2021 NCAA Wrestling Championship Watch Party

NCAA 125-Pound Preview: UnLEEsh The Fury

NCAA 125-Pound Preview: UnLEEsh The Fury

Previewing the 125-pound weight class at the 2021 NCAA Division 1 Westling Championships.

Mar 15, 2021 by Andrew Spey
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The longest anyone has ever had to wait for an NCAA Tournament since World War II ended is finally over. The competitors have made their way to St Louis and we are going to crown 10 new champs for the first time since 2019.

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The longest anyone has ever had to wait for an NCAA Tournament since World War II ended is finally over. The competitors have made their way to St Louis and we are going to crown 10 new champs for the first time since 2019.

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It’s no surprise that the 2020 Hodge Trophy winner has been the main storyline of the 125-pound weight class this season. And Spencer Lee has earned that hype by buzz sawing through his Big Ten competition. 

But there a couple of ACC contenders that Spencer has yet to lay his pugnacious paws on. Jakob Camacho and Sam Latona have begun what could be a legendary intra-conference rivalry and thrust themselves on to the national scene. 

And then there’s the itinerant Brody Teske, at home at UNI and thriving. The new and improved Teske is a potential spoiler to the party, which we will, at last, get to watch unfold in the Gateway City. 

Title Contenders

There’s only one name that can plausibly go underneath this heady. You already know Spencer Lee is the prohibitive favorite. 

There is some debate as to whether the weight class as a whole is less competitive this season or whether Spencer just has a way of making great college wrestlers look pedestrian. I believe there is some merit to both arguments, as it can’t be denied that the absence of Vito Arujau and Pat Glory makes for a shallower talent pool.

That said, Spencer has not stopped improving since his last collegiate loss in the 2019 Big Ten finals, which is a scary proposition for the division. 

Consider Lee’s performance at 2019 Senior Nationals. While these freestyle bouts have no bearing on things like national rankings (not that it would matter) or Hodge Trophy consideration, the results suggest that Lee has widened the gap against his peers by a considerable margin. 

Lee’s final three opponents on his way to a national title were Darian Cruz, Vito Arujau and Nathan Tomasello, and Spencer outscored them 32-6. 

Watch Spencer tech fall Vito in the semifinals:

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Spencer’s work on top gets a lot of attention. Racking up multiple first period tech-falls against quality opponents thanks to a hellacious bar and half series will do that. But it’s Lee’s ability to get the first takedown early and at an astounding success rate that makes him so deadly. 

Can’t get nearfall if you’re not wrestling from the top position!

Anyway, we could go on, but we need to write about the rest of the weight class

All-American Threats

#2 Sam Latona, Virginia Tech

#3 Brandon Courtney, Arizona State

#4 Drew Hildebrandt, Central Michigan

#5 Brody Teske, Northern Iowa

#6 Jakob Camacho, NC State

#7 Taylor LaMont, Utah Valley

#8 Rayvon Foley, Michigan State

#9 Devin Schroder, Purdue

#10 Malik Heinselman, Ohio State

#11 Dylan Ragusin, Michigan

There are plenty more potential AAs we could list, but we had to make the cut off point somewhere, and we settled on the talented Wolverine true freshman at the #11 seed, as he’s shown potential (especially in freestyle results) to outperform his seeds. 

Watch Ragusin defeat Brody Teske in the quarterfinals of 2021 Junior Nationals:

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Latona and Camacho represent the aforementioned Southern Surge of 125-pounders. Camacho won the 2020 ACC championship with a win over NCAA finalist Jack Mueller of UVA, and this season has but two losses on his resume, both to Latona. 

The Hokie by way of Alabaster, Alabama is undefeated in 2021, and took only two losses against 20 wins while redshirting last year. Those losses were to three-time All-American Nick Piccininni and Campbell’s Zurich Storm, who qualified for the bracket with the #29 seed.

Teske is the Big 12 champ, whose only loss on the season is to Pac-12 champ Brandon Courtney. 

Malik Heinselman is much improved this season, as evidenced by his fourth-place finish at the always-stacked Big Ten Championship. He lost to 2019 7th place finisher Rayvon Foley in the bronze medal bout. 

Devin Schroder returned to form at Big Tens, making the finals after beating Heinselman in the semis. 

Finally, Taylor LaMont is back down at 125, where he made the bloodround in 2018, after qualifying for the 2020 tournament up at 133. 

Sleepers And Landmines

We’re not totally sure how #12 ranked Robbie Howard ended up with the #23 seed. The New Jersey native is #17 in the final coaches’ poll and #13 in other prominent polls, but it was a weird year and the Nittany Lions had trouble getting mat time this season. 

Howard is capable of making a deep run, and should be considered a typical 20-something seed. 

The previously discussed Zurich Storm is another wrestler who we expect to outperform his seed. His win over Latona was not that long ago, and his losses this season were all to national qualifiers. He should not be treated as a #30 seed. 

Anticipated Matchups

There will be some fire matches at 125 right off the bat. 

#19 Eric Barnett, Wisconsin vs #14 Jaret Lane, Lehigh

Not a lot of cross-pollination between these two wrestlers, very difficult to call!

#23 Robert Howard, Penn State vs #10 Malik Heinselman, Ohio State

Heinselman beat Howard 5-2 in two matches this season, but an upset by Howard isn’t out of the question. 

#29 Zurich Storm, Campbell vs #4 Drew Hildebrandt, Central Michigan

This is a hellacious first-round bout for a #4 seed. 

Looking further ahead, assuming Lee has the top side pretty well taken care of, some pivotal bouts could take place on the bottom side. 

Quarterfinal: #3 Brandon Courtney, Arizona State vs #6 Jakob Camacho, NC State

Quarterfinal: #2 Sam Latona, Virginia Tech vs #7 Taylor LaMont, Utah Valley

If Latona and Camacho are going to see each other for round 3 (on the championship side, anyway), the ACC rivals will have to first prevail over some very tough opponents Friday morning.

Watch Mike Mal breakdown the key position of the Latona/Camacho series:

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Spey's Spredictions

1) Spencer Lee, Iowa

2) Sam Latona, Virginia Tech

3) Jakob Camacho, NC State

4) Brody Teske, UNI

5) Brandon Courtney, Arizona State

6) Drew Hildebrandt, Central Michigan

7) Rayvon Foley, Michigan State

8) Michael DeAugustino, Northwestern

R12) Pat McKee, Minnesota

R12) Dylan Ragusin, Michigan

R12) Robert Howard, Penn State

R12) Devin Schroder, Purdue 

Lee winning this third title is a no-brainer pick. After that, I went with the young ACC rivals to put up the stiffest resistance. 

I picked a lot of non-Big Ten wrestlers to lose in the second round, which is something I may regret later, and indeed have two quarterfinal matchups without a Big Ten wrestlers with Teske, Hildebrandt, Courtney and Camacho all wrestling to seed on the championship side. 

I went with Teske and Camacho in minor quarterfinal upset, but see those matches as toss-ups. The backside got murkier, and I could see the bloodround matches going differently and the Big Ten grabbing the lions' share of the podium steps. 

Inevitably, we'll see how wrong I am this weekend, afterwards, I will take credit for motivating all the wrestlers to prove me wrong when they win after I picked against them.