It’s been quite a while since we last saw the Panthers take the mat. On Saturday it will be 20 days since UNI defeated Missouri for the MAC regular season title and they will go back to work to try to claim a conference postseason title for the first time since 2012 – the last year they wrestled in the Western Wrestling Conference.
Missouri leads the conference with five wrestlers slotted number one in the pre-seeds. The Panthers put three men in the top spot for the pre-seeds while Ohio bookends the action with two number one spots. Taking a look at the NCAA Allocations that were released the other day in comparison to just the pre-seeds, the Panthers are slated to get six wrestlers through to the NCAA Tournament.
Listen to Lars and Ross give their thoughts on the MAC tournament on the latest edition of the Potentially Dangerous podcast:
***Rankings used are MAC Pre-seeds***
1 – Shakur Laney, Ohio
2 – Brent Fleetwood, Central Michigan
3 – Kyle Akins, Buffalo
4 – Noah Gonser, Eastern Michigan
5 – Barlow McGhee, Missouri
6 – Dylan Peters, Northern Iowa
7 – Brock Hudkins, Northern Illinois
8/9 – Cory Simpson, Kent State
8/9 – Steve Simpson, Old Dominion
Much like Thomas Gilman, it’s now or never for UNI’s Dylan Peters. The two-time All American has been plagued with injuries the last two seasons, earning his second top-8 spot last year on a torn ACL. Nobody doubts Peters’ ability when healthy (he is ranked #1 in the latest MAC Coaches poll), and after last season not very many question his ability on just one leg. But the Panther hasn’t had a great season this year, going just 6-5 as he’s dealing with another injury. That puts him in danger of not securing a wildcard spot should he not place in the top 5 at conference. This sounds a little bit insane, but Peters went 0-2 at the US Collegiant Open two weeks ago, falling to McGhee (the 5 seed) and Minnesota’s Skyler Petry.
Peters will have a tough time right out of the gate, taking on Buffalo’s Kyle Akins. Akins is no slouch, going 17-4 on the season. Worst-case scenario for him is dropping his first match to Akins, then having to win a match with Brock Hudkins on the backside to reach the consolation semifinals. If he fell to the fifth place match, he could see McGhee again, and as Peters only has one win against the Tiger in his career, it’s not an ideal situation for him. Again, that’s worst-case. If he can get the win over Akins and then falls to the backside, he’d only need one more win to secure his spot at the NCAA’s.
This will be a fun weight to watch, as McGhee and Peters were in the finals last season, with Peters taking out this year’s number one Shakur Laney in the semifinals and McGhee taking down number two Brent Fleetwood. The seedings are switched this year though, so if we’re going to see a rematch, Peters and McGhee will have to take out their opposite opponents from last season.
1 – Josh Alber, Northern Iowa
2 – John Erneste, Missouri
3 – Cameron Kelly, Ohio
4 – Bryan Lantry, Buffalo
5 – Corey Keener, Central Michigan
6 – Anthony Tutolo, Kent State
7 – Alex Madrigal, Old Dominion
8/9 – Alijah Jeffery, Northern Illinois
8/9 – Sa’Derian Perry, Eastern Michigan
Josh Alber has had a pretty strong year, and despite Ross sleeping on him a little bit, he’s pretty clearly the class of the MAC. His only conference loss this season came to the number 4 seeded Bryan Lantry (more on that in a second) and has come through with some big wins – over Iowa State’s Earl Hall, Drexel’s Kevin Devoy, and twice over the two seeded John Erneste.
The question about Alber seems to be can he perform for all of his matches. He talked earlier this season about being the right mindset before matches, and that might explain some of his losses – a loss by fall to Grand View’s Jacob Colon, in sudden victory to Wisconsin’s unranked Eli Stickley, and at home to the aforementioned Lantry.
Overall I like Alber’s draw. He either gets CMU’s Corey Keener, who he defeated 6-2 earlier this season, or a rematch with Lantry in the semifinal. I can’t imagine Alber looking ahead to either opponent, and I like for him to make his way to the final against either Erneste or Kelly. Those two haven’t wrestled yet this season and both wrestlers are just as capable of meeting Alber for the MAC title. Either way, Alber is as close as a lock as you can get for the NCAA tournament.
1 – Jaydin Eierman, Missouri
2 – Noah Forrider, Ohio
3 – Mason Smith, Central Michigan
4 – Kyle Springer, Eastern Michigan
5 – Kevin Budock, Old Dominion
6 – Angel Velasquez, Northern Illinois
7 – Jason Estevez, Buffalo
8/9 – Jake Hodges, Northern Iowa
8/9 – Chance Driscol, Kent State
Jake Hodges has had a bit of a rough year, going just 10-10 and coming into the tournament on a seven match losing streak. Hodges has split time this season with Tyler Willers at 141 pounds after Jake Koethe, the presumptive starter went out with injury very early in the season. Hodges does a couple of nice wins this season, including one over Missouri’s Matt Manley at the Southern Scuffle and Old Dominion’s Emilio Saavedra. Hodges will have a tough road this weekend though, as the MAC only has two qualifying spots and if he gets by Chance Driscol he’ll have #1 Jaydin Eierman, who Hodges lost to 8-4 at the UNI-Missouri dual.
141 is tied with 157 for only two NCAA allocations. Eierman is clearly the man at the weight for the MAC, as he’s undefeated in conference this year and has only one loss to men outside of the top five-ranked nationally. Noah Forrider and Mason Smith will vie to challenge Eierman for the top spot. Forrider defeated Smith 16-14 in their dual meet match, however Smith did give Eierman a close one the last time those two wrestlers met. The semifinal matchup between Eierman and Forrider could be the most exciting match of the tournament.
1 – Lavion Mayes, Missouri
2 – Justin Oliver, Central Michigan
3 – Max Thomsen, Northern Iowa
4 – Steve Bleise, Northern Illinois
5 – Michael Hayes, Old Dominion
6 – Nick Barber, Eastern Michigan
7 – Colt Cotten, Buffalo
8/9 – Kade Kowalski, Ohio
8/9 – Tim Rooney, Kent State
Hello most fun weight of the tournament. The top four seeds are all in the top 14 of TrackWrestling’s latest rankings, and Michael Hayes is 29th in the NCAA coaches rankings. Lavion Mayes, Justin Olver, and Max Thomsen have all beaten each other this season (Mayes beat Oliver, Oliver beat Thomsen, and Thomsen beat Mayes) to all tie for the top spot in the conference, but Mayes gets the number one seed due to having a higher coaches ranking.
Thomsen comes in with a 22-4 record along with the three seed. He’s lost to both the wrestlers ranked above him, but he did avenge a 4-2 loss to Mayes at the Southern Scuffle with a 9-2 win at Missouri, in a match that he blew wide open in the third period. I’d like his draw a little bit better if he had Mayes in the semifinals rather than Oliver, as Oliver really didn’t have too much of a problem defeating Thomsen 4-1 in their dual meet match.
Other than the top three Steve Bleise has the capability to bust things up. An NCAA qualifier from a year ago, Bleise has a win over Oliver this season and a couple close losses against Thomsen and Mayes (both were 2-1 losses). If he can get by Hayes, he is more than capable of taking down Mayes to make the finals. Hayes, as well as Nick Barber, are also both solid wrestlers who could make some noise in the top four.
1 – Joey Lavallee, Missouri
2 – Collin Heffernan, Central Michigan
3 – Caden McWhirter, Northern Illinois
4 – Casey Sparkman, Kent State
5 – Cullen Cummings, Ohio
6 – Zac Carson, Eastern Michigan
7 – Larry Early, Old Dominion
8/9 – Alex Smythe, Buffalo
8/9 – Paden Moore, Northern Iowa
Much like 141, 157 pounds will be a tough weight for Paden Moore to break through at this weekend. The Panther has gone 14-14 on the year in a role that he was really thrust into due to his older brother, Cooper, getting injured. Cooper’s injury allowed for Bryce Steiert to bump up leaving 157 pounds vacant. While Paden has done his best here, he probably could have benefited more from another year of training before seeing the mat full-time. Moore has won just two matches against MAC competition however he has not beaten any of the pre-seeded 157 pounders. Moore lost to his first round opponent Alex Smythe, 12-4.
The two men that are the clear favorates at this weight are the top two seeds, number one Joey Lavallee and number two Collin Heffernan. Both men are ranked in the top ten in most national polls, with Lavallee pulling out a 3-1 win in sudden victory during their dual meet match. It would take something more than monumental for those two to not see each other in the finals, as the three seed, Caden McWhirter, lost to both of those men by major decision this season.
Depending on how healthy Lavallee is – he suffered an ankle injury during the UNI-Missouri dual and did not wrestle in Missouri’s last dual of the season – I would be a little worried that he might not be able to repeat his win over Heffernan. Other than that though I don’t envision any problems for both these men to reach the finals.
1 – Daniel Lewis, Missouri
2 – Bryce Steiert, Northern Iowa
3 – Seldon Wright, Old Dominion
4 – Devan Marry, Eastern Michigan
5 – Shaun’Qae McMurtry, Northern Illinois
6 – Tyler Rill, Buffalo
7 – Isaac Bast, Kent State
8/9 – Logan Parks, Central Michigan
8/9 – Zach Wilson, Ohio
This might be the first time I have a slight problem with the pre-seeds. I know that Bryce Steiert and Daniel Lewis are 1-1 against each other, but Steiert beat Lewis during MAC competition and to me that that should mean something, as this is the MAC Tournament. As it stands now, Steiert should have no trouble getting by Isaac Bast in the first round, and then sees Seldon Wright again in the semifinals. The two had a close match back at the beginning of the season, but that was only Steiert’s second match at 165 pounds. In his last nine matches he has won eight of them with bonus points, including four pinfalls.
I think the rematch between Lewis and Steiert is inevitable. Lewis has the easier path, as he’ll have the 8/9 winner and then most likely Devan Marry from EMU. Lewis was pinned by Steiert in the first period of their match down in Missouri, so you know he’ll be looking for revenge. Although the MAC has three qualifying spots at 165, I really think this is just a two horse race.
1 – Taylor Lujan, Northern Iowa
2 – CJ Brucki, Central Michigan
3 – Trace Engelkes, Northern Illinois
4 – Dylan Wisman, Missouri
5 – Arsen Ashughyan, Ohio
6 – Jerold Spohn, Kent State
7 – Antonio Agee, Old Dominion
8/9 – Muhamid McBryde, Buffalo
8/9 – Jacob Davis, Eastern Michigan
Another weight I’m not super concerned with a Panther making the finals is 174. Taylor Lujan has been on a tear this season, going 20-4 and not giving up a bad loss anywhere. He’s undefeated in MAC wrestling, winning 5 of his last 6 matches by bonus points. Although the blueprint is out there for opponents to be successful against him; get to his legs. Lujan’s leg defense has been stellar this year, but I would imagine that if he allows his opposition too many chances at it, one of them might score the upset. I don’t think that will happen on his way to the finals, as he dismantled all four of his potential opponents (before the finals) the first time they wrestled this season.
Lujan’s probable opponent in the finals would be Central Michigan’s CJ Brucki. Brucki has had a good season, going 26-7 for the Chippewas and it was he who first put on display that if you get to Lujan’s legs, you can stop his funky offense. That was one of Lujan’s closest wins in conference all year, just 6-3, and a rematch seems likely for the top spot. Trace Engelkes secured the MAC’s third allocation for the weight, but he would have to change around a 15-0 tech fall against Brucki to reach the finals.
1 – Drew Foster, Northern Iowa
2 – Jack Dechow, Old Dominion
3 – Jordan Ellingwood, Central Michigan
4 – Brett Perry, Buffalo
5 – Matt Lemanowicz, Missouri
6 – Bryce Gorman, Northern Illinois
7 – Kayne MacCallum, Eastern Michigan
8/9 – Dontae McGee, Ohio
8/9 – Shane Mast, Kent State
184 is standing on it’s head a little bit this season. The defending MAC Champion, Jordan Ellingwood, is seeded 3rd, while Jack Dechow, the Midlands runner-up, is second. UNI’s Drew Foster has exploded on the scene, going 20-3 this season and is undefeated in conference wrestling. It wasn’t entirely clear who would start for UNI at the weight, but Foster took down Dechow early in the year, 6-2, which led to him earning a permanent place starting. If Foster can continue to wrestle like he has been he shouldn’t have a problem finding his way to the finals on Sunday afternoon.
Dechow and Ellingwood are clearly the best of the non-number-one seeds. As I said above, Dechow made the Midlands finals, falling to TJ Dudley and going 25-3 on the year. The reigning MAC Champion Ellingwood is 24-7, only losing to Dechow and Foster in MAC competition. Missouri’s Matt Lemanowicz might have enough to break through Brett Perry, but Foster just beat Lemanowicz 6-3 in Missouri.
1 – J’den Cox, Missouri
2 – Kevin Beazley, Old Dominion
3 – Shawn Scott, Northern Illinois
4 – Austin Severn, Central Michigan
5 – Stephen Suglio, Kent State
6 – Jacob Holschlag, Northern Iowa
7 – Nate Rose, Buffalo
8/9 – Derek Hillman, Eastern Michigan
8/9 – Nate Hall, Ohio
J’den Cox. Preview Over.
Ok, not really. Anybody but Cox winning would be a huge upset though. He’s 20-0 on the season, and all but five wins have come with bonus points. His closest MAC match was a five point win over Kevin Beazley, the two seed. I can’t see Cox not winning another MAC title.
As for UNI’s chances Jacob Holschlag helped his seeding the last couple of weeks, taking down two ranked wrestlers (Brad Johnson from Oklahoma and Benjamin James from Buffalo). Holschlag is a bit undersized for the weight right now, and really could have used an extra year to grow, but as it is now he’s holding his own. He’ll take on Shawn Scott of Northern Illinois in the first round, and then potentially Kevin Beazley of Old Dominion. Holschlag has not wrestled either in his career.
This is a bit of a tough bracket to preview; the 2-6 seeds have all beaten up on each other, some have lost to wrestlers that others have beat (Holschlag beat Johnson, Johnson beat Beazley), while others haven’t wrestled at all. The good news for Holschlag is that even if he doesn’t qualify for a spot, he should be eligible for a wildcard for the NCAA’s. I’d look for Shawn Scott to meet J’den Cox in the finals, but the bottom of the bracket is a real toss-up.
1 – Zack Parker, Ohio
2 – Austin Myers, Missouri
3 – JJ Everard, Northern Iowa
4 – Newton Smerchek, Central Michigan
5 – Jake Gunning, Buffalo
6 – Gage Hutchison, Eastern Michigan
7 – Devin Nye, Kent State
8/9 – Wil Hilliard, Old Dominion
8/9 – Caleb Gossett, Northern Illinois
Heavyweight is a little bleak for the MAC again this year, although the 285 pounders were able to secure three allocations. The big question for UNI is how healthy JJ Everard will be after sustaining a knee injury against Ohio’s Zack Parker in their match earlier this year. Everard was just starting to find his way in the conference, after getting over an ankle injury and overcoming some personal issues early in the year. If he were 100% I’d have no trouble favoring him over everybody, but since he’s not, it’s really a tossup as to who will secure the three allocations.
Missouri’s Austin Myers is, perhaps surprisingly, the two seed behind Parker. Meyers is just 11-12 on the year, but that does include wins over Jake Gunning, Newton Smerchek, and Everard. Myers does a have a loss to Eastern Michigan’s Jake Gage Hutchison however. The top seeded Parker is undefeated in conference wrestling this season and seems to be the clear front runner for the MAC title. The other two spots are wide open, as Smerchek is no slouch, and Gunning is also an above average heavyweight. With Everard’s heath in question that could leave the third spot ripe for an upset.
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