Like all early season openers in NCAA DI wrestling, the Clarion Open is as good as the wrestlers who show up to compete in it. Last season's was exceptionally good featuring ranked wrestlers at nearly every weight class. Based on teams listed to compete, should once again be similar.
Last year's Clarion Open final was a 6-3 decision for Matt Ramos over Colton Camacho. That could very well be our final once again, as I say the likely semi-final between Camacho & Nick Babin is a tossup. The Lion defeated the Panther the last the two met by a 4-2 decision. The ultimate goal here of course will be to try and knock off Ramos, which would be a golden feather in anyone's hat. There's also the goal of many talented, yet unranked individuals garnering a victory over either Babin or Camacho, if not both. It'll be enough of a job just going to war with one another. Among the competition Drew West owns an 8-6 s.v. over Joey Fischer.
Nic Bouzakis put together a very impressive redshirt resume last year & now in his first tournament into his freshman campaign, has the opportunity to win a solid season opener against some solid competition. Without a doubt, Angelo Rini will give him Hell on the mat. The '23 NCAA qualifier demolished Dustin Norris 12-1 the last they met & he also owns a 5-3 victory over Vincent Santaniello. Norris himself owns a 7-3 victory over Hunter Adrian.
Santaniello is another tough freshman that the Panthers are relying on this year, despite being injured all of last season. The rankers still think enough of him to have given him a ranking, more than can be said for Tye Varndell of Edinboro & Hunter Adrian who both have notable victories thus far in their careers. Adrian put together 20 wins last season, a 6-4 s.v. over Rini among them.
If both Jesse Mendez & Cole Matthews show up to compete, we fans will be treated to an early season matchup between two NCAA DI title contenders. Stranger things have happened in collegiate wrestling but the chances of either one of these guys getting knocked off before the finals is slim to none. The real question here is who will take third? Jordan DeCatur seems a likely candidate. Having spent the bulk of his career at Ohio State, he's now a Golden Flash for Kent State. He thus far owns two solid victories over Jordan Hamdan. A 5-0 decision & a 5-2 decision. The other guy to keep an eye on here is Todd Carter. He's one of those "on a good day" wrestlers & well, this could end up a good day for him.
Dylan D'Emilio will be the odds on favorite here at 149 lbs. With that said, I'm anxious to see if #27 is a fair ranking for Marcos Polanco, or if the former Golden Gopher, now Boilermaker will show that he ought to be ranked higher. Kyle Shickel of course competing on his home mats in front of his home crowd will want to do good & as for our monkey wrench, look for the Price to perhaps be right. I'm not exactly sure how good Zach Price is now that he's back at 149 lbs. What I do know though, is that he's a hell of a lot better than unranked. Hope to see him prove that this weekend.
Chase Saldate made leaps and bounds between '21-'22 & '22-'23. If he's able to win a title here, especially with a win over Paddy Gallagher, it'll help to continue him on his path to getting better and better. On the other side of the coin, a victory for Gallagher would really be good for the sophomore Buckeye. Not to mention how it'd help to open up the eyes of collegiate wrestling fans who are for some reason still unaware of just how difficult it is to crack a lineup at the Division I level. I mean think about it, Sammy Sasso probably isn't ready for competition quite yet, but soon enough he will be. What becomes of Gallagher then? An already top 16 by rankings standards, perhaps even an All American candidate. By year's end, a backup. Really puts things in perspective doesn't it?
As to our bronze medalist here, I don't think Jared Keslar should have much problem. I don't see him knocking off Saldate or Gallagher but I don't see anyone knocking him off either. I guess I wouldn't put it out of the question if Luke Kemerer or Blake Saito were to pull off the upset. However, I think it's much more likely that we'll either see them duking it out in the consolation semi-finals or for 5th place.
Lastly Purdue has two wrestlers here at 165, still not for sure (as in I'm not, they might be) who will be the starter towards seasons end. Cooper Noehre was 3rd here last season.
Last year's finals was an injury default for Jared McGil over John Worthing. I would say if everyone who can show up, does show up, we're more likely to see these two duking it out for 5th than to see a repeat of last year's championship match. Our favorite as of the time is Carson Kharchla, although I wouldn't put it past the winner of a likely semi-final match between Lennox Wolak & Luca Augustine to pull off an upset. Thus far the Lion has managed to tame the young Panther twice by scores of 3-1 & 3-2. It's difficult to beat a good wrestler by close scores three times in a row.
Our question mark here is A.J. Burkhart. While competing for Lehigh, he's had his ups and downs. He's capable of doing some big things. A 10-6 victory over McGil proves it.
Our likely final here will be between Layne Malczewski & Reece Heller, which leads me to another point I can't help but make. Seems the wrestling community enjoys being negative & pessimistic more than it does positive and optimistic. When Michigan State was down in the gutter, dwelling in the basement, sure were a lot of criticisms to go around. Now that they're getting better year by year, my how wrestling fans seem to Simon & Garfunkle up to the Sounds of Silence. A win here over Reece Heller wouldn't exactly be winning a BIG 10 title, but it would hone in the fact that the Spartans have a top wrestler on their team.
With that said, we really haven't seen Seth Shumate compete against the quality yet. He does own a win over All American John Poznanski, but Poznanski was far from 100% at the time. Is Shumate gonna be in the rumble from the get go? Malczewski & Heller would provide excellent test to see.
Lastly I could see Jha'Quan Anderson perhaps finishing third here. Again a lot has to do with just how good Shumate is at this point in his career. Considering that the last Malczewski & Anderson met, Malczewski scored a 15-0 technical fall, I don't see it being any better than third, but I do see third a possibility.
Lingering in the wings will be Cam Pine, who I'm sure would love to knock off any of the other four. Being a home tournament, competing on his home mats, in front of his home fans? I wouldn't completely rule out an upset.
Mac Stout won the Clarion Open last season & should stand a shot at winning another in what should be a good final with Gavin Hoffman. Hoffman as I've said a million times before has glimpses of a guy that could win a national title. He also has glimpses of not qualifying. So which one shows up? With that said Mac Stout is borderline AA in his own right.
As to our consolation final, I'm thinking an "on the line" match between Sam Mitchell and Ben Vanadia. Mitchell with the pressure of keeping his ranking & Vanadia with the pressure of trying to steal it. I suppose Mitchell might not fall out of the rankings if he were to lose, but I do think Vanadia would get into the rankings with a win over Mitchell.
Dayton Pitzer strikes me as the type who might be ranked a heck of a lot higher than #9 as the season progresses. Nick Feldman should be a good test to start off the season. Look for Hayden Copass to take third.