2018 NCAA Wrestling Championships Preview  

By TomM March 9, 2018 22:03

2018 NCAA Wrestling Championships Preview  

2018 NCAA Wrestling Championships Preview  

by Kirk Nelson

Who Takes Home the Championship, and who gets a Team Trophy?

Ohio State and Penn State are expected to battle for the team championship. They are arguably two of the greatest college teams ever. The Buckeyes come into the NCAA’s with the momentum of winning the Big 10 Title and qualifying their whole team, and boast 3 past National Champions in Nathan Tomasello, Myles Martin and Kyle Snyder. Penn State finished 2nd at the Big 10’s, just like last year. Penn State typically steps up their game at the NCAA’s. They have 5 defending National Champions – Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, and Bo Nickal.

Missouri has a deep team of highly ranked wrestlers with incredible records. They could be considered a darkhorse contender. 174 – Daniel Lewis 29-0, 141 – Jaydan Eierman 28-1, 133 – John Erneste 24-2, 149 –  Grant Leeth 22-2, 197 Willie Miklus 22-3. They probably don’t quite have the depth of Ohio State and Penn State, but their presence will be felt and they should have several All-Americans.

Michigan has Adam Coon and Steve Micic as title contenders. Kevin Beazley is not listed on the 197 lbs tournament bracket, so he is out, which hurts their chances. North Carolina State, Iowa, Lehigh, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, and Arizona State are all ranked tightly behind. Iowa qualified 9 wrestlers which could be a big factor in team points as the tournament progresses. Oklahoma State has 8 wrestlers and could contend as well.

Where do the Wisconsin Badgers fit into the team race?  The Badgers have seven qualifiers – 141 – Eli Stickley, 149 – Cole Martin, 157 – Andrew Crone, 165 – Evan Wick, 174 – Ryan Christensen, 184 – Ricky Robertson, and 197 – Hunter Ritter. Three have received seeds: Crone (#14), Wick (#10), and Robertson (#11) – all three have a great chance to become All-Americans.  The rest of the Badgers are unseeded, so the job will be more difficult to place. But let’s face it – everyone is good at the NCAA’s tournament. It is a physical and mental grind. According to so-called experts, the Badgers are not projected to finish in the Top 20 in team race. If the Badgers can continue to build on their strong Big Ten performances, however, their opponents better watch out. They are coming for you! A Top 15-20 finish (or higher) is possible.

My Top 4 Team Picks:

  1. Ohio State
  2. Penn State
  3. Missouri
  4. Iowa

NCAA Championships Weight by Weight Breakdown


The top four ranked wrestlers at this weight are #1 Seed Lehigh’s Defending Champion Darian Cruz, # 2 Seed Ohio State’s past NCAA Champion Nathan Tomasello, #3 Seed Iowa Freshman Standout Spencer Lee, and #4 Seed Rutgers Nick Suriano. Cruz and Suriano are currently unbeaten, and Tomasello and Lee split their two matches. All 4 should advance to the semi-finals, which should be classic. And the final should be even better. My guess is NATO narrowly wins his 3rd battle against Lee, Cruz wins the battle of unbeatens, and NATO survives the battle of champions in the finals.

Top 3 Picks

1.Nathan Tomasello – Ohio State 2. Darian Cruz – Lehigh 3. Spencer Lee – Iowa


Last year’s NCAA Finalist Seth Gross of South Dakota State is the clear favorite, with his only loss this year coming in a super match against Bryce Meredith of Wyoming at 141. Arch rivals Steven Micic of Michigan and Luke Pletcher of Ohio State are ranked 2nd and 3rd. Pletcher always has very close matches, which could be a concern, but he almost always comes out on top. Micic and Pletcher seem to be a notch below Gross. Gross is projected to face a familiar foe in the semis, Kaid Brock of Oklahoma State.

Top 3 Picks

  1. Seth Gross – South Dakota State 2. Steven Micic – Michigan 3. Luke Pletcher – Ohio State


This is one of the more difficult weights to predict. The top four wrestlers – # 1 Seed Bryce Meredith of Wyoming, #2 Seed Jaydin Eierman of Missouri, # 3 Seed Freshman Yianni Daikomihalis of Cornell, and #4 Seed Joey McKenna of Ohio State – all have one loss. #6 Seed and two time defending National Champion Dean Heil has 5 losses but is clearly a threat. He has not been the same wrestler this year however. A Heil/ Daikomihalis quarterfinal matchup could be a barnburner. I think Yianni will win. After hearing Dake comparisons being made for Daikomihalis earlier this year that clinched it for me. For the team race, Penn State’s Nick Lee will need to step up for the Nittany Lions after an average performance at the Big Ten’s.

Badger Eli Stickley (Sophomore, Urbana, Ohio / St. Paris Graham) qualified for his first NCAA tournament by placing 6th at the Big Ten’s, He becomes yet another Badger originally from St. Paris Graham High School to compete at the NCAA’s. Eli’s strength is on the mat, but in the Big Ten’s he won a key match with a late takedown. Hopefully he can (and will) build on that success at Cleveland. His first opponent will be a familiar opponent #15 Seed Nate Limmex of Purdue, who has beaten Eli in two very close matches this year. Perhaps the 3rd times the charm for Eli!

Interestingly, Cole Weaver of Indiana finished 9th at the Big Ten’s, gets a wild card and the #16 Seed. Iowa’s Vince Turk (5th Place @ Big Tens) and Eli Stickley (6th Place @ Big Tens) did not receive seeds.

Top 3 Picks

  1. Yianni Daikomihalis – Cornell 2. Bryce Meredith – Wyoming 3. Jaydin Eierman – Missouri


Zain Retherford is the clear favorite to win this weight. The two-time defending champion is unbeaten and looking for another title. 2nd Ranked Brandon Sorenson of Iowa has wrestled Retherford tough in several matches over the years, most recently a close 2-0 loss at the Big Ten’s. I expect a rematch of the Big Ten Final in the NCAA Finals. If you are looking for someone to root for other than Cole Martin, I would suggest #10 Seed Jason Tsirtsis of Arizona State, the former NCAA Champ from Northwestern. It’s great to see him back at the NCAA’s. Interestingly, Tsirtsis receives the #10 Seed and could face # 7 Ryan Deakin of Northwestern in the 2nd Round. If he survives that match, he would battle Iowa’s Brandon Sorenson, who he has had a long rivalry with.

Badger Cole Martin (Sophomore, Lancaster, Wisconsin, / Lancaster HS) qualified for his 2nd NCAA tournament by placing 9th at the Big Ten and looks to take advantage of his NCAA experience from last season. Cole moved up from 141 to 149 midseason to take over the varsity spot after Zander Wick’s injury. It’s quite an accomplishment to move up a weight class and qualify for the NCAA’s all in one season. Cole’s exceptional takedown technique makes him difficult to beat. His first opponent will be the #14 Seed Beau Donahue of North Carolina State. The winner will most likely face the #3 Seed Grant Leeth of Missouri.

Top 3 Picks

  1. Zain Retherford – Penn State 2. Brandon Sorenson – Iowa 3. Grant Leeth – Missouri


Last year’s NCAA Finalist’s received downgraded seeds for medically forfeiting to 6th Place at the Big Ten’s. Defending Champion Jason Nolf of Penn State received the # 3 Seed and Michael Kemerer of Iowa received the 6th Seed. Will they be 100% for the NCAA’s? Will unbeaten # 1 Seed Freshman Hayden Hidlay of North Carolina State take the title? # 4 Seed Josh Shields of Arizona State and # 2 Seed Joey Lavallee of Missouri are both expected to contend as well. 7 of the top 14 seeds are from the Big Ten.

Badger Andrew Crone (Senior, Delafield, Wisconsin / Arrowhead HS) went 5-1 at the Big Ten Tournament and placed 3rd. His only loss was to Alec Pantaleo of Michigan in the quarterfinals, who won the tournament. At the NCAA’s last year, Andrew made it to the Round of 12 at 149. This year, he has several wins over ranked opponents and has an excellent chance to make it to the podium. Case in point – Andrew beat Pantaleo 3-0 at the Wisconsin-Michigan dual, and Pantaleo lost to Nolf of Penn State 6-4. This shows Andrew Crone can compete with anyone. Andrew has received the #14 seed and will wrestle the winner of the pigtail match, Larry Early of Old Dominion and Tyler Marinelli of Gardner-Webb. If Andrew wins, he will likely have the defending National Champion Jason Nolf in the 2nd round.

* Side note – Tyler Berger of Nebraska, who Andrew beat twice this year, received the 8th Seed. Feels like they are basing the seed on last year’s NCAA tournament results. Also, if Andrew Crone pulls off a couple upsets, I wouldn’t mind!

Top 3 Picks

  1. Jason Nolf – Penn State 2. Hayden Hidlay – North Carolina State 3. Josh Shields – Arizona State


Two National Champions are at this weight -2-Time Champion and # 1 Seed Isaiah Martinez of Illinois and defending Champion and # 3 Seed Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State. The Big Ten Final between Martinez and Joseph seemed like they were sizing each other up and not wrestling aggressively. A rematch would be more all out. #2 Seed David McFadden of Virginia Tech is unbeaten. 9 of the Top 13 Seeds are from the Big Ten. Lehigh’s 9th Seeded Chance Marsteller is 40-2. This weight class is unbelievable.

Badger Freshman Sensation Evan Wick (Freshman, Murrieta, California / San Marino HS) finished in 4th Place at the Big Ten’s. Evan defeated former All-American Logan Massa for the 2nd time. Despite the toughness of this weight class, Evan has an excellent chance to become an All-American because he is part of the elite group. Evan has received the 10th Seed and will face Drew Daniels of Navy in the 1st Round. If he wins, he will likely have a rematch with the #7 Seed Logan Massa.

*Side Note – Alex Marinelli getting the 5th Seed after finishing 6th at the Big Ten tourney is stunning! Apparently losing three times at the tournament didn’t matter. Granted, he was unbeaten before the Big Ten’s, but it feels like a very generous seed.

Top 3 Picks

  1. Isaiah Martinez – Illinois 2. Vincenzo Joseph – Penn State 3. David McFadden – Virginia Tech


Zahid Valencia of Arizona State is unbeaten, seeded #1, and has been top ranked all year. Mark Hall of Penn State was the champion last year and gets the # 2 Seed. Valencia and Hall have faced each other many times in their careers. Unbeaten Daniel Lewis of Missouri, who lost by 1 point to Vincenzo Joseph in the NCAA quarterfinals last year at 165, is also at this weight as the #3 Seed. Something has to give – these are the favorites. Mark Hall seems to come up big when he needs it most. Bo Jordan, a finalist last year, has dropped off some, and still could be a contender, but he does not seem to be as powerful this year. Jordan Kutler of Lehigh and Myles Amine of Michigan sit at the #4 and #5 Seeds.

Badger Ryan Christensen (Junior, Woodinville, Washington / Woodinville HS) has qualified for the NCAA’s for the 3rd time. Ryan’s ability to win many of his close matches is very impressive. His mat wrestling skill often allows him to take control of matches. Last year Ryan made it to the Round of 16 and looks to do better this year. His 1st round opponent is the #12 Seed Forrest Przybysz of Appalachian State. The winner will most likely face the #5 Seed Myles Amine of Michigan.

Top 3 Picks

  1. Mark Hall – Penn State 2. Zahid Valencia – Arizona State 3. Daniel Lewis – Missouri


Two Past National Champions are at this weight – Bo Nickal of Penn State and Myles Martin of Ohio State. Those two are expected to be in the finals for yet another epic battle. After that, it will be a great battle to make it to the podium. Ryan Preisch of Lehigh is the 3rd Seed and only has 2 losses on the season. Seniors Pete Renda (# 4 Seed) and Michigan’s Dominic Abounader (#5 Seed) look to battle in the quarterfinals.

Badger Ricky Robertson (Senior, Tinley Park, Illinois / Carl Sandburg HS) has qualified for the NCAA’s for the 4th time. Ricky has an excellent chance to make it to the podium this year. He has been ranked in the Top 12 all year. Ricky has the # 11 seed and will face Alexander DeCiantis of Drexel in the 1st round. If he wins he will probably face the #6 Seed Zachary Zavatsky of Virginia Tech in the 2nd Round. The Big Ten has 7 of the top 14 seeds at this weight.

Top 3 Picks

  1. Bo Nickal – Penn State 2. Myles Martin – Ohio State 3. Ryan Preisch – Lehigh


This weight class features #3 Seed Jared Haught, a tough Senior from Virginia Tech that is Top Ranked in one poll, another impressive Cornell Freshman, # 2 Seed Ben Darmstadt, and # 1 Seed Kollin Moore of Ohio State, who was top ranked for most of the season before taking a couple of losses. A very strong Big Ten tournament appears to have put him back to form. Moore does benefit from having an Olympic Champion as a workout partner, so tournaments are a day off! For the team race, it will be interesting to see what Penn State gets out of #5 Seed Shakur Rasheed, who had a lackluster 2nd place performance at the Big Ten’s. If he comes ready for the NCAA’s, his team points could be a big factor in the overall team race. Seniors Jared Haught (#3) and Willie Miklus (#6) of Missouri could meet in the quarterfinals.

Badger Hunter Ritter (Sophomore, Perryville, Maryland / John Carroll HS) went 5-1 at the Big Ten’s and placed 3rd in an outstanding performance. He will be competing in his 2nd NCAA tournament. Hunter has impressive athleticism for an upper weight wrestler. Cat like quickness at times – hard to visualize unless you see it in person. Hunter did not receive a seed; his 1st round match will be against the #8 Seed Nate Rotert of South Dakota State. Surprisingly, Christian Brunner of Purdue got the 16th Seed and Cash Wilcke got the 14th Seed over Hunter. Oh well, if you want to place, you have to be in the Top 8 – why not face the 8th Seed right away! If Hunter wins in the 1st round he will most likely face Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State.

Top 3 Picks

  1. Kollin Moore – Ohio State 2. Ben Darmstadt – Cornell 3. Jared Haught – Virginia Tech


Get your popcorn ready prior to this weight class Saturday Night.  Assuming everything goes according to plan, #1 Seeded Ohio State Olympic and World Champion Kyle Snyder will face the # 2 Seed Michigan’s Adam Coon in the finals. I am pretty sure this is will be the final match of the night on ESPN. Snyder and Coon have both defeated each other once this year. Coon has at least a 60 lb. weight advantage, and Snyder avoided being crunched down the last match when winning in overtime. I am picking Snyder, but Coon could very easily win. It feels like a Championship Belt in on the line!

Top 3 picks

  1. Kyle Snyder – Ohio State 2. Adam Coon – Michigan 3. Nick Nevills – Penn State

Overall Thoughts

The Big Ten looks should crown the most individual champions. The team race could come down to Saturday Night between Ohio State and Penn State.

The Badgers have some pretty favorable matchups in the 1st round considering only Andrew Crone, Evan Wick, and Ricky Robertson received seeds. Let’s start the tournament strong Badgers! Good luck in your quests for All-American Status!

Tournament Dates and Location

March 15th – March 17th, Cleveland, Ohio NCAA Brackets


TV Coverage

Thursday, March 15th – Saturday March 17th ESPNU, ESPN3 (Preliminaries Through the Medal Round)

Saturday Night, March 17th 7PM CST ESPN Badger Wrestling NCAA Updates:


By TomM March 9, 2018 22:03