2016 NCAA Preview: 174 pounds

Notable 174-Pounders to Watch

Editor’s Note: Due to press deadlines, the following profiles of WIN’s ranked wrestlers were written prior to the NCAA qualifying tournaments.

2015-16 Head-to-Head Matchups of Top 10 174

Updated 2016 NCAA Brackets

1. Bo Nickal, Penn State, RS Freshman, Allen, Texas

penn state 174 Nickal_Bo (H-15-MS) 68682015-16 Notes: The young Nittany Lion — two years removed from winning a third Texas state championship — took over the nation’s top spot on Jan. 23 when he pinned Illinois’ Zac Brunson. Prior to that, Nickal won the Southern Scuffle on Jan. 2, when he beat in order Central Michigan’s Michael Ottinger, Cornell’s Brian Realbuto and North Carolina’s Ethan Ramos. Among Nickal’s 26 wins before the Big Tens were seven pins and seven technical falls.

NCAA Resume: 1st tournament

2. Brian Realbuto, Cornell, Junior, Somers, N.Y.

cornell 174 Realbuto_Brian_20132015-16 Notes: Jumping up two weights this winter has not been hard for the Big Red All-American who won the Las Vegas Invite in early December. The defending national runner-up at 157 saw his record reach 30-3 prior to the EIWAs as he avenged a Southern Scuffle loss to Penn’s Casey Kent on Feb. 13.

NCAA Resume: 7-4 (6th, 2nd) in two tournaments — Realbuto competed at 157 pounds the past two seasons and reached the finals with a overtime quarterfinal win over Kent State’s Ian Miller and by injury default over Minnesota’s Dylan Ness before losing to Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez in the finals. One year earlier, the Big Red wrestler finished sixth after winning his first three bouts, including over Iowa’s defending NCAA champ Derek St. John.

3. Zach Epperly, Virginia Tech, Sophomore, Christiansburg, Va.

virginia tech 174 Epperly_Zach_16WR_HEAD_462015-16 Notes: The Hokie only competed in ten matches and an eight-match winning streak prior to the ACCs, but six of those late-season wins earned him bonus points, including three pins.

NCAA Resume: 4-2 (7th) in one tournament — The Hokie lived up to his No. 7 seeding last March when he won his first two bouts before losing 2-1 to eventual champ Matt Brown (Penn State) in the quarterfinals. Epperly clinched AA status when he pinned Blaise Butler (then with Virginia) in 6:25 in the R12. A 3-2 win over NDSU’s Kurtis Julson gave him seventh place.

4. Zac Brunson, Illinois, Junior, Eugene, Ore.

illinois 174 Brunson_DSC0383-12015-16 Notes: The Illini won his first 14 bouts of the season, including six towards winning the championship at the Reno TOC; beating Indiana’s Nate Jackson in the final. Brunson also earned bonus points in 15 matches before the Big Tens, including eight by pin.

NCAA Resume: 5-4 in two tournaments — Brunson went 2-2 as a No. 16 seed at 157 pounds in 2014, then moved up two weights last season when he just missed All-American honors as a No. 11 seed when he lost a R12 bout to top-seed Robert Kokesh (Nebraska).

5. Ethan Ramos, North Carolina, Sophomore, Hawthorne, N.J.

UNC WRESTLING2015-16 Notes: The Tar Heel started the season at 165 pounds but moved up to 174 at the Southern Scuffle where Ramos finished second after beating Oklahoma State’s Kyle Crutchmer in the semifinals. Heading into the ACCs, Ramos stood 20-3 with three pins.

NCAA Resume: 3-3 (6th) in one tournament — Seeded 15th last March at 165 pounds, Ramos defeated Seth Thomas (Oregon State), Austin Wilson (Nebraska) and Pierce Harger (Northwestern) to reach semifinals before losing 5-0 to Indiana’s Taylor Walsh and a pair of consolation bouts.

Other notable wrestlers in alphabetical order:

• By the time Blaise Butler arrived on campus at Missouri — to begin his graduate work — the Tiger already appeared in two NCAA tournaments while representing Virginia. But Butler is still searching for his first All-American honor after he lost in the R12 to Virginia Tech’s Zach Epperly. This season, the native of Belvidere, Ill., stood 17-3 prior to the MAC tournament, including a 3-1 sudden victory over Oklahoma State’s Kyle Crutchmer.

• Oklahoma State’s Kyle Crutchmer opened the season No. 1 in the nation considering the junior from Tulsa, Okla., owned the highest national finish (5th) among returning All-American. But by the end of the regular season, the junior was in jeopardy of losing his starting spot to redshirt freshman Chandler Rogers, who beat Crutchmer at the Southern Scuffle before also beating UNC’s Ethan Ramos on Feb. 19.

Bryce Hammond of CSU Bakersfield got off to a great start to his career by winning two Pac-12 championships and becoming the first Roadrunner since 2010 to earn All-American honors when he finished eight in 2014. Unfortunately, his third season as a starter came to a halt last year because of a shoulder injury. This winter, the native Bakersfield stood 16-3 prior to the conference meet with a championship at the Roadrunner Open and victories over Missouri’s Blaise Butler and Iowa State’s Lelund Weatherspoon.

• Indiana’s Nate Jackson wants to be known by more than just being the only wrestler to beat Penn State’s Bo Nickal (7-6 on Jan. 10). Earlier, the Hoosier finished second at the Reno TOC, where he beat Central Michigan’s Michael Ottinger.

• Iowa’s Alex Meyer took two years to earn a permanent starting spot for the Hawkeyes and stood 21-2 heading into the Big Tens. That includes a third straight placement at the Midlands, claiming third this winter.

Cody Walters of Ohio U. is looking to earn his second All-American honor — the first coming as a redshirt freshman in 2013 when he finished eight — and the Bobcat made a big move towards doing that when he became the first Ohio U. wrestler to win a Midlands title.

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