Tuesday, January 3, 2023

JT#1's Notes, Thoughts & Observations for Week 10 of the 22'-23' Collegiate Wrestling Season

 If you haven't gone to the bathroom yet, I'd go. When you come back, grab a snack and pour yourself a glass of water. We're gonna be here a while. Got a million thoughts and I'm not even sure where to start. 

Have you ever taken the time to realize how convoluted and difficult our sport is to understand? My girlfriend did not grow up in a wrestling family.  Outside of her little brother doing a year of pee-wee wrestling, her first real exposure to the sport is having me, an obsessive fan as a boyfriend. For most of our relationship, wrestling has been something I do on my own, as she has hobbies and activities that she does alone. She's accompanied me to a few events that I have covered to help things run smoothly, but she's never paid a lot of attention at those duals & tournaments. She really surprised me when I told her that I was getting tickets to the Soldier Salute & she said she wanted to go. 

I've been watching wrestling now for 31 years. It is something that I am so used to, so accustomed to, that it hadn't really hit me how confusing of a sport it is, until I had someone next to me asking 10,000 questions. 

"Why do the men have green and red, while the women have blue and red?"

"Why do the women do different moves than the men do?"

"Why in the women's match was that move worth 5 points & the guy over on the other mat did the exact same move and it was only worth two?"

"What does announcer mean this bracket was round robin & the other ones weren't?" 

It can be a difficult sport to understand for a newcomer and that's the only point I'm making. The reason why I'm making it is because I think sometimes we as diehard fans who have been watching the sport forever & who understand it well, aren't always patient with those who don't.  One of the unique things about wrestling is that most of our fans are not "just fans."  In fact I'd wager to say wrestling has very few, "Just fans."   What I mean by "just fans" are people who have no initial contact to the sport. Most people who love wrestling wrestled or they have someone close to them be it a son, daughter, nephew, niece, grandson, granddaughter, ect.  We have very few fans who never wrestled & who aren't connected through family/good friends. 

Moving on....

Saw a lot of debate and discussion over wrestling teams either not sending varsity to tournaments, scratching wrestlers at weights & all of the medical forfeits. This isn't good for wrestling. No matter how you spin it, this isn't good for wrestling. 

I made the argument that wrestling needs to realize its marquee value. Wrestling seems to talk out of both sides of its mouth. I can name many coaches who stand on a pulpit preaching to the community to get out and go to events. That we need asses in the seats of our tournaments.  Then these same coaches keep their best wrestlers at home.  Does that make sense?  When the list of teams for these events came out, I know I wasn't the only one to start dreaming up all of the great matches that were bound to happen.  Yet they didn't. 

Soldier Salute, Midlands & to a lesser extent Southern Scuffle, the term I kept hearing again and again, "Watered down."  Well, I will say this.  If who could have showed up, would have showed up, that's a term I wouldn't have heard.  

Many seem to think the solution here is to do away with having three major tournaments, and to even do away with two major tournaments, and only have one major tournament during this time of year.  Which will eventually lead me to another point.  I don't think we need to narrow it down to one major tournament. I think as long as we have everyone show up who an show up, all three of these will be the marquee events they're meant to be. 

Why aren't they showing up? 

I heard a lot of, "already wrestled in really tough competition, don't need to do it again. Need a break."  I empathize with that I really do.  On the same hand I find it sorta funny to hear from a sport that prides it self on being so tough.  Yet the truth of the matter is, the more competition you face, especially in a tournament where you could face a multitude of ranked competition, the more likely you are to get hurt/injured.  We don't wanna see anyone get hurt and hamper their chances during the post-season because of it. 

Which in a way gets me back around to the point I said I'd eventually get to. 

Soldier Salute took place in Coralville, Iowa.  Iowa Hawkeye country.  Xtreme arena is only a 2 mile drive from Carver Hawkeye arena.  I was expecting at least the finals to be sold out. Xtreme only seats a little over 5,000.  There's no reason that the place shouldn't have been packed. Yet throughout the entire tournament, I don't think it even got to half full.  I kept asking myself why.  This is Iowa.  All of Iowa's varsity wrestled in this tournament. I've been around the black & gold faithful since I was 7 years old. I know how most of the fans operate. They come to see their guys with little interest in other wrestlers from other teams, other than looking at sheets of paper real quick to see if who they're competing against is "good" or not.  So why if everything seemed to be in place, was the attendance not as good as it should have been? 

And frankly I don't know how attendance was at the Scuffle or at Midlands.  Was it better? Same issue? 

If same issue, maybe it has something to do with the fact that all three of these tournaments are held right smack after Christmas? An expensive holiday where many have already spent $$ on gifts and travel.  It's a thought.  

Is a solution to some of these issues shortening the season? I think it could be. It's awkward to hear that coming from me, considering how much I love wrestling, but I do feel the season is too long.  5 months is a long season. Some of these wrestlers by the time it is said and done will have over 50 matches. At this level of wrestling, that's a lot.  You're never going to get completely away from injuries, but I do think that a shortened season would help to lessen them dramatically.  I'd love to see collegiate wrestling for NCAA DI, DII, DIII, NAIA, NJCAA & Women's become a one semester sport.  Start in January go till middle of April.  It'd take some adjustments but I think for a multitude of reasons, the pros would far outweigh the cons. 

Whew....we haven't even covered the actual wrestling yet....You still with me? 

I saw a lot of great things at Soldier Salute.  A lot of great wrestling. First and foremost I have to say women's wrestling has come a long way. I remember the first time I ever saw women's wrestling live. It was in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2001. To be quite frank, it was nothing more than extremely strong women outmuscling women who weren't as strong as them. That was 90% of the matches.  Thursday and Friday, I saw an abundance of skill, technique and strategy. Women's wrestling has certainly arrived 

Dynamite Comes in Small Packages 

Sterling Dias isn't very big and she isn't very tall, but she's extremely tough.  She just plowed through the competition, not surrendering a single point throughout the whole tournament. They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas but I'm glad in this particular instance an exception was made. She's pure dynamite and I'm glad to see the Hawks have picked her up. 

McBryde Sisters Impress 

Who I had the most fun watching during the tournament on the women's side of things was the McBryde sisters of Life. While Latifah has the best tournament placing 1st, Jamilah placing 4th & Zaynah placing 5th were fun to watch too. They all have a great sense of mat awareness & excellent positioning. The way they're able to create openings and force action where it doesn't even seem to be is quite impressive too. The more training they get & the stronger they become, the more of a threat they'll be. 

Lee Vs Ayala Sparks!! 

A lot was said regarding the Drake Ayala Vs Spencer Lee match.  Heard many opinions and many speculations, but not sure if any of them got down to the nitty gritty of it. In my personal opinion, I was glad to see Ayala want to go toe to toe with Lee. I like that no fear, fighting spirit.  It amazes me how many took shots at him post getting pinned.  Not many look good against Lee. He's a three time NCAA DI champion, who will soon by Iowa's first ever four timer. He makes most of his opponents look stupid. Ayala will fill in next season & he'll contend for All American honors right away.

Now, you want a crazy take of mine??

I'm not real serious about this. In fact I'm not serious about it at all, but I don't hear anyone else suggesting it, so I will.  Maybe the hand on the face, shove & words exchanged was nothing more than a little showmanship to keep the stakeholders happy. You know the announcement before the Soldier Salute? UFC sponsors Iowa wrestling. Well President Dana White & sportsmanship are diametrically opposed. He ain't much for a handshake, pat on the back & a "good match."  Maybe Iowa simply wanted to impress a shareholder.  It's a stretch, but this day in age, who knows? 

Cowboy Looking Tough 

Spencer Lee is the meanest, toughest & nastiest bull in collegiate wrestling today & hats off to Wyoming's Jore Volk wrestling him as well as he did. He got bucked off a numerous amount of times as the bull threw him all around the corral. Nevertheless he kept getting back up for more. Anxious to see how Volk ends up doing the rest of the season. 

Sanchez Illustrates Race for EIWA Title Will Be All Out War 

There were a lot of overlooked upsets that happened at the Soldier Salute.  I don't know if many realize it, but for example, two time NCAA qualifier Andrew Cerniglia of Navy went 0-2. Just goes to show you how brutal and unforgiving this sport can be at times.  Another upset was Army's Julian Sanchez upending 2022 EIWA champ Matt Kazimir 6-4 in the semi-finals.  If you take a look at the EIWA standings at 141, you can tell how tough of a bracket it will end up being by season's end. 

Murin Looks Great, while Rathjen Proves Himself An Excellent Replacement in 23'-24' 

Man Max Murin is a fun wrestler to watch isn't it? The guy just seems to pull things out of nowhere. Many times throughout watching him this tournament I found myself saying, "How in THE Hell, did he do that?"  The guy gives absolutely nothing and fights like a mad dog in all positions. With that said, I'll say this.  Yes, I did speak my mind on the fact that Salute, Midlands and Scuffle did have a lot of backups/redshirts.  That doesn't mean that I can't see the positives within it though. For an all around wrestling fan like me, someone that follows the entire sport the way I do, there are advantages to seeing backups & redshirts at tournaments.  It lets you know what to look forward to in the seasons to come.  At the same time I'm also really glad I got to see the starter in this case.  May I add that, but it's clear as day to me that Caleb Rathjen is going to fill in very nicely for the Hawks when Murin's eligibility is up. 

Speaking of Backups....

Iowa certainly isn't hurting for talent at 197, that's for sure! Both redshirt Kolby Franklin & backup Zach Glazier looked very good this tournament. Franklin ousted Glazier 4-3 in the semi-finals but this is a wrestle-off for next season that I believe will be one of the best in the country. That Glazier is something else. Just an absolute gorilla on the mat. A glacier of solid, frozen ice.  Extraordinarily strong.  He went out and muscled VMI's Tyler Mousaw  to his back for a quick first period fall & then threw Northern Iowa's Waytt Voelker around the mat like a ragdoll in a 12-3 major.  Neither Mousaw or Voelker are pushovers. Mousaw will contend for NCAA qualification this season & Voelker, a redshirt for Northern Iowa, is 15-2 on the season. 

Moving on to the Midlands....

Northwestern Wins Midlands! 

Throw your *'s at me all you want. That's fine. I'm well aware. It doesn't change the fact of how rewarding it was to see host Northwestern finally win their own tournament. 58 Midlands championships & finally the Wildcats keep a title at home. You can only face the competition that is put in front of you & that's exactly what Northwestern did. 

125 lbs Take Aways

Eric Barnett of Wisconsin sure looked good.  The senior Badger who usually waits until the post season to start his engine, came into Chicago full throttle!  Looked tremendous in the finals Vs 2021 NCAA runner-up Brandon Courtney of Arizona State. Handled the Sun Devil 6-2.  Speaking of Courtney, it was nice to see him back but it makes one question, what's gonna happen in the months ahead? We have a CKLV champion & a Midlands runner-up, same weight, same team. Makes things interesting doesn't it? 

Diego Sotelo, where in the heck did you come from!?!?!  He came out of nowhere, and I do mean he came out of NOWHERE!  Enters the Midlands tournament with an 0-3 record. Get's annihilated 15-3 in the opening round by Michigan's Jack Medley. Then win after win, after win, ends up with the bronze medal. Unbelievable. A 5:34 fall over Penn's Ryan Miller & an 11-3 major over Lehigh's Sheldon Seymour.  I knew good things were happening at Harvard, but this took me by complete surprise. 

Pennsylvania's Michael Colaiocco Makes a Statement 

What a performance by Pennsylvania's Michael Colaiocco! Quarter finals knocks off All American Taylor LaMont of Utah Valley 8-1.  Then in the semi-finals has a wild match with two time All American Lucs Byrd of Illinois, knocking off the Illini 15-13.  Then in the finals, wrestles a tactical match to defeat two time All American Chris Cannon of Northwestern 3-2. Very impressive. 

Saul Ervin Takes a 6-5 record to a 5th Place Finish 

 With Cole Matthews of Pittsburgh doing Cole Matthews things at 141 lbs, what stuck out to me most in this bracket was the performance of SIUE's Saul Ervin.  The Cougar up to the start of Midlands didn't have much going for him this season, but man did he look good in Evanston. A 1:54 fall over Wisconsin's Joe Zargo, he then upset Jesse Vasquez of Arizona State 6-3 in the semi-finals. Ended his day with a 9-4 decision over Ryan Michaels of Pittsburgh. 

Yahya Thomas Champion of Champions 

It was very rewarding for me as a fan to see Yahya Thomas wrestle so well & for his efforts be awarded the Ken Kraft Champion of Champions. When this guy opens up and just lets it fly, he's hard to beat.  He proved that in a 3-2 semi-final over Doug Zapf of Pennsylvania & a 4-3 final over Kyle Parco of Arizona State.  Yianni Diakomihalis, Paniro Johnson, Austin Gomez, the name Yahya Thomas belongs right up there with them. 

Trevor Chumbley Contributes to Northwestern's Team Title 

In order for a team to win a team title, it takes a lot of individual efforts. That includes guys stepping it up and wrestling better than expected. That's exactly what Trevor Chumbley did.  He came in and as Larry the Cable Guy would say, he "got er done."  An 8-0 major decision over Cleveland State's Marcus Robinson, he then took out Garrett Model 6-1 in the semi-finals.  Finished out the day with a dominating 8-0 major over Wisconsin's Drew Scharenbrock. 

Nathan Lackman's Performance Overshadowed By Other DIII Wrestler 

There was a Division III wrestler who stole the show at the Midlands & as a result, Rhode Island's Nathan Lackman's respectable performance gets overlooked.  Nevertheless the Anchorman knocked off both Central Michigan's Tyler Hubbard as well as Hofstra's Lucas Revano in route to an eventual 6th place finish. 

Ed Ruth, Signed, Sealed and Delivered 

Illinois' Ed Ruth is proving himself to be every bit as good as the brochure said he would be.  Now at 15-1, he adds a Midlands championship to his resume. An impressive 4-1 victory over Pennsylvania's Nick Incontrera in the finals. 

DIII Well Represented by UW-Whitewater's Jaritt Shinhoster 

Again throw the *'s all you want, fact of the matter remains, Jaritt Shinhoster beat everyone put in front of him up through the semi-finals & then gave Pittsburgh's Reece Heller all he could handle in a 7-5 match.  The Warhawk defeated Neil Antrassian of Virginia 7-3 in the quarter-finals. Antrassian for the record came back to take 3rd & he's 15-3 on the season.  Shinhoster then defeated Brian Soldano of Rutgers 7-0 in the semis. Soldano who is also 15-3 on the season, came back to take 4th.  So no, Shinhoster wasn't defeating Max Dean or Aaron Brooks here, but nevertheless the DIII wrestler upended two solid NCAA qualifier material DI wrestlers to take home a Midlands silver. 

Lots of Positive Takeaways From 197 Midlands 

Zach Braunagel of Illinois Vs Braxton Amos of Wisconsin was an interesting final between two All American hopefuls. What was really fun to watch here, was the performance of Andrew Davison of Northwestern. The Wildcat has lived within the shadow of his more successful brother for quite sometime & how recompensing it was to see him finally have a moment of glory of his own.  In round two drops a hard fought 3-2 decision to Pennsylvania's Cole Urbas.  Then just plows through the competition, including upending Luke Stout of Princeton 7-4, who teched Urbas 20-4! How's that for parity!?!?! 

HWT Midlands Also With Positive Takeaways 

Lucas Davison must have been exposed to a little bit of gamma radiation as a kid, but I just cannot get over how incredibly powerful and strong he his. I thought freshman Dayton Pitzer of Pittsburgh, another incredibly powerful wrestler in his own right might match him in terms of strength. Nope.  The wildcat proved superior in a 4-0 decision.  It was also very rewarding to see Colton McKiernan take a 5th place finish. The Cougar has been dying for something of major significance to happen for him and THIS.WAS.IT. I would expect this success to be the psychological advantage that his career has been in such dire need of and I would expect it to have a positive result on his performance the rest of the season. 

Now for the Scuffle....

Matt Ramos Continues to Illustrate How Wise Move Down to 125 Has Been 

A CKLV runner-up & now a Midlands Champion, sophomore Matt Ramos has made it more than obviously that the move down to 125 lbs has been beneficial for him. The other guy that stood out to me this tournament was Stanford's Nico Provo. Drops a 3-1 match to Oklahoma State's Trevor Mastrogiovanni & then comes back through the consolations to eventually avenge that loss 9-3 for 3rd place. He also nearly majored Stevo Poulin 10-3 along the way.  Someone let Bernard Muir know that talent his school produces that he obviously ignores. 

Palmer With Another Impressive Scuffle Finish 

We all knew going into this thing that Daton Fix was gonna walk out champion, but Chattanooga's Brayden Palmer being his finals opponent was not a guarantee. 3rd last season, this is the second time in his career that Palmer has stepped it up and performed very well at this tournament. Must be something about having George McIntyre there in the flesh cheering you on. Palmer with a very impressive 7-4 victory over Ramazan Attasauov of Iowa State in the quarter-finals & even more impressive sticking Aaron Nagao of Minnesota in 2:36 in the semis.  

I was pretty comfortable thinking that Attasauov would be the Cyclone's starter this year, but it was Zach Redding who finished 5th to Attasaouv's 7th. Maybe things aren't as finalized in Ames as I once thought they were. 

Andrew Alirez A First For Northern Colorado? 

I don't know for sure, but I believe Andrew Alirez became the first wrestler from Northern Colorado to ever win a Southern Scuffle title. Don't hold me to that, but I believe he is.  Watching him perform the way he did here, I honestly think he could win the NCAA title this year. He's on fire.  In that case, I know for a fact he'd be the first Bear to ever win an NCAA DI title. 

March, Marches to Title at 149

If you've been reading my stuff for a while, you know that I've been talking for a long time now about how good Kellyn March is despite his record & mishaps. How rewarding it was to see him show the world what it is I knew all along.  A 9-3 victory over MAC champion Quinn Kinner of Rider in the semis, he was able to outlast Victor Voinovich and his tremendous gas tank in a 5-3 decision in the finals. 

As we move on to 157 lbs, have to comment on the tremendous intestinal fortitude and tenacity of Stanford's Jaden Abas. Comes in here and suffers a heartbreaking 3-1 loss to redshirt Michael Gioffre of Virginia, then rallies win after win to eventual come back for 3rd. Some would have folded after such a depressing loss. Abas meanwhile put his nose to the grind & just kept winning. 

Franek wins Second Scuffle Title as Stanford Proves too Much for Gfeller 

A great final between North Dakota State's Jared Franek & Purdue's Kendall Coleman.  Both of these grapplers are two of the finest wrestlers in NCAA DI yet to make All American status & I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see both of them on the podium in March.  

Kaden Gfeller of Oklahoma State went into this tournament a three time Southern Scuffle Place-winner with finishes of 1st-2nd-2nd.  He Looked to be in route for a fourth Scuffle finals appearance when Charlie Darracott of Stanford stopped him dead in his tracks with a huge 3-2 upset.  As Gfeller worked his way back to the consolation finals, he was once again stopped dead in his tracks by a Stanford wrestler. This time it was Daniel Cardenas who defeated the Cowboy 4-2! 

Griffith Wins Scuffle Title #2 with Challenge from Caliendo 

Stanford's Shane Griffith picked up his second Southern Scuffle title with a gallant challenge from North Dakota State's Mikey Caliendo who held him to a 3-2 decision.  The other wrestler who stuck out to me here this tournament was Missouri's Cam Steed. After dropping an 8-3 match to Caliendo in round two, he came back strong to finish in 4th place.  

Triston Wills Has Highest Scuffle Finish For Little Rock 

One of the things very rewarding about this tournament was seeing Little Rock have some success.  Triston Wills wrestled very well including notable victories over both Dominic Solis of Maryland & Julian Broderson of Iowa State. It was a shame so many of the matches in this bracket ended in Medical Forfeits, but it nevertheless still cool to see Little Rock with a bronze medalist. 

Travis Wittlake Back on Top Again 

Now it wasn't the toughest of competition, but nevertheless Travis Wittlake did win a Southern Scuffle title & within doing so hopefully found himself again. It'll be interesting to see how it effects his confidence throughout the remainder of the season. 

Pentz the Pinner!! 

A master of the headlock & a master of the fall, Owen Pentz poses a danger to absolutely anyone he steps on the mat with. Ethan Laird of Rider found that out the hard way when the Bison locked up him for a 6:03 fall. Overall have to comment on how impressed I was with North Dakota State over all this tournament.  Three champs, two finalist & two other place-winners for a total of 7 on the award stand. Very impressive. 

Zach Elam Wins Scuffle Title

Zach Elam did exactly what I knew he'd so. He came in here & without much trouble took the Southern Scuffle title.  What I have to comment on is the performance of Duke's Jonah Nisenbaum. I know at this point I probably sound like a redundant broken record, but I can't help. He's one of the best stories in collegiate wrestling right now & I want the whole world to know it. Awesome to see him representing the Blue Devils, with a 5th place finish. 

I swear to you most of my writings are not nearly this long.  We're almost done with my Week 10 review...but one more tournament to go over. 

Cooper Willis Upends All American to Win Citrus Title 

Augsburg freshman Cooper Willis has himself a great weekend.  An 8-4 victory over NYU All American Cooper Pontelondolfo in the finals of the Citrus Invitational. 

Schreiner's Austin Cooley Wins Citrus Title 

Not to be confused with West Virginia's Austin Cooley (who ironically enough is also a 197'er) Schreiner's Austin Cooley picked up a Citrus Invitational championship this weekend. The Allen, Texas native scored a 2:02 fall over two time NCAA DII qualifier Bryce Walker of UNC-Pembroke in the finals. 

RayShawn Dixon Pulls off Huge Upset 

Saving the best of the upsets of the Citrus Invitational for last, RayShawn Dixon of Ferrum pulled of a huge upset defeating two time NCAA DIII All American & 2022 DIII finalist Tyler Kim of Augsburg 4-3 in the finals. Huge win for Panther! 

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