Is there a better example of a dark horse upper weight than Kyle Conel? Even though the Kent State junior started the 2018 NCAA Championships in a pigtail match, it did not phase him. Conel battled fiercely through the championship side of the bracket, upending #8 seed Nate Rotert (SDSU) and pinning #1 seed Kollin Moore (Ohio State)!
Conel lost in the semis but eventually beat 3X All-American Kollin Moore again in the consolations (5-3). He went from unseeded to a 3rd place finish! After analyzing the top dark horse lightweights in a recent article, we decided to look at the 2021-2022 upper weights who could recreate Conel’s historical performance.
165 lbs Dark Horses
All-American Potential: #16 Luke Weber (North Dakota State)
Luke Weber comes into the year ranked 16th overall. The former Nebraska Husker made his way to North Dakota after his redshirt freshman season. The returning Big 12 champ holds some impressive wins over 3-time NCAA qualifier Thomas Bullard of NC State and even fellow Big 12 foe and 2021 4th place finisher Travis Wittlake of Oklahoma State. Weber’s only loss so far this year is to the other wrestler we will discuss. He made the blood round last year, so he definitely has the skill to crack into the top 8.
Champion Potential: #4 Keegan O’Toole (Missouri)
Even when he was in high school, wrestling fans knew Keegan O’Toole was special. As a freshman, O’Toole’s only loss of the season was in NCAAs to eventual runner-up Jake Wentzel. O’Toole has a career record of 22-1, with wins over many big name opponents such as Cameron Amine from Michigan and Travis Wittlake of Oklahoma State. He also has a major decision win over Zach Hartman of Bucknell and a 16-1 tech over Arizona State’s Anthony Valencia! O’Toole is ready to shake up 165! Don’t be surprised if O’Toole becomes a multiple-time NCAA Champ.
174 lbs Dark Horses
All-American Potential: #12 Peyton Mocco (Missouri)
From one tiger to another! Peyton Mocco is entering his 4th year of eligibility but still a sophomore due to redshirts and COVID-19. Mocco qualified for Nationals last year and entered as the #10 seed. He earned a first round major decision over Oklahoma’s Anthony Mantanona. Mocco then grabbed another win in the consolation bracket with a fall over Jake Allar from Minnesota. Mocco is no stranger to ranked competition. In last year’s Iowa State Tri-Dual, the tiger took down a ranked opponent in current #23 ranked wrestler, Lance Runyon (Northern Iowa). And with Mizzou’s stacked lineup, you better believe the Missouri hype train will help carry him to All-American status.
Champion Potential: #5 Michael Labriola (Nebraska)
Mikey Labriola is dangerous. The former #5 overall recruit enters his junior year with that same rank. The 2X All-American has placements of 6th and 3rd at NCAAs that match his placements in the Big Ten, along with a 4th place finish in 2019. In the Husker’s tremendous NCAA run last year, he earned quality wins over Demetrius Romero (Utah State), Daniel Bullard (NC State), and Bernie Traux (Cal Poly). His consolation finals win over Truax avenged his quarter finals loss. Labriola also pushed 2021 NCAA Champ Carter Starocci to the brink with a 3-1 overtime loss. Even though 174 lbs is more loaded than ever before, Labriola is ready to shine in the spotlight!
184 lbs Dark Horses
All-American Potential: #19 Tate Samuelson (Wyoming)
Tate Samuelson certainly has an underdog role this season. The Colorado native holds a career record of 56-28 and finds himself ranked inside the top-20. The 3X NCAA qualifier has a record of 2-4 at the tournament (due to 2020 cancelation). The cowboy has placed 6th twice at the Big 12’s and most recently finished 2nd, highlighted by career wins over 2X All-American from Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State). Tate Samuelson is surely on the rise and can outdo his NCAA performance from last season.
Champion Potential: #10 Taylor Venz (Nebraska)
Almost 4 years ago, back in 2018, a young redshirt freshmen burst onto the scene to take 4th at the NCAA Championships. Taylor Venz outplaced his #7 seed and stunned wrestling fans. The Nebraska Husker is in his second senior year and still has not found his spot back on the elusive podium. In his 4th NCAA appearance, he is seeking to get back to where he belongs. The list of quality wins Venz has is a LONG one. Back in that 2018 he had a win over 2X All-American Emery Parker (Illinois). In his National tournament run he had wins over All-American Pete Renda (NC State) and former Cornell-Big-Red-turned-Nittany-Lion, Max Dean. Most impressively, Taylor Venz has a big win over 2021 NCAA Champion Aaron Brooks from 2020. 184 is sure to be a race to the top of the podium, and Venz is working hard to get there!
197 lbs Dark Horses
All-American Potential: #11 Cameron Caffey (Michigan State)
Cameron Caffey jumps into his second year at 197 lbs ranked as a top 20 best wrestler in the nation by Wrestlestat and other news outlets. The 3X qualifier from Michigan State has yet to find the podium after his 3 trips to the big stage. Last year he was the #10 seed and was very close, losing in the infamous blood round to Iowa’s Jacob Warner. Caffey is no stranger to top competition either having two wins over Abe Assad (Iowa) and one over previously mentioned 2018 4th place finisher Taylor Venz! He’s right there, and Detroit 2022 may finally be his time to put everything together.
Champion Potential: #12 Patrick Brucki (Michigan)
The former Princeton Tiger steps onto the mat this season for his first time as a Wolverine. Although its been a few seasons since he wrestled due to injury, Brucki finished 4th back in the 2019 NCAA tournament. The Illinois-born senior had a career 81 wins prior to his time at Michigan. 44 of those wins came by way of bonus points, proving his dominance. Brucki is 1-1 in a series with All-American Jacob Warner (Iowa). Additionally, he has a win over 2x All-American Dakota Geer and 2019 5th place finisher Josh Hokkit from Fresno State. With a Michigan team that is tougher than ever before, Patrick Brucki is ready to climb the mountain this season!
285 lbs Dark Horses
All-American Potential: #23 AJ Nevills (South Dakota State)
The former #47 recruit in the class of 2016 finds himself at his 3rd home this year with the Jackrabbits. Back in 2016-17 Nevills was with Penn State, after that year he transferred across the country to Fresno State. During his tenure with the bulldogs, Nevills qualified twice for the NCAA tournament and finished second in the Big 12 in 2018 and 2019. The heavyweight remains in the Big 12; however, this time he dons the South Dakota blue. Nevills’ most impressive win, and it’s a big one, is against the last wrestler we will talk about. The Jackrabbit junior is no stranger to big competition. He has losses to top-ranked wrestlers such as Matt Stencil (Central Michigan) and Gable Steveson (Minnesota), but as a 2X NCAA qualifier he can find his way onto the podium with the tough competition.
Champion Potential: #7 Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State)
Cohlton Schultz will be a menace at heavyweight while competing at the collegiate level! The #1 overall recruit in the class of 2019 finished 4th for the Sun Devils last season. Schultz is almost the second-coming of Adam Coon with his Greco-Roman credentials! Schultz is a 2019 World and U.S Senior runner up, 2017 Cadet World champ, and a member of the 2018 23U world team. . . at 18 years old. The heavyweight has only three losses in his career thus far, two to Iowa’s Anthony Cassioppi at NCAAs and one to the aforementioned AJ Nevills of SDSU. Cohlton is one of many heavyweights standing in Gable Steveson’s 2nd NCAA Championship. The Olympic Champion will be difficult to defeat, but Schultz may find a way to do it.
Read Part I of our Dark Horse Wrestlers series here. . .