Thank you, Cliff, for the Keenness, a little Chattanooga chatter, and some other stuff…..
The Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational takes place today and Saturday, with over 40 teams from around the nation descending on Sin City for the first mega-event of the 2018 college wrestling season. Stories abound, but the lifestory of the tournaments namesake is hard to top.
Cliff Keen was born in Oklahoma near the turn of the century before last, an all around scholar athlete with a lifelong unrequited passion for the law and its practice and near unmatched skill on the mat. Amazed that a much smaller wrestler defeated him while working out he bent his considerable will towards our sport for the rest of his life and we are all the better for it. Everything from specific moves to equipment to clothing, practices, and of course even tournaments bear his name and uphold his legacy. His tenure as coach of Michigans wrestling team was the longest of ANY coach of ANY sport at ANY university EVER. Capitals the Scribes, and warranted. He made an Olympic team, coached championship teams and individuals at every level, battled hatred as a Naval commander in WWII, and somehow never got around to opening that law practice. Thank goodness for that and thank God for Cliff Keen!
NEWS, NOTES AND JFF (Just for fun) STUFF
Nearly 30 All Americans are competing at the tournament with 5 at 133 lbs and 6 entered at 184. Ohio State, the 2X defending champ, will face stiff tests from conference foe Michigan and 6X MAC champion Missouri. Rutgers comes in 5-1, and the Scarlet Knights, #Redteamupstream, are legit threats to have multiple champs. Sneaky-good North Carolina and Northwestern will both put multiple men on the podium. Cornell, Nebraska, VA Tech, and the Scribes beloved far west powers Wyoming, Utah Valley, and North Dakota State will suprise only if they don’t take home medals, plural. Good for them. How about some other folks who deserve notice? Glad you asked. An alphabetical semi inclusive log of some of those “other” teams follows.
American University-the Eagles had their best ever CKLV last year and Josh Terao, 133, and Michael Sprague, 149, both placers, return. Terao hasn’t wrestled yet this season but Sprague has placed at tournaments twice so far. Add 2017 national championship qualifier Gage Curry at 125 and new Eagle, JUCO national champ Tanner Harvey at 184, plus promising young heavyweight Niko Camacho, and A-U, if Terao wrestles, is a lock for top 20.
Binghamton-Brother, Brother is the Bears theme, with 1st year Head Coach Kyle Borshoff and his brother, Associate Head Coach Jasen Borshoff, lead a NY-state born, bred and proud team (28 out of 32 wrestlers hail from the Empire State). Among their athletes, the talented starting trio of Vincent, Lou, and Anthony Deprez. The Brothers D and 125lb star Audey Ashkar #EmbracetheGreen, for sure, and have a shot at 3 of them placing. Audey has Bearkat bragging rights for the college season so far, taking the title at Binghamtons own prestigious opening event, the Jonathan Kaloust BearKat Open. A belated congrats to Binghamton for their highly successful 50 year celebration of wrestling, and a tip of the headgear to one of the TRGLOW, True Real Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, Sidney Harbaugh, for all Bearkat-centric information.
Brown-the Bears bring several years of positive growth under Coach Todd Beckermans tutelage, and several deep growls of warning from 165lb star Jonathan Viruet and the wonderfully named Ian Butterbrodt at heavyweight. Viruet is quietly lethal, copping two tournament titles so far this season. Brown promoted Matt Meuleners to the Head Assistant Coach position and added former Lehigh assistant/NC St All American Darius Little to the staff in the offseason. Toss in former Bucknell and OK St wrestler Austin Miller, fresh from a stint at the Buffalo Valley Regional Training Center, as the Volunteer Assistant, and Brown is bearing down on continued success. Quite the varied roster, BTW, with 11 states and a foreign country represented. As always, SHOUT OUT to grapplers from the Scribes adopted states: Bryce Rogers, Orlando FL, Lake Highland Prep, and Noah Sims, Frisco, TX, Centennial.
Cal Poly-Coach Jon Sioredas (Chattanooga ’05, just sayin, ALWAYS sayin) and the #RideHigh Mustangs are in the middle of a 6 tournaments in 8 weeks run. LOTS of youngsters getting a thorough introduction to the rigors of D1 wrestling. Two of a few seasoned stars, Yoshihito Funakoshi, 133, and double-tough Tom Lane, 197, have had some modest success so far, with Funakoshi placing twice with 1 tournament title. Good, past: the Mustangs have placed twice in the top 8, nationwide, in the NCAAs A.P.R. (Academic Progress Rate). Good, present: multiple tournament placings throughout the lineup in an up from ground level season. Good, future: a 10 man recruiting class with 4 top 100 stars and 9 out of 10 being home grown CA talent. GO ON, COACH JON! And BTW, its J-O-(no h, please) N Suh-REE-dus. Thank you.
Cal Baptist-They’re in their 1st year in D1 but the Lancers are no strangers to the top level of competition. They caught Cal Poly looking ahead and snatched a double digit win from the Mustangs earlier this season. CBU boasts an 11 state, 1 foreign country (sort of, its Guam) roster. SHOUT OUT, Slater Johnson, Amarillo TX, Tascosa, high school of Olympic Gold medalist Brandon Slay, BTW. CBUs coaching staff is primo, also, Head Coach Lenny Zalesky, 3X AA, Iowa, Mike Mena, 4X AA, Iowa, top assistant Derek Moore, AA, national champion, UC-Davis. Moores a 6 year Army vet, Field Artillery Officer, former member, WCAP (The militaries World Class Athlete Program) with his UC Davis undergrad degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology! Mena was the first 4x undefeated state champ in Illinois illustrious hs wrestling history. Zaleskys Indiana University masters degree: Slavic Linguistics and Literature. The Cal Baptist program: #reallygoodatwrestling,#reallygoodatsmart,#reallygoodatlife.
Cal. St. Bakersfield-the Roadrunners and 3rd year Head Coach Manny Rivera (a former team captain and All American for Minnesota) have had a middling season so far, winning and losing where expected. RS Sr Sean Nickells 2nd place showing at 133 at their own Roadrunner Open was a bit of a downer, after making the finals as a two time champ. Nickell and RS Sophomore Russell Rohlfing, 141, received pre seeds for the CKLV. CSU-B beefed up their coaching staff this offseason with the addition of accomplished hvwt. mentor Chad Hanke, a former Oregon State star. What to expect from the Roadrunners at the CKLV? Some wins, more losses, maybe a placer and hopefully a healthy exit.
Central Michigan-Tom Borrellis Chippewas are one of the enigmas of this wrestling season. As noted by many, including the Scribe, NO team has had more defections over the past 2 years then the men from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. ‘NUFF SAID about that (miss you, Stan Lee!) as CMU, with no chance to equal last years showing, brings only 2 upper class starters to one of the countries toughest events. Realistically, only Soph. star Hvwt. and Scribe favorite Matt Stencel has a legit shot at finishing top 6. With Michigan always being Michigan, Michigan State improving, and with national power Missouri showing NO sign of relinquishing the MAC crown, CMU perhaps needs to look further beyond its borders for improvement, short and long term.
The Citadel-a non-power from the Scribes beloved Southern Conference, the military matmen from Charleston are out of their league in more ways than one here. Expect a quick exit, as upperweights Sawyer Root, 197, and Michael McAleavy, Hvt, having shots at a win or two based only on where they are in the brackets. Coach Rob Hjerling, 22 years in, has seen a steady downward trend for some time. The good news: new assistant coach Cody Cleveland should bring some fire to the wrestling room and the recruiting trail. And he has the excellent taste to be owned by an Australian Shepherd. OK, its a mini, but still. The bad news: the Southern Conference continues to improve rapidly, and Coach Hjerling is entering his 22nd year. Shades of Tom Minkel and Duane Goldman. Come back and help coach, Aaron Walker and Turtotogh Luvsandorjh. Please. SHOUT OUT TO TX: Timothy Gillette, El Paso Franklin, Kyle Kletzer, League City. SHOUT OUT TO FL: Sawyer Root, St. Cloud, Harmony, Brennan Hunt, Jupiter, Michael Lopouchanski, Hollywood, Cardinal Gibbons.
Campbell-exhibit A of the Southern Conferences rise in respectabilty is the little (in name recognition, changing rapidly) BIG (in coach cachet, world level tactician and tough guy Cary Kolat, roster size, 40 plus, facilities, check em on line) team from Buies Creek, North Carolina. Yes, they are the Camels. Yes, #RollHumps is a thing. Yes, they will win lots of matches and put people, not person, on the podium, here AND at the Southern Scuffle [Jan 1st-2nd in beautiful, hospitable, reasonable Chattanooga-y’all come!] AND at the Southern Conference Tournament. At the NCAAs? We will see. What you’ll see in Vegas this weekend is a very well coached, conditioned, confident group with self belief born of skills and earned past success. Count the Camels out of the national conversation at your ignorance, or your peril. Your choice. SHOUT OUT to: Quentin Perez, Arlington, TX, Cole Maddox, Marianna, FL, Troy Nation, Land O’ Lakes, Tampa Prep, John Weiss, Ft. Lauderdale, St. Thomas Aquinas. The high school where Missouri HC Brian Smith won his 2nd FHSAA title. And the Scribe saw him do it. And saw his title win for Oviedo, too. Have the VHS tape to prove it. Have the VHS tapes to prove LOTS of things. That’s a different column.
Clarion-the small school from the small PA town of the same name has big aspirations for this season, with enough better than average D1 talent to pull it off. Defining “it” for the Golden Eagles will hinge on near absolute health all season long for their top guns, Tyshawn White, 125, Ty Bagoly, 184, Greg Bulsak, 197, and top 10 ranked, undefeated Brock Zacherl, 149. Toss in a little of Head Coach Keith Ferraros sleight of hand, and good work from his fine staff, and Clarion will again challenge for a title at the EWL tournament. At the CKLV, not quite. Zacherl on the podium, Bulsak to follow, and some quality wins from the rest of the crew sounds right. After all, this IS the alma mater of one of the Gods of American wrestling, Wade Schalles. If you did not know this to be so, ask him. He will be glad to tell you. And rightfully so. And accurately so. And then he will pin you. SHOUT OUT, Max Wohlabaugh, Winter Springs, FL
Drexel-the Dragons call Philadelphia their home and a consistent top 20 national finish their target. After all, with a premiere shared RTC (Regional Training Center, the MUST HAVE accessory these days for every team aspiring to greatness), a fantastic work program that pairs Drexel students with internships and job opportunities, and West Coast rooted, Midwest polished, Internationally tested coach Matt Azevedo, the Dragons are doing brave things. A bold prediction for their showing this weekend would say Sr stars Hvt Joey Goodhart and 197lb Stephen Loiseau make the podium with Ebed Jarrell and another Dragon or two with some quality Ws. Lets be bold. BTW, Azevedo is 8 yrs in after replacing the 35 year legend of Drexel wrestling, Jack Childs. As ANY coach of ANY sport will tell you, replacing the guy who replaced the legend is the easier route. Azevedo and crew, apparently, are unaware of easy. Good for them. Speaking of good, Drexels GPA, 8th best in the country last year. That’s All Anerican status, too. SHOUT OUT, Dakota Greene, Brandon, FL. The Eagles held the record for the longest winning streak of any hs sports team. ESPN documented this, BTW…
SOME RANDOM QUICK HITS
Illinois and Northern Iowa would be cinches for top 15 finishes, but come in too banged up and bruised up to show out. Oklahoma, Virginia, and Purdue have a great chance this weekend to show they’re closer to whats expected of them than whats been seen so far. Pittsburgh, Navy, Hofstra, Stanford, Fresno State, Air Force, Oregon State, and Duke each have one or two high quality folks, but not enough depth to challenge for high placement. Harvard, Western Wyoming, Nebraska-Kearney, North Idaho, and Highline College are at the tournament, tough to say more than that.
So, there you have it, a thumbnail sketch of The Cliff Keen Las Vegas College wrestling tournament, from a far away fans eye view. If you’re there, enjoy! If not, enjoy the story, or both, if you’d like.
See you next week!