A knee injury hampered Iowa’s Derek St. John (right) for much of last season until he ignored the pain, winning the Big Ten championship and finishing second at the NCAAs.
What a difference in two months there was for the eventual NCAA runner-up last season. Even though the native of Parnell, Iowa, earned All-American (fourth) honors as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and opened the 2012 season with 11 straight wins, St. John ran into a tough stretch at midseason, primarily because of a knee injury. Because of that, the Hawkeye missed the Midlands and seven dual meets. An when he returned to action in late January, St. John lost to Ohio State’s Josh Demas and was majored by Oregon State’s Roger Pena at the National Duals.
But instead of falling to the wayside, St. John battled back to win his first Big Ten championship as he captured nine straight matches, including a pair of wins over Penn State’s Dylan Alton and Northwestern’s Jason Welch in both the conference and NCAA tournament.
St. John’s only setback in the postseason was to eventual champion Kyle Dake of Cornell in the NCAA finals. And with Dake moving up a weight, the Hawkeye (21-3 last season) returns for his junior year with a top preseason ranking and 45-9 career mark.
2. Dylan Alton, Penn State, Sophomore
One-half of the twin-brother act, Dylan dominated in his redshirt freshman season last winter, when the native of Mill Hall, Pa., finished 30-6 and earned his first All-American (third) honor at the NCAAs. Alton’s only loss in St. Louis was a 3-1 overtime setback to Iowa’s St. John in the quarterfinals. But he came back to win four wrestlebacks, including a 7-5 overtime win over returning All-American Ganbayar Sanjaa of American and a 6-2 win over another Big Ten rival: Jason Welch of Northwestern.
Before coming to State College, Dylan was a three-time Pennsylvania state champion for Central Mountain High School, where his career mark was 178-5.
3. Jason Welch, Northwestern, Senior
Has it been four years since this native of Walnut Creek, Calif., won three state championships at Las Lomas High School, where he was 194-7 and captured the 2008 Junior Hodge Trophy?
Since then, the Wildcat has compiled an 82-20 career mark at Northwestern, including a 9-7 mark at three NCAA tournaments. That included a 2-2 mark in the 2009 NCAAs as a true freshman. After redshirting in 2010, Welch came back to become the ‘Cats 15th all-time two-time All-American; finishing sixth in 2011 (when he was 29-7) and fourth last March (27-3).
4. James Fleming, Clarion, Senior
Since becoming a starter as a true freshman in 2009-10, the native of West Mifflin, Pa., has appeared in three NCAAs and compiled a 92-16 career mark at this western Pennsylvania school. That has included consecutive 30-win seasons the past two winters, when he was 31-4 in 2011 and 33-4 last March. Fleming’s third national appearance was also a charm when it came to capturing his first All-American honor with a fifth-place finish in St. Louis. But that came after Fleming lost in overtime to Nebraska’s James Green in the second round, before the Eagle battled back to win four of five consolation contests. That included a pin against Princeton’s Dan Kolodzik in the Round of 12 and a 7-5 win over American’s Ganbayar Sanjaa in the fifth-place match.
5. James Green, Nebraska, Sophomore
The native of Willingboro, N.J., is probably tired of people comparing him to another New Jersey native and All-American from Nebraska: Jordan Burroughs, the two-time NCAA champ, Hodge Trophy winner, 2011 World champ and 2012 Olympic gold medalist.
But it is significant what the former NJ state champion did as a true freshman in Lincoln last winter when he finished 34-9 and eventually claimed his first All-American honor (seventh) in St. Louis. Green used an upset win over No. 6 seed James Fleming of Clarion to reach the NCAA quarterfinals, where he lost 2-1 to Northwestern’s Jason Welch. In the wrestlebacks, the Husker won two of three bouts, including a 9-1 major decision over Harvard’s Walter Peppelman in the seventh-place match.
6. Walter Peppelman, Harvard, Senior
Since coming out of Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg, Pa., where he was a four-time state placer and champion as a junior, Peppelman became an immediate starter for the Crimson in 2010 and has compiled a 92-30 career mark with two All-American honors. Peppelman claimed eighth-place in the last two NCAAs.
In 2011, when he was 33-9, Peppelman pinned his first NCAA foe in 32 seconds. After losing in the second round to Iowa’s St. John, the Harvard wrestler won three wrestlebacks, including a 6-4 win over Indiana’s Paul Young in the Round of 12 to claim his first AA honor. Last year, the Crimson was 30-7 and seeded No. 4 in St. Louis, where he lost by fall to Northern Iowa’s David Bonin, but battled back to win four consolation bouts, including a 2-1 win over Bloomsburg’s Frank Hickman in the Round of 12.
7. Frank Hickman, Bloomsburg, Senior
The native Castle Hayne, N.C., has appeared in two NCAAs for the Huskies, but last year was the first year Hickman reached the quarterfinals after beating both Navy’s Bobby Barnhisel and Binghamton’s Justin Lister. After losing to eventual champion Kyle Dake of Cornell, the Huskie just missed an AA honor when he lost in the Round of 12 to Harvard’s Peppelman, 2-1.
Hickman enters his senior season with a 75-22 career record, including 31-7 last winter and 27-11 in 2011 when he went 1-2 at the NCAAs.
8. Jesse Dong, Virginia Tech, Senior
No one can question the dedication of this native of Westerville, Ohio, who has overcome multiple injuries, including last winter when he started off the year 7-0 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Fortunately, the Hokie earned a medical redshirt to return this season as a two-time ACC champion and three-time NCAA qualifier.
The former Ohio state high school champion immediately appeared in the Tech line-up as a true freshman in 2009. After going 27-11 and 0-2 in the NCAAs that winter, Dong compiled a 32-4 record as a sophomore in 2010, but just missed out on AA honors with a 2-2 NCAA record in Omaha. In 2010-11, Dong had planned to redshirt but returned to action in January and eventually finished 20-3. He was seeded No. 5 at the NCAAs but lost in the second round to Indiana’s Paul Young.
9. Roger Pena, Oregon State, Junior
The Beaver sandwiched a redshirt season in 2010-11 between two years as a starter at 149 pounds in 2010 at 149 pounds and at 157 last March when he qualified for his first national tournament. Coming out of Salem Ore., and Sprague High School, where he won four state titles and won 147 straight matches, Pena compiled a 29-13 mark with 13 falls as a true freshman and finished fifth in the Pac-10 tournament. Last season, Pena captured his first Pac-12 title and finished with a 30-11 mark. That included a 2-2 mark in St. Louis, where he defeated North Carolina’s Corey Mock and Ohio State’s Josh Demas but lost to Iowa’s St. John and Harvard’s Peppelman.
10. David Bonin, Northern Iowa, Senior
It’s been four years since the native of Broussard, La., found a home in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where he has started three years and qualified for both the 2011 and 2012 NCAA tournaments. Two years ago, the Panther finished 26-13, pinned Iowa’s St. John during the regular season and split four matches at the NCAAs; beating Matt Kaylor of Binghamton and Bryan Deutsch of Northern Illinois. Last season, Bonin claimed a 30-9 mark and upset Harvard’s Peppelman in the first round of the national tournament. Unfortunately, he lost to Princeton’s Dan Kolodzik and Columbia’s Jake O’Hara in consecutive matches.
11. Matt Lester, Oklahoma, Junior
This Sooner has qualified for the NCAAs the past two years, winning one match in each of the national tournaments and earning a 40-20 career record. As a redshirt freshman in 2011, the St. Louis native began the season at 157 pounds before dropping down to 149 to finish 19-9 with a victory over Gardner-Webb’s Ryan Medved at the Nationals. Last season, he moved up to 157 and posted a 21-11 mark with a second-place finish at the Big 12s and a 13-0 major decision over NC State’s Colton Palmer.
12. Drake Houdashelt, Missouri, Sophomore
As a redshirt freshman, the native of O’Fallon, Mo., had a banner year for the Tigers; going 28-7, winning a Big 12 championship and qualifying for his first NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, Houdashelt was unseeded in St. Louis, and matched up with eventual national runner-up St. John of Iowa in the first round. That sent the Tiger to the wrestlebacks, where he immediately lost to North Dakota State’s Steven Monk.
Earlier in the year, the former two-time state champion from Fort Zumwalt West High School, earned the starting spot after finishing third at the Southern Scuffle, where he was 6-1. In becoming just the second all-time Missouri wrestler to capture a conference title at 157, Houdashelt avenged a pair of losses to Oklahoma’s Matt Lester in the Big 12 final. The Tiger also won three matches on the season against Oklahoma State’s Albert White.
13. Scott Winston, Rutgers, Senior
Winston has returned to 157 pounds after competing the last two seasons at 165. Since following his high school coach, Scott Goodale, from Jackson (N.J.) Memorial High School — where Winston won four state championships and compiled a perfect 137-0 record — to Rutgers, the Scarlet Knight has qualified for three national tournaments. The first time came in 2009, when his 39 victories at 157 pounds led the nation. A fourth-place EIWA finish sent him to the NCAAs, where he was 1-2, beating Jason Johnstone. One year later, Winston redshirted and then moved up to 165 pounds for both his sophomore and junior seasons.
In 2011, Winston became Rutgers first EIWA champion since 2000 and reached the NCAA quarterfinals — losing to Nebraska’s Jordan Burroughs — as the No. 8 seed and just missed All-American honors when he lost in the Round of 12 to Lehigh’s Brandon Hatchett. Last season, Winston finished 19-8 overall and was unseeded at the NCAAs, where he lost to Hofstra’s Paul Gillespie and Kyle Blevins of Appalachian State.
14. Josh Kreimer, Air Force, Junior
The native of Ft. Collins, Colo., competed at 149 and 157 pounds, respectively, the past two years and qualified for his first national tournament last March. In compiling a 26-16 record last winter, he fell just one win short of earning All-American honors. After opening with a victory over Boise State’s George Ivanov, Kreimer lost to eventual champion Kyle Dake of Cornell. Once in consolation, the Falcon defeated both Brian Tanen of Lehigh and Binghamton’s Justin Lister before Dylan Alton of Penn State eliminated Kreimer.
Kreimer came to the academy from Loveland High School, where he was a three-time state finalist and won one state title.
15. Josh Demas, Ohio State, Sophomore
One of seven freshmen in the Buckeye line-up, this hometown favorite from Columbus qualified for the national tournament in his first season as a starter. Compiling a 22-15 mark, Demas’ biggest win may have come against Iowa’s St. John in a regular-season dual meet. He later finished sixth at the Big Tens and won one of three bouts at the Nationals; beating Donnie Corby of Central Michigan in a consolation bout.
Before coming to OSU, Demas was a four-time state place-winner at Westerville North High School, where he won a state title as a junior.
16. George Ivanov, Boise State, Senior
The native of Council Bluffs, Iowa, qualified for his first NCAA Div. I national tournament last March. This came after he finished second and third at the NCAA Div. II nationals in 2010 and 2011 for Nebraska-Omaha, which dropped its program before last season. In compiling a 22-8 mark, Ivanov’s biggest wins came against Oregon State’s Roger Pena, who lost twice to his conference rival in the regular season before beating Ivanov in last year’s Pac-12 tournament.
17. Corey Mock, North Carolina, Junior
The son of Tar Heel coach C.D. Mock, this hometown favorite — who won four state titles for Chapel Hill High School, has compiled a 63-29 career mark in his two years as a starter. In 2011, Mock was 36-17 with 11 falls and qualified for his first national tournament, when he pinned Northern Illinois’ Bryan Deutsch in his first NCAA match. He later defeated Illinois’ Jackson Morse before being eliminated by Buffalo’s Mark Lewandowski. Last season, Mock was 27-12 and 1-2 in the NCAAs where he defeated Missouri’s Drake Houdashelt
18. John Nicholson, Old Dominion, Junior
The younger brother of ODU’s four-time All-American James Nicholson, this native of Des Moines, Iowa, became an immediate starter in 2010, when he finished 23-8. One year later, the Monarch was 27-8 — leading the team in wins — and qualified for his first national tournament. Unfortunately, Nicholson drew eventual champion Kyle Dake of Cornell in the first round, but came back to beat Boise State’s George Ivanov, 11-4, in a consolation bout.
19. Aaron Sulzer, Eastern Michigan, Senior
The native of Cleveland, Ohio, and Holy Name High School is a three-year starter for the Eagles. After going 15-16 in 2010, Sulzer qualified for the NCAAs the past two winters. That included last year when he took second in the MAC tournament and won one of three bouts at the Nationals with a consolation win over Navy’s Bobby Barnhisel.
20. Jake O’Hara, Columbia, Senior
After finishing just 21-26 his first two seasons in New York City, the native of Mountaintop, Pa., exploded to a 30-16 record last winter and qualified for his first national tournament. The former three-time Pennsylvania state placer for Crestwood High School also won two bouts in last year’s Nationals; beating Albert White of Oklahoma State and Northern Iowa’s David Bonin.
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