Olympic years are exciting for a plethora of reasons; one being the effect it has on the college wrestling landscape. In years past there have been big names in college wrestling take Olympic redshirts, like Andrew Howe in 2012 and Kyle Snyder in 2016, but nothing compares to the talent sitting out this year.
Below is not a complete list of Olympic redshirts, but a list of the guys that would have an immediate impact on college wrestling if they decided to come back today.
- Vito Arujau (125)
- Daton Fix (133)
- Nick Suriano (133)
- Stevan Micic (133)
- Yianni Diakomihalis (141)
- Jaydin Eierman (141)
- Matthew Kolodzik (149)
- Mekhi Lewis (165)
- Logan Massa (165)
- Myles Amine (174)
- Max Dean (184)
- Cohlton Schultz (285)
- AJ Nevils (285)
- Zach Elam (285)
Now that you’ve had your memory jogged on the big names sitting out, let’s go through them individually and figure out who could burn their shirt in pursuit of NCAA glory.
Vito Arujau (Cornell) – 125 Pounds
Arujau took the college wrestling world by storm last year when he placed 4th at the NCAA tournament as a true freshman. Following that, Arujau earned a spot on the US Junior World Team and brought home a silver medal from the 2019 Junior World Championships. Because of this international success, Arujau then chose to take an Olympic redshirt in pursuit of the ultimate goal, Olympic gold.
I have no doubt that Arujau if he came back, would place top 5 in the nation at 125 pounds; however, I do not see it being a likely move for the Cornell Sophomore. After placing 3rd at US Senior Nationals, qualifying for the Olympic Trials, I believe he will turn all of his focus towards freestyle. Sure, he could come back and earn his second All American honor, but it is a better move to focus his training on freestyle while letting some of the top talents at 125 like Jack Mueller and Nick Piccininni age out.
*Verdict: Arujau stays in Olympic redshirt this season
Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) – 133 Pounds
Freshman NCAA runner-up Daton Fix represented the US at the 2019 World Championships and currently sits in the semi-finals of the Olympic Trials. While he didn’t place at Worlds, he had a great showing and lost to a former World Champion on a controversial call. Being a returning World Team member, he is qualified for the trials and is simply waiting his turn to wrestle for the US spot.
Although he is one of the favorites to possibly represent the US at 57kg in Tokyo, we have not qualified the weight for the United State just yet. We will be sending a rep to the Pan American Qualifier Tournament in March to qualify the weight for the Olympics, and Fix is the most likely candidate to represent the US at 57kg being the returning World Team Member.
Several factors lead me to believe that Fix will not burn his Olympic redshirt. First, he was the World Team Member last year. He won the spot last year beating some great guys, so he could likely win the spot again. Since his probability is high to make the team, he will be training exclusively freestyle over the next four months in preparation for the trials. Secondly, he is most likely to represent the US at the Pan Am Qualifier March 13-15, and that is right between the Big 12 and NCAA Championships. It would be almost impossible for him to swing going to all three of those tournaments.
*Verdict: Fix stays in Olympic redshirt this season
Nick Suriano (Rutgers) – 133 Pounds
2019 National Champion Nicky Suriano is another guy chasing Olympic gold. Nicky freestyle is a bit of a question mark when it comes to the freestyle circuit. We have not seen Suriano wrestle freestyle consistently since high school, but he has looked great in his recent freestyle bouts.
Recently we have seen Suriano beat World bronze medalist Joe Colon, World Team Member Nashon Garrett, and NCAA Champion Darian Cruz. Those are some great wins, but we have also seen him take losses to Seth Gross and Vito Arujau. Tough guys, but guys Suriano will need to beat to have a chance at making the Olympic team.
This is where it gets tricky predicting the push-up master’s next move. Suriano is qualified for the Olympic trials in State College, PA this April. For most competitors, this would ensure that he would be following through with the redshirt and dedicating his training to the Olympics, but we all know Suriano isn’t a normal dude. The guy loves to compete and definitely holds grudges. When you’re an undefeated four-time NJ state champ, you don’t tend to forget losses. The loss I’m talking about would be the one he suffered to Spencer Lee in the 2018 NCAA finals.
This is another mystery in itself. If Suriano chose to come back, would he come back to the weight he won a 2019 NCAA title in (133) or would he continue to make the cut to 125 pounds to get that potential rematch with his lifetime rival Lee? The situation seems like a storybook ending for Suriano’s career, but no one truly knows what Suriano will do.
The last piece to look at is the lineup for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Rutgers currently has a redshirt freshman starting at 125, Aguilar, and a true freshman at 133, Alvarez. Both are having great freshman seasons, so it would be a shame to waste a year of eligibility for one of them. It makes more sense for Scott Goodale to hold Suriano is redshirt until next year when Rutgers can use Alvarez’s remaining redshirt and save everyone’s eligibility.
*Verdict: Suriano stays in Olympic redshirt
Stevan Micic (Michigan) – 133 Pounds
2018 NCAA runner-up, Stevan Micic, chose to wrestle for his father’s home country Serbian in the 2019 World Championship. While wrestling for Serbia, Micic placed top 5 in the world and qualified the weight for Serbia in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Shortly after the World Championships, Micic announced his plan to take his second Olympic redshirt in college to pursue Olympic glory.
This is a relatively easy situation to predict because Micic, for all intents and purposes, is the Olympic rep for Serbia at 57kg. Since he is already on the team and punched his ticket to Tokyo, I would be highly surprised if he chose to come back to college. He will be spending all of his time until the Olympics training exclusively freestyle.
*Verdict: Micic stays in Olympic redshirt this season
Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) – 141 Pounds
Yianni D has already won two NCAA titles in his first two seasons in college, but what we’re all wondering is, how would he fare on the world’s biggest stage, the Olympics? Yianni has had some great success on the senior circuit thus far winning the 2019 US Open, Yashar Dogu, and the Ziolkowski International.
While he has had tremendous success and is easily the hottest name in US men’s freestyle right now, he has also taken a few lumps. Yianni failed to make the 2019 World Team after losing to Zain Retherford in 2 straight matches. He also recently took a loss to Joey Mckenna at the US Senior National tournament. It has been heard that Yianni has been battling an injury lately as well.
With all of that being said, Yianni is a serious contender to make the Olympic team if healthy. Because of that, I doubt we see Yianni wrestle for the Big Red this season.
*Verdict: Yianni stays in Olympic redshirt this season
Jaydin Eierman (Iowa) – 141 Pounds
One of the biggest surprises of the 2019 season was Eierman’s announcement that he would be transferring from Missouri to Iowa. I was blown away to hear the news that he was leaving Missouri. Since the departure of three-time NCAA Champion J’Den Cox, Eierman has easily been the face of the program for the Tigers. But, if he was going to leave Mizzou, it was going to have to be to join a title contender.
The matchup between Eierman and Iowa is a match made in heaven. Eierman is a fiery competitor that is fully committed to his pursuit of an NCAA title. With Penn State recently burning Aaron Brooks redshirt at 184 pounds, they are assumed to be bumping Shakur Rasheed back up to 197 pounds where he earned All American honors in 2018. This shake-up in the team race, combined with Eierman failing to qualify for Olympic trials at Senior Nationals, could thrust Eierman into the Hawkeye lineup in the new year.
When Eierman first announced that he was moving to Iowa City, he made the statement that he would be using his full Olympic redshirt and training for the trials, but that was before he failed to qualify for the trials in both the Bill Farrell and US Senior Nationals. The only other places Eierman could qualify are the last chance qualifier right before the trials or by winning an NCAA title. If he burned the shirt and entered the Hawkeye starting lineup, he would most likely enter at the 141-pound weight class. This would be a huge move because it would likely leave Max Murin out of the lineup for Iowa. This would be especially a hard decision after a strong performance from Murin winning the Midlands Championship, but he is a Sophomore and will be back next year, while Eierman is a one-year rental. If they want to ensure they win an NCAA team title this year, it might be this hard move that pays off in the end.
All of this combined with Yianni D staying in his Olympic redshirt tells me that there’s a chance. No doubt that it would be big news if he did burn the shirt, but his situation might be the most likely and make the most sense for everyone involved.
*Verdict: Eierman burns his Olympic redshirt and competes for the Hawkeyes this season
Matthew Kolodzik (Princeton) – 149 Pounds
Three-time All American Matthew Kolodzik might have been the favorite to win an NCAA title this year at 149 pounds if he had returned, but he chose to forgo his 2019 college season to train for Tokyo. This is a different situation than the rest of the guys on this list because I do not believe that Kolodzik’s redshirt is an Olympic. I have heard that the Ivy League schools sometimes have their guys skip a year of school to pursue educational goals. Although it might not be an Olympic redshirt, I am going to treat it the same.
Kolodzik is a three-time All American, placing as high as 3rd in 2018. If he came back to Princeton this year he would undoubtedly be in the title talks, but Princeton has a senior currently at 149 that is pretty good in Mike D’Angelo. Because of that, I don’t believe we see him back in the orange singlet, even though it might be his best shot at an NCAA title.
*Verdict: Kolodzik stays in Olympic redshirt this season
Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech) – 165 Pounds
Coming off a national title in his redshirt freshman season, Lewis chose to take an Olympic redshirt in the attempt to unseat guys like Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Dake, and Isaiah Martinez on his way to making the United State Olympic Team. Lewis hasn’t had much experience on the freestyle scene, but he has had tremendous success. In 2018 Lewis won a Junior World Championship in only his third freestyle tournament ever. Then, in 2019 Lewis won an NCAA title as a freshman, defeating two-time champ Vincenzo Joseph. Is it crazy to think that he could make the senior team in his first attempt? Maybe or maybe not.
I don’t see Lewis coming out of redshirt this year. I believe his success in freestyle has prioritized his international career and he will be training exclusively freestyle in an attempt to make the team in April. He is already qualified for the trials, so he will be focused on beating guys like Burroughs, Dake, and Martinez.
*Verdict: Lewis stays in Olympic redshirt this season
Logan Massa (Michigan) – 165 Pounds
All American, Logan Massa, taking an Olympic redshirt was head-scratching to me. He doesn’t have a vast background in freestyle like some of the other guys taking an Olympic redshirt, but he did just show out at US Senior Nationals in Fort Worth. Massa was not looked at as a contender at a loaded 74kg, but he took out #1 seed Kulchytskyy and #2 Lewis on his way to the title.
Massa is a big question mark in the field at 74kg. He clearly has the ability to compete with the guys at the top, but is that enough to keep him in redshirt? Yes, it is, combined with the obvious decision the Michigan coaching staff has made to take a punt year. With almost all of the best guys on the roster in redshirt this season, don’t expect Massa to pull the shirt.
*Verdict: Massa stays in Olympic redshirt this season
Myles Amine (Michigan) – 174 Pounds
Another University of Michigan wrestler, Myles Amine, will be in Tokyo next summer representing a different country. Amine will be representing San Marino in the Olympics after placing top 5 at 86kg in the 2019 World Championship.
He needs no other reason to sit out the season and focus on freestyle, but it also helps that there will be no Mark Hall in Amine’s final season for the Wolverines next year. Amine has always had great matches with NCAA champ Hall but always seems to come up one point short. For Amine, being able to compete in the Olympics and getting rid of Mark Hall, he couldn’t be in a better situation.
*Verdict: Amine stays in Olympic redshirt this season
Max Dean (Cornell) – 184 Pounds
After his cinderella NCAA run was stopped in finals by Drew Foster, Dean elected to take an Olympic redshirt for the 2019-2020 season. This was kind of a weird decision for me because Dean doesn’t have extensive freestyle experience or success. He did make the U23 World Team last year and compete for the US at 86kg, but he did not place. For me, this is another case of a guy using the Olympic redshirt as an extra redshirt for college. Dean is competing in freestyle tournaments, but not having the best results.
I feel that Dean wanted to take a year to train and compete for a national title in his final two years of eligibility in college. The 184-pound weight class has been wild over the last few years and sitting this year out will get guys like Valencia, Lujan, and Colbray out of Dean’s way. No doubt that he can hang with everyone outside of Valencia, but it will definitely benefit him to see a few top guys graduate while training for a year. With a guy like Valencia at 184, there’s no reason for the Junior to burn his redshirt.
*Verdict: Dean stays in Olympic redshirt this season
Cohlton Schultz (Arizona State) – 285 Pounds
Schultz is one of the biggest heavyweight recruits to come out of high school in recent memory. He is especially well known for his Greco-Roman wrestling where he won a Cadet World Championship in 2017. In 2019 he competed in Final-X for a World Team spot against Adam Coon but came up short. Although he lost to Coon, he and Coon seem to be in a tier of their own in the 130kg Greco weight.
I am excited to see Schultz in a Sundevil uniform, but we will have to wait until next year. Of all the guys on this list, Schultz is one of the most certain Olympic redshirt locks. He is a contender to represent the US Greco team in the 2020 Olympics and he is currently sitting behind senior All American, Tanner Hall. It would make the most sense to let Schultz ride out the redshirt and compete for the Greco spot, while also letting Hall finish out his career.
*Verdict: Schultz stays in Olympic redshirt this season
Zach Elam (Missouri) – 285 Pounds
Zach Elam was another highly recruited big guy coming out of high school a couple of years ago. He was highly ranked in high school and earned a silver medal at the Junior World Championship. In his freshman season last year, Elam fell one match shy of becoming an All American at the NCAA tournament.
Any time you have a freshman make it to the blood round of the NCAA tournament he is a guy that is looked at as a possible All American threat in future years. I do believe that Elam would be an All American candidate this year if he chose to burn his redshirt. I have not heard any whispers about this happening, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if it happened.
*Verdict: Elam stays in Olympic redshirt this season