One day into the NCAA Tournament and there have already been upsets galore.
No, not that NCAA Tournament.
I’m talking about the NCAA Wrestling Championships at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit Michigan. Each year, the wrestling tournament overlaps with the first round of its more famous basketball cousin as grappling fans across the country descend on typically-Midwestern locations for three days of madness.
Those who follow the sport closely will tell you that Penn State has served as the standard-bearer for college wrestling over the last decade. The Nittany Lions, who will soon be home to Biglerville’s Levi Haines, hired legendary wrestler and coach Cael Sanderson in 2010 and have since won eight of the last 10 national titles as a team as well as a slew of individual championships.
But it’s not the Nittany Lions who currently lead the pack. That honor goes to perennial powerhouse Iowa, which got back atop the podium after a lengthy drought, claiming the team title in 2021 behind star lightweight Spencer Lee.
Lee was expected to lead a Hawkeyes team that returned all 10 starters into battle this season as they squared off with the Nittany Lions for national supremacy. But things haven’t quite gone as planned. After tearing his ACL late in the 2020-21 season, Lee planned to rehab in the offseason in order to return to the mat for 2021-22. While he did return initially, the senior opted to shut it down and have surgery in January, allowing him to take a medical redshirt and return again next year.
That opened the door not only for Penn State, but also for a veteran Michigan squad which returned a slew of All-Americans, including Olympic bronze medalist Myles Amine. To that, the Wolverines added significant transfers in the form of All-American Patrick Brucki from Princeton and former national champion Nick Suriano from Rutgers.
Primed and ready for a national tournament in its home state, Michigan fired the first shot across the bow to the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes, winning the Big Ten Tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska just two weeks ago. Led by Amine, who topped returning national champion Aaron Brooks in the finals at 184 pounds, the Wolverines scored 143 points as a team, eeking past Penn State with 141.5.
Despite that result, most considered the Nittany Lions favorites heading into Detroit due to the larger fields and more readily available bonus points for the four top-seeded wrestlers. After the release of the brackets, however, Michigan fans were delighted with not only the seeds their wrestlers received, but also their paths through the brackets.
Add to that the fact that Michigan will have the home crowd advantage as well as Amine, and his younger cousin Cameron, will be competing in the same city they wrestled in in high school, and suddenly the intrigue rises.
After one round of action on Thursday morning, the tournament had begun to shape up exactly how many expected, as Penn State led the way with 15.5 points ahead of Michigan and Iowa, which sat right behind with 12.5 points apiece.
But there are still plenty of matches left to be wrestled and swings to be taken, as Friday’s quarterfinals and semifinals will likely set the stage for what could be a nail-biter of a final day on Saturday.
Until then, wrestling fans across the country will watch with bated breath to see whether the Nittany Lions regain their crown, the Hawkeyes remain on top, or the Wolverines take the throne for the first time in program history.
Contact Clay Sauertieg at firstname.lastname@example.org