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WLU wrestling No. 5 in NCAA D-II preseason rankings

Six Hilltopper grapplers crack Top 10 nationally in National Wrestling Coaches Association poll

MANHEIM, Pa. – Fresh off a team trophy run at the 2021 NCAA Division II Nationals, the West Liberty University wrestling team checked in at No. 5 on Friday when the National Wrestling Coaches Association released their preseason rankings for the 2021-22 season.

Not only did Coach Danny Irwin’s defending Mountain East Conference and Super Region One champions garner a Top 5 team ranking, six WLU wrestlers were ranked among the nation’s best with defending national champions Cole Laya (125) and Tyler Warner (133) picked No. 1 at their respective weights.

Returning All-American Connor Craig is the nation’s No. 2-ranked 184-pounder heading into the 2021-22 season with Francesco Borsellino, another returning All-American, ranked No. 8 at 285. Chase Morgan is No. 9 at 165 with Logan Kemp the 10th-ranked 197-pounder. Morgan returns as a national qualifier after making it to St. Louis last season while Kemp is now a three-time national qualifier.

It’s crowded at the top of the national charts. Defending national champion St. Cloud State is ranked No. 1 with 81 points, just one point ahead of last year’s runner-up, Nebraska-Kearney (80) and a mere three points clear of No. 3 Lindenwood (78). Central Oklahoma (74) edged out the Black and Gold (69) for the No. 4 spot.

With dozens of veteran wrestlers taking advantage of the NCAA’s COVID eligibility waiver for the 2020-21 season, there’s no lack of familiar faces in the individual rankings. All but four of the 120 nationally-ranked wrestlers have qualified to compete in at least one NCAA national championship and 84 of them have at least one All-America honor under their belts.

Seven of 2021’s 10 national champions return and 11 former national champions appear in the preseason rankings. That list includes Craig, who was a 2019 national champion.

Warner is the only two-time defending national champion on the list but the 184-pound weight class includes two former national champions in Craig and Central Oklahoma’s Heath Gray, who edged Craig in last year’s 184-pound final at Nationals.

Coach Irwin and his talented squad start the season off with a bang on Nov. 4 when they host No. 21-ranked Pitt-Johnstown in a 6:30 p.m. dual inside the ASRC.

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