Penn State freshman 157 lber Levi Haines (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
This week, we enjoyed watching some tight duals - including Iowa's scare against Wisconsin - took in the smoke and light show at the Bryce Jordan Center and puzzled over how some of these weight classes are going to end up shaking out between Big Ten wrestlers.
Here are our takeaways from the week, and BIG Awards at the bottom!
All eyes are on Penn State's 157-pound decision as Iowa looms
True freshman Levi Haines brought the 15,975 fans at the Bryce Jordan Center to their feet Friday when he took down Michigan's No. 10 Will Lewan in sudden victory for the 3-1 win.
The crowd erupted and threw two fingers into the air, signifying the takedown, as the true freshman proved his mettle and poise under pressure on the big stage, knocking off the NCAA All-American.
Despite that electric performance, head coach Cael Sanderson said the final decision on whether to start Haines or junior Terrell Barraclough against Iowa on Friday has yet to be decided. It was the junior who took the mat Sunday against Michigan State, falling 6-2 to No. 15 Chase Saldate and preserving Haines' redshirt for another week.
"That was just the plan moving into the weekend," Sanderson said. "Levi, obviously, had a great win on Friday. Terrell was close again. He was right there with another possible All-American candidate and just didn't quite get it. If Levi wrestles again, that means his redshirt is pulled. So, we've got to be careful with that."
Adding to the pressure on the coaching staff to make a decision is the fact that No. 2 Iowa will be in town Friday for the most anticipated dual meet of the season. In order to win, the Nittany Lions will almost certainly have to field their best lineup.
But even if Penn State starts Haines against Iowa and burns his redshirt, Sanderson cautioned that that doesn't necessarily mean he's a lock for the postseason.
"I think Terrell is right there and Levi's right there, obviously; they're both going to compete," Sanderson said. "That's a decision that we're gonna have to make here in the next little while. Now, I don't think it has to be done by Friday, but sooner rather than later is usually better."
Haines improved to 14-1 on the season, his lone loss being to Northern Colorado's Vince Zerban at the Bearcat Open early in the season. Barraclough fell to 6-3, with his losses being to Saldate, Lehigh's No. 5 Josh Humphreys and a 2-1 decision to Haines at the Black Knight Invitational. Barraclough's biggest win of the season was over Indiana's No. 19 Derek Gilcher, 6-0.
Whoever takes the mat on Friday will likely face off against No. 21 Cobe Siebrecht, whose two losses this season came to top-ranked Peyton Robb, of Nebraska, and Illinois veteran Mike Carr. Siebrecht had a top-10 win of his own last week when he knocked off then-No. 9 Trevor Chumbley, of Northwestern.
As one of several swing matches in the contest between the top two teams in the country, whichever Nittany Lion gets the start could be key in determining whether Penn
State's 38-straight dual streak continues and which team will sit atop the Big Ten at the end of the dual season.
Wisconsin pushes Iowa to tiebreakers
Duals are the best. Anything can happen. I've been saying all year that Wisconsin is better than their record indicates. The Badgers currently sit at 1-4 in the B1G, but that's with losses to Michigan, Penn State, and Iowa, all duals that on paper they were not favored, to begin with. Also, they have a couple of spots in their lineup where they are looking for guys to step up. Well, that's exactly what happened here. Tyler Dow went out there when his team needed a spark nearing the end of the dual, and pinned Abe Assad, ranked 8th at the time. Dow, notably a Greco guy, is certainly dangerous and has proven to be a tough matchup throughout the season. Here he locked up double overhooks, stepped in, and tossed Assad. Holding onto those double-overs, he continued to pressure Assad until ultimately getting the pin.
Was it a quick call? Sure was. Would I be upset if I were Assad, who did an admirable job bridging and working to get off of his back or out of bounds? One hundred percent I would, but that's what happened. That essentially made up for the Spencer Lee pin of Barnett, and the rest of the matches were split-headed into Heavyweight. Now, there's been some talk about Trent Hilger being greased up for his match with Cassioppi. I think it's much more likely that heavyweights sweat a lot, and he got a good warmup before the match to decide the dual, and that sweat is slippery, but it was requested that it be printed, so here we are. It didn't stop Cassioppi from getting the win to seal the dual for the Hawkeyes, who remain undefeated.
In the end, the Hawkeyes didn't wrestle their full lineup, gave up a 9-point swing (give or take) from what they anticipated getting at 184, and still came home with a win. It wasn't pretty, but it's a win. Next Iowa takes on Penn State this Friday night at 8:30 pm EST in what is the most anticipated dual of the year where the number 1 Penn State Nittany Lions will host the number 2 Iowa Hawkeyes. It's part of an awesome doubleheader with Michigan hosting Ohio State at 6pm EST on the Big Ten Network. Make sure to block off time to catch these awesome duals.
Iowa wasn't the only team with a close victory this weekend …
This week's Big Ten slate featured some not-so-close duals. Ohio State took it to Maryland on the road, Nebraska was unable to hang with Iowa, and Michigan dominated Rutgers after being dominated at Penn State.
But not to be overlooked, there were a couple duals - in addition to Iowa vs. Wisconsin - that came down to the wire in Rutgers, 16-15, over Michigan State and Northwestern winning via match points criteria, 18-17, over Illinois.
Both of those duals went to the home teams and had their crowds on their feet. For the Scarlet Knights, their contest against the Spartans marked their first home dual in 70 days and the first time
competing back in Jersey Mike's Arena since Feb. 19, 2022.
Rutgers got things off on the right foot with four straight wins from Dean Peterson, Joe Heilmann, Joseph Olivieri and Tony White. The Scarlet Knights were riding a 16-6 lead heading into the marquee matchup between No. 13 Brian Soldano and No. 15 Layne Malczewski, of Michigan State.
A wild exchange less than a minute into the first period left Soldano with an early 6-2 lead but Michigan State coach Roger Chandler challenged for locked hands to be called against Rutgers. He got the match point for Malczewski but was deducted what ended up being a crucial team point for a technical violation. Malczewski ended up winning the chaotic battle in a 14-6 major decision. The Spartans won the last two bouts but it wasn't enough, as the Scarlet Knights prevailed by a point.
Northwestern and Illinois also kept fans on the edge of their seats. Unlike Rutgers, Northwestern started out in the hole, with Lucas Byrd kicking things off at 133 pounds with a 5-2 win over Chris Cannon in a top-15 battle, and sophomore Danny Pucino earned another upset - this time over No. 10 Frankie Tal-Shahar at 141. Veteran Yahya Thomas was able to get things back on track for the Wildcats with his 11th straight win. Trevor Chumbley added another win and Maxx Mayfield earned a big upset over No. 12 Danny Braunagel.
But after the Wildcats lost three straight - including an Edmond Ruth technical fall - they needed bonus points at heavyweight or 125 to at least tie. Matt Wroblewski fended off Lucas Davison just enough to keep it to a decision - leaving it up to Michael DeAugustino. Read more about DeAugustino's bout against Maximo Renteria below in our BIG Awards section. Spoiler Alert - he gets it done.
While neither of these duals may have had the largest stakes in terms of rankings, every win in the Big Ten, as Rutgers coach Scott Goodale reminded reporters, is worth celebrating, especially the gritty ones.
"You see our team, we are blue-collar type kids. We just want to work real hard. Maybe we aren't the most talented, and in this conference, that gets really difficult," Goodale told the media after the MSU meet. "These wins are hard to come by. I thought we probably should have got one against Indiana, and didn't. When you let one get away, it kind of sets you behind the eight ball. So, that is kind of how we went about it. There is no question about it, we are looking at this dual meet schedule and know it's going to be really, really difficult, but we know we are going to be ready for March. "
It feels like some of the weights in the B1G are crazier than in years past. Sure, upsets happen, and styles often dictate matchups, but this year more than many I feel like it's getting out of hand. Some of these weights have some established stars, but below that the athletes are just beating each other with little rhyme or reason. As we get deeper into the conference schedule, we are seeing several weight classes going bonkers with some wacky results.
Let's start with 125; I wrote last week about how angry Spencer Lee was terrifying. I haven't changed my mind on that at all. Especially off of another week and two more pins of Liam Cronin (ranked 3rd at that time) and of Eric Barnett of Wisconsin (ranked 6th at that time). Lee's intensity this year is second to none, and I joked on Twitter in a reply to Mason Beckman (Hi Mason), that Spencer is wrestling like he's trying to get the Hodge Trophy renamed "the Lee" Trophy. So Spencer Lee is good and we've established that. I didn't expect there to be such a crazy parity between the rest of the B1G wrestlers at 125.
Just this weekend we had Purdue's Matt Ramos (10th ranked at that time) beat Wisconsin's Eric Barnett (6) and Patrick McKee (5) of Minnesota. We had Gary Steen (unranked) of Penn State beat Tristan Lujan of Michigan State, ranked 24th at the time. Dean Peterson of Rutgers beat Jack Medley, who had just come off of a nice win over Barnett of Wisconsin himself from the previous week. It's expected that there will be some interesting results during the dual season, which is what makes duals awesome, but I figured some of these guys would begin to rise above the field a bit by this point. Isn't that what usually happens by now? We have the dust begin to settle and we can kind of make out what the end is going to look like? Not this year. These 125 pounders will continue to beat each other throughout the rest of the regular season, making seeding the B1G tournament at 125 lbs essentially a toss-up for two through 14. The good news is that now being pinned by Spencer Lee will put you in rather elite company.
Let's continue with 141; So Real Woods (Iowa), Beau Bartlett (Penn State), and Brock Hardy (Nebraska) have been holding it down, in that order. Hardy just had a close loss to Woods last weekend, and we'll see Woods v Bartlett this weekend, but outside of those three, the parity has been wild. Jake Begeland of Minnesota started the year ranked 3rd at the weight, but finds himself struggling with some stiff competition this year. I trust he'll rebound, but for the time being he's a solid example of how this weight is eating itself. This weekend he lost to Parker Fillius, who seems to be rounding into form after a tough start to the season himself. Just two weeks ago, Bergeland dropped a match to Frankie Tal-Shahar of Northwestern as well. Then this weekend Frankie (ranked 10th entering this weekend) lost to Danny Pucino of Illinois, who was ranked 14th at the time. Oh yeah, and Danny pinned Parker Fillius just over a week ago. Good news though, Minnesota wrestles Illinois this weekend, so undoubtedly we'll get to see the Golden Gopher Bergeland beat The Fighting Illini of Pucino, just to make this roller coaster of insanity continue. It can't stop, and it won't stop. This is the way.
Last walk-through for this exercise is 157; Brayton Lee of Minnesota started the year off ranked 1st in the country, now in late January he is 4-6 I believe, and ranked 17th. It's not his fault, 157 is hard and these dudes are just swapping wins and losses. These weight classes are cannibalizing themselves! Cannibalism is so hot these days. Meanwhile, Chase Saldate (Michigan State) has been floating around and beating anyone he can get his hands on in the B1G, steadily climbing up the rankings. He has wins over Will Lewan of Michigan, the aforementioned Brayton Lee, Andrew Clark of Rutgers, and most recently Barraclough of Penn State. Interestingly enough, on paper, his toughest challenges coming up will be Gallagher of Ohio State, and Gilcher of Indiana. He already has a loss to Gilcher from the Reno Tournament of Champions from earlier this year, but that would be a nice win to finish out the B1G schedule. Outside of that, he's beaten the toughest opponents on his schedule from the conference. Meanwhile, holding steady at the top of the mountain has been Peyton Robb of Nebraska. That doesn't seem too crazy right, well Kendall Coleman of Purdue (ranked 3rd headed into this weekend) got a win over Brayton Lee, but also lost to Garrett Model of Wisconsin (ranked 18th at the time). Model followed that big win up by losing to Cobe Siebrecht of Iowa (21st headed into the weekend). Then you've got Will Lewan, ranked 10th headed into the weekend losing in OT to Levi Haines of Penn State (17th ranked at the time), who might not get the starting job this season if they elect to keep his redshirt status.
This is all to say, the B1G is hard. I don't know that I'm going to be too critical of wrestlers taking some of the early season tournaments off. I don't think I'm going to be too critical of guys making sure they're prepared for their conference matches. Weekends with two grueling duals are really tough. I'm just going to appreciate the ones that go hard start to finish that much more.
Welcome to the second installment of our BIG Awards section, where we each hand out weekly honors for both of our picks for the biggest upset, win and consequential move of the teams we cover. Congrats to the winners!
B1Ggest Upset: Ramos with two B1G wins over the weekend
Matt Ramos of Purdue had himself one hell of a weekend. I referenced it briefly above, but he had not 1, but 2 upsets this weekend. Ramos, being the road warrior that he is (now I'm picturing him wearing the Legion of Doom shoulder pads) first traveled to Madison and knocked off Eric Barnett 4-3 on Friday night, followed by a quick jaunt to Minneapolis to beat Patrick McKee. Ramos just spent the weekend beating two multiple-time All-Americans in his first year down at 125. B1Gger picture, Ramos is 20-3 on the year, with losses to Spencer Lee (it happens), Richie Figueroa (at times proven he's one of the top guys at the weight, when he's the starter for Arizona State at least), and Anthony Molton (really good wrestler and High School teammate, which makes for a tough match when someone is that familiar with you). This is all to say that he should be considered a guy who can become the number 2 seed in the B1G by March.
B1Ggest Win: Down goes Kerkvliet
Michigan didn't have a lot to be excited about leaving Happy Valley on Friday night, but at least they left on a high note as Mason Parris, in a battle of #2 versus #1, got the win over Greg Kerkvliet. I spoke with coach Bormet yesterday, and he mentioned (paraphrasing here) how this is as healthy as Mason has been in a number of years, and as happy as he was with that win, that wasn't the ultimate goal. Also though, this win doesn't mean nothing. He stopped shots from Kerkvliet, he hand-fought well, and he matched the athleticism of Kerkvliet in this match. In the end, stopping another one of Kerkvliet's shots to get the match-winning takedown was something we don't see from most mortal men. Last year it didn't look like that was the case, but it's clear that a healthy Mason Parris is a different thing to worry about.
B1Ggest Move: Don't sleep on Fillius
Purdue's Parker Fillius was down 2-0 with less than 30 seconds left in the match and was on bottom. Parker Fillius is a gritty SOB though and just kept wrestling. Parker hit a sit-out, started working on the legs of Bergeland, and then went head hunting. He ended up turning through and executing a reversal and locking up a cradle, nearly getting the pin, but ultimately getting the win. As a guy who had a lot of come-from-behind wins myself, I always appreciate the never say die mentality, and to snag a conference win like that against an All-American in Bergeland is huge. This win, along with Copass getting a win in the last seconds of regulation at Heavyweight, were some nice wins for Purdue in a tough dual on the road.
B1Ggest upset: Penn State's No. 17 Levi Haines over Michigan's No. 10 Will Lewan
There were a number of solid candidates for biggest upset this week. A few that come to mind are Illinois' No. 14 Danny Pucino's 8-6 decision over Northwestern's No. 10 Frankie Tal-Shahar, Northwestern's Maxx Mayfield over Illinois' No. 11 Danny Braunagel and Haines' own teammate No. 16 Alex Facundo's tiebreaker win over Michigan's No. 5 Cam Aminie in the exact same dual. What tips the scales in Haines' direction is the big-picture implications for Penn State should his shirt be pulled (as expected). As discussed above, Haines' redshirt is still intact - for now - and Sanderson hasn't publicly committed to pulling it. But one could reasonably assume that this past weekend's results make not doing so much more difficult. With this win, Haines showed he has the ability to beat All-American contenders, thrusting his name into that mix. Penn State hasn't had an All-American at 157 pounds since Jason Nolf in 2019.
B1Ggest win: Northwestern's Michael DeAugustino's dual-clinching major decision over Illinois' Maximo Renteria
After dropping three-straight matches against Illinois - including a technical fall - the Wildcats found themselves in a position where they needed bonus points at heavyweight or 125 to at least tie. Lucas Davison worked for bonus but Matt Wroblewski's stingy defense limited him to a 6-2 decision. That meant that DeAugustino needed a major decision for the tie. It didn't look like he was going to get it, leading Renteria just 1-0 heading into the third period. But DeAugustino knew what he had to do and kept working on top until he was able to turn the Illini for 4 nearfall and a 5-1 lead with less than a minute to go. He did it again with about 20 seconds remaining, and - with 1:17 in riding time - posted the 10-1 major decision to tie the dual and earn the win on match points criteria.
B1Ggest move: Penn State's Alex Facundo's duck-under in sudden victory to complete the sweep of fellow Michiganders
With the literal spotlight of the BJC on his teammate Levi Haines this weekend, Facundo's performances may have flown under the radar. But the Michigan native took out not one - but two - fellow Michigan natives this weekend. It started at the BJC with a 5-5 win in the ultimate tiebreaker over a former high school rival in Cam Amine. He then closed his weekend with a 3-1 decision in sudden victory over Michigan State's Caleb Fish, who beat Facundo last season at the Southern Scuffle. Facundo and Fish, of Eaton Rapids, battled evenly throughout regulation, ending the seven minutes tied at one apiece. With less than a minute left in sudden victory, Fish took a shot at Facundo's left leg and the Penn State freshman countered with a duck-under for two and the victory with 44 seconds remaining. What made Facundo's victory over Fish even more impressive is that Sanderson said it wasn't in the plan for him to wrestle that match, and to instead take some time to "keep getting healthy." But, he said, Facundo wanted to go.
"He had two big wins against two tough guys," Sanderson said. "So, I was really happy for him. Even today, this guy beat him last year at the Scuffle, and he had a history (with Amine). When you grow up in Michigan, you're going to wrestle a lot of Michigan guys. A lot of good wrestlers are coming out of Michigan. But yeah, he did a nice job. It was a good weekend for him."