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10 Wrestlers who Surprised us During the Regular Season

02/22/2018, 12:00pm EST
By Michael Willis

This is a list of wrestlers who exceeded expectations during the regular season. As college wrestlers progress they become more of a known commodity, and their results become more predictable. The majority of wrestlers on this list are underclassmen whose seasons were far better than what most expected of them. Going forward these wrestlers will not be under the radar, and have set much loftier expectations for themselves.

125: #11 Drew Mattin Fr. Michigan

Drew Mattin wasn’t pegged to be the starter in the beginning of this season with redshirt sophomore Austin Assad returning from injury. However, not everything goes as planned, and with Assad’s injury lingering, the true freshman Mattin got the call and hasn’t looked back. While Mattin is no stranger to success, he was a three-time Ohio State Champ, six-time Fargo All-American, including a Junior Freestyle Champion at 126 pounds in 2017, and a NHSCA Junior and Senior National Champion, these accolades were not enough to garner a spot on Flowrestling’s Class of 2017 “Big Board” (a list of the top 100 recruits nationally). Mattin has proved that omission was an oversight with wins this season over returning National Finalist, Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak, and former All-Americans Connor Schram (Stanford), Ryan Millhof (ASU), and Sean Russell (Edinboro). Mattin is heading into Big 10s with an 18-9 record, with eight of his nine losses coming to wrestlers ranked in the top 20. His only loss outside of the top 20 was his first match of the year to ASU’s backup 125, Josh Kramer. While 125 is an extremely deep weight class, Mattin has established himself right in the thick of things to contend for All-American honors.

133 #6 Montorie Bridges RS Fr. Wyoming  

Bridges was a solid recruit coming out of high school, but nowhere near blue chip level. Ranked 93rd on Flo’s 2016 Senior Big Board, Bridges was a two-time Oklahoma state champion and Fargo All-American. Last year he put together a strong 17-2 record redshirting, but did not face much top competition. His biggest win coming 2-1 over Utah Valley’s redshirting freshman Taylor Lamont, who is currently ranked #7 at 125. Going into the Big 12 Tournament this season he is 29-3 with close losses to tOSU’s #3 Luke Pletcher and Drexel’s #5 Austin DeSanto, as well as a loss by pin to Northern Colorado’s Rico Montoya in his first match of the season. With an 11-10 barnburner victory over returning OKST All-American, Kaid Brock, and a major decision over #10 Josh Terao (American), Bridges is far exceeding most expectations.

141: #11 Mike Carr RS Fr. Illinois

Usually a two-time Pennsylvania State Champ, who doesn’t lose a match in his last two years of competition doesn’t fly under the radar. However that is the case with Mike Carr who won his state titles in PA’s 2A small school division, and did not participate in many large national tournaments. Carr still earned the 77th position on Flo’s 2016 Big Board. Perhaps what made many overlook Carr is the fact that he did not wrestle a single match during his redshirt season due to injury. However, it does not look like Carr had much rust to shake off this year as he brings a 14-4 record with four top 20 wins into the Big 10 tournament. His most noteworthy perhaps over Nebraska’s #14 Chad Red, who was ranked 69 spots higher than Carr at #8 on the 2016 Big Board. Carr looks like a wrestler that Illinois will expect big things from in the near future.

149: #3 Grant Leeth RS Jr. Mizzou

Leeth was a three-time Missouri state champ and had placed at numerous national tournaments turning himself into a coveted recruit. Leeth spent his redshirt season at Duke where he went 14-4 before transferring to the University of Missouri. He missed the past two seasons with injuries and prior to this year, hadn’t wrestled a match since 2015. Leading into the MAC championships, Leeth holds a 19-2 record dropping matches in the beginning of the year to Oklahoma’s Davion Jeffries and Oklahoma State’s #14 Boo Lewallen (which he later avenged). Leeth also has wins this season over three former All-Americans, Virginia Tech’s Solomon Chishko, CMU’s Jordan Oliver, and UNI’s Max Thompson. Leeth going from two years removed from competition to ranked #3 in the country is one of the biggest shockers of the season.

157: #13 Kennedy Monday RS Fr. UNC

While Monday’s season is not quite as impressive as the other wrestlers’ on this list, coming in at 15-14, finding himself ranked at all is surprising. While there is no doubt that Monday had pedigree, his father Kenny was a National Champion at Oklahoma State and a Freestyle World Champion. Kennedy wasn’t a top 100 recruit. The two-time station champion from Texas was a place winner at the prestigious Super 32 and Powerade tournaments, but still lacked the big time national credentials his competitors had. After spending his entire redshirt at 149 and putting together a solid but unremarkable 18-6 record, expecting him to bump up and be an All-American contender seemed like a pipedream for the Tar Heels. However he has shown he very much has the potential to do so, notching three top 20 wins including one over returning All-American, Nebraska’s Tyler Berger.

165: #2 Alex Marinelli RS Fr. Iowa

Marinelli was a bona fide blue chip recruit ranking #3 on the 2016 Big Board after putting together a 200-4 high school career with four Ohio state titles. After a solid 12-2 redshirt season only taking losses to returning National Champion, Isaiah Martinez, and the always dangerous, Anthony Valencia, many were predicting Marinelli would contend for All-American honors. With 165 being one of the deepest weights in the country, that was high praise. However no one except the most ravenous Hawkeye fans would have predicted him to be undefeated at 14-0 and ranked second on the country. Marinelli has notched wins over returning NCAA Champion, Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph, returning 3rd place NCAA finisher, Michigan’s Logan Massa, returning All-American OKST’s Chandler Rogers, as well as three more top ten wins and two top 20 wins. Marinelli will most likely earn the #2 seed at Big 10s and have to face Joseph again in the semi-finals. The winner will most likely see two time NCAA champion and currently ranked #1, Isaiah Martinez. While it seems unlikely that Marinelli will shock Joseph twice and upend Imar, this isn’t a wrestler I would be confident betting against.

174: #11 Dylan Lydy RS So.

Lydy is another guy who came in as an unheralded recruit.  A one-time Indiana State Champion, Lydy posted a 5-4 redshirt campaign, and a 16-19 redsgurt freshman season as Purdue’s starting 174 lber last year. This year, it seems he has finally come into his own compiling a 29-10 record, with all of his losses coming to ranked wrestlers. Lydy has slew of ranked wins of his own including a decision over former All-American, North Carolina’s, Ethan Ramos, and two wins over super talented redshirt, Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola. Regardless of if Lydy finds himself on the podium in March, the Boilermaker will be one of the most improved college wrestlers this season.

184: #8 Taylor Venz RS Fr. Nebraska

Venz was the #96 recruit on the 2016 big board. His redshirt season looked promising coming in at 26-4, but upon closer reflection, only one of those wins was against D1 competition and two of his losses came to non D1 opponents. This season he is 20-5 with all five losses coming to top 10 opponents. Venz has three top ten wins of his own and three top 20 wins as well. He has shown he has the ability to pin top opponents including CMU’s #16 Jordan Ellingwood and UNI’s #11 Drew Foster. If Venz’s progression continues, he will be a monster by the end of his career.

197: #7 Shakur Rasheed RS Jr. Penn State

Two years ago Shakur Rasheed was a 165 pounder. While showing flashes of brilliance during his redshirt freshman campaign it became abundantly clear that the cut was wearing on him, and he would fade in the third period. His redshirt sophomore season he bumped up to 174 and had a strong 5-1 start to the season before suffering an injury. This season Rasheed looked like he was a man without a spot, with returning national champs occupying 165-184 for the Nittany Lions. Rasheed bumped all the way up to 197 where he was third on the depth chart to three time round of 12er Matt McCutcheon and former Junior World Team member, Anthony Cassar. Rasheed managed to earn the spot on the strength of his prolific pinning ability. This season he is 18-2 with eight pins, three of which are against top 20 opponents. His two losses came very early in the season at open tournaments to Kent State’s Kyle Conel, and Cornell’s #1 Ben Darmstadt. Rasheed earned his spot on this list by working his way up from third string to starter and national title contender.

285: Michael Boykin Sr. NC State

Boykin has had an interesting career arch. He spent his first two seasons as a massive 197 lber. As a true freshman he put together an 18-11 record, but failed to qualify for NCAAs. As a sophomore he matched his record going 18-11 again, but this time qualifying for and winning a match at NCAAs. As a junior he bumped up to heavyweight and had his best season record wise going 19-9. However, he could not beat out Sr. Mike Kosoy for the starting spot, and lost a year of eligibility because he competed attached for the Wolfpack. This season he seemed to be in a similar situation with NC State’s former 197, now heavy, Malik McDonald. Boykin lost to McDonald 4-3 in sudden victory at the Journeymen Classic, and seemingly lost the battle for the starting spot. However, a month later he earned the spot back at the Southern Scuffle defeating Penn State’s #3 Nick Nevills and Stanford’s #7 Nathan Butler. Boykin now has the opportunity to end his career on the podium in Cleveland this March, which at the beginning of the season didn’t look like it was going to be a possibility.

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Tag(s): Wrestler for Life