The season started in late October & here we are mid March approximately 6 months later. As I have been for the last 21 years of following this sport as closely as I do, I am a bag of contradicting emotions. I won't lie. A part of me is relieved the '22-'23 season is over. I have a girlfriend, a dog & a gym that I have neglected far too many times this year to watch or write about wrestling. Not that it was any different last year, not that it'll be any different next year. The other part of me, only a day removed from the '22-'23 season already gung-ho for the '23-'24 season.
Final thoughts?? Where to start? What all to say?
Well....here goes nothing...
|...But Still A Champ Off of It|
This is the elephant in the room so I might as well address it. It was all supposed to end in a blaze of glory. Spencer Lee was supposed to win his fourth NCAA title & cement himself in the rare, elite group of Pat Smith, Logan Stieber, Kyle Dake, Cael Sanderson & what would eventually be Yianni Diakomihalis. Yet life doesn't always work out the way that it should. Things that are supposed to happen, don't always happen. In a season full of a ton of huge upsets, it was only poetic that the biggest upset of the year (and one of the biggest of all time) happen at the NCAA tournament.
And you know what bothered me most about Lee getting upset?
Yes, I was heartbroken for him. I was heartbroken for the Iowa wrestling program. Since the years of Gable one of the only things left to check off for the Hawks was to get their first four timer. Iowa's done just about everything there is to do in this sport, but they hadn't done that yet. That wasn't what bothered me the most though. Here's what did...
I saw a ton of people that felt Lee's pain. Tons of fans that were distraught, depressed and broken as a result of watching their hero fall. I saw a ton of people who aren't Iowa fans celebrate in unison, those who love the upset, and of course the psychopaths who just plain rejoice in the hopes and dreams of a young man falling apart. You know what I didn't see much of though? I saw very, very, very few people that were actually happy for Matt Ramos of Purdue. For so few it wasn't about Ramos winning, it was about Lee losing. I'm not sure if that is so much a reflection of the wrestling community as it is a reflection of society in general.
As to Ramos' victory, I sure hope that it benefits the Boilermaker program. Tony Ersland is one of my all time favorite Hawkeyes & I love seeing him have success as the head coach of Purdue. Having a wrestler on your team that stopped a three timer from becoming a four timer is making quite the statement. Showing that you as a coach have the ability to help lead your wrestlers to what was otherwise thought of as an impossible task. I would like to see this help Ersland on the recruiting front.
Speaking of Ramos, do you want to have your mind blown? At the BIG 10's Michael DeAugustino of Northwestern had a heyday with him. Defeated him 9-1 major decision. At the NCAA's, of course Ramos takes 2nd as DeAugustino goes 1-2. Just goes to show you how crazy and unpredictable this sport truly is.
My last thoughts concerning Lee are that I have no idea why he decided to medical forfeit to 6th place. That was his decision and his business. What I will say though is that I saw how one fan on a wrestling group said that he thought that Lee's decision to not wrestle was best because to wrestle for anything less than 1st place would be a waste. What a stupid take. I sure hope that wasn't what was going through Lee's head. I can't imagine for a second that it would be. He's way too much of a class act, a hero, a teammate, a man...to have that mentality. What I will remember most about this moment as the years become decades, the skin becomes wrinkled and the hair becomes gray, is that Lee came out and signed autographs for his young fans. That he came out and supported his teammates. That he stood on the award stand with his head up. The true measurement of a person is not what you see them do in victory, but instead what you see them do in defeat. Be it international wrestling and/or coaching we're gonna see Lee on top again. Make note of that.
|Princeton Crowns Fist Champion Since 1951|
Princeton wrestling has been on the rise for quite sometime & what a treat it was to see the Tigers crown an NCAA champion! Love seeing these tough academic schools have success on the mat. Get er done in the classroom! Get er done on the mat! 6th-2nd-1st, a three time All American, two time finalist, one time national champion.
|Brandon Courtney Closes Out Stellar Career A Three Time All American|
2nd-6th-3rd, what a career it was for Brandon Courtney. The lightweight will go down as one of the best Sun Devils in recent history. To think, Arizona State isn't losing a thing as they already have 14-0, CKLV champ Richard Figueroa waiting in the wings. Figueroa has already proven what he's capable of next season, including a 3-2 victory over Ramos. You know it's funny I had a fan get all bent out of shape with me because I mentioned the importance of having good workout partners in the room with you & how having someone push you for the starting spot is only going to make you better. It's the truth. Courtney knows that, as do tons of other wrestlers who duke it out in the room everyday.
|Young Bald Eagle Soars High At the NCAA Championships|
He showed us glimpses and previews throughout all of '21-'22, and this year we got to see the young bald eagle really spread his wings and fly. Only a sophomore, the career of Anthony Noto looks very bright. Wouldn't at all be surprised to see him challenge for a national title in the seasons to come. 4th this year.
|Wrestled Like He Was Out of His Mind|
One of the most rewarding parts of '22-'23 for me was watching Liam Cronin of Nebraska compete this year. I used this particular photo of him for good reason. Since the beginning of his career I always knew that he had it within him to do great things. Yet between injuries and something mental that was holding him back, it just wasn't happening. Then suddenly it finally clicked. In my opinion the turning point for him was at CKLV, when after an early round loss, he came back with a vengeance to take 3rd. It was all up hill from there. Makes the BIG 10 finals & takes 5th at the NCAA's. Awesome freaking awesome.
|Freshman Hokie With Great Run To All American Honors|
A great tournament for Eddie Ventresca of Virginia Tech. Knocks off the BIG 12 champ, & two two time All Americans in route to a 7th place finish. Like Courtney knows about Figueroa, Ventresca knows about Cooper Flynn. The outright World Wars he's had with him on the mat helped to make him a better wrestler. No doubt about it. Wouldn't at all be surprised to see Ventresca end up a four time All American.
|Killian Cardinale Overcomes Setbacks To Secure Second All American Honor|
If you're an overall wrestling fan, you have to be impressed with Killian Cardinale of West Virginia. Battling injuries and setbacks all season, he was able to overcome it all in order to secure a second medal from the NCAA championships. A fierce competitor who always gave it Hell on the mat, he's one that I'm gonna really miss watching compete next year. I just wish someone would please tell me why Old Dominion didn't want someone as awesome as he is. Makes absolutely no sense.
You know what? Things didn't end for Eric Barnett of Wisconsin or Patrick McKee of Minnesota the way he would have liked for them to have. Still had a great season, even if it didn't end in All American honors.
Barnett was a Midlands champ, defeating Courtney 6-2 in the finals. He may have missed out on AA #3 this season, but he'll be back next year to try again. Same goes for Pat McKee of Minnesota & as mentioned earlier DeAugustino.
133 last thoughts of the '22-'23 season coming your way soon!