With the most underrated college sport’s season under a month away, it’s time to take a look at the potential champions for this year’s NCAA wrestling season. In this article, I break down each of the ten weight classes, make a prediction for the champion, and highlight three other wrestlers who could make an impact.
This weight class was maybe the easiest to break down. Two-time champion Spencer Lee of Iowa is the clear favorite, and is well on his way to becoming the fifth four-time champ in NCAA history. Of course, there’s also Northwestern’s Sebastian Rivera, who defeated Lee at Midlands last December, but bowed out of the NCAA semifinals in disappointing fashion. Last year’s runner-up Jack Mueller of Virginia remains a threat, while Princeton’s Pat Glory could be a dark horse.
Champion: Spencer Lee (Iowa)
In the Mix: Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern), Jack Mueller (Virginia), Pat Glory (Princeton)
133 is once again the most stacked class of the year, but a huge development has been Rutgers’ Nick Suriano’s decision to take an Olympic redshirt year. Now, the field is even more open. I really like Michigan’s Stevan Micic, the Serbian Sickle, in this class. He was a popular favorite entering last year’s postseason, but had a tough run, getting hurt at Big Tens but was still able to salvage a third place finish at Nationals. An obvious threat to Micic is Wisconsin’s Seth Gross, who was the 2018 champion but took a year off to transfer from South Dakota State. Gross defeated Micic 13-8 in the championship match that year. Iowa’s Austin DeSanto and Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher should also have dominant seasons.
Champion: Stevan Micic (Michigan)
In the Mix: Seth Gross (Wisconsin), Austin DeSanto (Iowa), Luke Pletcher (Ohio State)
With Cornell’s two-time champion Yianni Diakomihalis taking an Olympic redshirt season, this is a really intriguing class. There is, however, a clear top two in Nick Lee of Penn State, who finished fifth in 2019, and Dom Demas of Oklahoma, who finished fourth. I give Lee a slight edge here, based on another year of experience and wrestling in a more competitive room. Minnesota’s Mitch McKee could be a contender, but in two matches against Lee last year showed he wasn’t quite on the same level. I also think Nebraska’s Chad Red, who finished eighth last year and showed he could compete with the best, could be a surprise contender.
Champion: Nick Lee (Penn State)
In the Mix: Dom Demas (Oklahoma), Mitch McKee (Minnesota), Chad Red (Nebraska)
With last year’s finalists out of the picture, 149 is another class that is pretty unpredictable. With that said, North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor is the favorite after taking third last year, and I think he’ll step up to the challenge. Last year, O’Connor did not lose a single match to a wrestler who is eligible this year, and he seems primed to win his first national championship. Brock Mauller of Missouri took sixth last year and will also be in contention, while Iowa State’s Jarrett Degen could also make a big leap after taking seventh in his sophomore season. Iowa’s Pat Lugo, who finished eighth in 2019, rounds out my top four.
Champion: Austin O’Connor (North Carolina)
In the Mix: Brock Mauller (Missouri), Jarrett Degen (Iowa State), Pat Lugo (Iowa)
The top three from last year’s 157 class are all out of the picture now, making space for some new contenders. Hayden Hidlay of NC State, Kaleb Young of Iowa, and Ryan Deakin of Northwestern appear to be the top trio for the upcoming season. They finished fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively, a year ago. Hidlay, however, may be just a cut above the others, as he wrestled the top competition from last year much more closely. Most notably, he wrestled Penn State’s three-time champion Jason Nolf to a narrow 3-2 loss in the NCAA semifinals. Finally, Iowa State’s freshman David Carr, who won a junior freestyle world title over the summer, may turn some heads in his first season.
Champion: Hayden Hidlay (NC State)
In the Mix: Kaleb Young (Iowa), Ryan Deakin (Northwestern), David Carr (Iowa)
165 expects to be a really tight class at the top, despite reigning champion Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech taking an Olympic redshirt. Two-time national champion and 2019 runner up Vincenzo Joseph is the clear favorite at the moment, but I believe last year’s one-seed Alex Marinelli of Iowa will have a successful redemption tour. Marinelli was undefeated through the regular season and won the Big Ten Championship, but lost to Lewis in the NCAA quarterfinals and slumped to an extremely disappointing seventh place finish. Wisconsin’s Evan Wick will be a tough competitor after finishing fourth last year, while Virginia Tech’s David McFadden could make some serious noise after bumping down from 174. McFadden took fifth at 174 a year ago.
Champion: Alex Marinelli (Iowa)
In the Mix: Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State), Evan Wick (Wisconsin), David McFadden (Virginia Tech)
Contingent on Penn State’s Mark Hall and Michigan’s Myles Amine not taking Olympic redshirts, they are the clear top two, with last year’s runner up Hall as the favorite. This is also under the assumption that reigning champion Zahid Valencia will be bumping to 184, which appears likely. Despite Valencia besting Hall in the national finals, it was Hall’s first loss of the season. Hall also defeated Valencia 4-0 at their dual meet. Jordan Kutler of Lehigh, who claimed seventh at last year’s NCAAs, figures to be a distant third. Oklahoma State’s Joe Smith, who wrestled well last season at 174 but dropped to 165 for the postseason, will be back at 174 and could be a threat for the title.
Champion: Mark Hall (Penn State)
In the Mix: Myles Amine (Michigan), Jordan Kutler (Lehigh), Joe Smith (Oklahoma State)
The top five finishers from last year are all out of the picture, due to graduation or Olympic redshirts. This is very convenient for the aforementioned Valencia, who is the current favorite in this class. Valencia won the national championship at 174, but bumping up always poses a challenge. Enter Cornell’s Ben Darmstadt, who was an EIWA champion and All-American in 2018 at 197, but missed last year due to injury. I believe Darmstadt will come back with a vengeance at a lower class and win his first national championship. Pittsburgh’s Nino Bonaccorsi and Nebraska’s Taylor Venz both lost in the blood round last year and should be near the top of this class in 2019-20.
Champion: Ben Darmstadt (Cornell)
In the Mix: Zahid Valencia (Arizona State), Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh), Taylor Venz (Nebraska)
With last year’s champion Bo Nickal of Penn State graduating, the door is wide open for Ohio State’s Kollin Moore, who was the runner up. Moore’s three losses in 2018-19 all came at the hands of Nickal, so he’s primed to take the crown this year. 2018 All-Americans Kyle Conel of Penn State and Jacob Holschlag of Northern Iowa will be back after missing last year’s postseason due to injury, and will certainly be a threat to Moore’s championship run. Additionally, South Dakota State’s Tanner Sloan enters the mix after redshirting in his freshman year. Sloan has the potential to make an impact, considering he defeated a couple All-Americans at 2018 Midlands, but it will certainly be a challenge.
Champion: Kollin Moore (Ohio State)
In the Mix: Kyle Conel (Penn State), Jacob Holschlag (Northern Iowa), Tanner Sloan (South Dakota State)
Reigning champion Anthony Cassar of Penn State is the clear favorite, after his dominant 10-1 victory in the 2019 championship match. Last year, Cassar’s lone defeat came at the hands of eventual one-seed and runner up Derek White of Oklahoma State at the Southern Scuffle in January, but their matchup at nationals showed Cassar’s improvement. With that being said, I think Minnesota’s Gable Steveson will be the eventual heavyweight champ. Steveson was one of the most touted heavyweight prospects in a while, and I believe another year of experience will help him take a huge leap. Lehigh’s Jordan Wood, who placed fourth at Nationals in 2019, will definitely be a contender, while another intriguing competitor is Jere Heino of Campbell. Heino made it to the NCAA blood round back in 2017-18, but redshirted in 2018-19. Over the last year, the Finnish native competed at Worlds and the UWW Senior World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
Champion: Gable Steveson (Minnesota)
In the Mix: Anthony Cassar (Penn State), Jordan Wood (Lehigh), Jere Heino (Campbell)