The NAIA doesn't mess around. They start off with tough tournaments right from the get go. Last year's Patriot Open featured an assortment of ranked wrestlers who by season's end, were crowned All Americans. I believe this year's Patriot Open will be every bit as tough. Let's take a look weight by weight.
A very tough weight class featuring five ranked wrestlers, four of which are ranked within the top 10. Led by All American Conner Diamond who was 8th in the NAIA nation last season, we ought to have two excellent semi-finals, an excellent final & an excellent consolation final when it is all said and done. Our likely monkey-wrench here at least in my opinion would be Alex Cottey, a 3rd place finisher at last year's WHAC championships. While ranking separates him by a great distance to the other four stars in this bracket, I'm not sure if the journey concerning overall talent and ability is nearly as far. Should be a fun bracket to watch.
A very tough weight class featuring seven ranked wrestlers, and three returning Patriot Open place-winners from last season, albeit two of them at 125 lbs. Sammy Shires who was 5th in the NAIA last season will most likely be our #1 seed, but it'll be anything but a shoe-in. Alex Pena an All American in 2021, has been looking to return to form for quite sometime & winning a title here would be a good start. Kolby Encinas who has finished thus far 2nd & 3rd in the KCAC is looking to climb up the ladder & Elijah Anthony could prove to be much better than initially anticipated. He was the backup to multiple time All American Matt Gimson, who placed 2nd here last year.
Bryce Cockrell interest me as I think a year of adjustment was needed after transferring from Long Island last year.
Anthony Hughes & especially Chandler Akins interest me here because I can't help but wonder if they're both ranked much lower than what they should be. Hughes was 3rd & Akins was 2nd both competing at 125 lbs in these championships last season. Granted, it is hard to know where to rank someone when they move up a weight class, but I can see both of them doing very well. After all this is Akins home tournament & being a senior this will be the last one he ever competes in. Those two incentives alone can give someone a lot of motivation.
Talk about a who's who of the NAIA concerning 141 lbs! If everyone who can show up, does show up, then we have ourselves an all out war, that in many ways could be as good as the NAIA championships themselves! Eight ranked wrestlers, five of which within the top eight & only six spots on the award stand in this tournament. To place within the top six here, it'll be an all out war.
Pat Gould goes into the season the #1, but right smack from the get go, he'll have that status challenged. 4th in the NAIA last year, believe it or not he was 4th at these championships last year as well. David Pierson was 8th in the NAIA last year & will be hot on Gould's tail as will be Evan Potter, who is a two time NAIA All American himself down at 133 lbs. If this is indeed one of our semi-finals, it'll make a great match.
Logan Wagner is who I am most anticipated to see compete this tournament. I've been dying to see just how good this guy really is. Shea Ruffridge ended his phenomenal collegiate career at Grand View last season on an extremely high note. He knocked off three time NAIA champion Baagii, keeping him from winning his fourth title. Earlier in the season, Wagner nearly majored Ruffridge by an 8-2 decision. Is this a sign of things to come from Wagner? We'll find out this weekend.
Adrian Ayala was one match shy of NAIA All American honors last season. Knocking off anyone ranked above him would be good not only for his ranking but also for his confidence.
The bracket also features four other wrestlers ranked within the top 20, all of which are looking to make a name for themselves. A top 6 showing here, with the quality victories that it would take in order to do so, will most certainly help.
Here's where things might get really interesting. We have four of the top eight at 149, but three of them competed at different weight classes last season. Jace Luchau 4th in the NAIA, finished as the runner-up at 157 in last year's Patriot Open. We'll see how he does a weight class down, as both Parker DoBrocky & Bryce Nickel have moved up from 141 lbs. Last year's Patriot Open, DoBrocky won a title & Nickel finished in 3rd place. What a treat it'd be for the home fans to see an all Patriot final between Lachau & Nickel.
Speaking of Nickel, I could see him coming in here and really cementing himself as a name that should be seriously considered when evaluating plausible NAIA champs by year's end. The two time NAIA All American failed to place at last year's national tournament. So I'm sure he has a chip on his shoulder & we could see all of that unfold here.
It was a shock to me to see that Jack Latimer had more eligibility left & it was an even bigger shock when I just found out that he's now at Cumberland. You can bet he'll be a force to be reckoned with.
As we take a look at the remaining ranked wrestlers in Seth Johnson & Chris Kelly, I feel that Chad Sakamoto has been snubbed by not receiving a ranking. I think he's done enough in his career to warrant a top 25 ranking, but I guess those in position of ranking disagree with JT#1. I'm still sticking to my guns that if he enters this tournament that he is more than capable of a top six showing. They guy knows how to win & pulling off an upset or two wouldn't surprise me at all either.
Defending an NAIA title is one of the toughest jobs in in collegiate wrestling & right out of the gate, Sal Silva will be challenged here at the Patriot Open. Right on his tail will be Nate Wheeler of Indiana Tech who was 6th in the NAIA nation last season, as well as champion here. Aaron Gandara who was 6th in the NAIA two seasons ago, will be looking to reclaim his status & knocking off Wheeler or Silva would do just that.
Who I'm really excited to see compete here is Andreus Bond. A NAIA national champion in 2021 & 4th in 2022, he had a nightmare of a tournament last season failing to place. I was thrilled when I found out that he had another season of eligibility & I'm anxious to see how he does up at 157 after competing at 149 the past few years. Same goes for Gandara who was also at 149 last year.
The competition continues with four others ranked in the top 25, including Brent Hudgins a two time NAIA qualifier.
Of all of the returning champions from last season, the one I think with the best chance of repeating will be Noah Hollendonner who won a title up at 174 lbs last season. Also an NAIA R12'er last season, while his road won't necessarily be a cakewalk, it's not as hilly, curvy and bumpy as some of the other ones are. On paper it looks to be a semi-final between Trace Braun & Justin Bartee, but I definitely would not count Eli Clemmons out of being a finalist or even a champion. He was runner-up here at 157 lbs last year.
I know that Montevallo is scheduled to appear at this tournament & I would imagine they're going to bring their full squad. I should have also included Gabe Hixenbaugh in my preview for 133, but I overlooked the fact that the Falcons will be here. As to Barrett Dempsey I'm very excited to see him compete. The State of Mississippi, with a wrestler from Mississippi, that excelled at a Mississippi high school is looking for their first superstars. As to NCAA DII I think Dempsey will eventually be one of them. Now's a good as time as any in the start of making history.
History could very well repeat itself, only at a different weight class. Last year's 165 lbs Patriot Open Championship was a victory for Cole Smith over Elliott Rodgers. We could very well see the same final here at 174 lbs. As to the rest of the place-winners it is rather interesting that Life is not listed to compete in this year's championships, as they put four wrestlers on the award stand here last year. I do believe the other four place winners will be fought amongst the other five wrestlers I have listed.
I'm a little out of character here as normally I'm full of a lot of opinion. Here, I'm really not. I do think our man to beat here will be William Speight, who took 3rd here last year. His likely finals opponent, being home favorite Thomas Ketchen-Carter, a Midsouth Conference champion last year.
Kyle Scott won a title here last season, but if he's going to repeat as champion, he has a Hell of a good field he has to go through. Nathan Critchfield was 5th in the NAIA championships last season & Andrew Herrera was only a match away from earning All American honors himself. Not to mention he also has Carter Knoll who was 5th in these championships last year as well as Niko Perovic who was also 5th at these championships competing at 184 lbs last year. Add in a very tough Jacob Brandt & if Scott wins Rochester another individual title, he WILL have something to brag about.
Another great opportunity for Cumberlands to crown another champion at their hometown Open. Gabe Jacobs 3rd in the NAIA last season, was also runner-up here last year. His best competition will be Earnet Johnson, who himself was 7th in the NAIA & 5th here last year. Rounding out the rest of the weight class will be Bruce Wagers who was 6th at the Patriot Open last season, followed by three other top caliber wrestlers all ranked within the top 25.
Lots of great wrestling to be held at this year's Patriot Open. What I really like about this tournament is that Cumberlands has potential place-winners at many of the weight classes & in four of them, probability for finalists, with three of the four potential to crown a champion. I think that's a healthy thing for the sport. To have the host team with quality wrestlers likely to do well, so that the home crowd fans can get behind them and cheer them on when they do well. It can make for a very exciting and electrifying atmosphere.