Northwestern wrestling arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska this weekend with the expectations of a solid upper-half finish and a handful of NCAA qualifiers. The Wildcats left with their best team finish at the conference championships since 2006, a three-time Big Ten Champion and what will almost certainly be a full lineup at the national championship in Detroit.
The highlight of the weekend for NU was, for the third straight year, a championship performance from senior Ryan Deakin, who once again proved to be the best 157-pound wrestler the Big Ten has to offer. Entering the weekend a perfect 13-0 on the year, Deakin started strong with a quarterfinal-round pin over Ohio State’s Bryce Hepner, followed by a hard-fought 4-3 decision over Nebraska’s Peyton Robb. Deakin then dominated once again in the final, cruising to a 7-2 decision over Michigan’s Will Lewan.
Incredible weekend in Lincoln for @NUWrestle - Top-5 team finish, our highest since 2006. 9 NU wrestlers secure automatic qualifiers to the @NCAAWrestling Championships in Detroit! Ryan Deakin wins third straight Big Ten title. Go Cats! pic.twitter.com/QPzAZ1zVzR— Dr. Derrick Gragg (@DrDerrickGragg) March 7, 2022
Following Deakin, five more ‘Cats wrestled their way to top-five finishes in their respective classes. At 125, Michael DeAugustino earned his third NCAA bid in as many years, finishing fourth. Troy Fisher earned his first NCAA bid with a fourth place finish as well, continuing a great breakout season for the 174 sophomore.
Lucas Davison, David Ferrante, and Chris Cannon rounded out the squad’s top-five finishers, giving the NCAA vets their tickets to college wrestling’s grandest stage in Detroit. Despite a sometimes difficult change in class from 197 to 285, Davison proved his ability to compete, giving the ‘Cats their first heavyweight qualifier since Conan Jennings in 2019.
The last of ‘Cats’ podium positions came from Frankie Tal-Shahar at 141. In his first appearance at the Big Ten Championships, Tal-Shahar racked up three wins en route to his first NCAA qualification, despite a pre-seed of 10 entering the weekend.
Finally, despite not placing, Big Ten seed allowances gave Jack Jessen and Andrew Davison automatic bids at 184 and 197, giving the ‘Cats a total of nine AQs for NCAAs.
The lone NU wrestler to not earn an AQ bid was, surprisingly, 2021 All-American Yahya Thomas, who dropped two tightly-contested matches early in the tournament. Despite his showing, Thomas will almost certainly receive an at-large bid for the tournament, which would bring NU to a full lineup for Detroit.
Coming off of a streak of five-straight dual victories to end the regular season, the ‘Cats didn’t look back, putting together their strongest team performance in recent memory. Now, heading into the NCAA Championships, many of Coach Storniolo’s wrestlers will feel like they still have much to prove. Deakin has one last chance at that evasive national title, having been arguably the best 157 wrestler in the country for three years without an NCAA championship to show for it, DeAugutino, Cannon and Andrew Davison all have legitimate chances at All-American status and Yahya Thomas, despite this weekend’s showing, will certainly be hungry to prove that he can wrestle with the country’s best just as he did a year ago.
In all, this team showed a lot of resilience throughout the season, turning a four-dual losing streak into a five-dual winning streak culminating into a historic team finish this past weekend. With one last go-around this season, expect the ‘Cats to bring their best to the mats in Detroit.