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There are several developing storylines worth tracking as the Mid-American Conference wrestling season continues.
They include a past All-American's second successful comeback, a pair of grapplers off to unbeaten starts, a wrestler who posted losing records the past two seasons now ranked among the nation's top 20, and some eye-opening dual results.
Here is a closer look:
Another Inspiring Comeback
As if there were any reason to doubt him, Missouri’s Grant Leeth appears to be regaining his All-American form after missing nearly a calendar year with a torn labrum.
Coming off a 2017-18 season which saw him place sixth at the NCAA Championships at 149 pounds and capture a Mid-American Conference title, Leeth bolted to a 6-2 start last season before the injury.
The redshirt junior finally returned to action Nov. 14 with a 10-2 win over Illinois’ We Rachel during the Tigers’ dual-match loss. Leeth’s career duals record remained perfect (20-0) as a result.
Now wrestling at 141 pounds, the ninth-ranked Leeth is 2-1 thus far after helping Missouri to the Cougar Clash title last weekend with a second-place finish. He dropped a close 3-2 decision to No. 8 Tristan Moran of Wisconsin in the championship match after pinning Brown’s Jimmy Pawelski.
Leeth and the Tigers open the MAC portion of their schedule at Buffalo Sunday.
While he is the conference’s top-ranked 141-pounder, Leeth faces plenty of stiff competition in his quest for another MAC title, including Old Dominion’s Sa’Derian Perry (ranked 14th), Central Michigan’s Dresden Simon (No. 17), and Lock Haven’s Kyle Shoop (No. 18).
Perry, a two-time NCAA qualifier and 2018 All-American, is 6-2 while Simon is off to a 12-4 start. Shoop, the Eastern Wrestling League champion last season, is 4-2. The three-time NCAA qualifier was an All-American last season but recently lost to Simon.
Leeth has never wrestled any of the three, but he will soon get his chance. Missouri faces Old Dominion Dec. 29 and Central Michigan on Jan. 17. He would not meet Shoop until the MAC Championships.
Leeth, a three-time Missouri state champion, originally signed with Duke and went 14-4 during his redshirt season back in 2014-15. He then missed more than two seasons with a torn meniscus and herniated disc in his neck which required surgery. Leeth received an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA as a result of the injuries and transferred to Missouri in the meantime.
He finally returned to the mat on Nov. 4, 2017 — with a win. It was Leeth’s first match since Jan. 24, 2015. His collegiate record, including the red-shirt year at Duke, is 48-11.
The honor thus far goes to Central Michigan's Dresden Simon, who is off to a 12-4 start after going just 26-32 the previous two seasons.
The junior 141-pounder is picking up where he left off last season when he won eight of his final 11 matches but still fell short of a MAC title (finished third) and NCAA Championships berth.
Simon recently dominated 2019 All-American Kyle Shoop of Lock Haven, then ranked No. 12, with an 18-5 win. Shoop is also a three-time NCAA qualifier. As a result, Simon shot from No. 23 to No. 17 in the rankings.
He pinned current No. 25 Corey Shie of Army earlier this season. Simon, a two-time Michigan state champion, has won eight matches by major decision, pin or technical fall, equaling his total for all of last season.
It's hardly surprising given their credentials, but Missouri's Brock Mauller and Rider's Jesse Dellavecchia have started the season unbeaten.
Mauller, currently ranked No. 2 at 149 pounds, is 10-0 with four major decisions and a pair of technical falls. The sophomore recently entered the pound-for-pound rankings at No. 24.
Mauller then went 4-3 at the NCAA Tournament last season, placing sixth for All-American honors. His losses were by a combined seven points. He finished 32-5 and sixth in the 149-pound rankings. Only six freshmen were ranked higher in any weight class.
Mauller sits behind North Carolina's Austin O'Connor, who is scheduled to his season debut at this weekend's Cleveland State Open. O'Connor won the only match so far between him and Mauller, 4-3, during last year's NCAA Championships before eventually placing third.
Mauller will not get another crack at O'Connor, 21st in the latest Pound-for-Pound rankings, prior to the NCAA Championships.
Dellavecchia is 13-0 and ranked No. 7 at 157 pounds after wrestling at 165 a year ago. The sophomore finished 26-7 last season, qualifying for the NCAA Championships where we went 2-2. That includes a win over Navy's Tanner Skidgel, currently No. 9 at 165.
Dellavecchia has beaten No. 8 Quincy Monday of Princeton this season but will have his hands full against MAC competition. No. 5 Larry Early of Old Dominion is a returning All-American while No. 14 Jarrett Jacques is the defending MAC champion and an NCAA qualifier.
Dellavecchia wouldn't see Jacques until the MAC Championships, but he could face Early at the Jan. 10 Virginia Duals and during a MAC dual at Old Dominion Jan. 17.
Missouri's Jeremiah Kent has been the MAC's most impressive freshman thus far, bolting to an 11-2 start at 174 pounds.
Kent is unranked at the moment and began the season behind two-time NCAA qualifier Connor Flynn, currently ranked No. 22, in the lineup.
That will likely change with Kent reeling off 10 straight wins since starting the season 1-2, including earning a decision over Flynn at the Lindenwood Open and then pinning him at the Cougar Clash. Kent's winning streak includes four pins, two technical falls, and a major decision.
Kent, a Missouri state champion, warmed up for his official freshman season by going 16-4 as a redshirt freshman last year.
MAC Duals Outlook
Get ready for what could be a very entertaining MAC duals schedule.
There have been some interesting developments already as Rider, one of seven new MAC members, shocked then-No. 6 Minnesota only to fall to conference foe Central Michigan, 28-10.
Those two teams are not even currently ranked, but eight-time defending champion Missouri (18th) and Old Dominion (No. 25) are and have not wrestled any MAC matches so far. The Tigers, who return seven NCAA qualifiers, open their conference slate at Buffalo Sunday while the Monarchs open at Southern Illinois-Edwardsburg Wednesday.
Missouri and Old Dominion are scheduled to face off at the South Beach Duals Dec. 29.
Mark Spezia is a freelance writer based in Lapeer, Michigan. He has written for ESPNW, Flohockey, Flint, Michigan-based My City Magazine, the Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit Magazine and Troy, Michigan-based Oakland Press. He previously worked for the Flint Journal, Lapeer (Michigan) County Press and Daily Mining Gazette in Houghton, Michiga