For the past five months I have been doing team previews for the NAIA, NCAA DIII, NCAA DII & NCAA DI. It amazes me how many wrestling fans are so bent out of shape over wrestlers receiving an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19. It has made me evaluate the situation and think deeply upon the circumstances. I ask myself a few questions.
First the most pivotal one. A would you rather question.
Would I rather see someone granted a fifth year of varsity eligibility or would I rather see someone have one of their four years of varsity eligibility taken away from them?
I'm going to go with give a fifth year over take a year away every single time.
With that said, I also think the circumstances of what happened in 2020, reflect just how over obsessive we are as wrestling fans with the national tournament. It's three days out of a six month season. I think we could stand to put that into perspective a little bit better. There's a lot of wrestling that happens between the end of October & the middle of March. Duals, tournaments, all sorts of competitions that evaluate a wrestler's worth as does the NCAA tournament.
With THAT said, I also realize that the NCAA tournament will always be the ultimate pinnacle. What collegiate wrestlers dream of and what they work so hard for. With that realization I ask myself looking back on the 2019-2020 season, who lost out the most? Who out of our NCAA wrestlers truly suffered from the cancellation of the NCAA DI tournament?
Here's the list I came up with. I'm sure there are others that I could have included, but this is who I feel lost out most.
|Luke Pletcher |
Luke Pletcher was having himself one Hell of a season. 26-1, he had dominated throughout the year winning titles at both CKLV & the BIG 10. His only loss on the year, Nick Lee of Penn State he had avenged as he whipped a number of other big, well known names such as Cole Matthews of Pittsburgh & Chad Red Jr of Nebraska. A two time All American with back to back 4th place finishes, was he robbed of winning a national title in 2020? He very well could have been.
The year just was not kind to the Buckeyes of Ohio State as another likely NCAA champion was denied his could have been NCAA title in Collin Moore. 3rd-4th-2nd thus far in NCAA finishes, he was to enter his final national tournament a three time BIG 10 champion & the #1 seed. He was 27-0 on the year.
|Pat Lugo |
As to the transfers of Iowa, the black & gold faithful are usually pretty fair in their overall assessment. His junior season he didn't quite live up to expectation with an 8th place finish at the NCAA championships, but as a senior he was wrestling his ass off to prove himself worth of Hawkeye love. A Midlands title & a BIG 10 title, he avenged his only loss of the season against Ohio State's Sammy Sasso. Not only that but he also handed future NCAA champion Austin O'Connor of North Carolina an 8-4 loss. Heart went out to Lugo who had the #1 seed at the NCAA championships. Had he won the NCAA title, he'd probably be in the hearts of many Hawk fans their favorite. Instead, he's remembered as what could have been, perhaps better stated, what should have been.
|Taylor Lujan |
My very, very favorite moment to watch in collegiate wrestling is when a senior earns All American honors for the first time. Taylor Lujan had been so close twice earlier in his career with R12 finishes. Not only was it looking like he was going to finally make the top eight, he was actually slated to finish first. A Midlands title & a BIG 12 title he entered the NCAA's the #1 seed, robbed of the medal he was destined to earn, which could have very well been cloaked in gold.
|Chas Tucker |
Speaking of seniors entering their final season of eligibility looking for their first All American honor, Cornell's Chas Tucker was due. 32-0 on the season he earned titles as both CKLV & the EIWA. How would he have done? Hard telling. An educated hypothesis says he would have had a really tough quarter-final matchup with Iowa's Austin DeSanto. If he would have won that, he'd have had Seth Gross of Wisconsin in the semi-finals. I say that a victory over DeSanto or come back through the consolations, he was going to stand somewhere on that award stand. A shame he didn't get to.
|Seth Gross |
A two time NCAA finalist with an NCAA title while he was at South Dakota State, Seth Gross looked to make this third finals appearance going for his second NCAA title at Wisconsin. Would he have won title #2? It seemed like very good possibility. He did have a slip up at the BIG 10's, placing 3rd, but he had many testimonies throughout the season that suggested he'd win another title. A Midlands champion, he defeated Iowa's Austin DeSanto twice & also had a win over Roman Bravo Young of Penn State. I think as much so as it was for him, it was also a disappointment for Coach Bono & the Wisconsin program. Bono is doing a tremendous job at Wisconsin & will continue to have much success their, but crowning Gross a champion would have been such a strong statement.
4th-R12-5th in three NCAA tournament appearances, Nick Piccininni was granted the #3 seed after winning a Southern Scuffle title as well as his fourth BIG 12 title. The what ifs are endless here, but I want to say he stood a great chance at making the NCAA finals. Even though Pat Glory of Princeton had defeated him earlier that season, he had defeated Glory three times prior to that. Could Piccininni have upended Spencer Lee of Iowa? I'd have given it about a 15% chance. Although the Cowboy had pinned the Hawkeye in a dual held in Stillwater, he had also lost to him four times. None of the four in pretty matches either having lost 10-5, 11-4, 12-3 & via fall himself 3:58. So an NCAA title? Most likely not, but an NCAA finals appearance? I think we would have seen it.
|Tanner Hall |
Redemption is another rewarding aspect of collegiate wrestling. A really good wrestler has a sour ending to a season & then comes back to have a great year the next season. I would say Tanner Hall of Arizona State pretty much did that. 3rd in 2017, his 2018 tournament didn't go quite as planned. A redshirt in 2019, he looked pretty tough as we prepared for the NCAA's. 2nd in CKLV, he won a PAC-12 title & was awarded a #4 seed on a 23-3 record. What would that have resulted in? Most likely meeting Gable Steveson of Minnesota in the semi-finals. Probably wouldn't have been pretty, but mind you that Steveson usually kicked the crap out of about every he faced that wasn't named Anthony Cassar. Hall took Steveson into sudden-victory the one and only time they met.
|Jordan Kutler |
I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to the 174 lbs weight class for the 2020 NCAA's. For many reasons, one of them Jordan Kutler of Lehigh. The final seemed already etched in stone between Penn State's Mark Hall & Iowa's Michael Kemerer. Could anyone have broken that stone? Of course you know I was game to see it, I'm a Stonebraker!! I think that someone could have been Kutler. 21-1 on the season, he had won the EIWA championship entering the tournament as the #3 seed. For the record, with 6th & 7th place finishes to his name, this was likely to be his third All American honor as well.
|Dylan Lydy |
There's so much more to a wrestler's career than whether or not he ever made All American, but Gawd does it still bug me that Dylan Lydy wasn't given that final opportunity. Twice R12, he was destined to, in my opinion, finish as high as 3rd. A CKLV title & a Midlands title, he was 3rd in the BIG 10, with only Hall & Kemerer being the two that seemed out of his league.
|Bryce Steiert |
Feel very similar to Bryce Steiert of Northern Iowa how I felt with Dylan Lydy. Even though Steiert did have an All American finish of 8th during his career, I would have liked to have seen him earn another AA honor. 27-3, he was runner-up at both CKLV & the Midlands, winning a BIG 12 championship. Seeding wouldn't have allowed for a darkhorses finals of Lydy Vs Steiert, but what a treat it would have been to have seen the two battle it out for 3rd or 5th place. It's easy to catch me daydreaming sometimes.
20-4 on the season, Isaiah White of Nebraska was the #5 seed for the NCAA championships having won a CKLV title and finished 3rd at the BIG 10 championships. For the record, he had a victory of future NCAA champ Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech too.
I hated seeing Matt Kolodzik robbed of becoming Princeton's first four time All American. It's such a high, prestigious honor & he really deserved the opportunity to make that happen. 7th-3rd-5th thus far in his career, it's hard to say where he would have ended up, but top eight for sure. It was rewarding seeing him win the EIWA title. He was 14-0 on the season.
A three time PAC-12 champion, he lost his bid for a fourth conference title as he finished runner-up to future NCAA champion Shane Griffith of Stanford. 7th & 6th thus far in the NCAA I was looking forward to him going for his third All American honor. I was also looking forward to him getting a second shot at Griffith, which likely would have been our quarter-final matchup. Sometimes matches that only had one showing deserved a sequel, this was one of them.
Much like Kolodzik, you hated to see a potential four time All American robbed of his chance. David McFadden of Virginia Tech had finished 6th-5th-5th thus far in his career. Where was he to finish this particular season? Who knows? He was one of those guys that left the possibilities endless. 2nd in the Midlands, he was 2nd in the ACC. 21-5 on the season, he had a victory over Evan Wick.
|Cam Skykora |
North Dakota State
Am I stretching it here? Yeah, perhaps I am, but wrestlers out performing their seeds at the NCAA tournament is nothing new & I think of all wrestlers seeded outside the top 8, North Dakota's Cam Sykora was one to do so. 17-4 on the season the four time NCAA qualifier was slated the #11 seed having finished 2nd at the Southern Scuffle & BIG 12 champion. Among his wins for the season, a technical fall over future All American Devan Turner of Oregon State.
Northern Iowa sure did come up a lot on this post didn't it? It's the truth of the matter. The Panthers had a great team, a great group of seniors heading into the 2020 NCAA's & it truly is a shame that they didn't get the opportunity to shine. Thomsen much like Hall mentioned earlier would have been a story of redemption. 5th in the nation as a freshman, he had finished R12 twice, but had yet to make it back onto the award stand. All throughout 19'-20' he looked like he was destined to. 5th at CKLV he was 3rd in the Midlands. Medical forfeits at the BIG 12's made him slip to a #13 seed, but he was still in good shape to earn AA #2. Would have been fun to have seen if he could have done it.
Are there more names to add to this list? Of course there are. Ben Harvey of Army, Jared Prince of navy, Mitch McKee of Minnesota & Tom Lane of Cal Poly are a handful of names that come to mind. The point is, these seniors were robbed of their final NCAA tournament. It sucks that they were. It sucks way worse than it ever will that someone else was given an extra season. Collegiate wrestling is such a short period of time in the overall lives of these tremendous young men. While their final year of collegiate wrestling may not have ended as they would have liked it to have, one thing is for certain....read JT#1's stuff & they'll be recognized as the greats they were.