Building the perfect college wrestling lineup has never been simple.
A fully-funded college wrestling program has 9.9 scholarships for ten starting spots, and coaches have always had to make tough decisions about weight class depth and recruiting efforts. It’s part of the job.
But there’s another factor at play in college wrestling today, one that is perhaps even more complex and requires even more layers of compliance to navigate successfully: the transfer portal.
Developed in 2018, the transfer portal serves as a simplified process for athletes looking to switch teams throughout their college career. The transfer portal allows athletes to announce their intentions to explore other athletic programs and open up conversations with coaches at schools both within and beyond the athlete’s current athletic conference.
The portal has created additional freedoms and opportunities for athletes and inspired great intrigue in the NCAA offseason. Some programs have had tremendous success with the transfer portal too, adding key elements to their team or filling a hole left behind by a graduating athlete. Regardless of a coach’s approach to the transfer portal, there are still rules in place in terms of how the portal can work. For instance, the NCAA specifically prohibits communication about recruiting between athletes and coaches of different teams until an athlete’s name has formally been entered into the transfer portal, making the use of the portal a necessity for anyone looking for a new athletic and academic home.
NCAA WRESTLING HISTORY: A complete list of every championship team since 1928
Athletes are allowed to alert schools of their intention to transfer and initiate communication, but, according to the NCAA rules, “the new school cannot discuss transfer opportunities with [an athlete] until they can verify notification of transfer is validated and [the athlete’s] information is entered in the NCAA Transfer Portal.” Through the transfer portal though, most athletes can acquire the necessary waivers and clearance to transfer programs without sacrificing a year of eligibility.
Within the sport of wrestling, transferring, and the transfer portal more specifically, has been a game-changer. Just six months before the portal emerged, Seth Gross won an NCAA title for South Dakota State, and since the development of the portal, two additional athletes — Nick Suriano and Max Dean — have won titles for teams they've elected to transfer to during their careers. Over a dozen additional transfers have earned All-American honors with their second or third team since 2018.
This year’s transfer activity has been particularly notable, with a number of key point scorers leaving their longtime homes to compete for a new program in the fall.
Here’s a look at five of the biggest transfer storylines in college wrestling this summer and how these moves might impact the 2024 NCAA wrestling team race.
1. Michigan adds a Stanford national champ and three All-Americans from Northwestern
The Michigan Wolverines won the transfer portal this offseason.
The process was unusual and unexpected, but it started with two-time NCAA place winner Lucas Davison announcing his intentions to enter the transfer portal on April 4 after five seasons with Northwestern. Davison, who finished fifth last season at heavyweight, had the best season of his career with the Wildcats in 2023. He earned 27 wins with just six losses and notched victories against All-Americans Cohlton Schultz, Trent Hillger, Tate Orndorff and Zach Elam. By April 6, just two days after Davison entered the portal, he became a Wolverine.
His teammates, Chris Cannon and Michael DeAugustino, then joined Davison in transferring from Northwestern to Michigan, giving the maize and blue three Northwestern All-American transfers in less than 30 days. Cannon finished seventh in 2021 and 2022 at 133 pounds while DeAugustino finished fourth in 2022 at 125. The lightweight duo will provide great firepower for Michigan at the two lowest weights, likely replacing Jack Medley, a two-time NCAA qualifier who graduated in 2023, and Dylan Ragusin, three-time NCAA qualifier with two years of eligibility remaining. Davison, Cannon and DeAugustino are all graduate transfers. Davison and DeAugustino have one year left each while Cannon has two years of eligibility remaining.
In addition to Cannon, DeAugustino and Davison, Michigan also landed one of the biggest transfers of the season when NCAA champion Shane Griffith made his decision in early May to move to Ann Arbor following five years with the Stanford Cardinal. Griffith, another graduate transfer, was public about his interest in transferring at the end of the 2023 national tournament. He explained that he “expunged a lot of [his] academic options at Stanford” following the completion of his undergraduate and graduate degree programs and was not sure about his next steps. He ultimately decided to pursue his final year of eligibility and narrowed his list of schools to Michigan, Rutgers and Iowa, with Michigan landing the final commitment from the former Cardinal.
THE SHANE GRIFFITH STORY: How the former Stanford wrestler overcame adversity to win a national title
Griffith won a national title in 2021 and finished second and fifth in the last two seasons at 165 pounds. His addition to the Michigan lineup creates an interesting situation for the Wolverines, as either Griffith or Michigan All-American Cameron Amine — who finished ahead of Griffith at the 2023 NCAA tournament — will likely move up to 174 pounds, inhabiting the spot held down by Max Maylor last season. Michigan’s tentative lineup for 2023 could include six All-Americans: DeAugustino, Cannon, Will Lewan, Amine, Griffith and Davison. It’s a dangerous squad.
The problem for Michigan, is that it still likely won’t be enough to take down the giant that is Penn State.
Last season, the Nittany Lions won the NCAA wrestling team title with eight All-Americans, including two champions. Penn State will lose two-time NCAA champion Roman Bravo-Young and 2022 NCAA champion Max Dean, but the Blue and White have reloaded themselves with two All-American transfers of their own.
While Penn State will still be the team to beat come March, Michigan deserves some serious credit for putting itself in the title conversation. And, don’t forget, head coach Sean Bormet did lead his team to a Big Ten title against the Nittany Lions in 2022. Another upset isn’t impossible.
2. Penn State’s depth increases with Bernie Truax, Aaron Nagao and Mitchell Mesenbrick
Penn State’s head coach Cael Sanderson knows how to win national titles. He’s done it 10 times in the last 13 years, and he’s primed to do it again in 2024. This time, he’ll also have some starpower from Cal Poly, Minnesota and California Baptist joining his lineup to aid him in this goal.
PENN STATE WINS NCAA TEAM TITLE: Full results from the 2023 national wrestling tournament
The most accomplished NCAA wrestler transferring in to join the blue and white this season is Cal Poly’s Bernie Truax, a California native who finished on the podium in 2021, 2022 and 2023 at three different weights. Truax announced on March 23, just days after the NCAA tournament where he finished fourth at 197 pounds, that he intended to enter the portal. He committed to Penn State on April 19.
The last time Penn State picked up an upper weight from the transfer portal, the transfer won a national title. That upperweight, Max Dean, finished his career as a four-time All-American, with his last two podium finishes coming at 197 pounds as a member of the Nittany Lions after wrestling his first two years at 184 pounds for Cornell. Truax has been clear that he similarly aspires to a national title, but his weight class situation is slightly different than Dean’s.
After wrestling at 197 pounds for Cal Poly, Truax is expected to drop down to 184 — the weight class where he finished fourth in 2022 — to make room for three-time NCAA champion Aaron Brooks to move up to 197 pounds. Regardless of his weight class, Truax is a title threat. He’ll also add even more depth to Penn State’s already impressive upperweight lineup that includes three-time NCAA champion Carter Starocci at 174 pounds, three-time NCAA champion Aaron Brooks at 197 pounds and NCAA finalist Greg Kerkvliet at heavyweight.
But of course, Truax isn’t the only wrestler who elected to move to State College this year. Big Ten finalist Aaron Nagao from Minnesota also announced his decision to transfer following his fifth place finish at 133 pounds in the 2023 national tournament. Nagao’s move makes a lot of sense.
I’m excited to announce that I will be continuing my wrestling career at Penn State! I will be forever grateful for Minnesota. Words alone will never be enough to describe my gratitude towards them. Nevertheless, I know my faith. Matthew 6:33 🦁 pic.twitter.com/bKl9Bks3PM— Aaron Nagao (@aaron_nagao) April 25, 2023
The Gopher All-American put the world on notice when he rode out two-time NCAA champ Roman Bravo-Young in the Big Ten finals, and even though he ended up losing to the Nittany Lion, Nagao fits nicely into that same 133-pound lineup spot now that Bravo-Young has graduated. Nagao has the kind of slickness Penn State fans were used to from their champion lightweight, and the former Minnesota wrestler has the skills necessary to become an individual champ for his new team.
BIG TEN WRESTLING RECAP: Relive each match from the 2023 conference tournament
With three years of eligibility left, Penn State can maximize their time with Nagao, but they also have an even younger transfer coming into the room this year with all four years of eligibility remaining: Mitchell Mesenbrink. A Wisconsin native, Mesenbrink wrestled one year with California Baptist and went 2-0 as a redshirt at 165 pounds. Now the middleweight star will head east and battle for his spot in the deep State College wrestling room. Penn State’s Alex Facundo held down the 165-pound slot last year, though Facundo went 0-2 at NCAA’s last season, and Mesenbrink could challenge him for that spot. Having too much talent is rarely a bad problem to have.
3. Coaching changes at Oklahoma lead to Sooner lineup shakeup
Transfer news was not just limited to the Big Ten. In the Big 12, at Oklahoma in particular, a coaching shuffle prompted a number of transfers and a flurry of lineup changes that could impact the conference standings this year.
Lou Rosselli, former head coach of Oklahoma, resigned after seven years with the program in April. In the two months following his departure, Jacob Butler, Joey Cruz, Anthony Madrigal, Mitch Moore, Wyatt Henson and Alejandro Herrera-Rondon all transferred out of Norman.
𝐄𝐱𝐜𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐨𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐦𝐚𝐭 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐥𝐚𝐬𝐬𝐫𝐨𝐨𝐦 📚🤼♂️— Oklahoma Wrestling (@OU_Wrestling) April 21, 2023
7️⃣ Sooners were named NWCA Scholar All-Americans! pic.twitter.com/9XWMHelln8
Moore is the most accomplished of the group, having finished in the Blood Round in 2021, and he will continue his career at Rutgers with the Scarlet Knights along with former Sooner teammate Jacob Butler. Henson, who had a promising redshirt year with the Iowa Hawkeyes before transferring to Oklahoma, will move on to Lock Haven while three-time NCAA qualifier Madrigal will go to Illinois. Herrera-Rondon will continue on to Clarion while Cruz will go to Iowa.
Oklahoma, as a program, has been up and down as of late. The team tied Oklahoma State for the Big 12 title in 2021 but slowed this season, finishing without an All-American at the NCAA tournament and going 2-6 in conference duals. As the Big 12 continued to deepen, the Sooners slipped. The coaching change, however, gives the team a chance to rebuild and reset. The man in charge of that revitalization? Former North Dakota State head coach Roger Kish.
MEET THE ALL-AMERICANS: These are the 80 athletes who finished on the podium in 2023
Kish inherits a program with great potential, despite the recent struggles. Three-time NCAA qualifier Mosha Schwartz has wins over All-Americans and returns to the team at 141 pounds, while 165-pounder Gerrit Nijenhuis and heavyweight Josh Heindselman has finished as high as the Round of 16 at the NCAA tournament. At 197 pounds, Oklahoma also boasts two-time All-American Stephen Buchanan, a former Wyoming wrestler who redshirted last season. Hiring Kish from North Dakota State ensures that the new leader has a familiarity with the reality of this conference. He knows what it takes to win in the Big 12 and put some of these top-ten athletes on the podium.
Joining Kish in Oklahoma will be another slew of transfers including Cael Carlson, a former Minnesota wrestler, and three of Kish’s Bison wrestlers: Mannix Morgan, a 174-pound sophomore, DeAnthony Parker, a 184-pound junior, and Juan Mora, a 285-pound sophomore. Jace Koelzer of Northern Colorado and Giuseppe Hoose of Buffalo also transferred, with Hoose entering the portal before Kish’s announcement and Koelzer committing to the program one day ahead of Kish’s hiring.
Kish had great success building North Dakota State into a serious program, and while he’ll bring added energy with the Sooners, the Bison felt the immediate effect of his departure. Kish’s two All-Americans from 2023 — Jared Franek and Michael Caliendo — both left North Dakota State and elected to transfer to Iowa, instead of following Kish to Oklahoma or staying back at NDSU with Obe Blanc, the program's assistant coach who was promoted to head coach after Kish's departure.
Franek and Caliendo’s departure not only hurts North Dakota State, but it makes things really interesting for Iowa.
4. Iowa lands two Bison and two Ferraris
The Iowa Hawkeyes have not shied away from the portal. Since adding Austin DeSanto from Drexel in the fall of 2018, the Hawks have worked to bring additional elite transfer talent to the room, ultimately welcoming All-American and eventual NCAA finalist Jaydin Eierman to Iowa City along with, more recently, another All-American and eventual NCAA finalist Real Woods. The latest transfers, Franek and Caliendo could add even more future accolades to Iowa’s trophy room.
HAWKEYE HEROES: History of the University of Iowa wrestling program
The way Franek and Caliendo impact the lineup is the most notable aspect of this move. Franek wrestled last year at 157 pounds, placing 4th. Iowa’s 157-pounder last year, Cobe Siebrecht had a breakout season in 2023, notching wins over All-Americans Brayton Lee and Will Lewan, but he finished the year 1-2 at the NCAA tournament. Franek is more credentialed and could either push Siebrecht out of the lineup or force him down to 149 pounds, a weight that Siebrecht competed at from 2019-2022. But at 149 pounds is potentially another transfer, former Oklahoma State wrestler Victor Voinovich who finished in the Round of 16 in 2023, potentially creating a logjam.
Then, up at 165 pounds, the depth continues. Caliendo, the second North Dakota State transfer, took seventh in his first year with the Bison, and he’ll bring three years of eligibility to Iowa. But Iowa’s 165-pounder last season, Patrick Kennedy, was ranked as high as sixth this year and is All-American caliber. Kennedy, like Siebrecht, went 1-2 at NCAAs with losses to Cam Amine and Julian Ramirez. He’s status as a starter remains to be seen with these new additions, a tough outcome for a wrestler who spent his first two years waiting his turn behind four-time Big Ten champion Alex Marinelli. Moving up to 174 could be an option for Calinedo or Kennedy, but All-American Nelson Brands is at 174 pounds, again a representation of the talent in the Iowa City room.
With transfers and All-Americans locked in from 149-174, Iowa looks ready to roll. But then there’s the addition of the Ferraris. Anthony Ferrari, the middle of the three Ferrari brothers, previously committed to Oklahoma State and seemed destined for the Cowboys as of 2022. His older brother AJ Ferrari won a national title as a true freshman for Oklahoma State in 2021 but was dismissed in the summer of 2022 following off-the-mat issues. Anthony never enrolled in Oklahoma State and has since announced his commitment to Iowa. He’s potentially eligible to compete as early as this fall, though he too as off-the-mat issues that could impact his eligibility. If Anthony is cleared to wrestle, he’s expected to compete in the middleweights, specifically 157/165 pounds, a pair of weights that now have All-American transfers occupying them.
His younger brother Angelo is also expected to join the Hawks next year, following his high school graduation, and he projects to be an upperweight. So, much like Penn State, Iowa's transfer situation could leave some talent on the bench. Iowa worked the portal as much as possible to create a team that could compete with the Nittany Lions, but it's Penn State team race to lose, until proven otherwise.
5. Cyclones snag a former Hawkeye and a Clarion All-American
While the changes in the Iowa lineup will take some time to sort through in the wrestling room, they provided an immediate benefit to one rival: Iowa State. With the announcement of Anthony Ferrari’s commitment to Iowa, Tennessee native Cody Chittum and former Iowa commit flipped his decision and elected to wrestle for the Cyclones. Chittum verbally committed to the Hawks in July 2022 and spent a year training with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, but his addition to the Iowa State room will add strength and spark to a team on the rise. The Cyclones finished 11th at the national tournament last year with two All-Americans, but with Chittum likely in the lineup at 157 pounds, the team has the potential to move up several spots.
CY-HAWK HISTORY: Tracing the tradition of the Iowa vs. Iowa City rivalry
Chittum isn’t the only transfer who could make an impact. Clarion All-American Will Feldcamp also announced his transfer to the Cyclones, and he’s expected to fill All-American Marcus Coleman’s spot at 184 pounds. Feldcamp won the MAC conference last and finished seventh at the NCAA tournament with his best win coming against All-American Gavin Kane. Dresser will need points from Feldcamp again if he wants his team to crack the top ten.
Excited to see Will Feldkamp in an Iowa State singlet 🙌— Iowa State Wrestling (@CycloneWR) June 1, 2023
Iowa State, Michigan, Penn State, North Dakota State, Oklahoma and Iowa all made major changes to their lineups through the portal, and their pickups could potentially impact the national and conference rankings. Penn State still looks to be comfortably in the top spot heading into the 2023-2024 season, but transfers don’t just impact the team race, they also effect trophy contention and general success and create new storylines.
Beyond some of the aforementioned schools, there are a number of additional transfer changes worth noting. Nebraska, a team always in the mix, also made a few moves in the offseason that could bring some immediate benefits to the Huskers, welcoming All-American caliber wrestlers in Caleb Smith and Owen Pentz to Lincoln. Fellow Big Ten program Maryland added a star of their own in heavyweight Seth Nevills from Penn State. All three of these athletes will look to finish on the podium for the first time in their careers with their new programs. Rutgers, another Big Ten team working portal, signed Yaraslau Slavikouski, a former Harvard graduate student who finished in the Round of 12 in 2023, while Oklahoma State earned a commitment from Northern Illinois' Izzak Olejnik who took eighth this year in the deep 165-pound weight class. Transferring isn’t always a golden ticket, but sometimes it can be exactly what an athlete, or a team, needs to make that next jump.