Photo of Matt Stencel (left) by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling
Merry Christmas to those celebrating and Happy Holidays to everyone! Most of the NCAA Division I wrestling action this week was crammed into Monday and Tuesday with a last-gasp Friday before the holiday weekend took over. Now, we get a brief respite before the madness that will be the Midlands, Southern Scuffle, and South Beach Duals. Before we get to that, we look back to recognize those who put the coming break out of their minds to put their best foot forward, putting up some of the best performances of the week so that they might enjoy their time off (if they get any).
9) Keeping the Chippewas safe
Going on the road can be a tricky proposition, especially against a rapidly improving Purdue team. However, CJ Brucki made sure Central Michigan would have no issues, upsetting 13th ranked Dylan Lydy at 174 pounds, 7-3. Brucki trailed early but came on strong to avenge his loss to Lydy earlier this month in Vegas. After earning the 16 seed at the 2017 NCAA tournament, Brucki started his junior season just 3-3, though he now seems to be hitting his stride.
8) On the rebound
Athletes have a long history of changing anything and everything when they’re in a slump trying to change their luck. After going 21-7 and qualifying for the NCAA tournament last season, Kyle Akins (Buffalo) might have been ready to try something different after dropping four matches to unranked opponents already this fall. It turns out he didn’t have to as the schedule did it for him. Buffalo wrestled Cornell on the stage at the UB Center for the Arts and it inspired Akins’ to put his best foot forward in a 3-0 upset of 15th ranked Michael Russo (Cornell). We’ll see if this can become the catalyst that gets the junior back on track.
7) Staying alive
North Carolina and Northern Iowa battled in an outstanding dual on Monday night that wasn’t decided until the official went down the list of tie-breaker criteria. While the Panthers were eventually awarded the victory on the strength of scoring more match points, the Tar Heels got that close in large part thanks to Danny Chaid’s (North Carolina) upset of 15th ranked Jacob Holschlag (Northern Iowa), 5-3, at 197 pounds. The senior took the mat knowing he had to win to keep his team alive, got an early takedown and kept Holschlag at arm’s length the rest of the way.
6) True freshman alert
True freshman Lou DePrez (Binghamton) was the most impressive wrestler at Friday’s Wilkes Open dominating the competition on the way to the finals with three pins and a tech-fall. Once there, the redshirting DePrez squared off with 2017 NCAA qualifier Alex DiCiantis (Drexel). While the senior was able to extend the youngster to seven minutes, he didn’t have much more success against him. DePrez took the Wilkes Open title at 184 pounds by shutting out DiCiantis, 7-0, with a pair of takedowns and riding time.
5) Starting it off right
In order for Bryce Meredith (Wyoming) and Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) to be the closing act of the dual, Sam Turner (Wyoming) had to open proceedings against 10th ranked Geo Martinez (Oklahoma State) at 149. In a sign of what was to come, the redshirt freshman scored a third-period takedown to gain a 4-3 advantage, then rode out the 2016 All-American to pull the upset and give Wyoming an early lead. Turner was just 13-10 entering the match and will look to build off of this performance in his first season in the line-up.
4) Third time’s a charm
With Brucki and some of his other teammates performing well, Matt Stencel (Central Michigan) took the mat against 12th ranked Shawn Streck (Purdue) with the dual already decided. Streck had been one of the biggest surprises of the early season, beating Ryan Solomon (Pitt) twice in Vegas and beating Stencel twice, once by fall, on the opening weekend of the season. The Chippewa got his revenge this time around, staying close and scoring the winning takedown with just 10 seconds remaining in the match. His 4-3 victory made the final score Central Michigan 24, Purdue 10.
3) Go big early + wrestle smart late = upset!
20th ranked Montorie Bridges (Wyoming) had to have already experienced a range of emotions after watching his team take a 9-0 lead over Oklahoma State before the third-ranked team in the nation took the next five bouts to all but clinch the dual. Stepping out to take on third-ranked Kaid Brock, Bridges showed no fear, getting in on a single leg early before Brock pulled him up and went for an inside trip. Bridges stuffed the attempt and put Brock on his back right in front of the Wyoming bench, gaining a 6-0 lead less than 45 seconds into the match. Going ahead that early gave the 2017 All-American plenty of time to come back and he rallied, cutting Bridges edge to just one point, 11-10, with more than a minute remaining in the third. Instead of wilting under the assault, Bridges found his way to Brock’s leg twice late, preventing any further scoring and securing another upset for Wyoming.
2) Ashworth keeps it rolling
16th ranked Branson Ashworth (Wyoming) saw his team take a 6-0 lead over the third-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys, though few expected that to continue as Ashworth battled fourth-ranked Chandler Rogers at 165. The Wyoming junior was an NCAA qualifier last season who fell to Rogers, 10-6, in their only meeting. This time would be different as Ashworth kept the momentum going in Cheyenne, scoring the only two takedowns of the match to take a 5-2 decision and give his team a stunning 9-0 lead in the dual.