Four Teams With Killer Lightweights

Austin Bernard Kaid Brock

How often do you watch a college dual and it starts at 125 pounds? For better or worse, NCAA wrestling is usually done in the old-school weight class order.

Because of that, it is often imperative to start fast and have strong lightweights. Now that the first batch of rankings are out, we have a pretty good idea of which teams are best at the first three weights.

Here are four teams that will put most opponents in the hole early and could end up with multiple All-Americans between 125 and 141.

Oklahoma State

125: No. 5 Nick Picininni
133: No. 3 Kaid Brock
141: No. 1 Dean Heil

How good are the Cowboys at the lowest weights? Dean Heil, Kaid Brock, and Nick Piccininni would have been 10th at NCAAs last year by themselves. Excluding bonus points, their current rankings to start the year equate to 43.5 team points.

Heil, Brock, and Piccininni were 41-4 combined in dual meets last year, and all four losses came in separate duals, meaning they won at all three weights 11 times. In Okie State's 15 duals last year, the Cowboys had scored an average 10.5 team points after the first three weights.

John Smith coaches the only team to return All-Americans at each of these three weights, and Oklahoma State's strength down low will only continue next year when Daton Fix likely slots in at 133 and Brock moves up to 141. In the meantime, Heil will shoot for this third ring, while Brock and Piccininni work on their first.



Ohio State

125: No. 1 Nathan Tomasello
133: No. 9 Luke Pletcher
141: No. 6 Joey McKenna

The addition of Joey McKenna from Stanford, along with Penn State losing Nick Suriano, has Ohio State in position to potentially win their second title in four years. But that's a story for another time -- right now we're focusing on just lightweights.

Nathan Tomasello had finishes of first, third, and third, over the past three years, and McKenna had a third-place finish in 2016, making them the most accomplished lightweight trio. Pletcher lost in the round of 16 last year, up a weight from 133, which seems to be a more natural fit for him.

Currently, this group is ranked to score 31 team points in Cleveland this March, excluding bonus points. On paper, the Buckeyes are the only team that can challenge Oklahoma State at these weights. If NaTo gets back on top of the podium, McKenna matches or outperforms his bronze from two years ago, and the weight change agrees with Pletcher, OSU coach Tom Ryan will be a very happy man on St. Patrick's Day night.



Minnesota

125: No. 4 Ethan Lizak
133: No. 5 Mitch McKee
141: No. 7 Tommy Thorn

Manning the lightweights for the Gophers are a returning NCAA finalist in Ethan Lizak and a returning seventh-placer in Tommy Thorn. Mitch McKee is also back for his second year of college after a summer in which he made the junior world finals.

Although the combined ranks of Minnesota and Ohio State are equal, the Buckeyes have a slight edge right now in projected team points, with the Gophers looking at 29 for NCAAs, excluding bonus. It seems important to note here that Thorn is ranked behind McKenna, whom Thorn pinned in overtime at the national tournament.

There is a threat of regression for Minnesota, which is of course the case for any team of high-achieving athletes. But Thorn was seeded 14th at NCAAs and placed seventh, while Lizak was seeded sixth and placed second. This year we will find out if they peaked in March and can be that good all year, or if 2017 was an anomaly.



Rutgers

125: No. 3 Nick Suriano
133: No. 11 Scott DelVecchio
141: No. 5 Anthony Ashnault

In the storied history of single-class New Jersey, only four wrestlers left high school with four state titles. Two of them now wrestle for the Scarlet Knights. Nick Suriano was THE story of the summer in college wrestling and has finally found his home after transferring from Penn State to Rutgers. Anthony Ashnault is already the first three-time All-American in Scarlet Knights history and will be shooting for No. 4 this season.

As a freshman, Suriano beat both of the NCAA finalists in the regular season but missed his first-ever NCAA tournament. His lone of last year was to Thomas Gilman, who has since graduated to winning a silver medal at the world championships. A fully healthy Suriano seems like a good bet to score at least 18 team points, not to mention be favored to win just about every dual meet in which he competes.

Ashnault has been consistent throughout his career, but there are rumors circulating of an injury that will cause him to miss extended time. Right now, in the first week of September, that is not too much of a concern. Come the first dual of the year on Nov. 4 though, that could turn out to be a much bigger deal to Rutgers fans with hopes of cracking the top 10 for the first time ever.

Scott DelVecchio is the lowest-ranked guy mentioned in this article, but at No. 11, the redshirt senior is right on the cusp of a big year. He has twice qualified for NCAAs and stands as the fourth-best 133-pounder in the Big Ten based on our rankings. With new assistant Johnni DiJulius in his corner, a strong performance in Cleveland is not out of the question.



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