| Arizona State freshman Zahid Valencia works a single leg on NCAA
champion Myles Martin of Ohio State at the UWW Junior Nationals.
Photo: Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com.
In each of the past three seasons, freshman have transformed from collegiate rookie at the start of the year to NCAA champion at the end.
Last year, Ohio State-product Myles Martin carried the freshman torch by winning a wild 174-pound NCAA bracket. The year prior, Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello and Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez stood atop the podium. In 2014, Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern and J’den Cox of Missouri emerged as freshman champions.
The trend for freshman success is alive and well in recent years. In fact, at least one freshman has won the NCAA tournament in five of the past seven seasons. Two of those freshman, Logan Stieber of Ohio State and Kyle Dake of Cornell, went on to win four NCAA titles.
Martin and Martinez are the only freshman since Stieber still on track to win four NCAA titles. Martin is shooting for his second title as a sophomore and Martinez will look to make it three-for-three as a junior.
Looking ahead to the 2016-17 college season, several freshman possess the potential to drastically impact college landscape and perhaps even find themselves atop the NCAA podium at year’s end.
Two wrestlers in particular, Mark Hall of Penn State and Zahid Valencia of Arizona State, jump off the page as immediate NCAA title threats.
Although expected to redshirt for the Nittany Lions this season, Hall is the most credentialed high school wrestler to grace the college landscape in some time, and it would not be shocking to see him enter the starting lineup at some point this year.
Hall is fresh off a gold-medal win at the 2016 Junior World Championships, billed as one of the toughest tournaments in the world annually. He qualified to wrestle at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials last April, was a Cadet World champion in 2014, owns three USAW Cadet Nationals titles and was a six-time high school state champion. Hall is projected to wrestle 174 pounds for Penn State this season.
After building for a year under the new Zeke Jones regime at Arizona State, Valencia posted superb results this summer as he qualified for his second-straight Junior World team. He was unable to place at the Junior Worlds, but did pick up some major domestic wins over the likes of NCAA champion Martin and NCAA runner-up Bo Nickal just to make the Junior World team. Like Hall, Valencia is projected to compete at 174 pounds this year.
Additional 2016 Junior World Team members expected to make a splash this season are 174-pounder Nick Reenan of the rapidly rising North Carolina State program and Kollin Moore of Ohio State at 197 pounds.
Now in his third year of college, and one transfer later, 2015 Junior World bronze medalist Stevan Micic will finally grace the college mats at 133 pounds for the Michigan Wolverines still holding freshman eligibility. Micic competed heavily on the Senior men’s freestyle side last year earning a silver medal at the Dave Schultz Memorial International and finishing in third place at the Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier.
The Wolverines boast a couple other freshman to keep an eye on with two-time Junior Nationals champion Austin Assad and Olympic Trials qualifier Logan Massa entering the lineup.
Continuing with the team theme, defending NCAA champion Penn State will cast highly touted freshmen Nick Suriano and Vincenzo Joseph into its star-studded lineup. Suriano takes over the 125-pound slot vacated by 2015 NCAA champion Nico Megaludis. Joseph, who finished in third place at the UWW Junior World Team Trials, is expected to fill the 165-pound void for the Nittany Lions.
Oklahoma State, a consensus preseason No. 1 across the wrestling polls, will feature freshman in the bottom two weight classes. Fourth-place finisher at the UWW Junior World Team Trials Nick Piccininni will get the nod at 125 pounds, while electric freshman Kaid Brock holds the spot at 133 pounds. Brock did wrestle several matches last year, including a pin over NCAA champion Cody Brewer of Oklahoma, but was injured early in his season and granted an extra year of eligibility, keeping him at freshman status.
Three fresh faces will don the Iowa black and gold this season with UWW Junior Nationals All-American Vincent Turk, UWW Junior Nationals champion Michael Kemerer and top prospect Alex Marinelli all expected to start for the Hawkeyes.
In addition to Moore, Ohio State expects big things from 141-pound freshman Ke-Shawn Hayes who was a USAW Junior Nationals runner-up in 2014. Given the Buckeyes track record of freshman success in recent years, Moore and Hayes are potentially dangerous opponents for the NCAA field.
It has been a tumultuous offseason for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, but an influx of talented freshman to its lineup could provide a much-needed push in the right direction for the prestigious program. Past USAW Junior Nationals champions Fredy Stroker, Larry Early and Bobby Steveson all appear poised to start for the Gophers and make a sudden impact on the programs trajectory.
Missouri boasts a trio of exciting freshman prospects entering its lineup this season. Expectations are very high for UWW Junior Nationals All-American Jaydin Eierman at 133 pounds. In addition, Junior Nationals All-Americans Dylan Wisman and Austin Myers will fill in at 174 pounds and 285 pounds for the Tigers.
Other freshman to watch closely from an individual perspective are University Nationals champion Matthew Kolodzik of Princeton at 141 pounds, past Junior World Team member Anthony Valencia of Arizona State at 165 pounds, USAW Junior Nationals All-American Max Thomsen of Northern Iowa at 149 pounds and UWW Junior Nationals All-American Jordan Kutler of Lehigh at 157 pounds.
Of course, a handful of unheralded freshman will more than likely emerge and establish themselves as contenders for this year and the years to come.
Prepare for the unexpected twists and turns of another Division I wrestling season.
Freshman NCAA Champions Since 2010
2016: Myles Martin (Ohio State)
2015: Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State), Isaiah Martinez (Illinois)
2014: Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern), J’den Cox (Missouri)
2012: Logan Stieber (Ohio State)
2010: Matt McDonough (Iowa), Kyle Dake (Cornell)
Freshman Watch List
Nick Suriano (Penn State)
Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State)
Austin Assad (Michigan)
Stevan Micic (Michigan)
Jaydin Eierman (Missouri)
Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State)
Matt Kolodzik (Princeton)
Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State)
Vince Turk (Iowa)
Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa)
Fredy Stroker (Minnesota)
Michael Kemerer (Iowa)
Larry Early (Minnesota)
Jordan Kutler (Lehigh)
Logan Massa (Michigan)
Alex Marinelli (Iowa)
Anthony Valencia (Arizona State)
Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State)
Zahid Valencia (Arizona State)
Dylan Wisman (Missouri)
Nick Reenan (North Carolina State)
Mark Hall (Penn State)
Bobby Steveson (Minnesota)
Kollin Moore (Ohio State)
Austin Myers (Missouri)