6 seniors poised for their 1st NCAA wrestling titles in their final year of eligibility

The start of the 2022-2023 NCAA wrestling season means the return of a number of elite collegiate champions, and, for a number of top seniors, this year’s schedule also signifies their last shot at one of the most coveted honors in folkstyle wrestling: an NCAA title. Only ten athletes every year earn this distinction, and for those who have been chasing this goal for the last four, five or six years, the final year of collegiate wrestling means more.

Here are six seniors who have yet to win an NCAA title but who could be in a good position to accomplish their goal this year.

Note: Everyone on this list has previously earned All-American honors, and, in many cases, they’ve already competed in an NCAA final, finishing second. These individuals are also athletes with just one year of eligibility remaining. They’ve been close to topping their weight, but they’re still looking for gold. There are, of course, a number of athletes who are seniors according to their academic record but will still have eligibility beyond this season. Those athletes are not on this list. This is a list reserved just for those wrestlers with one more season left in their collegiate careers, one more season to fight for NCAA championship honors.

1.    Mason Parris, Michigan, heavyweight

Michigan All-American Mason Parris moved to Ann Arbor in 2018 with big goals and high expectations. A three-sport athlete in high school, the Wolverine big man ended his prep career with a 206-1 record and went undefeated in his final three seasons at Lawrenceburg High School. His credentials were undoubtedly impressive, and the Wolverines were looking to him to make an immediate impact on the collegiate scene. As a true freshman, Parris finished in the Round of 12 at the NCAA tournament following losses to Matt Stencel of Central Michigan and Sam Stoll of Iowa, but his athleticism and strength were clear, even as he came up just short of the podium.

HEAVYWEIGHT DEPTH: These were some of the best big men last season

The following year, Parris jumped levels. He roared through his dual schedule, beating everyone from Stencel to All-Americans Christian Lance, Trent Hillger and Tony Cassioppi. Parris looked nearly unstoppable — until he ran into eventual Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson of Minnesota. In the first match of what would become a highly-anticipated rivalry series, at least early on, Steveson topped Parris 8-6 in the 2020 Big Ten finals. This match would ultimately mark the end of the season due to the pandemic, but Parris picked right back up where he left off in 2021. He started the next year — his third season at Michigan — with notable wins over All-Americans Tate Orndorff, Greg Kerkvliet and Cassioppi before dropping to Steveson in the Big Ten finals, and then again in the NCAA finals to finish second.

Heading into the 2022 season, Parris was a favorite to make another finals run, and he initially looked sharp, topping Orndorff by fall in an intense Ohio State-Michigan dual in January before taking a loss to Kerkvliet 8-5. A loss to Steveson the following week gave Parris an No. 4 seed at the Big Ten tournament, and, after dropping matches to Kerkvliet and Steveson again in the conference tournament, Parris finished in that fourth spot before earning the No. 7 seed at the NCAA tournament. Wins over Ben Goldin, Nathan Traxler, Orndorff, Cassioppi and Davison helped Parris earn a fifth-place finish at NCAAs, and while the second All-American trophy was a nice reward for the Wolverine, he wants more. Parris revealed at the end of last season that he was not at full strength in the 2022 season due to an injury, but he assured fans that he would be back and this season.

After four years of development in the Michigan room, Parris is certainly in a good position to end his career on top for the Wolverines, and with Steveson likely done with college wrestling, Parris’ potential to win gold increases even more. Heavyweight, though, remains deep, and Parris could again run into NCAA finalist Cohlton Schultz of Arizona State, an athlete who beat Parris 6-5 last season, on his quest for gold. Penn State’s Kerkvliet will also be back, as will Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi, though Parris has never lost to this Hawkeye foe. All-Americans Hillger, Lucas Davison and Orndorff add depth to the weight as well, but Parris is certainly in the title conversation. Michigan had a senior NCAA champion last year at 125 pounds, could they have a heavyweight senior champ this year?

2.    Quincy Monday, Princeton, 157 pounds 

Quincy Monday has been a name to know at 157 pounds throughout his career, but his national finals run in 2022 put the spotlight on him in a new way. Monday qualified for the NCAA tournament for the third time in his career last season after winning the EIWA tournament and finishing the regular season with a 9-2 dual record. He earned the No. 5 seed and beat Connor Brady, Justin Wright, Scott and Will Lewan on his way to secure a championship match against Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin. The Wildcat senior ended up beating Monday 9-2, but Deakin has since graduated, opening up an opportunity to Monday to take control.

PRINCETON WRESTLING: Everything you need to know about the Tigers ahead of the 2022-2023 season

Monday is currently ranked No. 4 up a weight at 165 pounds, though the Tiger senior is expected to drop down to 157 pounds following the All-Star Classic on Nov.  22. The lighter of the two weight classes is even more advantageous for Monday, given just how deep 165 pounds is with three NCAA champs and a number of All-Americans, though Monday could certainly compete at both 157 and 165 pounds.

As one of the leaders of a Princeton program on the rise, Monday had the potential to feel more pressure to match and improve upon his performance in last year’s tournament. After all, he’s not just an NCAA qualifier anymore, he’s a national finalist. These expectations, don’t weigh down Monday. He still wrestles with the same mindset, and he has every intention of being a national champion in his final season.

“I feel like we still have that chip on our shoulder,” Monday said in a previous interview with NCAA.com. “We really want to go out with a bang and put an exclamation mark on the top of [next] season.”

3.    Jacob Warner, Iowa, 197 pounds

Jacob Warner was one point away from winning his first NCAA title last season against Penn State’s Max Dean. One point. As the Hawkeye senior gears up for a final run at a national title with the Black and Gold, he has to know he’s close to where he wants to be, but the challenge will be clearing that final hurdle.

After taking three dual losses last year to Yonger Bastida, Max Dean and Eric Schultz, Warner came into the 2022 NCAA finals as the No. 6 seed and notched big early wins against Alan Clothier, Thomas Penola and Schultz to book his first ticket to the NCAA semifinals. His 6-4 win over Wyoming’s Stephen Buchanan not only put Warner in the national finals but it also meant that Iowa’s streak of having one NCAA finalist in every national tournament since 1990 would continue. Warner may not have been the likeliest Hawkeye to earn that finals spot, but he took advantage of the opportunity and battled against Penn State’s Max Dean in the championship bout. Heading into that dual, Dean had an 8-3 win over Warner from the Iowa-Penn State dual, but Warner kept the match closer in March, losing 3-2.

IOWA’S TEAM TITLE: Complete results from the 2021 NCAA wrestling tournament

Despite falling short, Warner’s performance at last year’s NCAA tournament suggests that he can win a title in his final season. He’s improved every season, moving from seventh as a freshman to 4th in 2021 and now second in 2022. Warner is the kind of wrestler who can take some losses in the season and find a way to end up on the podium on the big stage, and 2023 could be the year that he breaks through, finds a way to beat Dean and become another NCAA champion for the Hawkeyes.

Warner will have his first chance for redemption against Dean on Jan. 27 when Penn State hosts the Hawkeyes in the Bryce Jordan Center. He could, of course, meet the Nittany Lion again in the Big Ten Tournament as well. Neither Warner nor Dean are particularly funky on the mat, but they are both fundamental, solid and powerful, creating a fun matchup.

4.    Michael McGee, Arizona State, 133 pounds

Wrestling in the Pac-12, Michael McGee doesn’t always receive the credit he deserves at 133 pounds. While he’ll face a number of tough challenges at the weight this year if he wants to win his first national title, McGee’s improvements over the last three years combined with his podium finishes in 2021 and 2022 deserve recognition.

McGee started his career at Old Dominion in the fall of 2017 and immediately became a valuable contributor to the Monarchs as a true freshman. He won the conference tournament, qualified for the NCAA tournament and beat Paul Bianchi before ultimately ending his tournament with a 1-2 record after losses to Sean Fausz and Sean Russell. One year later, McGee returned to the big stage and progressed to the Round of 12 but missed the podium after dropping his Blood Round match to Pat Glory 7-1. He then redshirted the 2020 season and transferred to Arizona State following Old Dominion’s decision to cut the program.

Since becoming a Sun Devil, McGee has become an even more polished wrestler, someone who is not only winning matches at the NCAA tournament but competing for national titles. In 2021, McGee earned his first All-American honor after a sixth-place finish, and he improved upon that performance in 2022 with a fourth-place finish at 133 pounds. He wrestled a tough dual schedule as a Sun Devil too, beating All-Americans Korbin Myers and Devan Turner last year and notching additional notable victories over Dylan Ragusin, Micky Phillippi and Chance Rich. McGee’s career results show a clear upward trajectory, and though he’ll still have NCAA finalist Daton Fix and NCAA champion Roman Bravo-Young in his weight, McGee has wrestled tough against both of those guys by holding them to a decision, and he could be a dangerous landmine in the bracket come March.

5.    Nino Bonaccorsi, Pittsburgh, 197 pounds

Pittsburgh’s Nino Bonaccorsi comes into the 2022-2023 season ranked No. 10 on Intermat, a ranking that doesn’t necessarily suggest he’s in the title conversation just yet, but Bonaccorsi has proven people wrong before. A two-time ACC champion, Bonaccorsi has been a consistent force for the Panthers since he first entered the starting lineup in 2018 at 184 pounds. He advanced to the Round of 12 as a redshirt freshman and qualified for the national tournament again as the No. 10 seed in 2020 at 184 pounds before the COVID cancellation. Bumping up to 197 pounds the following season proved to be a wise decision for the Pennsylvania native, as he entered the national tournament seeded No. 6 and methodically worked his way through the bracket, majoring Nick Stemmet and Jay Aiello before beating Kordell Norfleet and Jake Woodley by matching scores of 4-1. Bonaccorsi ultimately fell to eventual NCAA champion AJ Ferrari that year, but his tournament run showed that he knows what it takes to advance to an NCAA final, and he’s ready to make another run.

Bonaccorsi is the first to admit that the 2022 season — the year after his runner-up national finish — didn’t end the way he wanted. He lost to Gavin Hoffman of Ohio State, a No. 21 seed at the time, in sudden victory and then lost to Missouri’s Rocky Elam in the Blood Round to finish just off the podium less than 12 months after nearly winning a national title. In an interview with Fanco, Bonaccorsi said that he’s working on putting those results behind him while still taking lessons from the heartbreak. He doesn’t want to overly focus on the fact that this year will be his last, but he is determined to use his talents and experiences to help elevate his team and, as he said, ideally bring an ACC team title back to Pittsburgh.

Throughout his career, Bonaccorsi has wrestled some of the best that the 197-pound weight class offers, and while he does not have a win over defending NCAA champion Max Dean, he does have elite career wins over All-Americans Patrick Brucki, Gavin Hoffman, Jake Woodley and Hunter Bolen. He’ll be tested early this year as part of Pitt’s grueling and challenging dual schedule, and he could see an All-American opponent as early as Nov. 19 when Pitt takes on Lehigh. Bonaccorsi certainly has the potential to make a national title run, and he’s shown he’s on the same level as some of the best 197-pounders in the country. His potential match-up against Lehigh’s Michael Beard will be a chance to see where he’s at this season, but, regardless of how that match goes, Bonaccorsi will be someone to watch as the season heats up.

6.    Patrick Glory, Princeton, 125 pounds 

Of all of the athletes on this list, Princeton’s Patrick Glory might have the biggest challenge ahead of him on his quest for a national title. The 125-pound All-American took second in last year’s NCAA tournament after a competitive match with Michigan’s Nick Suriano. While Suriano has since graduated, Iowa’s three-time NCAA champion and two-time Hodge Trophy winner Spencer Lee returns to take over the No. 1 pre-season ranking after sitting out last year with an injury. For Glory to win his first championship honor, he’ll likely have to get past Lee, and the Princeton senior is 0-2 against the Hawkeye champ.

Facing Lee is a reality that Glory is well aware of, and it’s one that excites him.

“I really know I can wrestle with him on our feet, and I know I can avoid giving up backpoints,” Glory said in an interview with FloWrestling. “Even if I give up a takedown, I know I can wrestle back…I think it’s going to be a lot closer than it’s been.”

In his first match against Lee back in 2018, Glory lost by tech fall in the second period, but he narrowed the gap between himself and the Hawkeye champ in their next meeting, losing 12-6 but lasting the full seven minutes. Now, Glory is a more developed wrestler. He’s spent three years, including a COVID gap season, refining his skills, growing into his role as a Princeton leader and sharpening his wrestling IQ. There’s a confidence to Glory’s wrestling style, but he competes smart. Winning a national title at 125 pounds has been a goal for the Tiger star for years, and now he’ll have one final opportunity.

Glory holds 74-9 record heading into this final season, and he’s lost just twice in the last two years, a fact that demonstrates his strength at a weight class that has included a number of elite stars. Twice last year, Glory beat Olympic Trials finalist Vito Arujau, with both wins coming by major decision. Arujau is expected to bump up to 133 pounds this year, though Glory mentions in his FloWrestling interview that he wouldn’t be surprised to see his Cornell rival back down at 125 pounds by the end of the year. Few fans would be shocked if Glory returns to the national finals this year. The big question will be how he performs against Spencer Lee, a legend at the weight and someone looking for his fourth national title.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.