Photo of Aaron Brooks, the only freshman Big Ten champion by Josh Conklin
Every season there are elite freshmen who come in immediately ready to contend for an NCAA title. Last season only produced one freshman champion, Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech. Lewis had a strong freshman season, only taking two losses and winning his conference title.
This year, there are seven freshman conference champions and all of them are having fantastic debut seasons. Will any of these up and comers win an NCAA title? We’ll find out in two weeks, but until then let’s take a look at the contenders.
*Note the EIWA, MAC and SoCon did not have any freshman champions.
ACC – 1 freshman champion
125 pounds Jakob Camacho (NC State)
Camcho was in the midst of a solid, 18-6, freshman campaign and ranked No. 15 in the country by Flowrestling before entering the conference tournament. He didn’t have a signature win and he took a couple questionable losses, including getting pinned by unranked VMI freshman John McGarry at the Southern Scuffle.
At the ACC tournament, Camacho got his signature win in stunning fashion in the finals. The freshman took out returning NCAA finalist Jack Mueller of Virginia, 11-4. Mueller, who is a two-time All-American, was undefeated on the season and had beaten Camacho at a dual meet in January, 5-2.
While Camacho, who is now ranked ninth, will have monsters like Iowa’s two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee and Princeton’s undefeated returning All-American Pat Glory in his bracket, he is someone you need to follow at the NCAA tournament.
Big Ten – 1 freshman champion
184 pounds Aaron Brooks (Penn State)
Brooks was the lone freshman champion in the toughest conference in the country. His success comes as no surprise given his status as a blue chip recruit and his 2017 Cadet World title and 2018 Junior World silver medal.
Brooks avenged the only loss he suffered this season in the Big Ten semifinals when he pinned Taylor Venz of Nebraska. Venz, a 2018 All-American, defeated Brooks, 9-5, in a January dual meet. In the finals, Brooks would go on to defeat Michigan State’s Cameron Caffey, 3-2.
Brooks is currently ranked No. 6 in the country and should absolutely be considered a title threat. It’s also interesting to note that none of the five wrestlers ranked ahead of him have achieved All-American status.
Big 12 – 2 freshmen champions
157 pounds David Carr (Iowa State)
Carr is 18-1 this season with his only loss coming to the No. 1 wrestler in the country Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin. Since reaching college, Carr has had immense success, going 23-1 in his redshirt season and winning a Junior World title last summer.
Carr’s best wins this season include Iowa’s returning All-American Kaleb Young and Pac-12 champion Jacori Teemer, who is also on this list. Carr is ranked No. 3 in the country and should be in title contention along with Deakin and NC State’s two-time All-American Hayden Hidlay.
165 pounds Travis Wittlake (Oklahoma State)
Wittlake has come into his own this year. While he had a solid redshirt season in 2019 going 16-2, he was competing at 174 pounds and had no wins over NCAA qualifiers. This season, Wittlake is 27-2 and ranked No. 7 at the weight class. His only losses came to No. 1 Alex Marinelli of Iowa, 3-2, and No. 3 Shane Griffith of Stanford, who is also on this list.
With wrestlers like Marinelli and Penn State’s two-time NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph in his bracket, winning an NCAA title will be a tall order, but look for Wittlake to compete for a spot on the podium.
Pac-12 – 3 freshmen champions
141 pounds Real Woods (Stanford)
Woods was the first of three freshman Pac-12 champions and one of two from Stanford. While most of the hype surrounding this weight class is focused on the budding rivalry between No. 1 Luke Pletcher of Ohio State and No. 2 Nick Lee of Penn State, Woods has quietly put together a phenomenal, 19-1, record. His only loss came to the aforementioned Pletcher, 3-1, in sudden victory.
Woods, who is currently No. 9 in the country, also had an excellent redshirt season, going 22-1 with his only loss coming to Lee, 6-3. Do not let his ranking fool you, Woods could be a bracket buster at the tournament, potentially even making a run at the title.
157 pounds Jacori Teemer (Arizona State)
Teemer, a 2017 Cadet World bronze medalist, was one of the biggest recruits in his class coming into college. Competing at 149 during his redshirt season, Teemer went 10-2 with his only losses coming to Iowa’s Pat Lugo (currently ranked No. 1 at 149 pounds) and Princeton’s three-time All-American Matt Kolodzik in sudden victory.
This season at 157 pounds, Teemer hit some bumps early on, taking losses to Virginia’s Justin McCoy, Oklahoma’s Justin Thomas, Nebraska’s Peyton Robb and No. 1 Ryan Deakin of Northwestern. However currently sporting a, 17-5, record, Teemer hasn’t lost a match since early January where he fell to Iowa State’s David Carr, 4-1.
Teemer, currently ranked No. 11, is an incredibly dangerous wrestler that no one should feel comfortable running into in the bracket.
165 pounds Shane Griffith (Stanford)
Griffith is the only undefeated freshman in the country. Currently ranked No. 3 behind Marinelli and Joseph, Griffith is 28-0 this season. In addition to his win over Wittlake, Griffith has also defeated Arizona State’s two-time All-American Josh Shields twice, including in the Pac-12 finals.
As a redshirt, Griffith went 24-2. His only losses came to Jospeh, 6-4, and NAIA runner-up Ryan Niven, 3-1. While 165 is a deep weight class and the top-two wrestlers seem a tier above the rest of the pack, underestimate Griffith at your own risk. His undefeated record should make that clear.