CHAIN PREVIEW: 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships
By Brogan Louden
TULSA, Ok. – The 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships are set to kick off this coming Thursday, March 16th, with the nation's top guys traveling to the BOK Center in hopes of grappling their way to a national title.
At 125 pounds, top ranked contender, Spencer Lee, will look to capture his fourth NCAA title, an accomplishment that has only been achieved by four other wrestlers in the history of the sport. However, returning NCAA finalist and second seeded Patrick Glory will look to spoil Lee’s plans and capture his first title.
Nebraska’s Liam Cronin, who was pinned against Lee in their conference meeting during the season, was able to rebound and hold the Hawkeye to an 8-2 decision in the Big Ten finals. The Cornhusker has turned in an impressive regular season taking down many of the top ranked guys in the weight class. He will look to carry that momentum into the NCAA Championships.
Matt Ramos, who was a round of 12 finisher last season up at 133 lbs, will also look to get on the podium this season. A loaded field, with many returning All-Americans, will set up some thrilling matches early.
Two Chain Wrestling Signature Athletes in Appalachian State’s Caleb Smith and Northwestern’s Michael DeAugustino will also take the mats. Caleb Smith, who was a SoCon Champion, will look to get on the podium for the first time in his career. Smith comes in as the number five seed. DeAugustino will look to get back on the podium after a fourth place finish a year ago.
Top seeds at 125 lbs:
1 Spencer Lee – Iowa
2 Patrick Glory – Princeton
3 Liam Cronin – Nebraska
4 Matt Ramos – Purdue
5 Caleb Smith – Appalachian State
6 Stevo Poulin – Northern Colorado
7 Brandon Kaylor – Oregon State
8 Anthony Noto – Lock Haven
The 133-pound weight class, for the third straight year, will be highlighted by Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young and Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix. Both wrestlers enter the tournament with unblemished records. The past two seasons, Bravo-Young has been able to squeak past Fix in tight matches to win back-to-back titles at the weight class. Fix, a three-time NCAA finalist, has yet to stand atop the podium.
Bravo-Young will look to claim the 133-pound title for the third consecutive year. His unstoppable pace and quickness have proven to be too much for any other competitor at the weight over the last few seasons.
Although the top two seeds are surely thought to be finals locks by many, Cornell’s Arujau and Arizona State’s McGee should not be overlooked as they could present themselves as a threat in the semifinal bouts.
Sam Latona, who was seeded second and placed sixth in the nation at 125lbs during the 2021 season will also look to get back on the medal stand after a disappointing blood round loss last season.
Minnesota’s Aaron Nago shocked everyone at the Big Ten tournament when he was able to take out a returning All-American in the quarterfinals and star freshman, Jesse Mendez, in the semifinals. In the finals, he held Roman Bravo-Young to a three-point decision. If Nago can continue his hot post season run, he could very well end up on the podium this weekend.
Chain Wrestling Signature Athlete, Lucas Byrd of Illinois, will head into this weekends NCAA Championships as the number ten seed and as a two-time All-American. The past two seasons, he has proven himself as a real danger at the big show. Byrd will look to keep his streak alive and get back on
Top seeds at 133 lbs:
1 Roman Bravo-Young – Penn State
2 Daton Fix – Oklahoma State
3 Vito Arujau - Cornell
4 Michael McGee – Arizona State
5 Kai Orine – North Carolina State
6 Sam Latona – Virginia Tech
7 Michael Colaiocco - Penn
8 Aaron Nago – Minnesota
The 141-pound weight class is more wide open with a number of contenders looking to slate themselves in at that top spot on Saturday evening. The top two seeds, Real Woods and Andrew Alirez both enter the NCAA tournament undefeated.
Nebraska’s Brock Hardy will look to get out to the semifinals where he would most likely get a rematch with Woods. Woods has beaten Hardy twice this season, but both were tight matches that went to the final whistle.
A potential quarterfinal bout on the bottom half of the bracket, between Cole Matthews and Beau Bartlett will most likely set up a great semifinal match between the winner and Northern Colorado’s Andrew Alirez. Earlier this season, Alirez bested Matthews in a low scoring overtime match at the NWCA All-Star Classic.
True freshman stud and Chain Wrestling Signature Athlete Casey Swiderski will look to pick up some big wins in his first NCAA tournament. The Cyclone comes in hot off a fourth-place finish at the Big 12 Championships.
Top seeds at 141 lbs:
1 Real Woods – Iowa
2 Andrew Alirez – Northern Colorado
3 Cole Matthews - Pittsburgh
4 Brock Hardy – Nebraska
5 Ryan Jack – North Carolina State
6 Beau Bartlett – Penn State
7 Vince Cornella – Cornell
8 Allan Hart – Missouri
149 pounds will feature another wrestler who will be looking to win his fourth NCAA title, in Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis. Diakomihalis comes into the tournament with a 16-1 record, suffering his first NCAA loss since 2017 and only second collegiate loss. That loss came at the hands of Chain Signature Athlete, Austin Gomez of Wisconsin.
Gomez comes in as the number fifteen seed after needing to injury default out of the Big Ten Championships. He would later receive an automatic bid to Tulsa. The Badger will most likely meet second seeded Sammy Sasso in the second championship round on Thursday evening. At the 2022 NWCA All-Star Classic, earlier this season, Gomez was able to mount a late comeback to defeat Sasso. This should set up an exciting match early between two true title contenders at
In the top half of the bracket, star freshman Paniro Johnson and Shayne Van Ness will look to get to the semifinals and get a chance at the returning NCAA Champion. Earlier this season, Johnson was able to take Diakomihalis to the brink in a close 3-2 match. Additionally, the Cyclone was able to capture a 7-6 win over Van Ness at the beginning of the season.
Sixth year senior, Max Murin, will also look to reach the podium for the first time in his career. Coming in as the eighth seed, the Hawkeye will hope to capitalize on his final ride after finishing in the round of 12 a few times.
In addition to Gomez and Sasso, the bottom half of the bracket will also feature Northwestern force, Yahya Thomas. In 2021, Thomas finished third in the NCAA Championships, followed by a heartbreaking blood loss last season. The Wildcat enters as the seventh seed after an impressive regular season.
In a weight that is highlighted by a lot of talent, many of the returning All-Americans weren’t even seeded in the top eight. Number nine seed and returning All-American, Jonathan Millner* of Appalachian State will look to surprise the field and regain his spot on the podium. Last season, Millner was able to cap his season off with a sixth place NCAA finish.
Leading up to his finish, he was able to knock off both Max Murin and Kyle Parco. Both of these guys will reappear in this years 149 pound bracket.
*Update: Millner had to withdraw from the NCAA tournament due to a knee infection
Top 8 seeds at 149 lbs:
1 Yianni Diakomihalis – Cornell
2 Sammy Sasso – Ohio State
3 Kyle Parco – Arizona State
4 Caleb Henson – Virginia Tech
5 Paniro Johnson – Iowa State
6 Brock Mauller – Missouri
7 Yahya Thomas – Northwestern
8 Max Murin – Iowa
157 pounds may be regarded as one of the most thrilling weight classes when it comes to discussing who will take the title. The top seed, Austin O’Connor, enters with an undefeated record of 18-0. The 2021 NCAA Champion will look to add another title to his illustrious career.
However, true freshman phenom, Levi Haines, who has quickly made a name for himself at the D1 level, will look to continue his dominance streak and capture his first title in a loaded field.
Heading into the conference championships, Peyton Robb of Nebraska was the number one ranked guy in the nation at the weight class, entering the Big Ten Finals with zero losses on the season. There, he would suffer his first defeat via a 3-1 overtime decision against Haines. Robb and Haines are set on a collision course to meet again in the NCAA semifinals.
In the top half of the bracket, O’Connor could quickly be tested in the quarterfinals by Chain Wrestling Signature Athlete and NC State’s Ed Scott. Scott enters as the number eight seed and has slated himself as one of top guys
in the weight class over the last two years.
Similarly, in the bottom half, Haines could get early tests from Chain Wrestling Signature Athlete Jacob Wright of Wyoming and Bryce Andonian of Virginia Tech. Wright comes in hot off a third-place finish at the Big 12 Championships. A year ago, Wright was an NCAA qualifier wrestling close matches against eventual finalist, Quincy Monday, as well as Austin O’Connor. Likewise, Andonian finished
third at the NCAA Championships last season, and missed making the finals in a 5-4 defeat at the hands of Ridge Lovett.
A few other guys that could cause some shakeups in the bracket include Lehigh’s undefeated Josh Humphreys who could meet Jared Franek of North Dakota State in a tight match in the quarterfinals. Daniel Cardenas of Stanford comes in having only one loss on the season and could cause some real fits as well. Additionally, eleventh seed, Chase Saldate, who has turned in quite an impressive season will look to knock off some of the higher ranked seeds and make his first podium appearance.
Top seeds at 157 lbs:
1 Austin O’Connor – North Carolina
2 Levi Haines – Penn State
3 Peyton Robb – Nebraska
4 Jared Franek – North Dakota State
5 Josh Humphreys – Lehigh
6 Daniel Cardenas – Stanford
7 Bryce Andonian – Virginia Tech
8 Ed Scott – North Carolina State
At 165 pounds, we will most likely get to see Carr vs O’Toole round three for the national title. David Carr comes into the NCAA tournament undefeated, having won both meetings this season against Keegan O’Toole, the retuning national champion at 165 lbs.
Last season at 157 lbs, Carr entered the national tournament as the number one seed. However, he suffered a surprising second round loss to Willits of Oregon State. Carr would rattle off six straight wins to finish third. A national champion in 2021, Carr will look to add another national title to his arsenal, this time up a weight class. It will not come easy though, in the upper part of the bracket, Carr will be challenged by the likes of Matthew Olguin of Oregon State or the two-time NCAA finalist and one-time champion, Shane Griffith of Stanford, in the quarterfinals. In the Pac 12 finals, Olguin was able to defeat Griffith in overtime. These two are on course to have a rematch in the second championship
round. Griffith has been known to perform exceptionally well at the NCAA tournament, but only time will tell if he will be able to get his revenge and continue his surge towards a third NCAA finals appearance.
The lower portion of the top half will feature some heavy hitters in Quincy Monday, Chain Wrestling Signature Athlete Izzak Olejnik and Julian Ramirez. Monday was a finalist at 157 lbs a year ago falling to Ryan Deakin in the title bout. Olejnik comes in as a two-time MAC Champion and holds a record of 27-2. The Northern Illinois senior will look to get on the podium for the first time after falling a bit short
last season. Similarly, Cornell’s Julian Ramirez will look to join Olejnik as a first time All- American after dropping a close match in the blood round a year ago. Any one of these three guys could get a potential crack at Carr in the semifinals.
In the bottom half of the bracket, Michael Caliendo III, of North Dakota State, may get another chance at O’Toole. In the Big 12 Championship semifinals, O’Toole was able to derail Caliendo by a score of 8-3. Things could look a little bit different this time around though. In the other quarterfinal match on the bottom half, there could be another rematch between Dean Hamiti and Patrick Kennedy who faced each other in the Big Ten finals. In that finals match, Hamiti was able to pull away with the 9-6 win over Kennedy.
Penn State’s Alex Facundo and Michigan’s Cameron Amine also have shown that they are right there with a lot of the top contenders and could make things interesting.
Top seeds at 165 lbs:
1 David Carr – Iowa State
2 Keegan O’Toole – Missouri
3 Dean Hamiti – Wisconsin
4 Julian Ramirez – Cornell
5 Quincy Monday – Princeton
6 Patrick Kennedy – Iowa
7 Michael Caliendo III – North Dakota State
8 Matthew Olguin – Oregon State
At 174 pounds, the clear favorite in the top half is Penn State’s undefeated and two-time national titleholder, Carter Starocci. He will likely face Chris Foca of Cornell or Dustin Plott of Oklahoma State in the semifinals, who he should move past with little problem.
The bottom portion of the bracket will most likely feature an exciting rematch in the semifinals between Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola and Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis. The two met earlier in the season in the CKLV finals, where Labriola secured a takedown in overtime to win the match. This time with more on the line, the two are set to fight it out for a spot in the NCAA finals against the defending champion. Labriola’s only loss this season comes at the hands of Starocci
in the Big Ten finals, 6-1. Similarly, Lewis lost to Starroci at the NWCA All-Star Classic by a score of 2-0.
Top seeds at 174 lbs:
1 Carter Starocci – Penn State
2 Mikey Labriola – Nebraska
3 Mekhi Lewis – Virginia Tech
4 Chris Foca – Cornell
5 Dustin Plott – Oklahoma State
6 Ethan Smith – Ohio State
7 Peyton Mocco – Missouri
8 Bailee O’Reilly – Minnesota
In the top half of the bracket at 184 pounds, Parker Keckeisen of Northern Iowa should make it out to the semifinals with ease. There, he will most likely come face to face with either Chain Wrestling Signature Athlete Marcus Coleman of Iowa State or Trey Munoz of Oregon State. Coleman comes in with a record of 19-3 this season and was able to hand two-time NCAA Champion, Aaron Brooks, only the third loss of his collegiate career. The Cyclone will look to punch his ticket to the semifinals and get revenge over Keckeisen who beat him in the Big 12 finals.
On the bottom half of the bracket, it is likely that Aaron Brooks and Trent Hidlay will meet in the semifinals for the second year in a row. In 2021, the two met in the NCAA finals, with Brooks defeating Hidlay in a close 3-2 bout. Last year, Brooks was able to get the best of Hidlay again, this time in sudden victory. Brooks will look to get to the top of the podium for the third time in his career.
Top seeds at 184 lbs:
1 Parker Keckeisen – Northern Iowa
2 Trent Hidlay – North Carolina State
3 Aaron Brooks – Penn State
4 Trey Munoz – Oregon State
5 Marcus Coleman – Iowa State
6 Kaleb Romero – Ohio State
7 Hunter Bolen – Virginia Tech
8 Matt Finesilver – Michigan
Just to demonstrate how competitive the 197-pound weight class is, the two returning NCAA finalists are not even seeded in the top eight. In the top half of the bracket, there are two returning NCAA Champions in Pittsburgh’s Nino Bonaccorsi and Penn State’s Max Dean. In the second championship round, Dean will likely get a rematch with Silas Allred. The Cornhusker was able to defeat Dean in the Big Ten finals. The winner of that rematch will get a chance at top seeded Bonaccorsi.
Also on the top half, we may get to see an exciting match-up between Rider’s Ethan Laird and returning All-American, Yonger Bastida of Iowa State. The winner of this bout will most face Michael Beard in the quarterfinals. Beard will look to get back on the podium after sitting behind Max Dean last season at Penn State.
In the lower section of the bracket, the semifinals will likely see Missouri’s Rocky Elam and Cal Poly’s Bernie Truax. This portion of the bracket, although not certain, is a bit more predictable than the top half.
Top seeds at 197 lbs:
1 Nino Bonaccorsi – Pittsburgh
2 Bernie Truax – Cal Poly
3 Rocky Elam – Missouri
4 Ethan Laird – Rider
5 Michael Beard – Lehigh
6 Isaac Trumble – North Carolina State
7 Tanner Sloan – South Dakota State
8 Silas Allred – Nebraska
At heavyweight, Mason Parris has slotted himself as the top guy going 28-0 thus far this season. The Wolverine will look to capture his first title, it won’t be easy though.
Parris will likely face the winner of a quarterfinal bout between returning NCAA finalist Cohlton Schultz and All-American Tony Cassioppi in the semifinals.
In the bottom half of the bracket, Greg Kerkvliet of Penn State is one of the favorites to make it out to the semifinals. However, Chain Wrestling Signature Athlete Trent Hillger, who is looking to become an All-American for the third time, could present a real challenge. The winner of that bout could find themselves in a
match with second seeded Wyatt Hendrickson of Air Force.
A potential finals match could feature Parris and Kerkvliet, making it the third meeting between the two this season. Kerkvliet will look to avenge his Big Ten finals overtime loss and capture his own first title.
Top seeds at 285 lbs:
1 Mason Parris – Michigan
2 Wyatt Hendrickson – Air Force
3 Greg Kerkvliet – Penn State
4 Tony Cassioppi – Iowa
5 Cohlton Schultz – Arizona State
6 Yaraslau Slavikouski – Harvard
7 Owen Trephan – North Carolina State
8 Sam Schuyler – Iowa State
Action is set to kick off Thursday morning and will conclude on Saturday evening with the finals matches. Each of the sessions will be available to watch on ESPNU. Friday nights semifinals and Saturday nights finals will be televised on ESPN. Much talk throughout the season aside, it is time to figure out who will make history and become the next NCAA Champion.