While a couple dozen plus squads are slamming in Las Vegas there’s several high-quality weekend throwdowns that warrant more than a brief mention.
Saturdays’ Cougar Clash at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville brings in a varied and talented field. According to Cougars Head Coach Jeremy Spates “It is a great opportunity for all teams to get a number of matches in a fan-friendly tournament. We have teams from the MAC [SIUE, NIU] BIG 10 [Wisconsin] PAC 12 [Little Rock] E.I.W.A. [Brown] and the SoCon [Bellarmine]. It will give all the teams an opportunity to see some different conferences and hopefully prepare for the NCAA tournament in March.” Look for the home teams 141lb Saul Ervin and 149lb Max Kristoff, both heritage SIUE stars, to step up at home. Another big selling point about the Clash came courtesy of SIUE Associate Head Coach Darryl Thomas. “Each team can bring 15 athletes and select their point scorers. Team scores will be taken.” Best paws forward for the rival Northern Illinois University Huskies will most likely come from AA 184Llb Brit Wilson (1) and slick, quick 165lb Izzak Olejnik. BTW, Olejniks fascinating story can be found in a fine piece by Kevin Claunch of BloodRound podcast fame (or infamy, depending on your tolerance levels. THIS author is a fan). Coach Ned Shuck of Bellarmine, the only SoCon team at the Clash (2), was sadly brief and to the point: ” We will be short a couple guys” [including star Devan Hendricks]. Who WILL be there for Bellarmine [that’s BELL-ahr-min, thank you] : 125, Jack Parker, 133, Max Dansereau, 149, Mitch Collica, Chase Yost, 157, Cole Nance, Alex Rivera, Corbin Hale, 174, Erick Beck, 184, Sam Schroeder, Charlie Caddell, 197, Bryant Wilkinson. Coach Todd Beckermans Brown team will roll in with the enthusiasm this season has brought after their Ivy League mandated hibernation. They’ll also have a new Bruin on hand, recently named Assistant Coach Jesse Delgado. Look for a swift and significant uptick in the Bears lightweight results. While this isn’t a powerful Brown squad like the Jonathan Viruet/Ian Butterbrodt-led recent teams, they did earn 5 podium spots at Binghamtons Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open. These Bears will be better each week as their mentors include Beckerman, Darius Little, former 3X Nebraska AA T.J. Dudley, and the aforementioned Delgado, himself a 2X National champ at Illinois. There’s been significant upticks at Little Rock, also, where a Division one wrestling team has sprung up in the Natural State like Athena bursting from Zeus’ cranium just three short years ago. Actually, it just seems that way. The amount of heavy lifting behind and in front of the scenes by folks like Mike Hatcher, A.D. George Lee (UALR Class of ’87, just sayin!) Coach Neil Erisman, assistants Javier Maldonado and Chandler Rogers has been phenomenal. On mat results have been pretty special, also, as Little Rock had its first NCAA qualifier last year, redshirt senior Paul Bianchi. This year Paul is a grad assistant, middle Bianchi brother Joseph is 5-1 and young buck Matt Bianchi is redshirting this, his freshman campaign, after a four state title career at Two Rivers, Wisconsin High. Erisman: “The Bianchis are a great family both on and off the mat. They bring the right mindset and work ethic to the table day in and day out.” Concerning potential NCAA candidates this year look at undefeated 133lb Jaylen Carson and Tristan Wills, 4-1 at 174. The final team at this years Clash might seem a bit out of place, but that’s only true if you don’t know Head Badger Chris Bono and the Wisconsin mantra. the Badgers are ALL about one thing: growing the sport everywhere, all the time, in every way. The author has personal knowledge of these traits in the Coach having personally observed him from up close and afar since Bonos’ days mangling foes as a multiple time FHSAA state champ some 30 years ago. The Badgers are a bonafide BIG 10 power and on their way to threatening the podium at their conference tournament. For years this column has eschewed detailed write ups about the “name” teams in wrestling simply because so many other teams are often deprived of coverage. Blame it on the fishing and the smoked fish afterwards, the Apostle Islands Lighthouse boat tours, Coach Bonos media savvy, the fine and friendly people up Pike Lake way, or the cheese curds, but Wisconsin will always get a coverage mulligan here. IF Wisconsin brings their #1s, consider them the favorites in at least half the weight classes. That’s NOT the point. Having the Badgers present gives every other squad a measuring stick opportunity in an easily tolerated one day format. Much better for the squads involved than the CKLV two day meatgrinder at this point in the season. Time enough for that come January at the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, or the Midlands at the end of December. So kudos to ALL the teams, staffs and athletic departments involved, and enjoy your Cougar Clash, wrestling fans!
With Apologies to Coach Kolat: Navy has docked in Las Vegas.
Woof. A complete goof by the author in not acknowledging the Midshipmen as they will undoubtedly be making all kinds of noise in Vegas this weekend. Coach Kolats’ second season in Annapolis is bearing significant statistical fruit. Three champions, five placewinners at the Clarion Open. Two more individual titles, 10, count ’em, TEN placewinners at the Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open. You just knew Navy would shine at an event named in honor of a former SEAL. Then Bronze as a team at their own Navy Classic with nine placewinners and four champions. So what to expect from Kolat and company at the CKLV? Duh. Lots of placewinners, higher than seeded finishes, and yet another salvo fired across the bridges of many wrestling blueblood teams and/or highly ranked individuals. Keep a sharp eye on 157lb Andrew Cerniglia, 184lb David Key, and All Overlooked and Underrated team mauler 197lb Jacob Koser. This may not yet be your father’s Navy team…but it’s getting there. #WinTheFight.
Small notes on the Big Boys
Lots of the bluebloods are battling it out at the CKLV. Maybe Michigan wins. Maybe Nebraska. Maybe Ohio State. Maybe Cornell. Maybe Oklahoma. Whoever doesn’t win there will probably win somewhere, and they’ll all win a lot this year. Like they did last year. Like they’ll do next year.
Lehigh is rounding into form with an all duals, no regular season tournament schedule. Sort of, as there was no team score at the Jouneymen Collegiate Classic they competed in earlier. They handled #15 Pitt already and should defeat Lock Haven this weekend. Although Penn may suprise them later this season, the Mountain Hawks seem right on track for Silver in the PA College Wrestling Championships. Everyone knows why.
Iowa and Iowa State aren’t in Las Vegas. They’re in Ames, Iowa, to wrestle each other. They kind of respect each other. They kind of don’t like each other. That is a very good thing for wrestling. Just like Iowa States BAD@SS robes. And Iowas new women’s team with Clarissa Chun as Coach. Yowsers. Meant respectfully. And admiringly.
There’s no ACC team in Las Vegas OR at the Cougar Clash. One ACC team, Virginia Tech, is at a Tri Meet with two BIG 12 powers, #3 and host team Missouri plus powerful Northern Iowa. There’s about 15 serious All American candidates between these three. It’s easily the most exciting Tri-meet since Wild Things.
Penn State wrestled Penn Friday night. Although this is being written Thursday night and sent out Friday morning we can tell you Penn State won. It was NOT a statement win. Penn is very good and getting better. Penn State is more than the first description and, hopefully for most other teams, not the second.
3X ACC champ and column favorite NC State defeated hard charging SoCon squad and column favorite Gardner-Webb Thursday night. The favored team won. The score was NOT indicative of the quality of both squads. Just one. The favored one.
Top 15 North Carolina won a couple duals to start the year. Then they lost 2. Then they won one. Lost two. Like going up and down the Appalachian mountains. Their next dual, against the Mountaineers, in Boone, will be a statement win. One way or another. App-tly said.
Michigan State had a two day PA road trip. They beat Lock Haven Thursday in a thrilling 19-17 come from behind match and should beat Bucknell Friday. The Spartans won the Navy Classic. They’re getting too good to be written about much anymore, but they’re coming to the Scuffle AND they hired Justin Oliver as an assistant Coach, so they get a coverage mulligan too.
SPARTANS!!! WHAT IS YOUR DESTINATION???
Apologies. LOVE that movie.
VERY special thanks to Coaches Ned Shuck, Jeremy Spates, Jay T. Weiss, Daryl Thomas, Neil Erisman, UALR Assistant Communications Director Kaylie Noll and SIUE Athletic Communications Assistant Eric Hess
See you sometime soon!
(1) Once a member of this column’s All Overlooked and Underrated team, Wilson has LONG been neither.
(2) Not that long ago in a wrestling world very close by (in fact, this one) SIUE was a loved and treasured member of the SoCon. Then they earned Division One AA cred, and off they went to the Mid American Conference. That’s just MAC’in. Hurts a little to be left behind.