Last year about this time we released our list of the top five seniors that had yet to become All-Americans despite having had excellent careers to that point. Three of the five went on to finish their final college season on the award’s stand, another fell in the round of 12, and the fifth made a late decision to redshirt. Today, we once again identify those seniors who have been mainstays for their programs but have yet to become All-Americans. These young men have all been to the round of 12, only to see their hopes dashed. While they aspire to win national titles, clinching a top-six finish on Friday morning, history tells us that they are more likely to find themselves back in the consolations, wrestling a do or die match that will either end their collegiate careers or cement them for all time as All-Americans.
5) Jadaen Bernstein, Navy, 174
When Bernstein burst onto the scene by winning an EIWA title as a freshman, it seemed that an incredible career might be in the cards. While he has continued to be very good, winning more than 30 matches in each of the seasons since, returning to the NCAA tournament both years, reaching the round of 12 each time, he is still missing that one big win when it matters most. Bernstein has never been seeded at the NCAA tournament but has wins over wrestlers seeded fourth, 12th and 13th at the big show. His national tournament during his sophomore year was cut short when he was injured in a quarter-final loss to Nate Jackson (Indiana), forcing him to medically forfeit his shot at the podium. Jadaen has done many things during his time in Annapolis that make him a part of Navy’s wrestling history, but the cherry on top has remained elusive. Before he commissions as an officer in May, look for him to make a run in Cleveland.
4) Tyler Smith, Bucknell, 141
78 wins, including three at the 2017 NCAA tournament, his third trip to nationals, puts Smith on track to become the 10th wrestler in program history to hit triple digits, though Tom Sleigh is likely to beat him to it. Whether he reaches that milestone or not, Smith will have his eyes set on another prize after losing only to Kevin Jack (NC State) and Matt Kolodzik (Princeton) in St. Louis. The key for him might be to improve upon the 15-seed he earned last spring to avoid an early clash with one of the top contenders. Regardless of where he lands in the bracket, Smith will be a tough out as he attempts to become Bucknell’s first All-American since Kevin LeValley in 2011.
3) Dom Forys, Pitt, 133
A North Allegheny High School product who never won a state title despite an outstanding high school career, Forys stayed home for college and has gone 49-8 over the past two seasons after qualifying for the NCAA tournament as a freshman. He reached the round of 12 in 2016 before falling to Earl Hall (Iowa State). Last season, he had just one loss before the NCAA tournament began in St. Louis, earning the number six national seed. However, Forys was upset by Bryan Lantry (Buffalo) in the second round, then fell to Mitch McKee (Minnesota) in the round of 16. There is a chance that Forys could clash with Seth Gross and Scott Parker in February as Pitt wrestles both South Dakota State and Lehigh in late season duals. Keep an eye on those matches to see if the hometown kid is set to make a run at something bigger than the top eight.
2) Matt McCutcheon, Penn State, 197
In a career that has included 62 victories despite his time spent battling injuries, McCutcheon has reached the NCAA quarter-finals twice, in 2015 and again in 2017, before losing his next two matches in each competition. The three-time national qualifier came the closest to clinching a top-eight finish when he fell to unseeded Kenny Courts (Ohio State), 7-5 in sudden victory back in the 2015 quarters. He has also come up just short against TJ Dudley (Nebraska), Jared Haught (Virginia Tech), and Aaron Studebaker (Nebraska) with a podium finish on the line. Being bumped up to 197 from his preferred 184 when Bo Nickal moved up last season could not have helped, but McCutcheon enters his senior year well prepared to get over the hump. If he does, expect a loud ovation from Nittany Lion fans.
1) Domenic Abounader, Michigan, 184
After a false start last year during which he wrestled in a dual against Virginia, got hurt, then was forced to redshirt, Abounader makes a return to this list. The Michigan man fell just short of the award’s stand in 2016, falling to Pete Renda (NC State) in the second round, then battling back only to be clipped by two-seed Sam Brooks (Iowa) in the blood round. With three trips to the NCAA Championships and five career wins there, Abounader is the epitome of what this list is all about. He has won 69 matches for his school and finished in the top three at the Big Ten tournament in all three attempts. Dom has shown improvement throughout his career which suggests he’ll have a great chance to finally break through in 2018.