It was a weekend to remember for Northwestern wrestling. Following a record-setting performance at the Big Ten Championships just two weeks ago, the ‘Cats stayed as hot as ever, surpassing expectations once again at the highest stage. Four NU wrestlers achieved All-American status, the squad reached their highest team finish since 2007 and Ryan Deakin finally reached the summit of college wrestling by becoming a national champion.
After losing just one match in three years, Deakin, a star in the 157 weight class, had achieved nearly everything there was to in college wrestling. He’s a four-time All-American, a three-time Big Ten champion and he’s won multiple invitational championships. Now, following his final collegiate bout, he can claim the title of national champion as well.
Entering the tournament once again with a perfect regular-season record, Deakin never missed a beat in Detroit. During Friday’s day one sessions, the senior set the tone for the 157 lb. bracket, taking a first-round 6-2 decision over Oklahoma State’s Wyatt Sheets followed by a dominant second-period fall over seventh-seed Josh Humphreys. His day two performances were equally as impressive, with another 6-2 decision followed by a 10-2 major decision in the semifinals.
Following a string of upsets on the opposite side of the bracket, Deakin met five-seed Quincy Monday out of Princeton in the championship. Despite facing another former All-American, Deakin put on one final dominant performance, earning the title of national champion with a 9-2 decision.
With that, he became the first Wildcat wrestler to be crowned national champion since Jason Tsirtsis in 2014, as well as the fourth wrestler in NU history to become a four-time All-American.
Alongside Deakin, the ‘Cats put on three more All-American performances during the weekend. Given the 10th-seed going into the tournament, Michael DeAugustino had certainly shown the ability to compete at the highest level over the past three seasons. He, too, managed to put on the best performance of his career at the highest stage, finishing with a gritty fourth-place finish at 125.
After a second day loss in the quarterfinals, DeAugustino dropped his first match of the tournament to second-seed Vito Arujau. Needing another win to clinch All-American status, the senior went on a tear through the consolation bracket, losing only to Arujau once again in the third-place match.
Chris Cannon wrestled his way to a second straight seventh place finish at 133, giving the redshirt sophomore as many All-American finishes as NCAA appearances. Following a path similar to DeAugustino, Cannon notched two wins in wrestlebacks following a day two fall, nearly defeating eventual fifth-place winner Lucas Byrd en route to his place on the podium.
Finally, after a wildly impressive season following his switch from 197 to heavyweight, Lucas Davison earned a sixth-place finish for his first All-American honors. After a loss to eventual champion Gable Stevenson in the quarterfinals, Davison earned his place at the podium in wrestlebacks.
Despite tough outings for Northwestern’s lower-seeded wrestlers, the success of the team’s podium finishers, along with a string of wins from Yahya Thomas, pushed the Wildcats to a sixth-place team finish. This marks the team’s second-straight top 10 NCAA finish under coach Matt Storniolo and their best team performance since the 2007 squad’s fourth-place mark.
A new high with Storniolo at the helm, this team’s performance summarizes the growth of the program under his leadership. Finishing 46th at the NCAA championships during Storniolo’s first season as head coach in 2017, the program’s turnaround since is an impressive feat for him and his wrestlers.
With a young core primed to improve going forward, Northwestern may find themselves here to stay in the top 10 of the wrestling world. For now, though, they’ll be able to enjoy an enormous feat for the program.