25 Returning Wrestlers To Watch in the 2019-2020 season
Alright guys and gals, if you remember earlier in the summer, I did a piece entitled the “Too Early Top 25.” This is going to be a bit more of a broad view on that previous piece. These are the top 25 guys, regardless of weight class that are expected to make some really big noise this season, and if you’ve been paying attention, some of them have been doing so internationally this summer. Some of the names on this list may come to you as a surprise; on the other hand there are some that are definite no-brainers. Regardless of how you feel about seeds, rankings, past achievements, and the like, the guys compiled here should make for an absolute thriller of a season.
Spencer Lee is already well on his way to proving he belongs with some of the best wrestlers in the University of Iowa’s storied history, and he has made it clear that is exactly what he is going for. In an earlier interview with Lee, he is quoted with saying, “My goal is to be a 4x NCAA champ, and you can’t be a 4-timer unless you’re a 3-timer.” With that quote in mind, he has made it clear what his intentions are. Lee has taken losses to fellow 125-pounders Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern and Nick Piccininni of Oklahoma State, but when on to avenge those losses and prove he is “Mr. March” by capping the 125lb NCAA title. Can any of these young men stand in his way, or are the hands of fate with Lee?
Coming in at number 2, we have the only All-American returning to the ACC at 125 this year, Jack Mueller. Mueller has had a studly campaign so far himself. He posted a 21-1 record last season, his only loss coming to the hands of Spencer Lee in the NCAA finals 5-0. He is already a 3x NCAA Qualifier (once at 133 and the other two at 125) with 2 All-American honors. Mueller very well has the potential to be Virginia’s first ever National Champion in wrestling given his already stellar rap sheet, the question is, can he pull it off in such a stacked class? He’s the youngest of the front-runners so it is safe to say that time is on his side.
As I mentioned before, this year’s 125lb class is nothing short of STACKED! Numerous returning All-Americans, and most of them all have losses to each other which makes for an even more unpredictable outcome. Rivera took third at last year’s NCAA championships losing to Mueller in the semis. Let it be known however, that he was the first wrestler to defeat Spencer Lee, and did it in the finals at the Midlands with a score of 7-3. Rivera suffered 3 losses in total one to Mueller, one to Lee, and one coming at the hands of Stevan Micic when Rivera bumped up to 133 in Northwestern’s dual vs Michigan. Will he avenge his losses to claim a national title? Only time will tell.
Seth Gross, assuming he stays healthy and there are no more transfer issues, seems to be one of the highly favored picks at 133. Gross was out all of last season with a back injury, but the year before, was the NCAA Champ at 133lbs. This is the third time in his career we’ve seen Gross change schools, but it seems to have nothing but a positive effect on his performance. If he remains healthy and finds his stride where he left off, we could very likely see a repeat at 133.
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At 133 this coming season, there are 6 returning All-Americans from the year before, 7 if you include Gross. As for the time being however, they all bow to the king of the class, Nicky Pushups. Suriano was Rutgers’ first NCAA Champ last year, beating Daton Fix in the finals with a score of 4-2. Suriano seemed to find trouble hitting his stride early on in his career, but after transferring to Rutgers seemed to have find a home. Though it was special to watch him win, the university left the NCAAs with their first and second champions, one from Nick at 133, and one from, teammate Anthony Ashnault at 149. Does Nicky have what it takes to cap off title two, or will the king be dethroned?
Fix was nothing short of a phenom and a crucial piece of the Cowboys squad last season. He had 3 major losses, one upset at the hands of Pitt’s Micky Phillippi, and two from Nick Suriano. Both of his losses to Suriano were extremely close, where he was edged out both times on a second overtime tie-break scenario, the last of which coming in the NCAA finals to result in his runner-up finish. With as stacked as 133 is, it’s hard to pick an absolute favorite, but it is safe to say this season will definitely be one to remember for the lightweights of the NCAA.
141 looks about as sewn up as a weight class could possibly get. Yianni is already a 2x NCAA champ and a clear favorite this year as he goes on his hunt for the third. He beat Ohio State’s Joey McKenna last year in the finals and no one other than that came very close. With McKenna gone, Yianni only has to keep in mind Oklahoma’s Dom Demas, and Penn State’s Nick Lee, both of whom he has already beaten. As clear as it is that Yianni is the class favorite, let’s not forget that wrestling is as unpredictable as any other sport. Any given day, especially in March, anything can happen.
Nick Lee has been an unsung hero for the Penn State program. Although not quite the championship caliber as some of his larger teammates, the potential is there. With most of Penn State’s bigger names gone this season I look for Nick to really break out of the shadows and prove himself this year. He is a 2x 5th place finisher, with losses last year to Joey McKenna and Dom Demas. With McKenna gone it’ll be interesting to see how Nick stacks up to Demas this year, and ultimately Yianni. Only time will tell us what kind of improvements he’s made to land on top of the podium.
Demas is last year’s Big 12 champ at 141, and has an NCAA All-American trophy to his name with a 4th place finish. His only losses were to Yianni D, and to Mizzou’s Jaydin Eierman. There is however some mystery surrounding Demas as ther season draws closer. There have been some rumors going around that Demas is expected to take an Olympic redshirt for the season. While I can neither confirm nor deny, this could certainly change the outlook of the 141lb class if he does.
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O’Connor finished of a stellar campaign last season claiming 3rd at the NCAA Championships for the Tar Heels. With the graduating of Ohio State’s Micah Jordan, and last year’s champ Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers, it is likely that O’Connor will get the #1 seed at 149. With the disappearance of the two aforementioned wrestlers, O’Connor is also one of the two wrestlers from last year’s top 5 at 149 still around.
Kolodzik has already helped rewrite some of the records at Princeton during his tenure. He is Princeton’s first 3x All-American, and its highest place winner (5th) since 2002. He also helped the school secure its first top 15 finish at the NCAA tournament since 1978. After all Kolodzik has done to restore some wrestling glory at Princeton, one has to think, a national title would be a great way to ice the cake. Can Kolodzik possibly top UNC’s AOC? Man I can’t wait for wrestling season!
Aside from having one of the more intimidating names in collegiate wrestling, Mauller sure knew how to open up his freshman campaign. He was a MAC conference champ and ended his 2019 season claiming All-America honors with a 6th place finish. Mauller only took five losses in his first season at Mizzou from three different wrestlers, two from Kolodzik, two from Iowa State All-American Jarrett Degan, and one at the hands of UNC’s Austin O’Connor. It’ll be interesting to see if he can raise the bar even higher for himself this year.
Hidlay is now a 2x All-American for the wolfpack, finishing 4th last year, and a runner-up the year before that. He only suffered 4 losses in his sophomore season, 2 of which didn’t come until the NCAA Championships at the hands of Jason Nolf of Penn State, and Michigan’s Alec Pantaleo. With Nolf , Pantaleo, and Nebraska’s Tyler Berger all being seniors last season, that takes off 2/4 losses Hidlay takes all year, and gives him a spotless record at the NCAAs. Is the crown his to claim this year, or will someone crush his championship dreams along the way?
Deakin scrapped his way to a 6th place finish at last year’s NCAA Championships to cap off his season. His two big losses in the tournament came from the hands of Nebraska’s Tyler Berger, and Penn State’s Jason Nolf, both who were seniors last year. Deakin has gotten a lot of mat time in this off-season being a hell of a competitor on both the Final X and World Team Trials tournaments. One can only hope that all his hard work pays off, and if he can solidify himself in the Big 10 this year, the national crown may be closer to his grasp.
Vincenzo is definitely a big part of the success that coach Cael Sanderson has going on with the Penn State program. He has already won 2 NCAA titles and came up just short of number 3 last year losing to Virginia Tech Freshman Mekhi Lewis. Rumors are going around that Lewis may take an Olympic redshirt this year and if he does, that leaves the throne all but uncontested for Cenzo to take title number 3 for the Nittany Lions.
Alex “The Bull” Marinelli, nicknamed rightfully so for his aggressive hand-on-head wrestling and his charging shots. He is a 2x All-American that claimed 7th at last year’s NCAAs. Marinelli seems to have an Achilles heel as the season presses on, consistency over longevity. He started out last season as good as anyone could hope for, and even was one of the favorites to win at one point throughout the year, but when it came to championship weekend he seemed to fall apart. The question is, can we see Marinelli string together multiple big victories? And if so, he may be able to make a very serious stand for the top of the podium at 165.
As mentioned earlier, there is a rumor that Lewis may take an Olympic redshirt this coming season and not compete for VT. As it isn’t clear yet whether that is true or false, he is a returning NCAA champ as a true freshman, and the likely favorite for the coming year if he doesn’t redshirt. Lewis is likely to tear through the ACC and not see a whole lot of competition until he gets to the Southern Scuffle and the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invite later in the season. The last 3 wrestlers named are your likely winners of the top 3 places at this year’s championships, so if Mekhi redshirts, it could definitely make things interesting for some of the other guys in the bracket.
Mark Hall definitely has what most collegiate athletes would consider a successful career, already being a 2x runner-up and an NCAA champ, but to him it isn’t enough. Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia has stopped Hall on two separate occasions from earning another title, a seemingly frustrating turn of events. Mark’s chances of getting to the top of the podium at 174 just got a lot bigger if he can overcome his big stage mental block with Valencia. Will we see baby Markie get another title for the Nittany Lions? Only time will tell us.
After losing to Mark Hall in the semifinals of the NCAAs as a freshman, Zahid went on to win 2 back to back titles for the Sun Devil wrestling program. Valencia suffered two losses last year, one to Mark Hall at the PSU vs ASU dual meet in Rec Hall, and one from Mizzou’s Daniel Lewis who graduated. If he stays at 174, he is the likely favorite to win the title, however there have been rumors of him bumping up to 184 as he did his RS Freshman year. For the time being, his redshirt status remains unforeseen.
The Cornell legacy, and big man hammer is back for another shot at the top of the podium this year. Dean is a 2x All-American for the Big Red claiming 8th as a freshman, and getting runner-up last year to UNI senior Drew Foster. With the only man to beat him on the big stage out of the picture, one has to assume that hopes for another title for Cornell aren’t far off. With the likes of Kyle Dake and big brother Gabe in his corner, I’m sure he is nothing but motivated to continue his own legacy for head coach Rob Koll.
Rasheed received another year of NCAA eligibility due to a back injury earlier in his career. With the transfer of Kent State’s Kyle Conell it is unclear whether Rasheed will stay at 184 or go up to 197. My guess is the two will wrestle off closer to game time and the winner picks his spot. In the event that Rasheed stays at 184, he is one of the top contenders for the class and I look for him to be pretty consistent.
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Moore racked up an impressive season last year culminating in a 23-3 record with a 2nd place finish at the NCAAs. All three of Moore’s losses last year came at the hands of the Penn State Pinning Machine Bo Nickal, so with Nickal gone, who is left in the field to challenge Moore? I’d keep an eye out for Princeton’s Patrick Brucki, last year’s 4th place finisher. Although finishing just below Moore, Brucki shows a lot of promise to make a title run. Another is Kent State transfer Kyle Conell who pinned Moore back in 2018. Conell sat out last year with transfer issues after finishing 3rd the year before for Kent State.
Last year’s 4th place All-American, Brucki is surely going to quickly cement himself as one of the best in the Ivy League. With Bo Nickal and 3rd place finisher Preston Wiegel both gone, the only big challenge in his way is Kollin Moore, who majored him twice last year. Although Brucki has shown promise, it’ll be interesting to see how he has made steps to take on Moore yet again this year, and possibly Kyle Conell. Regardless of how the pieces fall, expect him to be in the championship talks.
Steveson opened up one hell of a freshman campaign. The Big 10 is undoubtedly the toughest conference for wrestling, and he managed to rack up a 27-2 record that resulted in a 3rd place finish at the NCAA tournament. Gable didn’t take his first loss until the Big 10 tournament finals by the hands of Penn State’s Anthony Cassar. Gable then lost to Cassar again in the NCAA semifinal match before going on to win his last bout for 3rd. both of Gable’s losses were very close, so it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments he has made in the offseason.
After a long appeal process, Anthony Cassar was granted a fifth year of eligibility due to injuries earlier in his career. Upon his arrival at Penn State, things never quite went Cassar’s way, losing wrestle offs, the nagging injuries, but he said he kept looking at PSU’s NCAA champion wall at just kept believing and kept striving to do better. In his post championship interview he is quoted with saying, “I saw myself on that wall before I was ever there. Even if no one else saw it, I saw it and that’s what matters.” Being the only man to beat Gable Steveson not once but twice, Cassar is the likely favorite at heavyweight this upcoming season.
So What’s Next??
Releasing blogs like these does nothing but get me excited for the season to come. The weather is getting cooler, programs have started practice again, champions are striving to repeat, and top contenders are looking for upsets. As we all know, rankings, especially in the sport of wrestling, mean nothing. You have to come ready to defend that rank every time you step on the mat like it isn’t yours to own. We can fathom and release all the predictions and outcomes we want but March MATness can play tricks on even the most proven and seasoned wrestlers. We here at Fanatics wrestling do our best to keep you updated on the sport on several different facets including collegiate level, international, technique pieces, coaching strategies, if you can think of it we have it. We will continue to do so as this season unfolds, thanks for reading Fanatics!
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