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These Dark Horse Lightweights are Poised to Upset the Nation This Year

There are always unexpected wrestlers who aren’t well known but still achieve greatness. At last year’s tournament, 16 of the 80 All-Americans were ranked outside the top 10. Seeing a lower–seeded wrestler make an extraordinary dark horse run is truly remarkable and something that every fan remembers watching. 

A great example of a dark horse NC State’s Kevin Jack freshman year run through the 141 bracket. The unseeded true freshmen upset the#4,  #5, #11, and #12 seeds, to finish 5th. 

With a story like Jack’s run, let’s take a look at some dark horse wrestlers who may have the potential to make some noise in March. For each weight class there are two types of “dark horse” One who has potential to be an All-American, and one who has a real chance to win it all.

125lbs Dark Horses

All-American Potential: #12 Malik Heinselman (Ohio State) 

Heinselman qualified for the NCAA Championships in 2020 then again in 2021 after a strong season. Earlier in the year he defeated All-American Rayvon Foley (Michigan State) and Eric Barnett (Wisconsin), who eventually placed that year. In 2021 Heinselman received the #10 seed, but was upset by #20 Robert Howard (Penn State). He didn’t have the tournament he wanted. But, after a summer of training, Heinselman has come back stronger than ever. In the second dual of the 2021-2022 season, he upset Virginia Tech’s All-American Sam Latona. The Buckeye is definitely good enough to make the stand this year.

Champion Potential: #2 Patrick Glory (Princeton)

Let’s be real, anyone but Spencer Lee is a dark horse to win this weight. The man is just too dominant in a field filled with returning All-Americans. However, if anyone has the skill set to match Spencer Lee, it’s Princeton’s Patrick Glory. The drama already started between Glory and Lee when neither team weighed in their 125 lbs wrestlers in the November 25 dual meet. Glory did not compete last year due to the Ivy League’s withdrawal from competition. Though he has two losses to Spencer Lee in 2019, a lot can change in just a few years.

133lbs Dark Horses

All-American Potential: #15 Brian Courtney (Virginia)

After wrestling up a weight last year, Brian Courtney, moves into this new year ranked as the 15th best wrestler in the country at 133lbs. In front of this Sophomore’s way stands many tough foes that he will cross paths with. Courtney, qualified last year for Nationals and won his first match before falling to familiar ACC foe Tariq Wilson, and then again to Ohio State’s Dylan D’Emilio. Courtney also holds a major decision win over 3x qualifier and 2018 8th place finisher Sa’Derian Perry  The returning qualifier looks to take it up a notch to help #18 Virginia start the season strong.

Champion Potential: #5 Micky Phillipi (Pittsburgh)

Micky Phillipi has always been on the edge of glory. This year could be his. Since 2019, Philippi has a record of 56-9; however, 5 of those losses were to athletes ranked ahead of him. Philippi is hungry. After qualifying in 2019 and 2021 and winning the 2020 ACC championship  Philippi, still has yet to place, but has made the infamous blood round on two occasions. If he finds a way to overcome those ranked losses this year, he can take it all. Sure, he just got stuck by Lehigh’s Malyke Hines, but that was a defensive fall. And Phillippi is one of only three wrestlers to hand two-time NCAA finalist, Daton Fix, a career loss.

141lbs Dark Horses

All American Potential: #13 Kizhan Clarke (North Carolina)

Kizhan Clarke is so far the only wrestler on this list who has yet to even qualify for the NCAA tournament. So why Clarke? The North Carolina wrestler is 7-6 in the EIWA tournament since he wrestled for American prior to this year. Even though he has never qualified, the Tar Heel senior has shown signs of astounding potential in his career. Two of those bigger results include a win over Michigan’s Kanan Storr who is ranked #23 at 149, and a 2 time national qualifier, and a sudden victory loss to 2021 national champ Austin O’Connor. Recently he even posted a 3-1 SV win over top-5 ranked Chad Red (Nebraska). 141 lbs is a super legit weight, but Clarke has the potential to reach the podium.

Champion Potential #5 Dom Demas (Oklahoma)

141 is one of the most top-heavy weights in all of college wrestling this year. The top 4 (Eierman, Lee, Micic, Rivera) are all clear top dogs. However Dom Demas is on the outside and now looking to head in. The Oklahoma Junior has had success in the freestyle aspect of the sport making the 23u world team at 65kg (about 143lbs). Demas also holds something not many in college wrestling can claim-a win over 2021 NCAA Champion Nick Lee. Not too long ago back in 2019 the young Oklahoma freshman came out of nowhere and placed 4th in the country, beating the future 2021 national champ in the consolation semifinals 13-9. Lookout 141 lbs, Demas is about to come alive!

149lbs Dark Horses

All-American Potential: #15 Ridge Lovett (Nebraska)

Gotta love it with Lovett. This sophomore burst onto the scene in 2020 as a freshman. A win over Taylor LaMont at 133 put him on the rise. Also in 2020, he had a close 1-0 loss to Iowa’s Austin DeSanto. In 2021, he moved up to his current weight of 149 and pulled off an incredible upset against Max Murin the Hawkeye at 149lbs. And after a memorable 2021 Big Ten Championships, where he made the finals against Sammy Sasso, Lovett is due for a big showing at NCAAs.

Champion Potential: #3 Tariq Wilson (North Carolina State)

The Wolfpack senior moves up a weight after a tremendous NCAA run last year when he finished 3rd at 141. Tariq Wilson is the real deal at this weight class, which is arguably the deepest in the country. Wilson is a two-time All-American, both times finishing 3rd. He is a man of big runs, and once he starts he does not stop. As a redshirt freshman in 2018, unseeded Tariq won two matches before falling in overtime to Seth Gross in the semifinals. Wilson then bounced back to defeat Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher to finish 3rd. Although Tariq has Sasso and Diakomihalis in his way, he is known to always finish higher than his seed, and he can only place so much better than 3rd.

157lbs Dark Horses

All-American Potential #22 Hunter Willits (Oregon State)

Hunter Willits, while ranked outside the top-16 is no stranger to finding himself giants top 16 competition. At last year’s NCAA Tournament Willits went 2-2. While the junior has no wins over top-10 opponents. However he has a bunch of close losses where he came just short one of those is an overtime loss to #9 Frank Jared. The recent addition of Isaiah Martinez to the Oregon State  coaching staff could be a great lift for the junior who looks to find a spot on the podium.

Champion Potential #6 Quincy Monday (Princeton)

You have to love Mondays now. That is Quincy Monday. After the Ivy canceled it’s winter sports season, Princeton and the other ivy wrestling teams were forced to train in the shadows. Well now, it’s time to re-enter the fray. Had Monday wrestled at last year’s tournaments he would have had a decent chance to place, but now he has a chance to take it all. Monday has great career wins over All-American Kaleb Young (Iowa) and NCAA Qualifier Kenall Coleman (PUR). But most impressively he holds a win over 2021 NCAA finalist Jesse Dellavecchia. Uh-Oh!

Read Part II of our Dark Horse Wrestlers series to find out which heavyweights are gunning for an NCAA title. . .

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