Middle photo by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
Week three saw a busy weekend in college wrestling as programs got one last surge in before the Thanksgiving break. We had the historic return of a program we thought we’d lost, an early candidate for the match of the year, an NAIA wrestler proving where you go to school doesn’t matter, and some young wrestlers stating their intent not to wait around. This season is off to a fast start with many twists and turns. Here are eight performances that turned our heads this week!
8) Shoop goes on a scoring spree
Sometimes it isn’t as much about who you beat as how you beat them. Kyle Shoop (Lock Haven) had just one bonus point victory this season heading into the Black Knight Invitational and the 2017 NCAA qualifier wasn’t known as a bonus point machine last year either. That made it all the more surprising when he rolled up three straight opponents, including 16th ranked Mike Van Brill (Rutgers) by a combined score of 46-1. After a 14-1 major decision to open the tournament, Shoop bounced Van Brill 16-0 before handling his finals opponent from Binghamton by an identical score.
7) New weight, same Kutler
A 157 last year, Jordan Kutler (Lehigh) continued to answer every question asked of him up at 174, cruising past Fritz Hoehn (Edinboro), 14-5, on Friday night. Still, he had yet to beat anyone who had earned NCAA Division I All-American honors at the weight which made his clash with Myles Amine (Michigan), a fourth-place finisher in St. Louis, a big step. Once again, the Mountain Hawk passed the test with flying colors. With his team surprisingly blowing out the Wolverines, losing just one match by the time it was Kutler’s turn to scrap, the sophomore piled on, upending Amine, 5-4, with a third-period takedown. Lehigh would go on to beat Michigan 27-8.
6) Lizak stays cool as a cucumber
If ever there was a wrestler who had all the momentum going against him, it was Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) on Sunday. He had watched his teammates lose the first eight bouts in their dual against Oklahoma State, then walked out to face fourth-ranked Nick Piccininni and had a disaster of a first period, falling behind 8-1. Regardless, Lizak still had his trump card to play and the man who began his weekend with an 11-0 shutout of Connor Brown (South Dakota State) chose top. After a full period ride that earned him a total of six nearfall, the 2017 NCAA finalist still trailed by one and did not yet have 1:00 of riding time. Piccininni took neutral, getting back to where he dominated in the opening three minutes, but Lizak took the Cowboy down, rode long enough to secure the riding time point, then hung on late to win 10-9.
5) Fresno State is back!
Nearly 7000 people packed into the Save Mart Center to welcome back Fresno State. The third-largest crowd in program history was celebrating the first Bulldog home dual since 2006 as Illinois came to town. On days such as this, the wins and losses are less important. Still, it is always more fun when the home crowd has something to cheer about. Khristian Olivas (Fresno State) supplied that at 149 pounds when he earned the first dual win for the resurrected program in style, pouring it on late to earn a 10-2 major decision over 2017 NCAA qualifier and 18th ranked Eric Barone (Illinois). Olivas is a Clovis, California product that began his career at Utah Valley. He is now 3-0 on the young season and will forever have a place in Fresno State wrestling history.
4) Is he going to do it again?
Sports fans love a good underdog story and Anthony Cassar (Penn State) is trying to give them one for the second time in his career. Cassar entered his senior season in high school having never qualified for the New Jersey state tournament. He held just a 71-30 career record. Then, he went 45-0, won a state title, and made the 2015 Junior world team after his redshirt season at Penn State. Unfortunately, injuries have kept him off the mat since then and he came into the 2017-18 season apparently behind Matt McCutcheon at 197. It doesn’t appear Cassar wants to settle for getting his cracks at open tournaments. After an uneven start that included an 11-8 loss to Garrett Hoffman (Bucknell) last week, Cassar posted the most impressive day of his college career to date, claiming a Keystone Classic title by topping McCutcheon in the semifinals and seventh-ranked Frank Mattiace (Penn), a 2017 EIWA champion, in the finals. No one knows where this is going, but if there is another title and world team at the end of it, this will be quite a story.
3) NAIA champ wins Lindenwood Open
If you read our preseason look at the NAIA field or followed that level of college wrestling last season, you know all about Demetrius Thomas (Williams Baptist). As a freshman, Thomas scored bonus points in each of his victories at the 2017 national tournament including an 18-9 win over the defending national champion. On Saturday, at the Lindenwood Open, Thomas proved he could compete against Division I competition as well. After handling young prospects Aaron Costello (Iowa) and Trent Hillger (Wisconsin), Thomas dismissed a past NJCAA champion, Blake Andrews (Oklahoma State). In the finals, the sophomore had all the answers in a 7-1 victory over 2017 NCAA qualifier Austin Myers (Missouri). None of his matches ended with a margin closer than four points. With the better part of three seasons remaining in college, it will be interesting to see all that Thomas can achieve.
2) 10 up, 10 down
Entering the season, few expected Max Dean (Cornell) to match his brother Gabe’s incredible career that included a third-place NCAA finish as a freshman. While that still may be asking too much, Max let everyone know he isn’t far away, remaining undefeated by knocking off 2017 All-American and then fourth-ranked Drew Foster (Northern Iowa), 9-7. That pushed the freshman’s record to 6-0 and he added four more wins on Sunday at the New York State Intercollegiate Championships, putting away another highly regarded prospect, Louie DePrez (Binghamton), for the second time this season.