Swayz, the Portillo Brothers and I have been having a good time with our "Pick Em" contest that we've been doing for all of the NAIA conference championships. Now comes time to do the Appalachian Athletic Conference. Excited for this one as it is just loaded with talent at each weight.
NOTE - Remember Portillo's picks are purposefully underdog picks!
JT#1: Isaac Crowell Southeastern
Portillo Bros: Angel Banda Reinhardt
Swayz: Angel Banda Reinhardt
JT#1: Some huge upsets are going to happen this weekend. No doubt about it. Hell, they've been happening all season long, why wouldn't they happen this weekend!?!? Might as well try and predict some. Gonna go as far out on the limb as I can go with this one & say that I think Isaac Crowell of Southeastern upends Brandon Orum of Life for a title. The two time All American how has been 7th & 5th the past two seasons took the two time NAIA runner-up to a 7-5 decision. I say he can turn that into a win. Look out for Dennis McNeal of Brewton Parker in this bracket as well. He was 7th in the NAIA's last year.
Portillo Brothers: Angel Banda, Reinhardt. Only the 5-seed here, Banda is ranked #9 in The Open Mat’s final rankings of the season. He’s pinned past All-American Siason and beaten #12 Diamond in overtime this year. He only lost to the one-seed Orum by a point this year.
Swayz: I’m feeling rowdy. Let me throw any sort of logic on it’s head and go with a guy that may
wind up the 5 th seed (but is ranked 10 th in the country). Angel Banda of Reinhardt has taken on
Orum (#2) and Esco Walker (#1) (in the NAIA polls), this year. Walker destroyed him, Orum did
not (1 point win last outing). I think Banda comes in with something to prove and upsets the field
to set him up for a big potentially National showing.JT#1: Going with Life's Jacob Ruiz who was 7th in the NAIA's last year.
JT#1: Jacob Ruiz Life
Portillo Bros: Bryce Cockrell Keiser
Swayz: Jacob Ruiz Life
Portillo Brothers: Bryce Cockrell, Keiser. Cockrell transferred from one light-blue school to another; from Long Island University to Keiser. His best win this year is over Isaac Lopez of Southeastern who is not in their post-season lineup.If he beats Jackson Bond, he might have a shot at a wild card.
Swayz: While 125 has 8 guys ranked in the conference, 133 is low on fuel. 4 names appear (just
do a dang round robin if it pans out that way). I know 125 is loaded, but I’d be surprised (or
maybe not in NAIA) if a random 125 bumped and tried their hand here, although a lot more
chances to steal a spot at 25. Ruiz wins this weight.
JT#1: Ug....this is a tough one. Southeastern's Parker Dobrocky sticks out to me for one particular reason & one particular reason only. He took three time (hoping to be four time) NAIA champion Baagii Boldma of Doane to a 9-7 decision. That's tough to ignore. Yet on the same hand we also have Julian Hernandez of Life, a two time NAIA qualifier who was 5th in the nation last year. To my knowledge the two haven't met yet. This will be a first between the two top talents. Rankings say Dobrocky, but gut says Hernandez. Going with gut on this one.
Portillo Brothers: Patrick Gould, Keiser. He won the Mid-South last year by beating Brisker and Hernandez, but Keiser has relocated to the AAC. As the 5-seed, he’ll have to beat Brisker, Dobrocky, then potentially Hernandez again to win the title, which is very possible. 7 qualify automatically here
Swayz: Dobrocky is fun to watch…but so is the potential 3rd seed in this. A 2018 NJCAA 3rd place finisher for Triton at 141 Tyree Johnson brings some intrigue to this weight class. He went up to 149 the following year but went 1-1 before injury defaulting out. I suspect the Life room has
made him super sharp. When he was at Triton, they were far from the top 5 team they are now,
be fun to see what happens with all the hammers, plus remember Boldmaa of Doane was once a 3rd place finisher in NJCAA (NWKTC). RACKET IN THE BRACKET: Tyree for me!
JT#1: Brevin Balmeceda Life
Portillo Bros: Cole Luallen
Swayz: Brevin Balmeceda Life
JT#1: I really want to think that we'll see a great match between Brevin Balmeceda of Life & Andreus Bond of Southeastern, but it was all Balmeceda the last time the two met. Balmaceda upended the 2021 NAIA champion 7-2 for an conference title last year & then defeated him again 4-2 for 3rd place at the NAIA championships. I really though that Bond would come back with a vengeance ready to avenge those losses, but Balmaceda just completely dominated the Fire 10-0 when they met earlier this season. Maybe Bond was sick or having a really off day? I don't know. I know I'd sure like to see a hard, fought competitive match between the two. I still think a 100% mind, body, spirit Bond is capable of beating Balmaceda. At this point though, not predicting it. Going with Balmaceda.
Portillo Brothers: Cole Luallen, Reinhardt. Luallen is a guy that many opposition have been studying ever since he acquired a target on his back. He is one of the more thrilling guys to watch who can score the moment you let your guard down. It may appear the top 2 have separated themselves from Luallen, but that is far from true
Swayz: St. Thomas has a guy at this weight, but their 141lb guy is ranked 8th in the conference and has a freaking victory at 149 over Luallen of Reinhardt who is the 3! I’d bump David Pierson up to cause chaos, but this will be Balmaceda vs. Bond (and no not 007) Balmaceda owns a 10-0 win on Bond this year. I think he gets another, but probably not a major this time.
JT#1: Steve Villalobos Life
Portillo Bros: Taquel Young Montreat
Swayz: Sal Silva Southeastern
JT#1: Southeastern's Sal Silva was 5th in last year's NAIA championships, but Steve Villalobos of Life defeated him earlier this season 9-5. Going with Villalobos to win again, but I think the decision will be closer.
Portillo Brothers: Taquel Young, Montreat. This is another bracket so deep that the 5-seed is ranked #10 by The Open Mat. Last year, Taquel made blood round and beat the one-seed here, Villalobos, 10-3. While Villalobos returned the favor this year, we could get the grudge match in the semis.
Swayz: Let’s get crazy again. Trace Braun has had some great tournaments this year, I’m thinking how he has thrived in some huge opens. This is going to be smaller than many of those, but it is a time to shine. I believe Villalobos will be the 1 seed and get upset by Braun, however I believe we will then see Silva emerge the champ and restore order in the AAC (at least in this weight).
JT#1: Thus far 5th & 2nd in the NAIA championships, going with Jack Bass of Life here at 165. I am however, anxious to see what kind of a match Reinhardt's Matt Jenkins can give him.
Portillo Brothers: Adam El-Damir, Keiser. He has split with Easton Griffin, who he should see in the quarters. 3 go at this weight, so perhaps he could knock off one of the Reinhardt guys to qualify.
Swayz: Why stop the crazy picks now?! Adam El-Damir of Keiser is an opponent that will keep
things interesting. Has only 1 really bad loss on the year and that was to Shadrick Slone of
Campbellsville. I think this might be one of my biggest dark horses to choose. El-Damir.
JT#1: Riley Smucker Life
Portillo Bros: Riley Smucker Life
Swayz: Stephen Kelle Southeastern
JT#1: Gonna surprise a few people here, but I'm picking Riley Smucker of Life to win the AAC title. I say the former Cleveland State Viking keeps Stephen Kelle of Southeastern from winning another conference title. Matter of fact, I can see Smucker being a surprise/dark horse NAIA champion too.
Portillo Brothers: Riley Smucker, Life. He hasn’t wrestled much this year since transferring from Cleveland State, where he qualified for NCAA D1’s last year. He could win this whole bracket, but he hasn’t seen either of the Southeastern guys yet.
Swayz: : This is a very solid weight where a bunch of guys could knock off each other. But for the
sake of really random (because at this point we are having fun anyway) follow with this; Smucker
(Life) makes me think of the jelly (I know it’s plural), then you have Peppers (SE) which makes
me think of more food. But then there is Stephen Kelle of Souheastern too. He’s not a food name,
but his last name is spelled like my wife’s first name KELLE. My Kelle is a Gold Apron with the
Cooking Club of America…so ingredients defeated in a round-a-bout way. Stephen Kelle with the
Portillo Brothers: Isaiah Casto, WVU Tech. He is a returning NAIA qualifier and is 12-0 on this season. 4 go at this weight, and he could snag a spot from the 7-seed.
Swayz: Eichert of Life, plain and simple.
JT#1: Zane Lanham Life
Portillo Bros: Nolan Cook Truett McConnell
Swayz: Zane Lanham Life
JT#1: Zane Lanham I predict him to win the 2023 AAC title.
Portillo Brothers: Nolan Cook, Truett-McConnell.Cook had a huge win over TOM’s #16 Kroll earlier in the year. While he is seeded 5th and only two go here, I wouldn’t be shocked if he snagged a bid.
Swayz: Had this been a first semester tournament I would have opted for Reinhardt’s Avery
Dickerson, but he hasn’t wrestled since 11/18/2022. Tristan Middlebrook of Southeastern was
another name I was thinking we might see (place 3rd at NUWAY Open part of the NWCA National Duals). Neither seem to be in the line-up at this time for Saturday. I’ll keep it with Life’s
Lanham, but wouldn’t be surprised by surprise entrants at this weight coming out of the woodwork to contend.JT#1: No one is keeping NAIA champion Gage Braun of Southeastern from a AAC title. It's just that simple.
JT#1: Gage Braun Southeastern
Portillo Bros: Jairo Caceres St. Thomas
Swayz: Austin Harris Life
Portillo Brothers: Jairo Caceres, St. Thomas. Caceres has 20 wins on the season for St. Thomas and represents one of the few landmines the Floria school owns
Swayz: I don’t know if it is that simple… I will go with Austin Harris, he was a 2021 blood round
guy at the DI Championships as the 29th seed, he beat #3 Matt Stencel (5x MAC Champ) and also
dispatched Zach Elam of MIZZOU by fall. Transferred in after 5 seasons at historic Oklahoma State
to purse a doctrate in Chiropractic medicine at Life (the major they are known for). Harris with