Photo by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling
With seven of the eight NCAA Division I wrestling conference tournaments jam-packed into one weekend, there were outstanding performances everywhere you looked Saturday and Sunday. We saw seniors claim their first conference titles, freshmen help their teams claim top honors, stars do what they do, and new contenders emerge. All of this was just the precursor to Cleveland in two weeks. If this weekend was any indication, we’re in for a heck of a finish. Here are the top 10 performances in college wrestling this week!
10) No letdown
Jaydin Eierman (Missouri) was supposed to win the MAC tournament, just as his team was supposed to win their sixth consecutive conference title. Both happened in style. The Missouri sophomore needed just 2:27 total to pin his first two opponents, then he rolled up 10th ranked Mason Smith (Central Michigan), 24-9, stopping the Chippewa just before the end of the second period to claim his second MAC crown. Eierman was one of seven champions for Brian Smith’s team as the Tigers finished with 177 points and a 52 point margin of victory.
9) Keep sleeping on him
Despite a resume that already includes a Cadet world silver medal and a Junior world team, not to mention plenty of folkstyle success, Jordan Wood (Lehigh) can seem like a forgotten man in an era with incredible heavyweights both at the NCAA level currently and coming out of high school soon. However, at this weekend’s EIWA championships Wood helped the Mountain Hawks do something they haven’t in a long time. With a fall, a major decision, and a pair of decisions over ranked foes, first 14th ranked Garrett Ryan (Columbia), then 10th ranked Mike Hughes (Hofstra), Wood claimed the 285 pound title as a redshirt freshman pushing his team past the Big Red at the EIWA tournament for the first time since 2006, ending Cornell’s run of 11 straight titles.
8) Keep working, good things happen
Boo Lewallen’s (Oklahoma State) college career has already included many twists and turns even though he is still just a sophomore. The Cowboy missed all of his true freshman campaign after back-to-back injuries, then announced himself to the nation when he beat Bryce Meredith (Wyoming) en route to a title in Reno last season. However, he was stuck behind Dean Heil at 141 so, when Anthony Collica graduated, Lewallen moved up to 149 this season. First, he had to beat out All-American Geo Martinez for the spot, then he had to endure a pair of defeats when he finally hit the lineup in January, including a loss to Beau Donahue (NC State) and a 23-8 shelling from Brandon Sorensen (Iowa). Through it all, Boo kept working and on Sunday, he avenged a February loss to All-American Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa), ranked 11th, in impressive fashion, 9-3, to claim a Big 12 title and help John Smith’s team run away with their sixth consecutive conference crown.
7) Quieting the doubters
The number one ranking wasn’t enough to quiet the whispers and Bryce Meredith (Wyoming) knew it. The senior, two-time All-American had yet to win a conference title and despite finally beating Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) in December, that match had ended with a tie-breaker rideout and did not feature a single takedown for either man. As Meredith prepares for his final run at the NCAA tournament, he strongly suggested once again that this is the best version of him we’ve ever seen, earning a pair of takedowns against his long-time rival in a 6-5 win in the Big 12 finals. The victory not only allowed Bryce to climb to the top step of the conference podium for the first time but also gives him a strong case for the top-seed in Cleveland.
6) Put it on ice!
Wood wasn’t the only Lehigh grappler to claim his first EIWA title over the weekend, helping to snap the streak. Ryan Preisch had finished second in 2017, losing to Brian Realbuto (Cornell) in the finals at 174 before bumping up a class this season. Though his junior campaign had been truncated by injury, Preisch had shown signs that he would be a factor in the upper echelons of the All-American battle. He reinforced that idea by throttling the field, pinning three and securing an 8-1 decision on his way to victory. His finals win came at the expense of 10th ranked Max Dean (Cornell), who Ryan pinned in 4:31, and clinched the momentous team title for Pat Santoro’s crew. Preisch heads to Cleveland with just one loss in a non-injury default situation, that being a 3-2 scrap with top-ranked Bo Nickal (Penn State).
5) Making the toughest weight his own
You won’t find too many six-man brackets as tough to win as 133 pounds at the 2018 ACC Championships. Returning All-American Jack Mueller (Virginia) came to the tournament ranked seventh in the country, but he was the four seed after a rough conference season. Dennis Gustafson (Virginia Tech) was ranked 13th, wrestling as well as we’d ever seen from him, and started from the two seed. The Hokie first had to navigate a tricky semifinal with number 16 Tariq Wilson (NC State), which he did, prevailing 7-5. The senior had not won an ACC title or advanced to the national tournament since he did so as a true freshman in 2014. Standing between him and another conference crown was Mueller. The Virginia sophomore led through most of the bout, but with less than a minute remaining, Gustafson hit a six point move to win it, 11-7, and secure his second ACC crown.
Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) doesn’t lose very often. In fact, he had not lost an NCAA match at heavyweight ever until Adam Coon (Michigan) knocked him off in their February dual. Since then, the college wrestling world has been anticipating the rematch which went down Sunday afternoon in East Lansing. The best two heavyweights in college wrestling battled to a stalemate through regulation with a few good exchanges, but no takedowns either way. When both escaped in the first set of tie-breakers, they went back on their feet for sudden victory two. Snyder opted for more low-level attacks in this one and it was that approach that ultimately led to the win. The Buckeye got in deep, was able to come out the back door, and just keep his feet in as he secured Coon’s other leg for the title-winning takedown. Ohio State successfully defended their Big Ten title and took their third conference crown in four years.
3) Never lose to the same guy twice
Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) has just two losses in his college career. The first came at the hands of Jason Nolf (Penn State) in 2015-16, which Martinez avenged twice that season, in the Big Ten and NCAA finals respectively. The second came in last year’s NCAA finals when Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) famously pinned the two-time national champion. The 109 wins the Illinois senior had amassed entering his final Big Ten tournament were a mere footnote to his quest to avenge his second loss to a Nittany Lion. With the depth of 165 in the Big Ten, it was no guarantee that the two would meet again, but both men worked their way to the final, giving wrestling fans the match-up they craved. After a scoreless first period, Martinez rode Joseph for 1:20 before the Penn State sophomore escaped. When Isaiah slipped out just three seconds into the third-period, he kept his riding time advantage intact. Using a strong underhook to control the action, Martinez kept Joseph on his heels until a good shot by Vincenzo necessitated a leg-pass that resulted in a stalemate with just 21 seconds remaining. A late go behind made the final 4-1 as Martinez became the 16 four-time Big Ten champion.
2) Undefeated no more
After his first two seasons in the lineup ended with a single loss at the EWL Championships preventing him from qualifying for nationals, Evan Cheek (Cleveland State) finally punched his ticket Saturday by pinning Tejon Anthony (George Mason), then finding a takedown in sudden victory to get past Tyson Dippery (Rider), who had beaten Cheek in January, and move into the finals. With four bids available at the weight, Cheek was in, but what he did next was what earned him a spot on this list. The junior’s opponent would be fourth-ranked Brock Zacherl (Clarion), who held an undefeated record on the season entering the match and has put Evan out of contention for an NCAA spot last season, beating him 9-5 in the EWL semis. Cheek opened the scoring with a quick takedown, but Zacherl responded with a clean attack of his own less than a minute into the bout. Another takedown for the Clarion man led to a pair of nearfall points, staking Brock to a 7-3 lead. However, with just 15 seconds remaining in the period, after Cheek had escaped, The Cleveland State 141 initiated a string of attacks that led to Zacherl going directly to his back. The fall was called with nine seconds on the clock, giving Cheek his first EWL title.