photo courtesy of Cam Kramer
As quickly as it started, the college regular season is almost gone. Valentine’s Day weekend marked the end of the regular season for the ACC school’s and many others around the country. Some will compete next weekend. Others like American and Lock Haven are expected to make their season debuts at their conference tournaments. Speaking of debuts, this past weekend, we saw three wrestlers, currently ranked #1 at their respective weights, make their first appearances of the year. Like most things in 2020 and 2021, the conference tournament schedules will be unusual. The majority will take place two weeks from now, while others will be conducted the first weekend of March.
Another new wrinkle in 2021 has been the flexibility of scheduling. After Iowa’s program was temporarily shut down, Michigan added a dual with Penn State on the fly. An unplanned dual between a pair of top-three teams in the nation, on only a few days’ notice, live on the Big Ten Network…YES PLEASE!
So this weekend had a battle between two national heavyweight teams, one of the best traditional rivalries in all of sports, a national champion going down, one of the best comebacks of the year, and the question…is it really an upset if it happens two weeks in a row? That and more in the top ten college performances of the week.
10) Brock Mauller (Missouri)
The third-ranked 149 lber in the nation, Brock Mauller, faced his most substantial test of the season on Sunday afternoon at the Cowboy Challenge. After notching a pair of wins against Warren Carr (Wyoming) and Jarod Kadel (Oklahoma State), Mauller advanced to meet four-ranked Boo Lewallen (Oklahoma State) in the championship bout. Like Mauller, Lewallen entered the event sporting a perfect record on the year. The Tiger escaped with a new cowboy hat and his perfect record in-tact after holding off Lewallen 7-5 in tiebreakers. The two also met in 2019-20 and it was Brock who prevailed in sudden victory. Each would be named NWCA First-Team All-Americans for the year. With 149 lbs still being viewed as “wide-open” this could easily be an NCAA semifinal or finals match in St. Louis.
The most significant regular-season event on the calendar for Army West Point and Navy is always the institution’s “Star Match”. This match carries an added level of importance because of the extra attention from both school’s alumni (wrestling and non-wrestling alike) and student bodies. A win over their bitter rivals in any sport is celebrated by the entire campus. First-year Navy head coach Cary Kolat got his first taste of the rivalry when his Midshipmen logged a 20-13 win over Army on Saturday. The dual was within reach for Army as they went into the final match; however, freshman #22 Andrew Cerniglia, put the finishing touches on a Navy win with a 14-3 major decision at 157 lbs. Logan Treaster, Cody Trybus, Tanner Skidgel, David Key, and John Birchmeier also grabbed key wins for Kolat’s crew. Navy finished their dual season 5-1 and 2-0 in the EIWA.
8) Donnell Washington (Indiana)
Just a few weeks ago, Donnell Washington made an appearance here after shocking the wrestling world by upsetting Penn State’s stud freshman, Carter Starocci. Since then, Washington has proven he is the real deal with a pair of bonus-point wins and a hard-fought loss against two-time All-American Mikey Labriola. Sunday saw Washington face returning national qualifier Phil Spadafora of Maryland. Donnell made short work of his opponent needing only 16 seconds to secure a fall. Washington was the aggressor and went for a leg attack but quickly moved up into an over-under tie. He then tripped his Terrapin opponent straight to his back for a quick pin. Washington is now 5-2 on the season and will wrap up his dual season against in-state rival Purdue this week.
7) Jake Wentzel (Pittsburgh)
The ACC on Friday night has been must-watch wrestling this year and this week was no different as Pittsburgh traveled to Blacksburg to take on the unbeaten Virginia Tech Hokies. Though the Panthers were unable to hand Virginia Tech their first blemish, they did have a surprising result at 165 lbs. #9 Jake Wentzel became the first wrestler since December 2018 to down #1 Mekhi Lewis in a folkstyle match. Yes, the result ended up as an injury default, but give Wentzel credit. He was able to tally a takedown against the 2019 national champion (a feat accomplished by only one other wrestler since November 2018) and surpassed a minute of riding time before the match was stopped. Jake finished the regular season with a 7-1 record and will be looking for his second conference crown in as many tries against a very deep ACC field at 165 lbs.
6) Eric Barnett (Wisconsin)
If you weren’t paying attention, you might have missed the afternoon matinee on Friday between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Despite the odd start time, Wisconsin’s first wrestler, 125 lber Eric Barnett, was ready to roll and ended up putting on a show. After giving up a takedown to #11 Patrick McKee, Barnett responded by putting the Gopher on his back repeatedly and rolling to a 17-4 major decision. Eric finished his weekend with a 10-0 major decision on Sunday against Northwestern’s Matt Vinci. The two wins bring his 2021 record up to 5-2 with a pair of notable bonus-point wins (also a fall over Devin Schroder – Purdue).
5) Cleveland State
On Sunday afternoon, the Cleveland State Vikings posted their first win of the 2021 campaign against MAC rival Ohio. After suffering a pair of losses to start the dual, the Vikings got on track with five consecutive wins between 141-174. Joseph Caprella started the movement with a fall at 141, while Marcus Robinson chipped in with a major at 149, as did 165 lber Riley Smucker. 157 lber Daniel Patten was able to get by in tiebreakers, while Anthony Rice notched a six-point decision win at 174 lbs. Heavyweight John Kelbly finished off the win with a takedown in sudden victory against 2020 national qualifier Jordan Earnest. Cleveland State will now turn their focus to the MAC Championships two weeks from now when they travel to Rider University.
4) Carter Starocci (Penn State)
We mentioned earlier that Carter Starocci stumbled in his first collegiate dual against Indiana’s Donnell Washington. Sunday Starocci was able to shine for the Nittany Lions as they knocked off #2 Michigan and he picked up an upset himself of #3 Logan Massa. Carter was able to keep the dangerous Massa in check on his feet and on the mat, where Logan typically does the most damage. The result was a 1-1 match headed into tiebreakers. During Starocci’s opportunity on top, Massa attempted to roll and was caught on his back for the decisive points. He would go on to win 7-1. Starocci is now 4-1 on the year and has another critical test against #4 Kaleb Romero (Ohio State) looming on Friday.
3) Jake Keating (Virginia)
Perhaps the most exciting comeback of the week belongs to Virginia’s 165 lber Jake Keating. #15 Keating was paired off against #13 Kennedy Monday in one of the headline bouts between Virginia and North Carolina. The dangerous Monday jumped out to an 11-3 lead in the second period, which proved to be not enough against a full motor like Keating’s. Jake ended up reeling off six unanswered takedowns between late in the second period and the end of the match. He even was able to add a point for riding time in his miraculous 18-15 victory over Monday. Keating is now 8-2 on the season and on the fast track to qualifying for his first NCAA Tournament. He was 17-13 in 2018-19 but came up just shy of the Big Dance.
2) Stephen Buchanan (Wyoming)
Last week, #20 Stephen Buchanan stunned the wrestling world as he knocked off Noah Adams (West Virginia) and made him the first number-one ranked wrestler to lose in 2021. Stephen fell in his next match and was unable to garner a mention in the ensuing edition of the “top performances”. Buchanan locked up a spot this week by duplicating the feat. He advanced to the finals of the “Cowboy Challenge” and dispatched Adams by the score of 6-4. In his previous bout, Adams has handed blue-chip freshman AJ Ferrari (Oklahoma State) his first collegiate loss. Another win over Adams will guarantee Buchanan flies up the rankings tomorrow. Next on the agenda for Wyoming’s 197 lber are the Big 12 Championships, which will contain a loaded field with four other opponents currently in the top-15.
1) Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State)