The Pete Willson Invitational is the oldest NCAA Division III wrestling tournament, dating all the way back to the year of 1942. Originally known as "The Wheaton Invitational" it was renamed after legendary Coach after the '00-01' season. He himself a winner of four titles in the tournament named in his honor. As far as JT#1 is concerned, not only is it the oldest, it is one of the best. Of the teams that will be in competition.
#3 North Central
#18 Ohio Northern
Each weight class features wrestlers who are ranked within the top 20, plus some other very tough wrestlers who are not currently ranked. It should once again by a great tournament.
Led by #1 ranked Christan Guzman of North Central, the 125 lbs Pete Willson Invite bracket is going to be rather loaded. Believe it or not, but Zac Blasioli of Millkin actually defeated Guzman for a title here last year by a score of 7-2. However, in all other meetings since it has been all Cardinal, as Guzman has defeated Blasioli by scores of 3-2, 5-2 & most recently 4-1. 3rd in the DII nation last year, Guzman currently carries an undefeated record of 18-0. Blasioli who was 5th in the DII nation has but that one loss to Guzman on the season. He stands 13-1. He has thus far in '23-'24 won the Coe Invitational.
R12 at DIII nationals last season J.C. Cardenas of SUNY-Cortland has yet to face any of the competition, but himself carries a 17-1 record, his only loss up at 133. Thus far this season he has won the SUNYAC & he finished 2nd at the Blue Jay Classic.
Who I am really anxious to watch here at the Pete Willson Invitational is Mac Cafurello of Roanoke. I feel that he is much better than his #14 ranking & that in many ways his biggest obstacle is himself. At the Southeast Open this year, in a field of DI competition, he let loose and just let it fly. Took DI All American Brandon Kaylor of Oregon State to a 5-4 match. That nothing to lose mentality I think is when we see Cafurello at his best. My perspective is only that of a fan, but he seems to wrestle very conservatively, with a lot of pressure on himself. I think if he could be a bit more relaxed, he could hang with any of the three in this bracket ranked much higher. He was 3rd at last year's Pete Willson Invitational & he recently took 3rd at the New Standard Invite.
Rounding out the bracket is Kie Anderson of Concordian (MN) & Adrian Samano of Ferrum. Anderson actually pinned Cafurello at last year's tournament. Cafurello came back to 3rd, as Anderson took 5th. He's only competed once this season, so it'll be interesting to see where Anderson's stamina & conditioning are at.
As to Adrian Sammano, he looks to me like he's improved tremendously since last season. As a freshman last year, he ended on a losing record, but looks to be well on his way to not only a winning record, but a respectable winning record. He has struggled with Cafurello, but in a tournament that places the top 8, will contend for a spot on the award stand. He won the Cougar Open earlier this year.
What's mysterious and complicated about Robbie Precin is that you never know when or where he's going to show up outside of Regionals & the DIII national tournament. What's crystal clear about Robbie Precin, is that when he does show up, you know he's going to kick ass. A three time NCAA D3 finalist/two time champion, Precin will end his season as one of the best light weights D3 wrestling has ever seen. 124-2 overall, he enters this tournament, he'll walk out champion. Being 6-0 overall against Trevor Boryla helps to illustrate that premonition even further.
If Precin does not enter this tournament, look for a very likely final between Concordia's (MN) Ty Bisek & Augustana's (ILL) Boryla. Both are currently undefeated with Bisek standing at 9-0 and Boryla standing at 7-0. Bisek a 6th place D3 All American last season won last year's Pete Willson Invitational, as Boryla took 3rd.
Any plausible upsets here at 133? Well, Corey Messick did hand J.C. Cardenas a 5-4 loss when Cardenas bumped up to 133. Could he stand a shot at a win over Boryla or Bisek? Speaking of Messick, he's not even the ranked wrestler for the Maroons. That distinction belongs to Jude Robson & on top of it they also have a tough Josh Noble in the lineup who won the Cougar Open earlier this year.
Rounding out the weight class, Dylan Le of Ohio Northern was 5th here last season & Wheaton's own Anthony Zamora will be looking for a spot on the award stand as well. A former Old Dominion Monarch, Zamora recently took 3rd at the Messiah Open.
Likely champion here is Jacob Reed of Ohio Northern. He lost exactly once last season & that was at the NCAA DIII championships where he then battled back for 3rd place. The current pick via theopenmat.com for this year's D3 champ, he'll first look to win a title here at the Pete Willson. 11-0 on season, his likely finals opponent will be Josiah Gehr of Messiah. Gehr owns a 2:43 fall over Asa Brunk of Messiah & he wrestled Reed to a 5-1 decision the last the two met. Gehr is currently 10-0, and just recently won a Middle Atlantic Conference title.
The battle for bronze looks to be a three way race between Bradley Rosen of North Central, Mark Samuel of Roanoke & Jake Dado of Ozarks. Rosen a D3 R12'er last year, was 3rd in last year's championships, as Dado was the Pete Willson runner-up. At 12-2, Rosen owns a 9-0 major decison over Cade Lundeen of Concordia (MN) as at 11-2, Dado owns a 6-3 decision over Lundeen. Roanoke's Mark Samuel is currently 14-1.
Rounding out the bracket, two more place-winners I see are Brunk & Lundeen. Brunk won the Messiah Open earlier this season & Lundeen was 4th here last season.
5th at last year's Pete Willson Invitational, Angelo Centrone is one of the most improved wrestlers in the D3 nation & I think he'll illustrate as to why this weekend. He is currently 17-0. Another much improved wrestler on the season is senior Axel Hernandez of Buena Vista. While I don't see him challenging Centrone for the title, I do think he'll give the Beavers a finalist. I see the battle for 3rd here being between Cael Vanderhorst of Ohio Northern, who was 7th here last year & Morgan Robinson of Roanoke who won the Cougar Open earlier this season.
I think 157 lbs could easily end up being one of our most competitive weight. A three way race for the title between Javen Estrada of North Central, Patrick McGraw of John Carroll & Nathan Callaway of Millikin. Estrada up from 149 lbs where he made the D3 finals last season. He currently holds a 14-2 record. Last year's Pete Willson Invite champion, McGraw, a two time D3 qualifier, currently stands at 12-1. He owns two victories over Gabriel Smith (7-4 & 11-8), as well as a 3-0 win over Garrett Cornell & a 19-4 technical fall over Ramiro Guerrero. Callaway has a record of 16-2 & he recently won the Coe Invitational.
Perhaps a darkhorse in making the finals here is Smith of Cornell (IA). He was a runner-up here last season, as Cornell was 3rd. Cornell himself coming off of a disappointing Middle Atlantic Conference tournament. Perhaps this will be his turn around. Lastly look for Guerrero who was 8th here last season to nab another top 8 finish. He recently won the Trine Invitational.
4th in the DII nation two seasons ago & one match shy of another All American honor last season, Alex Villar hopes to once again make the final award stand at the end of '23-'24. For right now though, he'll set his sights on winning the Pete Willson Invitational. I would say a likely opponent for Villar in the finals could very well be Zach Needles of Messiah. 18-4, he was 2nd at the Petrofes Open & champion at the Messiah Invite. Should be a good semi-final between him & former North Central Cardinal Joey Jens who is now competing for Millikin. Jens recently took runner-up honors himself at the Coe Invitational. Another wrestler to look for this tournament is Jake Cherry of Roanoke. Despite being currently unranked, he took Needles to a 2-1 match & he won the Cougar Open.
Based on the information I have about this tournament & the teams listed to be here to compete, I believe that Peyton Geigner of North Central will be our champion here at 174 lbs. He was 6th last year competing at 184 lbs. I am anxious to see him in action against Austin Brass of Messiah though. Brass was 3rd at the Messiah Invite & has 21 wins on the season.
I think we're looking at a really good final between Ohio Northern's Gavin Layman & North Central's Cole Cervantes here at 184 lbs. Layman was 3rd at last year's Pete Willson Invitational as he has 19 victories on the season. Cervantes currently owns 16. Perhaps one to pull off an upset & if not, a likely candidate for bronze will be Ryder Slayton, who has already racked up 25 W's on the year.
An NCWA All American in 2021, Gabriel Zierden is on a mission to return to the NCAA DIII championships this season after having last qualified in 2020. So far, so good standing at 10-1 on the year, with a top ranking. It is very likely that he adds a prestigious Pete Willson title to his resume this weekend (he was 3rd in last year's championships), as he owns two victories over likely finals opponent Jackson Punzel of host Wheaton. A 1:07 fall, he also owns a 5-2 decision over the Thunder. Look for our plausible 3rd place finisher to be Cam Cavins of Roanoke, who won the Cougar Open earlier this year.
Really looking forward to the likely final between Robby Bates of North Central & RayShawn Dixon of Ferrum. Bates a D3 All American in 2022, fell short of qualification last season & has been wrestling as of late like he won't except anything other than getting back on that award stand come March. Dixon, as I've stated many times this season is probably the best HWT in the D3 nation yet to All American. The two have yet to face one another as Bates has 20 wins on the season & Dixon has yet to face defeat with an 18-0 record.
Seeing that he is 0-3 against Dixon & 0-2 against Bates, it is unlikely that Ka'Ron Lewis of Ozarks takes home the gold or the silver, but I do think he's a likely candidate for Pete Willson bronze. Perhaps currently 11-1 on the season Leo Rabinovich will have something to say about that.
Dixon was champion last year, as Bates finished 3rd & Lewis finished 4th. Another wrestler to watch out for here at HWT will be Tom Blackwell of John Carroll who placed 8th last season.