A year ago, Nick Piccininni was a relative unknown in Division I wrestling.
He opened his redshirt freshman season ranked 15th in the country at 125 pounds. And though he steadily worked up the rankings and had an exciting victory over the No. 1 seed for the Big 12 championship, he was just given a No. 8 seed in the NCAA championships - which put him just on the cusp of potential All-American expectation.
As he did all year, he exceeded expectation and finished fourth in the nation. His only two losses in the tournament were to the No. 1 seed, Thomas Gilman of Iowa who has since graduated.
Despite all that he achieved in 2016-17, none of the national wrestling websites had his name mentioned when picking national championship contenders this year.
But that changed the Sunday before the opening weekend of the wrestling season. At the NWCA All-Star Classic in Princeton, New Jersey, the East Setauket, New York, native defeated reigning 125-pound NCAA Champion Darian Cruz of Lehigh with a dominated 8-4 decision.
And still, the rankings only moved him to No. 3 overall – though he did follow it with a loss to the fifth-ranked wrestler just two weeks later, losing by one point awarded for riding time.
He has continuously exceeded perception, and while he can no longer be viewed as “under the radar,” he still is having to prove himself to doubters across the country.
The doubt will fuel him.
And the potential for being the next Cowboy in line to win three national championships will be an alluring nugget for him to chase this season.
Jason Elmquist is sports editor of the Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.