 4 Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State) vs. No. 5 Lucas Davison (Northwestern)
Schultz finished second at the last NCAA tournament after falling in the finals against Gable Steveson. With Steveson joining the professional wrestling ranks, Schultz assumed the number-one spot to start this season. However, he fell down the rankings after being upset by No. 15 AJ Nevills (South Dakota State) at the Cliff Keen Invitational. Outside of the NCAA final against Steveson, this was Schultz's first folkstyle loss since the 2021 NCAA tournament.
Davison finished sixth at the last NCAA tournament to become an All-American. He faced off against Steveson in the quarterfinals. He lost the match by a 10-5 score, but Davison became the first person with a two-point score against Steveson that entire season. The Northwestern wrestler is 5-1 this year with his only defeat coming against No. 2 Mason Parris (Michigan). This should be a nice test to see if Schultz can get back on track.