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Know Your Wrestling Foe: Northwestern Wildcats

If Ryan Deakin returns for the Wildcats, they will be a salty bunch this season

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Northwestern’s Yahya Thomas, seen here after knocking off 4-seed Boo Lewellan of Oklahoma State for 3rd place at the 2021 NCAA Championships at 149 pounds.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

After taking a look at Nebraska’s potential lineup in 2021-22, we’re into previewing the competition. Here’s the list so far:

Iowa Hawkeyes

Penn State Nittany Lions

Michigan Wolverines

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Ohio State Buckeyes

In my opinion, there are multiple tiers among the Big Ten teams. It’s Iowa and Penn State at the top with a pretty wide gap to the second tier. Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State comprise the list of Big Ten teams with a legit shot at a team trophy in 2021-22.

Today, we’ll take a look at one of the teams in the top of the heap of the next tier in Northwestern. The Wildcats finished 10th at the 2021 NCAA Championships as a team and will bring back the bulk of their lineup.

Much like Minnesota, Northwestern’s season may hinge on the decision of their best wrestler. Ryan Deakin has been a steady, dominant force for the Wildcats the last few years and he’s yet to announce his decision on whether to return for a final year. He’s hinted that he’ll be returning, but nothing definitive has been said.

Besides Deakin, who finished 3rd at NCAAs in March, Northwestern brings back two more All-Americans in Chris Cannon at 133 and Yahya Thomas at 149. These aren’t the only pieces of this Northwestern team, but they’re the most accomplished heading into 2021-22.

On the recruiting trail, Northwestern brought in a tiny class of three which is now two after a big-time transfer, but the remaining duo are both ranked in the Top-100 overall, led by No. 9 Joel Vandervere at 149 pounds. The Wildcats also brought in a transfer from Michigan, so there’ll likely be some new faces in the lineup.

Weight-By-Weight Preview

125 pounds

At college’s lightest weight, Northwestern returns senior Michael DeAugustino. The senior is a two-time NCAA qualifier, earning NWCA All-American honors in 2020 after the NCAA Tournament was cancelled due to Covid-19. He finished third at Big Tens that year and was the 8-seed going into nationals. He was 21-8 on the year.

In 2021, DeAugustino went 9-5 and earned the 12-seed at nationals after finishing fifth at Big Tens. He went 3-2 at NCAAs but didn’t place.

DeAugustino is a solid Big Ten wrestler and should be a solid starter for the Wildcats.

133 pounds

One of Northwestern’s best stories from 2021 was that of redshirt freshman Chris Cannon at 133. He finished the year 12-4 and finished fourth at Big Tens before securing All-American status with a 7th-place finish at NCAAs. He lost his first NCAA match in the quarterfinal round to eventual runner-up Daton Fix of Oklahoma State. Fix is slated to represent Team USA at the Senior World Championships for the second time in October, so yeah, he’s pretty good.

Cannon did however win the U23 World Team Trials and will represent Team USA in November at 61 kg.

Cannon is one of the Big Ten’s best at this weight and he’ll be a tough out against anyone.

141 pounds

This weight may be anyone’s guess, as the only wrestler listed at 141 pounds on the roster is sophomore Frankie Tal-Shahar. Tal-Shahar went 1-5 in 2021 as a freshman, but he did have some solid accolades as a recruit. The Florida state champ also competed in the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic, representing the USA All-Star Team.

Worth noting here is the loss of incoming freshman Carter Young, who would have likely been the starter here for the Wildcats had he not decided to transfer to Oklahoma State.

The freshman-to-be has been on an absolute tear lately. After finishing as runner-up at the Junior World Team Trials, Young finished third at the Senior World Team Trials...and he just graduated high school in May.

After losing to eventual World Team member Fix, Young went on a run through the back side of the bracket. He beat former NCAA champ Nahshon Garrett before knocking off 1-seed and two-time Senior World Team member Tyler Graff 9-2. He followed that up with a win over NCAA champ Seth Gross 15-12 for the bronze medal.

This transfer will hurt Northwestern. Badly.

149 pounds

Northwestern continues its strong lightweight lineup at 149 pounds with Yahya Thomas. The junior went 14-6 in 2021. After a disappointing 8th-place finish at Big Tens, Thomas put together the best run of the NCAA tournament.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Yahya Thomas (top)
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

As the 25-seed, Thomas went 6-1 with his only loss in the quarters to eventual runner-up Sammy Sasso of Ohio State. He knocked off 8-seed Jaden Abas of Oklahoma twice while also downing 3-seed Brock Mauller of Missouri and 4-seed Boo Lewellan to finish third, securing All-American honors at his first NCAA tournament.

Thomas looks to finish where he left off, as one of the best in the country at 149 pounds.

157 pounds

If he decides to return, Northwestern will welcome back one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the country in Ryan Deakin. The Wildcat is 96-15 in his career and has only lost one match the past two years in college. After going 21-0 in 2019-20, Deakin earned the 1-seed for the NCAA tournament that was cancelled.

In 2021, Deakin again earned the 1-seed at NCAAs, but the senior was knocked off in the semifinal round by pinfall by Rider’s 4-seed Jesse Dellavecchia. Deakin went on to finish third.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Ryan Deakin (top)
Photo by Scott Rovak/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

With two Big Ten titles to his name already, all signs point toward Deakin returning in search of his first NCAA title.

Most recently, Deakin made it through to the Senior World Team Trials finals against ex-Husker James Green. Green made his sixth World Team by downing Deakin in straight matches.

165 pounds

This is where Northwestern’s roster starts a rough stretch. At 165, Northwestern will probably roll with David Ferrante. In 2021 as a freshman, Ferrante went 4-10 on the year but he did qualify for the NCAA tournament. He was the 31-seed and went 0-2.

In the Wildcats’ dual against Nebraska, Ferrante fell to Peyton Robb 8-5.

174 pounds

The only 174-pounder on Northwestern’s roster is Troy Fisher. The sophomore went 1-10 in 2021 with his lone win against Maryland’s Philip Spadafora, a 5-4 decision.

Against Nebraska, Fisher lost to Mikey Labriola 19-7 by major decision, although he did wrestle eventual NCAA champion Carter Starocci of Penn State tough in a 4-1 decision loss.

184 pounds

Another weak spot for Northwestern, junior Jack Jessen will likely be the starter here. Jessen went 1-7 a year ago but has a 17-24 career record.

Against Nebraska in 2021, Jessen lost to Taylor Venz via pinfall in the first period in an extra match.

197 pounds

Northwestern brings in a graduate transfer here in Andrew Davison from Michigan. The brother of Lucas Davison, Northwestern’s 197-pounder the past two seasons, the senior will take his younger brother’s spot at 197 as Lucas makes his move up to heavyweight.

Andrew Davison holds a 14-8 career record at Michigan, so it’s not like he’s an established stud, but he should be serviceable.

285 pounds

Lucas Davison just missed out on All-American honors in 2021 as a sophomore at 197 pounds, but the junior will be moving up to 285. With a 26-13 career record, Davison went 9-5 in 2021, finishing fifth at Big Tens before going 2-2 at NCAAs.

In the regular season, Davison lost to Nebraska’s Eric Schultz 3-2.

This offseason, Davison moved up to 125 kg to compete at Senior Nationals where he finished in 7th-place for All-American honors.

How Would Nebraska Fare in a Dual?

In a sort of contrast in roster construction, Nebraska is best in the heavier weights while Northwestern is strongest at the lighter weights. So this dual could really come down to a couple key matchups.

At 125, this matchup pits two guys together who under-performed in the 2021 postseason. It really could go either way, but I like Liam Cronin’s chances for the Huskers.

Possibly Nebraska’s biggest weak spot is 133 pounds, so Cannon shouldn’t have much trouble against presumptive starter Boo Dryden. Cannon pinned Dryden in 2021 while he was at Minnesota.

Chad Red Jr. will make short work of Tal-Shahar at 141, while Thomas will likely be a big favorite over Nebraska’s Brock Hardy at 149. Deakin should dominate anyone Nebraska sends out at 157, if he decides to return that is.

Nebraska’s Peyton Robb at 165, Labriola at 174, Taylor Venz at 184, and Eric Schultz at 197 will all be heavily favored in their matchups against the Wildcats.

At heavyweight, it’ll be a good matchup, but Lance finished 5th at the same Senior Nationals tournament that Lucas Davison finished seventh this summer. Lance is a load at heavyweight and Davison will have trouble with the Husker senior.