Here at Johnnythompsonnum1 I thought it might be kind of fun and exciting to try something new. For each of the NAIA Conference Championships this weekend, I thought it would be fun to do a "Pick Em Contest" with three of the greatest minds in Amateur Wrestling Media. Along with the Portillo Brothers (Justin & Josh) & Aaron "Swayz" Sweazy, I am going to pick who I think will win each weight class & why.
*NOTE* - Portillo's picks are purposefully underdog picks, as he wanted to give attention to under the radar wrestlers.
JT#1: Riley Siason Menlo
Portillo Bros: David Campbell Warner Pacific
Swayz: David Campbell Warner Pacific
Portillo Bros: David Campbell, Warner Pacific. Campbell is one of 6 rostered athletes on the Warner Pacific wrestling team. He was a 2017 NJCAA finalist for Clackamas and will be very under the radar in this bracket that takes 6. He isn’t even in the conference rankings currently and will at least have to avenge an OT loss to Brayden Boyd. Besides Boyd, he hasn’t faced any of the top competitors at this weight.
Swayz: So, let’s kick off my Cascade picks with a wild unranked in the conference, unranked in
JT#1: Gulomjon Abdullaev Menlo
Portillo Bros: Terrell Kinlicheenie Arizona Christian
Swayz: Gulomjon Abdullaev Menlo
JT#1: This is a tough one for JT#1 as there is an assortment of great talent at this weight class. We have 2020 Olympian Gulomjon Abdullaev of Menlo, Jovan Garcia also of Menlo who won an NJCAA title for Southwest Oregon last season & Evan Potter of Southern Oregon who was 6th in the NAIA last season. It's not easy to narrow it down to who I think will win this rather loaded weight class. I think our future Uzbekistan World/Olympic medalist will be the man to beat though & I gotta go with Abdullaev.
Portillo Bros: Terrell Kinlicheenie, Arizona Christian.
Swayz: Did you know that Gulomjon translates into “a person who is full of love”? Not that Ineeded an excuse to pick Gulomjon Abdullaev of Menlo on Valentine’s Day, but if I did, Abdullaev and Daton Fix both took 3rd at World Junior FS Championships in the same weight in 2016. I think these international guys adapt faster than our guys doing folkstyle for years. Killers on their feet and can score big with simple technician skills.
JT#1: Jaxon Morlan Eastern Oregon
Portillo Bros: Rico Robles Arizona State
Swayz: Steve Kroesen Vanguard
JT#1: Very confident our champion here will be Jaxon Morlan of Eastern Oregon. The talented sophomore was 2nd at last year's Cascade championships.
Portillo Bros: Rico Robles, Arizona Christian. Despite losses to Kroesen and Camacho, Robles holds a victory over the one seed, Jaxon Morlan 8-1. This is the only weight in the Cascade where one goes, but as the four seed, Robles could take out Morlan and win in the finals.
Swayz: This weight has had guys beating other guys in a round robin of fun. I’m going with a wild who beat who to get to Steven Kroesen of Vanguard as my pick. He has lost to Coy of Embry Riddle a month ago, but has 3 controlled wins over Rico Robles of Az Christian who has a 1st semester win over Jaxon Morlan. It is all about style matchups. Kroesen with the edge!
JT#1: Martin Wilkie Montana State Northern
Portillo Bros: Michael Murphy Corban
Swayz: Aaron Gandara Southern Oregon
JT#1: Ooh ooh this is gonna be a fun weight class! We have two returning CCC champions! Aaron Gandara of Southern Oregon who was 6th in the NAIA & Martin Wilkie of Montana State Northern, who was a runner-up in the NAIA. The two met earlier this season with Gandara taking a 5-3 decision. Who will win this time? Does Gandara pull off another victory over Wilkie, or does Wilkie avenge the loss? It's not lost on me that we could very well have a darkhorse in this weight as well. Chris Gaxiola of Menlo can get down right funky at times. He dropped a close 4-2 match to Gandara earlier this year. Gotta go with a pick? I'm going with Wilkie.
Portillo Bros: Michael Murphy, Corban. He was qualifier last year when he took 2nd in the cascade, pinning Beau Blackham in the semis. The top 2 this year will be hard to break into, but he could qualify again.
Swayz: I’m going with Aaron Gandara of Southern Oregon on this. A low key schedule with 1 open, a lot of duals and the Reno Tournament of Champions sprinkled in has helped keep Gandara healthy. If my math is right he is 17-2 on the year and has some solid wins including a 14-0 blanking of 141 stud Jaxon Morlan of EOU. Gandara is undefeated in NAIA this year…I may regret this and I am really high on Gaxiola, but I think Gandara wins this weight, but top 3 at this weight could AA. Jonah Chew from Embry Riddle is very dangerous at this weight too.
JT#1: Abraham Del Toro Menlo
Portillo Bros: Aden Graves Providence
Swayz: Beau Blackham Embry Riddle
JT#1: I'm looking forward to what I think will be a final between Menlo's Abraham Del Toro & Embry Riddle's Beau Blackham. I'm just not sure who to pick for gold & who to pick for silver. Del Toro was R12 at the NAIA's last season & Blackham was 8th at the 2020 NAIA championships. I think either way it's gonna be a good match. Going with Del Toro.
Portillo Bros: Aden Graves, Providence. The true freshman was a 4xer for Sidney HS in Montana who decided to stay close to home. He’s had a few key wins and close losses to studs at this weight. He’ll have to avenge a narrow defeat to Dylan Straley to qualify for the big show without the benefit of a red shirt.
Swayz: Beau Blackham of ERAU has had some hits and misses in tournaments this year, but in NAIA and mostly non DI opens…he flourishes. I think the Falcon Invite Champion takes a tough final vs. Del Toro.
JT#1: David Rubio Corban
Portillo Bros: Bridger Hall Providence
Swayz: Rysan Leong Menlo
JT#1: Very excited to see how this one shakes out. David Rubio of Corban is already a two time CCC champion. He also placed 5th at the NAIA championships last season. Yet I tell you, Keller Rock of Embry Riddle has looked phenomenal this season. 3rd in the CCC last season & R12 at the NAIA's, he already owns a 9-7 victory over Rubio. Talk about a stressful pick. Denying someone their third title in a row is no easy task. Nor is it a walk in the park to avenge a loss against the likes of someone as talented as Rock. Not to mention, Rysan Leong of Menlo is in this bracket too, hoping knock both Rubio & Rock off. I promised that I would narrow it down to one, so I gotta stick with my promise. I think Rubio won't be denied.
Portillo Bros: Bridger Hall, Providence. Yes, I’m aware that he is 1-3 against Devin Crawford who is seeded above him, including a tech and an OT loss. But he’s proven he can beat Crawford and is just more inconsistent than the average guy. He’s got a big win over #16 Dayton Hill and could get hot if he qualified for nationals
Swayz: I am going with Rysan Leong of Menlo on this, and let me tell you it wasn’t easy. I think the qualify outright for the tournament will be big on his mind as well as proving winning Mo Valley Invite wasn’t a fluke. Since the start of the 2nd semester he has only 1 loss, and that is to former DI Champion Shane Griffith 4-0. I know he has a loss to Keller Rock by 1. I think Leong and Rubio will be on the same side of the bracket potentially with Leong pulling off a close one prior to an epic match in the finals…however I think Rubio and Rock All-American, I’m not totally sold on having 3 great tournaments on the season for Leong, but he has a helluva a room that makes him better. Deep down I’m pulling for Rock to win Nationals and run into his dad’s (Coach KC Rock’s)arms, but I think a minor setback here is what will propel him to that potential championship run.
JT#1: Nakoda Siegel Montana State Northern
Portillo Bros: Keegan Mulhill Eastern Oregon
Swayz: Nakoda Siegel Montana State Northern
JT#1: If you've been reading me all season, you know I'm a huge Nakoda Siegel fan. A CCC runner up last season, he was 5th at the NAIA championships. I'm well aware that he has some tough competition in this bracket though. Gerardo Hernandez of Vanguard who was R12 at the NAIA championships can be tough. Even though Siegel has already won an 8-2 match earlier this season, three time NAIA qualifier Keegan Mulhill of Eastern Oregon who was 6th in the NAIA in 2021 is tough as well. Sticking with Siegel, who I do believe on his best day can be an NAIA champ as well.
Portillo Bros: Keegan Mulhill, Eastern Oregon. Mulhill went 2-2 at nationals last year and is one of the COVID super seniors who’s back for one last run. He has a win over the 3 seed Hernandez in a weight where just about everyone has beaten each other. Luckily this weight takes 8, but he can outplace his 5 seed.
Swayz: Great weight class here. 7 guys are ranked in the top 14 Nationally in The Open Mat poll. Those 7 are ranked in the top 17 in the NAIA poll. Abel Nava of Providence is the one that could wreck this bracket. However it’s hard to bet against Dakoda Siegel of MSUN…Siegel wins in a brutal bracket. (I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some defaults in this weight after guys hit qualifying spots with all the studs in the barn here).
JT#1: Kyle Knudtson Eastern Oregon
Portillo Bros: Sawyer Hobbs Providence
Swayz: Sawyer Hobbs Providence
JT#1: Personally I'm gonna with Kyle Knudtson of Eastern Oregon. He was a CCC champion last year & 4th in the NAIA. I say he wins another CCC title this tournament.
Portillo Bros: 12 out of his 18 wins are by pin, including wins over #13 Bryant, #19 Irwin, and #4 NJCAA Mower. He could win this weight and avenge an 8-6 loss to Knudtson.
Swayz: Let it be known I do not know the Portillo Bros pick while I’m making this, but I do know JT#1’s. My coin flip… Kyle Knudston of EOU and Sawyer Hobbs of Providence. As for Menlo, I think they win this regional, but I will for the sake of being different go with Sawyer Hobbs.
JT#1: Jay Smith Eastern Oregon
Portillo Bros: Andrew Herrera Southern Oregon
Swayz: Jay Smith Eastern Oregon
JT#1: Going with Eastern Oregon again on this one. I think 2022 CCC runner-up Jay Smith will trade his silver medal in for a gold.
Portillo Bros: Andrew Herrera, Southern Oregon. I think it’s bonkers Herrera didn’t earn an auto bid for his conference given wins over #20 Swanson and #14 Servies, earning his #13 according to the Open Mat. Due to some losses the coaches poll sees it differently. He’ll have to place top 7 to automatically qualify.
Swayz: In a dual tied 15-15 Jay Smith bit the bullet and gave up a good amount of weight (without complaining) and put a dual on his shoulders vs. 285 KC Buday of Providence. His teammate is ranked higher than him though at 6th in the nation, while Smith is 7th. I do think Smith will eek out this tournament as Champion.
JT#1: K.C. Buday Providence
Portillo Bros: Jacob Vincent Simpson (CA)
Swayz: K.C. Buday Providence
JT#1: I'm almost 100% positive we're gonna see a rematch of last year's CCC championships. K.C. Buday of Providence narrowly edged Noel Orozco of Eastern Oregon 2-1. He then went on to place 7th at the NAIA championships. It's bound to be another close match. I think Buday wins it again.
Portillo Bros: Jacob Vincent, Simpson. His best win this year is over past qualifier Brooks Baker who earned an automatic bid, although Vincent didn’t. He’s kept much of his losses within a takedown and could place high here.
Swayz: KC Buday caught my attention a season or 2 ago. He is the only one to give National Champion Gage Braun a loss outside of DI Jonah Niesenbaum of Duke who is ranked 17th by The Open Mat for DI (4-1). Buday will open up an all business showing at the event this week and will do very well.
There you have it wrestling fans! Remember this is a for fun "Pick em" contest that is simply meant to draw attention to the phenomenal wrestling that will take place within the NAIA this weekend. No $$ is being placed on any of these bets, I assure you. JT#1 operates on a budget that one day hopes to be able to afford a shoe string & last I checked neither the Portillos or Swayz have Lamborghinis parked outside of their Beverly Hills property. Don't take this too seriously. See it for what it is. Four guys who have a diehard passion for collegiate wrestling wanting to hype up the NAIA qualifiers!