Season 5, Column 25: The CKLV is the Fast Lane Kudzu of Tournaments

Spreading its results everywhere and all the time, the Cliff Keen Las Vegas is the first mega-tournament of the season. And, nearly every season, a little too much is made of both its team and individual results. Blame it on the location, its calendar slot, its amazing marketing or maybe just a little on its maize-and-blueblood heritage. The Churella family of Michigan wrestling legend have been all hands on deck, forecastle, and mizzen mast for this particular ship for a long time and there’s always a big, BIG 10 presence in Lost Wages. Those in and of themselves are both good things. Add the time frame and the Vegas glitz ‘n glitter, however, and you often end up with results that are over weighted and more than a little Big 10 biased. Despite or perhaps just a bit because of those things whoever makes the podium in Vegas regardless of conference affiliation gets a MASSIVE year long ratings boost for seeding at Nationals. The view here is it’s a bit overblown but tolerated because it’s a BIG 10 dominated event and the BIG 10 is THE dominant wrestling conference, after all. See how that works? Ah well. BIG 10s teams present: Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, and Minnesota. A late (11/30) Gopher Athletics Department memo notes contact tracing protocols and previous roster decisions will lead to a reduced Minnesota presence. Also in attendance, nationally prominent teams Cornell, Oklahoma, Oregon State, Stanford and Wyoming. Joining the fracas are Binghamton, California Baptist, Cal Poly, Bakersfield, The Citadel, Columbia, Harvard, Kent St., DII power Nebraska-Kearney, Northern Colorado, Princeton, Sacred Heart, South Dakota State and Utah Valley. Let’s be fair here. Every conference except the ACC has at least one team involved, so the field is fairly representative of the sport. Get the shout out now to FloWrestling, Intermat, The Open Mat, WIN magazine, and all the podcasters/vloggers who will entertain you this week with tales of Titanic Top Ten clashes they expect/hope will take place. Here’s a few notes on some notable and not so notable names who could enhance their status with some quality wins this weekend.

•Binghamton Bearcats-the mean green growlers from Vestal, NY have a legit title contender in AA Lou Deprez, up at 197 after last years 8th place showing at 184. He’s a 100 match winner, a 2XAA and E.I.W.A. champ, and owns a sweet nickname of “DaPredator NOT Deprez.” Credit Flos Christian Pyles for that. Speculation around the wrestling world is that Sweet Lou might still end up at 184 for this years title run. Both weight classes are swimming with sharks at the CKLV and at Nationals. DaPredator will be right at home. Big man Joe Doyle is just a tough old Pennsylvania hvt. who backs down from nobody. Deprez, Doyle and four others on the Bearcats 24 man roster are seniors or redshirt seniors. They are nothing if not seasoned. Watch for 133lb Anthony Sobotker. He has already caught lightning in a bottle this season, pinning Rutgers star Sammy Alvarez in an early dual.

•California Baptist-The Lancers are preparing to join the Big 12 full time and are chomping at the bit to show they’re every bit the quality edition to the conference that Missouri is. CBU comes into Vegas with a bakers dozen of tournament place winning efforts and two event champs. 157lb AJ Raya copped Gold at the RoadRunner Open and 125lb Devin Garcia took the top podium spot at the Harold Nichols(1) Cyclone Open. CBU is completing its 4th and final interim season before officially becoming a Big 12 wrestling school and they’ve earned multiple D1 dual meet wins during their transition from DII.

•Cal Poly-former UTC AA Jon Sioredas has the ball rolling at Cal Poly and looks to put 3-5 Mustangs on the podium here. You’ve already heard and read about 2X All American 165lb Evan Wick who transferred in for his final year from Wisconsin. You should remember 174lb Bernie Truax and his stampede to a Top 4 finish at last year’s NCAAs. FUH-GEHT ABOUT those guys, let’s talk Evan’s younger brother, 149lb Luka. He of the two tournament titles so far in this, his true freshman season. He of the absurd 405lb bench press. Even Matt Damon’s not asking, Luka. And quit hugging your family so hard. You could break a rib already. Then there’s the duo of 133lb Abe Hinrichsen, whose 8 wins are tied for the team lead, and 141lb Lawrence Saenz, 4-1 so far, who went to Nationals two years back for Fresno State.

•Cal St. Bakersfield-a “contingent” of RoadRunners are headed to Vegas according to the schools website. It is a young team also as Bakersfields CKLV lineup has no seniors and only three juniors. All Overlooked and Underrated 141lb star Angelo Martinoni is rolling with just 1 loss and fellow NCAA qualifier 133lb Chance Rich is now ready. 174lb Albert Urias has two tournament Top 3 finishes so far this season. FYI, 28 of 30 Roadrunners are Cali born and bred, a roster point of pride for Bakersfield. Coach Luke Smith’s crew will put up points. Look for them to make an even stronger statement at the Southern Scuffle.

•Columbia-season 119 for the nations oldest team got off to a bang as 12 Lions placed at the Southeast Open with the big winner being Tri Captain 125lb Joe Manchio. His tournament title win over AA Sam Latona of VT was one of THE upsets to open the season though both he and Latona have lost since. The return of 141lb Matt Kazimir and the emergence of 165lb Joseph Ogunsanya(2) gives the Lions a shot at multiple CKLV podium spots.

•The Citadel-The SoCons lone team at the CKLV, the Bulldogs never shy away from a challenge. The CKLV will be their third tournament this season, and they have already earned 4 finals spots and a champ in the first two. Their one-two punch at 157 and 165, Dazjon Casto and Selwyn Porter, are solid bets for upset wins, and defending SoCon hvt. champ Mike McAleavey can beat you with quickness as well as power. This seasons most recent addition, Column 24, November 20th, went in depth on the Bulldogs.

•Harvard-The Crimson returned to the mat after a 20 month Ivy League Covid-19 mandated absence by setting an all tournament schedule to start 2021-2022. The Journeymen Classic, Keystone Classic, the CKLV and finishing 2021 at the Midlands is one tough slog. Five Crimson wrestlers won their competition pools at the Journeymen and eight placed at the Keystone. 165lb Phil Conigliaro took the title there and is considered a viable AA threat. Yet to see action this season for Harvard, Belorussian hvt.Yaraslau Slavikouski. In his only Crimson campaign so far Yaraslau won Ivy League Rookie of the year, E.I.W.A. Freshman of the year, went 30-8, and made Second team AA. With no Ivy League competition last season he wrestled in the Belarus Senior Nationals and took Bronze. *[Update-Slavikouski will compete at the CKLV]* Look for 174lb Joshua Kim to push his his field as well. One more interesting Crimson note: three sets of brothers adorn the roster.

•Kent State-15 placewinning efforts over three tournaments highlight the Golden Flashes efforts so far, with eight finishing Top six at the Mountaineer Invitational and six more earning honors at the Navy Classic. 125lb Jake Ferri, preseason All Mid American Conference 1st team, and 149lb Kody Komara took 2nd at Navy. Those two, along with 184lb Colin McCracken, can all make a run in Vegas. 141lb Louis Newell, a transfer from Pitt, has placed at every tournament so far this season and can’t be discounted.

•Northern Colorado-The Bears are starting to reap the benefits of grabbing Colorados best as they’ll head into Vegas with several serious podium contenders. Former USA National champ Andrew Alirez is undefeated at his new weight of 141 and 133lb Mosha Schwartz is a folk style and Greco-Roman star. Now at 149, Chris Sandoval is an NCAA qualifier and he, Alirez and Schwartz were all Centennial State High School stars who chose to stay home and end the hibernation.(3) Don’t discount the capability of 197lb Alan Clothier, either. He’s had some tough losses at his new weight after starring for years at 184 for both the Bears and App. State. Hes 4-2 with losses to World Champ Rocky Elam and undefeated AA Jake Woodley of Oklahoma. Look for Clothier to stand out at his new weight this year, and soon.

•Oregon State-Hopefully the Beavers will charter a luxury coach for the run from Corvallis to Las Vegas. Their last attempt to leave the Dam for competition was a day and night nightmare for Coach Chris Pendleton and crew. The Beavers were grounded by delays, missed connections and resigning airline employees, ultimately having to call off their scheduled match in Iowa with the Hawkeyes. Oregon States schedule, even with that missed date in Iowa City, has been very challenging. They’ve faced Penn State, Lehigh, and Campbell, all of whom are top contenders for their respective conference crowns. Team wise they’re 1-2. Individually the Willits brothers, 141lb Grant and 157lb Hunter, are standouts, and 133lb Devan Turner is a 3x NCAA qualifier and 2X PAC 12 champ. Hvt. Gary Traub is off to a slow start. Two matches against 3X AA Jordan Wood of Lehigh and one with AA Greg Kerklveit of Penn State in the span of eight days will do that to you. The Beavers hit their stride late last season as they pushed Arizona State for the PAC 12 tournament crown.

•Princeton-the #GetIn crew of Chris Ayres, Sean Gray, Joe Dubuque and handsome Nate Jackson (4) is another squad that went tournament heavy to start the season. Their only dual was a 32-12 setback to Iowa where multiple stars for both squads did not participate, que lastima. True to form, Princeton released a written list of probable participants for the CKLV. Who does that? Well, Princeton for one. Doing the thing for Princeton for several years now, 2XAA 125lb Patrick Glory and AA 157lb Quincy Monday. 184lb Travis Stefanik and 165lb Grant Cuomo have 3 trips to the NCAAs between them, and keep an eye out for undefeated freshman 197lb Luke Stout. Glory and Stefanik will see their first action for Princeton this season in Vegas if they do go. BTW, Monday is also undefeated as he and Stout took titles at the Southeast Open where the Tigers had 8 overall place winners.

•Sacred Heart-John Clark’s Pioneers picked up where they left off last season, growing their numbers and increasing their expectations. They’re 1-1 on the season with an expected defeat by Penn State and thrilling and unexpected 17-16 victory over Jason Borellis American University squad. Expectations from the general public: the Pioneers will tell you they were looking for two wins. Sacred Heart had 5 place at the Keystone classic with their upper weight duo of 184lb NCAA qualifier Joe Accousti and 197lb Dante Delbonis taking 5th and 4th respectively. 157lb Nick Palumbo is also aiming for another trip to Nationals for the Pioneers and just may suprise in a match or two in Vegas. One last Pioneers note: at last count their official roster listed 77 wrestlers. SEVENTY-SEVEN. God bless ’em, every one.

•South Dakota State-this columns preseason in depth preview of the JackRabbits (Season 5, Column 17, Sept. 23rd) gave you the meat and potatoes on this years team, and there’s not been a lot of gravy so far to cover. They placed 4 at their rival NDSUs Bison Open with AA 141lb Clay Carlson earning a title. They defeated Augustana and lost to Minnesota, neither suprising. In between those events was SDSU’s own Daktronics Open where a mostly younger field of JackRabbits had one finalist in 197lb Nic Casperson along with three, 4th and 5th place finishes. In a same day event as the JackRabbits 27-13 loss to Minnesota 4 young Rabbits earned titles at the Harold Nichols Cyclone Open freshman-sophomore division. What to look for in Vegas from SDSU? First and foremost, will 165lb Tanner Cook keep getting all his victories by pin? He has so far this year, 6 in all. Will 197lb star Tanner Sloan round into form against a very tough field? He missed AA honors by 1 match after a 14-0 start last season but opened this year by being beaten 9-3 by Minnesota’s Michial Foy. Will AA Clay Carlson cement his status as a multiple year podium placer? Will hvt. A.J. Nevills finally fulfill his part of the legendary California Nevills family wrestling legacy? Most if not all of these questions will be answered by Saturday night in Vegas. (5)

•Stanford-unabashed fandom for the Cardinal has colored this column for years and this new look version led by Coaches Rob Koll, Dr. Enock Francois, and Vincenzo Joseph is more than living up to the anticipation. What’s that you say? Stanford defending National champ 165lb Shane Griffith has lost a match? Meh. AA 149lb Jaden Abas likewise? MEH. The Cardinal have already faced Top 5 foes Oklahoma State and Cornell and have emerged bruised but neither bowed nor broken. The Cardinal will be one of the few teams with athletes at the CKLV, the Reno Tournament of Champions and the Southern Scuffle, so come the conference dual season they will be fully battle-tested. Besides their 2 All Americans look for one of the Cardinals dueling hvwts., Peter Ming or Seamus O’Malley, to improve on their 5-1 record. Tyler Eischens, up at 174 instead of 165 because, among other reasons, Griffith, could hit double digits in season wins once he wraps up Saturday action. 125lb Jackson DiSario and 157lb Charlie Darracott are both capable of placing.

•Utah Valley-quietly hot out the box, the Wolverines stand 5-1 on the season with their only loss a 19-15 setback to Northern Colorado. They dumped three lesser foes and then beat Bakersfield and California Baptist. They loaded up with six champs and 22 total placewinners between the RoadRunner Open and The Cowboy Open. Hot starts are old hat for Coach Greg Williams and his Wolverines. They open seasons like a Cat. 5 Hurricane but more than once have been undone by over scheduling, rashes of injuries, and just plain bad luck. Their 33 man roster is anchored by returning AA’s 125lb Taylor LaMont and 165lb Demetrius Romero. Romero, in an unusual move for a 6th yr senior, has dropped back down to his original weight class while LaMont is a National champion and international standout for the U.S. in Greco Roman. Talk about longevity: due to an injury caused redshirt season and last years Covid-19 “season”, LaMont is a 6th year junior with a year of eligibility remaining! Those guys you know, but get to know sophomore and Fresno State transfer 133lb Haiden Drury, 9-1 and RoadRunner Open champ. There’s a plus sized Wolverine to watch for as well, undefeated sophomore hvt. Jayden Woodruff. A Colorado superstar at Ponderosa High, Woodruff had an undefeated redshirt year for Utah Valley and an 8-5 first season, both at 197. Both injury and growth happened in 2020 and now Woodruff is UVUs hvt. for the foreseeable future.

•Wyoming-a team and a coach that caught the authors attention some years back in a state that captured the heart decades ago, Mark Branchs’ Wyoming Cowboys took a new approach to 2021-22. They lightened their typical early season grind, instead tuning up for a first big effort at their own Cowboy Open. It paid dividends as 16 Cowboys made the semis, eight earned Finals spots, and four took titles. The preseason look see on the team from Laramie (Season 5, Column 8, August 7th) gave out heads up on the expected stars for this go round. A couple more have emerged from the bunkhouse, notably 133lb Job Greenwood and 157lb Cooper Voorhees. Voorhees, a heritage wrestler whose father Brent wrestled from 91-96 for the Cowboys, was 1-4 last year as a true freshman. This year, 15-2 with three event titles and a 6th place by forfeit. Greenwood, 7-8 last year, is the current BIG 12 wrestler of the week after his Cowboy Open title win over #8 Michael (Mih-KALE, please) McGhee of Arizona State. Greenwood will hit double digit wins with a fair effort in Vegas. Bet cashMoney he’ll give more than that.

So there’s your thumbnail look at the behind the scenes teams, and a few out front, at the CKLV.

See you sometime soon!

Ted Carreras

(1) Nichols, a giant in wrestling history, coached the Cyclones for over 30 years. His success transcended numerical description as he helped batter down racial and ethnic barriers in the sport. He coached ISU for 32 years and his Cyclones dominated wrestling with nearly half a thousand wins against less than 100 defeats. from the late 60s to the early 80s they earned 6 National Championships. Even more remarkable, they finished in the top four in the country for an astonishing 26 straight seasons. Cooler still, Nichols had bad-@ss full length Cardinal and Gold robes for his wrestlers. He even made Late Night with David Letterman once, it’s on YouTube. Not with 10,000 tries could you guess why.

(2) Also a Southeast Open Champ, Ogunsanya has a brother, PJ, currently an AA threat at 149 for Army West Point.

(3) When Troy Nickerson took over in Greeley the Bears were a Western Wrestling Conference afterthought. Now Northern Colorado has firmly established themselves as an up an coming force in the Big 12. Their motto: #HibernationIsOver. Indeed.

(4) Apologies, Coach Jackson, and with ALL due respect to the lovely Mrs. Jackson, blame the nickname on the guys from Bloodround. Still, when one speaks with or of Princeton, only the unvarnished truth will suffice.

(5) NO location in ANY brief time frame has answered more questions than a Saturday night in Las Vegas.