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Wrestling: Big Ten Losing Some of its Best

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The Big Ten is losing at least three two-time NCAA champions, maybe four

Minnesota’s Gable Steveson celebrates after a win against Nebraska in 2020.
Jon Johnston / Corn Nation

This past season was a weird one as no wrestlers ran out of eligibility at the end of the 2020-21 season, so everyone was eligible to come back.

The conference’s big guns all decided to return, and it was the conference’s best teams that benefited from one more year from their seniors this past season as Penn State, Michigan, Iowa and Nebraska all finished in the Top 5 at the NCAA Championships.

Michigan loses the most starters in the Big Ten with seven, while Iowa will have to replace five starters who have formed the backbone of their lineup the past few seasons. Nebraska loses the third most seniors with four expiring their eligibility. Penn State will lose three starters for sure, but they may lose four as two-time NCAA Champion Roman Bravo-Young hasn’t yet decided if he’s going to come back for his final year. I expect he’ll be back, but it’s worth noting that he’s considering leaving the program to explore a career in either senior-level freestyle wrestling or MMA.

All in all, the Big Ten will lose some legends, including Olympic Gold Medalist Gable Steveson of Minnesota who just won his second NCAA title. Also leaving the Big Ten field are two-time NCAA champs Nick Suriano of Michigan and Nick Lee of Penn State. Northwestern is losing NCAA Champion Ryan Deakin after the senior broke through for his first national title last week. Michigan is also losing Olympic Bronze Medalist and multi-time Big Ten Champion Myles Amine. Iowa is losing some of its best wrestlers, highlighted by four-time Big Ten Champion and three-time All-American Alex Marinelli, four-time All-American Michael Kemerer, four-time All-American Jaydin Eierman, and three-time All-American Austin DeSanto. And that’s just to name the most notable.

That’s a lot of firepower leaving the Big Ten. Let’s dive a little deeper...

Who’s Losing Who?

Penn State

1st-place at NCAAs

Penn State, who won the 2022 NCAA team title, is losing one of their mainstays for the past five years in Nick Lee. Lee wrestled his career at 141 pounds and finished with one Big Ten championship and two NCAA titles along with a 119-13 career record.

2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Penn State’s Nick Lee after winning his second NCAA title.
Photo by Jay LaPrete/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

As I mentioned before, two-time NCAA Champion Roman Bravo-Young is also contemplating leaving the Nittany Lion program. He’s 81-9 on his career and is 36-0 the past two seasons.

Penn State also loses Drew Hildebrandt at 125 pounds. Hildebrandt transferred in to State College this season from Central Michigan. He was an All-American at Central Michigan but failed to make the podium this year for the Nittany Lions.

Also leaving is Brady Berge, who started this past season as a volunteer assistant for South Dakota State after retiring from the sport due to concussion problems and a knee injury. Penn State coach Cael Sanderson did a great job of getting Berge to come back and plug their hole at 157 pounds. Berge ended up losing in the Round of 12, falling just one win short of All-American status.

Penn State returns two-time NCAA Champions Carter Starocci (174 pounds) and Aaron Brooks at 184. Starocci will just be a sophomore in 2022-23 and will have a chance to be the NCAAs first five-time champion if he continues at his current pace. Brooks is a junior-to-be and has a chance to be a four-time champion. Penn State also returns NCAA Champion Max Dean at 197 pounds and two-time All-American Greg Kerkvliet at heavyweight.

Penn State looks to again be the front runner in the race for the team title at both Big Tens and NCAAs in 2023.

Michigan

2nd-place at NCAAs

Michigan’s lineup was full of seasoned wrestlers this season, as evidenced by them winning the Big Ten Team Championship and finishing second at NCAAs.

Michigan was able to lure in NCAA Champion Nick Suriano for his final year of eligibility, and he finished his career with his second national title. Between his years at Penn State as a freshman, Rutgers from 2018-21, and Michigan for his senior season, Suriano ends his career with an 86-7 career record.

2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Michigan’s Nick Suriano gets his hand raised after beating Arizona State’s Brandon Courtney in the 2022 NCAA semifinal round.
Photo by Jay LaPrete/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Stevan Micic returned for his senior year at 141 pounds midway through the season. Micic competed at the 2021 Olympics for Serbia and returned to Michigan but failed to All-American as he fell in the Round of 12. The three-time All-American ended his career with an 87-19 record.

Logan Massa came back and had a solid year at 174 pounds, as he made it to the Big Ten final and finished as an All-American with his 5th-place finish at NCAAs. Now a three-time All-American, Massa finishes his career with a 106-27 record.

Michigan’s biggest loss may be Myles Amine at 184 pounds. The Olympic bronze medalist beat No. 1 Aaron Brooks of Penn State for his second career Big Ten title. He then made it to the NCAA final but fell to Brooks in that match.

Now a five-time All-American, Amine never finished lower than 4th-place at the NCAA tournament. He finishes as one of Michigan’s best all-time wrestlers with a 112-21 record.

2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Michigan’s Myles Amine (left) wrestles Cal Poly’s Bernie Truax at the 2022 NCAA Championships.
Photo by Jay LaPrete/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Lastly, Michigan will lose Patrick Brucki at 197 pounds. the All-American transferred in to Michigan from Princeton, but he failed to All-American in his final season. With three seasons wrestled at Princeton and one at Michigan, Brucki finished his career with a 103-27 record.

Michigan returns three 2022 All-American next season in Cam Amine (4th at 165 pounds), Mason Parris (5th at 285) and Will Lewan (5th at 157).

Iowa

3rd-place at NCAAs

The Hawkeyes have been on a tear the past few years, led by an incredible class that’s now expired its eligibility.

As mentioned above, Iowa will lose five senior starters. Michael Kemerer lost in the NCAA final in 2021 to Penn State freshman Carter Starocci and decided to come back for one more year. He finished in fourth place at 174 pounds in 2022 for his fourth All-American honor, ending his career with a 100-12 record.

Iowa v Penn State
Iowa’s Michael Kemerer
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Jaydin Eierman transferred to Iowa from Missouri a few years ago and finished his career as a four-time All-American at 141 pounds, but he failed to finish on the podium this season as he was extremely limited due to a knee injury.

In three seasons at Missouri, Eierman held a 91-14 record. In two seasons at Iowa, he went 31-4, giving him a career mark of 122-18. He also beat Penn State’s Nick Lee to win the 2021 Big Ten title before losing to Lee in the NCAA final.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Wrestling at 165 pounds, Alex Marinelli came back and won his fourth Big Ten title and finished fifth at this year’s NCAAs to earn his third All-American honors. With a nickname like “the Bull”, Marinelli was one of the most physical wrestlers in the country the past few years.

On his career, Marinelli went 99-13.

Big Ten Championship
Iowa’s Alex Marinelli
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Austin DeSanto had a great career as a Hawkeye at 133 pounds after transferring in from Drexel. He finished the 2022 NCAAs in third place for his third All-American honor.

DeSanto ends his career with a 103-23 record between Drexel and Iowa.

Big Ten Championship
Iowa’s Austin DeSanto
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Also graduating for Iowa is Kaleb Young who has been a mainstay in the Iowa lineup. Young has been one of the better wrestlers at 157 pounds for awhile. He went 77-31 for his career while earning two All-American honors.

Next season, Iowa will return three-time NCAA Champion Spencer Lee at 125 pounds. The senior had surgery to repair his torn ACLs in each knee. Iowa also returns two All-Americans from this season, led by NCAA finalist Jacob Warner at 197 pounds.

Nebraska

5th-place at NCAAs

As I already broke down in detail here, the Huskers are losing four starters from this year’s 5th-place team.

Nebraska is losing three-time All-American Chad Red Jr. at 141 pounds, All-American Taylor Venz at 184, All-American Eric Schultz at 197, and All-American Christian Lance at 285.

Nebraska’s Eric Schultz (bottom)
Jon Johnston / Corn Nation

These losses are considerable for the Huskers. They do have a number of redshirts and incoming recruits that will help them reload rather than rebuild. Plus, with the return of NCAA finalist Ridge Lovett and All-Americans Peyton Robb and Mikey Labriola, Nebraska will still have a salty lineup next season.

Northwestern

6th-place at NCAAs

The Wildcats surprised everyone with their 6th-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Just two points behind Nebraska, Northwestern was led by NCAA Champion Ryan Deakin at 157 pounds.

Deakin has been one of the nation’s best pound-for-pound wrestlers for a few years, as he is 50-1 combined over the past three seasons. The three-time All-American leaves Northwestern with a 114-15 record. Deakin took 14 of his 15 losses as an underclassman.

2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin gets his hand raised after winning his first career NCAA title as a senior.
Photo by Jay LaPrete/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Losing a national champion from your lineup is never easy, but Northwestern returns all of its other nine starters, including three wrestlers who earned All-American honors last week in Michael DeAugustino (4th, 125 pounds), Lucas Davison (6th, 285 pounds) and Chris Cannon (7th, 133 pounds).

Northwestern is trending upward and will have an extremely deep lineup with some big-hitters next season.

Minnesota

11th-place at NCAAs

Minnesota will have to deal with the single biggest loss in the country, as Olympic Gold Medalist and two-time NCAA Champion Gable Steveson left his shoes on the mat after winning his second title last week. The junior has one year of eligibility left, but he’s decided to leave Minnesota early to head to the WWE and make his money.

Steveson went 86-2 in his career for Minnesota, falling only to senior NCAA Champion Anthony Cassar of Penn State during Steveson’s freshman year. The three-time All-American went 50-0 since 2019 and really wasn’t challenged. A generational talent, Steveson is arguably the best heavyweight wrestler in NCAA history, possibly the best in American history.

Gable is a true entertainer, so I have no doubt he’ll be successful in his new endeavor. Evidenced by his patented backflips after winning Olympic, NCAA and Big Ten gold.

In addition to losing Steveson, Minnesota is also graduating Michial Foy at 197 pounds. The transfer from Harper College went 16-14 and qualified for the NCAA tournament in his lone season for the Gophers.

Minnesota returns two All-Americans from 2022 in Jake Bergeland at 141 pounds and Pat McKee at 125. They’ll also get All-American Brayton Lee back from injury at 157 pounds.

Ohio State

12th-place at NCAAs

The Buckeyes are bringing back everyone from this year’s starting lineup.

The Buckeyes return their four All-Americans in Sammy Sasso at 149 pounds, Carson Kharchla at 165, Kaleb Romero at 184, and Gavin Hoffman at 197.

Ohio State v Penn State
Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso (right) wrestling against Penn State’s Beau Bartlett in a dual matchup.
Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Most importantly, Ohio State is bringing in the country’s best recruiting class. Possibly the best recruiting class ever...by any team. The Buckeyes signed the top three pound-for-pound wrestlers in the country and they’ll all likely jump right into the starting lineup.

Ohio State is bringing in No. 1 Nick Feldman at heavyweight, No. 2 Jesse Mendez at 141, and No. 3 Nick Bouzakis at 133 pounds. They also signed the No. 19 P4P wrestler in Rylan Rogers at 197 pounds.

And that doesn’t include Ohio State’s impressive 2021 class that’s been largely redshirting this year.

The Buckeyes may be the Big Ten’s most improved team next year. They will have a lineup with studs at almost every weight. And with the top teams losing so many starters, it seems that the window is now open for a team like Ohio State to contend for conference and national titles.

Wisconsin

T14th-place at NCAAs

Wisconsin had a strong season but struggled a little at the NCAA tournament. The Badgers graduated Chris Weiler at 184 pounds and Andrew McNally at 174.

McNally did not qualify for this year’s NCAA tournament, while Weiler did not end up on the podium. Weiler went 72-50 in his career.

Wisconsin returns all of its three All-Americans from this past season in Eric Barnett at 125 pounds, Big Ten Champion Austin Gomez at 149, and freshman Dean Hamiti at 165 pounds. The Badgers also return two-time All-American Trent Hillger at heavyweight.

Rutgers

21st-place at NCAAs

Rutgers will have some big shoes to fill next season with the graduation of Sebastian Rivera at 141 pounds, Mike Van Brill at 149, and Greg Bulsak at 197.

Rivera is a four-time All-American and two-time Big Ten champion. After wrestling for three seasons at Northwestern, Rivera transferred to Rutgers where he finished with a career 116-16 record.

Michigan v Rutgers
Rutgers’ Sebastian Rivera.
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Bulsak leaves Rutgers as an All-American after finishing in 8th place this past season. He put together a career 103-33 record while at Rutgers.

Van Brill also was a mainstay in Rutgers’ lineup, finishing his career with a 65-51 career record, although he really came on as a senior with a 21-6 record.

With the loss of its only two All-Americans in 2022, Rutgers will need to make some major gains within its returning ranks if they want to be competitive in the Big Ten.

Illinois

T25th at NCAAs

The Illini lose two starters from the 2021-22 squad in Dylan Duncan at 141 and Christian Kanzler at 149. Neither of them qualified for the NCAA tournament this past season, but Duncan finished fifth in 2021. He beat Nebraska’s Chad Red in the 5th-place match that year.

Illinois returns its best wrestler in sophomore-to-be Lucas Byrd who finished fifth at the NCAA tournament for his second All-American honor.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Illinois’ Lucas Byrd putting Purdue’s Jakob Rundell on his back at the 2021 NCAA Championships.
Photo by Joe Puetz/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Purdue

31st at NCAAs

Purdue will return five of its seven NCAA qualifiers next season. The Boilermakers will lose three starters from its 2021-22 squad.

Devin Schroder will be missed at 125 pounds, while Max Lyon is gone from 184. Heavyweight starter Michael Woulfe didn’t qualify for nationals and will be gone next season.

COLLEGE WRESTLING: MAR 08 Big Ten Wrestling Championships
Purdue’s Devin Schroder (left), seen here facing Iowa’s Spencer Lee in the Big Ten final in 2020.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Schroder went 96-37 during his career, while Lyon went 68-52. Woulfe, who transferred in after being in the Navy, finished with a 73-47 career mark. He went 15-16 in his lone season at Purdue.

Michigan State

T41st at NCAAs

Michigan State will lose two of its starters but will return all five of its NCAA qualifiers.

Gone are Matt Santos at 141 pounds and Brad Wilton at 285. Neither Santos or Wilton qualified for the NCAA tournament this season.

The Spartans will be led next year by senior-to-be Cam Caffey at 197 pounds. The four-time NCAA qualifier holds a career 99-31 record for the Spartans.

COLLEGE WRESTLING: MAR 08 Big Ten Wrestling Championships
Michigan State’s Cam Caffey (left), seen here facing Penn State’s Aaron Brooks in the 2020 Big Ten final at 184 pounds.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Also returning are Rayvon Foley at 125 pounds, Chase Saldate at 157, Caleb Fish at 165, and Layne Malczewski at 184.

Maryland

T46th at NCAAs

Maryland looks to be climbing out of the Big Ten basement after being the worst team in the conference for years.

Maryland will be losing three starters who didn’t qualify for NCAAs in Danny Bertoni at 141 pounds, Kyle Cochran at 184, and Zach Schrader at 285.

The Terrapins will have three NCAA qualifiers coming back and have been recruiting well the past couple years, so I’ll be interested to see how much they improve under head coach Alex Clemsen.

Indiana

T56th at NCAAs

The Hoosiers struggled this past season with just two NCAA qualifiers in Brock Hudkins at 133 and Donnell Washington at 184.

Washington will return next season to lead the Hoosiers while Hudkins has expired his eligibility and won’t be returning. He leaves Indiana with a 63-34 record.