Thursday, January 4, 2024

Final Thoughts 2024 Southern Scuffle


125 lbs Thoughts

Stevo Poulin of Northern Colorado wrestled a great tournament. 6th at last year's Scuffle, he won the title this season with hard fought 6-5 decision over CKLV champ Nico Provo of Stanford.  Provo, only a sophomore himself now has Scuffle finishes of 3rd & 2nd.   I was also impressed with Ethan Berginc of Army.  Losing in Round Two, he came back to win five matches in a row to claim the bronze.  In my opinion the biggest surprise of the 125 lbs bracket was Appalachian State's Chad Bellis.  The sophomore came into the tournament carrying a 10-7 record & came out of nowhere to reach the semi-finals, with a very impressive 11-2 major over Chattanooga's Braydon Palmer in the quarters.  Bellis eventually finished 4th.  As to Palmer, my heart really went out to him.  As rewarding as this sport can sometimes be, at other times it can rip the spirit right out of your body. A Scuffle runner-up last season, this is not at all how you wanted to see the senior end things at his final home tournament. Luckily there is still plenty of season left, plenty of time for Palmer to bounce back.  He'll see Bellis again on February 11th & possibly at the SOCON championships. 

133 lbs Thoughts

4th at last year's Scuffle, Kurt Phipps wrestled a very solid tournament winning a Southern Scuffle title with a well contested 2-0 decision over Northern Colorado's Dom Serrano. An NCAA qualifier for the Bison last season, I'm anxious to see how this effects Phipps the rest of the season & his performance at the EIWA championships.  Another wrestler I was very impressed with this tournament was Nasir Bailey of Little Rock. I'll admit I'm overzealous when it comes to the Trojans crowning their first All American, and it may very well be this true freshman out of Illinois!  Guy is a scorer trying to put as many points on the board as possible in his matches. A 15-1 major decision over Tyler Knox of Stanford in the consolation-semis, he defeated Blake Boarman of Chattanooga 13-4 to claim 3rd place. 

141 lbs Thoughts

This is a weight class that made me really happy.  Now I know that the rebuttal here is that the Scuffle wasn't nearly as tough as it has been in year's past.  I get that & I have to concur. However, winning a 32 man bracket, against NCAA Division I competition, is still winning a 32 man bracket against NCAA Division I competition.  I just cannot believe the improvements that Danny Fongaro has made this season.  He missed a full season of wrestling (not sure as to the reason) & then even last season, he was only 17-15.  He's never been to the NCAA championships. In three EIWA tournaments, he's never made it out. Now he's in the BIG 10 in his final season, carries a 15-1 record & he just won the Southern Scuffle.  I talk a lot about the importance of "It ain't over till it's over" & Fongaro is living proof of it. 

Much similar can be said about finals opponent Jason Miranda of Stanford. I've felt for sometime now that Cardinal needed a big win in his career to jump start himself ever since moving up to 141 from 133.  Taking runner-up honors at the Scuffle is a big deal & I hope it's the jump start that his engine needed. 

149 lbs Thoughts

149 lbs was very interesting for a number of reasons.  First off, very happy to see Graham Rooks have such a great tournament. As well as he wrestled at the end of last season, I really felt that he would come into this season looking like an All American candidate. Then he had a slump from the second week of November all the way through the middle of December.  Thanksgiving & Christmas may not have been all that great for the Hoosier, but the New Year's certainly was! Hoping winning the Scuffle is a sign of things to come. 

The other story here I think is Cody Bond.  I wasn't even sure for a while if he was gonna keep the varsity position this season or lose out to true freshman Jeremiah Price.  Things seemed up in the air for a while, but Bond, Cody Bond, sure made a case for himself here at the Scuffle. Claimed a 2nd place finish, with a huge 4:57 fall over Jaden Abas in the semi-finals.  Then only lost via one take down in a 4-1 match to Rooks in the finals.  Teammate Price on the other hand was 6th.  

Abas came back strong to take 3rd over a tough Noah Castillo of Chattanooga with a 4-1 decision himself.  Lastly I'll say I was happy to see Zach Price of Gardner Webb make the award stand.  Tough wrestler who's had some ups & down in his career.  Happy to see him take 5th & have another up. 

157 lbs Thoughts

Here's what I said about Vinny Zerban before the start of the '23-'24 season.  

"I am very excited to see just how dangerous Vinny Zerban really is. He reminds me of a Nolan Ryan pitch. You aren't exactly sure where the ball is going to go, but you know that wherever it's going, it's coming at 1,000 mph.  Getting the freshman jitters out of the way, perhaps he comes back this season still as deadly as ever, but with a bit more accuracy & control. An up and down season, he was 8th in the BIG 12, yet one match shy of NCAA DI All American honors. 22 wins on the season, he's the only person not named Austin O'Connor who's handed Levi Haines a loss (8-6 s.v.)." 

I think he more than showed us how dangerous he is this Scuffle. 8th in last year's championships, the guy wrestled an outstanding tournament. A 4-3 win over Jared Hill of Oklahoma in the semis, he took down Stanford talent Daniel Cardenas 8-5 s.v. in the finals.  At 15-0, I would say the Bear has more than learned how to control that 1,000 mph pitch. 

165 lbs Thoughts

I was really impressed with the true-freshman outta Wisconsin this tournament.  I think Bucknell did a great job making the most out of this Scuffle, crowning 5 place-winners, with two champs & a finalist.  Mulvaney won his title here at 165 lbs, with a very nice 11-5 win over Gunnar Filipowicz of Army who in turn has been having himself a pretty good start to his own freshman season. 

It's embarrassing that rather than the focus be on Mulvaney's outstanding performance, the story everyone turned their attention to was the unsportsmanlike & furthermore illegal behavior of Baylor Fernandes. For the second time this season, Fernandes used a dangerous & illegal maneuver against an opponent.  Injured Indiana's Tyler Lillard, who then had to medical forfeit in the 3rd place match against Joey Bianchi of Little Rock.  I don't get why Fernandes is resorting to these cheap & foul antics. This is his fifth year in collegiate wrestling.  He's never resorted to this crap before, why now? The kid has talent.  He's NCAA qualification material.  There's no need to wrestle like this.  Stupid.  Hope Coach Nickerson has a long talk with him, he turns things around & starts using his skills & talents, instead of wrestling like a punk.  If not & he wants to continue to wrestle that way, hope it's the last we see of him. 

174 lbs Thoughts

There was a lot about the Scuffle that I really enjoyed watching & I think this may very well have been the moment I enjoyed the most.  Ever since the start of the season it's been hard for me watching Ben Pasiuk struggle competing at 184 lbs.  When you know a guy is so much better than what's happening out on the mat, it bugs you to see things not going his way.  When Coach Ward announced via Twitter than Pasiuk would be moving down to 174 for the Scuffle, I got really excited. I just knew that once back at his competitive weight class, he would totally kick hindquarters.  A 10-6 win over Lorenzo Norman of Stanford in the semis, he unfortunately didn't get a shot at D.J. Washington of Indiana in the finals due to a medical forfeit.  Awesome watching Pasiuk wrestle so well.  I think we could very well be looking at this year's EIWA champ. 

Gavin Sax, Gorriaran award winner! Man, talk about someone on a mission! After dropping an 8-4 decision to Tate Picklo in the quarters, he lit the house on fire! A 15-0 tech over Travis Mastrogiovanni in in the Consolation quarters, he avenged his loss to Picklo to take third, sticking the Sooner at the 4:46 mark.   With this noted, he won via disqualification against Lorenzo Norman, who was throwing punches in the match.  I just don't get this type of behavior, especially coming from a guy as talented & gifted as Norman. I get that so many people are into MMA/UFC & that so many are so happy about the connotation that our sport seems to grow with it. That's all fine and dandy, but wrestling is wrestling & MMA is MMA.  We don't punch in wrestling.  You wanna throw a guy to the mat and squeeze the life out of him in a headlock? Please, be my guest.  You wanna Banana Splits a guy and have him walk funny for a week? Please, be my guest. No one is saying you have to be nice in this sport, but what you do have to do is stay within the rules! There's no punching in wrestling! Ridiculous, especially coming from a guy with the ability to be an All American.  No need to resort to that manure. 

184 lbs Thoughts 

Here's another moment at the Scuffle that I thought was extremely cool.  Gardner Webb crowns their first ever Southern Scuffle champ! And who better to earn that distinction than junior  Jha'Quan Anderson?  The Runnin' Bulldog had an excellent tournament upending a tough Cam Pine of Clarion in the finals by a 4-2 decision.  Looks to win a SOCON title later this season as well. 

197 lbs Thoughts

Business as usual for Stephen Buchanan of Oklahoma as the Sooner just mowed through the competition in route to winning a Southern Scuffle title.  I thought looking over the brackets that the semi-final winner between Oklahoma State's Kyle Haas & Stanford's Nick Stemmet would take second, while the other took 3rd.  I was right.  Haas won a tight 7-4 decision over Stemmet, collected silver & Stemmet came back to take bronze. 

HWT Thoughts

Josh Heindselman has been wrestling exceptionally well this season & I think he proved this tournament why we should consider him a threat to All American honors in match. Wrestled very wel, including a 7-3 decision over Bucknell's David Crosby in the finals, who himself had an outstanding tournament collecting runner-up honors.  Honestly, this bracket had quite a few surprises. Coming in with a 13-8 record, I was not expecting Lucas Stoddard of Army to wrestle as well as he did.  A very impressive 4-2 win over Juan Mora, he then pinned Peter Ming of Stanford in only 54 seconds!  Ming himself wrestled exceptionally well this tournament, minus his final match.  8th at last year's Scuffle, he really stepped it up a notch by collecting 4th place this season, including a 8-7 victory over Josiah Hill of Little Rock, who bounced back to an 8th place finish himself.  4th last year & 5th this year, Mora is now a two time place winner.  As is Hill, who was 7th last season. 


Shout out to Tony Rotundo.  JT#1 & Photoman may not always like one another in various Twitter back & forths, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due.  Rotundo is an excellent photographer, who takes excellent photographs & helps to visualize our great sport. 

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