Every year media outlets put out a list of four time NCAA qualifiers that haven’t achieved All American status. A list of seniors that the collective wrestling public should be rooting for no matter team allegiances. This year, NDSU 157 pound RS senior Clay Ream fits that bill. Ream has qualified for the big dance the last four seasons; finishing 2-2 as a freshman, 1-2 as a sophomore, and a disappointing 0-2 from the sixth seed last season. The Wentzville, MO native, who has won the prestigious Elite 90 academic award at the NCAA championships each of the last two seasons, will look to cap his career with All American honors from the eleven seed this year. Ream enters the NCAA tournament the Big 12 runner-up with a 23-4 record, falling to #5 Alec Pantaleo (Michigan), #6 Michael Kemerer (Iowa), #9 Archie Colgan, and unseeded Coleman Hammond of Cal State Bakersfield. Ream had his struggles against the top tier wrestlers a 157 this season, losing by first period pin to Pantaleo and technical fall to Kemerer, but is absolutely capable of a top eight finish at the NCAAs.
It always seems like the bracket gods have a way of creating interesting challenges and storyline match ups that are more than coincidental. That is absolutely true this season for Ream, who finds himself the 11th seeded wrestler in the exact position he was in last season. An opening round match with Stanford’s Paul Fox. Last year, Fox scored an 8-4 upset over Ream and went on to All American. Ream lost a pigtail wrestle back and was eliminated the next round. This year, a first round win over Fox would go a long way to show that last season’s disappointment is in the rearview. The two are evenly matched, but Ream has had the better season and Fox has a good number of questionable losses. Whether Ream wins or loses that first round match, he will wrestle someone he has already been beaten by this season. A win would set up Thursday evening battle with #6 Michael Kemerer of Iowa. A loss would mean a wrestle back match against Cal State Bakersfield’s Coleman Hammond, who Ream lost to earlier this season 19-14. Certainly Ream is capable of a great tournament, but the bracket gods made sure he will have to exercise some demons from matches past en route to the podium.
Ream’s bracket has another important storyline, and it is the health of the aforementioned Kemerer and #3 Jason Nolf of Penn State. Both wrestlers defaulted to sixth place at the Big 10 tournament with knee injuries, and Ream would have to go through both to make the semifinals. The health of Kemerer and Nolf could potentially play a major role in Ream’s ability to advance past the first round in the championship bracket.
A win over Hammond followed by a loss to Iowa’s Kemerer in the Thursday evening round seems like the most probable scenario, and offers a great chance for Ream to wrestle in the blood round with a chance to become NDSU’s first All American since Hayden Zilmer and Kurtis Julson did it in 2015. Before getting to Friday nights all or nothing blood round, Ream would have to get through wrestle back matches with (likely) Lehigh’s Ian Brown, Andrew Crone of Wisconsin, and the winner of the 8-9 seed matchup between Archie Colgan of Wyoming and Tyler Berger of Nebraska. Colgan and Ream are 1-1 in the season, and though their Big 12 title match went the way of the Wyoming Cowboy, I think Ream wins six of every ten times the two wrestle. As for Berger, he was an All American and national finals contender last year who, for whatever reason, has struggled to find that same success in 2018. Berger would be the favorite, but it is definitely a match Ream can win with All American status on the line.
A loss to Fox would mean a brutal wrestle back schedule starting with Hammond, and then (likely) Duke’s Mitch Finesilver, Luke Zilverberg of South Dakota State, and Micah Jordan of Ohio State just to make make the podium. Finesilver is 17-4 on the year and a dark horse pick for many talking heads, and while Ream is 2-0 against Zilverberg, the dual match at the end of February went into overtime. Jordan is a 2X All American looking to help his Ohio State Buckeyes to the top of the podium.
Clay Ream is already one of the best Bison in the Division I era without question. Whether he can cement his legacy with an All American finish will be revealed starting this Thursday in Cleveland.