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2021 NCAA Championships Facts, Stats, and Trends

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photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com

It’s time for one of my favorite staples of the collegiate postseason. The NCAA-related stats, facts, and trends article. Basically, it’s the result of keeping spreadsheets related to the NCAA Tournament and qualifiers for way too long. For those unfamiliar with this feature, it’s really just a lot of random information thrown together for your reading consumption. Nothing too heavy or deep! Feel free to use these when you’re hanging out with your NCAA-crew watching together over Zoom or Google meets (It sounds better to say at a restaurant or sports bar in between rounds, but we’ll save that for 2022). I’ve tried to pick out a useful nugget of information or two about most schools participating. 

State-Related

Rising power Georgia had 12 of its wrestlers qualify for the Big Dance. That matched the state’s all-time high, which was set in 2019. 

Kansas will have strong representation, with six of its natives competing in St. Louis. That’s the most since they sent seven in 2012. Those seven included Jordan Keller, Kendric Maple, Tyler Koehn, Kyle Detmer, Boaz Beard, and Steve Andrus. 

Trey Rogers of Hofstra is only the second Minnesota native to qualify for nationals out of the EIWA in the last 20 years. The other one? Also from Hofstra, Luke Vaith in 2014. 

The three wrestlers representing Montana will be the state’s highest total since 2013. That year, Trent Sprenkle, Jade Rauser, and Ty Vinson competed in Des Moines. 

The at-large addition of 133 lber Ty Smith gave Nevada its first competitor at the NCAA Tournament since Joey Lavallee was the second seed in the 2018 tournament. Oddly enough, Smith is the first wrestler under 149 lbs from Nevada to qualify since his old coach at Drexel, Matt Azevedo (Iowa State), made the tournament at 133 lbs in 2001. 

2012 was the last time that a New Hampshire native wrestled at the NCAA Championships. This year we have, not one but two, Granite Staters in action. They are Connor McGonagle (Lehigh) and Robert Heald (Army). Aaron Kalil (Navy) was the lone wrestler from New Hampshire to take the mat in 2012. You have to go back another year to find the last time New Hampshire had more than one wrestler in the field. In 2011, they had four with Kalil, Eric Morrill (Edinboro), DJ Meagher (Cornell), and Shawn Fendone (Edinboro). 

Perhaps no state was hit harder by the Ivy League’s decision not to compete than New Jersey. “Only” 19 wrestlers from New Jersey qualified for the tournament. That is the lowest total in at least 20 years. Last year’s tournament featured three Ivy Leaguer’s from New Jersey. Coincidentally, all were 125 lbers (Patrick Glory – Princeton, Joe Manchio – Columbia, and Michael Colaiocco – Penn). 

Despite having six DI schools in North Carolina, the only school that sent North Carolina natives to the big show was Appalachian State. John Mark Bentley’s team accounted for all three (Anthony Brito, Jonathan Millner, and Thomas Flitz). 

The three wrestlers from North Dakota (Kyle Burwick, Jared Franek, and Brandon Metz) are the most for the state in over 20 years. Since 2000, only nine wrestlers from North Dakota have combined for 17 trips to nationals. 

The state of Oklahoma’s six wrestlers headed to St. Louis is the state’s lowest total since 2016. 

An obligatory “Pennsylvania is really good” stat. Pennsylvania natives accounted for 14 conference titles this year. Five in the ACC, Four in the EIWA, Three in the Big Ten, Two in the SoCon. 

197 is the weight class that contains the most Pennsylvania natives. Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh), Max Shaw (North Carolina), Michael Beard (Penn State), Jake Woodley (Oklahoma), Jake Jakobsen (Lehigh), Jake Koser (Navy), Greg Bulsak (Clarion), Colin McCracken (Kent State), and Chris Kuber (Campbell) will renew acquaintances at the Enterprise Center. 

Which schools sent the most Iowa natives to St. Louis? Northern Iowa leads the way with four (Teske, Lara, Yant, Runyon). South Dakota State is next with three (Price, DeVos, Sloan). Nelson Brands is the only one for the Hawkeyes. 

Roman Bravo-Young won a Big Ten championship at 133 lbs. He is thought to be the first Arizona native to accomplish the feat. 

Not one single state was able to produce an NCAA qualifier from all seven conferences. Pennsylvania did so in 2020, but had none in the Pac-12 this season. 

School-Related

Paul Bianchi made Little Rock wrestling history when he received an at-large berth on Tuesday. Bianchi will be the school’s first NCAA qualifier. Paul is no stranger to the national tournament, though, as he made the show for North Dakota State in 2018. 

Air Force will send three wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, when they had four (Josh Martinez, Greg Rinker, Josh Kreimier, Devin Hightower).

Appalachian State’s 2020 school record of six NCAA qualifiers stood for just one year. The Mountaineers broke their short-lived mark by sending seven this season. Also, a team-high for ASU was their five SoCon champions in 2021. 

The Mountaineers 149 lber, Jonathan Millner, is the highest-seeded (7th) ASU wrestler since Denzel Dejournette was seeded sixth for the 2016 tournament. 

For the third consecutive year, Army West Point will have seven Cadets hitting the mats at nationals. None of those wrestlers made it all three times (2019-21). 

Binghamton true freshman Micah Roes is in good company. He became the first true freshman since Nick Gwiazdowski in 2012 to earn a trip to nationals. Of course, Gwiazdowski went on to finish eighth at the 285 lb weight class that year. 

The Bearcats 184 lber, Louie DePrez, is the first Binghamton wrestler since Donnie Vinson to receive a top-four seed twice in his career. Louie was fourth last year and third this time. Vinson was fourth in 2012 and third in 2013. 

Bucknell’s Zach Hartman maintained his perfect record by claiming an EIWA title at 165 lbs. That made him the Bison’s first conference winner since Joe Stolfi did so in 2014. He is also the third Bucknell wrestler to win the EIWA, joining Stolfi and Kevin LeValley. Hartman is also the first Bucknell wrestler to receive a single-digit seed since LeValley was the third seed in 2011. 

Cal Poly’s Legend Lamer (aside from having an awesome name) is the first Mustang wrestler to receive a single-digit seed since Boris Novachkov was seeded sixth at the 2012 tournament. 

Central Michigan came away with a fourth-seed for 125 lber Drew Hildebrandt and the third-seed for 285 lber Matt Stencel. The last time Chippewas had two top-four seeds in the same season was 2008 with Christian Sinnott (4th – 184) and Wynn Michalak (4th – 197).

Three Cleveland State wrestlers automatically qualified for NCAA’s. That is the same number that competed in the event from 2017-20 combined. The last time the Vikings had more than two wrestlers at the National Tournament was 2007 with Ryan Hurley, Victor Crenshaw, and Rashard Goff. 

Drexel has six wrestlers set to compete in St. Louis. That is the school’s highest total since qualifying six in 2002. They were Rob Rebmann, Joe Cristaldi, Ben Chunko, Pat Miller, Chris Jones, Mike Carroll. 

Hofstra also had a huge year in terms of NCAA qualifiers with seven. That was the highest number at the school since 2011 when Steve Bonanno, Lou Ruggirello, Vicente Varela, PJ Gillespie, Ryan Patrovich, Ben Clymer, and Paul Snyder made the short trip to Philadelphia. 

Also, some more Hofstra-related news, Holden Heller claimed the Pride’s first title at the EIWA Championships since Joe Booth did so at 165 lbs in 2014. 

The team that benefited most from the at-large selections was the University of Illinois. A host of schools had two at-large berths, but the Fighting Illini had three. Danny and Zac Braunagel, along with Luke Luffman, were selected to join Lucas Byrd and Dylan Duncan en route to St. Louis. 

From 2012 to 2021, the Indiana Hoosiers had 30 national qualifiers. Only six of those 30 came from in-state. This year, all three of the Hoosiers national qualifiers were in-state products. 

Alex Marinelli became Iowa’s first three-time Big Ten champion since 2001. That year both Doug Schwab and TJ Williams won their third titles. He also is the only wrestler in the 2021 tournament that has received the top seed on three occasions. 

For the second consecutive year, Iowa will send all ten of their starters to the national tournament. The Hawkeyes have had 9 or more NCAA qualifiers every year since 2013. 

Iowa has four wrestlers seeded number one heading into the championships. The last team to have four #1 seeds? Iowa….back in 2000. They were Jody Strittmatter (125), Eric Juergens (133), Doug Schwab (141), and TJ Williams (157). 

Also sending ten to NCAA’s is Lehigh. But they didn’t have to break some sort of long draught. The last time the Mountain Hawks did so was in 2018. 

Myles Amine is the first Michigan Wolverine to receive the top seed at nationals since his current coach Kellen Russell garnered that seed in the 2012 tournament. 

Peyton Omania was announced as an at-large berth for Michigan State, which gave Roger Chandler’s team eight national qualifiers. That was the most for the school since the 2000 season. Then Pat McNamara, Mike Castillo, Karl Nadolsky, Gray Maynard, Greg DeGrand, William Hill, Nick Muzashvili, and Matt Lamb were qualifiers for the Spartans. Michigan State had three wrestlers compete for third place at the Big Ten Championships (Rayvon Foley – 3rd, Chase Saldate – 4th, Cam Caffey – 4th). The last time the school had three top-four finishers was 2006 with the Simmons brothers, Nick and Andy, along with RJ Boudro. 

Gable Steveson’s second Big Ten title made him the first Minnesota wrestler to win multiple Big Ten championships since fellow heavyweight Tony Nelson did so between 2012-14. 

The Missouri Tigers ran roughshod over the rest of the MAC conference. All ten Mizzou starters qualified for the NCAA Championships. Additionally, the school won their tenth straight conference crown, and their ninth since joining the MAC. 

Missouri will be a formidable group in the MAC and nationally as none of their ten qualifiers are seniors. 

Navy got a pair of at-large berths on Tuesday with Casey Cobb and John Birchmeier. That gave the team nine national qualifiers for the first time since 1968!

NC State’s Hayden Hidlay became only the tenth wrestler to capture four ACC titles and the fifth NC State wrestler to do so. Darrion Caldwell was the most recent to accomplish the feat for NC State in 2011. 

The Hidlay brothers, Hayden and Trent, are the first set of brothers to receive top-two seed at the NCAA Championships in the same season since the Stiebers (Logan and Hunter) did so in 2013. Both were one-seeds that year. 

With Ridge Lovett, Taylor Venz, and Eric Schultz falling in the Big Ten finals, it extended Nebraska’s winless streak in that championship round. The Huskers have lost their last eight Big Ten finals, a skid that goes back to 2016. Their last champion was current assistant coach Robert Kokesh in 2015 at 174 lbs. 

For the fifth consecutive year, North Dakota State put at least two wrestlers in the Big 12 finals. This time it was Jared Franek (157) and Luke Weber (165). Weber became the school’s second Big 12 champion by downing Cole Moody and top-seeded Travis Wittlake. 

Brit Wilson’s second consecutive MAC Championship made him the first Northern Illinois wrestler to win multiple conference titles since Pat Castillo accomplished the feat in 2007 and 2008. Wilson is also the first Huskie wrestler to garner a single-digit seed since Ben Heizer was the second-seed in 2004. Heizer is also the school’s most recent All-American. 

For the third straight season, a Northern Iowa 184 lber has won a Big 12 title. Each year the wrestler has changed. In 2019 it was Drew Foster. Last year, it was Taylor Lujan. This time it was freshman Parker Keckeisen. Keckeisen has some strong predecessors to follow as Foster went on to win nationals that year, and Lujan was the top-seed at the ill-fated NCAA Championships. 

Northwestern’s seven national qualifiers are the school’s most since the 2006 season. Led by super sophomores, Ryan Lang, Jake Herbert, Mike Tamillow, and Dustin Fox, seven Wildcat grapplers made the trip to Oklahoma City. The remaining qualifiers were John Velez, Will Durkee, and Matt Delguyd. 

Ohio University had Mario Guillen as their lone qualifier this year. The last time the Bobcats only had a single national qualifier was in 2008, when freshman Germaine Lindsey went at 141 lbs. 

Ohio State had seven national qualifiers, which was the school’s lowest total since the 2011 season. 

Sammy Sasso’s top-seed at 149 lbs gives the Buckeyes at least one number one seed for the ninth consecutive year. That is the longest active streak in DI wrestling. They are Luke Pletcher and Kollin Moore in 2020, Myles Martin in 2019, Kollin Moore and Kyle Snyder in 2018, Nathan Tomasello and Kyle Snyder in 2017, Nathan Tomasello in 2016, Logan Stieber in 2015, Nick Heflin in 2014, Logan and Hunter Stieber in 2013. 

One of the stories of the second weekend of conference tournament action was the performance of Lou Rosselli’s Oklahoma Sooners. OU shared the Big 12 title with rival Oklahoma State, despite the Cowboys appearing as huge favorites. This was the Sooners first conference title since the 2002 season. All-Americans from that team included Witt Durden, Nate Parker, Jared Frayer, Robbie Waller, Michael Barger, and Josh Lambrecht. 

Penn State led the way nationally for freshman NCAA qualifiers. More than half of their lineup in St. Louis (five) will consist of freshmen. Robbie Howard, Joe Lee, Carter Starocci, Michael Beard, Greg Kerkvliet. That is the most of the Cael-era at Penn State. In 2012 they had four (Nico Megaludis, Frank Martelotti, Dylan Alton, Morgan McIntosh). 

With Devin Schroder making the Big Ten finals for a second consecutive year, it marked the first time a Boilermaker wrestler had advanced to the conference final, twice, since Ryan Lange did so in 2003-04. 

Purdue’s Gerrit Nijenhuis became the first true freshman to qualify for nationals for the Boilermakers since Christian Brunner did so in 2017.

Rutgers had a trio of wrestlers finish third at the Big Ten Championship (Sebastian Rivera, Mike Van Brill, and John Poznanski). The last time the Scarlet Knights had three top-three finishers at a conference championship was in 2014. Ken Theobold and Anthony Perrotti were both third at the EIWA Championships, while Billy Smith made the finals. 

Poznanski is thought to be the highest-seeded freshman in school history at six. Previously, Anthony Ashnault was the seventh seed back in 2015. 

It’s kind of an “old” fact now, but bears repeating again. Nick Palumbo’s run to the 157 lb EIWA finals made him the first national qualifier for Sacred Heart since Payam Zarrinpour was an NCAA All-American in 2007. Shortly thereafter, Joe Accousti also made the tournament at 184 lbs. The last time the Pioneers had multiple national qualifiers was the prior year, 2006, when Zarrinpour and Chris Davis did so. 

In 2019 Demetrius Romero became the first Utah Valley wrestler to win a Big 12 championship. Two years later, he is now the school’s first two-time champion. He is also the team’s highest-seeded wrestler ever at #2. That surpasses teammate Taylor LaMont’s seventh seed in 2018. 

A pair of at-large berths gave Virginia eight NCAA qualifiers for the first time since the 2014 season. This also marked the second time in over twenty years that the Cavaliers had multiple nationals qualifiers hail from in-state. The only other time this happened during the 2000s came in 2018 when Andrew Atkinson and Tyler Love qualified. 

In 2021 we got a glimpse of the next great 125 lber for Virginia Tech. Sam Latona knocked off the defending ACC champion, Jakob Camacho, to win his first career ACC title, as a freshman. Latona is now the third Hokie since 2010 to win a title at that weight. The previous two, Joey Dance and Jarrod Garnett, went on to combine for six conference crowns. 

Latona also became just the fourth Hokie wrestler to earn the two-seed at nationals. Hunter Bolen did it in 2020, David McFadden was in 2018 and Joey Dance received that distinction in 2016 and 2017. 

Wisconsin’s NCAA qualifier tally grew to four with the addition of Eric Barnett during the at-large selection process. That number is the lowest for the program since they had three in 2013 with Tyler Graff, Jackson Hein, and Connor Medbery. 

Wyoming placed four wrestlers in the Big 12 finals for the first team since they joined the conference as an affiliate member in 2016. Unfortunately, all four fell in the finals and the team wasn’t able to claim champions in back-to-back years for the first time in the conference. 

The Dropped Programs

Fresno State will still be in action next weekend, but once the school announced it was dropping wrestling, plenty of their team members transferred to other institutions. How many? The Bulldogs could form quite the formidable team, with DJ Lloren and Kyle Parco qualifying at 141 and 149. Additionally, former Fresno State wrestlers that made the NCAA tournament include Greg Gaxiola (Hofstra – 149), Jacob Wright (Wyoming – 157), Jackson Hemauer (Northern Colorado – 174), Ryan Reyes (Oregon State – 184) and Owen Pentz (North Dakota State – 197). Also, AJ Nevills qualified for nationals twice for Fresno State and transferred to South Dakota State, but did not compete this year. 

Old Dominion also lost out on having a strong nucleus in 2021. Killian Cardinale, Michael McGee, and Alex Cramer are all former Monarchs that made the tournament this year. 

Former Eastern Michigan wrestlers are still in the NCAA pipeline. A pair of 174 lber’s Andrew McNally (Kent State) and Mason Kauffman (Northern Illinois), qualified in 2021 and used to call Ypsilanti home. 

Seeding and Bracketing Stuff

For the second consecutive year, the Big Ten received nine of the ten number one seeds. Last year’s outlier was Taylor Lujan (Northern Iowa) at 184, while Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) was the lone non-B1G wrestler this season. 

You again?? That’s what Noah Adams has to think as he looks down the bracket at 197 lbs. He is slated for a second-round match with eighth-seeded Stephen Buchanan. The Cowboy is responsible for all three of Adams’ losses during the 2021 campaign. The two met twice during Adams’ undefeated 2019-20 season and he obviously won both bouts. 

In a similar vein, the top-three at 197 lbs in the EIWA was virtually impossible to seed. Jake Jakobsen defeated JT Brown, but lost to Jake Koser. Brown went on to defeat Koser and they all had similar resumes outside of each other. That was sorted out as Jakobsen went on to win the EIWA’s by defeating Brown in the finals. Now, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Jakobsen and Brown are set to square off. The loser of that bout drops to the exact spot in the consolations where Koser would go if he loses to #15 Michael Beard and wins his next match. 

The top four seeds at 157 lbs are the exact same as the 2020 tournament that never happened. #1 Ryan Deakin, #2 Hayden Hidlay, #3 David Carr, #4 Jesse Dellavecchia. 

The second quadrant from the bottom in the 125 lb bracket contains a trio of wrestlers with an absurd amount of international experience. #7 Taylor LaMont, #10 Malik Heinselman, #23 Robbie Howard have combined to make 13 age-group world teams. LaMont has three Cadet and Junior Greco teams, with another at the U23 level. Heinselman has made a pair of Cadet freestyle teams and one Junior team. Howard made the freestyle squad as a Cadet three times, plus he was a Youth Olympic Games gold medalist. 

Speaking of world-level accolades, it’s hard to match the 285 lb class. The top half of the bracket has three age-group world champions! Gable Steveson, Greg Kerkvliet, and Cohlton Schultz. Also, throw in Cadet world silver medalist Jordan Wood at the eighth-seed. The bottom bracket “only” has Junior world silver medalist Zach Elam and Junior world champion Mason Parris. Also, the same year that Parris won Junior Worlds, Tony Cassioppi defeated him at UWW Junior. Cassioppi is on that top half. 

There’s a very good chance that one of the 174 lb quarterfinals could be an all-Romero affair. The second seed is Utah Valley’s Demetrius and he’s lined up to face seventh-seeded Kaleb of Ohio State. 

With such an abbreviated regular season, it’s hard to compare the number of undefeated wrestlers to past years. Each weight class contains multiple undefeated entrants. 125 and 157 contain the most with five. The 125 lbers are Spencer Lee, Sam Latona, Brandon Courtney, Drew Hildebrandt, and Jaret Lane. The 157’s are Ryan Deakin, Hayden Hidlay, David Carr, Jesse Dellavecchia, and Holden Heller. 

Iowa’s Spencer Lee is the first 125 lber to receive the number one seed in back-to-back years at the weight class since Stephen Abas did so in 2001 and 2002. Alan Waters (2013 and 2015), Angel Escobedo (2008 and 2010 and Sam Hazewinkel (2005 and 2007) all did it multiple times, but not back-to-back. Nathan Tomasello got the one seed in 2016 and 2017, but the second one came at 133 lbs. 

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