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  • What Does Pritzlaff Inherit at Columbia?

    On Tuesday, the long-time well-respected assistant/associate head coach Donny Pritzlaff was named head coach at Columbia University. It marked the first time that Pritzlaff had been given the opportunity to assume a head coaching role - a chance that many had hoped he’d get for over a decade. Pritzlaff’s name typically got mentioned in conversations revolving around top assistant coaches who could/should get a chance at a head coaching vacancy. 
    Now that Pritizlaff has accepted the Columbia job, the question is what is he walking into? What can he expect in the immediate future from Columbia? 
    Alumni/Boosters
    Something working to his benefit is that the Columbia alumni and those with a vested interest in the program were very instrumental and supportive of Pritzlaff’s candidacy. That should help come fundraising time and doing everything Columbia needs to do to keep pace with the rest of the Ivy League schools. College athletics have turned into an arms race with most programs vying to compete with each other on the field of play and outside it, as well. Though the Ivy League is supposed to and does stress academics first, rivals Cornell, Penn, and Princeton have made sizable investments in the wrestling programs and it has paid off results-wise. Having someone on your staff who can generate support for their respective programs is just as important as a coach who can demonstrate the finer points of finishing a single leg. With Pritzlaff’s connections in North Jersey and his reputation throughout the state from his high school days to his time at Rutgers, he should bring in even more interest from stakeholders who previously may not have had an interest in Columbia wrestling. 
     
    Coaching Staff
    Obviously, most coaches would rather assemble their own staff and Pritzlaff will likely do this at some point. To what extent? We’re not quite sure. But, for now, the staff that former head coach Zach Tanelli has assembled is high-quality and very experienced. 
    Joe Nord is currently the associate head coach and has been on Tanelli’s staff for the past nine years. Nord likely knows everything associated with the program and athletic department and could be an integral piece to retain. 
    Chad Walsh comes with two years of experience on Columbia’s staff and four with the Davidson program. Looking at the production from Columbia’s best wrestlers, most are around Walsh’s weight range (157-184).  
    Jamie Franco joined the staff prior to the 2023-24 campaign. Franco had previously spent seven years as an assistant at his alma mater, Hofstra. In our interview with Tanelli last year, he mentioned how when he coached Franco at Hofstra the team referred to him as “coach” at the time based on his work ethic, knowledge, and maturity. 
    There’s also been a ton of movement on the assistant coaching front nationally. A potential candidate for Pritzlaff’s staff may have already changed jobs this offseason. 
    We’ll have to monitor how this situation evolves. 
     
    Roster
    Because of Ivy League restrictions, athletes across all sports are not permitted to redshirt and can only use four years of eligibility. The latter never seemed like an issue, that was until the NCAA doled out an extra year for student-athletes active in the 2020-21 school year. With a very veteran team in 2023-24, Columbia had a handful of wrestlers who graduated and still had a year of eligibility that they were unable to use for the Lions (or any Ivy institute). Therefore, the transfer portal was filled with Columbia wrestlers, even before Tanelli stepped down. 
    Angelo Rini, Kyle Mosher, Joshua Ogunsanya, and Lennox Wolak are all notables who transferred under the aforementioned circumstances. Heavyweight Nolan Neves hit the portal, as well, and joined Ogunsanya headed south to North Carolina. 
    Those five veterans could have formed an excellent core for year one under Pritzlaff, but they wouldn’t be able to compete. With wrestlers like those leaving, it makes it seem like the cupboard is bare for year one of the Pritzlaff administration. Columbia will probably be hard-pressed to replicate the kind of lineup that Tanelli unveiled during back-to-back fourth-place EIWA finishes; however, there’s still talent in the fold. 
    Columbia could send out a lineup that features four past national qualifiers, which isn’t bad. Kai Owen (141), Aaron Ayzerov (184), and Jack Wehmeyer (197) made it to Kansas City in 2024. Cesar Alvan (157/165) was a national qualifier in 2023 at 157 lbs and sat out the 2023-24 season in hopes of making the Olympic team for Brazil. 
    Ayzerov had a breakthrough campaign in 2023-24 and won the EIWA’s as the fifth seed. With 184 lbs clearing out significantly, he could be on the cusp of a top-ten national ranking. Ayzerov and Ivy-rival Chris Foca met four times in 2023-24, with Ayzerov winning the first three; however, Foca prevailed at nationals. Being able to consistently beat a wrestler of Foca’s caliber and the experience of his first national tournament should make Ayzerov a podium contender in 2024-25. 
    Similarly, 197 clears out a lot, too. That bodes well for Wehmeyer who spent the year near the bottom of the top-33. Wehmeyer could make the leap this year and challenge for an Ivy crown. 
    Others on the roster who could challenge for a nationals berth this year are Richard Fedalen (149), Nick Fine (174), and Vincent Mueller (285). 
    Additionally, Columbia does have a decent incoming crop of freshmen, though it could have been more if not for two Big Boarders flipping. 
    Nick Campagna and Jake Wacha are New Jersey state placewinners (both 8th in 2024). 
    Cooper Hornack and Connor Smith both made the podium in Pennsylvania. 
    Oliver Howard is an Alabama state champion. 
    Nick Fine’s younger brother, Spencer, was third in New England. 
    I’m not sure if any of the incoming recruits nudge someone out of the current starting lineup and make a significant impact in 2024-25; however, there is promise for the future. 
    It remains to be seen if they stick, but Columbia also has verbals from Class of 2025 recruits Mark Grey and Evin Gursoy. 
     
    Miscellaneous
    Columbia has worked closely with the NYC RTC in the past, which is a plus. Having a strong RTC used to be a luxury; however, in today’s world, it’s necessary for a team that strives to be a contender. Pritzalff’s good relationship with the alumni could result in more gains for the collegiate program based on quality partners coming through the RTC. 
    The school itself made national headlines this spring over protests and how they were handled. However, you viewed these, it generally didn’t paint the school in the greatest of lights. We’ll see if this has a trickle-down impact on wrestling recruiting. 
    2024-25 marks the first year of NCAA qualification directly through the Ivy League. That means the six Ivy schools will conduct their own conference tournament (held at Princeton). Wrestlers will not have to grind through a massive tournament like the EIWA (with 17 teams); however, one slip-up might put NCAA qualification hopes on thin ice. There is also probably some more scheduling flexibility as Columbia always dualed Ivy rivals, but could structure their schedule differently without the need to wrestle EIWA opponents. 
    The location and distance between Pritzlaff's new employer and former employer (Rutgers) is quite unique in the world of college athletics. There are only about 45 miles between the two universities (as the crow flies, not counting traffic). As mentioned earlier, since Rutgers and Columbia aren’t necessarily rivals, you could have a handful of Rutgers fans invested in the Columbia program because they’re “Donny fans.” Typically, when a coach gets a new gig, he’s moving into a whole new region and needs to make new connections. Pritzlaff will be able to use the existing ones he has and maybe get more familiar with those in the Manhattan area surrounding the campus. 

    Earl Smith -

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    Purdue's State of the Union - Be Where Your Feet Are

    This month I decided to double up on my Purdue Boilermakers Wrestling content. There were some good reasons for this. First off, I wanted to talk to their recently promoted Head Assistant Coach, Leroy Vega. Secondly, catching up with Coach Ersland is always a good time. So selfishly, I moved forward with this plan. The vision for this conversation being sort of a “State of the Union” on Purdue wrestling in June of 2024. 
    I needed to start where we left off, which was March in Kansas City. In my previous conversations with Coach Ersland, we’ve discussed how great it was having two All-Americans in Parker Filius and Matt Ramos from the year before, so I knew that their goals and aspirations were high. I asked about how they’ve reflected on finishing the season having finished lower than their expectations and how the messaging to the team went from there. 
    “Perspective is always important when you’re competing and working as hard as we do. We have some very capable guys on our team at the National Championships, in terms of Matt Ramos who had been ranked number one most of last year, as well as some young talent in terms of a guy like Joey Blaze or a Michigan product like Stoney Buell, who was having some success. We had high expectations and didn’t reach it. Everybody has their own barriers or adversities, so we didn’t get quite to where we felt we should be, but you’ve got to have perspective. You don’t shrug it off and say ‘Oh well, we didn’t get there’, you need to own it and make the changes that you need to, but remember that there is a bigger picture here and there’s growth. It’s also important to not be ‘event-driven’.”
    I’m intrigued. This hasn’t been the last time this summer that this sentiment has been brought up in interviews, but it’s nonetheless interesting. So much of sports in general are focused on team or individual accolades and achievements. In this sport, much of that tends to focus on a couple of weeks in March, but there’s a lot of build-up to it. Let’s continue with Coach Ersland:
    “Having perspective on what we did wrong, how we can get better, and where we need to put in that work. Everybody on this team is back next year, all five National qualifiers are back, so in one way or another you’ve got to grow and develop, and perspective is key around that.”
    With a young team, it’s important to really lean into that perspective, especially when going through the gauntlet of a B1G schedule. My next question was about how they worked with those young guys to introduce them to the reality of a B1G season. 

    Joey Blaze photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo
    “We had two true freshmen in the lineup (Greyson Clark - 141, and Joey Blaze - 157), both qualified for Nationals, so at some level there is some success in getting them into that building and competing there, which will serve them well. Their journeys were very different (you could almost say that they went “Separate Ways” - I had to build in a Journey joke, let’s continue) 
    Greyson was hurt after the Nebraska dual and didn’t wrestle again until the B1G Championships. For him, he showed that he was able to take a setback and still find a way to come back and compete at a high level. He beat Wyatt Henson at Nationals as well, which is a really good win. He learned that he could overcome an injury, stay focused, and put himself in position to accomplish goals. He didn’t put his head down and sulk. He learned a lesson that’s going to serve him very well when the body bounces back. What he’s taken mentally and emotionally, around what it takes to come back and succeed, is going to really set him up in the future. 
    Joey had some big moments during the season, competed most of the year, had wins over Peyton Robb, and Ed Scott, which are some noteworthy wins. His expectation going into Nationals was to make the podium. He had some really tight matches against quality people (a tiebreaker loss to Franek of Iowa and an OT loss to Johnny Lovett of CMU), and the way it affected him, he sees that results aren’t guaranteed from working hard, and there are little things in the way you think and approach matches. How fine that line is between winning and losing in those areas. It has to be a focus on performance, rather than winning and losing. That perspective is around success isn’t a win/loss record. It’s about performing at the highest level, despite that record. Having many good performances out of 30 matches is the goal. He’s going to try to make it 30 for 30, but having 20 solid performances in 25 wins isn’t always getting better.”
    At this point, I don’t need to ask about what the offseason plans are for the team so much (I still kind of do), but it’s becoming clear to me that a realignment of what’s going to get the desired results is what the plans are. Wins and losses are black-and-white declarative things. Bill Parcells used to say “You are what your record says you are”, but that’s not true. Maybe more so in Football, but we’ve always seen guys in wrestling grow throughout a season, learn from losses, get healthy, and figure out their weight cuts and diets to perform better, there are innumerable things you could point to that impacted a wins and loss record, and having the perspective to refocus the value on performance seems exactly what a smart coaching staff would do. 
    My question has now become more specific. Now I want to know how to focus on performance and build that in a young team during the off-season; 
    “It’s about always being where your feet are. It’s being in the moment right now and not getting sidetracked. Matt Ramos got sidetracked, and we’ll talk about him in a minute, but when you’re just trying for results and you’re not in the moment trying to do the best that you can right then and there, then you’re not getting better. I keep trying to go back and remind them that what you’re doing right now in this room is the most important thing you’re doing. Be involved in that. Then when the big moments come, and they will, then the distraction of winning a National title gets there, are you going to hang on and hope to not screw it up, or are you going to do what the situation calls for? That’s a difficult thing to be able to push all of that out of your head. Understanding that right here, right now, teaches them to focus on that moment and what needs to be done then. Talent is going to win, so it’s really the performance that you have to chase.”
    NBA Hall of Famer, and probably the most famous Grateful Dead fan who ever lived, had a great quote that amounts to a lot of this. Mr. Walton had recently passed away when we had done this interview, so it came to mind. The quote from Bill Walton goes, “I learn from yesterday, I dream about tomorrow, but I try to make today my masterpiece.” I myself take on too many projects, it’s a thing I do to myself so this isn’t an excuse, but it’s important to really be present with what you’re doing. It affects the people around you, how you impact them, and what you gain from that experience. The same goes for training to accomplish your goals. That seems obvious, but because we’re human, we tend to forget it. The interview continues. 

    Matt Ramos photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo
    Getting to Ramos, I wanted to know if it was preseason hype, or what it could have been that seeped its way in between him and his goals. 
    “If you look at the difference between the year when he made it to the National Finals, he was letting it fly. He was very dangerous and eager to wrestle to his positions and create action. He was wrestling free and going after people. I think at points last year when you’re wearing that number one ranking, and you’re expected to win, I think he got a little too careful. You want to be perfect and when you’re competing in that way, in my opinion, you’re not your best self. You’re not free and able to be what you’re capable of being. He went through a little bit of that, and learned how to be the favorite. He’s going to have to be the hunter. It doesn’t matter if you’re ranked one, ten, or three, the mentality doesn’t change. Since we’ve been done, he is working hard to get back to where he needs to be. You’ll see a guy closer to where he was when that upset happened than the guy who was trying to protect.”
    Earlier I had referenced the recent promotion of Leroy Vega to the Head Assistant Coach position, but that is the result of AJ Schopp choosing to return to his Alma Mater, Edinboro. Here’s Coach Ersland on his contributions over the years:
    “AJ was a worker in the room. Constantly working on technique and sparring and we’re going to miss that for sure. A lot of respect for everything he’s helped to accomplish. It was a good opportunity for him and his family to be close to home. It was a good opportunity for him to chase some other goals as well.” 
    Not many programs can lose a coach so accomplished on the mat and as a mentor as Purdue can and simply reload internally, but the Boilermakers were in that position with Coach Vega. 
    “I was very fortunate to get Leroy on staff years ago as a volunteer. We took an opportunity to know that he’s nearby, has a passion for coaching, and wants to help. Ever since that time, I’ve given him a project, or asked his thoughts, he’s just an all-in guy and takes initiative. He’s a fun guy and has a lot of energy, I don’t know if he’s ever met a stranger. In addition to the energy, he thinks outside of the box a little bit too, which is needed in today's environment, and his relationships with the guys on the team. He’s earned this because he’s shown that this is about passion and what he can bring to the table. It’s proven to be valuable and I wanted to reward him for his impact on the team as well.” 
    If you haven’t checked out my interview with Leroy Vega, check it out here
    Finishing things up, I wanted to touch once more on some of the accomplishments of the younger wrestlers on the team. I asked Coach about some of the leadership skills shown by the youth on the team, as evidenced by many of the younger guys winning their postseason awards. 
    “Player-led teams are better than coach-led teams. There are lots of tremendous coaches, but if the players buy into the standards, systems, how to think, act, and train and they are leading the charge, that's a dangerous team. That’s the best kind of team. What are the standards, and why do we have the standards, that’s what we try to impart to them to get that buy-in, and a huge part of that coaching philosophy."
    To end the conversation Tony Ersland told me about how they were bringing some incoming freshmen in to begin with some summer classes, and get them acquainted with the team and environment, but ultimately it’s to explain the standards, why they have the standards, and begin to get that buy-in. You learn a lot of things when you go away to school, but one thing I’m certain of is what these incoming freshmen are about to find out. They are about to understand the value in being where your feet are, that it’s better to measure progress than winning/losing, and that perspective is key. The P in Purdue is for perspective.

    Kevin Claunch -

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    Class of 2025 Recruiting Update (6/19/2024)

    Caleb Dennee photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com
    June 15th was a huge day on the recruiting front. It marked the first day that college coaches could have official contact with rising juniors (Class of 2026). Despite the attention on the Class of 2026, we’re still very early in the process and the top prospects from this class will take their official visits before commitments start rolling in. 
    Even though coaches have begun to focus on the Class of 2026, that doesn’t mean they’ve neglected the rising seniors. In fact, it’s been extremely busy commitment-wise from the Class of 2025. Here are some notables that have committed within the last week (or so). Two notables from Monday include the Miller twins, who we wrote about on that date. 
    #83 Caleb Dennee (Marshfield, WI) - Much has been made of late about the talent in Wisconsin that has escaped the state borders; however, the Badger staff was able to secure a recent verbal commitment from a top-100 recruit in Caleb Dennee. Though he’s searching for his first state title in 2025, Dennee has established himself as a top recruit based on his production on the national scene. Dennee put himself on the radar last summer with a third-place finish in 16U freestyle in Fargo. This spring, Dennee showed it was no fluke by making the finals of the UWW Cadet Trials at 80 kg. During the high school season, Dennee has made the state finals in each of the last two years. 
    174 lbs is where Dennee initially projects. That might be a weight in high demand for the Badgers. They have redshirt freshman Lucas Condon coming off of redshirt. Condon started the season competing at 174, but moved up to 184 later in the year. 
    Dennee is Wisconsin’s second verbal from the Class of 2025, but their first member of the Big Board. 
    Wisconsin’s current Class of 2025
    #101 Brody Saccoccia (Steubenville, OH) - Purdue got their first verbal from the Class of 2025 with Brody Saccoccia’s commitment. Saccoccia is a three-time Ohio State placewinner and a one-time champion. He’s coming off a DII state title at 150 lbs. Saccoccia has steadily moved up in weight throughout his high school career. As a freshman, he fell in the 120 lb state finals to current Ohio State 125 lb starter Brendan McCrone. A year later, he was fifth at 132 lbs. 
    Saccoccia was not mentioned in the previous version of the Big Board but flew up to #101 in the most recent release. He’ll project stick at 165 lbs for the Boilermakers. Purdue has veterans at the weight, but plenty of youth below at 157 lbs. 
    #119 Casen Roark (Father Ryan, TN) - Fresh off a #17 national ranking in InterMat’s Class of 2024 Recruiting Rankings, West Virginia is starting to assemble a follow-up class that might be worthy of a ranking. Casen Roark’s commitment gives the Mountaineers a pair of Big Boarders for 2025. Roark is aiming for his fourth Tennessee state championship in 2025 with his most recent coming at 132 lbs. Before claiming title number three, Roark ventured up to Western Pennsylvania for December’s Powerade Invitational. He made the podium with an eighth-place finish at 133 lbs. A few months later, Roark made the NHSCA Junior National finals at 132 lbs. 
    Roark projects at 141 lbs which will be a need for WVU as starter Jordan Titus is heading into his junior season. The Mountaineers have an abundance of young talent at 125/133, so somebody can always move up; however, there is no clear-cut successor to Titus. 
    West Virginia’s current Class of 2025
    #169 Anthony Lucchiani (Sherando, VA) - George Mason scored a huge coup when they got a verbal commitment from one of the top incoming seniors in-state, in Anthony Lucchiani. The three-time Virginia 4A state champion, Lucchiani, has placed twice at the NHSCA grade-level tournament. He was a runner-up as a sophomore and fourth as a junior. Last year, he also made the fifth-place bout at the Beast of the East. 
    Though not known as a traditional power state, Virginia does have a solid crop of rising seniors, so it was important for George Mason to take advantage of some of the local talent. The Patriots have junior Kaden Cassidy holding down the 149 lb slot for them currently, but after a redshirt, Lucchiani could be ready to slide into that spot. 
    #184 Hayden Hochstrasser (Southern Regional, NJ) - Army West Point continues to pile up the ranked recruits as Hayden Hochstrasser is the sixth Big Boarder for the Black Knights in 2025. For the time being, Hochstrasser’s best credentials have come at the New Jersey state tournament. He’s gotten on the podium in Atlantic City on two occasions - finishing eighth as a sophomore and third in 2024 at 165 lbs. 
    Hochstrasser projects as a 174 lber for Kevin Ward’s team. With so many recruits headed to West Point and a huge roster - it’s difficult to project a future place in the lineup for any Army recruit. 
    Army West Point’s current Class of 2025
    #185 Jason Kwaak (Brentwood, NY) - NC State received their fourth commitment from a member of the 2025 Big Board when they got the verbal from Jason Kwaak. Kwaak is a two-time New York state placewinner - taking fourth in 2024 at 152 lbs after making the podium as a freshman at 110 lbs. Kwaak got on the radar after placing sixth in 16U freestyle in Fargo last summer. Also on a national level, Kwaak was third at NHSCA Junior Nationals this spring. Kwaak is the latest in a number of wrestlers who have worked with New York’s KD Training Center (run by Khaled Dassan) and made their way down to Raleigh. 
    He projects in the 157/165 range which NC State will need after this season with the graduation of All-American Ed Scott at 157. Current 165 lb starter Derek Fields is a redshirt junior and would be gone after a redshirt season for the Class of 2025. 
    NC State’s current Class of 2025
    Liam Hickey (Cardinal Gibbons, NC) - The University of North Carolina kept one of their home state’s best within their borders with a commitment from 2024 North Carolina 4A state champion Liam Hickey. Hickey proved he was able to compete on a national stage earlier this year when he finished in eighth place at NHSCA Junior Nationals at 132 lbs. Hickey’s state title came at 138 lbs; however, he projects at 133 lbs for the Tar Heels. 
    UNC had a massive first recruiting class under Rob Koll in 2024 and is assembling another one for 2025. 133 isn’t a huge need for the Tar Heels, but getting an influx of talent and multiple options at each weight is likely a must for Koll. 
    North Carolina’s current Class of 2025
    Tristan Steldt (Fennimore, WI) - This list has a heavy ACC presence with another school getting in on the action. Over the past few years, Wisconsin has turned into a hotbed for wrestling talent and the Panthers have got in on the action with a commitment from two-time state champion Tristan Steldt. Steldt’s most recent championship came at 160 lbs. That’s the same weight Steldt went when he won a 16U national Greco-Roman title in Fargo, back in 2022. Steldt was previously mentioned at MatScout’s Big Board at #133; however, he dropped off in the latest update. 
    He projects in the 174/184 range which is sorely needed in the future for the Panthers. Their starter at 174 is headed into his junior season and 184 is projected to have a senior in the weight. Neither have sure-fire replacements behind them. Steldt joins a recruiting class that already has three current Big Boarders. 
    Pittsburgh’s current Class of 2025
    Ben Weader (Chantilly, VA) - Virginia Tech has all the making of a top-five recruiting class already with six of the top-90 recruits in the Class of 2025. They’ve added to it with the commitment of Ben Weader, a possible hidden gem from Northern Virginia. Weader won a Virginia 6A state title as a sophomore and was third during his other two years. He’s proven he can compete nationally with an eighth-place finish at 16U nationals in Fargo last year. During the 2023-24 school year, Weader got onto the podium at both the Beast of the East and the Powerade. 
    Weader is the son of former George Mason head coach, Mark, so he has good bloodlines and coaching. Having watched him since middle school, Weader has made significant strides since getting into high school. During the 2023-24 season, Weader competed at 157 lbs. He’ll probably grow into the 165 lb weight class for the Hokies. With years of strong recruiting, Virginia Tech doesn’t necessarily have a huge need at that weight (or any weight); however, Weader will have time to develop and quality practice partners with which to work with.
    Virginia Tech’s Class of 2025
    Will Greenberg (Hawken, OH) - On the heels of back-to-back ranked recruiting classes, the Bucknell staff has stayed busy on the recruiting trail and has a commitment from a potential heavyweight of the future in Will Greenberg. Greenberg made a splash last season when he qualified for the Ohio DII state tournament for the first time and advanced all the way to the finals. Though he lost, Greenberg still finished the year with an impressive 39-3 record. Greenberg will be at heavyweight in college, as well. With NCAA qualifier Dorian Crosby finishing up his career at Gannon, it appears Logan Shephard will take over in 2024-25. Shepherd has a few years of eligibility remaining, so Greenberg doesn’t have to be thrust into the starting role immediately. 
    Bucknell assistant coach Tyler Smith recently spoke with our Austin Sommer about recruiting and talked about getting in early with little-known prospects. The one-time state qualifier (and state finalist) Greenberg could be another example of the Bison staff doing their due diligence on the recruiting front. 
    Bucknell’s current Class of 2025

    Earl Smith -

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    • What Does Pritzlaff Inherit at Columbia?

      What Does Pritzlaff Inherit at Columbia?

    • Purdue's State of the Union - Be Where Your Feet Are

      Purdue's State of the Union - Be Where Your Feet Are

    • Class of 2025 Recruiting Update (6/19/2024)

      Class of 2025 Recruiting Update (6/19/2024)



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