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Photo: Northwestern’s three-time All-American Ryan Deakin (top) captured his first NCAA title, and school’s first since 2014, when he rallied to beat Princeton’s Quincy Monday at 157 pounds. (John Sachs photo)
By TC LiFonti
Even though Northwestern’s sixth-place finish at the NCAA Division I Championships surprised some people, it came as no surprise to head coach Matt Storniolo and his Wildcats from Evanston, Ill.
“I think there were a lot of people that were surprised with the performance we put together, but they are all people outside of this Northwestern program,” Storniolo said. “We’ve been telling this team since September, when we started training, that this is a special group; that this team could be in the hunt for a team trophy … and we all knew it. I just think some people forgot about us.”
The Wildcats, who came into the championship weekend with ten qualifiers and came two points away from a top-five finish, was able to put four wrestlers on the podium for All-American honors including one champion.
At 125 pounds, Michael DeAugustino finished in fourth place, while Chris Cannon, at 133 pounds, placed seventh. Both won their opening two bouts, lost in their third before coming back to claim All-American status.
Lucas Davison, NU’s heavyweight, would also make it to the quarterfinal round before losing to eventual champion, Gable Steveson. Davison won his next two matches to get into the medal round and placed sixth.
The champion for the Cats was Ryan Deakin at 157 pounds, the program’s first since 2014. For Deakin, this was a long time coming. As a sophomore, he placed sixth and was seeded first in the 2020 NCAAs … but COVID hit. In 2021, he placed third and now, after winning a decisive finals match against Princeton’s Quincy Monday, the Colorado native hugged his coaches and a very emotional Deakin expressed his gratitude for his journey.
“It’s awesome,” Deakin said of how his last three years led him to this moment. “I’ve trained my whole life for this; watched this when I was a little kid. I had one last shot and it means a lot to finish this way.”
Deakin also addressed the team’s finish, and, to him, he sees an NU program headed in the right direction.
“I’ve been at Northwestern a long time,” Deakin said when talking about how much the program has improved. “Storniolo’s done an awesome job, (provides) awesome leadership and bringing in guys and really pushing the Northwestern team forward. Just look at what he’s done since he took over. We had four All-Americans this weekend, we had ten guys here fighting all weekend. It’s really cool to see that.”
For Northwestern, it was team that started off the year with wrestlers in and out of the line-up but performed its best at the season’s end when it mattered most. Storniolo could not be any more complimentary of his team and what they have been able to do, even though he believed it was all possible from the start.
“I am really proud of the effort the last two and a half months now,” Storniolo concluded. “We’ve been building since mid-January. You can see it in the full dual-meet results once we got the full line-up out there. Once we got the team together, we were competing, we were building, and we were turning it on at the same time. So, I am proud of the effort this weekend.”
Illini leading Michigan
Sean Bormet, the Michigan head coach and former Providence Catholic standout, took the Michigan program to another level this season as the Wolverines won the Big Ten Championship team title and placed second at the NCAA Div. I Championships.
For Bormet, whose team truly showcased their strength all season, he was awarded National Coach of the Year honors. Bormet becomes the first Wolverine head coach to receive this award for a program that was celebrating its 100th year.
Adding to the hardware, Michigan earned six All-Americans who proudly stood on the podium. That number ties the program’s record for most AA honors in one season. The Maize and Blue also ended with a 12-1 dual-meet record and on the final night of the 2022 NCAAs, they had two wrestlers in the NCAA finals.
Michigan had three Illinois natives competing in Detroit: Will Lewan (Chicago/Montini Catholic HS), Dylan Ragusin (Elk Grove Village/Montini Catholic) and Patrick Brucki (Orland Park/Carl Sandburg). Lewan placed fifth at 157 pounds and posted a 4-2 record on the weekend. In his fifth-place match, Lewan sent the Wolverine faithful to their feet with a 4-2 sudden-victory win that ended in a body lock that Lewan landed with authority. This is the junior’s first time on the podium.
Ragusin and Brucki each posted 2-2 records in Detroit and come up short of the All-American round. With Michigan’s momentum and their returners, along with some younger wrestlers coming into their own, there is much to be excited about in Ann Arbor.
Other Land of Lincoln All-Americans
University of Iowa senior and Washington alumnus Jacob Warner earned a trip to the finals at the 197-pound weight class. Warner, who is now a four-time All-American for the Hawkeyes, ended his season a national runner-up and the highest-placing All-American of all Illinoisians.
In addition to Warner, Tony Cassioppi, Iowa’s big man and Hononegah alumnus, came away with a seventh-place finish. “I just need to create more action,” Cassioppi said of his losses. “My best wrestling is scoring points and putting it on the guy. I just need to continue keep the pace up, take ground from the guy, and score. I’m a lot better than I placed in the bracket and I feel I just should have done better.”
The Hawkeyes placed third as a team, and Cassioppi spoke to the team’s goals.
“Placing third is not what we want,” Cassioppi said of the team’s aspirations. “You talk to any one of the guys and they’re going to tell you they want more.”
Wisconsin claimed two Illinois natives as All-Americans in Glenbard North’s Austin Gomez and Joliet Catholic’s Dean Hamiti. Gomez, who came off a 149-pound Big Ten championship, finished up his junior campaign with a fourth-place finish on the NCAA podium.
Gomez lost his quarterfinal match, but won three tough matches in a row, including a very emotional victory to push himself into the All-American round. This was Gomez’s first time reaching the podium in what has been his return to college wrestling after leaving the sport in 2020 because of injuries in his three years at Iowa State.
“I have fallen back in love with wrestling and I am coming for that national championship,” he said.
As for Hamiti, the 165-pound true freshman ran away with an incredible season. He placed third at the Big Tens and placed sixth at the national tournament. On the weekend, Hamiti won four of his seven matches and the future looks very bright for the young Badger wrestling for Chris Bono and staff in Madison.
Finally, Nebraska’s Eric Schultz, who helped the Huskers to a fifth-place team finish with seventh-place All-American honors, has wrestled his final bout. The senior 197-pound three-time Big Ten runner-up earned AA honors for the first time in his career. In the past two seasons, Schultz has been 18-0 in dual meets and 32-7 overall and standing on the podium in Detroit marks the end of a very strong, successful, and consistent career for the Tinley Park alum.
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