Michigan State 157 lber Chase Saldate (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Another weekend of Big Ten wrestling has once again resulted in much more than "5 things" for us to talk about. Here's a roundup of what stood out to us, as well as the debut of our BIG Awards. Scroll to the bottom to see who our picks were this week for BIGgest upset, win and move of the week!
Wolverines and Spartans clash! And also Gophers and Badgers.
Both Michigan and Michigan State competed this weekend. In fact, they wrestled each other, and then against two other strong B1G teams as well. Let's start with Friday night though, in what was an awesome dual between two in-state rivals. Friday night in Jenison Field House looks like it was a blast! It was completely packed from the windows to the wall. Atmospheres like that make for intense and awesome competition, and that's what we got from both crews. Jack Medley started things off with a nice win over Tristan Lujan. Lujan has looked great for most of this year, and had only one loss heading into the dual against Mastrogiovanni of Oklahoma State. Medley has been battling for the starting spot for most of this season with McHenry, but it's possible that's been decided at this point. More on that in a minute.
I interviewed Rayvon Foley last year shortly after he beat Dylan Ragusin in Ann Arbor. For those who don't know, Rayvon is from Ann Arbor, and the theme of that conversation was around how he had pride going into Cliff Keen Arena and winning that dual. Well, he had another chance to establish his territory against the always-tough Ragusin, and did just that. He came back after giving up some initial points, and finished strong to get the Spartans on the board with a major decision, 12-4. Don't worry, this won't be a match-by-match recap, but those first two meant something.
Most notably, Chase Saldate (who you might remember from our B1G breakout candidates article) beat Will Lewan in overtime. There was some action early in the match, but both of these guys are stingy wrestlers on their feet, and exceptionally talented defensive wrestlers. Saldate was able to capitalize when it mattered most and get the crowd really fired up. That was a nice win for Saldate to get momentum going. Again, more on him in a minute. In the end, Michigan wins 7/10 matches, but it was a closer dual than that, with some controversial calls at both 165 and 197 that could have impacted those results. In the end, the Wolverines took 7/10 weights and left East Lansing with the 25-10 win.
Sunday, we had Michigan host 17th-ranked Wisconsin in Cliff Keen Arena. Back to Jack Energizer Medley, who went right on out there and beat Eric Barnett, who was ranked 5th at the time and only had one loss all season. Probably more important than the one loss, is the several impressive and dominant wins on the year. I wrote about Barnett last week about how he is someone I need to pay more attention to, and I still feel that way, but for Medley, a win over a two-time All-American is a nice thing to have on your resume when you're competing for the starting spot. This win must have energized the Wolverines, because they let the good times roll from there, getting a major decision at 133, and a solid win for Cole Mattin over Zargo at 141.
Austin Gomez is appointment viewing. He didn't disappoint, starting big within the first 30 seconds of the match. He looked really good against Chance Lamer for the first 5 minutes. He still gets the win, but for Michigan, it was nice seeing a young guy in the lineup like Chance keep competing against studs like Dom Demas and Austin Gomez two weeks in a row, and not be intimidated. Now we get to the marquee matchup… Cam Amine against Dean Hamiti. I believe Cam might be the strongest man alive because the two takedowns that he got were from positions that shouldn't work there. At least they never have for me. Maybe that's a personal problem.
Either way, the first takedown was off of Hamiti working a two-on-one, then Cam stepped across and swept the leg with his own as he drove into a knee pick of sorts. The core strength, balance, and balls it takes to hit a move like that, not to mention against a guy like Hamiti, is a special thing. The second takedown looked to be a hard whizzer off of Hamiti's shot. I know there was some scrambling from Hamiti, or a roll that didn't work, but I saw that as a reaction to the whizzer. You don't often see Hamiti's offense slowed down like that, but we did in this match, and I get the impression it was what it must feel like to tie up with Cam.
In the end, the Wolverines took 8 of the 10 weight classes. Braxton Amos looked as physically imposing as you'd expect at 197, and got the win over Yatooma. Mason Parris rode out Trent Hilger in the second, but not in the easy-to-ride someone way. He did it in the "good luck getting out of here, because I will ride you for as long as it takes" way. It was an impressive win over a two-time All-American in Hilger.
Wisconsin wrestles next against Purdue Friday at 8pm EST on BTN+ and the Wolverines travel to State College to take on Penn State this Friday at 7pm EST on Big Ten Network.
Gophers bounce back over Spartans
Back to the Spartans, on Sunday they traveled to Minneapolis to take on the Golden Gophers. Minnesota coming off of the heels of a loss to Nebraska from Friday night, so they were ready to get back in the win column, and that they did. Aaron Nagao got a nice win over Rayvon Foley, winning most of the scramble positions and ultimately taking the decision. Tristan Lujan finished out a tough weekend with a loss to Patrick McKee, who had lost Friday night to Liam Cronin. The Spartans were shut out heading into 157, when Chace Saldate finished a solid weekend by beating Brayton Lee. Lee has had a tough season to this point, after starting the season ranked first in the country, has proven that coming back from injury has been more difficult than we all would have expected.
Not to take anything away from Chase. I had predicted he would have a breakout season, and wins like this are only going to add to his confidence. Getting wins over Will Lewan and Brayton Lee in the same weekend should have a snowball effect on what he is capable of. I trust he'll be able to bring that to practice and his leadership within the team. Sometimes wins can affect a whole team, and I think that's what's happening here.
Caleb Fish and Cam Caffey got wins in their respective weights, but other than that it was all Golden Gophers in this one. They remain gritty and have a lot of depth in their roster, and it showed in a dual like this. One other bright spot for the Spartans though, is Ceasar Garza, who as a true Freshman has really done well stepping up for them at 174. He's competed well in every match he's had, win or lose, and to get a takedown late in the latch to avoid the major decision is something that they can build on.
Michigan State is up next Friday night at Rutgers at 7pm on BTN+ and Minnesota wrestles Indiana Friday night at 6pm, also on BTN+.
Angry Spencer Lee is Terrifying
Remember over the summer when Spencer was putting IG posts up about doing cool pull-up stuff and workout stuff? That was nice. Since then, he's beating up teammates, pointing at coaches, and pinning the #3 ranked guy in the country in the first period. Angry Spencer Lee is somehow better than jovial Spencer Lee. Remember when he was coming out to the Pokemon theme song for his NCAA finals matches? I feel like this year he might come out to "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" by Drowning Pool. Maybe Darth Vader was right. I'm starting to think that I don't know the true power of the dark side. Maybe it's worth exploring.
All jokes aside, Spencer looks awesome, and so do the Hawkeyes. Cassioppi got a really solid win this weekend over Lucas Davison by a score of 3-2. Real Woods cruised to a technical fall over 10th-ranked Franke Tal-Shahar of Northwestern, Patrick Kennedy got a nice win over 23rd-ranked Maxx Mayfield. Most impressive to me though, was Cobe Siebrecht who beat 9th-ranked Trevor Chumbley. Trevor has looked excellent this year, coming in at 17-2 on the season and having answered a lot of questions about what Northwestern was going to do at 157. Although you wouldn't know it by watching how Cobe attacked right away. All season, Cobe has shown a willingness to open up the scoring against whoever is across from him, and by March that approach will yield impressive dividends.
Iowa has looked tremendous to this point in the year. With the exception of a closer-than-expected dual against Illinois, they have been on quite a roll and they seem to be managing their injuries and lineups well. It's nice to have the depth that they have. Up next they host the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Friday at 9pm EST on Big Ten Network.
Liam Cronin makes a statement as Nebraska goes 2-0
It's hard to imagine many other wrestlers having a better week this past weekend than Liam Cronin. The graduate senior took out not one - but two - top-four opponents at 125 pounds in Northwestern's No. 3 Michael DeAugustino and Minnesota's No. 4 Patrick McKee.
Cronin didn't just win, though. He kind of dominated. Cronin gave up the first takedown to McKee on Friday night, then never looked back. McKee got banged up and went into concussion protocol, leading 2-1, returning a few minutes later to the mat. A quick escape in the second period kept Cronin in the match, then a takedown gave him the 6-3 win with 22 seconds remaining in the second. McKee was able to get a takedown in the third but Cronin got two, including one in the waning seconds for the 11-6 win.
Cronin looked confident throughout his bout with McKee, and that confidence carried over to Sunday's dual meet with Northwestern, as Cronin used two takedowns, a reversal, a four-point nearfall and riding time to roll to an 11-1 major decision.
As impressive as Cronin's weekend was, he wasn't the only Husker to shine. Peyton Robb showed why he's on top at 157 pounds, notching wins over Minnesota's No. 12 Brayton Lee and Northwestern's No. 9 Trevor Chumbley. The win over Lee avenged his loss to the Golden Gopher last season. While the final scores were tight (2-0 for both), Robb showed his dominance by riding out the second period in each bout.
Brock Hardy showed why he should be in the mix as a title contender at 141 pounds by shutting out both No. 10 Frankie Tal-Shahar, of Northwestern, and No. 11 Jake Bergeland, of Northwestern. Hardy never gave Bergeland a chance, securing a takedown off a danger call in the opening period, then tacking on another takedown and four nearfall points for the 9-0 major. Most of the action in the Tal-Shahar match happened in the third period, but Hardy was still able to pile on the points without giving anything up in a 6-0 decision.
No. 2 Mikey Labriola had another solid weekend at 174 pounds with two top-20 wins, as did No. 25 Silas Allred at 197, with a pair of top-30 victories. Dayne Morton had one of the biggest upsets of the weekend for Nebraska, taking out Minnesota's No. 14 Michael Blockhus at 149.
With these wins, Nebraska is out to a 2-0 start in the Big Ten. That record will be put to the test next week when the Cornhuskers travel to No. 2 Iowa. Cronin will have a chance to see if his luck will continue and if he can be one of the few opponents not to be pinned by Spencer Lee this season. The 141-pound bout between Hardy and Real Woods (should they both wrestle) could lend some clarity to how that weight class might shake out down the stretch.
Indiana turns heads with a 2-1 Big Ten start
Coming into this season, Indiana coach Angel Escobedo said he felt that his team had something to prove and was better than what it's 3-8 overall record showed.
"Last year we didn't have the best year," he told InterMat in September. "So, we put in a lot of work this offseason and we want to redeem ourselves and really just hit it hard this season and show people what we're capable of - that we're a really good team."
With their 24-16 win over Rutgers on Friday, the Hoosiers are starting to get noticed. With this win, Indiana improves to 6-1 on the season and 2-1 in the Big Ten - marking its best start since 2015 and since Escobedo took the reins.
Friday's win, however, didn't come easy. Indiana found itself in a 10-0 hole after three bouts, as Rutgers' Dean Peterson and Joe Heilmann collected decisions and Joe Olivieri dominated Cayden Rooks for a 15-2 major decision.
Graham Rooks' 7-1 decision over Tony White started a string of four consecutive wins for the Hoosiers that put them in the lead by 6. Derek Gilcher continued to build his resume for "Big Ten Breakout Wrestler of the Year" with a win in sudden victory over Andrew Clark at 157 pounds that brought Wilkinson Hall to its feet. But it was the match at 165 that really got the momentum swinging in Indiana's favor.
Down by three in the third period, Nick South hit a blast double into a half nelson to put Robert Kanniard on his back for the fall, giving the Hoosiers their first lead of the dual. D.J. Washington then rode that momentum to a 14-5 redemption win over Jackson Turley, who he lost to by technical fall at the 2021 NCAA Championships.
That 6-point lead, however, was quickly neutralized with a pin from Rutgers freshman Brian Soldano at 184. Nick Willham was able to get the lead back thanks to a quick escape in the third period that allowed him to preserve riding time by two seconds and squeak out the 2-1 win at 197. Heavyweight Jacob Bullock closed the door with an emphatic 15-0 technical fall to give the Hoosiers their second consecutive Big Ten win.
Indiana will have a tough test this coming weekend when it hosts Minnesota. But earning three conference wins for the first time since the 2015-16 season isn't totally out of reach. One of the Hoosiers' best opportunities could be its intrastate rivalry matchup with Purdue on Jan. 29. Indiana hasn't beaten Purdue since 2010, but fell last season by just a point. It seems likely that it'll be another close result this year.
Regardless of what might happen the rest of the season, the Hoosiers are showing they shouldn't be overlooked.
This week, we're going to start handing out weekly awards for both of our picks for the biggest upset, win and consequential move of the teams we cover. Congrats to the winners!
B1Ggest Upset - Jack Medley major decision over Eric Barnett, 12-6. Anytime someone not currently ranked beats the 5th ranked guy in the country is certainly an upset. It's magnified a little bit though when the guy not ranked is not ranked because it's not certain he's the starter for his own team. You have to be the best guy in your own room in order to win a National Championship, as Jakob Bergeland reminded me earlier this year, and it appears that maybe Medley has gotten over that hump. Barnett did start off strong, as he has in most of his matches this year, but ultimately the relentless energy and pressure from Medley took control and he poured on more pressure and offense. If someone who had never seen wrestling before watched that match, it would have been clear and undeniable that Medley was supposed to be the ranked wrestler, and that the graphic with the "5" next to Barnett's name must have been wrong. It was a really impressive win over a guy who has looked great all season to this point.
B1Ggest Win - Michigan State's Chase Saldate over Brayton Lee and Will Lewan. This is the two wins that Chase Saldate had this weekend. I could make the argument for Amine over Hamiti, or Lee over DeAugustino, but in the end, these two wins for Saldate will have a big impact on the conference tournament seeding. Before this weekend, Saldate was the 12th-ranked guy in the B1G at 157. These two wins will certainly help him climb up the national rankings, but should help put him in a position to have a strong B1G Tournament as well.
B1Ggest Move - Spencer Lee pinning Michael DeAugustino. Spencer Lee pinned the 3rd ranked guy in the country in the first period. I'm always trying to appreciate great wrestlers while I have the chance to watch them these days, because at some point Spencer Lee's college career will be over, and we'll just have to live vicariously through stories. Like, "remember when Spencer Lee was down 8-1 and then pinned Matt Ramos?" or "Remember when Spencer Lee won an NCAA title without any ACLs?" So while it's going on, I'm going to appreciate it. Spencer hits a fireman's carry, and it appears that DeAugustino looks at the ref to see if he in fact gave Spencer the takedown. Spencer pops his head out at that moment, and instinctively grabs his head and locks up the cradle. That was it. It was over. It was a nice way for the Carver-Hawkeye crowd to end the dual, and to walk out ready to enjoy the rest of their Friday night. Don't forget to appreciate every Spencer Lee moment we have left.
B1Ggest upset: Illinois' No. 32 Danny Pucino pins No. 12 Parker Filius, of Purdue
Freshman Danny Pucino continued to impress this past weekend, extending his bonus-point win streak to three and his second consecutive fall. This win, however, was his biggest statement so far of the season, a pin of Purdue's No. 12 Parker Filius in 3:35. Pucino entered InterMat's rankings for the first time last week at No. 32 at 141 pounds, after a clutch pin that helped seal the dual win against Wisconsin and a major decision that kept his team neck-and-neck with Iowa until the final bout. With his win over Filius, he's now climbed all the way to No. 14 and will have a chance at another ranked opponent in Northwestern's No. 10 Frankie Tal-Shahar on Friday.
B1Ggest win(s): Top-5 wins for Nebraska's Liam Cronin over Michael DeAugustino (Northwestern) and Pat McKee (Minnesota)
The 125-pound weight class is Iowa's Spencer Lee and … everyone else. Below Princeton's Pat Glory in that No. 2 spot are a bunch of Big Ten wrestlers who are going to be battling each other throughout the season for the right to stand on the podium at Big Tens and NCAAs. These two wins were a clear message from Cronin that he belongs in that conversation in his seventh season. His wins were also big for getting his team started off on the right foot and getting the home crowd engaged from the very beginning.
B1Ggest move: Nick South's blast double into a half nelson for the fall to swing momentum for Indiana
South's pin marked the turning point in Indiana's win over Rutgers. Not only did it give the Hoosiers their first lead of the dual, but it also brought the crowd to its feet and helped fuel D.J. Washington to a major decision redemption win in the next bout. This win over Rutgers - Indiana's second conference win of the season - was huge for the program and may not have been possible without South's come-from-behind win by fall. And that win may not have been possible without that blast double that allowed South to take Robert Kanniard to his back.