5th Season, Column 38: The cream is thickening

Everyone knew this would be an especially competitive season but with 6th, 7th, and here and there an 8th yr. wrestler in college action, it’s even better than expected.

Dual meets more unpredictable than ever. Defending national champs and finalists losing repeatedly and being lost for the season. A new wt. class superstar emerging practically week to week. If you love the unpredictability of competition what’s not to love? Let’s look at some suprises, shall we?

USA Junior Freestyle World Champs Rocky Elam and Braxton Amos, who wrestle for Missouri and Wisconsin, respectively, are a combined 25-7 so far this college season. Undefeated vs. the World they’ve dropped 7 to America’s best collegians. That alone should show just how tough their weight class, 197lbs (1), is this year. And it may not be the hardest weight class to win, either. At 165 defending champ Shane Griffith of Stanford has already lost more often this season than he did the past 2 years combined. Jake Wentzel of Pitt, Griffiths 2021 finals foe, is 10-4. The combined records of the other 8 wrestlers ranked in the Top 10 at 165, a staggering 107-7. Even if they all advance as far as they can, at least 2 of those monsters would be out of luck and off the podium come Nationals. There’s only 8 spots for All American status, folks. BAH would be the operative exclamation here. Down at 125 the mish mosh is especially interesting as 3X defending champ and 2X Hodge Trophy (2) winner Spencer Lee of Iowa is recovering from surgery on both knees. Lee is set to return next year and Iowa has activated Freshman Drake Ayala with excellent 13-4 results. 3 of those losses, by 7 points total, are to last years 3rd place finisher Patrick McKee of Minnesota. McKee is 15-3 but only ranked 12th while Ayala is 6th. It gets better. 75-5 is the total for the other nine in the Top 10. Half of them have wrestled 6 matches or less so far, though, including the top three. Three 6th year seniors are in the Top 10 mix. 2019 133lb Rutgers champ, and 2X NCAA finalist Nick Suriano, is now back down at 125 and ranked #1 while wrestling for Michigan. Last years 4th place winner for Central Michigan, Drew Hildebrandt, is a year six competitor but at Penn State. Devin Schroeder has stayed the course, though, back for his 6th and final campaign at Purdue. (3) More of these amazing weight class conundrums in another column.

There’s just no predicting who’s coming out on top of this weeks mega duel between homestanding Iowa and visiting Penn State. Or is there? The author couldn’t pull a specific trigger on last weeks Penn St- Michigan dual, calling a duck bill shot of anywhere from a criteria win to a 20+ point splatter job. The 29-6 Penn State victory came via eight match victories out of ten, the last 5 by 10 match points total. Competitive, Hell yes. Close, not so much. This could happen again in Iowa City. Either way. Going to be great. Also great, Wisconsin. Last years breakdown is way in the rear view mirror and Chris Bonos Badgers are 8-1 with a road match against Alex Clemsens up and coming Maryland squad straight ahead. Kyle Burwick-King Sandoval, Chris Weiler-Kyle Cochran and Trent Hilger-Zach Schrader should be a trio of banging Badgers-Terrapins matchups.

SoCon action heats up this weekend as well as hard fighting, hard-luck UTC double-dips the weekend against Gardner-Webb and Campbell. The Mocs won’t finish above .500 this year but a conference regular season and tournament title are still on the table. Count the App State Mountaineers and 3X defending champs Campbell as the big favorites but don’t count out the Mocs. G-W and the Citadel, who dropped road matches to App State and Campbell respectively, are angling for Top 3 SoCon status. The Citadel plays host to LIU and Davidson in a two conference tri- meet this weekend. Also this weekend, the Appalachian Open welcomes over 100 wrestlers from nearly 20 teams to a one day donnybrook. Most of the host Mountaineers starting lightweights will be in action up through 157. Jaime Hernandez and Joe Heilmann, AA Zach Sherman and National Champ Austin O’Connor and Top 10 ranked Clay Lautt are just some of the UNC Tar Heel starters competing. Wrestlers from Virginia, Virginia Tech, UTC, Ohio U, Duke, Gardner-Webb, and NC St will be there. Also in action, defending N.A.I.A. champ Life University, UNC-Pembroke, Emory and Henry, University of Mt. Olive and the WolfPack Wrestling Club. 5 mats, with competition starting at 9 a.m.

See you sometime soon!

Ted Carreras

(1) The status of defending National 197lb champ A.J. Ferrari of Oklahoma State is uncertain after his very fortunate survival following a two vehicle head on collision.

(2) The award is given to the wrestler who is most successful and best represents the sport on and off the mat.

(3) Excellent insight into Schroeders difficult decision to return and all matters Boilermaker wrestling can be heard on the Purdue wrestling podcast “Always Aggresive.”