Preview by Curt Heinrichs
Ian Paddock will represent the Buckeyes at 149 lbs this weekend for the Buckeyes
The Buckeyes travel west this week to take on some of the toughest competition in the country at this weekend’s Cliff Keen Las Vegas Wrestling Invitational. The Buckeyes return as two-time defending champs of the tournament, but will be hard-pressed to win this year as there are a number of elite teams in the hunt, including an Oklahoma squad that is loaded for bear and should be among the favorites to hoist the NCAA team championship in March. The seed meeting is taking place on Thursday evening, so I’m just going to preview the tournament with my best guesses as to who is going to be at what weight. Additionally, I should let you know that I quickly looked at Intermat’s rankings and noted which ranked wrestlers will be in each weight class. If I missed anyone, I’ll offer the necessary apologies (which are probably none).
Representing the Buckeyes at 125 lbs will be redshirt freshman Nick Roberts, who’s currently riding a 6 match winning streak. With a record of 14-2, I was a bit surprised to note that Roberts isn’t currently ranked in the top 25, but a strong showing this weekend may change that. Roberts isn’t likely to find the top of the podium this weekend as the competition at 125 is probably the deepest in the tournament with 9 ranked wrestlers in the field, with 5 of them in the top 10. Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett is the prohibitive favorite, but Jarrod Patterson of Oklahoma and Tyler Cox of Wyoming should also place high.
At 133 lbs, #16 ranked Johnni DiJulius will look to improve upon his 4th place finish from 2 years ago. 133 is a fairly wide-open weight with only 6 ranked wrestlers and none really with much dominance over the field. Joe Colon of Northern Iowa is the top ranked wrestler in the field at #4, but he will likely be challenged by Mark Grey of Cornell (my darkhorse pick to win), Cody Brewer of Oklahoma, and JDJ himself. Johnni is on a bit of a tear, having won 6 straight.
At 141 lbs, Logan Stieber returns to Vegas having won the tournament twice before. He’ll face a stiff test, primarily from Devin Carter of Virginia Tech, who is currently ranked #3 in the country. Carter is coming off of a redshirt season and has only one win this season that isn’t by bonus points. Carter is 9-0 on the year and has 6 falls, a tech fall, and a major decision to go with his latest decision victory. Joey Lazor (great wrestling name greatest wrestling name?) of Northern Iowa and Mike Nevinger of Cornell should also contest for the title, but in all honesty this is a two horse race between Stieber and the powerful Carter.
Ian Paddock of the Buckeyes will take on another unbelievably deep field when he wrestles at 149 lbs. At a glance, this is probably the most unpredictable weight class in the field with at least 4 leading candidates to win the tournament. Kendric Maple of Oklahoma slipped up earlier in the season and has fallen to #5 in the rankings. He should be the favorite, but has lost a pair of matches this year after going undefeated last season and hasn’t looked quite like himself at times this season. Other favorites include Jake Sueflohn of Nebraska, who at #6 in the rankings has been a thorn in the side of Buckeye wrestlers. Eric Grajales of Michigan is ranked #7 and is absolutely unpredictable when he steps on the mat; he has proven to be among the best wrestlers in the country, but often loses winnable matches, including one to Paddock at last year’s Big Ten tournament. Also a candidate for being a finalist is Oregon State’s Scott Sakaguchi, who is currently ranked #8. Of note in the tournament and likely to place are Ohioans Gus Sako of Virginia (St. Edward HS) and Zach Neibert of Virginia Tech (Graham HS).
At 157 lbs, Randy Languis totes his 7-3 record into action in what is another race without a clear favorite. James Green of Nebraska is ranked #4, but is a streaky wrestler at times despite a pair of All-American finishes at the NCAA tournament. RJ Pena of Oregon State, ranked #6 is also unpredictable and has a loss to an unranked wrestler for his only defeat of the season. In an anticipated field with 7 ranked wrestlers, no real top candidate for a title stands out, so Languis could find himself on the podium on Saturday if he wrestles well.
At 165 lbs, junior Joe Grandominico finds himself in another Wild West weight class. #3 Nick Sulzer of Virginia (and St. Ed’s for his high school career) and Michael Moreno of Iowa State find themselves with the best chances of winning the tournament, but some favorable seeding could give Grandominico some hope at placing. Dan Yates of Michigan is also in the field and is ranked at #8.
Buckeye Mark Martin finds himself in a weight class with former two time NCAA finalist and Olympic hopeful, so the odds of him walking away with the CKLV title are not great. In addition to the aforementioned Andrew Howe, Robert Kokesh of Nebraska is also in the weight class and is ranked #4 in the country. Beyond those two, Martin is among 7 other ranked wrestlers and will need to wrestle his best to find the podium.
#9 Kenny Courts is the 3rd Buckeye wrestler to this point that is ranked by Intermat, and could make some waves at 184 lbs this weekend. Also wrestling at 184 lbs are Ryan Loder (#4 from Northern Iowa), Jake Swartz of Boise State (#5), and Boaz Beard of Iowa State (#7). Max Huntley of Michigan rounds out the top ten and is wrestling well this season. Courts has proven to be an explosive wrestler and creates a great deal of problems for many wrestlers, so he has an outstanding chance at placement this weekend.
Senior Nick Heflin faces a tough field, which is nothing new to Heflin, who fought off some of the top competition in the country last year at 174 lbs in the Big Ten. Taylor Meeks of Oregon State was recently overtaken for the #1 spot, but still has the ability to win the tournament, as does Kyven Gadson of Iowa State (#3). Former Wisconsin Badger Travis Rutt (#6, Oklahoma) finds himself again in the top 10 and owns a major decision over Blake Rosholt of Oklahoma State. Heflin’s style negates the offense of most opponents, so his matches are always tough to predict. Regardless of his unpredictable finish, it’s almost a certainty that Heflin will place based on his wealth of experience in finding a way to win with the match on the line.
Heavyweight Nick Tavanello faces some stiff competition when he locks horns with the heavyweights at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Wrestling Invitational. Tavanello has won his last 3 heading into the tournament and boasts a record of 12-4 on the year. The odds on favorite at a glance would have to be NC State’s Nick Gwiazdowski, who is currently ranked #3 in the country. Gwiazdowski placed 8th at the NCAA tournament as a freshman and has a 9-0 win over 2 time NCAA champ Tony Nelson and a 6-4 win later in the day this summer at the Senior Nationals freestyle tournament. JT Felix of Boise State (#5) and Ohio native Ty Walz (#12 from St. Ed’s) from Virginia Tech should also be in the running for the title. Back in the pack is highly-touted recruit Adam Coon (#19) of Michigan, who was one of the most sought-after wrestlers in the country a year ago. If Coon lives up to the hype surrounding him, he ought to perform well here. While unranked, Tavanello stands a chance at placement because of the unpredictable nature of heavyweight bouts. Often ending with a low score, heavyweight matches can often be decided by a takedown on the edge or a rideout late in the match, two things that Tavanello does well.
The Buckeyes will need lots of secondary points if they hope to win a 3rd straight title. Coach Ryan will look to guys like Logan Stieber and Nick Heflin to score consistently in the championship bracket, and other Buckeyes will need to score points if they hope to finish well as a team. Stieber is likely a finalist and should take 1st place. He’s usually good for lots of bonus points, which could factor into the team score. Heflin, DiJulius, and Courts all look like place winners on paper, but will need to win consistently. Nick Roberts can really make a name for himself with a good showing as the competition is tough at 125.
Outside of the Buckeyes, Oklahoma looks to be the heavy favorite. Maple and Howe ought to win the title and guys like Patterson, Brewer, and Rutt should place in the top 4 or so. Virginia Tech, Cornell, and Nebraska could each have multiple finalists and all have strong teams.
The action will begin tomorrow afternoon and will wrap up on Saturday evening. Those interested can watch the action (for a fee) on FloWrestling. Stay tuned to Eleven Warriors and follow me on Twitter for updates on the action this weekend.