California Baptist 125 lber Eli Griffin (photo courtesy of California Baptist athletics)
As we head into the postseason, there are plenty of potential stories to follow. One storyline that may not be as obvious as others is following the schools that could see their first DI national qualifiers in 2023. With more teams on the horizon, joining the ranks of DI wrestling, this could be a good annual storyline to follow in the coming years.
For 2023, there are three schools that have their sights set on pushing wrestlers through their respective conference tournaments to DI nationals for the first time. None of these schools had any wrestlers earn allocations for their conference so, it will be a bit of an uphill battle. But, as anyone who has followed the collegiate postseason for any length of time could tell you, things get unpredictable in March. Upsets happen, injuries are unfortunate but expected, and regular season results get flipped, regularly.
Below are the three teams seeking to see their first DI national qualifiers. Underneath the team name is the weight classes where they appear to have the best odds at qualification. The number in parentheses is the allocations available in that particular weight class.
125 (6), 165 (8), 184 (4)
Probably the school on this list most likely to crown its first national qualifier(s) is California Baptist. They have three solid options, three of which, compete at weight classes with six or more allocations.
125 lber Eli Griffin spent a portion of the year in the national rankings. He competed sparingly, but racked up some quality wins in the process. Though Griffin only had six total wins during the regular season, he did defeat two-time qualifier Kysen Terukina (Iowa State), #19 Jore Volk (Wyoming), #26 Nico Provo (Stanford), and Kase Mauger (Utah Valley), who has been on the fringe of a ranking. Because of Griffin's limited schedule, his notable wins, and losses (Tanner Jordan, Stevo Poulin, Kase Mauger), it's extremely difficult to project his seed at the Big 12 Championships. I'd guess somewhere between sixth and ninth. However, it shakes out, Griffin will need two or three solid wins to book his trip to nationals, but he's shown he's capable of such a task.
Frank Almaguer has struggled inside the Big 12, but has shown he's able to post big wins. He's responsible for one of only two losses on the year for #13 Izzak Olejnik (Northern Illinois). Almaguer also had a good win over Air Force's Giano Petrucelli, though he's not expected to be part of the field next weekend. For the most part, he's had respectable losses against good competition from the Big 12. Should he be able to make the necessary adjustments, Almaguer could flip a result or two from earlier this season. He'll have a chance since eight wrestlers from the Big 12's 165 lb weight class go on to nationals. This is a weight that has a few veterans that have battled injuries, as well, so should they not be able to continue, someone like Almaguer could take the ball and run with it.
Perhaps the most consistent wrestler for the Lancers all year has been 184 lber Peter Acciardi. Acciardi is 13-12 with a win over Wyoming's stud true freshman Quayin Short. A problem for Acciardi and the rest of this weight, is that there are only four automatic qualifying slots available. Presumably, Parker Keckeisen, Marcus Coleman, and Travis Wittlake take the top three. The fourth is up-for-grabs. There's a big group that includes, Cade King, DJ Parker, Keegan Moore, Noah Blake, Colton Hawks, Short, Anthony Carman and Acciardi that are all capable of claiming that final spot. During the regular season, Acciardi has wrestled Blake and Parker extremely close. The type of decisions that could easily be flipped. It'll take three or four quality wins, but Acciardi is capable.
125 (6), 165 (5)
One of the Sharks best suited for a run through the EIWA brackets is 125 lber Robbie Sagaris. Sagaris comes in with an 11-12 record after going 13-13 last year. In his first EIWA tournament, Sagaris notched a win over Army West Point's Ryan Chauvin before bowing out. This year, Sagaris comes in with wins over two conference opponents expected to enter (Mike Manta - Sacred Heart and Grayson McLellan - Bucknell). Sagaris will have his work cut out for him to qualify as in addition to the six ranked wrestlers at the weight, there are some dangerous unranked entrants like Carter Bailey (Lehigh), Micah Roes (Binghamton), Max Leete (American), Mason Leiphart (Franklin & Marshall) and more.
157 lber Rhise Royster has been one of Long Island's best wrestlers this year, the only problem with him qualifying is that 157 only has three spots allocated in the EIWA. Breaking into the top three is a tall task for anyone.
Blake Bahna started the year at 174 lbs for Long Island and then dropped to 165 in December. Up at 174, Bahna pinned Arizona State's redshirt freshman Cael Valencia and went 7-6, overall. Since dropping to 165, Bahna has struggled more; however, he did grab three conference wins. 165 is designated to dole out five automatic qualifying bids in the EIWA. That's generally a good number, but there are still plenty of quality wrestlers who didn't earn bids for the conference, but are capable of stealing them. Bahna is in that group with Lucas Revano, Caleb Campos, Dalton Harkins, Josh Kim, Luca Frinzi, and Val Park. Luckily, you don't have to beat all of them to make the top-five, but Bahna would have to knock off one or two of them. This will be his second experience at the EIWA Championships. Last year, he went 0-2.
125 (1), 197 (1)
In their fourth year of competition, Presbyterian is still seeking its first NCAA qualifier. They have two wrestlers that are capable of shocking the SoCon and heading to Tulsa. First is their 125 lber Dominic Chavez. Chavez already handed #25 Anthony Molton a loss during the regular season. That probably gets Chavez the second seed and Molton the third. Chavez's only conference loss came to top-seeded #14 Caleb Smith. Outside of the conference, Chavez has been a bit inconsistent so beating Smith may be his only ticket to nationals, where Molton may be a candidate for an at-large.
Presbyterian's 197 lber Malcolm Wiley is also someone to watch and is capable of crashing the NCAA party. His seeding may not be as cut-and-dry as Chavez's. Wiley has a decisive, major decision win over VMI's Tyler Mousaw, but has also lost to Mark Chaid (The Citadel) and Gavin Henry (Davidson), two wrestlers who have taken their lumps in the SoCon. He also has lost to Carson Floyd of Appalachian State, who projects as the second seed. Wherever Wiley lands, he could be a bad draw. In 2022-23, he hasn't met top-seeded Levi Hopkins, but fell to him, 11-5 in a dual last season.