The time frame of December 27th through Jan. 2nd has wrestlers, coaches, and fans gloriously enjoying 3 huge competitions in 3 VERY different U.S. geographic regions for, one could argue, fairly different reasons. The South Beach Wrestling Experience, a 4 day event starting on the 27th, began just 2 years ago. Cornell Head Coach Rob Koll helped lead the charge to South Florida, and teams from youth levels to D1 from across the country will convene at the Ft. Lauderdale Convention Center. After two days of youngsters competition, the college level teams take to the mats in a 2 day, 2 duals per day format. 12 teams are currently listed, down from the 16 last year. Reasons for the reduction seem to be centered around a slew of upsets that occurred last time, and the benefits from the win/loss ratio. Nonetheless, Cornell, Duke, Lehigh, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan State, NC State, North Dakota State, Old Dominion, Oklahoma, South Dakota State and Wyoming were registered as of this writing. However, a quick perusal of various teams websites showed NC State and NDSU headed to the Southern Scuffle instead while Oklahoma is apparently swapping the South Beach Experience for the Midlands. College wrestling does promote flexibility and the ability to change direction at any moment. Not to mention levels. Speaking of the Ken Kraft Midlands, the 57th edition of College wrestlings longest currently running tournament is a Sunday-Monday affair this year. The location changed 2 years back from the campus of the host school, Northwestern, to the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, Ilinois. More room and more accessibility to hotels and restaurants were probably major factors. And, maybe, just like the College World Series “outgrew” friendly, old, familiar Rosenblatt Stadium, the Midlands just needed something different. What’s NOT different is the potential for this event to morph into the Iowa Open again. Don’t hate on the Hawkeyes, just beat them, if you can. Probably not going to happen this year, though, as Iowa will probably have 6 top seeds and most all of their wrestlers expected to make the semis. Wisconsin, Northwestern, Purdue, Princeton, Northern Iowa, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Campbell all have Top 10 hopes and individual title aspirations to varying degrees. From here, though, sure looks like the Hawkeyes world. In keeping with this columns focus on events, teams, and individuals not always in the spotlight, heres a few fine fellows from less heralded hotspots…..
Khizan Clarke, 149, American University. 4 tournament titles so far in a 17-0 season.
Trevor Allard, 184, Bloomsburg. On pace for a 30 plus win season and 100 plus win career, 12-1 so far in 2019.
Nino Bastianelli, 197, Brown. 3 year varsity starter who’s won tournaments every season. Bastianelli and the Bears have seen limited action this year and The Midlands is easily their biggest test before Nationals. Besides those Cognitive Psychology, Applied Mathematics, and BioEngineering Finals.
Zach Hartmann, 165, Drew Phipps, 197, Bucknell. Hartmann started the year at 157 before moving up, hes 12-3. Phipps is in his 4th st year of starting and his second season as captain. His win totals per year…13, 22, 25.
Tom Lane, 197, Cal Poly. See Columns 14 and 15 of this, Season 3, for the lowdown on Tom Terrific.
Drew Hildebrandt, 125, and Matt Stencel, 285, Central Michigan. The bookends for the Chippewas each have 13 wins on the season so far and have won or placed no lower than 3rd at every event CMU has entered. Hildebrandt made the Nationals last year and Stencels a 2X qualifier who finished 7th nationally last season.
Joe Manchio, 125, and Matt Kazimir, 141, Columbia. The Lions lightweight stars do the CMU duo mentioned above one match better, as Manchio and Kazimir are each at 14 w’s so far. They’ve taken 3 tournament titles between them with no sophomore season slump in sight.
Wil Gil, 141, Franklin and Marshall. An excellent choice for The All Overlooked and Underrated Team, Gil is on pace for a 30 win season. At 9-3 so far hes one off the team lead in wins. His 29 ws topped the squad last season.
Phil Conigliaro, 165, and Yaraslau Slavikouski, 285, Harvard. The Crimson duo have 2 titles, 3 finals appearances, and 5 placings combined so far this year. Both are “1st years” as they are referred to at Harvard. The Crimson might have had a shot at a Top 20 finish, but the status of stellar senior 157LB Hunter Ladnier is uncertain. He’s been out of action since mid November.
SO COOL, SO HOT, SOCON
The Scribes beloved UTC faced yet another top ranked team on the road, and while the individual matchups were mostly barn burners, it was the Mocs getting torched in the end, falling 29-3 to home standing Virginia Tech. So close translated to so very far apart in the team score as UTC dropped 4 winnable bouts by either 1 or 2 points. In wrestling, friends, that’s a 24 point swing. VT is better. They’re a Legit Top 5-10 team and that’s without their defending 165LB National Champ Mekhi Lewis. (Who is busy making good on his Olympic RS year by, among other things, winning Silver at the US Open this past weekend.) The Mocs will steady the course by adjusting to overcome those minuscule differences in preparation for the Southern Scuffle. More on that later.
The App St. Mountaineers are coming to Chattanooga and they finished their seasons first half by picking up their first dual win, 36-6 over 1st year school UALR. The newsworthy note from the near shutout: after rolling to a 33-0 lead 8 matches in, App State star 149LB Jonathan Millner went from 14-1 to 14-2 in 1 minute and 47 seconds, courtesy of Little Rocks Tyler Brennan. Nobody, not even UALR Head Coach Neil Erisman, saw that pin coming. The Mountaineers won the final match close, the dual going away, and they bring a well blended group of tough upperclassmen and talented youngsters to Chatt-town.
The Citadel and conference foe Presbyterian, a 1st year team, finished their seasons first half together last week. It went the homestanding Bulldogs way 37-8 as the Citadel took 8 matches to the Blue Hose 2. Yes, Presbyterian is the Blue Hose. They had a big W at 157 as Zachary Phillips downed Citadel veteran Douglas Gudenburr 8-6, and Austin Stith, down a weight at 184, had a tech fall victory for his team leading 8th win. The Citadel picked up two forfeit victories and won most of the competed matches comfortably. The lone exception was 285LB Mike McAleavy, who took a 4-2 w from Blue Hose Heavy Imani Heslop.(a) Both teams are coming to Chattanooga.
Gardner Webbs struggles with injuries and illness this season have put the Running Bulldogs on cruise control:slow so far. Coach Daniel Elliot’s crew finally popped a home wheelie by downing previously unbeaten Franklin and Marshall 22-18. It was GWs first dual meet win this year, accomplished in large part by Taylor Parks pin at 157 and RJ Mosleys major decision victory at 165 over tough Diplomats grappler Emmett Licastri. Those wins were part of a 5 match run by the Dogs, who gave up 6 points by forfeit at 133 before earning the w. Hopefully a healthier, fully formed pack will make their way from Boiling Springs to Chattanooga come the 1st of the year.
What went down in Morgantown was not the best for VMI, but the Keydets did eke out a 21-17 win over Hofstra in their last match at the quad hosted by West Virginia. VMI fell to the Mountaineers from Morgantown 34-8 and also took a tough 32-6 hammering at the hands of Edinboro. And again, star senior 174LB Neal Richards seems off form, with 1 tech fall win, (good, expected) one win by forfeit (happens) and another loss (bad, but perhaps not totally unexpected right now) 13-9 to Fightin Scots star Jacob Oliver. Against Edinboro, any chance VMI had for the upset went out the window with 2, 1 point losses in the first 5 bouts. That’s a 12 point swing and folks, just about no team can bounce back from that on the road. Next, VMI road trips again, this time to the warmer confines of beautiful downtown Chattanooga Jan 1st and 2nd. And you know why!
Campbell and Davidson took different paths this past week. The Camels are amping up and aiming for their 3rd big tournament showing this season, this time at the previously mentioned Midlands. Davidson, off since splitting a pair of matches at the Patriot Duals the first week of December, should arrive in Chattanooga well rested and ready for the Scuffle.
SENIOR STARS SHINE IN THE LONE STAR STATE
The Ft. Worth Convention Center put out a big ole Texas welcome mat for a boatload of Olympic wrestling hopefuls this past weekend. Our amazing male and female grapplers got it on for a chance to qualify for the Olympic wrestling trials in State College, PA, come next April. That will be the final field where our Tokyo team will be set. This past weekends donnybrook(b) was the last best chance for a lot of folks to make that field. Making the most of the opportunity, Iowas 2x NCAA Champ Spencer Lee. He beat former conference and current Sr Freestyle rival Nathan Thomasello 8-2 for the title at 57KG. Other current college wrestlers who won Trials spots at this weight: Cornells RS Sophomore Vitali Arujau and Rutgers RS Senior Nick Suriano. Other athletes qualifying for the Trials who are still competing at the collegiate level: Nick Lee of Penn State and Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell at 65KG. College wrestlers RULED 74KG as Michigan’s Logan Massa, Mekhi Lewis of VA Tech, Wisconsins Evan Wick and Anthony Valencia of Arizona State took spots. Massa and Lewis are sitting this college season out while Wick and Valencia briefly stepped away from school competition for this event. Anthony’s brother, Arizona State 2X NCAA Champ and 3X AA Zahid Valencia, won the 86KG title. He was the lone athlete with college eligibility to take an 86KG spot. It was 1 college wrestler solamente at both 97 and 125KG as well. Ohio State senior 3XAA and national finalist Kollin Moore at the what was once called “light heavyweight”(c) class, and Penn States(d) Daniel Kerkvliet for the full feed big boys. There were a number of athletes who “injury defaulted” out after qualifying. A semi finalist at 125KG who may really be injured: Penn States defending National Champ at 285LB, Anthony Cassar. Nate Cobler of the Centre Daily Times wrote that Cassar seemed to have popped his shoulder out in a 5th place match loss to former Columbia star Garrett Ryan. Ryan qualified for the Trials. Cassar…who knows? Lots of significance for his PSU career, title defense, and Olympic qualifying hopes, perhaps. A must be noted performance: former OK ST 4X AA, 2X National champ (and current UNC volunteer assistant coach) Jordan Oliver’s absolute torching of the 65KG field. #thatguy_jo had a “Hawkeye plays Golf”(e) tournament. Wrestled 5, scored 50, gave up ZERO. ZILCH. NADA. NADA DAMN THING. Oliver won Most Outstanding Wrestler and successfully defended his unofficial “Best Tats in Wrestling” title to boot. Of the magnificent mujeres who competed, there was one who, like Oliver, seems to be on a “take no prisoners” tour. 68KG Forrest Molinari had to make “the decision,” that terrible call forced on wrestlers world wide prior to the year of Olympic competition. For 3 years international wrestling competes in 10 different, well placed weight classes from 57KG to 125KG.(f) Then the wrestling world powers-that-be force these magnificent athletes, who have toiled their entire lives to create the most perfect down to the ounce version of themselves, to radically alter their bodies. To change their training, their diet, their weight to fit an artificially constructed minimization of their sport. 4 weight classes are removed completely from competition. If you, the athlete, cannot radically alter virtually everything you have done for YEARS and go way below or way above where you have perfected your body to be, well, SUCKS FOR YOU. This grotesque anomaly can be directly be traced to the anti wrestling movement within the I. O.C. It also stems from the fear felt in certain countries concerning the explosive growth and unparalleled recent international success of 1 country. Believe you KNOW what country we are writing about. The USA has crushed international competition from 74KG to 97KG of late. Well, GUESS what weight range the IOC, some time back, decreed deserves shrinkage? ¡QUE SORPRESA! Oh, and did you happen to notice all that international success from US wrestlers of late around 61KG? SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE DID. SO convenient that weight class is not on the Olympic playlist, either. So sorry, America, here’s your participation trophy and a copy of the home game. WOW. RANT. Sorry. Back to #mynameis_jungle, or “Snowflake,” as the mightily muscled, mighty attractive Molinari is known. Shes a former wannabe 95lb HS football player who blossomed into World and Olympic contender status at the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. She won by fall over former World medalist Victoria Francis in Molinaris first 68KG US Open finals match. Her reward? A place in the US Olympic Trials tournament and a potential showdown with reigning World Champ Tamyra Mensah-Stock and, possibly, a Francis rematch as well. Stock destroyed the World this year, winning Gold for America. Francis is down from 72KG and burning to show shes a serious threat at her new weight class. The 62KG class had a unique twist as 2 of womens wrestling most talented and vociferous advocates put their bodies, hearts and souls into their sport. Julia Salata finished 4th and Gabrielle Lord-Klein had a dynamic consolations round tech fall shutout win before being ousted. Lord-Klein is the creator/author/editor/über-voice for the website Transition Wrestling, a daily compendium of news from across the Womens Wrestling world. Coach/Athlete/media pro Salata is a multi year presence in both print and broadcast, smart, salty and spot-on in her views and news presentations. Intermat, Flowrestling and USA Wrestling all have in depth archived coverage of the tournament if you have the hours to devote to their information streams. We will close our notes by saying “Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for the show.” See some of you at the last chance tournament qualifier next year, and then, the trials. And some of you, quite a bit sooner than that in the college season.
SPEAKING OF THAT SEASON….
There IS that somewhat notable event that starts the New Year for the college wrestling season. That 2 day deep south showdown Jan 1st and 2nd. That one held in the Scenic City, one Chattanooga by name. Well, wrestling, food, fun, and family travel fans, you’ll just have to wait 1 more week before this column bursts at the seams with a simply wonderful 2020 Southern Scuffle preview. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is a tease. AND a wrap.
See you next week!
a. “Give it up for BLUE HOSE HEAVY and lead singer Imani Heslop.!!” Heavy Metal legend status awaits..
b. The name of a brand spanking new HS wrestling tournament in Iowa, full title, The Dan Gable Donnybrook You’re welcome, Coach G! #stillmyhero
c. As wonderfully oxymoronic as ‘jumbo shrimp” and “civil discourse”
d. Maybe hes Penn State. Maybe hes Team USA. Maybe hes Titan Mercury. Maybe hes a Russian spy. If you think you know, you probably don’t know this kid. Makes about a billion of us.
e. Hawkeye, in Captain America:Civil War, on why the game was too easy: “Tried it. Played 18. Shot 18. Just can’t seem to miss.”
f. 130KG in Greco. Until and unless things change, we probably won’t go Greco again in this column.