The Faces of the NCAA Wrestling Championships
This past weekend, the NCAA Division One Wrestling Championships took place in Pittsburgh. For some reason, they let me have a media pass and floor access, so I was able to get a few behind-the-scenes pictures and rare quotes from some All Americans before eventually being asked kindly to leave.
CHAMPION: #3 Spencer Lee, Iowa
I’ll admit it. I shed a tear watching one of my newest best friends, Spencer Lee, shutting up all the doubters and winning his second straight NCAA title in extremely convincing fashion. It’s just a shame that his accomplishment was overshadowed by his embarrassing inability to recite all of the Pokemon, despite previous claims.
Lowest Seeded All American: #9 RayVon Foley, Michigan State
“What should I do with my arms?” — Foley
“I’m gonna throw up a 69. That’s the sex number.” — Ronnie Bresser, All American
CHAMPION: #3 Nick Suriano, Rutgers
Suriano became Rutgers’ first ever NCAA champion in a bracket that many are considering one of the toughest of all time. He defeated NCAA finalist Ethan Lizak, NCAA finalist Stephan Micic, and Junior World champion Daton Fix to get it done for the
Nittany Lions Scarlet Knights.
Lowest Seeded All American: #10 Roman Bravo-Young, Penn State true freshman
“A lot of people told me I couldn’t do it. Some people even said it was impossible. But I ended up getting an AirPod to stay in this ear for an entire workout once.” — Bravo-Young
“Making the Barstool Sports All Ear First Team has been the highlight of my wrestling career. I can’t thank you enough for that honor.” — Missouri’s John Erneste after finishing his final season as an All American
CHAMPION: #1 Yianni D??????????, Cornell
Yianni finished his perfect season by going 2 for 2 on winning NCAA titles, but even more impressively, the announcers went 23 for 23 on pronouncing his last name correctly and flawlessly.
Lowest Seeded All American: #16 Chad Red, Nebraska
“I carried this loaf of bread around with me all weekend. It was my good luck charm.” — Dom Demas, freshman All American (4th place)
CHAMPION: #1 Anthony Ashnault, Rutgers
Despite an incredible undefeated season and NCAA title, Anthony Ashnault was a heartbreaking 43 minutes away from becoming Rutgers’ first NCAA champion in school history. I guess he’ll have to settle for second place.
“Get a picture of me bullying this random dude.” — Ashnault
Lowest Seeded All American: #10 Pat Lugo, Iowa
“Wait…hold up. I need to be shirtless for this pic.” — Lugo
“Wait wait…get a side angle too.” — Lugo
“I know my name is intimidating, but I look more like a Blake Miller than a Brock Mauller.” — Missouri’s Brock Mauller after finishing his true freshman season as an All American
“You better not make up any quotes that make me look bad.” — Miller
CHAMPION: #1 Jason Nolf, Penn State
Nolf won his third NCAA championship and finished his career with Penn State as one of the best college wrestlers of all time. Apparently, he’s an even better person, but I’m not entirely sure he’s a human being.
Lowest Seeded All American: #9 Christian Pagdilao, Arizona State
Bracket Badass: Chase Straw, Iowa State
Straw came back from a 12-5 deficit with a minute to go in his match with Quincy Monday to win 13-12 in tiebreakers, then walked off the mat looking like this.
(S/O to Cam Kramer for the award-winning shot.)
NC State sophomore Hayden Hidlay came about as close as humanly possible to shocking the wrestling word and upsetting Nolf in the semis. He fell 3-2, but here’s his first period takedown that ended up being reversed.
CHAMPION: #8 Mekhi Lewis, Virginia Tech
He took out the undefeated 1st seed, the 4th seed, AND the 2x defending NCAA champ. He didn’t give up a SINGLE takedown in the process. He was the 8th seed. He was a freshman. He was Virginia Tech’s first ever national champion. But according to his teammates, he wasn’t an underdog and none of his wins were upsets. What a legend.
“I don’t know…I guess it was kind of cool.” — Lewis on winning an NCAA title
Lowest Seeded All American: #11 Bryce Steiert, Northern Iowa
“Did you know that rubbing a banana peel on your forehead can help cure a headache?” — Alex Marinelli after defeating Logan Massa to become an All American
“The spread of civilization may be likened to a fire; first, a feeble spark, next a flickering flame, then a mighty blaze, ever increasing in speed and power.” — Isaiah White after becoming an All American
“The scientific name for banana is actually musa sapientum, which means “fruit of the wise men.” — Marinelli
CHAMPION: #3 Zahid Valencia, Arizona State
Mark beat him in the 2017 NCAA semi finals. Zahid beat him last year in the finals. Mark beat him this season in a dual match. It’s the greatest current rivalry in college wrestling, and Zahid got it done on the big stage again this year.
Major props to Mark for doing this. And major props to the kid who had the balls to ask him for his autograph literal seconds after he lost in the NCAA finals.
“I could go for a beer right now.” — Daniel Lewis after finishing his career as a 4x All American
Lowest Seeded All American: #10 Mikey Labriola, Nebraska
“Would it be weird if I showed you my abs, man?” — Mikey Labriola
“Hmmm.” – Daniel Lewis
“I’ll let you feel them too if you want.” – Mikey Labriola
“Apple juice” — Daniel Lewis
CHAMPION: #6 Drew Foster, Northern Iowa
I might have thought that Myles Martin was a LOCK to win this weight class. But after a wild upset by Cornell’s Max Dean in the semis, I never once doubted that Drew Foster could get it done for the Panthers and end their 19 year mega drought.
Lowest Seeded All American (of the tournament): #26 Dakota Geer, Oklahoma State
Ultimate Bracket Buster: #15 Chip Ness, North Carolina
Ness came into the tournament with a whopping 15 losses, but that didn’t stop him from taking out #2 Shakur Rasheed in the quarters and becoming an All American for the second straight year. Postseason legend.
“I’m about to show you my signature look, but you have to promise me you won’t catch feelings.” — Ness
Lehigh senior Ryan Preisch getting emotional after ending his career by becoming an All American for the first time. He suffered heartbreaking losses in the blood round the past two years.
CHAMPION: #1 Bo Nickal, Penn State
Like Nolf, Bo Nickal finished his senior year as an undefeated 3x NCAA champion after a season filled with ruthless domination and gracious post-match gestures.
Lowest Seeded All American: #16 Josh Hokit, Fresno State
Iowa State’s Willie Miklus ended up finishing his college career as a 4x All American.
CHAMPION: #2 Anthony Cassar, Penn State
After capping off his senior season with an impeccable upper body, haircut, jawline, and smile, Cassar was voted “Most Attractive Wrestler” by the NCAA committee.
“It felt good to finally get out there and prove I’m the hottest in the country.” – Cassar
Lowest Seeded All American: #33 Luke Pletcher, Ohio State
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” — Pletcher after becoming the smallest heavyweight All American in NCAA history.
TEAM CHAMPIONS: Penn State (8th in the last 9 years)
All jokes aside, please consider donating to the GoFundMe page for American University senior wrestler Michael Sprague. His father Steve Sprague passed away just 30 minutes after Michael wrestled his last career college match on Friday in Pittsburgh. Michael also lost his mother nine years ago.