Define irony. How about the fact that while both the Midlands and the Scuffle seemed to be a bit watered down this season, the Lehman Open is oddly enough about as tough as I've ever seen it. Only one weight class doesn't involve ranked competition & all in all, there are 32 ranked wrestlers competing this tournament!
As you read my thoughts concerning today's championships, please note the following
# = Ranking
* = Seed
I know that can be kinda confusing sometimes, so that's what # & * mean.
The seeding committee foresees a final between two talented Freshmen of the wolfpack, Troy Hohman & Vincent Robinson. However, I wouldn't count out Anthony Molton of Campbell quite yet. I realize that Hohman recently scored a 10-2 major over the Camel, but I don't take majors as seriously as I once did. Three points for a take down & 4 points for back points, one move can have you up 7 points in a flash. In three tournaments this past week, I saw a lot of guys turn ugly losses into wins. Molton of course would have to get past Robinson in the semis, but if he does I'm anxious to see him get another shot at Hohman.
A rather competitive weight class, I believe that the Lehman Open wrestles up to 6th place, so one of these standout talents will not place this tournament. I think that fact alone helps to illustrate that we have a rather tough bracket here.
The Terrapins are hoping to crown a champion in Braxton Brown, but he'll more than have his work cut out for him. If he is to win a title here, I say he has a tough quarter, a tough semi & a tough final. Thus far he owns both a 6-3 decision over Vince Santaniello & a 10-0 major decision over Devin Flannery.
Challenging Brown for the title here will be Dom Zaccone of Campbell, as well as anyone else who might pull off an upset. Navy's Brandon Ferretti owns wins over both Santaniello (3-2) and Gable Strickland (5-3). Mason Leiphart who wrestled a very good Midlands tournament, looks to continue that streak here.
Strickland has been ranked in the past & there's no reason not to think that he might break through & do well this tournament, once again to find himself in the rankings.
Last but certainly not least, Devin Flannery has the opportunity to prove himself amongst quality DI competition. The Marauder is a two time All American in NCAA Division II & what a treat it would be for him to pull off some wins against ranked DI competition.
Sometimes you take a look at a weight class & it dawns on you just how good it might end up being. As of right now, the pick to win the Lehman Open here at 141 lbs is Kal Miller of Maryland. The sophomore Terrapin has certainly given us plenty of reason to think he could walk out of here champion with both a 5-3 decision over Josh Koderhandt of Navy & a 12-4 major over Cole Matthews of Pittsburgh. With that said, it'll be anything other than a shoe-in, as Koderhandt who also owns a 5-3 decision over Matthews, owns a 5-1 win over Miller. Then within this mix of title contenders, we also have Wyatt Henson who has looked exceptionally sharp thus far this season. 18 wins in total last year, he's already up to 10 victories with only one loss on the season.
I think the real guy to watch out for here though is Matthews. First semester came up & slapped Matthews straight in the face. Just seemed to knock the wind right out of his sail. He showed a glimpse of his old self in a win over Jesse Mendez of Ohio State, but then dropped three losses in a row. What can I say about this disappointing start to '23-'24 for the Panther? That sometimes the point of getting knocked down, is so that you can get back up again. Others have already turned things around at the start of second semester. I wrote about them in both my Midlands Review & in my Southern Scuffle review. There's no reason why Matthews can't have his turn around moment here in Lancaster. He does own a 5-1 win over Miller & he also has wins over Connor McGonagle (4-3) & Carter Bailey (7-3).
Speaking of McGonagle & Bailey, it really goes to show just how much talent Lehigh has in their room at 141 lbs. With Malyke Hines in the starting position, it would give testimony to depth if McGonagle and/or Bailey were to pull off some big wins this tournament. No reason to think that they can't, as McGonagle already owns a 5-0 victory over Henson.
A lot interest me at this weight class. Like brother Kal, Ethen Miller is on a mission to do a lot of standout things for the Terrapins. Winning the Lehman Open for example. On the same hand, Shannon Hanna, who is currently redshirting, is testing the waters at both 141 & 149. Bumping down to 141 for the Midlands, things didn't get go as he was expecting. Now he's back up to 149, looking for good reason to stay. A win over Miller would be good reason. I think as the seeders think. I believe this will be our final. With that noted, I'm very anxious to see Craig Cook of Millersville do battle amongst the DI competition. The Marauder is a three time NCAA DII qualifier.
I see a three man race to the title here at 157 lbs. Connor Eck recently pulled off a very nice 4-2 victory over Michael North at the Patriot Open. It'll be fun to see if he can defeat the Terrapin two times in a row, or if this time the Turtle gets the Snap on the Bald Eagle. With that said, can't forget about currently redshirting Luke Nichter. He's been known to pull off some notable wins in the past & will be a threat to both Eck & North as the three battle to see who brings home the gold.
Of all the weight classes, this is the one that interest me the most. I can see a lot happening here. I've spoke a lot thus far this season about wrestlers bouncing back from disappointing performances. A wrestler will have a bad day or even a bad weekend & then come back extremely strong the next competition. I'm hoping that is the case with both Andrew Cerniglia of Navy & Joshua Kim of Harvard. Cerniglia had a horrific Soldier Salute & Kim had two tear your heart straight outta your chest, nose hair losses to finish one match shy of a top 8 finish at the Midlands. I'd like to see both of these guys do well, & I think they're both title contenders. Thing is, there are quite a few in this bracket.
Brevin Cassella takes the *1 seed & the Bearcat not only has a 3-2 win over Kim but he also owns three victories (7-6, 2-1, 3-2) over Dalton Harkins, an unranked but very tough wrestler in his own right. Kim owns a 3-1 s.v. over Harkins. Harkins owns a 4-1 victory over Dom Baker of Campbell.
Also in this bracket we have DII Brandon Connor, who I'm anxious to see if he can earn the 6th place that he's thus far been assigned to. Harkins defeated him 9-0 in an earlier meeting, so beating any of the five seeded above him will be a chore. Nevertheless, the Marauder is a two time NCAA DII qualifier for good reason & he'll demonstrate that here.
Here's another very interesting weight class. Philip Conigliaro recently had an outstanding Midlands tournament making the finals & taking home runner-up honors. Can the Crimson senior keep the pace going? He'll have one Hell of a challenge from Navy rookie Danny Wask, who has been wrestling very well this season. Challenging both Conigliaro & Wask will be Campbell's Austin Murphy. A wrestler who has been looking for the magic he once found a few years ago when he finished R12 at the NCAA championships. The last Wask & Murphy met, it was a tight 7-6 victory for the Midshipmen. As the three of them duke it out for a Lehman title, don't you dare overlook A.J. Burkhart for even a second. Let's not B.S. one another, this has thus far not been a great season for Kent State. They're looking for something to turn things around for them. A positive. I think Burkhart could very well provide that positive.
Franklin & Marshall is hosting this tournament & you know good & well that the Diplomats don't want to see all of the gold medals leave campus this weekend. They want to keep as many of them at home as they can & one of their best hopes in doing so is James Conway. The junior recently wrestled very well at the Midlands earning an impressive 5th place finish. That accolade won't make things any easier for him here though. In order to win a title, he'll have to get through most likely either Jacob Nolan of Binghamton or David Key of Navy. The mental edge at this point favors Key as he's defeated Conway twice by scores of 10-2 major decision & 4-2 sudden victory. As Conway concentrates on these two great & worthy opponents, he'll not want to overlook Caleb Hopkins. Despite being unranked at the moment, he can pack a punch both on his feet & even more so from the top position.
For Jaxon Smith's seed to hold & for the Terrapins to crown a champ at 197, Smith is going to have to avenge at least one of his losses. In his only meeting with Binghamton's Louie DePrez, the Bearcat edged him in a 5-4 tiebreaker. In his only meeting with Levi Hopkins, the Camel edged him 8-6 s.v. We have an incredibly good three man debacle, to see who is crowned champion here. Somewhere in all of this mess, John Crawford, hometown hope fits in. The Diplomat was 2nd in these championships last season & what a story it'd make for the local paper if he were to upset his way back into the finals again.
At this point I think it's a fair & safe bet to predict that Wyatt Hendrickson is going to come in here and just plow through the competition. If you're asking for evidence to back up the claim, I think a 4-1 & even more so a 14-1 victory over last year's champ Grady Griess speaks for itself. I am anxious though to see if Ghadiali might be able to give Hendrickson a match, but Ghadiali has to get past Griess before we start to contemplate that idea. I do think Cory Day takes a placing here but I can't see him any higher than the 4th he is slotted at. Has a 17-6 loss to Ghadiali & both a 4-1 as well as a 7-0 loss to Griess. See a good match between him & Maryland's Seth Nevills, should it happen.