Since we already went into depth on who the Big Ten lost after the 2021-22 season ended, it’s time to take a look at who returns for the country’s toughest wrestling conference.
We’re counting down the 30 best returners (and incoming transfers) that you can expect to be at or near the top of the NCAA podium this coming season.
We already counted down from 21 to 30 here.
Now let’s move on to the middle ten.
Big Ten’s 30 Best (Nos. 11-20)
20. Eric Barnett - Wisconsin
A Big Ten finalist and All-American last season, Eric Barnett enters his junior year with the Badgers at 125 pounds. Barnett earned his second All-American honor when he took 7th place at the 2022 NCAA Championships.
Barnett went 21-5 last season and showed major strides as he holds a career record of 53-24. I expect him to keep up his winning ways as an upperclassman.
Here’s Barnett taking down and pinning a very tough Trevor Mastrogiovanni of Oklahoma State at NCAAs.
19. Will Lewan - Michigan
A three-time NCAA qualifier, Michigan’s Will Lewan broke through in 2021-22 and made it on the podium as he made it to the Big Ten final and the NCAA semifinal round before finishing in 5th place at 157 pounds.
Michigan's Will Lewan had himself a STELLAR year in 2022!— FANCO | College Wrestling News (@FancoWrestling) August 4, 2022
Reaching the Big10 Finals and only ONE match away from making NCAA Finals..
This Wolverine looks to claw his to the top of the podium next year! pic.twitter.com/WTpUK4XaAL
Lewan went 21-7 on the year and currently holds a career record of 51-18 as he heads into his junior year looking to add another All-American honor to his name.
18. Cam Amine - Michigan
A sophomore for the Wolverines, Cam Amine is next in a long line of Amines to wrestle at Michigan, most recently his cousin Myles Amine who just finished his career as a five-time All-American.
Amine reached the 2022 Big Ten final at 165 pounds, falling to Iowa’s Alex Marinelli 2-1. Amine then got revenge on Marinelli in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA tournament. Amine beat Marinelli in overtime to advance to the NCAA semis. Watch that match below.
Amine went 20-7 on the year and holds a 34-11 career record for the Wolverines. He has a bright future in a 165-pound weight class that is absolutely stacked this year.
17. Peyton Robb - Nebraska
Nebraska’s first wrestler in our countdown, Peyton Robb has been stellar for the Huskers over the past three seasons as he’s bounced around between 157 and 165 pounds. The junior-to-be has found a home at 157 and showed that he’s a threat at NCAAs when he finished in 4th place to secure his first career All-American honors.
At NCAAs, Robb secured his spot in the consolation finals with a grueling win over Arizona State’s Jacori Teemer, who came into NCAAs as the undefeated Pac 12 champion.
Robb finished his season with a 19-10 record and is 50-23 on his career. With the three guys who placed ahead of Robb in this weight class graduating (NCAA Champion Ryan Deakin) or moving up in weight (runner-up Quincy Monday of Princeton and third-placer David Carr of Iowa State), Robb has a real shot at a conference and national title this season.
16. Michael DeAugustino - Northwestern
An absolute hammer for Northwestern, Michael DeAugustino enters his junior year for Northwestern as one of the leaders of the team. A three-time NCAA qualifier, DeAugustino broke through in 2022 to finish fourth at 125 pounds and earn his first All-American honor.
If you have never seen DeAugustino wrestle, I advise it. He’s always entertaining.
DeAugustino went 15-6 last season and brings a career record of 45-19 into this coming season. The 125-pound weight class is loaded and returns three-time champ Spencer Lee of Iowa to the fold, but I expect DeAugustino to repeat as an All-American this year.
15. Pat McKee - Minnesota
Heading into his junior year, Minnesota’s Pat McKee is already a three-time NCAA qualifier and two-time All-American. Wrestling at 125 pounds, McKee finished third at NCAAs in 2021. He lost his second match then rattled off six straight wins in the consolation bracket. Then in 2022, McKee lost his opening match at NCAAs before winning six of his next seven to finish in 5th place.
Here’s McKee taking out West Virginia’s Killian Cardinale at this year’s NCAA tournament.
McKee went 26-9 on the year and is now 58-24 on his career. He’s shown his ability to win matches at the NCAA tournament as he’s already got an astonishing 13 wins at the national tournament with two more years of eligibility remaining. If he can avoid another early defeat at NCAAs this year, he’s as capable as anyone at making a run at the finals.
14. Tony Cassioppi - Iowa
Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi has been one of the country’s very best heavyweights for three years now, and he’s slated to be just a junior. The two-time All-American has had an interesting career after spending his first three years (including his redshirt) as “Big Tone”, but went through a body transformation during last year’s offseason that saw him shed over 20 pounds and become “Toned Tone”.
Some coaches preach “get big” and athletes end up with a high body fat percentage. I focus on motivating athletes to improve their bodies. It takes months but if you want it commit to wrestling, diet, and training with me. BTW this is Iowa Wrestler Tony Cassioppi. Takes hard work pic.twitter.com/gRFpGzVXfS— Coach Metzinger (@jgmetz5) October 16, 2021
Now, Cassioppi finished third at NCAAs in 2021 but only took 7th place this past season. You could tell that his slimmer physique was helping him in certain areas like speed and quickness, yet hurting him in others, such as strength and his ability to ride from the top position. With the killers around the country at heavyweight last year like Gable Steveson of Minnesota and Cohlton Schultz of Arizona State, just finishing on the podium was an amazing accomplishment.
This season, almost the entire heavyweight field returns, at least all the big hitters do (It’s not yet known if Steveson is coming back to try for a third NCAA title, but all signs are pointing to his return). It will again be a stacked field. Cassioppi will likely All-American and could contend for a spot in the NCAA final.
13. Lucas Byrd - Illinois
Just a sophomore, Illinois’ Lucas Byrd has already established himself at 133 pounds. The two-time All-American will be the leader of the Fighting Illini and their best shot at individual conference and national gold.
Byrd went 27-5 a year ago and will no longer have to contend with the likes of Austin DeSanto of Iowa. Byrd has finished in 5th place twice at the NCAA tournament and has an impressive career record of 44-9 already. He will certainly add a lot more to the win column with three years of eligibility remaining.
Here’s Byrd beating Virginia Tech’s Korbin Myers for 5th place at NCAAs.
12. Mikey Labriola - Nebraska
Heading into his senior season at 174 pounds, it feels like Mikey Labriola has been around forever for the Huskers. He’s a three-time All-American and is a heavy favorite to again land on the podium in his final go.
Labriola finished in 6th place at NCAAs as a freshman before qualifying for the 2020 NCAAs before they were cancelled. Then in 2021, Labriola finished third at NCAAs while going 17-2 during the shortened season. This past year, Labriola went 23-6 while slipping to seventh at the NCAA tournament, losing to Penn State’s two-time NCAA Champion Carter Starocci in the quarters. Labriola generally wrestles Starocci pretty tough, having taken him to overtime at the Big Ten Championships in 2021, but he’s 0-2 against him so far and will have to solve the puzzle if he wants to win a conference or national title.
As the Husker leader looks to climb to the top of the podium this year, he’ll have to go through not just one, but two NCAA champions in Starocci and Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech (2019 NCAA Champion at 165 pounds).
11. Jacob Warner - Iowa
Rounding out the middle of the countdown is Iowa’s Jacob Warner at 197 pounds. The Hawkeye has consistently been one of the best in the country for four years now. He’s only improved too, finishing seventh at NCAAs in 2019, fourth in 2021, and runner-up this past season.
Warner made it all the way to the NCAA final, beating Nebraska’s Eric Schultz along the way, but he fell to Penn State’s Max Dean 3-2 in the final match. Warner finished the year 21-5 and holds a career 76-19 record. He’ll help anchor Iowa’s lineup with Spencer Lee after they lost most of their starters to graduation.
Warner is a tough customer and will continue chasing that NCAA title in his final season.