Monday, January 3, 2022

JT#1's Notes, Thoughts and Observations For Week 9 Of Collegiate Wrestling! (12/27/21-1/2/22)

 What an eventful week in college wrestling! Holy Cow.  A million things happened and I'm gonna try to touch on a lot of them, but I'm sure there is a ton that I'll miss too.  If I had to pick one word to describe this week, I'd say that word would have to be....revealing.  In so many ways, this was a very revealing week in the world of college wrestling.  Might as well start with the biggest story. 

It absolutely breaks my heart that Spencer Lee's season is done.  The Iowa Hawkeye wrestling program has done just about everything. You name it, a Hawkeye has done it, except for one thing.  While Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Ohio State & Cornell have all done it, the one thing Iowa hasn't done is crown a four time NCAA DI champion. Spencer Lee earned the right to be the one to do that for the black and gold. It isn't right and it isn't fair that injury stood in his way.  He deserved that chance. 

The Matmen Open was a success.  Well ran and my hat is off to them for how successful it turned out.  What impressed me most was that they didn't go cheap on the awards.  Sometimes a last minute tournament is called and not even the champions will get a medal or a bracket sheet.  All eight place-winners got an award & got to stand on an award stand.  That was cool to see that. In a large, competitive tournament, you ought to get something for performing well. 

A few words weight by weight....

It's obvious that Lehigh has a decent replacement for when Jaret Lane graduates in Sheldon Seymour who finished an impressive 4th.  What stuck out to me most in this bracket was how well Blair Orr of Pennsylvania wrestled.  This is a guy that went 6-8 in 2019, 10-17 in 2020 and was not allowed to compete last year because of COVID-19.  He comes in here, scores a huge 12-4 major decision over Colton Camacho, plus a nice 3-2 victory over Bryce West of Northern Illinois. Orr's a senior and there is little chance he's going to beat out Miller for the varsity spot.  It's rewarding that a tournament like this exist.  Give him an opportunity to shine.  Last but not least, here I thought one of the West brothers be it Drew, Blake or Bryce would be the one to place at 125 for the Huskies & go figure, it's Lucian Brink who brings home a medal! 

Pittsburgh's Micky Phillippi just cannot figure out Lucas Byrd of Illinois can he?  Terry Silver of COBRA KAI says that everyone has a weakness and this particular Fighting Illini happens to be Phillippi's.  There's just something about Byrd's style that gives Phillippi fits.  With that said, I would have put money that UNI's starter by season's end would be Jack Skudlarczyk or Kyle Biscoglia but now I think Jack Wagner may be more in the hunt for that position than I initially thought. 

A lot of things I could say about 141 lbs.  Rutger's Sebastian Rivera showed easily why he's one of the top dogs. Tech, major, tech throughout the quarters, semis and finals.  C.J. Composto of Penn making the finals with some impressive wins.  Cole Matthews of Pitt with an impressive 3rd place finish.  Yet what sticks out to me most is We Rachal placing. I'm still in shock of it.  This is a guy that was 2-3 & then 3-6 the last two seasons. Not only does he find his way onto the award stand, he pins Carmen Ferrante of Penn, a ranked wrestler for 7th!!  Just goes to show you that wrestling takes place on a mat, not on paper.  Anything can happen. 

What a performance out of Josh Heil of Campbell! This was a respectable bracket with an EIWA champion and a R12 NCAA finisher. Heil wrestled a slow, conservative pace, but it got the job done with a nice 3-1 sudden victory over Wisconsin's Austin Gomez in the finals.  At this point, I'd almost be sad in a way to see Dylan Duncan make a return.  I mean don't get me wrong. Nothing against Duncan, and I DO want to see him back, going for another All American honor, but let's hear it for how good of a job Christian Kanzler has done in his place. He's really stepped it up a notch.  He was not expected to be the man at 149 this season & with Duncan out, he's done his job.  I think he could have placed a little higher than 8th, but still a placing is a placing. 

I knew when I saw that Elijah Cleary had transferred from Ohio State to Pittsburgh that he would be a great addition to the Panther squad. Glad to see him pick up a title here.  I was also glad to finally see Jake Keating of Virginia back in action. Dropped a 7-2 decision to Alex Carida of Bloomsburg in the quarterfinals, but battled back to avenge that loss in the 3rd place match with a 5-3 decision. 

It seems week in and week out I am writing about this kid, but I just cannot get over how good Wisconsin's Dean Hamiti is.  Majors Danny Braunagel of Illinois in the quarters & then sticks All American Zach Hartman in the finals. If that's not enough, earns a technical fall over Harvard's Philip Conigliaro.  This guy is just something else. 

174 wasn't exactly the toughest bracket at the Matmen Open, but nevertheless Edmond Ruth took on all comers to the title. It's nice to see that he's finally going to have a home as he's committed to be an Illini.  He'll be a great addition to the Illinois program. 

Later this year I have a six part series coming out entitled, "Post-Grads At the Midlands."  A series that concentrates on a time when the Midlands Championships featured wrestlers beyond their final season of collegiate eligibility.  During this time, there were times when current NCAA wrestlers defeated champions of the past, which very well could have been the very thing they needed to get over the hump.  Myles Amines of Michigan is one of the very best wrestlers yet to win an NCAA title. Matter of fact, he's one of the very best wrestlers yet to make the NCAA finals.  I was almost positive that earning an Olympic bronze medal was the thing that would boost his confidence to that level, but I think a 4-2 victory over former NCAA champion Mark Hall post-grad of Penn State might have even done his confidence one better. I truly think its the best thing to happen to Amine.  I think at this point, he's unstoppable. 

How rewarding it was to see Greg Bulsak win a title at 197.  This guy has a tremendous amount of talent, and a four time NCAA qualifier, one of the best yet to be an All American. To see him garner a huge victory over an NCAA finalist in the finals was very rewarding.  Take a look at this picture compared to him just last season.  Guy must have made friends with Popeye over the summer, cause it's obvious he's been eating his spinach. 

Hillger is quick for a HWT, I will say that.  I honestly think the only thing holding him back in matches is being oversized by some of his opponents. As to Ethan Laird of Rider, who was the runner-up here, I am anxious to see him back in action next season. He's redshirting currently & I think come 2023, we'll see him on the award stand at the NCAA's. 

Now to talk about the Southern Scuffle! 

What a great tournament full of great wrestling.  Lots of great things happened in Chattanooga this weekend. Let's take a look at some of them weight by weight. 

I was a little disappointed that our final was a medical forfeit. I was really looking forward to Minnesota's Patrick McKee Vs West Virginia's Killian Cardinale. I love watching both of them wrestle.  McKee is a little firecracker, that seems to always be lit.  An energizer bunny, go, go go.  Cardinale wrestles with such fierce tenacity. A very aggressive wrestler. Would have been a fun match.  As to Iowa, a guy like Spencer Lee is irreplaceable. Yet hat is off to Drake Ayala. He's being shoved into a position that he hasn't had adequate amount of time to prepare for yet & he's doing a great job.  He defeats Missouri's Noah Surtin by a convincing 9-3 score, drops a one point decision to McKee & then comes back to defeat Surtin again, while also garnering a victory over two time Scuffle place-winner Caleb Smith of Appalachian State.  Very nice job out of the true freshman.  Last but not least, was very happy to see Fabian Gutierrez earn a medal in his final Scuffle. 

I really thought that Jake Gliva was going to be the starter once BIG 10's rolled around but looking at the way Aaron Nagao performed this weekend, I'm not so sure anymore.  Took him less than a minute to stick Trey Crawford of Missouri & then he looked very smooth against Appalachian State's Codi Russell (Who I called by brother Sean's name in my preview...sorry about that) 5-2 in the semi-finals.  While Michigan State All American Rayvon Foley scored at will throughout the tournament, Nagao held the Spartan to a 2-0 decision.  

141 was one of my favorite weight classes for a multitude of reasons.  Real Woods of Stanford earns title #2 & what a statement for the program.  Bernard Muir did every dirty trick he could to try and crush the Cardinal spirit & this is proof that he F-A-I-L-E-D.  Cardinal wrestling is still alive and strong. Just crowned a Southern Scuffle champ baby!   Allan Hart of Missouri has had some ups and downs this season, rewarding to see him have a good tournament.   As to Andrew Alirez, the Northern Colorado Bear is now a two time Scuffle place-winner himself.  I was hoping for a rematch between him and Clay Carlson of South Dakota State from the CKLV Finals, but another medical forfeit. Nevertheless, I tell you what impresses me about Carlson the most.  The guy's attitude. I think a lot of wrestlers could learn a lot from Carlson. He's never negative. Never pessimistic. Always in a good mood. I've been trying to figure out what it was that allowed him to turn the corner so well and so fast.  Again, this is nothing more than my outside observation, but I think that has a lot to do with it. I really do. 

Lastly, while there is so much love from the black and gold for so many members of the Hawkeye squad, I feel that Wyatt Henson has been a bit over looked. Black Eye Peas got me questioning, "Where is the Love?"  He scored a 10-2 major decision over Angelo Martinoni of Bakersfield in round two.  Martinoni is a former Scuffle place-winner & recently took 8th place at CKLV. He's no slouch.  Then Henson defeated Quinn Kinner of Rider 7-3 in the consolations, another quality opponent.  Those victories, with a 5th place medal are something to be conscientious of. 

I said on my Twitter account that Josh Finesilver winning a Scuffle title was huge for him, huge for Duke and huge for wrestling.  I mean it.  For him, winning a tournament like this is a huge confidence booster. He was a hair from being an All American last season, I think it might be what he needs to see the award stand at the NCAA's this season.  For Duke, come on, how can you question? The Blue Devil wrestling program operates on a budget that has to go to Goodwill to get their shoestrings. They receive no support from the administration.  Everything that program has & gets is a result of Glen Lanham's hard work & the wrestlers who are part of the program + outsider help from alumni & fans.  It's truly a testimony to the human spirit to see what is being accomplished there.  Yes, Duke has their struggles. That's been obvious in dual results, but all things considered, it is huge for the program as well as for wrestling to crown a Scuffle champion. Shows kids out there that success can be achieved, even if the conditions aren't perfect.  

Very happy to see Alex Madrigal earn medal #2 for the Patriots.  I'm not 100% positive on this, but I think with his 6th place finish he became George Mason's first two time Scuffle place-winner?  Unfortunately I don't have records going back to the very first Scuffle, so I could be wrong about that. Nevertheless, a great accomplishment.  Sad to know that he had to MFF because of injuries.  Sure hope it's one of those heal up, back quick scenarios.  

What stuck out to be most at 157 lbs was the performance of Hunter Richard. If you read my Cornell Big Read 2022 preseason preview, I said that Richard was one of the best backups in the country.  I believe that & I feel that he did a tremendous job of proving that this weekend. I'm not sure if Richard is going to beat out Colton Yapoujian for the starting spot though.  Maybe he will. Maybe he won't.  That's why I love a tournament like the Southern Scuffle. An opportunity to show the world that there is some real talent out there in the depths of some of these wrestling rooms.  Richards scored a 7-3 decision of North Carolina State's A.J. Kovacs (who himself is in a battle for varsity with Ed Scott) & most impressive a 6-4 decision over All American Brock Mauller of Missouri in route to a 4th place finish. 

Keegan O'Toole of Missouri is something else isn't he? I was really thinking that West Virginia's Peyton Hall would give him a match in the finals, but he just lit him up.  And I still think that when we look at Hall, we're looking at a four time All American in the making.  It's simply that O'Toole is that good.  165 lbs is crazy tough this year, but O'Toole is a contender, let me tell you.  

I tell you, I'm just one off on all of my Minnesota predictions this year. It's no wonder when I write up my close to 80 DI team previews, that it is always Golden Gopher fans that seem to be the most nitpicky.  Again, I saw Andrew Sparks being the starter come BIG 10's, but with the way Carlson wrestled here (and he's wrestled well other times too this season) now I'm not so sure.  The only time he didn't look good this tournament was against O'Toole & frankly, who did look good against the national title contender?  

Pat Kennedy of Iowa looked good.  I didn't see his consolation semi-final match, but I am wondering if he got hurt.  Must have. He MFF'd his match against Luke Weber of North Dakota State, earning 6th place. 

Lastly, you ought to know by now I'm a fan of seeing wrestlers from small schools have success. Great 7th place finish for R.J. Mosley of Gardner Webb. 

I swear, honestly, Minnesota fans aren't the only wrestling people I find myself in discussions with. It just so happens, that we now get to talk about another topic. 5 months ago when I started putting together my articles for preseason team previews, I had O'Reilly listed as the Golden Gopher starter. Oh no, "I was WRONG. It WAS going to be Jared Krattiger." And nothing against Krattiger, great wrestler in his own right, fan of his, but I know how good O'Reilly is.  It still might be Krattiger by year's end, but man, O'Reilly looked really good here in his 3rd place finish. 

Matt Finesilver of Duke became a three time Scuffle place winner.  7th-5th-5th are his finishes. 

It's no secret to anyone that Maryland wrestling has been looking for that shot in the arm & I think the miracle cure to revamp the program has come in the form of Kyle Cochran. A 5-0 shut out of Jeremiah Kent of Missouri in the quarters, a 6-4 decision over All American/Scuffle Runner-up Hunter Bolen of Virginia Tech and a 4-1 decision of Jonathan Loew of Cornell. Cochran made a statement this weekend.  Loew himself had a good tournament.  This is his second high placing at a tough tournament this year, as he also finished 3rd in Vegas.  

While there are a ton of positives to focus on in this tournament, as in any tournament there are always a few negatives.  Hated seeing Chattanooga's Matt Waddell miss the award stand by a match.  Season's far from over though.  Still more opportunities for accomplishments. 

You know Missouri has a Hell of a team. Not a single senior in the starting lineup & we've already talked about how good some of the rest of the squad is.  Half of their team is still by eligibility standards freshmen and then another three are juniors.  You know Iowa, Oklahoma State, Penn State + others are going to be good in the years to come too, but does Missouri have a championship caliber team (NCAA speaking wise) in the seasons to come?   Rocky Elam kicking rear and taking names this weekend is sure reason to think at least maybe.  He just took it to Tanner Sloan of South Dakota State in the semis and then he was doing very well against Penn State's Michael Beard before the match was ended prematurely.  

Let's hear it for 2022's ONLY four time Southern Scuffle place-winner Alan Clothier of Northern Colorado.  This is a tough tournament and to say you earned a medal four times is a Hell of an accomplishment!  6th-7th-7th-6th.   

Jaron Smith of Maryland has battled injuries throughout his entire career. I know I've said this before & I'm gonna say it probably a few more times this season. Awesome to see him finally having a healthy season.  7th place at the Scuffle. 

Wyatt freakin' Hendrickson! Holy cow, did this guy come in like a jet airliner and make a statement this weekend or what?  Guy is looking strong, quick, well they say, the total package.  Brandon Metz of North Dakota State, who took 3rd, is a big guy.  A very big guy & Hendrickson threw him around like Lou Banach used to press Barry Davis over his head.   Then he takes all of a minute and a half to pin Cornell's Lewis Fernandes.  I never thought Air Force would outdo itself at Heavyweight after two time All American Kevin Hoy, but I think Hoy may have found the guy that will surpass him in credentials/accomplishments. 

A word in for Iowa's Aaron Costello.  Another wrestler that will probably never see a BIG 10 or NCAA tournament during his career, due to their being someone in front of him in the lineup.  Yet what a committed, dedicated member of his team.  He has always been there for the Hawkeyes anytime he has been needed. Always performing at his best level.  This was a tough bracket, that featured a lot of good wrestlers that did not medal.  Seth Nevills of Penn State, A.J. Nevills of South Dakota State, Michael Wolfgram of West Virginia, Hunter Catka of Virginia Tech, I'm not lying when I say that.  And here Costello places 4th.  


That novel was obviously long enough, but just to think I held back..a lot.  I tried to keep this as short and sweet as I could, but man it's hard to when so many interesting things happened this weekend! 

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