Photo: Sam Janicki

Big Ten Dark Horses


This big ten tournament is probably going to go down as one of the most stacked conference tournaments of all time with the free year and guys coming back to achieve what they did not in years prior. With this there might be some underdogs who have a very good chance of winning but maybe did not have the greatest start to their season or possibly just overshadowed by the great talent at the weight class. We will be taking a look at who I feel is the biggest dark horse at each weight class.


Malik Heinselman (Ohio State)

I would have said Drew Hildebrant at this weight class being the only guy that I feel has the potential to knock off Suriano should things go his way but I do not know how much of an underdog he really is.

Heinselman has been on a tear recently, having a slow start to the season he has more than made up for it with wins over Patrick McKee and Drake Ayala. He did have a loss to Hildebrant at the dual meet and this seemed to be a more getting out from bottom issue but with Hildebrant’s very solidified top offense this may be a problem again.

Heinselman will be looking to most likely pull the three seed or the four seed. The three seed is the better outcome which sets up a rematch with Hildebrandt in the semis. If he pulls the four seed that sets up a rematch with Suriano which did not go too well for him the first time.

Overall with the performance he has had recently Heinselman could very well place top three or even make the finals with a decent upset.


Rayvon Foley (Michigan State)

There are a couple of names that could be talked about here with Lucas Byrd, Dylan Ragusin, and Chris Cannon. With all of these guys ranked 6-8 consecutively I feel that Rayvon Foley has the biggest dark horse potential.

In seemingly a two man race at the top between #1 Roman Bravo-Young and #3 Austin Desanto it does not look too promising that any underdog can break into the top 2 at the big ten tournament. However we have seen crazier things happen in the postseason and RBY or Desanto getting upset is not too out of the question.

Foley is currently ranked number 7 by intermat and holds a 25-2 record so far this season. Last season he moved up from 125 pounds to 133 and that seemed to hurt him a little. This year he started off a little slow but is seeming more and more comfortable each and every match.


Chad Red Jr. (Nebraska)

Whether you consider him a dark horse being a 4x All American Chad Red has the potential to bust this bracket at big tens. He looked solid against Jaydin Eierman where a rough 4 point exchange was the difference in the outcome. It is crazy to see a 4x All American most likely pulling a 4 seed at the conference tournament but that is what is possibly the deepest weight in the conference.

Red is currently ranked #10 after taking an early loss to Kizhan Clarke this season. That number 10 ranking my no means demonstrates his actual ability. If Red shows up he could be a problem but if he doesn’t then it might be a rough one for him.


Beau Bartlett (Penn State)

Not too surprising I feel. Everyone else in this weight class at the top is established in my opinion, Bartlett just needs to make that last step and qualify for the national tournament and possibly look to All American.

Looking at this field it will be no easy task with Sasso, Murin, Gomez, Lovett. Thomas and more. Bartlett has the potential to get it done but he will need to catch fire and catch fire early at that.

His chances of winning or busting the bracket are not that high but you cannot really count him out of a match. With Nick Lee in his final season it is an assumption of most that Bartlet will be looking to cut down to a more natural weight of 141 pounds which may make his career more interesting.


Brady Berge (Penn State)

This is Deakin’s weight and I do not see that changing because of Berge cutting down to 157. That being said Berge if he pulls the bottom half of the bracket has the straight up ability to beat everyone up until then. He had a head to head win over Kaleb Young of Iowa last season in the national tournament before injury defaulting out.

Overall this field has not been too impressive in the big ten with the exception of Deakin. With the news of Brayton Lee out it may shake some things up as well.


Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin)

Is he a dark horse? Probably not, but I am going to leave him anyway. The true freshman has been dominating some of the best wrestlers in the country on a weekly basis and it is scary to say the least. He is my pick to win the bracket, right now I have it 50/50 with Kharchla assuming Hamiti gets past Marinelli which seems to be the path to his downfall.

Hamiti has been phenomenal; there is not much more to say. He is legitimately good and the trend of freshman winning national titles may just be continued…


Mikey Labriola (Nebraska)

This is a weight class that is pretty much bunched within the top 4. With Labriola just knocking off Kemerer this past weekend he will most likely pull the 3 seed behind Massa and Starocci setting up a rematch with Massa in the semifinals.

Kemerer will probably get tossed on the top half of the bracket which may just be bad news for Starocci so who knows how this final really turns out. The fact of this is Labriola has looked great and has seemed to have his mind on point which is sometimes his downfall. If he can keep this going there is a chance he can win this.


Taylor Venz (Nebraska)

As we have seen in the past and this weekend, Venz is dangerous. You can be up by ten and if he gets something and puts you on your back it is over. He handed Aaron Brooks the only loss in his collegiate career and he should not be counted out.

With Brooks, Amine, and Romero, Malczewski, and Poznanski ahead of him you should in theory expect him to fall at a 6 or maybe 7 seed which maybe is the best draw for him. Puts him on the bottom half of the bracket and maybe he gets by Romero and Amine to make the finals.

Again probably not too likely of a scenario based on how good Amine and Romero have looked this season but I would not be too quick to count anything out here.


Patrick Brucki (Michigan)

At this point there is no way of telling if someone is the favorite or a dark horse to be honest so let’s toss Brucki in here. He has taken a few losses that maybe he should not have but his neutral game has been solid this season.

Dean ended up defeating him in sudden victory after a rideout in the third period who a lot of people consider to be the favorite at this weight.

All that Brucki needs to do is show up and be 100% and be mentally prepared for a bunch of dogfight matches that he will have to get through. That will be what most likely wins this weight.


Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State)

It’s hard to make a case for anyone defeating the Olympic Champ, Kerkvliet seemingly has the best shot based on their prior matchups being the last person to score a takedown on Steveson in his collegiate career.

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Akil Murugan
Akil Murugan
Senior Editor for Heavyweight Nation

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