Seven Northwestern wrestlers left the Bryce Jordan Center with hardware on Sunday, including a second-straight Big Ten championship for 157 lb. wrestler Ryan Deakin. As a team, the ‘Cats placed seventh in the ultra-competitive conference, largely exceeding expectations based on the pre-seeds released days prior.
Entering the weekend, NU had just five wrestlers seeded within the top eight of their respective weight classes, with four of them being given top five seeds. By the end of the tournament, the ‘Cats had four top-five finishes- along with three additional placements on the podium.
To nobody’s surprise, nationally top-ranked Ryan Deakin picked up right where he left off a year ago, giving up just one (!) point in three matches en route to his second finish at the top of the Big Ten podium. Deakin started the weekend with back-to-back major decisions over Ohio State’s Elijah Clearly and Purdue’s Kendall Coleman before pulling off a 6-0 decision against Iowa’s Kaleb Young in the final match. His win will solidify his top seed status going into the NCAA Championships, where he’ll seek his first national title.
Joining Deakin with top five finishes were Michael DeAugustino (125), Chris Cannon (133), and Lucas Davison (197). DeAugustino disproved a somewhat eye-raising eighth seed with his fifth-place finish, showing the conference why he had been ranked as high as fifth nationally earlier in the season.
Along with DeAugustino, two other wrestlers placed well above their pre-seeds on Sunday. David Ferrante (165) began the weekend as the 12th seed but managed to place seventh after back-to-back wins in the consolation rounds before eventually beating Penn State’s Joe Lee in the seventh-place match. Colin Valdiviez put on an even more impressive performance, finishing sixth despite his pre-seed of 13th.
Finally, Yahya Thomas (149) finished eighth after a very close double overtime loss in the quarterfinals followed later by a tough 2-1 tiebreaker loss in the seventh place match to Purdue’s Griffin Parriott.
Due to the Big Ten’s heavy allotment of automatic bids in the NCAA tournament, six of NU’s seven medal-winners are guaranteed a spot in the field. Thomas’ eighth place finish left him two spots shy of an automatic bid, but his consensus top-25 ranking should all but guarantee him an at-large bid in the 33-man field.
Troy Fisher, Jon Halvorsen and Jack Heyob will all hope to earn at-large berths as well, which may be possible considering the depth of the Big Ten.
Now, with the NCAA tournament on the horizon, the ‘Cats will hope to make up for what COVID-19 took away from them a season ago.
The most obvious name to watch is Deakin, who will have his eye on a first place finish. The senior has been sitting on his number one ranking for well over a year now, and if it hadn’t been for the pandemic he may be looking to be a repeat national champion.
Chris Cannon could make a splash in his first NCAA tournament as well, with the redshirt freshman eyeing a possible top eight pre-seed going in. That could put him on pace for a podium finish in his first season wrestling attached.
Outside of those two, things begin to get a little less clear. DeAugustino and Davison have both shown that they can wrestle at a very high level, and one would think that the brightest stage in wrestling could bring out the best in them. Thomas, despite his performance this past weekend, has also shown plenty of flashes of greatness throughout his career and a run toward the podium would come as no surprise.
With all that being said, the Wildcats’ performance this weekend was a solid way to cap off the Big Ten season, with multiple wrestlers exceeding expectations. While the season has been cut down significantly, Coach Storniolo’s squad has shown consistent improvement over the course of the year and will try to make one final splash in St. Louis.