With the first release of our NCAA Division I individual rankings yesterday, there will invariably be those who disagree. Rankings inspire debate and while there are many different approaches, none are perfect. Each year as we compile our preseason spreadsheets, there are certain wrestlers that we can’t rank, even though they are good enough to be among the 20 best in their weight class. This happens for a variety of reasons, but most often involves either a lineup battle with another wrestler or limited Division I competition last season. We don’t rank true freshmen so I did not consider them for this list, though some who are not going to redshirt might have made it otherwise. In short, don’t be too surprised if we see these five unranked wrestlers doing big things this season.
Jered Cortez, Penn State, 141
In three years at the Division I level, Cortez has only wrestled 30 matches with just four coming at 141 pounds. Last season, he had nothing you could point to as a quality win early, then his season was cut short due to injury. Looking back to 2015-16, you can see the potential with three wins over wrestlers currently ranked in the top-12 at 133 and a win over Jordan Conaway (Penn State) who finished sixth in the country that year. If he was coming off of that season, Cortez would have been in the rankings, but his lack of strong wins a year ago keep him out. It is a little disturbing that he has still wrestled just one competition in the second semester of any season, but that only hurts him rankings wise in the limited opportunities he has had. Jered will battle true freshman Nick Lee for the starting nod, but he should start the season in the lineup considering Lee could still redshirt. I expect Cortez to earn his way into the top 20 quickly. If he remains healthy and earns the spot, he’ll climb rapidly.
Boo Lewallen, Oklahoma State, 149
After missing his entire redshirt season due to injury, Lewallen finally got healthy last year but was stuck behind Dean Heil at 141 pounds. When he did get on the mat, he was very good, beating Bryce Meredith (Wyoming), Javier Gasca (Michigan State), and Joey Palmer (Oregon State) on his way to a Reno title. He missed the podium at the Southern Scuffle, but his losses were both to All-Americans, Joey Ward (North Carolina) and Jaydin Eierman (Missouri). Overall, his record was 11-2. If Lewallen was the man for the Cowboys at 141, he’d be ranked, no question. Even moving up to 149 with Anthony Collica out of eligibility, you could make the case, but Boo might not even start. Former Boise State All-American Geo Martinez is also at 149 for John Smith’s squad setting up a showdown between the two. Lewallen’s size will be a question mark given Heil remains at 141 for another year. If he is big enough, he and Martinez could go back and forth. If the Oklahoma native earns the nod, he has All-American potential.
Jason Tsirtsis, Arizona State, 149/157
A similar dilemma keeps Tsirtsis out of the rankings to start the season. While the 2014 NCAA champion and 2015 third-place finisher has done enough to be ranked, he’ll have to beat out either Josh Maruca (149) or Josh Shields (157) to earn his spot in the lineup. There was a time in his career where that would have seemed inevitable, but Tsirtsis finished just 15-9 in 2016 and has experienced a great deal of turmoil off the mat. Wrestling can challenge the strongest minds and we just don’t know what Jason will look like when he returns. His cameo at the Midlands last winter was a mixed bag with a nice win over Colin Heffernan (Central Michigan), but a major decision loss to Michael Kemerer (Iowa). There is little question that he will be ranked if he starts, but until that becomes clear, we’ll have to wait and see.
Chance Marsteller, Lock Haven, 165
First, there was the ill-fated cut to 157 at Oklahoma State, then legal issues sidelined Marsteller after a transfer to Lock Haven. It wasn’t clear for some time whether we’d ever see Chance back wrestling for a college team, but he kept popping up at open tournaments and freestyle events. It was there, especially on the freestyle circuit, that we saw flashes of the incredible potential Marsteller showed in going undefeated on his way to four Pennsylvania high school titles. He was a 2017 World Team Trials semifinalist and teched his way to a University Nationals title. Now, he is set to finally make his debut in the Lock Haven lineup. While his potential is obvious, his resume when only looking at college competition is thin. He missed a chance for a signature win, falling to David McFadden (Virginia Tech), 7-3, in January. With his other competition not so strong, Chance will have to earn his way in. There is little doubt he will do so.
Pat Downey, Iowa, 197
Downey begins the year not even on the roster as he still has some loose ends to tie up in order to graduate and be eligible to wrestle at Iowa second semester. While the possibility exists that he never suits up for the Hawkeyes, his potential if he does is undeniable. Over the past two seasons, Pat went 18-4 for Iowa State and famously finished fifth at the 2016 NCAA tournament after entering unseeded. He was 7-0 last year when he was dismissed from the team. Downey surfaced at the US Open, beating Vic Avery, Pete Renda (NC State), Josh Asper, Gabe Dean (Cornell), and Kyle Crutchmer (Oklahoma State) on his way to a fifth-place finish, only losing to Bo Nickal (Penn State) and David Taylor. This just added more fuel to the fire. Love him or hate him, Downey wrestling at the NCAA tournament would be a fascinating story and it would mean he earned a college degree. If for no other reason than that, I hope we see it.