Pictured: A look inside Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan, before the finals of the 2022 Division I Wrestling Championships. Photo by Andrew Spey (@SpeyWrestle).
It’s hard to believe that five months of excellent NCAA Division I wrestling went by that quickly, but it did. After a genuinely wild three days on the mats of Little Caesars Arena, the 2022 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships are in the books. With that, 330 NCAA Qualifiers were shrunk down to 80 D-I All-Americans, and 10 individual national champions.
As has been the case in previous years, the Penn State Nittany Lions reigned supreme.
Here are 13 takeaways (in no particular order) from the 2022 NCAA Championships in Detroit, Michigan, March 17-19.
The Penn State Wrestling dynasty continues
Penn State Wrestling is elite. Nobody will argue this statement. But, statistically, what the Nittany Lions have done is borderline other-worldly under the legendary Cael Sanderson, who arrived in Happy Valley before the 2019-10 season.
Since 2009-10, Cael and company have won nine team NCAA national titles: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022, and 10 total team trophies (top-4 at NCAA team finishes) over that span. Penn State finished sixth in 2015 and second in 2021.
Similarly, 17 wrestlers have combined to win 32 individual titles wearing that familiar Blue and White Penn State singlet, including a whopping five of 10 champs this past weekend in 2022 (and five back in 2017, as well). Additionally, 11 of those 17 champs have gone on to win multiple crowns.
Concerning All-Americans, 29 different wrestlers have combined to amass those 75 All-American honors, according to InterMat’s Earl Smith.
As if these data points weren’t impressive enough, Penn State is 46-7 in the semifinal round and 21-3 in its last 24 NCAA finals appearances.
Wow! That’s all that can be said about this level of recent dominance by the Lions .
Iowa had an NCAA finalist again
The end results and overall team performance weren’t what the Iowa coaches and fans had in mind. Having said that, 2022 was the 32nd straight year that the Iowa Hawkeyes had an NCAA finalist (Jacob Warner).
Just let that stat sink in for a second.
Gable ends his career with a second NCAA title
Gable Steveson is a generational talent. Before turning 22, the Minnesota Golden Gopher big man has won Olympic gold, NCAA gold two times, a Hodge Trophy, Big Ten gold on three occasions, and more age-level freestyle accolades on top of all that. Regardless of your fandom, any time you get to watch somebody with such a high skill set, it’s an awesome experience.
Sure, Gable gave up a takedown and lost his 100% bonus rate in Detroit, but he was still unstoppable. Gable got his second title, did his signature backflip, and left the mat to cheers as he placed his shoes in the center of the mat. And, by the end of the month, we may (and probably will) see Gable get his second consecutive Hodge Trophy.
Was the 2022 NCAA Division I Championships the toughest ever?
As we all know, an extra year of eligibility was given due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overwhelmingly, wrestlers elected to use the extra season on the mats. As a result, 65 former All-Americans and nine returning NCAA champions were scrapping in Detroit this weekend. The only exception was three-timer Spencer Lee (Iowa), who was out with injury Needless to say, it was an exceptionally grueling event.
We saw the depth of this event from the opening whistle. In the opening round, there were 25 upsets (according to seed), and approximately 15 former All-Americans suffered losses in their first matches in Detroit.
Oh, and let’s not forget that seven of the 10 champs from 2022 already had an NCAA crown to their credit. Only Ryan Deakin (157), Keegan O’Toole (165) and Max Dean (197) won their first title in Detroit.
Seeds are just a meaningless number
As mentioned in the above bullet, 2022 was one of the more talent-laden tournaments on record. With that, wrestlers with seeds north of No. 20 were advancing and “upsetting” athletes with much lower seeds with regularity. There were numerous noteworthy instances of No. 20-plus seeds making upsets or deep podium runs in Detroit (shoutout to No. 26 Matt Ramos of Purdue, No. 26 Frankie Tal Shahar of Northwestern, No. 21 Gavin Hoffman of Ohio State, and others). But arguably the most impressive to me was North Carolina’s Kizhan Clarke, a No. 15 seed who stormed to the NCAA finals after an 0-2 showing at the 2022 ACC Championships.
It’s worth mentioning that Clarke is currently a second-year law school student at UNC, too.
The Big Ten showed its dominance
The Big Ten is widely regarded as the best in the sport. Well, the conference backed up that assertion at NCAAs this past weekend. Nearly half (39) of the total 2022 All-Americans came from the conference. Conversly, the MAC struggled mightily with zero All-Americans.
Additionally, seven of the 10 individual champs came from the Big Ten. Also, four of the top-5 teams and six of the top-10 hailed from Big Ten country concerning the team race.
Sadly, injuries proved to be impactful
Wrestling is a demanding sport, brutal even. Injuries are a part of the sport. Unfortunately, we saw injuries impactful for some marquee names, particularly 2021 NCAA finalist Jaydin Eierman.
Iowa’s Eierman was going for what would have been a very rare (and cool) stat of finishing fifth, fourth, third, second, and (potentially) first in 2022. Unfortunately, that wacky stat did not come to fruition this past tournament.
Eierman battled through what appeared to be a severe ACL injury before having to injury default out of the event on the final day in consolations. While Eierman didn’t have the opportunity to end his college career with a title, the Hawkeye standout displayed tremendous heart. He also has been the epitome of consistency on the mat. Congratulations to Jaydin on a quality career.
Wow, did that happen?
At every NCAAs, there are surprises, shocking moments, and other things that we couldn’t predict. The 2022 iteration was no exception to this trend. Two things that jumped out to me in this regard were the team performances of the Northwestern Wildcats and the Oregon State Beavers. In both cases, both squads outperformed their expected finishes, in my opinion.
For the ‘Cats, NU was just one of three D-I teams to qualify all 10 starters for Detroit. By the end of day three, Stornio found his team in sixth overall, with one NCAA champ in Ryan Deakin (157), plus three other All-Americans in Michael DeAugustino (125), Chris Cannon (133), and Lucas Davision (285). Surprisingly, returning All-American Yahya Thomas (third at 149 in 2021), did not find the 2022 podium.
And according to Storniolo, the Wildcats were the only group not to have a transfer score any points for the team at Big Tens or NCAAs.
Fun fact that I think has been overlooked…@NUWrestle was the only team in the top 6 who did not have a transfer score points for them at the NCAA (or Big Ten) Tournament.— Matt Storniolo (@CoachMattNU) March 22, 2022
In PAC-12 country, the Beavers of OSU had a stellar finish. Oregon State head coach Chris Pendleton helped his team to a 12th-place finish after four of his eight NCAA Qualifiers earned All-American honors, including Grant Willits (fourth at 141), Hunter Willits (seventh at 157), Brandon Kaylor (eighth at 125 pounds), and Devan Turner (eight at 133).
Both Storniolo and Pendleton have a lot to be proud of after their respective showings in Detroit.
Consistency was key at 133
Another oddity that is apparent after nationals was that 133 was about as consistent as it gets. Finishes one through seven were identical from 2021 to 2022.
A slight rearrangement of the order, but the top seven podium spots at 133 were filled by the same guys who occupied those spots in 2021. pic.twitter.com/TMmhWZECJW— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) March 20, 2022
Is Patrick McKee on of the best consolation wrestlers ever?
I’ll keep this one short, sweet, and to the point. Patrick McKee is a two-time All-American for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. He took third in 2021 before finishing fifth in 2022. Remarkably, according to FloWrestling’s Andy Hamilton, McKee has won 15 consecutive consolation matches at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships during the past two seasons.
Patrick McKee has won 15 consecutive consolation matches at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships during the past two seasons.— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) March 19, 2022
The man has heart, that’s for sure.
Some stellar careers are coming to a close
The 2022 NCAAs was probably one of the toughest on record. The field was older, more experienced, and more credentialed than any other year due to the COVID-19 extra eligibility year. With that, many fan-favorite wrestlers saw collegiate careers come to a close. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are some names that won’t be returning next season:
Nick Suriano. Austin DeSanto, Korbin Myers, Nick Lee, Sebastian Rivera, Jaydin Eiernman, Stevan Micic, Tariq Wilson, Ryan Deakin, Evan Wick, Alex Marinelli, Jake Wentzel, Hayden Hidlay, Michael Kemerer, Logan Massa, Myles Amine, Taylor Venz, Jordan Wood, Gable Steveson, and many more.
The point being, we watched numerous NCAA stars wrestling their last college matches this past weekend.
Disclaimer: I THINK all of the above names will not be returning next season, but time will tell.
Pins are on the decline at NCAAs
Sometimes, specific statistics come to light, and you are unsure what to make of it. This is the statistic that surprised me: Pins are declining at NCAAs, according to FloWrestling’s Hamilton.
PIns have been trending downward at the NCAA Championships over the course of the past decade.— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) March 22, 2022
2022 — 58
2021 — 59
2019 — 63
2018 — 69
2017 — 70
2016 — 70
2015 — 56
2014 — 75
2013 — 74
2012 — 79
2022 – (58), 2021 – (59), 2019 – (63), 2018 – (69), 2017 – (70) 2016 – (70), 2015 – (56), 2014 – (75) – , 2013 – (74), 2012 – (79).
Is this concerning? Who knows, but fans defiantly like watching and rooting for the pin.
Looking ahead to 2023
Yes, we are less than five days removed from the 2022 NCAA Championships. That said, it is probably too early to speculate about next year.
However, looking ahead, the 2023 NCAAs are shaping up to be a historical one as Iowa’s Spencer Lee (125) and Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis (149) will both be chasing the illustrious fourth NCAA title. It is wild to think that this could happen twice on the same night next year, when it only occurred four times in the history of Division I.
Only four have done this before:
|Kyle Dake||Cornell||2010, 2011, 2012, 2013|
|Cael Sanderson||Iowa State||1999-00-01, 2002|
|Pat Smith||Oklahoma State||1990-91-92-94|
|Logan Stieber||Ohio State||2012-13, 2014-15|
And, Nittany Lion 174-pounder Carter Starocci is on track to become the first-ever five-time Division I NCAA champion in 2025.