NCAA wrestling championships: Class-by-class preview
Nearly 350 of the nation’s best college wrestlers will converge on Pittsburgh this week for the NCAA Division I championships, with the city hosting the event for the first time since 1957.
From Thursday to Saturday, wrestlers will compete for the most prestigious honors. Eighty will become All-Americans. Ten will leave as national champions.
“It has a big-time feel,” NCAA spokesman Matthew Holmes said. “For anybody who’s ever been to a major boxing event, or a UFC show, it’s a very similar type of that big-fight feel.”
The field at PPG Paints Arena includes six defending national champions and dozens of All-Americans. The tournament will begin at noon Thursday and conclude with the finals at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Here’s a primer on each weight class and some of the top wrestlers to watch:
Favorite: Northwestern’s Sebastian Rivera, but it won’t be easy. There is plenty of talent, including defending champion Spencer Lee, an Iowa sophomore and Franklin Regional graduate.
Top seeds: 1. Sebastian Rivera, Northwestern, 25-1; 2. Nicholas Piccininni, Oklahoma State, 30-0; 3. Lee, Iowa, 18-3; 4. Ronnie Bresser, Oregon State, 23-1; 5. Jack Mueller, Virginia, 17-0; 6. Sean Russell, Minnesota, 26-4; 7. Pat Glory, Princeton, 26-4; 8. Vatali Arujau, Cornell, 26-2.
Best chance at an upset: Ronnie Bresser of Oregon State over Rivera. Rivera won an overtime match between the two in Las Vegas earlier this season.
Local competitors: Lee, Iowa (Franklin Regional), 18-3; Gage Curry, American (North Hills), 23-11.
2018 champion: Lee, Iowa
Favorite: Stevan Micic of Michigan. He was a runner-up in 2018 and is ranked No. 1 in most polls but is seeded No. 2. Top-seeded Daton Fix of Oklahoma State is a freshman in the highly competitive weight class. Pitt’s Micky Phillippi — a Derry grad — has defeated Fix and Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher — a Latrobe grad — and they’re on the same side of bracket.
Top seeds: 1. Fix, Oklahoma State, 30-1; 2. Micic, Michigan, 14-0; 3. Suriano, Rutgers, 24-3; 4. Phillippi, Pitt, 19-2; 5. Pletcher, Ohio State, 23-5; 6. Ethan Lizak, Minnesota, 28-5; 7. Austin DeSanto, Iowa, 18-4; 8. John Erneste, Missouri, 18-4.
Best chance at an upset: Tariq Wilson of N.C. State over Lizak of Minnesota. Wilson finished third in 2018.
Local competitors: Phillippi, Pitt (Derry); Pletcher, Ohio State (Latrobe); Matt Schmitt, West Virginia, 17-6; Roman Bravo-Young, Penn State, 21-4.
2018 champion: Seth Gross, South Dakota State
Favorite: Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell will be hard to beat. He put on a show last year as a freshman.
Top seeds: 1. Diakomihalis, Cornell, 24-0; 2. Joey McKenna, Ohio State, 20-2; 3. Nick Lee, Penn State, 27-2; 4. Josh Alber, Northern Illinois, 31-5; 5. Jaydin Eierman, Missouri, 23-3; 6. Michael Carr, Illinois, 12-5; 7. Mitch McKee, Minnesota, 20-5; 8. Kanen Storr, Michigan, 24-6.
Best chance at an upset: Eierman over Alber.
Local competitors: Austin Headlee, North Carolina (Waynesburg), 19-10; Carr, Illinois (South Fayette); Sam Krivus, Virginia (Hempfield), 16-10; Kyle Shoop, Lock Haven, 31-6; Lee, Penn State, 27-2; Maxin Murin, Iowa (Central Cambria), 15-8.
2018 champion: Diakomihalis, Cornell
Favorite: Anthony Ashnault is the old man of the tournament after he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA for missing the 2017-18 season with an injury. He is 118-18 overall (school record for wins) and 27-0 this season. He’s a three-time NCAA All-American after finishing sixth in 2017, fourth in ‘16 and eighth in ‘15. Ashnault defeated Ohio State’s Micah Jordan twice this season, including 8-6 in the Big Ten final.
Top seeds: 1. Ashnault, Rutgers, 27-0; 2. Jordan, Ohio State, 25-2; 3. Mitch Finesilver, Duke, 28-3; 4. Brock Mauller, Missouri, 29-2; 5. Matthew Kolodzik, Princeton, 21-3; 6. Austin O’Connor, North Carolina, 29-5; 7. Kaden Gfeller, Oklahoma State, 28-4; 8. Jarrett Degan, Iowa State, 25-6.
Best chance at an upset: Brady Berge of Penn State over Kolodzik.
Local competitors: Josh Maruca, Arizona State (Franklin Regional), 16-12; Chris Monserrat, West Virginia, 23-7; Berge, Penn State, 18-3.
2018 champion: Zain Rutherford, Penn State
Favorite: Penn State’s Jason Nolf (Kittanning) won last year despite battling an injury. This year Nolf is healthy and could dominate the weight class.
Top seeds: 1. Nolf, Penn State, 26-0; 2. Tyler Berger, Nebraska, 24-3; 3. Ryan Deakin, Northwestern, 29-4; 4. Alec Pantaleo, Michigan, 18-7; 5. Hayden Hidlay, N.C. State, 20-2; 6. Kaleb Young, Iowa, 20-5; 7. Larry Early, Old Dominion, 22-5; 8. Josh Humphreys, Lehigh, 19-6.
Best chance at an upset: Zach Hartman of Bucknell over Deakin in the second round.
Local competitors: Nolf, Penn State (Kittanning); Zach Hartman, Bucknell (Belle Vernon), 26-7; Alexander Klucker, Lock Haven, 21-9; Taleb Rahmani, Pitt, 16-6.
2018 champion: Nolf, Penn State
Favorite: It’s Iowa’s Alex Marinelli after a 9-3 win over Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph (Central Catholic) in the Big Ten tournament final last weekend. But if they meet again with a national title on the line, two-time NCAA champion Joseph has the pedigree.
Top seeds: 1. Marinelli, Iowa, 23-0; 2. Joseph, Penn State, 23-1; 3. Joshua Shields, Arizona State, 27-3; 4. Evan Wick, Wisconsin, 28-4; 5. Chance Marsteller, Lock Haven, 22-2; 6. Logan Massa, Michigan, 20-5; 7. Isaiah White, Nebraska, 20-7; 8. Mekhi Lewis, Virginia Tech, 23-2
Best chance at an upset: Marinelli could have a difficult opening match as two-time All-American Joe Smith of Oklahoma State wrestled much of the season at 174 pounds before going to 165 for the Big 12 Tournament. Smith first must beat Northwestern’s Tyler Morland in the preliminary round.
Local competitors: Joseph, Penn State (Central Catholic); Shields, Arizona State (Franklin Regional); Te’shan Campbell, Ohio State (Penn Hills), 20-7; Cam Coy, Virginia (Penn-Trafford), 19-14; Nick Kiussis, West Virginia, 18-10.; Evan Delong, Clarion, 16-13.
2018 champion: Joseph, Penn State
Favorite: Penn State’s Mark Hall won the NCAA title as a freshman in 2017, but Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia unseated him by an 8-2 decision in last season’s final. A rematch would provide plenty of intrigue.
Top seeds: 1. Hall, Penn State, 26-0; 2. Daniel Lewis, Missouri, 24-1; 3. Valencia, Arizona State, 26-2; 4. Myles Amine, Michigan, 17-3; 5. Jordan Kutler, Lehigh, 21-4; 6. David McFadden, Virginia Tech, 18-2; 7. Jacobe Smith, Oklahoma State, 27-3; 8. Taylor Lujan, Northern Iowa, 24-5
Best chance at an upset: The No. 2 seed didn’t grant Lewis an easy pass. He faces a potential quarterfinal match against Oklahoma State’s Smith, a returning All-American who wrestled much of the season at 184, or Nebraska’s Mike Labriola.
Local competitors: Hall, Penn State; Ethan Smith, Ohio State (Latrobe), 18-11; Jacob Oliver, Edinboro, 28-5
2018 champion: Valencia, Arizona State
Favorite: Ohio State’s Myles Martin earns the top seed and the favorite status coming off a Big Ten championship. Of note: He didn’t wrestle Penn State’s Skakur Rasheed for the title after Rasheed medically forfeited out of the tournament.
Top seeds: 1. Martin, Ohio State, 20-0; 2. Rasheed, Penn State, 18-0; 3. Zack Zavatsky, Virginia Tech, 24-3; 4. Emery Parker, Illinois, 17-3; 5. Maxwell Dean, Cornell, 21-5; 6. Drew Foster, Northern Iowa, 23-5; 7. Nick Reenan, N.C. State, 15-4; 8. Ryan Preisch, Lehigh, 20-3
Best chance at an upset: Northern Iowa’s Foster won a Big 12 championship and could provide a difficult match to All-American Zavatsky (Latrobe) in the quarterfinals.
Local competitors: Rasheed, Penn State; Zavatsky, Virginia Tech (Latrobe); Nino Bonaccorsi, Pitt (Bethel Park), 19-6
2018 champion: Bo Nickal, Penn State
Favorite: Penn State’s Bo Nickal. The senior is a two-time NCAA champion at 184 and pinned Oklahoma State’s second-seeded Kollin Moore in a dual this season and beat him again in the Big Ten finals.
Top seeds: 1. Nickal, Penn State, 25-0; 2. Kollin Moore, Ohio State, 19-2; 3. Preston Weigel, Oklahoma State, 11-0; 4. Patrick Brucki, Princeton, 29-1; 5. Jacob Warner, Iowa, 17-4; 6. William Miklus, Iowa State, 22-3; 7. Jay Aiello, Virginia, 23-6; 8. Nathan Traxler, Stanford, 28-5
Best chance at an upset: Moore came into last season’s NCAAs as the top seed but was pinned by Kent State’s Kyle Conel in a quarterfinal shocker. Moore could see a dangerous Weigel in the semifinals; the Oklahoma State wrestler missed much of the season to injury but won his third Big 12 championship over the weekend.
Local competitors: Nickal, Penn State; Jake Woodley, Oklahoma (North Allegheny), 21-8; Noah Adams, West Virginia, 18-13; Kellan Stout, Pitt (Mt. Lebanon), 12-8; Greg Bulsak, Clarion (South Park), 17-6; Drew Phipps, Bucknell (Norwin), 24-10
2018 champion: Michael Macchiavello, N.C. State
Favorite: Oklahoma State’s Derek White hasn’t earned All-American honors, but the senior is on a 27-match winning streak. His lone loss came to Minnesota’s Gable Steveson, but Penn State’s Anthony Cassar beat Steveson at the Big Ten Tournament.
Top seeds: 1. White, Oklahoma State, 28-1; 2. Cassar, Penn State, 25-1; 3. Steveson, Minnesota, 30-1; 4. Jordan Wood, Lehigh, 21-3; 5. Mason Parris, Michigan, 29-7; 6. Amar Dhesi, Oregon State, 10-1; 7. Trent Hillger, Wisconsin, 22-6; 8. Demetrius Thomas, Pitt, 26-4
Best chance at an upset: It could come in the semifinals in a rematch between Steveson and Cassar. Steveson dropped a 4-3 thriller to Cassar in the Big Ten finals, but the Minnesotan will be aiming for a reversal.
Local competitors: Cassar, Penn State; Thomas, Pitt; Brandon Ngati, West Virginia, 14-14
2018 champion: Kyle Snyder, Ohio State
— Doug Gulasy and Paul Schofield
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, [email protected] or via Twitter .