photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com
The 2021 NCAA Championships have come and gone! Here are some fun facts we noticed throughout the duration of the tournament and in the aftermath of the action.
One of my favorites, which I’ve already shared on Twitter, is that with national titles by Spencer Lee (Iowa) and Nick Lee (Penn State), it marks the first time that wrestlers with the same last name, who are unrelated, won championships in the same year.
The 2021 NCAA Finals saw only three number one seeds emerge as champions (Spencer Lee, Aaron Brooks, and Gable Steveson). That was the lowest number since three won in 2014 (Jesse Delgado, David Taylor, and Chris Perry).
Austin O’Connor’s (North Carolina) title at 149 lbs continued a three-year run with at least one national champion from the ACC. Michael Macchiavello (NC State) in 2018 and Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech) in 2019. This was a conference that produced only one national champ between 1996 and 2013.
For the third straight national tournament, six of the ten champions hailed from the Big Ten.
Since 1980, only seven #8 seeds have won NCAA titles. Shane Griffith’s (Stanford) win at 165 lbs marks back-to-back tournaments where this has occurred. Interestingly enough, it was also at 165 with Mekhi Lewis. Before Lewis, Jordan Leen (Cornell) has most recently accomplished the feat in 2008.
We continually stress how kids come into college more “ready” than ever before. This continues to be evident at the highest levels. Two freshmen (Carter Starocci and AJ Ferrari) won NCAA titles in 2021. There has been at least one freshman champion in every tournament since 2014. In five of those years, two freshmen won titles. For comparison’s sake, only nine freshmen won titles between 1990-2009, and only twice during that span did two win in the same year. Since 2010, 15 freshmen have claimed the gold.
Spencer Lee won his third title in as many tries. He becomes just the seventh Hawkeye to own three national championships. He became the first three-timer since Joe Williams finished up in 1998. This was Lee’s first time with the top-seed at the national tournament. In his previous two trips, he was seeded third.
Gable Steveson’s national title makes him the third different national champion from Apple Valley (MN) High School since 2017. Mark Hall (Penn State) in 2017 and Seth Gross (South Dakota State) in 2018 are the others.
This was Indiana’s first twice with two finalists, Nick Lee (Penn State) and Mason Parris (Michigan), since 2014 when Jason Tsirtsis and Andrew Howe made the finals. With Lee winning, he joins Tsirtsis as the most recent champ from Indiana.
B1G, Big men. The Big Ten routinely dominates at most weight classes; however, the 285 lb All-Americans were extra-B1G heavy. Six of the eight AA’s hail from Big Ten schools. Gable Steveson (Minnesota), Mason Parris (Michigan), Tony Cassioppi (Iowa), Trent Hillger (Wisconsin), Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State), and Tate Orndorff (Ohio State).
Sam Latona’s sixth-place finish made him the first DI All-American from Alabama since Brandon Womack (Cornell) in 2017.
Roman Bravo-Young’s (Penn State) national title makes him the first Arizona native to win one since Anthony Robles (Arizona State) in 2011.
This year was the first time since 2012 that California did not have an NCAA finalist.
Gannon Gremmel (Iowa State) was the only All-American to come from Iowa.
Missouri and head coach Brian Smith does an excellent job at retaining the best in-state wrestlers. The 2021 tournament was the first one since 2016 to yield national placewinners from Missouri, that didn’t end up wrestling for the Tigers. Of course, Jaydin Eierman previously wrestled for Mizzou, but has transferred to Iowa. Northern Illinois’ Brit Wilson is also from Missouri. The last non-Tiger to get on the podium from Missouri was Cody Brewer (Oklahoma) in 2016. Since then, J’Den Cox, Daniel Lewis, Eierman, Grant Leeth, Brock Mauller, and John Erneste all finished in the top-eight for Smith’s team.
Speaking of keeping the best wrestlers in-state, Oklahoma State’s John Smith obviously does this, as well. All three of the state’s 2021 All-Americans (Daton Fix, Boo Lewallen, Wyatt Sheets) all wrestled for the Cowboys. Since 2013 13 Oklahoma natives have earned All-American honors 26 times. Only two of those (Montorie Bridges – Wyoming and Tanner Skidgel – Navy) have wrestled for a school other than Oklahoma State.
One of the most significant dropoffs in All-American numbers came from Ohio with ten NWCA All-Americans in 2020, after sending six to the podium in 2019. This year, Ohio only had three All-Americans. They were Lucas Byrd (Illinois), Tariq Wilson (NC State), and David Carr (Iowa State).
For the sixth time in the last decade, we saw two Pennsylvania wrestlers meet in an NCAA final. This happened at 174 lbs when Carter Starocci (Penn State) upset Michael Kemerer (Iowa). The other instances were Zain Retherford/Ronnie Perry; 2018, Jason Nolf/Hayden Hidlay; 2018, Darian Cruz/Ethan Lizak; 2017, Ed Ruth/Jimmy Sheptock; 2014, Steve Bosak/Quentin Wright; 2012.
For the first consecutive NCAA Tournament, we’ve seen at least two national champions hailing from Pennsylvania (of course, excluding 2020). This year included Spencer Lee (Iowa) and Starocci. 2019 had Lee and Nolf. 2018 saw Lee, Retherford, Nolf, and Vincenzo Joseph win. Cruz, Retherford, Nolf, and Joseph won in 2017. Nico Megaludis and Retherford started this run in 2016.
Though never thought of as a national power, Texas has produced an All-American for the sixth consecutive year. Freshman Bo Nickal started the run in 2016 and made the finals for the next three seasons. Jack Mueller chipped in in 2017 and 2019, then kept the streak alive in 2020. AJ Ferrari took the torch in a big way with his 2021 national championship and should extend it in the foreseeable future. Prior to 2016, only four Texans got on the podium between 1999-2015.
Taylor LaMont’s fifth-place finisher made him the first All-American from Utah since Matt Brown (Penn State) won a national title in 2015. LaMont and Demetrius Romero are the first Utah Valley wrestlers who got on the podium since Jade Rauser in 2016.
Tate Orndorff is the first Washington native to earn a spot on the podium since Conner Hartmann (Duke) finished seventh in 2016.
The 2021 tournament was a massive success for the Wisconsin wrestling community. The state had not produced a DI All-American since Alex Dieringer won the Hodge Trophy in 2016. Wisconsin broke through in a big way as four of their products made the podium, Eric Barnett (Wisconsin), Keegan O’Toole (Missouri), Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa), and Stephen Buchanan (Wyoming).
Air Force’s 285 lber Wyatt Hendrickson became the school’s first wrestler to advance to the Round of 12 since Cole Von Ohlen did so at 149 lbs in 2013.
Appalachian State’s Jonathan Millner was the Mountaineers first All-American since Denzel DeJournette placed eighth at 285 lbs in 2017.
Arizona State received a team trophy for taking fourth place. It was the school’s highest finish since 1995. That was also the last time the Sun Devils had five wrestlers earn a spot on the NCAA podium, which they did in 2021.
Louie DePrez was the first Binghamton wrestler to make the NCAA podium since Donnie Vinson and Nick Gwiazdowski did so in 2012.
Bucknell’s Zach Hartman was the first Bison wrestler on the podium since 2011 when Kevin LeValley was seventh at the 149 lb weight class.
Cal Poly’s Bernie Truax’s fourth-place finish made him the first Mustang wrestler in the top-eight since Boris Novachkov in 2012. He was also the first Cal Poly to make the semifinals since Novachkov did so in 2011.
Drew Hildebrandt’s fourth-place finish was the highest for a Central Michigan wrestler since one of his current assistant coaches, Ben Bennett, was four in 2013.
Iowa’s seven placewinners were the most for the school since their most recent national title-winning year in 2009-10. That season eight Hawkeyes made the podium for Tom Brands’ team.
The Hawkeyes went 18-2 on day one, which put eight wrestlers into Friday morning’s quarterfinals.
Iowa’s Alex Marinelli became the first number one seed to miss out on the podium since Darrion Caldwell in 2011. Both involved injury-related forfeits.
David Carr became the first Iowa State wrestler to win a national title since Kyven Gadson did so in 2015.
Despite sending ten qualifiers, Lehigh was not able to place any of its wrestlers on the podium. The last team Lehigh was without an All-American was 2009. The school actually had no AAs between 2007-09.
Gable Steveson became Minnesota’s first national champion since Tony Nelson won the second of his two titles in 2013. He is also the fourth Gopher heavyweight to win a national championship since 2000, joining Brock Lesnar, Cole Konrad, Tony Nelson.
Missouri brought in a highly decorated recruiting class in 2020, which was deemed to be second overall in the nation. That class showed out in St. Louis as two of its members, Keegan O’Toole and Rocky Elam, made it into the top-five. O’Toole was third at 165 and Elam was fifth at 197. Both outwrestled their initial seeds (O’Toole/6, Elam/7). They were the only school with two true freshman AAs.
On the other end of the spectrum, Missouri was the only school with three wrestlers that fell in the Round of 12. They were Matt Schmitt (133), Allan Hart (141), and Jarrett Jacques (157).
NC State’s sixth-place finish was the second-best in school history. Their four All-Americans also tied a program-high.
Hayden Hidlay’s fifth-place showing made him the first four-time All-American in NC State history. (5th, 1st team, 4th, 2nd).
Eric Schultz was seeded second at 197 lbs but missed the podium. This actually happens more frequently than one may think. Since 2014, at least one #2 has been prevented from reaching All-American status. Shakur Rasheed – Penn State/2019, Joey Lavallee – Missouri/2018, Anthony Collica – Oklahoma State/2017, Joey Dance – Virginia Tech and Brian Realbuto – Cornell/2016, Michael Moreno – Iowa State and Max Thomusseit – Pittsburgh/2015, Nick Dardanes – Minnesota/2014.
Austin O’Connor was the first finalist from Illinois since Lavion Mayes (Missouri) did so in 2017. He was also the first national champion from Illinois since his assistant coach, Tony Ramos (Iowa), in 2014.
O’Connor is also the first NCAA champion for North Carolina since TJ Jaworsky won his third for the Tar Heels in 1995.
Northern Illinois got their first All-American since Ben Heizer was a national finalist at 184 lbs in 2004. Also at 184 lbs, Brit Wilson took sixth this year after receiving the seventh seed. He was also NIU’s first two-time MAC champion since Pat Castillo in 2007 and 2008.
Parker Keckeisen’s third-place finish at 184 lbs made him Northern Iowa’s first freshman All-American since Max Thomsen was fifth at 149 lbs in 2017.
Northwestern had three wrestlers on the podium, a figure the school hadn’t seen since 2014 when Jason Tsirtsis, Pierce Harger, and Mike McMullan were All-Americans.
We had some local flavor in the 197 lb NCAA semifinal between Jake Woodley (Oklahoma) and Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh). The two both hail from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-area and went to high schools about 22 miles apart. Woodley (North Allegheny) and Bonaccorsi (Bethel Park).
One of the great stories of the tournament was the fact that #33 Wyatt Sheets got onto the podium at 157 lbs for Oklahoma State. Sheets was added late as an injury replacement after going 1-2 at the Big 12 Championships. Sheets was also fighting a severe knee injury himself. He’ll go down as the first #33 seed that earned All-American honors.
AJ Ferrari’s title at 197 lbs made him the first true freshman to win a national championship for the Cowboys since Pat Smith did so in 1990.
Oklahoma State was the only team that saw three double-digit seeds make the podium. Wyatt Sheets (33rd), Travis Wittlake (10th), and Dakota Geer (11th).
A pair of ex-Old Dominion wrestlers, Killian Cardinale and Michael McGee, made the podium in 2021. These two accounted for 18.5 points themselves, which would have been good enough to tie Wisconsin for 23rd place.
Kyle Parco had an incredible run for Fresno State, finishing sixth at the 149 lb weight class and almost knocking off Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) in the second round. In our pre-tournament article, we stated that there were five other former Fresno State wrestlers in the field. They had transferred out after the announcement was made to drop the program. Parco, DJ Lloren, and those other five ex-Bulldogs (Greg Gaxiola, Jacob Wright, Jackson Hemauer, Ryan Reyes, and Owen Pentz) would have been able to amass 21 points. That would have been good enough for 22nd place, ahead of Central Michigan.
Penn State had four individual champions, which was the highest total for a team that did not win a title.
With a four-for-four showing in the national finals, Penn State is now 21-6 on the raised mat in the Saturday night session since 2014.
Penn State also extended its run of consecutive years with at least one NCAA champion. The Nittany Lions have had at least one champion every year since 2011. They have had multiple winners every year since 2016.
Penn State’s five freshmen combined to score 43 points at the 2021 tournament. Robbie Howard (1.5), Joe Lee (0), Carter Starocci (21), Michael Beard (9.5), and Greg Kerkvliet (11).
There were a handful of “first since’s” associated with the Pitt Panthers 2021 tournament. The team’s 11th place finish was its best since 1970 when they took eighth. A pair of Panthers made the podium for the first time since 2013 when Matt Wilps and Zac Thomusseit were AAs. Jake Wentzel and Nino Bonaccorsi’s appearance in the finals marked the first time since 1963 that multiple Pitt wrestlers competed for a national title.
Congratulations to Jesse Dellavecchia and the Rider staff as Dellavecchia became the first NCAA finalist in school history.
Rutgers made some history of their own when Sebastian Rivera, Jackson Turley, and John Poznanski made the podium. It was the first time in the history of the Scarlet Knights program that they crowned three All-Americans in the same year.
Poznanski’s fourth-place finish was the highest by a freshman in Rutgers history.
Rutgers Head Coach Scott Goodale has now seen the team produce multiple All-Americans in the last five seasons.
Despite the school administrators’ decision to eliminate Stanford wrestling, Shane Griffith became only the second Cardinal wrestler to claim a national title, joining Matt Gentry from 2004.
Utah Valley had a pair of All-Americans (Taylor LaMont and Demetrius Romero) for the first time in program history.
Virginia Tech’s 14th place finish is the school’s lowest since 2011, though it’s safe to say that a semi-healthy Mekhi Lewis would have propelled the team into the top-ten for the fourth time in the last five tournaments.
West Virginia’s Killian Cardinale finished seventh at the 125 lb weight class. He becomes the first wrestler in the Tim Flynn-era to get onto the podium for the Mountaineers.