A Deep Look Forward into 2018-2019 Cowboy Wrestling — Part 1

Written by Seth Duckworth

Our new beat writer Luke Garza has been covering wrestling matches and our government has been shut down recently, which has allowed me some time away from my normal job. So I was able to spend some time this weekend, not only watching and reading up on OSU, but getting to take a look at some wrestling from other schools across the country too.

That gave me the idea to do some looking at next year’s team. I know that sounds somewhat crazy with the Big 12 and NCAA Tournament still to come, but when you really dig into it there is a lot of intrigue there.

In my five end-of-year thoughts I advised everyone to be “forward thinking” with the wrestling team. Penn State and Ohio State are loaded up this year, and two seniors with those programs are two of the best college wrestlers ever. The staff at OSU knows that and are redshirting three really good wrestlers to set up a run into upcoming years with that group and the other underclassmen on this current team. When you ask John Smith about possibly pulling redshirts there is absolutely no hesitation in his response that he will not be pulling them.

Why you should be looking to 2019

The three Cowboys currently redshirting are Daton Fix, Joe Smith, and Kaden Gfeller. Fix was an all-world recruit. He was the No. 1 pound-for-pound recruit in the entire country, a world champ, and he’s beaten pretty much all of the current top 125-pounders at least once. Gfeller turned a lot of heads with his Southern Scuffle title.  Gfeller really has no bad losses on the season and some really good wins. The Open Mat listed him as the No. 1 redshirt freshman in the country. Smith is a two-time All-American and finished fourth at 157 at the NCAA tournament last year.

The only starter that graduates from this team is Dean Heil. Heil is a two-time NCAA champ and, though he’s dropped a few matches this year, has a chance to repeat in March. With that said he doesn’t score a lot of bonus points. Dean has a habit of wrestling everyone close, so even with his tremendous legacy he’ll leave at OSU he doesn’t pick up team points at the NCAA tournament like you’d prefer.

That sets up the question of who will be where at the lower weights and some of the upper weights for OSU next year. If I had to guess I would say the staff probably isn’t 100-percent sure yet. There is a ton of talent across the board with this team, but it’s really unclear who will be where. We have some indications in a couple areas, though.

Flo has given some minor insight on a few of their podcasts and said OSU staff told them it will be “Fix or Nick Piccininni at 125 and Fix or Nick Piccininni at 133.” Fix has the talent to win the NCAA tournament at either weight and Piccininni would be a high finisher at both.

There’s still always the possibility that those two duke it out to start at 125 and Kaid Brock stays down at 133, leaving OSU with NCAA champ-caliber wrestlers at each weight. But, again, that’s not the indication from the OSU staff. The NCWA senior director thinks Fix may currently be the best wrestler at 125. The big advantage for these two, and pretty much OSU across the board at the lower weights, is the depth in the room. Nick Suriano at Rutgers, Spencer Lee at Iowa, Seth Gross at South Dakota state and any of the other top contenders at the lower weights just don’t have the workout partners that OSU does.

The next weight is 141, which could potentially be Brock if he bumps up, but could also be Gfeller. It’s tough to know how Brock would adjust up a weight, but he’s a very talented wrestler on his feet. What he can do there would give him a chance to do big things at either weight. He’d probably be at worst a top 3-4 guy here.

Interestingly, Nick Lee from PSU, who Gfeller beat in the Scuffle final is currently ranked No. 7 at this weight with three seniors in front of him. So in theory if Gfeller is not in a redshirt year he’s probably No. 7 right now and would come in next year with the three seniors out of the way as around No. 4 preseason! Either way you’re easily looking at a top 5 wrestler here.

Then at 149 you have the starting battle we’ve already pretty heavily covered still going and insert the possibility of Gfeller coming up a weight over the summer. Boo Lewallen had a rough few first starts after being inserted in the lineup mid-year but ultimately you’ll wind up with an All-American caliber wrestler here as the starter after quite a few seniors clear out. Wrestling is a very “what have you done for me lately” sport, but I should note that Boo has wins over the guy who is currently ranked No. 3 in the country at 149 and the No. 1 guy at 141. He definitely has the tools to be a top 5 guy at this weight.

Another weight Flo has said they’ve received some insight from OSU staff on is 157. Flo on their podcast has said that OSU staff told them Joe Smith “plans” to wrestle at this weight next year even though he’s been at 165 and 174 the few times we’ve seen him this year. Joe at 157, as long as the weight cut isn’t too tough on him is a threat to be an NCAA tournament finalist.

Jason Nolf is borderline unstoppable as far as keeping him from winning this weight, but Smith and the No. 2 guy, Iowa’s Michael Kemerer, were pretty even last year, even though Joe dropped a few matches to him. If Smith makes the move up to 165 you’re probably looking at either Blaylock coming back as the starter here again or a possibility that Geo Martinez tries to bump up to 157. They’d both be serviceable here. But NCAA qualifier and scoring a few points at the NCAA tournament might be about what you should expect. You’re probably looking at a top 8 placement as a ceiling from them.

More to come on the upper half of the lineup tomorrow.



  • Steve Mehl

    We need 157 to be a strength, not another weak weight with Blaylock. I would like to see Joe Smith at 165 so he is not weak from cutting weight.

    • Seth Duckworth

      I think they may try and bulk up one of the 149’s to 157 over the summer if they decide Joe is going up. I do think Jonce is maybe slightly better than people give him credit for. I don’t know that an undersized Martinez or Moran would be massively better. Maybe an improvement, but I don’t know if they’d be an All American there. If one of those guys can do that it may mean an NCAA title for OSU.

      • Steve Mehl

        How many guys for PSU graduate this year? If some of their finalists leave and we can get points at 157, then we will be a contender. Who would be our heavywt next season because I l think Daniel Kerkevelt is only a junior in high school since I thought Derek White is a senior.

  • Sonic the Hedgehog

    This would be my ideal lineup for next year:
    125: Nick Piccinnini
    133: Daton Fix
    141: Kaid Brock
    149: Boo Lewallen/Kaden Gfeller
    157: Geo Martinez
    165: Joe Smith
    174: Chandler Rogers
    184: Jacobe Smith
    197: Preston Weigel
    285: Derek White

    • OSUgary

      does that lineup get us an NCAA championship in 2019?

      • Sonic the Hedgehog

        IT gets us closest in my opinion. It will be tough to beat Penn State because they’ll be returning 4 national champions, but I doubt having Blaylock or Moore in the lineup is going to win us anything.

        We’d have 6 All-Americans and it could be more depending on how Boo, Jacobe, and Derek do. And you’d have all-American potential in Fix and Gfeller if he starts.

        • Seth Duckworth

          The story on the top half of the weights tomorrow elaborates on it, but I really think White/Weigel are threats to be NCAA finalists next year. Fix/Brock/Smith all could be too depending on what weights they wind up at. Jacobe Smith/Piccinninni/Lewallen/Martinez/Gfeller/Rogers are AA caliber and 1/2 could surprise and make a deep run. Penn State has 4 NCAA champ types, but only have maybe 2-3 more that will score significantly at the tournament. With whatever lineup we trot out our depth could hang with their firepower and bonus. Won’t be easy, but they “could” pull it off because this will be a very deep team next year.

    • Steve Mehl

      Jacobe Smith looks solid enough to put on weight to go at 184 but can Chandler Rogers bulk up to 174 and be competitive?

      • Seth Duckworth

        I’m actually more concerned about Jacobe making the jump to 84 than Chandler to 74 if that’s the route they go. Rogers freshman year he made the round of 12 at 174 after Crutchmer got hurt. I think he’d be fine at 174.

        • Steve Mehl

          That is very encouraging to hear. But whatever weight he ends up, I just hope that he shaves off that mustache!

      • Sonic the Hedgehog

        Yeah. His freshman year he started at 174 in place of Kyle Crutchmer who was injured and he beat Ethan Ramos who was ranked number 2 at the time and he made it to the blood round in the NCAAs.

  • Phil

    Not an expert, but I don’t see how Gfeller doesn’t make it into the starting lineup. I’ve only seen him a couple of times on Flo, but he’s incredibly good.

    • Seth Duckworth

      No doubt. I personally think he’s a lot better than people, even me, expected. Overshadowed by Fix probably, so no one is noticing. I think he’s taking off a bit because the room is so good around him. He didn’t really have anything at Heritage Hall. Fix at least had the Karstetter’s at Sand Springs.
      His only losses are to the three top guys at the weight and he made those interesting. The Openmat came out with a list of the top redshirt freshmen and had him #1, ahead of Fix.

  • brentparkey

    I think it would be good for us to have guys mostly bumping up in weights rather than cutting hard. I haven’t looked as hard recently, but the number of national champs who moved up a weight is really pretty amazing. During our championship run, and even after, I think all of our champs won after going up a weight except Mocco obviously. Some won at their original weight, and then up a weight too, but still the evidence is pretty strong that moving up is very beneficial. I’d like to know how hard it is for any of PSU’s studs to make weight. None look especially big for their weights.

    Another positive I see for potential lineups next year is we have a lineup of guys capable of putting up bonus points. That, to me, has been PSU’s secret sauce as much as anything else, they have guys who are scoring bonus all the way through the tournament where everyone else is ekeing out wins.

    • Seth Duckworth

      I’m with you on the weight bump. I think it can work great all the way up to 184 and think it will be tough there because I really think Jacobe Smith is a small 174. He weighed in at all the recent duals injured. If you can weigh in at a weight when you’re not even able to wrestle, and I assume not practice hard, then he’s got to be a pretty small 174.
      The bonus will be much better next year. Love Dean Heil, but if they just plugged Gfeller directly in and Gfeller finished around 4th and picked up bonus as he has this year he might score more team points than Dean will winning a title this year. Piccinnini, Fix, Rogers, Weigel, and White all seem to have it figured out too.

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  • Lee Cothran

    I’d be concerned about Brock moving up. He struggles as is on bottom… will he be able to put on enough good weight/strength to maintain his success up a weight? Seth Gross is just a bigger guy than Brock and it shows when they wrestle. I don’t know… wouldn’t mind seeing it and not a bad problem to have, but the Fix/Picc/Brock logjam is an interesting one.