March in college wrestling is so intense I'm coming to the realization how much I missed or at least didn't register in my brain to the severity it should have. Even the ten matches that make up the NCAA D1 Finals is a lot to digest. So here are some items that may have fallen into that category to touch on as November approaches.
Chad Red (Nebraska) pinned Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) in the first period of the Bloodround. We spoke about this on the podcast and I feel it didn't get his due. After an up and down freshman campaign, Red pulled off a roll-through pancake to end Heil's collegiate career.
Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern) had a solid March for a freshman in the loaded 125 field. He stormed to a 6th place finish at NCAA's after a 5th place finish at the Big Ten tournament. This is a guy with a lot of potential that should continue to develop and be even more of a factor.
Anthony Valencia (Arizona State) is zero for two in All-American finishes. Rumors circle around weight control and 165 with him, but his brother (who is possibly the best collegiate wrestler currently) was at 174. What happens here and is it possible Anthony never makes the podium? It seems like a tough monkey to carry around and maybe soon we talk about him liked we did about Dom Abounader. Now he is taking a redshirt this season as his first redshirt was declared an Olympic Redshirt. Is this the year off he needs to get things going? If it’s weight and between his brother and Norfleet, does he need to transfer to have a weight of his own?
Chip Ness (North Carolina) is a returning All-American. He’s a 4-time Georgia state champion who, not surprisingly, needed some time to improve at the highest collegiate level. He went 1-2 at NCAA’s as a sophomore and then last year made the trip again after taking 3rd at the ACC tournament. That placement behind Renda (NC State) and Zavatsky (Virginia Tech) was respectable, but didn’t earn him a seed. Ness surprised many by winning his first two matches over seeded Parker (Illinois) and Venz (Nebraska) before giving Martin (Ohio State) a solid match in a 10-6 loss. He was able to battle back beating Coleman (Navy), fell 7-6 to Parker, and then beat Dean (Cornell) for 7th. A southern prospect that keeps getting better is pretty interesting and with others shuffling weights, maybe Ness shouldn’t be a surprise to be a top ten contender all season long.
Zander Wick (Wisconsin) will probably be a force very quickly. He was on his way to break out just as his twin brother Evan did, who finished 3rd at 165, in his own redshirt freshman season. Unfortunately, an injury at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas derailed his campaign. He was at 149 last season and may be up at 157. Either way, both of those weight classes have lost some key Big Ten competitors and Zander could be climbing the rankings quickly.
Missouri’s schedule last year was light. They didn’t compete at any of the top three individual tournaments, the MAC was down and had lost Northern Iowa to the expanded Big 12, and elected to go to the newly invented South Beach Duals. For the most part, they didn’t wrestle to their seeds and records at the NCAA Championships leaving many to question this schedule. Also, would the seeding committee be tougher the next go around? This season the Tigers are heading to the Cliff Keen Las Vegas which provides that tough individual tournament and a nice test for the returning guys who finished below their seeds in Cleveland.
Speaking of Missouri, Eierman can’t really be lumped into their despite technically finishing lower than his seed (4th place finish after 2nd seed). He, Yianni (Cornell), and McKenna (Ohio State) make up a tough top three after 141 only loses Meredith (Wyoming) to graduation. However, 141 has a trio of Big Ten sophomores that should not be discounted. Lee (Penn State), Red (Nebraska) and Carr (Illinois) had moments in their freshman seasons that should frighten the top guys if they continue to improve.