photo courtesy of Cam Kramer
The leaves are changing, there’s a chill in the air and college wrestling season is back upon us. For all you diehard fans who have been waiting seven long months to see your teams back in action, this one is for you. The season kicks off this weekend with a couple of notable dual meets and plenty of tournaments. The following is a list of the best individual matchups to keep an eye on as teams get back out on the mat in the coming days.
Disclaimer: There are a limited number of duals this weekend, so this list can get repetitive. As the season ramps up and there are more duals scheduled, more teams and wrestlers will be featured on here.
125: Jack Mueller (UVA) vs. Brandon Cray (Maryland)
Coming off one of the most impressive seasons in Cavalier history, Mueller has earned himself a No. 2 preseason ranking. The senior went 21-1 last year on his way to a second-place finish at the NCAA Championships in March. During the tournament, he defeated No. 4 Ronnie Bresser of Oregon State and No. 1 Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern before ultimately losing to Spencer Lee in the finals.
Mueller is the only Top-5 wrestler at his weight to compete in a dual this weekend as the Cavaliers host two matches at home. They’ll welcome in Southern Virginia and Maryland for the Cavalier Duals on Saturday in Charlottesville. In the match against Maryland, Mueller should face off against Brandon Cray, who was the primary starter for the Terps last season. Cray won eight matches in 2018-19, including four in Big Ten duals. He’ll have a tough task ahead of him as he squares off against Mueller, who went 15-0 in dual meets last season.
133: Seth Gross (Wisconsin) vs. Gary Joint (Fresno State)
Perhaps the match that viewers and fans should be the most excited for, this one features 2018 NCAA Champion Seth Gross returning to action. Gross won the 133-pound title for South Dakota State before sitting out last year due to injury. He transferred to Wisconsin over the offseason, and is now ready to lead the Badgers in 2019.
As the No. 1 wrestler in the country, Gross will take on Gary Joint of Fresno State in the first of four duals that will take place as part of the Battle on the Midway in San Diego. Joint won 18 matches last season for Fresno State, qualifying for the NCAA Championships. The redshirt sophomore had a dominating 7-1 win in the team’s intrasquad match earlier this month, but taking down Gross will be a tall order on Friday.
141: Mitch McKee (Minnesota) vs. Angelo Martinoni (CSU Bakersfield)
The match to watch at this weight was originally going to be Missouri’s Grant Leeth vs. Virginia Tech’s Mitch Moore, but Missouri released its probable lineup the other day and it did not include Leeth.
We’ll still get a good matchup at 141, though, with fourth-ranked Mitch McKee taking on Angelo Martinoni. Coming off his first All-American season, McKee will look to make some noise at 141 again this year. He didn’t lose a match last season until December 30 against UNC. His weight class is loaded in the Big Ten, but he has a chance to be one of the best wrestlers in the country this year.
His opponent, Martinoni is just getting his career started. The redshirt freshman went 13-8 last year wrestling unattached. He placed third at the Menlo Open and the California Collegiate during the 2018-19 season. He’ll be the underdog in his first collegiate dual, but he’s got a chance to make a name for himself early if he can pull off the upset.
157: Taleb Rahmani (Pittsburgh) vs. Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State) [Potential]
This was a tough one. Looking at the matches and tournaments on the schedule this weekend, there was the potential for a top-5 matchup if Larry Early and Hayden Hidlay were to face off at the Battle at the Citadel. However, it doesn’t look as if Hidlay will be competing this weekend, so that rules out that possibility.
So, we’ll have to settle for another potential matchup. Pitt and Ohio State will both be at the Michigan State Open this weekend, so we could see Rahmani take on Hayes if everything falls in line.
Rahmani is coming off a season in which he went 19-8 and qualified for the NCAA Championships. On the other side, we have Hayes, who went 21-11 and also qualified for the tournament, while finishing third in the Big Ten. Both are redshirt seniors and will be looking to end their careers on a high note with this weekend being their first step in getting there.
165: Evan Wick (Wisconsin) vs. Tanner Skidgel (Navy)
I know, another match from the Battle on the Midway and another Wisconsin wrestler. Sorry, I didn’t make the schedule. It just happened that there are some really good matches going down in San Diego this weekend.
Wick is coming off his second-straight All-American season. He placed fourth last year at the NCAA Championships after going 32-6 in the regular season. He posted a 14-1 record in dual meets and led the Badgers in bonus point victories with 21 on the year. All of that has led him to a No. 3 ranking in the preseason.
By the time he wrestles against Skidgel on Friday, he might be pretty tired. He’ll have already wrestled two matches, including one against No. 14 Cael McCormick of Army. His last match could be his toughest.
Tanner Skidgel is ranked No. 13 heading into the season and coming off his best year yet. Skidgel went 21-10 last year on his way to an EIWA championship in his first season as a starter. He qualified for the NCAA Tournament where he won just one match, but he’s primed for more success this season as a returning veteran.
174: Devin Skatzka (Minnesota) vs. Josh Annis or Albert Urias (CSU Bakersfield)
Another highly-ranked Gopher, Skatzka sits at No. 6 going into the season. He’s coming off a 30-11 junior season. He placed third at the Big Ten tournament last year before earning All-American honors at the NCAA Championships. As a redshirt senior, he’s one of those looking to go out on top in his final year of competition.
His opponent isn’t finalized yet for this weekend’s dual, but whether it’s Annis or Urias, they’ll have a hard time taking down Skatzka. Annis, a redshirt senior, went 5-6 last year at 157 pounds. He’s moving up this year to compete at 165/174, so it’ll be interesting to see how he does in his debut at a higher weight. For Urias, this will be his first official year of competition after going 8-7 during his redshirt year.
184: Dylan Wisman (Missouri) vs. Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech)
To make up for the ranked match we won’t be getting at 141, the Tigers-Hokies dual this weekend provides us with one that could be even more interesting. Wisman is a 2019 NCAA qualifier and MAC champion. He went 17-9 during his third season with the Tigers, and he’ll look to improve upon that in his senior year.
Bolen is a name that many people nationally might not know, but they will. The redshirt sophomore had a breakout year in 2018, winning ACC Freshman of the Year and qualifying for the NCAA Championships at 174. He redshirted during the 2018-19 season, but with All-American Zack Zavatsky graduated, Bolen is ready to take over at 184 in Blacksburg.
During his redshirt year, the Christiansburg native went 13-1 at open tournaments, winning the Wolfpack Open and placing second at the Southern Scuffle.
This match should be one of the best early matchups of the season, and definitely one to keep an eye on this weekend.
197: Jay Aiello (UVA) vs. Kevin Makosy (Maryland)
While it’s not for certain that Makosy will be in the starting lineup for the Terps, he had a pretty dominant performance in their intrasquad meet last week. The freshman from Ijamsville, Maryland won by an 18-2 tech fall over fellow freshman Connor Bowes. He’s a two-time Maryland state champion and Super 32 All-American, but his first college match will be a test.
Aiello is coming off the best season of his career. The redshirt junior posted a 24-8 record last season while qualifying for the NCAA Championships for the first time. He finished as the runner-up in the ACC Tournament and earned the seventh seed at NCAAs. Aiello is one of the most veteran guys on this UVA team, and he’ll be looking to get his season off on the right foot against Maryland.
285: Trent Hillger (Wisconsin) vs. Randy Gonzalez (Fresno State)
Yes, I’m ending with another Wiconsin vs. Fresno State matchup. But Hillger is the No. 6 wrestler in the country, so can you blame me?
We’re kind of getting robbed of a great matchup here, as the tenth-ranked heavyweight Josh Hokit is still in football season for Fresno State. So Gonzalez will take his place on the Midway and face off against Hillger.
Hillger was a 2019 All-American and placed fourth at the Big Ten championships at his weight class. What’s even more impressive is he did that as a freshman. Now with a full season under his belt, he’ll be a name to keep an eye on this season.
Gonzalez will be wrestling in his first collegiate match, so it could be a rude awakening when he squares up against someone as talented as Hillger. However this match ends up, it’ll be a good one to watch early in the season.
So there you go, the top matches to look out for this weekend. Again, forgive me for the repetitiveness, but this is what we get on the first weekend. As the season goes on, there will be a lot more duals to watch and plenty of great action, so check back here every week for the best matchups going down.