Penn State is favored to claim another team title and Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis and Iowa’s Spencer Lee will seek their fourth national titles at the NCAA Division I wrestling championships, which start Thursday in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Penn State has won nine national championship in the past 11 years, and things look good for coach Cael Sanderson's Nittany Lions again. Roman Bravo-Young, Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks all are seeking their third straight national titles and Greg Kerkvliet and Levi Haines are top-three seeds. They lead a Penn State squad that takes a business-like approach.
“I think it’s the same thing as how you approach every single day,” Starocci said. “You don’t want to look at the postseason as like, a special time, as, ‘now, it’s time to get ready.’ You get ready every single day of your life. I think that kind of makes these moments the same.”
Starocci beat the No. 2 seed at 174 pounds, Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola, 6-1 in the Big Ten final. Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis, the outstanding wrestler at the 2019 championships and 165-pound national champ that year, is the No. 3 seed at 174 this year.
Bravo-Young has some tough competition ahead at 133. Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix was a world silver medalist in 2021, but he has yet to win a national title. He’s a three-time runner-up who Bravo-Young defeated in the finals last year. Bravo-Young and the second-seeded Fix enter the weekend unbeaten. Cornell’s Vito Arujau, runner-up in the 2021 Olympic trials, is the No. 3 seed.
Brooks is the No. 3 seed at 184. Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen is the top seed and the Big 12 champion. North Carolina State’s Trent Hilday, seeded second, was a 2021 finalist in this class. Oregon State’s Trey Munoz, the No. 4 seed, lost once all season. Iowa State’s Marcus Coleman, who has a win over Brooks this season, is seeded fifth.
Haines, a true freshman, is seeded No. 2 at 157 after winning the Big Ten title. North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor (18-0) is the top seed.
Kerkvliet has a chance in the 285-pound class. He is the No. 3 seed behind the top seed, Michigan’s Mason Parris (28-0), and the second seed, Air Force’s Wyatt Hendricksen. Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi is seeded fourth. Arizona State’s Cohlton Schultz, who lost last year’s final to Gable Steveson, is the No. 5 seed.
The numbers appear stacked in Penn State’s favor. Sanderson said the key is for his team to remain focused.
“You want to enjoy it, but it’s going to be a lot more enjoyable if you compete well,” Sanderson said. “You kind of focus on the things you want and how you want to compete as opposed to the opposite.”
If Diakomihalis wins at 149 or Lee wins at 125, they will join just four wrestlers who have claimed four Division I national titles all time — Sanderson, Cornell's Kyle Dake, Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith and Ohio State’s Logan Stieber.
Lee (16-0) leads the way for Iowa, a team that could challenge Penn State. The two-time Hodge Trophy winner for the nation’s best college wrestler is the No. 1 seed. He was injured last year and did not compete at the championships. Princeton’s Pat Glory (20-0) is the No. 2 seed.
Diakomihalis may have to go through Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso (25-2), the No. 2 seed. Iowa State’s Paniro Johnson, the No. 5 seed, took Diakomihalis to overtime this season.
Wisconsin’s Austin Gomez gave Diakomihalis his only loss this season. Gomez returned after missing time with an injury and wasn’t quite to form at the Big Ten Tournament, but he's a sleeper as a No. 15 seed.
Iowa’s Real Woods (16-0) and Northern Colorado’s Andrew Alirez (23-0) are seeded No. 1 and No. 2 respectively at 141. Pitt’s Cole Matthews is the No. 3 seed with a 19-1 record.
Iowa State’s David Carr (22-0) is the top seed at 165. Everyone else in the class has at least two losses. Pitt’s Nino Bonaccorsi (16-0) is the top seed at 197.
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