photo courtesy of Mid-South Conference
It’s’ hard to top a week like we had last time around when the top two teams in the country clashed. Even so, there was plenty to take away from our most recent weekend. The first of three women’s collegiate national championship events took place and there was plenty to take away from that tournament. Also, the kings of the Ivy League were toppled for the first time in almost 20 years. There were plenty of upsets and fun milestones reached, that we’ll need to do a separate column just to document each. We also saw two of the top big men in the nation meet with surprising results. All of that and more coming to you in the top performances of the week.
10) Jordan Pagano (Rutgers)
A 2-0 performance over the weekend from 197 lber Jordan Pagano helped Rutgers split a pair of matches. On Friday, Pagano was one of only two Scarlet Knight wrestlers to record a win during their 29-6 loss to Illinois. That night he shut out the Illini’s Matt Wroblewski 5-0. Two days later, in a dual with in-state bragging rights on the line, Pagano had a more imposing opponent standing across the mat from him with #12 Ethan Laird (Rider). Seven minutes weren’t enough to decide a winner between the two, so they headed to sudden victory. There Pagano was able to lock up a match-winning takedown, which helped Rutgers cruise to a 25-6 win over Rider. The 20th ranked Pagano now moves to 21-6 on the season and will close his regular season with two more high-quality opponents in #11 Lucas Davison (Northwestern) and #3 Patrick Brucki (Princeton).
9) Abby Nette (Campbellsville)
The only 2019 WCWA national champion that was able to repeat in 2020 was Campbellsville’s Abby Nette. Abby cruised through the 130 lb bracket with a fall and three techs to make the finals. She did not surrender a point in any of her four contests leading up to the first place bout. For the title, Nette needed to go through a tough freshman Gabby Skidmore of Augsburg. Skidmore was a 2019 Fargo Junior National Champion and entered the tournament with a 7-2 record. Abby got the scoring started with an early takedown, then two more both in the first period to lead 6-1, at the break. That was it for the rest of the match and Nette captured her second WCWA crown. She won her first while competing for Emmanuel last year. As a sophomore, Nette took third at the 2018 tournament. She is also a two-time U23 World team member and a champion at US Nationals in December. Nette was one of three champions for a Campbellsville team that won the tournament by over 100 points.
8) Ben Darmstadt (Cornell)
Before we get to Princeton, don’t overlook one of the most notable individual results of their dual with Cornell. At 197 lbs, we had one of the marquee matchups of the weekend with #3 Patrick Brucki (Princeton) against #4 Ben Darmstadt. The match was the final one of the dual meet, but it took place after the outcome was already decided. Darmstadt jumped out to a 10-1 lead after two periods and never looked back. He would finish with an 11-4 decision that has huge postseason implications. As a result, Darmstadt will likely earn the top seed at the EIWA Championships. It also puts him in a position to either grab the second or third seed at nationals, with another win over Brucki. This is the second time in college that Ben has defeated the Tiger All-American. The two also met in a 2018 dual and Darmstadt prevailed 9-6.
7) Julia Vidallon (Life)
History was made for Ashley Sword’s Life University team as Julia Vidallon became the school’s first WCWA champion by winning the 123 lb weight class at WCWA Nationals. Wrestling for the host school’s Running Eagles, Vidallon was the second seed at her weight class and showed why with tech falls in her first two bouts. She would clinch a spot in the finals after downing Tiffin’s Savannah Stacks, 9-3. A four-pointer in the opening seconds of the match set the pace for the Virginia Beach native. In the finals, Julia would face the top-seed, freshman Vayle-Rae Baker (Augsburg), a three-time Fargo champion and two-time Cadet World team member. Trailing Baker heading into the second period, Vidallon used a caution-and-one and a takedown to take a 3-2 lead. Not content to hang out for the win, Julia stayed on the offensive and got another takedown with her sweep single in the final 15 seconds to lock up her 5-2 win and a national title. For her work, Julia was also named the Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament.
6) Steven Buchanan (Wyoming)
It seems like every year Wyoming head coach has a freshman that may have been overlooked during that recruiting process that can produce right away. This year its Wisconsin-native Stephen Buchanan, a true freshman at 197 lbs. Stephen came into the weekend ranked 23rd in the nation and a winner of his last three matches, two of which were against returning national qualifiers. Buchanan upped the ante on Saturday by knocking off returning All-American Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State) 8-6. This was the first time in Buchanan’s young collegiate career that he downed a former AA. On Thursday, Stephen also received a forfeit against Fresno State. Buchanan will have perhaps his toughest test of the year two weeks from now when he faces undefeated, second-ranked Noah Adams (West Virginia), to close out the regular season.
5) Emily Shilson (Augsburg)
One of the most decorated age-group wrestlers to hit the women’s college level in US history was Augsburg freshman Emily Shilson. Before college, Emily had a Cadet World Championship and a Youth Olympic Games gold medal to her credit, along with a Cadet World silver medal. As most expected, Shilson hit the ground running in college and continued her dominance. At WCWA’s, she did not surrender a single point and racked up two techs and two falls. The second of those tech falls came in the finals against the 109 lb runner-up from a year ago, McKayla Campbell (Campbellsville). Augsburg is in their first year of collegiate competition, at the women’s level, so Emily becomes the first woman in program history to win a national title.
4) Rachel Watters (Oklahoma City)
Even since Rachel Watters stepped on the scene as a freshman for Oklahoma City, she was one of the top women at her weight class. Injuries and other top competitors prevented her from winning a national title in her previous three seasons. Last year she took third at the NAIA National Championships and she was third at WCWA’s in 2018, despite entering as the top seed. This time, Watters came in as the third seed and had an imposing challenger waiting in the finals. Returning champion Jayden Laurent (Lakeland) won the 2019 title at 143 lbs and had bumped up to 155 this year. A shot-clock violation in Laurent’s favor accounted for the only scoring in the first period. Watters blew open the match in the second with a low-single for two points. Rachel added to her lead with some excellent defense at the edge of the mat, when she avoided a takedown and scored a push-out point of her own to lead 3-1. Another step-out, followed by a takedown in the final seconds of the match, gave Rachel the 6-1 win and a national title.
What a weekend to be a fan of Princeton wrestling! Saturday news broke that three-time All-American Matt Kolodzik would be coming out of his Olympic redshirt to compete for the Tigers during the remainder of the 2019-20 season. In his first match back, Kolodzik rolled to a tech fall against Columbia. More importantly, Sunday Princeton squared off with Ivy League powerhouse, Cornell. The dual started at 285 lbs, but it was All-American Patrick Glory that got Princeton on the board after his 9-0 major decision. After a pair of losses, Kolodzik got his team back on track with a win. That was the first of five-in-a-row for head coach Chris Ayres’ squad. In a seemingly even bout at 174 lbs, Kevin Parker managed to get a 10-3 decision over Junior World Greco silver medalist Andrew Berreyesa. In what would be the deciding match, Travis Stefanik got a dramatic win over freshman #23 Jonathan Loew. With the match knotted at four points, with about ten seconds left, Stefanik locked up a cradle for six points, clinching the win for his team. This snapped a 18-year, 92 match Ivy League winning streak for Cornell and gives Princeton their first Ivy League crown since 1986. That year was the last time that they defeated the Big Red, as well. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a program that started 0-37 after Ayres’ hiring in 2006.
2) Nick Lee (Penn State)
Is it possible for a two-time All-American to be one of the most improved wrestlers in the country? If so, Nick Lee may very well be that guy. Lee maintained his perfect record for the 2019-20 season with a pair of wins on Friday and Sunday, both over top-ten opponents. Friday’s dual saw him face #9 Tristan Moran (Wisconsin), a foe that had upset Lee in last year’s dual. With the previous year’s overtime loss on his mind, Lee didn’t leave anything up to chance as he majored the Badger 14-1. If that wasn’t enough, Nick met #4 Mitch McKee (Minnesota) yesterday and disposed of his with a first-period pin. Lee now has earned bonus points in 15 of his 16 matches this year, which is a 25% jump from his strong sophomore season. All eyes will be on Rec Hall this Saturday night as Lee and #1 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) are set to square off in one of the most anticipated matches of the regular season. The winner likely finishes the regular season unbeaten and will assume the top seed in the Big Ten at 141 lbs.
1) Mason Parris (Michigan)