Forecasting the NCAA wrestling championships


Multiple Authors

Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer celebrates after defeating Minnesota’s Dylan Ness in the 157-pound match in the finals of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 22, 2014. Dieringer won the title.  (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Historically, wrestling is one of the oldest sports known to humankind. However, it often receives little attention and is blinded by the limelight of sports such as football and basketball. Despite this, collegiate wrestling is extraordinarily intriguing, exciting and competitive. This is because of the system in which NCAA wrestling operates. There are 10 weight classes at which grapplers can compete, and a winner of each class is established at the National Championships at the end of the season. Meanwhile, each individual wrestler represents a team, and at the conclusion of every year, the team with the most successful individuals is crowned the best collegiate wrestling team in the country. Here is a list of our predictions for individual wrestlers at each weight class, as well as the winner of the final team competition:
Picks by John Flanegin
[heading size=”17″ margin=”10″]125 — Joey Dance – Virginia Tech (Junior)[/heading] While I originally had last year’s champ, Nathan Tomasello from Ohio State, as my favorite for this season’s NCAA tournament I kept looking back at junior Joey Dance’s résumé. In the 2014-15 season he picked up wins over both Tomasello and my Iowa’s Thomas Gilman, who bounced Dance out of last year’s 125-pound quarterfinals in sudden death. Dance, however, seems to have only improved in the eight months since setting foot on the mat in St. Louis, notching wins over Penn State’s Nico Megaludis (Ranked 4th by Intermat) and Missouri’s Barlow McGhee (Ranked 12th by Intermat). Despite losing a close 5-4 match to Tomasello in this past weekend’s Cliff Keen Las Vegas invitational on a stalling call, Dance’s quick, elusive style coupled with his uber aggressive offensive game plan makes this Hokie my top pick come tournament time.
Contender: Thomas Gilman – Iowa (Junior)
[heading size=”17″ margin=”10″]133 — Cory Clark – Iowa (Junior)[/heading] Although coming in second to Oklahoma’s Cody Brewer in last year’s tournament, Hawkeye junior Clark is still my favorite for the stacked 133 class. Clark added an impressive victory, and his best of the year, against in-state rival Earl Hall of Iowa State (Ranked 7th by Intermat) by a score of 9-2. While Clark has looked unstoppable in the early goings he did miss a good opportunity to prove himself even further due to Iowa’s absence from the Cliff Keen Las Vegas invitational this past weekend. The CKLV boasted the likes of Ohio State, Cornell, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Missouri and gave a great forecast of what this year’s NCAA tournament matchups may look like. Hall, Brewer, Nahshon Garrett, Johnni Dijulius, and George DiCamillo were all present with Garrett taking the top ranked Brewer down in the finals, 14-9. Clark, a two-time All-American still strikes me as the man to beat but with so little competition faced at this point of the season I don’t know if I’m quite ready to go all in.  
Contender: Nahshon Garrett – Cornell (Senior)
[heading size=”17″ margin=”10″]141 — Dean Heil – Oklahoma State (Sophomore) [/heading]
I’m not gonna lie, I don’t know much about Dean Heil, but I do know one thing about the Oklahoma State sophomore, bumping up two weight classes from 125 to 141 in the past year seems like it’s paying off. Huge wins over the likes of NC State’s Kevin Jack (Ranked 2nd by Intermat) and Thommy Thorn (Ranked 9th by Intermat) of Minnesota are just two of Heil’s hopefully long list of victims this season. Heil is also the benefactor of the departure of two of the 141 class’s biggest stars after the graduation of 4 time NCAA champion Logan Stieber and Edinboro’s Mitchell Port. All of these factors have created the perfect storm for Heil’s road to a title.
Contender: Joey McKenna – Stanford  (Freshman)
[heading size=”17″ margin=”10″]149 — Jason Tsirtsis – Northwestern (RS Junior)[/heading] As badly as I want to jump ship on Tsirtsis after a 7-1 loss to unranked Drexel grappler Michael Climato, I’m not, and trust me I want to really badly. I wish I could spew out some eye-opening facts about how well he has done this year and erase the defeat, but I’m sticking with Tsirtsis simply because he is a proven winner. The Wildcat was the 2014 149-pound champ, 2015 third place finisher at the same weight, and two-time champion in the nation’s toughest conference, the Big Ten. This loss was nothing more than a fluke for Tsirtsis and the redshirt junior will prove it when he wins his second NCAA championship at Madison Square Garden in March.
Contender: Zain Retherford – Penn State (Sophomore)
[heading size=”17″ margin=”10″]157 — Isaiah Martinez – Illinois  (RS Sophomore)[/heading] Anytime you go undefeated (35-0) and win a NCAA title as a redshirt freshman you’re automatically a favorite to repeat in your sophomore campaign, and for me picking Martinez was a no-brainer. The Illini sophomore dominated Cornell’s Brian Realbuto in last year’s 157 final, 10-2, and hasn’t lost a beat in the 2015-16 season with seven wins coming by way of tech fall or pin. Martinez was also the first freshman, true or redshirt, to go undefeated since wrestling legend and Penn State coach Cael Sanderson. Although Martinez is talented in every aspect of the sport, his variety of shots, each as deadly as the next, is what will help him write the second chapter of what could eventually be a legendary story when his career at Illinois comes to a close.
Contender: Jason Nolf – Penn State (RS Freshman)
Picks by Ji-Ho Lee
[heading size=”17″ margin=”10″]165 – Alex Dieringer – Oklahoma State (Senior)[/heading] Dieringer enters the season as the clear favorite to win the NCAA tournament in the 165 class. The junior wrestler is defending the title for the third consecutive year, as he was victorious in both his freshman and sophomore campaigns. His technical soundness and aggressive nature allow him to dominate opponents, as he searches for his third consecutive title. (John – He’s thought of as the best pound for pound wrestler in the nation right now.)
Contender: Isaac Jordan – Wisconsin (RS Sophomore)
[heading size=”17″ margin=”10″]174 – Brian Realbuto – Cornell (Junior)[/heading] Realbuto plays one part of the talented cast of grapplers Cornell boasts this year. Many thought him to be a dominating force in the 157 division, where he finished as runner-up last year. But the Big Red grappler hurdled two divisions and looks to take the trophy, which appears to be likely, as the top four finishers of 2015 have graduated. What Realbuto may lack in strength, he can make up for with quickness and explosion, as he searches for a national title in a different class.
Contender: Kyle Crutchmer – Oklahoma State (Senior)
[heading size=”17″ margin=”10″]184 – Gabe Dean – Cornell (Junior)[/heading] Dean dominated his field in 2015, finishing the regular season with a 40-2 record, while also winning the national title. He looks to continue the success, and appears to be doing so. Dean has already competed in 15 matches, winning four by fall, two by tech fall, seven by major decision and the rest via bye. Dean’s phenomenal defense, impressive riding and ability to turn and pin opponents make him the obvious favorite in the 184 division.
Contender: Blake Stauffer – Arizona State (RS Senior)
[heading size=”17″ margin=”10″]197 – Morgan McIntosh – Penn State (Senior)[/heading] In the 2015 tournament, McIntosh was shocked by tenth-seeded Conner Hartmann of Duke. The Nittany Lion, however, still finished third after knocking off top-seeded J’den Cox. McIntosh boasts incredibly quick feet, as well a technically sound offense for the 197 division, both assets that he looks to use to his advantage as he searches for a national championship.   
Contender: J’den Cox – Missouri (Junior)
[heading size=”17″ margin=”10″]285 – Nick Gwiazdowski – NC State (RS Senior)[/heading] It is difficult to pick anyone besides Gwiazdowski in the heavyweight class. The Wolfpack wrestler did not lose in 2015, boasting a perfect 35-0 record and winning the national championship. Gwiazdowski uses explosive offense, a trait typically foreign to the 285 class. His ability to score points and prevent opponents from the same make him a clear favorite to take a third consecutive national title.
Contender:  Adam Coon – Michigan (Junior)
Our top five teams
With each of these teams returning multiple All-Americans and continuing their tradition of wrestling excellence we imagine they’ll each be vying for a coveted team title during the span of March 17-19.
Champion: Iowa Hawkeyes – While the Hawkeyes are often in the conversation for best NCAA wrestling team year in and year out, we believe the 2015-16 season will be the one to garner their 24th national championship. With grapplers like Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark, Alex Meyer, Sammy Brooks, and Nathan Burak, second year head coach Tom Brands will be in an excellent position to bring another title to Iowa City.
In the hunt:
Oklahoma State
Ohio State
Penn State
By: Ji-Ho Lee and John Flanegin
What did you think of John and Ji-Ho’s picks? Who do you think will be taking home titles this March? Leave your comments below.