Friday, September 22, 2023

2023-2024 NCAA DI The Season: Top returnees 133 lbs

 Graduation hit the weight class rather hard, or more appropriately said, there were quite a few wrestlers from last season who used up their eligibility.  This leaves room for others to come in and make a name for themselves, while others will try and reclaim their status.  It's a weight class that at the moment seems like it will be dominated by an unstoppable top force. Yet this is collegiate wrestling, in particularly NCAA DI wrestling & we all know that the term "anything is possible" applies. 

Vitali Arujau

OLYMPIC REDSHIRT but if he were competing....

The way the season ended for Vitali Arujau last season it is near unfathomable to think anyone will stop him his quest for a second national title & his fourth All American honor in total.  25-1 on the season, he pulled off one of the most impressive runs at the NCAA tournament I have witnessed in my 32 years of following this great sport. He majors three time NCAA finalist Daton Fix 11-3 & then damn near majors two time NCAA DI champion Roman Bravo Young who hadn't lost a match in 56 bouts. Will he go down as one of the best two time NCAA DI champs of all time? That's a real possibility for the already two time PAN AMERICAN gold medalist.  A quick shoutout to Ethan Fernandez who will be overlooked & overshadowed by the current best lower weight wrestler in the nation, but still deserves mention as one heck of a good backup. 

Sam Latona
Virginia Tech 

There was exactly one man who got his hand raised against Arujau last season & that was Sam Latona of Virginia Tech. The Hokie upended the Big Red by a 3-2 score. Will he be able to once again find the weakness in what currently seems to be the impenetrable armor of Arujau?  While we ask ourselves that question, it is also appropriate to wonder about Latona's own armor.  Thus far in the NCAA he's been 6th-R12-7th as he heads into his junior season of competition. 28-8 on the season he was champion at the Keystone Classic, taking 6th at CKLV.  Within the ACC he's been 1st-2nd-3rd the past three seasons. 

Kai Orine
North Carolina State 

Right there to feud with Latona all season will be ACC champ Kai Orine (3rd in '22) who earned his first All American honor last season with an 8th place finish. 18-8 on the season, he provides testimony to the fact that CKLV IS the toughest of our in-season DI tournaments as he was one match shy of a medal there. 

Daton Fix 
Oklahoma State

Very anxious to see Daton Fix in his final season as a Cowboy.  103-6 overall in his varsity career, he has collected three silver medals from the NCAA DI championships, but slipped to 4th place this past season.  Among the competition, where does he fall this year? Does he succumb to Arujau in the finals, becoming our first four time runner-up? If so, could you argue against putting him anywhere other than the very best to never win a national title? Is he the one who will overcome Arujau to finally win an NCAA DI title? Or does he finish somewhere else on the award stand.  When you have to ask yourself these kind of questions, it really dawns on you just how incredibly tough this weight class is when you narrow it down to the top guys.  A Southern Scuffle champ this past year he will be going for an unprecedented fifth BIG 12 title this season. 

Aaron Nagao
Penn State 

 One  of the strongest pieces of the puzzle that was putting Golden Gopher wrestling back together, Aaron Nagao has left the Minnesota program to join the juggernaut that is Penn State wrestling.  He heard the "We Are" chants & ditched the maroon & gold for blue & white. Only a sophomore by eligibility standards, he was 23-6 last season, a BIG 10 runner-up & 5th within the NCAA DI. He was also 3rd at the Southern Scuffle. 

Lucas Byrd

Back to back NCAA DI 5th places finishes in '21 & '22, Lucas Byrd missed out on All American honor #3 last season when he finished one match shy of a third medal.  30-6 on the season, a relentless attacker, it could be Byrd who surprises us most this season, as he sure enough has the potential. He was 3rd in both the BIG 10 & the Midlands. 

Michael Colaiocco

For those of you that miss JT#1's annual "best seniors yet to All American" let me be nostalgic for a moment & reminisce. If I were still doing that article, you can bet your bottom $ that Michael Colaiocco would be on the list. 25-7 overall last season he was runner-up to Arujau in the EIWA finals (a champ in '22) as he won the Midlands (3rd in '22) & he took runner-up honors at the Keystone Classic. Among his wins of note? A 15-13 victory over Byrd. 

Chris Cannon

The Eric Barnett of the 133 lbs, or perhaps Eric Barnett is the Chris Cannon of the 125 lbs class. Either way, the two reflect one another as both seem to find their way towards achievement despite the odds & both missed out on doing so last year. 7th in the NCAA DI in both '21 & '22, Chris Cannon fell short of a third All American honor this past season. He did however have his best Midlands finish yet with a runner-up finish & he collected an 8th place finish at CKLV as well. On the season a 7-4 victory over Aaron Nagao. 

Brayden Palmer

You want to talk about a fun race to a conference title, the battle for the 133 lbs SOCON title will be a bloody one & last year's champ (3rd in '22) Brayden Palmer will be leading the way. Against conference competition he's 2-1 over all against Domeinic Zaccone & 1-1 with Ethan Oakley. Within the NCAA he stuck All American Aaron Nagao in 2:36 in route to a runner-up finish at the Southern Scuffle. 

Chance Rich

Here's a guy no matter what the odds, always stands a "chance."  In fact, not a bad nick name for the Roadrunner as it fits his style & personality to a T.  "Always Stands a" Chance Rich has been pulling off upsets since day one of his collegiate career as he heads into his final season of competition.  A two time PAC-12 runner-up, last season he was 7th in CKLV & 6th at the Southern Scuffle. 

        Brody Teske             Cullan Schriever
Iowa's got two tough competitors at war to earn the varsity spot at 133 lbs.  Brody Teske, a three time NCAA DI qualifier who on 10 victories last season was 7th in the BIG 10.  Cullan Schriever, 12 wins on the season had a 4-2 victory over DI qualifier Angelo Rini  as he won the Soldier Salute. 

Gable Strickland
Lock Haven 

31-11 on the season last year, Gable Strickland won an MAC title & finished 4th at the Navy Classic. 

Angelo Rini

A gritty wrestler, Angelo Rini finished out the season with a 13-17 record, but despite his hardships, he really shined at the EIWA's taking an impressive 3rd place finish. He was also 4th at the Southeast Open. 

Brendan Ferretti

Excellent true freshman campaign for the Michigan native last season. 23-11 overall, he was 4th in the EIWA, 3rd at the Soldier Salute, & he won the Franklin & Marshall Open. 

Domenic Zaccone

As mentioned previously the war for a SOCON title is going to be a fierce one. One of the candidates to win a title this season is last year's runner-up Domenic Zaccone. 1-1 with Brayden Palmer, he is also 1-1 with Ethan Oakley.  A 21-7 record for the Camel last season. 

Kurt Phips

31-13, Kurt Phipps collected a series of medals throughout '22-'23. 3rd at the Navy Classic, he was 4th at the Southern Scuffle & 7th in the EIWA.  He finished one match shy of a medal at CKLV. 

Connor McGonagle          Ryan Crookham

Connor McGonagle, a two time NCAA DI qualifier was 12-3 overall last season with some pretty impressive wins, including a 4-1 decision over All American Kai Orine. Nevertheless he was upset at the EIWA championships, finishing in 6th place & he didn't make the cut for at large/wildcard selection. As he looks to earn his third NCAA DI qualification, he'll first have to contend with a very tough Ryan Crookham for the varsity position. Crookham 8-1 on the season, defeated Joe Heilmann 2-1 & Kurt Phips 6-4, as he was 4th in the Midlands. 

Ethan Oakley       Sean Carter
Appalachian State 

Whoever wins this wrestle-off, be it Ethan Oakley or Sean Carter, the Mountaineers are looking at a SOCON title contender & an NCAA DI qualifier. Oakley finished in 3rd place at last year's SOCON, losing a heartbreaking true-2nd for qualification. On the season he had wins over both SOCON champ Brayden Palmer & SOCON runner-up Domenic Zaccone.  Sean Carter, an NCAA DI qualifier in '21, defeated All American Kai Orine last season 3-1 s.v. 

Richie Koehler

A two time NCAA DI qualifier & a MAC champion in '22, I was surprised that Richie Koehler got left home last season after a MAC runner-up showing. I suppose not having enough quality wins was the issue. Nevertheless, I do believe he will once again be in contention for a Q this year. 

Garrett Ricks

Garrett Ricks finished right outside of NCAA DI qualification last season with an 8th place finish at the BIG 12's. 

Todd Carter
Gardner Webb

The SOCON title race at the moment seems to be a three man race between Brayden Palmer, Domenic Zaccone & Ethan Oakley/Sean Carter, but let me introduce you to the darkhorse candidate among them. Todd Carter who was 4th in last year's championships was 25-14 overall last season. He had a win over Ethan Oakley. 

Jackson DiSario

A two time NCAA DI qualifier for the Cardinal, thus far Jackson DiSario has been 2nd-2nd-4th-4th at the PAC-12 championships. While nothing is  a guarantee, he looks poised to return to the PAC-12 finals this season, to duke it out with Chance Rich for a title. 

Anthony Madrigal

Four seasons & a redshirt at Oklahoma, Anthony Madrigal will spend his final season at Illinois. A three time NCAA DI qualifier, he is among one of the best seniors yet to All American. He's very capable, a 3-1 s.v. over Lucas Byrd, testimony to that. 

Jace Koelzer

Ironically enough as the Sooners lose Anthony Madrigal, they gain Jace Koelzer, a Northern Colorado transfer. An NCAA DI qualifier in '22, he won 19 matches this past season. 

Kyle Burwick

Now that the whole debacle with Wisconsin is over & Kyle Burwick is officially a Husker, I think we'll see a lot more out of the two time NCAA DI qualifier this year.  With Broo Dryden now also graduated, this leaves even more room for Burwick to concentrate with less distraction. 

Hunter Leake
California Baptist 

Hunter Leake will go down as the Lancers first seeded wrestler in the BIG 12 championships, but unfortunately that did not translate into a top 8 showing last season. There is reason to think that it will this year.  17 wins on the season, he had a 4:37 fall over Zach Redding. 

Cole Rhone

4th & 5th in the MAC the past two seasons, Cole Rhone is one of the Huskies' best bets for an NCAA DI qualifier this season. 16 wins on the season, he stuck Domenic Zaccone at 4:40. 

Haiden Drury
Utah Valley 

Haiden Drury only wrestled for a short amount of time in November of last season. Not sure if he was hurt or what the deal was. Nevertheless, if back this year & 100% there is good reason to think he'll be one of the 33 headed to Kansas City for competition March 21st-23rd.  An NCAA DI qualifier in '22, of the few matches he did wrestle, he defeated Hunter Leake 5-4 t.b. 

Dustin Norris          Jacob Macatangay

Anxious to see who wins this wrestle-off. The Boilermakers have two young talents here at 133 lbs & both are capable of some big things this season.  Dustin Norris with 15 wins on the season pinned DI All American RayVon Foley in 2:04, with an 8-6 win over Henry Porter & two victories 6-2 & 3-1 over Kyle Burwick. Jacob Macatangay 17-4 on the season, had an 8-4 decision over Kurt Phipps. 

Julian Farber
Northern Iowa

I'm not sure where Kyle Biscoglia is currently as he should by all means have at least one if not two seasons of eligibility left, but nevertheless he was not on a current Northern Iowa roster I was looking over. If that be the case, looks like the spot is Julian Farber's. The Georgia native among the matches he did wrestle last season, defeated Kyle Burwick 4-2. 

Henry Porter

The California native went 22-10 as a freshman last season. A runner-up finish at RENO, he defeated All American RayVon Foley 10-5 & he had an 8-3 decision over Brayden Palmer. 

Garrett Grice        Corey Cabanban
Iowa State

BIG 12 runner-up Zach Redding now up to 141, the Cyclones pick up on Virginia transfer Garrett Grice. 13-2 on the season he defeated DI qualifier Brendan Ferretti twice by a score of 7-3 & a 3:51 fall. He also had a win over Todd Carter, 6-3. Also have word that Corey Cabanban, 8th at the BIG 12's last year at 125, will be moving up to 133 lbs.  He's had some notable victories the past 5 seasons at 125, anxious to see how the world looks to him 8 lbs up. 

Nic Bouzakis
Ohio State 

Many are anxious to see redshirt freshman Nic Bouzakis in his first varsity season as a Buckeye & I am one of them. Last year he went 11-1 on the season. Defeated MAC champ Gable Strickland 6-0, he also had a 10-6 win over Kyle Biscoglia. 

Gabriel Tagg
South Dakota State

Gabriel Tagg didn't compete last season but victories in '21-'22 suggest he'll be a contender for NCAA DI qualification this year. Among the victories a 10-3 decision over Kellyn March & a 7-1 win over Anthony Madrigal. 

Julian Chlebove
Arizona State

10 victories on the season last year, Julian Chlebove was 4th at the Midlands & he had a 3-2 victory over All American Taylor LaMont. 

Zach Seltzer 

Here's another tough redshirt freshman looking to make a splash this season. Zach Seltzer went 21-7 last year, a 4-1 win over Jace Koelzer & a championships won at the Cougar Clash. 

Jake Manley
Cleveland State

17 wins on the season last year, Jake Manley was 4th in the MAC. 

Pat Phillips
Franklin & Marshall

Pat Phillips is inconsistent. There is no denying that. However, when Pat Phillips is on, he's on & there's no denying that either.  A 2-1 tiebreaker over Angelo Rini & a 6:10 fall over Brendan Ferretti, Phillips gives good reason to believe that a top 8 showing at the EIWA's & an NCAA DI qualification is well within his grasp. While I know Vitali Arujau is out of his grasp & I would think Michael Colaiocco is as well, I can see Phillips on a good day collected EIWA bronze. He did defeat All American Sam Latona 5-3 last season, so Hell, maybe he'll even do better than that. 

Hunter Adrian

It's been four years since the Bears have had an NCAA DI qualifier & Brown is due. There is good reason to think they'll have this year & that someone is Hunter Adrian. 20 wins on the season he was 7th at the Midlands championships. A 3-2 win over All American Taylor LaMont, he defeated qualifiers Brendan Ferretti 3-2 & Angelo Rini 6-4 s.v. 

Aden Valencia

Take a photo, cause you're more likely to see a giant squid alive. JT#1 is talking about a true-freshman & that's something that I rarely ever do. In order for me to mention one they really have to do something that sticks out to me. Aden Valencia did. He won RENO & he didnt' just win RENO, he did so with three impressive wins. 8-3 over All American RayVon Foley, he defeated BIG 12 bronze Reece Witcraft 9-3 & had a 2-0 win over Henry Porter.  I said to someone the other day, "the California schools could stand to get a few superstars." Looks like Stanford did. 

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