photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com
The first full weekend of the 2021 wrestling season has come and gone and it was much different than most fans are accustomed to seeing. Two duals (Campbell vs. North Carolina; Hofstra vs. Lehigh) were canceled the day of, based on a positive COVID test from one of the teams. Like collegiate and professional sports over the past few months, some venues had limited fans, but many had none. We were introduced to the term “extra matches.” Not exhibition matches, because exhibitions don’t count in official statistics. After/during dual meets, teams held extra matches, some of which included their starters, others consisted of backups or freshmen. As the season progresses, we’ll see more tri’s and quads than we’re accustomed to seeing at the DI level. At the end of the day, wrestling is wrestling and we got to see some great action and remarkable performances. The first weekend of the year normally has some great freshmen, stunning upsets, and exciting duals. Though it was delayed by two months, this opening weekend had all of the above. We’ll take you through a large chunk of it with the top performances of the week.
10) Codi Russell (Appalachian State)
After qualifying for the NCAA Tournament twice at 133 lbs, Codi Russell has dropped down to 125 for his senior season. The early results for the Mountaineer are promising as he went 3-0 at Appalachian State’s Individual Quad event. Codi was one of four ASU wrestlers to finish unbeaten on the day. Russell outscored the opposition 46-8 in three bouts and he notched two major decisions and a tech. All three of his wins came against wrestlers from the University of Virginia, including a 17-4 major against the Cavaliers probable starter, Patrick McCormick. Codi is a 2019 SoCon Champion that earned the 29th seed at nationals in 2020. He has an event bigger ACC matchup looming on Friday as he’ll meet #8 Jakob Camacho (NC State).
9) Michael McGee (Arizona State)
Saturday saw #8 Michael McGee make his Arizona State debut and it was a good one. McGee was forced to transfer in the offseason as Old Dominion dropped their program. McGee won a pair of MAC titles for the Monarchs and was a match away from All-American status in 2019. He redshirted the 2019-20 campaign in order to move up to 133 lbs. At 133, McGee took on one of Little Rock’s most experienced grapplers in #33 Paul Bianchi. Paul was a national qualifier in 2018, while competing for North Dakota State. Michael was never threatened and put together a 10-2 major decision against Bianchi. His addition to an already potent Sun Devil lineup looks like a scary proposition. ASU routed Little Rock 39-3 to open their season. McGee also saw action in an extra bout against redshirt freshman, Jaylen Carson. McGee lit up the scoreboard in another major decision, 19-5.
8) Toby Cahill (Buffalo)
The Buffalo Bulls wasted no time and jumped right into their MAC schedule Saturday with a date against Ohio University. Heading into the final bout, Ohio had faint hopes of a win, as they trailed by five points with #22 Jordan Earnest taking the mat. Jordan qualified for the NCAA Championships in 2020 after taking third in the conference tournament. His opponent, Toby Cahill, is a junior that scuffled to an 8-14 record in 2018-19, while at Clarion, and dropped all three unattached matches for Buffalo last season. Toby started the second period down 2-1 to his counterpart from Ohio; however, he poured it on for the final four minutes. Cahill used a reversal to turn the tide of the match and didn’t stop. He would end up the victor, 8-2. That win locked up the dual for his team, 20-12. The win over Earnest marked the first over a ranked opponent in Cahill’s career.
7) Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado)
Another dual from the weekend, which saw conference foes clash, occurred in Laramie, Wyoming, as the Cowboys played host to their neighbors to the south, Northern Colorado. Sophomore #12 Andrew Alirez was a the center of a highly acclaimed Bear recruiting class in 2019, that helped five UNC wrestlers qualify for nationals last season. Alirez is one of seven Northern Colorado wrestlers with past NCAA experience on this year’s talented squad. He and his fellow lightweights led the team on Sunday afternoon as they held off the Cowboys, 24-19. Northern Colorado took the first five matches of the dual, only to see Wyoming win the final five. Bonus points proved to be the difference and Alirez’s second-period fall over Jaron Jensen was one of them. Jensen came into the dual ranked 31st in the nation. Alirez turned heads in October when he won Senior Nationals against a talented, experienced 65 kg weight class.
6) Jake Keating (Virginia)
The Virginia Cavaliers kicked off the season at the Appalachian State Individual Quad and had plenty of success. 11 UVA wrestlers were unbeaten, but only two went 4-0. They were Louie Hayes at 133 and Jake Keating at 165. Keating knocked off a pair of ranked wrestlers, #29 Dazjon Casto and #31 Will Formato, on his way to unbeaten status. Jake edged Casto 6-5 in Round One, before getting by Formato, 7-5, in his second bout of the day. He finished the day with a pair of dominating performances against Appalachian State opponents, 15-4 over Brett Mordecai and 15-0 over Kameron Miller. Keating is a redshirt junior that is fighting for the starting spot at 165 with two-time national qualifier, Cam Coy. Jake has a 43-28 record in two seasons of official competition for the Cavaliers. Last year, while redshirting, Keating logged a win over 2019 EIWA runner-up, Cael McCormick (Army West Point).
5) Kellyn March (North Dakota State)
There were some impressive performances by freshmen this weekend, some of which we saw coming, others that caught us off guard. One that belongs in the latter category is the 2-0 showing by North Dakota State’s true freshman 133 lber, Kellyn March. In his first match in a Bison singlet, March majored the returning Pac-12 champion, #9 Devan Turner (Oregon State), 14-5. March held a one-point lead at the beginning of the second period, but blew the match open from there. He added his second takedown of the bout along with a four-point nearfall, which gave him a 10-2 lead after two periods. That win proved to be critical as the Bison got by Oregon State, 19-15. Kellyn accounted for NDSU’s only win in their 38-3 loss to Missouri, as well. He recorded a 7-4 win over fellow freshman, Trey Crawford. March has a big weekend on the horizon, too, with #19 Jack Skudlarcyzk (Northern Iowa) and #30 Zach Price (South Dakota State) on the docket for Sunday.
4) Demetrius Romero (Utah Valley)
Plenty of Wolverines from Utah Valley had impressive showings on Sunday at Cal Poly, but it was their fifth-ranked 174 lber, Demetrius Romero that stood out most. Romero was the school’s first Big 12 Champion in 2019, but only competed twice last November before a season-ending injury. He was awarded a sixth-year of eligibility prior to this year. Romero made the most of his opportunity by going 3-0 with a fall in his initial match and a tech in his third contest. His second win was the most notable, however. He needed extra time but still prevailed in sudden victory against, #20 Bernie Truax (Cal Poly). Truax made headlines in October by winning the UWW Junior Nationals title at 74 kg.
3) Bryce Andonian (Virginia Tech)
Virginia Tech kicked their season off on Saturday afternoon by hosting a non-conference opponent, Campbell. 149 lber Bryce Andonian was tasked with facing the highest-ranked Camel wrestler when he met #10 Josh Heil. In one of the best matches of the weekend, Andonian held on to defeat Heil, 12-9. Bryce scored early and often in the first period, which netted him a commanding 8-2 lead. Later, Andonian appeared to really extend his lead to 13-7, but a review took away potential points for neutral danger. Even so, Andonian withstood a late charge from Heil to claim the victory as his Hokies won 28-6. That win will surely boost Bryce once new national rankings are released tomorrow. Andonian was pulled from redshirt last season in mid-December and responded by winning his first four dual meets. He would go on to make the ACC finals and earned the #20 seed at the NCAA Championships.
2) Missouri Tigers
During Sunday’s quad at North Dakota State, there were too many standouts for the Tigers to list individually, so we picked the entire team. In three dual meets against North Dakota State, Oregon State, and South Dakota State, the Tigers only combined to lose three individual matches. They outscored their opponents 114-12. Five Mizzou wrestlers went 3-0 during dual competition (Brock Mauller, Peyton Mocco, Sean Harman, Jeremiah Kent, and Zach Elam), while other weights saw multiple wrestlers compete. One of those was 157 lbs, where Keegan O’Toole, the top wrestler in the Class of 2020, made his debut. In his first match in a Missouri singlet, O’Toole pinned redshirt freshman Cade DeVos (South Dakota State), who entered the day ranked #24 in the nation. Another member of the highly-touted Class of 2020, Josh Edmond, majored #24 Dylan Droegemueller (North Dakota State), 14-5. Other notable wins include #17 Allan Hart, who pinned #16 Grant Willits (Oregon State) in only 36 seconds. After a loss to start the day, #12 Matt Schmitt rebounded to major #9 Devan Turner (Oregon State) in the last dual of the event. Missouri will be back in action on Friday as they take on Central Michigan and Wyoming.
1) Jake Wentzel (Pittsburgh)