The NCAA wrestling season is long and November, while entertaining, doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Still, it is the first chapter in the story of the season where we begin to learn where the characters we knew will go next and get to know new characters as they emerge. These five young men have surprised us as they have torn out of the gate exceeding the expectations of many. Whether they can keep it up remains to be seen but, if nothing else, they’ve piqued our interest. These are the top five surprises in NCAA wrestling so far.
5) #14 Jack Mueller, Virginia – 125, 8-0
When a four-time Prep national champion gets to college, expectations can be high. However, Mueller has come in as a true freshman and exceeded them so far. He won the Clarion Open, knocked off quality opponents in Michigan’s Austin Assad and Central Michigan’s Brent Fleetwood on an early season road-trip, and then made his home debut with a pair of tech-fall victories against Lock Haven and Maryland. Certainly, we knew Mueller would be good, but to be this good, this early earns him a spot on our list.
4) #17 Myles Amine, Michigan – 174, 8-0
The Amine family name is etched in Michigan wrestling history. Myles’ father Mike was an NCAA finalist, his uncle, Sam, wrestled there, and Myles is the third Amine, after brother Malik and cousin Jordan, to join the roster. Wolverine fans may have known this was coming, but with much of the buzz nationally surrounding Logan Massa and Stevan Micic entering the lineup and some of Michigan’s best talent redshirting, Amine entered the year a bit under the radar. He opened his season by edging the man who beat Mark Hall (Penn State), #20 CJ Brucki (Central Michigan), for the Eastern Michigan Open title, then put up three consecutive bonus-point victories, helping his team to a 3-0 start to their dual season. That win over Brucki, 13-6, and his 12-5 win in the semi-finals of that tournament are his only decisions thus far.
3) #9 Austin Schafer, Oklahoma State – 285, 5-0
One of the biggest surprises for Schafer, a career 197, is that he looks the part of a heavyweight after packing on some weight in the off-season. Still, no one was sure what to expect from the Cowboy 285 as the season began. Wins over wrestlers from Bucknell, Oklahoma City University, University of Central Oklahoma, and an Oklahoma State teammate were nice, but there were still many questions. Then Schafer knocked off two-time All-American Michael Kroells (Minnesota). It was just one match, but much like Schafer looks like a heavyweight, that looked like something he could do again. Time will tell if that’s true, but it is surprising enough that we’re even discussing it.
2) #8 Alfred “Baby J” Bannister, Maryland – 149, 9-0
When you win 272 matches in high school, 201 of them by fall, and win another 37 matches during your redshirt year, it shouldn’t be surprising when you start winning matches on the varsity level. However, Bannister struggled last year as a redshirt freshman, going just 10-10 and missing the NCAA tournament. He flashed his potential from time to time but never hit the highs that many expected from him. This season has been all high through November as the man who often appears on tournament brackets as Baby J Bannister has posted a flawless 9-0 record with two wins over #13 Jordan Laster (Princeton), a win over #16 Matt Zovistoski (Appalachian State), and a win over Sam Krivus (Virginia) on his way to a top-10 ranking.
1) #7 Colton McCrystal, Nebraska – 141, 13-1
McCrystal was a DNP at Midlands last season and had a serious challenge on his hands just to be the starter at 141 pounds for the Cornhuskers. Two-time Oregon state champ Collin Purinton also had designs on the spot after a solid redshirt campaign and four-time Indiana state champ Chad Red showed up on campus as well, though he could still redshirt. When Purinton beat McCrystal at the Daktronics Open to start the season, then Red beat Purinton, it looked like a long shot that McCrystal would see the lineup. Since then, Colton has reeled off nine straight victories with his victims including Red, #19 Jared Prince (Navy), and 2016 national finalist Bryce Meredith (Wyoming). He faces a huge weekend as fifth-ranked Matt Kolodzik (Princeton) and #15 Javier Gasca (Michigan State) come to town for Saturday duals, but given what he has done so far, he has a chance to keep right on winning.