Monday, February 26, 2024

2024 Lower Midwest Regional Preview (February 29th-March 1st)


Tough is a word that can be defined in many ways.  How tough is the Lower Midwest Regional?  Let me put it this way.  There are 12 returning All Americans.  Of the 53 wrestlers that I think will contend for NCAA DIII qualification, only 7 of them are unranked.  We're going to have some extremely good wrestlers who won't be heading to La Crosse, Wisconsin in a couple of weeks.  Originally this tournament was supposed to take place Friday-Saturday, but of course it had to be moved to Thursday-Friday.  Twenty minutes from my house & it gets moved to Thursday-Friday.  Oh well, in the long run maybe this is a good thing.  I'm already taking vacation to see D3 Nationals here in a couple of weeks & the gf is tagging along. Not sure if it'd be wise to make her sit through two huge wrestling tournaments in a row.  Nonetheless though, this is going to be a great tournament.  

125 lbs 

The top three in NCAA Division III wrestling at 125 lbs. So, good luck anyone else, right? Christian Guzman of North Central was a Lower Midwest Regional Champion last year, finishing 3rd in the D3 Nation.  27-3 on the year, he owns a 4-3 win over Brady Koontz of Dubque & he's defeated Zac Blasioli of Millikin on four occasions (7-5, 4-1, 3-2 & 5-2).  

Koontz was 3rd at last year's Lower Midwest Regional & 7th in the D3 nation.  Oddly enough in a Division of wrestling that has a large variety of tournaments, Koontz has wrestled nothing but duals so far this season. He's currently 12-0 on the year. 

Blasioli is 17-2.  He was runner-up at last year's Lower Midwest Regional & 5th in the DIII nation.  He does own a 3-2 victory over Koontz & he won the Coe Invitational earlier this year. 

Three returning All Americans.  Is anyone dare bold enough to come in here and pull off an upset?  It's highly unlikely, especially considering that Guzman has nearly tech'd him & Koontz has tech'd him, but if anyone is to keep one of these three from going to La Crosse, Wisconsin, it'll be Wartburg's James Levy.  5th in the Lower Midwest Regional last year, he's 11-1 on the season. 

133 lbs 

2nd-1st-1st in the D3 Nation the past three years, Robbie Precin heads into his final Lower Midwest Regional with a career record of 130-2.  He's 15-0 on the year & there's not a soul who's going to keep him from a gold medal this weekend. It's just that simple. 

As to silver and bronze? 

Joey Pins, or as I like to call him Joey "Technically" Pins (the guy has 16 tech falls in his 20-0 record this season) of Wartburg was 8th in the D3 nation two seasons ago.  Last year finishing 3rd in the Lower Midwest Regional, he finished one match shy of earning another All American honor.  18-3 & 13-3 wins over Coby Haney of Millikin, he also owns a 7-1 win over Bryce Parke.  He'll be the favorite to meet Precin in the finals. 

With that said, don't overlook Trevor Boryla of Augustana (ILL).  The Viking has been a nosehair's length of qualification the past two seasons with Lower Midwest Regional finishes of 4th & 5th.  A Pete Willson Invitational champion, he's defeated Haney every time he's stepped on the mat with him. 

Nothing is written in stone though & we still have more qualification contenders.   Brock Beck of Central has really stepped it up a notch this season. 7th in the Lower Midwest Regional in '22, he failed to place last season.   Now he's looking nab the silver or the bronze.  A 4-2 victory over Boryla suggest the probability.  He also owns a 4-2 decision over Parke. 

As to Parke he was 3rd in the Lower Midwest Regional two seasons ago.  Last season he moved up to 141 lbs & that proved overall to be an unwise decision.  He's doing much better back at 133, including a runner-up finish at the Luther Open.  He also owns a 14-12 victory over Boryla.    

Haney was 7th here a year ago. 

141 lbs 

I preach year in and year out that some of the best wrestlers are backups to other super talented wrestlers.  So be the case with Kyler Romero of Wartburg who was behind All American Kristian Rumph last season. He has dominated this season with 16 wins to only one loss.  Among his victories, a 6-4 decision over Jalen Schropp of Loras & a 14-1 major over Dresdon Grimm on Coe. 

Here to challenge Romero will be Pierre Baldwin of Cornell who has really taken the D3 wrestling world by storm since finished 5th at the Lower Midwest Regional a year ago.  28-1 on the year, he has a 5-3 decision over Bradley Rosen of North Central.   

Rosen was the Lower Midwest Regional champion last year, who finished just shy of DIII All American honors.  19-4 on the year, he has a 16-1 tech over Grimm. 

If you've followed JT#1 for long, you know I'm a Schropp fan.  Grew up seeing family member Nick a various tournaments throughout the years & played baseball against Nick for years.  He's been 4th & 6th the past two Lower Midwest Regionals.  A 3:39 fall over Romero tells me that he can contend for a qualification spot in the top 3.  He also has a 1-0 victory over Jake Dado of Ozarks and a 2:03 fall over Grimm. 

Dado is in a similar boat as to Schropp. He's been 6th & 4th the past two seasons. 18-3 on the year, he took 3rd at the Pete Willson Invitational. He owns a 3-2 win over Baldwin. 

Grimm for the record owns a 3:44 fall over Baldwin. 

149 lbs 

These are the three gentlemen that I believe will take our gold, silver and bronze here at the Lower Midwest Regional.  As to what order they'll finish in?  That I do not know.   Charlie Dojan, who was competing for North Central, who now competes for Wartburg is 19-5 on the season.  He owns both a 19-6 as well as a 7-6 decision over Eric Kinkaid.  

Axel Hernandez of Buena Vista is one of the most improved wrestlers in the country.  8th in the Lower Midwest Regional last season, the work he put in over the summer & fall has been more than apparent.  He's 18-2  & he won the Pete Willson Invitational.  Owns a 4-3 win over Kinkaid. 

With that noted, Kinkaid also owns a 7-0 decision over Hernandez.  Despite being unranked, he may very well be the only unranked wrestling in the entire Lower Midwest capable of winning a title this tournament. 

157 lbs 

The war for NCAA DIII qualification is real isn't it?   Competing at 149 lbs last season, Javen Estrada was 2nd in both the Lower Midwest Regional as well as the D3 nation last year.  He carries a 19-2 record & based on results, should rip through this bracket as if it were tinfoil.  He has a 20-5 tech over Nathan Callaway of Millikin & a 2:47 fall over Clayton McDonough of Luther. 

Callaway was 4th at last year's Lower Midwest Regional, just shy of qualification.  24-4 on the season, he has a 9-3 win over McDonough.  McDonough, like Estrada competed at 149 lbs last season & was 3rd at the Lower Midwest Regional.  He owns a 13-2 major over Gabriel Smith of Cornell (IA).   

Smith was 3rd at the Pete Willson Invitational. 

Pretty safe bet with Estrada as Callaway, McDonough & Smith will duke it out for silver and bronze. 

Story doesn't end here though.

I have no idea what is up with Gabe Fiser of Loras.  A Lower Midwest Regional champion, he was one match shy of D3 All American honors competing at 165 last year.  So far '23-'24 has not been his season, but I'm not stupid enough to not include him in this write up.  I know what he's capable of.  He's not beating Estrada, but as to the rest of the field?  He's had close matches with Callaway, McDonough & Smith.  If 157 lbs is going to have a bracket buster, Fiser is it. 

165 lbs 

Keep in mind that here at the Lower Midwest Regional, only the top 8 earn a place-winner status.  It'll be as much of a fight just to earn a top 8 showing here, as it will be to try and earn a top 3.  Where as some fights for qualification don't really start to begin until the semi-finals/consolation semi-finals/consolation finals, here it starts much earlier.  

Leading the way will be Alex Villar of North Central.  A 4th place NCAA DIII All American at 149 in '22, he slipped to a R12 finish last season, after taking 3rd at the Lower Midwest Regional. 12-2 on the year he has both a 6-2 & 7-3 decision over Bryce McDonough and a 6-0 win over David Burgess.

In a similar situation to reclaim his status, Will Esmoil of Coe was 4th in the D3 nation in 2022, after placing 3rd here at the Lower Midwest Regional.  He slipped to a disappointing 7th failing to qualify last year, & is on a mission to reclaim both qualification & All American honors.  22-3 on the year he has a 6-2 win over McDonough, a 5-0 win over Alonzo Smiley & a 9-7 win over Dustin Bohren. 

Bohren is 20-9 on the year with a 10-8 decision over Smiley & 5-0,4-0, and 15-0 victories over McDonough. 

Smiley is 19-7.  A 4-3 win over McDonough & a 3-1 win over Nathan Fuller. 

Fuller only has a .500 record of 7-7, but has enough quality wins to warrant a ranking.  Among them a 5-3 decision over McDonough.  He was 7th in the D3 nation a year ago. 

McDonough, 5th here a year ago, has both a 9-8 victory over David Burgess & a 12-4 major over Smiley.

Burgess, 7th here a year ago carries a 25-3 record.  

Quarters on, we're gonna see some good wrestling. 

174 lbs 

4th in the D3 nation in 2022 & a national champion last year, Zane Mulder of Wartburg is most likely going to win his third Lower Midwest Regional title this tournament.  Matter of fact, based on results, I'd bank on it.  His two biggest challenges here, Zeb Gnida of Loras & L.J. Richardson of Coe, he's beaten both multiple times & by rather decisive scores, may I add. 

As to whether it'll be Gnida or Richardson that meets Mulder in the finals?  That'll be a good semi-final.  Richardson was a Lower Midwest Regional runner-up last season, placing 6th in the D3 nation.  He has a 6-3 decision over Gnida.  Gnida who was 5th here last year, has both a 9-2 & 5-3 decision over Richardson. 

To spoil the plans of either Gnida or Richardson?   Could very well be Dejon Glaster of Millikin. 8th in the Lower Midwest Regional a year ago, he's been doing quite well this season.  Owns a 12-10 victory over Richardson. 

184 lbs 

Got five qualification candidates here at 184 lbs & again, only three spots for them.

 Kasey Ross of Wartburg currently carries a 12-4 record. Wins include a 4-1 victory over Cael McLaren of Cornell (IA), a 3-0 win over Jared Voss of Coe & an 11-8 win over Cole Cervantes of North Central. 

McLaren who was 4th in last year's Lower Midwest Regional, has 17 wins on the season, one of which includes a 3:00 fall over Voss.  He won the Pete Willson Invitational. 

Voss was 3rd competing at 197 lbs last year in the Lower Midwest Regional.  He Owns both a 1:45 fall over McLaren, as well as a 1:49 fall over Cervantes. 

Nicholas Brashear of Huntingdon was 5th in the Regional last year. 

Cervantes, despite being unranked was a Lower Midwest Regional runner-up last season, competing at 165 lbs.  Earlier this season, he was 2nd at Pete Willson. 

197 lbs 

A Lower Midwest Regional champion & a NCAA DIII champion last season, Massoma Endene of Wartburg looks to once again collect gold medals at both.  19-0 on the season, I would expect that column on the right to stay at zero once this tournament is said & done. 

Thus far 3rd & 2nd in the Lower Midwest Regional, I feel pretty safe predicting that Gage Linahon  of Central will be our runner-up.  6-2 & 8-3 victories over Treyten Steffen of Cornell (IA), he owns an 11-3 major decision over Mathieu Arsenault of Coe.  

Arsenault stands at 22-5 on the year.  He's defeated Steffen six times, including pinning him in the first period of three of those six  times.  Steffen has pinned him once & Steffen was 4th at the Pete Willson Invitational. 

Eli Pannell is an interesting case.  A backup at Wartburg for most of his career, he transferred to Dubuque for his final season.  Owns a 53 second fall over Linahon. 

Lastly, if 197 lbs has a bracket buster, I predict for it to be Augustana's (ILL) Josh Badger. A tough wrestler who despite being unranked was runner-up at the Pete Willson Invitational. 


For many reasons, HWT in the Lower Midwest Regional is a very interesting weight class.  I can see a lot going down here & possible chaos erupting. 

Robby Bates of North Central was 6th in the D3 nation in '22, but failed to make a return trip to the national tournament when he slipped to 5th place here in the Regional last season.  How he's poised and determined to walk out of Cedar Rapids holding a gold medal & a bracket sheet.  Four victories of Damari Dancy of Coe (3-1, 6:18 fall, 7-5 & 4-2 s.v.), he's defeated Ka'Ron Lewis of Ozarks three times (6-3, 1-0 & 16-2). 

Truth to be known, Mitch Williamson of Wartburg hasn't hardly wrestled at all this season.  Yet a lot of weight (pardon the pun) is being placed on the fact that he took #1 Tyler Kim of Augsburg to a 2-1 tiebreaker decision.  

Dancy, a former Knight of Wartburg himself, was 6th in the Lower Midwest Regional last year.  11-1 on the season, he has already proven than he can beat Bates with an 8-4 decision. 

In the many surprises of the '22-'23 season, I think what shocked me most in NCAA Division III wrestling was Ka'Ron Lewis failing to place at last year's Midwest Regional.  As far as I'm concerned he is an AA candidate & he didn't even make top 8 in the Regional last year.  Just goes to show you how insanely tough these Regionals can be.  I don't think that'll be a problem this year.  He's 14-1 on the year & he was 6th at Pete Willson. 

Now here comes the possible Darkhorses....

Cullen Quick isn't having anywhere near the kind of season that I thought he would. I really thought that he might take D3 wrestling by storm this season & instead he's just one win above .500.  With that said, I still know the kind of danger he can threaten, if he's wrestling at his best.   A 4-2 win over Bates, he's defeated Dancy twice (3-2 & 8-1). 

The other guy to watch for here as a possible bracket buster is Josh Woodrey of Augustana (ILL).  Why he's not ranked, I have no idea.  20-2 on the year, he was 3rd at Pete Willson.  He also has both a 3-1 win over Bates & a 2-0 win over Lewis. 

So as you can tell on the mat, HWT could turn out to be far more exciting than what it is on paper. 

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