photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com
The 2021 NCAA Championships are rapidly approaching and since brackets have been released, we now know everyone’s path to an NCAA title. Before the action gets underway from St. Louis, we will break down each bracket in detail. We’ll start with some historical facts for reference, break down who can win each weight class, who will contend for All-American honors, who are scary matchups for potential upsets, and how this bracket will affect the team race. Let’s start with the 125 lbers!
ACC: Sam Latona (Virginia Tech)
Big 12: Brody Teske (Northern Iowa)
Big Ten: Spencer Lee (Iowa)
EIWA: Jaret Lane (Lehigh)
MAC: Drew Hildebrandt (Central Michigan)
Pac-12: Brandon Courtney (Arizona State)
SoCon: Codi Russell (Appalachian State)
Other Automatic Qualifiers
ACC: Jakob Camacho (NC State), Patrick McCormick (Virginia)
Big 12: Taylor LaMont (Utah Valley, Killian Cardinale (West Virginia), Danny Vega (South Dakota State), Trevor Mastrogiovanni (Oklahoma State)
Big Ten: Devin Schroder (Purdue), Rayvon Foley (Michigan State), Malik Heinselman (Ohio State), Michael DeAugustino (Northwestern), Robbie Howard (Penn State)
EIWA: Jaret Lane (Lehigh), Logan Treaster (Navy), Gage Curry (American)
MAC: Drew Hildebrandt (Central Michigan), Noah Surtin (Missouri), Jake Ferri (Kent State), Jonathan Tropea (Rider)
Pac-12: Brandon Courtney (Arizona State), Jackson DiSario (Stanford)
SoCon: Codi Russell (Appalachian State)
Big 12: Kysen Terukina (Iowa State)
Big Ten: Eric Barnett (Wisconsin), Liam Cronin (Nebraska)
EIWA: Micah Roes (Binghamton)
Pac-12: Brandon Kaylor (Oregon State)
SoCon: Fabian Gutierrez (Chattanooga), Zurich Storm (Campbell)
Performance by Seed; Last 10 Years (13-16 seed started in 2014–2020 excluded)
1: 10 AA’s, 3 finalists, 3 champions
2: 9 AA’s, 3 finalists, 1 champion
3: 6 AA’s, 4 finalists, 4 champions
4: 9 AA’s, 5 finalists, 2 champions
5: 7 AA’s, 2 finalists
6: 5 AA’s, 1 finalist
7: 4 AA’s
8: 6 AA’s
9: 4 AA’s
10: 4 AA’s, 1 finalist
11: 1 AA
12: 2 AA’s
13: 1 AA
14: 0 AA’s
15: 1 AA
16: 2 AA’s
US: 9 AA’s, 1 finalist
Spencer Lee (Iowa) 2018 Champion, 2019 Champion, 2020 1st Team
Michael DeAugustino (Northwestern) 2020 1st Team
Drew Hildebrandt (Central Michigan) 2020 1st Team
Devin Schroder (Purdue) 2020 1st Team
Brandon Courtney (Arizona State) 2020 2nd Team
Jakob Camacho (NC State) 2020 2nd Team
Rayvon Foley (Michigan State) 2019 7th Place
Who Can Win?
This may be the shortest explanation for this question at any of the ten weights. It’s the Spencer Lee show! The reigning Hodge Trophy winner is 7-0, with none of his seven matches having gone the distance in 2021. Lee has five falls and two techs. He’ll be a heavy favorite to continue his streak of bonus points and bring home a second Hodge in 2021. Even in “good” first periods by his opponents, Spencer has been able to open up sizable leads and pile on the pressure.
As eluded to above, if anyone defeats Lee, it would be a mammoth upset. Aside from the Hawkeye, one low seed to watch is the EIWA champion, Jaret Lane (Lehigh). Jaret amassed a respectable 23-7 record while competing at 133 lbs as a sophomore. He went through the 2021 season unscathed at 8-0, but hasn’t hit any of the key players at the weight. Lane could present a tough second-round matchup for fellow unbeaten, Brandon Courtney (Arizona State), the three seed.
The opponent that was penciled in against Lee in the Big Ten finals was Liam Cronin, the second-seed at that event. Cronin was shocked by Devin Schroder (Purdue) in his first match and ended up 0-2 in the official portion of the tournament. He later wrestled two more bouts to claim ninth place. Had Cronin made the podium at the Big Ten’s, he probably would have received a top-ten seed. Now, as the #13, the Husker is dangerous. He could meet the fourth-seed, Drew Hildebrandt (Central Michigan), in the second. Cronin has two prior losses to Hildebrandt; however, those came in the early portion of his career, before his 2019-20 breakout that saw him take fifth in the conference for Indiana.
11th seeded freshman Dylan Ragusin (Michigan) should have his hands full in the early going with #22 Danny Vega (South Dakota State) in the opening round. Vega came into the Big 12 meet on a 12-match winning streak and even pinned the eventual third-place finisher, Killian Cardinale (West Virginia). Cardinale would later defeat him for third place. Vega can put up points with the best of them. Even in his losses, his lowest scoring output was four points.
The race for the top-eight
After the monster at the top of this weight class, it’s anyone’s guess for the rest of the All-American podium. The two ACC finalists, Sam Latona (Virginia Tech) and Jakob Camacho (NC State), have quite the budding rivalry and reunite for round three in the NCAA semifinals. Latona is unbeaten and Camacho’s only two losses on the year were courtesy of the Hokie. Before thinking about the semifinals, Latona will have to get by a much-improved Malik Heinselman (Ohio State). Malik has qualified for nationals twice, but appeared to have taken another set towards the top-eight this season. He’ll also have to contend with Greco-specialist, Taylor LaMont (Utah Valley), provided he makes it by a rival of his own, Robbie Howard (Penn State). Howard only has nine matches on the year and two have come against Heinselman.
The top half of the bracket is loaded with veterans. In addition to Cronin and Hildebrandt, 2020 Big Ten third-place finisher Michael DeAugustino (Northwestern) is looming in the second quarterfinal. The eight-nine matchup contains past All-Americans Rayvon Foley (Michigan State) and Devin Schroder (Purdue), though the “gift” for the winner of their Round of 16 bout is a date with Lee in the quarters. One of the young contenders on the top of the bracket is Brody Teske (Northern Iowa), a sophomore that qualified for nationals for the first time. He suffered only one loss this season and prevailed over a solid Big 12 bracket.
Team Race Implications
Spencer Lee will give a massive boost to Iowa at the start of each round. A bonus-point win by him typically jump-starts the rest of their talented lineup. When it’s all said and done, Lee stands a good chance at bonus-pointing his way through the tournament, which will help the Hawkeyes fend off any challengers. Some of the other trophy contenders have top-notch 125 lbers, like Latona, Courtney, and Camacho. A run to the finals by any of these three will be invaluable for their teams. Three other contenders have true freshmen at this weight in Ragusin, Howard, and Trevor Mastrogiovanni (Oklahoma State). If any of these three teams have illusions of knocking off Iowa, they’ll need their freshman leadoff hitters to get onto the podium.
Round of 12: Taylor LaMont (Utah Valley), Dylan Ragusin (Michigan), Liam Cronin (Nebraska), Rayvon Foley (Michigan State)
Semifinals: Spencer Lee (Iowa) vs. Michael DeAugustino (Northwestern), Sam Latona (Virginia Tech) vs. Jakob Camacho
1st – Spencer Lee (Iowa)
2nd – Sam Latona (Virginia Tech)
3rd – Brandon Courtney (Arizona State)
4th – Jakob Camacho (NC State)
5th – Devin Schroder (Purdue)
6th – Michael DeAugustino (Northwestern)
7th – Malik Heinselman (Ohio State)
8th – Drew Hildebrandt (Central Michigan)