Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Midlands Recap & Review


Buckle up, get comfortable. We're gonna be here a while.  There's a lot to unfold via the 2023 Midlands Wrestling tournament. Exactly where to start is never easy, but I'll start by saying that it's really a crying shame that we don't know who's going to be here until the last minute.  We're given a list of teams & within that list of teams we have to guess who's gonna start & who isn't.  Varsity starters, backups, redshirts, it's all a mystery until the brackets come out.  Then there are teams that gave absolutely no indication whatsoever that they were going to be there this weekend, and yet they show up. It's bad marketing. It's bad advertising. It's bad for the sport to be this cryptic. I previewed the Midlands to the best of my ability, but when I don't know that certain teams are going to be there, how can I preview them?  For example, do you think I wanted to leave out the Rutgers wrestlers in my previews?  No, of course I didn't. Had I known they were going to be here I would have for sure included them in my previews.  I even talked this over with Coach Scott Goodale.  He explained to me that the reason they didn't have the Midlands on their schedule was due to a rule of only being allowed 16 dates. I don't understand in that case why it couldn't have been on their schedule listed as an unofficial date.  

Another wrestling writer and I got into a friendly debate about this.  He kept on saying that Coaches don't owe it to me to provide this information.  Well for one, this isn't about me.  It's about the sport.  It's about being more fan friendly & understanding the value of marquee importance.  The gentleman I was in debate with said that coaches have good reason for keeping a tight lid on this information.  What good reason?  What possible good is it doing anyone by announcing things last second and being so secretive with this information?  Who or what does it hurt to give out a list of wrestlers at least a week prior to the event?  I can certainly tell you who and what it hurts by waiting till the last possible second. I can tell you how much better it'd be for our sport if this information came out a lot sooner. 

It's laughable to me that he wouldn't get off the fact that he thought my complaints about this were strictly personal. As if I wanted this information as a means of growing my product.  Here are the facts...

I previewed each of the 10 weight classes for the Midlands.  I averaged about 225 views per post.  You know what would've happened if I had known that Lehigh, Rutgers, Stanford, Michigan & Rider had been there & I had included them in my previews?  I still probably would've averaged about 225 views per post.  Nothing would've changed for me.  Including a few more wrestlers in each preview wouldn't have made any difference.  If I was really all about #'s & $'s and that is all I cared about, my approached to JT#1 would be a lot different.  I tell you what I'd do.  I'd develop an alter ego.  As myself I'd start writing about Pennsylvania high school wrestling.  As my ego I'd start writing about Ohio high school wrestling.  Posts would be about how great Pennsylvania high school wrestling is, & how much better it is than Ohio high school wrestling.  Then posts from the other side would do just the opposite.  The controversy alone would draw in way more #'s then I currently get.  PA & OH  h.s. fans love to hear their own praises & love to hear how they're better than the other.  Then in turn they get riled up & they're there to tell you how wrong you are about what you wrote.  It's a win/win situation cause either way, the views keep coming in.    Then from the collegiate side of things, I'd do what a lot of publications do.  I'd cover the top 10-15 NCAA Division I teams, more or less ignoring teams 16 through 80, unless they really did something out of the ordinary.  I'd throw a bone to DII & DIII every blue moon & pretty much ignore the NAIA, until the national tournaments came around.  

As you can tell, I didn't appreciate his insinuation & frankly it did tick me off a bit.  I've actually taken a hit in both #'s & $'s over the years by doing more coverage of small teams.  Of including DII, DIII, NAIA & NJCAA on JT#1.  My #'s & $'s were bigger back when I used to be strictly DI.  But it's worth it to me, because there's a ton of great collegiate wrestling beyond the top 15 teams in DI.  It deserves recognition.  This is why on a budget that can't afford a shoe-string, while working a full time job, & other commitments I have to my life, I do as much for college wrestling as I can. 

Cliff notes version of what I just said?...I didn't make the complaints about the Midlands for myself.  I made them because they're effecting the overall sport in a negative way. 

That out of the way....Let's get down to the Midlands itself, because while pre-Midlands left much to be desired, the tournament once it started was fantastic. Well ran & a lot of positive to highlight. 


The first thing I want to say is how sharp & good looking the new Midlands award stand was this season.  I really liked this award stand a lot. The color, the font & the Midlands emblem right below the 1st place spot. 

 I also want to compliment the awards as well.  For 1st, 2nd & 3rd place, the Midlands gave out glass plaques that I thought were really cool. For places 4th through 8th, they gave out really sharp medals. It was clear to me that a lot of thought & effort was put into the awards and I appreciate it.  Some argue that this sorta stuff doesn't matter. I say it does. You work your ass off to earn one, it should be of quality.  Something that you can keep & cherish with you for life. Something that reminds you of what you achieved. 

Here's a better picture of the Medals

Now for my thoughts on the actual wrestling....

125 lbs Thoughts

When Luke Stanich had his way with NCAA DIII sensation Joziah Fry of Johnson & Wales at the Princeton Open, I speculated that the true freshman must be pretty good.  I found out this weekend, that no, he's not just pretty good, he's VERY good.  Without an easy match the whole way through, he collected W after W.   Started off with a pin over NJCAA All American Luqman Masud & then defeated last year's Midlands 3rd place finisher Diego Sotelho via fall.  Took out last year's champion Eric Barnett 8-5 & followed it up with a 5-3 win over Cooper Flynn who has pulled off his fair share of notable wins this season.  Won the Midlands title with a 8-7 tiebreaker over Eli Griffin. It just blows my mind to think that he's been out of high school less than a year! 

Speaking of Griffin, I was really happy to see California Baptist have a Midlands finalist. The Lancers are still in their transitional period into the world of NCAA Division I wrestling & it was very rewarding to see them have such an important & monumental moment like this. 

Gotta give Eric Barnett credit for coming back like the champ that he is to take 3rd.  He's had some downs this season, but there's a reason he's collected so much hardware in his career & he demonstrated that here.  Collecting 3rd place with a hard fought 1-0 win over Cooper Flynn. 

As we round out the rest of our place-winners,  Sotelho came back strong to capture 5th place.  Now a two-time place-winner he has the opportunity to become a four time Midlands Medalist, I don't think too many Harvard wrestlers can claim that honor.  

Vinny Kilkeary of Ohio State with an impressive 7th place finish. A redshirt providing more illustration to just how good some of these lightweights are straight out of the gate.  Defeated Tristan Lujan of Michigan State 4-1 s.v.   As to Lujan, I think it did him a world of good to earn a medal here.  Placing at tournaments like these can really do wonders for a wrestlers confidence. 

133 lbs Thoughts

Currently redshirting Dylan Ragusin really made a statement this tournament.  Came in & in the semi-finals nearly tech'd last year's Midlands champion Michael Colaiocco 15-3 in the semi-finals.  Then won a hard fought 4-1 decision over Dylan Shawver, who in his own right had a very good tournament. It was nice to see Shawver wrestling well again, seeing how his career thus far has been plagued with injuries. Hope he stays healthy. 

In my opinion the real story of this bracket was Zeth Romney.  I mean where in the world did this kid come from? 5th-3rd-2nd, he never did win a California state title while in high school, but I have a feeling he will win many titles by the time his collegiate career is said & done. He looked sharp at CKLV, finishing one match shy of placing, but here at the Midlands he was on fire.  A takedown loss to Shawver in the semis,  what was most impressive is that he nearly tech'd Colaiocco himself to capture bronze with a 16-3 major decision.  May I also note that he knocked off two time All American Sam Latona 3-2 in the quarters.  Latona came back to take 5th, after dropping a consolation semi-final to Colaiocco 5-4. 

Very rewarding to see Mason Leiphart of F&M on the award stand.  I know talking with Coach Borja the Diplomats have been working extraordinarily hard & that hard work is starting to pay off.  F&M has never had more than one place-winner at the Midlands in their entire history & Leiphart was one of two this tournament. 

Julian Chlebove took 7th over Marlon Yarbrough in a Medical Forfeit.  Thought Chlebove had a rather good tournament. Looked particularly good in his R12 11-3 victory over Hunter Leake. Yarbrough is another young talent with a lot of potential.   

141 lbs Thoughts

The Mountaineer wrestled the best I've ever seen him wrestle.  Won a hard fought 9-6 semi-final over Tom Crook & then just destroyed All American C.J. Composto 18-3 in the finals.  I still cannot believe just how all over Composto he was all match.  It's one of those deals where you watch it with your own eyes & question if your eyes are playing tricks on you. 19-14 on the season last year, I honestly thought at the beginning of '23-'24 that Titus would be an NCAA qualifier, probably 1-2 or 2-2.  My mind has done a complete 180.  He now stands 15-0 & if he wrestles like this the rest of the season, All American, no doubt about it. 

I wasn't surprised at all to see Crook come back and take third. Currently redshirting, when he makes his return to varsity status in '24-'25 he's really gonna spice things up at 141. (And he might not even wait till '24-'25)  

I'll say about Jordan Hamdan what I said about Tristan Lujan.  In my estimation Spartan wrestlers were in need of a big monumental moment in their collegiate careers & placing 5th is it.  Hopefully it effects his confidence in a positive way. 

My final thoughts concerning 141 lbs Midlands, are that I was happy to see Dylan Layton make the award stand.  Glad to see Cleveland State have the success.  Wish his match to medal would have been against anyone other than Pat Phillips.  Would have loved to have seen F&M get another on the award stand. 

149 lbs Thoughts

I tell you what, 149 really threw me off.  I'm not much of a gambler but had I placed bets on 149 lbs I would have lost my burro. A lot happened here that I was not expecting.  For one I couldn't believe that  Kyle Parco, Quinn Kinner & Joe Zargo all got knocked out of the championship side of the bracket so early.  Parco medical forfeited out of the tournament but Zargo & Kinner were both eliminated before the blood round!  It's like where in the heck did Ty Whalen come from?  15-13 last season & this year he's 10-0, defeating a three time All American in route to winning a Midlands title!?!?  I mean who in their right mind (other than him & the Princeton coaches) would have ever predicted that? Unbelievable.   

A lot can be said for his finals opponent, Ty Watters too. Straight outta high school, the two time Pennsylvania State champ duked it out with ANOTHER true freshman out of Illinois, three time state champ Kannon Webster in the semi-finals.  If that's not enough, Cross Wasilewski ANOTHER true freshman took 5th place & Sam Cartella ANOTHER true freshman took 8th!! 

1st - Redshirt freshman
2nd - True freshman
3rd - True freshman
5th - True freshman
8th - True freshman 

Over half of the Midlands place-winners here freshman & four of them were in high school less than a full year ago!  It just blows my mind how good these kids are so early into their careers. 

With that out of the way I was very happy to see Buffalo put a wrestler on the award stand. Kaleb Burgess wrestled very well this tournament, with his biggest win coming in the first round with a huge 9-8 win over Zargo.   I was also happy to see  both Corbyn Munson of Central Michigan & Caleb Tyus of Northern Illinois make the award stand.  A touch of Upperclassmen to massive amount of youth. 

Lastly as to 149 lbs, I'll say that I was really hoping to see Ryan Moore of Thomas More make the award stand.  He wrestled a good tournament registering some impressive wins over DI opponents. Dropped a tough match to Tyus in the R12, to fall one match shy of being a DII wrestler to place at a DI tournament.  I said afterwards that I thought he had a great showing & that some ought to be thankful that the Saints aren't eligible for the post season. All I meant by that was a compliment to Moore on his incredible talent & how I believed he'd probably be one of the top 3 at the Region.  Without him there, in my opinion it makes it not quite as challenging as what it would be if he were there.  Can you believe that a coach on another team got legit angry at me for stating this?  I'm almost 40 years old & started writing wrestling articles when I was 19. I've been at this a long time.  I've had people angry at me a handful of times over the past 20 years for things that I've said, but nothing like this.  Let alone wrestling, our society keeps getting stranger and stranger. 

Moving on to 157....

157 lbs Thoughts

This was a fun weight class with a lot of rewarding moments.  I was a bit concerned about Jacori Teemer's health before the tournament started, but it looked to me like he was good.  I can't get over how quick he is sometimes. Just lighting speed on the mat.  Very fun wrestler to watch    Was also impressed with Trevor Chumbley.  A champion here last year, he fought his way back to the finals & gave  Teemer a tough match as he represented the host school. 

How about third place Lucas Revano?  Now he wrestled one heck of a tournament.  Losing in round two, he came back scoring four wins in a row to finish 3rd.  These victories included former EIWA champ Anthony Artalona, 2023 NCAA R12 Chase Saldate & D.J McGee of George Mason.  With McGee placing 4th & Central Michigan's Johnny Lovett placing 5th, I would think both would propel up the ladder the next time rankings come out. 

Lastly I think the biggest story of 157 was Colton Washleski of Rider.  Hokey pokey, talk about a guy that has turned things around.  He had a 6-16 record last season! Now he's 6th at the Midlands with wins over Anthony Artalona & Andy Clark.  Another walking, talking, breathing example of what can be done through making positive changes, working hard & believing in yourself. 

165 lbs Thoughts

I realize that 165 lbs is loaded with some really good talent over all, but man did D.J. Hamiti look like he's gunning for the national title this season.  For the second time this season he stuck true freshman sensation Beau Mantanona of Michigan & then he scores majors over both Maxx Mayfield & Peyton Hall.  A 12-0 major to be specific over Hall & let's keep in mind that Hall too is a former All American.  One that is likely to earn another All American honor this March. 

Speaking of Mantanona it is clear to me that while he's redshirting this season, he'll immediately be in the title hunt himself as a redshirt freshman next season.  Pinning Caleb Fish in the first period of the consolation semi-finals was very impressive as was his 4-1 overtime victory over Mayfield to capture 3rd.   

Chris Moore, another true freshman (sure were a lot this tournament weren't there?) placed 6th dropping a tight 1-0 match to Fish. Luke Gayer a redshirt freshman of Rutgers upended Tate Geiser of Cleveland State 12-6 in the 7th place match. 

My final thoughts here were that I was heartbroken to see Joshua Kim come so close to place-winner status only to lose out on it by a hair.  A 2-0 loss to Fish in the quarters, he then dropped a 4-2 match to Moore in the R12.  Still has plenty of duals left + the EIWA tournament to shine, & I hope that he does. 

174 lbs Thoughts

Edmond Ruth was the only returning champion from last season to repeat as Midlands champ. That in itself very impressive, scoring impressive wins over Nick Incontrera in the semis & Philip Conigliaro in the finals.   As to Conigliaro, it was very rewarding to see him make the finals for  a number of reasons. First and foremost, collegiate wrestling careers have their ups and downs. He was experiencing a down & making the finals here rocketed back up.  I've talked for years how Harvard just needs that spark to light a fire & while there have been other sparks this year for the Crimson, this was a big one. 

Last year's Midland's runner-up Incontrera battled back to 3rd place, scoring a 5-1 win over another wrestler I want to mention, Max Maylor.  Maylor spent 3/4's of his career (or is it now 4/5's?) at Michigan, paying his dues and serving his time.  Now he's at Wisconsin finally getting what I feel is a real shot & he's making the most of it.  Talked so much this review about freshmen, redshirt & true. Maylor gives me an opportunity to showcase that even if you're not a superstar right out of the gate a lot of good things can still happen for you in your career.  I've been a wrestling fan for over 30 years now.  I've seen a lot of guys give up on themselves because they don't have the success they think they ought to have early in their careers. A guy like Maylor illustrates how even if it really hasn't happened for you yet, it can even happen towards the end of your run.  Placing 4th, Maylor had a very impressive 10-2 over DII champion hopeful Scott Joll & a 4-3 win over Alex Cramer of Central Michigan. 

Sad to see both Justin McCoy (who was 6th) & Adam Kemp (who was 8th) both have to Medical Forfeit because of injuries this tournament.  Neither looked too serious though & I think both will be back ready to go before long. 

Lastly, we came close to not only having a DII place-winner in Joll, but Jared Stricker of UW-Eau Claire nearly gave us a DIII place-winner.  A very impressive 11-1 major decision over Cael Valencia, Stricker lost in the blood round to Kemp. 

184 lbs Thoughts

At the very beginning of the season I talked it over with some other wrestling fans of how DIII standout Shane Liegel who placed 1st-4th-2nd in the D3 nation would fare in his first & only season in DI.  Now I know that Coach Bono & staff, along with practice partners in the room have made a huge difference in Liegel's wrestling, but still.....what a statement for NCAA DIII wrestling.  You talk about DIII wrestlers transitioning to DI, most fans dismiss it with a laugh. I don't think anyone at the beginning of the season saw Liegel winning a huge in-season tournament like this one.  Won the Midlands title over Max Hale in a 9-6 sudden victory.  Hale is another wrestler that reminds me a lot of Maylor.  Hasn't really done a whole lot thus far in his collegiate career & makes the Midlands finals.  One of my favorite things to see in wrestling if it isn't painfully obviously already is when a senior who hasn't yet, finally gets his shining moment.  Very cool for Hale. 

We saw a handful of post-grads this tournament & out of all of them Neil Antrassian was the most impressive.  Dropped a 13-4 major decision to Nate Dugan in the first round & then rallied off 5 wins ot take 3rd!  Alex Cramer, Dennis Robin, Troy Fisher, James Conway & Cody Howard.  An impressive list of victories for Antrassian as he collected bronze. 

Speaking of Howard, while an NCAA qualifier back in 2021, I'd lump him into the same category as Maylor & Hale.  Placing 4th here is a highlight of his career.  

Final thoughts were that I was very surprised that Layne Malczewski didn't place. That really threw me off.  

197 lbs Thoughts

I'll shoot you straight.  I think 197 is either a two or three man race at the moment.  Aaron Brooks, Trent Hidlay & if he is indeed back, A.J. Ferrari.  Until proven otherwise, this is what I'm going with.  With that said, I think the next best guy in the bracket could very well be Michael Beard.  So many people moan & groan about transferring, & I get it.  I concur that there is a lot of negative that takes place in transferring.  On the flip side, there's a lot of positive that takes place too.  I can't imagine Beard remaining a reserve at Penn State. As good as he is?  As much talent as he has?  That'd be a crime against humanity.  I'm glad he transferred to Lehigh & I love seeing him do as well as he's doing. 

To be honest, I was left in total awe at how he manhandled Luke Stout.  Stout's AA material in his own right.  Took care of Cole Urbas 19-7 in the quarters & shut out former Michigan State Spartan Cam Caffey 4-0 in the semis.  So I was expecting Stout to give Beard a match & Beard just had his way with him.  Very impressive & it made me question if I'm right about my assessment regarding the top three. I realize Beard lost a major to Hidlay earlier this season, but Beard seemed like a whole new man this tournament. 

Also impressed with Urbas coming back to take 3rd.  The Quakers as a whole showed a lot of tenacity this tournament. Such a tough wrestler in the top position, was particularly impressed by his 4-0 win over Andy Smith of Virginia Tech. 

HWT Thoughts

Gonna end my recap & review by saying that I've said for quite sometime that I feel Isaac Trumble could end up being an NCAA champ at 197 before his career is all said & done.  Hate to overuse the word shocked, but I was not expecting to see him at HWT this tournament.  Nor did I expect him to look as dominant and strong.  In my opinion he still looks like he could easily make 197 & he was horsing around these guys who must have had some serious weight advantage on him.  Luke Luffman gave him a tough 2-1 match in the finals, but Luffman is  like a block of cement. Such a low center of gravity and a powerhouse in his own right, I was actually surprised that Trumble was able to match strength with him.  

Could say a lot more about HWT, but gotta end with how exciting it must have been for Daulton Mayer to earn a 5th place finish.  80 place-winners & he was the only non-DI wrestler to earn a medal.  That has to feel pretty damn good. What an awesome accomplishment for him & the Thomas More program. 

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