Yianni Diakomihalis (left) and Sammy Sasso (photos courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
As of Friday morning, college wrestling is back in Vegas! The 39th annual Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational is back and takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Friday and Saturday. As has typically been the case, this tournament is arguably the toughest regular-season tournament in collegiate wrestling. Seven of the top-15 tournament teams in the nation will be in attendance (#4 Michigan, #7 Northwestern, #8 Cornell/Ohio State, #11 Minnesota, #13 Nebraska, #15 Cal Poly), along with six wrestlers currently ranked in the top-two of their respective weights.
Here is our weight-by-weight preview of the action that will take place, along with some dark horses to watch, and finals predictions.
Ranked Wrestlers: #2 Patrick Glory (Princeton); #7 Devin Schroder (Purdue); #9 Malik Heinselman (Ohio State); #16 Jack Medley (Michigan); #17 Joe Manchio (Columbia); #26 Brandon Kaylor (Oregon State); #28 Jacob Allen (Navy)
We're starting it off with a solid 125 lb weight class. Second-ranked Patrick Glory is set to make his return to college wrestling after missing the 2021 campaign due to Ivy League rules. Though he's going all the way out to Vegas, Glory may see his 2020 EIWA finals opponent, Joe Manchio, in the semifinals. Manchio kept the 2019 Midlands champion in check during their last meeting, losing by the score of 3-0. In the opening weekend of the season, Manchio knocked off 2021 All-American Sam Latona (Virginia Tech). Before getting to Glory, Manchio may have to get by Jack Medley, who is responsible for his only loss this season.
The other half of the bracket is expected to be anchored by a pair of Big Ten foes, in Devin Schroder and Malik Heinselman. Schroder made the finals at this tournament in 2019 and has twice finished as a Big Ten runner-up. He's one of the more talented wrestlers in this weight class that has yet to AA. Like Manchio, Heinselman can hang his hat on a November victory over Latona. Aside from Schroder, Heinselman is the only past placer expected at this weight class. I'd be shocked if Heinselman didn't improve upon his eighth-place showing from 2019.
Unranked Threats: Watch for Kent State's Jake Ferri, who was third in the MAC and the 20th seed at NCAA's last season. Ferri is 5-3 so far this year; however, his two losses at the Mountaineer Invitational could be to opponents more talented than we anticipated.
Cornell representative at this weight is the highly-touted Greg Diakomihalis. Greg already has a pair of losses on the year, one coming to #28 Jacob Allen, who is expected to compete.
Finals Prediction: Patrick Glory (Princeton) over Devin Schroder (Purdue)
3rd - Malik Heinselman; 4th - Joe Manchio; 5th - Jack Medley; 6th - Jacob Allen; 7th - Jake Ferri; 8th - Greg Diakomihalis
Ranked Wrestlers: #6 Chris Cannon (Northwestern); #14 Chance Rich (CSU Bakersfield); #16 Dylan Ragusin (Michigan); #20 Devan Turner (Oregon State); #23 Mosha Schwartz (Northern Colorado); #24 Matt Ramos (Purdue); #29 Haiden Drury (Utah Valley); #30 Job Greenwood (Wyoming); #32 Jackson DiSario (Stanford); #33 Jake Gliva (Minnesota)
This weight class is sort of representative of the 133 lb weight class nationally. There's one returning All-American, Chris Cannon, a solid favorite, then it's wide open. We've yet to see Cannon compete this year, but he's expected to build off an excellent rookie year that saw him finish fourth in the Big Ten and seventh in the country. Last year, Cannon only lost four bouts all year and all four came at the hands of wrestlers that finished in the top-five at nationals.
The wrestler in the field with the best, past CKLV placement is Northern Colorado's Mosha Schwartz. As a true freshman, Schwartz stunningly finished fifth. In each of his last two outings, Schwartz has scored victories over ranked opponents. He's part of a chaotic Big 12 weight class that always tends to beat up on each other. Haiden Drury and Job Greenwood are ranked Big 12'ers also in the bracket.
One of the favorites to meet Cannon in the finals is CSU Bakersfield's Chance Rich, a 2021 NCAA Round of 12 finisher. Like Cannon, Rich will also make his 2021-22 debut in Vegas. Rich's 2021 Pac-12 finals opponent, Devan Turner, should receive a top-five seed and is capable here. Last year, Turner started off slow before turning it on and capturing a conference crown; he's hoping to do the same as he enters Vegas with a 2-2 record.
Finally, a pair of Illinois natives in the Big Ten, Dylan Ragusin, could meet in the quarterfinals and are both capable of a finals run. Ragusin made the national tournament at 125 lbs last season, despite being very large for the weight. He should be more comfortable up at 133 this season. Ramos is a former Cadet World Champion that transferred from Minnesota to Purdue in the offseason. In a small sample size, Ramos has been impressive for the Boilermakers with a 6-0 mark.
Unranked Threat: We've already seen this year what Anthony Sobotker (Binghamton) is capable of, after he pinned Sammy Alvarez (Rutgers) in a nasty headlock. Expect the unexpected with him. True freshman Josh Koderhandt (Navy) started his collegiate career with a title at the Clarion Open. After a rough Bearcat Open, Koderhandt rebounded with a runner-up finish at the Navy Classic.
Finals Prediction: Chris Cannon (Northwestern) over Dylan Ragusin (Michigan)
3rd - Matt Ramos; 4th - Mosha Schwartz; 5th - Josh Koderhandt; 6th - Devan Turner; 7th - Job Greenwood; 8th - Jake Gliva
Ranked Wrestlers: #7 Clay Carlson (South Dakota State); #9 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado); #11 Chad Red Jr (Nebraska); #13 Grant Willits (Oregon State); #15 Parker Filius (Purdue); #20 Dylan D'Emilio (Ohio State); #24 Lawrence Saenz (Cal Poly); #25 Jake Bergeland (Minnesota); #30 Angelo Martinoni (CSU Bakersfield); #33 Chase Zollman (Wyoming)
Could we see either South Dakota State or Northern Colorado crown their first-ever CKLV champion Saturday evening? If seeds hold up, it's a possibility. 2021 All-American Clay Carlson is the highest-ranked wrestler at this weight. In his most recent outing, Carlson majored Jake Bergeland, two weeks after edging him by a single point. Though Carlson boasts the higher rankings, Chad Red Jr. outplaced the Jackrabbit on the NCAA podium last season (sixth to eighth). Red is looking for a signature performance at his final CKLV. He has placed twice in the past (5th in 2019 and 4th in 2017), but has been the victim of some loaded weights. This could be his place to shine.
The third favorite here is Andrew Alirez. Alirez rose up the rankings after outlasting 2021 NCAA Round of 12 finisher Allan Hart (Missouri) earlier this year and has displayed that talent that has long been talked about. However the seeds fall, a semi then final between Carlson/Alirez/Red Jr. should be fireworks.
Behind the big three is a workmanlike pair in Grant Willits and Parker Filius. Both are solid and proven veterans that are capable of unseating some of the mercurial talent that may start above them, seed-wise. In the opening weekend of the 2021 season, Willits shutout Carlson, 3-0. Filius comes in sporting a perfect 6-0 record.
A lower seed/lower-ranked wrestler to watch out for is Cal Poly's Lawrence Saenz. Saenz is coming off a freestyle season where he defeated Red Jr. and Hart on his way to finishing as a runner-up at U23 Nationals.
Unranked Threat: Cornell's Cole Handlovic could use a strong performance at this tournament to solidify a starting spot at this weight for the Big Red. Handlovic didn't appear to be penciled in here, but went 4-1 at the Bearcat Open, then got the nod in the team's season-opening dual with Stanford. He responded by blanking Jason Miranda, 4-0.
Finals Prediction: Chad Red Jr (Nebraska) over Clay Carlson (South Dakota State)
3rd - Andrew Alirez; 4th - Dylan D'Emilio; 5th - Grant Willits; 6th - Parker Filius; 7th - Lawrence Saenz; 8th - Cole Handlovic
Ranked Wrestlers: #1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell); #2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State); #4 Yahya Thomas (Northwestern); #6 Jaden Abas (Stanford); #12 Ridge Lovett (Nebraska); #13 Legend Lamer (Cal Poly); #15 Mitch Moore (Oklahoma); #16 Kanen Storr (Michigan); #26 Michael Blockhus (Minnesota); #29 Zach Price (South Dakota State); #31 Cory Crooks (Oregon State)
149 thru 165 lbs will feature three of the tournament's most intriguing brackets. At 149 lbs, we have the possibility of the only #1 vs. #2 finals matchup in this tournament. Two-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis, now at 149 lbs, is taking on the returning NCAA runner-up Sammy Sasso. Yianni is looking for his second CKLV title, while Sasso was a runner-up here as a freshman. This matchup has the potential to feature some of the best scrambles of the entire tournament, as both are highly elite in that discipline.
Looking beyond the obviously enticing collision between Yianni and Sasso, there are some key contenders in the mix, as well. Yahya Thomas had everything click in St. Louis last year and finished third at nationals. Will he be able to maintain that high level of consistency throughout the regular season in 2021-22? We've already seen Jaden Abas push Diakomihalis in their early-season dual. He appears to have jumped levels in the offseason and may meet Yianni again in the semis.
Also in the mix will be 2021 Big Ten runner-up Ridge Lovett. Lovett had the opposite national tournament performance of Thomas. He was seeded highly (5th), but only managed a single win. He finished third in Vegas, as a freshman at 133 lbs. I'd expect something similar this year.
Another past CKLV third-place finisher in this bracket is Kanen Storr, who is seeking to place for the third time at this tournament. Mitch Moore and Michael Blockhus both finished in the top-eight with old teams back in 2019 at 141 lbs and represent some of the great depth that this weight features. Finally, Legend Lamer was the ninth seed at nationals last year and is unbeaten in limited action this season.
Unranked Threat: Wyoming veteran Jaron Jensen is always a tough out. Jensen did not place at the 2019 tournament, but did log three wins. He is one of the few collegiate wrestlers to defeat Missouri's Brock Mauller.
Finals Prediction: Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) over Sammy Sasso (Ohio State)
3rd - Ridge Lovett; 4th - Jaden Abas; 5th - Yahya Thomas; 6th - Mitch Moore; 7th - Legend Lamer; 8th - Michael Blockhus
Ranked Wrestlers: #2 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern); #5 Quincy Monday (Princeton); #6 Peyton Robb (Nebraska); #12 Kendall Coleman (Purdue); #13 Jacob Wright (Wyoming); #14 Justin Thomas (Oklahoma); #15 Will Lewan (Michigan); #17 Hunter Willits (Oregon State); #19 Andrew Cerniglia (Navy); #25 Bryce Hepner (Ohio State); #31 Dazjon Casto (The Citadel)
This weight class suffered a big hit last night as Brayton Lee was not among one of the entries for Minnesota. Even without Lee, this should be a really strong weight. One of the storylines of the tournament we outlined Monday was Ryan Deakin, who is aiming to win his third CKLV championship. That story detailed the elite company he could join with a win on Saturday. Like many of his Northwestern teammates, Deakin will hit the mat for the first time this year on Friday.
One of Deakin's key threats, Quincy Monday, already has some significant mat time in 2021-22. In his most recent bout, Monday went into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and dismantled two-time NCAA All-American Kaleb Young. He also cruised to a title at the Southeast Open on week one of the season.
Monday isn't the only one in this weight with stock on the rise; Peyton Robb has established himself as a high All-American contender this year. Robb handed 2021 NCAA champion Austin O'Connor his first loss since December of 2019 and pushed another national champ, David Carr, to the brink a few days later. Also from the Big Ten is Purdue's Kendall Coleman, a fourth-place finisher during his freshman year, in another stacked weight class, won by Deakin. Coleman suffered a hiccup in his 2021-22 debut, but turned in three bonus-point wins the last time out.
Not only does this weight have an imposing group of title contenders, but also plenty of depth and personnel capable of pulling an upset or two. Jacob Wright did just that at the 2021 NCAA Championships, where he knocked off #10 seed Justin Thomas to make the national quarterfinals. Of course, Thomas is here and will look to build upon his sixth-place CKLV finish from 2019. Another former placer here is Hunter Willits, who was eighth in 2018, which was his big breakout event.
A lower seed to look out for is Andrew Cerniglia, who comes in with titles at the Clarion and Bearcat Open's under his belt.
Unranked Threat: Stanford's Charlie Darracott comes in with a 5-2 record and both losses were to quality, ranked opponents. He opened the year by winning the Menlo Open and was 6-2 last season, which was his true freshman year. With some new training partners and a more normal training schedule, he could be in for a breakout.
Finals Prediction: Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) over Peyton Robb (Nebraska)
3rd - Quincy Monday; 4th - Kendall Coleman; 5th - Andrew Cerniglia; 6th - Jacob Wright; 7th - Justin Thomas; 8th - Hunter Willits
Ranked Wrestlers: #2 Evan Wick (Cal Poly); #4 Shane Griffith (Stanford); #9 Carson Kharchla (Ohio State); #10 Cameron Amine (Michigan); #12 Phil Conigliaro (Harvard); #17 Julian Ramirez (Cornell); #18 Tanner Cook (South Dakota State); #23 David Ferrante (Northwestern); #30 Joe Grello (Oklahoma); #31 Josh Ogunsanya (Columbia)
This weight isn't necessarily as deep as other brackets, but it's exceptionally top-heavy. The top seed will be Evan Wick, who is a senior that has been near the top of the heap for his entire career. In his previous CKLV appearance, Wick made the finals and he has a strong chance at getting back this time. His new conference rival, Shane Griffith, is another returning national champ in the tournament. Griffith dropped a couple spots after a controversial loss to Julian Ramirez. Could this be the first of three (or more) meetings between Wick and Griffith?
The answer is â€œnoâ€ if a pair of Big Ten studs have anything to say about it. Carson Kharchla is getting his first shot at starting for the Buckeyes after missing the 2021 campaign due to injury. This tournament will represent a huge step up in competition for Kharchla compared to his previous seven wins this year. Returning All-American Cameron Amine is slated to take the fourth seed and could face Wick in the semis. Amine has come out on top in three close bouts this year.
After the top-four are a pair of Ivy Leaguers, Phil Conigliaro and Ramirez. Conigliaro was a Keystone Classic champion and has had plenty of success on the freestyle circuit. We'll have to see if Ramirez is ready to jump into the tier of consistent contenders. He defeated Griffith, but also fell to Matt Lee (Penn State), at the Bearcat Open.
One of the more dangerous wrestlers in this bracket is Tanner Cook, who pinned Minnesota's Andrew Sparks, while trailing in their dual meet. He pinned 14 opponents during the 2019-20 season.
Unranked Threat: 165 has a handful of quality wrestlers outside of the rankings that could get hot. Bubba Wilson, Brevin Cassella, Emil Soehnlen, and Matt Olguin have been on the cusp of the top-33. Although he's not a ranked DI competitor, Nebraska-Kearney's Matt Malcom (#2 DII) is a former national champion that should challenge for a spot in the top-eight.
Finals Prediction: Evan Wick (Cal Poly) over Carson Kharchla (Ohio State)
3rd - Shane Griffith; 4th - Cameron Amine; 5th - Julian Ramirez; 6th - Phil Conigliaro; 7th - Tanner Cook; 8th - Matt Malcom
Ranked Wrestlers: #3 Mikey Labriola (Nebraska); #6 Ethan Smith (Ohio State); #8 Chris Foca (Cornell); #13 Hayden Hastings (Wyoming); #16 Cade DeVos (South Dakota State); #19 Troy Fisher (Northwestern); #20 Gerrit Nijenhuis (Purdue); #22 Aaron Olmos (Oregon State); #24 Jared Krattiger (Minnesota); #26 Anthony Mantanona (Oklahoma); #27 Jacob Nolan (Binghamton); #29 Tyler Eischens (Stanford); #30 Joshua Kim (Harvard); #31 Adam Kemp (Cal Poly)
A pair of returning All-Americans and past CKLV placewinners headline this weight with Mikey Labriola and Ethan Smith. Labriola has placed high here, twice, taking third (2019) and fourth (2018). He'll be favored to get the title this time. This will not be the first time that Labriola and Smith meet, even though the Buckeye is coming up from 165 lbs last season. Smith was at 174 in 2018-19 and fell, 9-5 to Labriola; however, to be fair, he looks much better in 2021.
A wild card is #8 Chris Foca, who is 6-0 during his first official year competing for the Big Red. He showed a ton of promise in 2019-20, going 21-3 while taking a grayshirt season before enrolling at Cornell. Also a potential darkhorse finalist is Hayden Hastings, who was third in the Big 12 last year and is 2-1 in this young season. Hastings was seventh at this weight class at the 2019 tournament.
It's time to see where Cade DeVos fits at 174 lbs. He was a national qualifier last season, as a redshirt freshman, down at 157 lbs. So far, in 2021-22, DeVos has a pair of wins over quality competition from Minnesota. Another emerging star at this weight is Troy Fisher. Last season, Fisher was 1-10, but thus far, he has a title at the Michigan State Open with wins over a pair of national qualifiers.
While there are only three top-ten entrants at this weight, there are eight wrestlers currently ranked between #20-33, so there will be plenty of upheaval and minor upsets bound to happen.
Unranked Threat: One of the young guns for Columbia is Aaron Ayzerov, who comes into Vegas 5-1. In his dual debut, Ayzerov captured a win over Michigan's Max Maylor.
Finals Prediction: Mikey Labriola (Nebraska) over Ethan Smith (Ohio State)
3rd - Chris Foca; 4th - Hayden Hastings; 5th - Troy Fisher; 6th - Adam Kemp; 7th - Cade DeVos; 8th - Anthony Mantanona
Ranked Wrestlers: #6 Bernie Truax (Cal Poly); #11 Tate Samuelson (Wyoming); #15 Taylor Venz (Nebraska); #16 Jonathan Loew (Cornell); #18 Darrien Roberts (Oklahoma); #21 Max Lyon (Purdue); #25 Travis Stefanik (Princeton); #26 David Key (Navy); Kaleb Romero (Ohio State)
Compared to the rest of the field, this is probably the lightest weight class, in terms of ranked competitors. Cal Poly should have their second top-seeded wrestler in Bernie Truax, a 2021 All-American at 174 lbs. Truax is looking to place at this tournament for the first time, as he went 2-2, while competing at 165 lbs in 2019.
The only wrestler in the entire tournament that has a shot at becoming a four-time placewinner this year is Taylor Venz. As a freshman, Venz shocked the field with a third-place finish. He topped that in 2018 by making the finals, but slid down to fifth in 2019. Don't be scared by his national ranking; Venz is dangerous and fully capable of coming away with the title.
Last weekend, Tate Samuelson made his season debut by cruising through the Cowboy Open. His closest bout was a 6-1 win, though he didn't face any NCAA qualifier-caliber competition.
One of the fastest risers in this weight class nationally, has been Jonathan Loew, who is 5-0 with three falls. His lone decision victory came during his title run at the Bearcat Open, when he edged 2021 EIWA runner-up David Key. Darrien Roberts has also looked good during the early going, with the only loss during his seven matches coming to a returning All-American.
Unranked Threat: This is an easy one because it's more of a technicality. Rocky Jordan is the Ohio State Buckeye currently listed at 184 in the national rankings. He isn't going this week and Kaleb Romero is getting the call. Romero was the seventh seed at 174 lbs last year at NCAA's and finished in the Round of 12. He'll be a bracket-wrecker wherever he falls and should place high.
Finals Prediction: Taylor Venz (Nebraska) over Bernie Truax (Cal Poly)
3rd - Kaleb Romero; 4th - Jonathan Loew; 5th - Tate Samuelson; 6th - Max Lyon; 7th - David Key; 8th - Travis Stefanik
Ranked Wrestlers: #6 Jake Woodley (Oklahoma); #8 Patrick Brucki (Michigan); #9 Stephen Buchanan (Wyoming); #10 Eric Schultz (Nebraska); #11 Louie DePrez (Binghamton); #12 Thomas Penola (Purdue); #16 Tanner Sloan (South Dakota State); #18 Jacob Cardenas (Cornell); #19 Jake Koser (Navy); #21 Gavin Hoffman (Ohio State); #22 Alan Clothier (Northern Colorado); #27 Luke Stout (Princeton); #32 Andrew Davison (Northwestern)
We've got one of the deepest weights at 197 lbs as 13 of the top 33 wrestlers in the nation are expected to enter. Four past NCAA All-Americans, Jake Woodley, Patrick Brucki, Stephen Buchanan, and Louie DePrez, are some of the top contenders.
Woodley has used the confidence gained from his NCAA semifinals run to get off to an excellent start in 2021-22. He already has a win this year over Brucki, along with another opponent who was in the top ten. Woodley was fourth here in 2019.
Brucki is in his first (and final) year at Michigan after making the NCAA All-American stand for Princeton. He has never competed in Vegas, but has a 2018 Midlands title to his credit and was third the following year. Buchanan not only finished eight in St. Louis, but he also was a 2021 Big 12 runner-up in a loaded weight class that included Woodley in sixth place. Throughout the 2021 season, Buchanan notched four wins over Noah Adams (West Virginia), who was undefeated and the #2 seed the previous year.
DePrez is at 197 lbs after being expected to compete at 184 lbs, the weight where he finished eighth in the nation last season. He's been workmanlike in his ability to win close, hard-fought matches at his new weight. One of the opponents he slipped by is Jacob Cardenas, a new face that appears to have the upper hand in Cornell's fight for the starting role at 197 lbs.
A returning CKLV finalist and two-time placer at this weight is Nebraska's Eric Schultz. The Cornhusker big man is trying to shake off a 1-2 showing at the NCAA tournament, after which he made his second consecutive Big Ten final. In each of the last two seasons, Schultz has been seeded third and second at NCAA's.
There are plenty of middle seeds that could do damage and finish high, like Thomas Penola, Tanner Sloan, Cardenas, and Jake Koser.
Unranked Threat: With so many ranked competitors in the field, it's challenging to identify someone unranked to watch, but look for Oregon State's JJ Dixon, who was an NCAA qualifier and a Pac-12 runner-up last season. He's had a rough start to this season with a 1-5 record, but could be ready for a bounce back.
Finals Prediction: Jake Woodley (Oklahoma) over Patrick Brucki (Michigan)
3rd - Eric Schultz; 4th - Jacob Cardenas; 5th - Stephen Buchanan; 6th - Thomas Penola; 7th - Luke Stout; 8th - Louie DePrez
Ranked Wrestlers: #6 Tate Orndorff (Ohio State); #8 Brian Andrews (Wyoming); #13 Christian Lance (Nebraska); #15 Yaraslau Slavikouski (Harvard); #16 Lucas Davison (Northwestern); #22 AJ Nevills (South Dakota State); #28 Josh Heindselman (Oklahoma); #30 Joe Doyle (Binghamton)
This weight class opened up big time with Gable Steveson not being in the field. Without Steveson, Tate Orndorff is the only returning All-American, as he was eighth last year. This season, Orndorff helped clinch a big dual win for Ohio State, by holding off Virginia Tech's Nathan Traxler in the final bout of their dual. Orndorff was a CKLV runner-up to Steveson in 2018. Dating back to his days at Utah Valley, Orndorff has a favorable history against the probable two-see, Brian Andrews. Orndorff has taken four of five from the Cowboy, including their meeting at the 2021 NCAA Championships. Like Orndorff, Andrews is seeking his third career placement at this tournament.
The only wrestler in the field with past CKLV placement is Christian Lance, who was sixth in 2019. Lance split matches with Orndorff last year, winning in the Big Ten Tournament before falling at nationals.
A bit of a darkhorse is Yaraslau Slavikouski, who was an EIWA runner-up in 2020 and the tenth seed at the canceled 2020 NCAA Championships. Also, look out for Lucas Davison, who made the move up from 197 lbs. It has been seamless thus far, with four wins in as many tries at the Michigan State Open.
Unranked Threat: We've gotta mention Jack DelGarbino. Jack shook the wrestling world with his improbable pin of NCAA third-place finisher Tony Cassioppi, less than two weeks ago. Princeton hasn't been in action since. What does DelGarbino have in store for an encore?
Finals Prediction: Brian Andrews (Wyoming) over Yaraslau Slavikouski (Harvard)
3rd - Tate Orndorff; 4th - Lucas Davison; 5th - Christian Lance; 6th - AJ Nevills; 7th - Josh Heindselman; 8th - Gary Traub
Team Race Prediction
2) Ohio State