Missouri 125 lber Noah Surtin (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
What better way to start the year than with a massive tournament! The Southern Scuffle has become the New Year's tradition! Ringing 2022 with some of the top wrestlers in the nation butting heads. Like many other things in our country, the Scuffle was canceled in 2021, so this will be a triumphant return for the tournament that has been held on the campus of Chattanooga for the last decade.
Here is a weight-by-weight breakdown of the ten brackets that will be contested Saturday and Sunday, along with picks for the top-eight in each.
Ranked Wrestlers: #8 Killian Cardinale (West Virginia); #9 Patrick McKee (Minnesota); #12 Noah Surtin (Missouri); #21 Fabian Gutierrez (Chattanooga); #32 Caleb Smith (Appalachian State)
Unranked Threats: Drake Ayala (Iowa); Cooper Flynn (Virginia Tech); Jace Koelzer (Northern Colorado); Brett Ungar (Spartan Combat RTC); Reece Witcraft (Oklahoma State)
A pair of returning All-Americans headline this opening weight class, with #8 Killian Cardinale and #9 Patrick McKee. The two did not meet at the 2021 NCAA Championships, but they did see each other in 2019-20, while Cardinale was still at Old Dominion and McKee prevailed, 7-3. Before penciling these two into the finals, Noah Surtin could have something to say about it all. Surtin is coming in off of an unbeaten showing at the Collegiate Duals, where he knocked off a pair of opponents, then ranked in the top-12 (Jakob Camacho - NC State and Jaret Lane - Lehigh). He happened to lose to both Cardinale and McKee at the 2021 NCAA Tournament, but has improved dramatically since.
The SoCon is responsible for the final two ranked wrestlers with Fabian Gutierrez and Caleb Smith. Gutierrez represents the host-Mocs best chance at a high placer. Last week, Gutierrez suffered a loss to Cardinale, but beat a talented Logan Heil. The highest returning placewinner expected to enter is Smith, who was fifth in 2020, while redshirting. He made his way into the rankings after a championship at the Keystone Classic and hasn't looked back.
We'll get a glimpse into the future at this weight as a handful of talented, redshirting freshmen are expected to compete. First and foremost is Drake Ayala, a top-five overall recruit, from the Class of 2021. Ayala has only seen action in six bouts this year and his only loss came at the hands of McKee. Virginia Tech's prized lightweight star is Cooper Flynn. Like Ayala, with just a single setback on his record, Flynn already has logged wins over two national qualifiers from Campbell and North Carolina's starter, Spencer Moore. Future Cornell wrestler and current Spartan Combat RTC member, Brett Ungar, already has some good wins on his resume, too. He downed Heil and majored returning national qualifier Micah Roes (Binghamton), during his collegiate debut.
Big 12 veterans Reece Witcraft and Jace Koelzer should also challenge for spots on the podium. Witcraft is a big-move guy that could get on a roll in a tournament of this magnitude.
Finals Prediction: Noah Surtin over Patrick McKee
3rd) Killian Cardinale; 4th) Drake Ayala; 5th) Cooper Flynn; 6th) Caleb Smith 7th) Reece Witcraft; 8th) Fabian Gutierrez
Ranked Wrestlers: #11 Rayvon Foley (Michigan State); #17 Chance Rich (CSU Bakersfield); #18 Kai Orine (NC State); #21 Codi Russell (Appalachian State); #25 Jake Gliva (Minnesota); #26 Kellyn March (North Dakota State); #28 Richie Koehler (Rider); #29 Jackson DiSario (Stanford); #30 Dom LaJoie (Cornell)
Unranked Threats: Connor Brown (Missouri); Trey Crawford (Missouri); Cullan Schriever (Iowa); Derek Spann (Buffalo)
Though this weight class doesn't have any top-ten ranked wrestlers, it's among the deepest of any weight class at the Scuffle. #11 Rayvon Foley is the only returning All-American of the bunch. Since a loss the opening week of the season, Foley has reeled off nine straight wins and claimed a title at the Navy Classic. While Foley is the clear favorite, there are any number of contenders to face him in the finals, depending on seeding.
Next in-line, rankings-wise, is Chance Rich, an NCAA Round of 12 finisher in 2021. Rich was recently a runner-up at the Reno Tournament of Champions and is 5-1 on the year. Fellow Pac-12 wrestler, Jackson DiSario (Stanford) was the third in Reno and is a two-time national qualifier. The two haven't met this season, though they both share a loss to Oregon State's Devan Turner. Others with past NCAA experience at this weight are Codi Russell, Richie Koehler, Connor Brown, and Derek Spann.
The highest returning placewinner from the last incarnation of the Scuffle is Kai Orine, who was fourth in 2020, while redshirting. In his last outing, Orine was majored by #3 Austin DeSanto (Iowa) at the Collegiate Duals, which marked his first loss of the year. He's still in a positional battle with past qualifier Jarrett Trombley, so a deep run may be a necessity.
Aside from Foley, more B1G flavor is here with Jake Gliva, who is having a breakout year for Minnesota. Gliva was sixth at the CKLV Invitational, where he defeated two ranked opponents and a third that was previously ranked. Another victim of Gliva this season is Kellyn March, whose on a bit of a heater, himself. March tallied a pair of falls and a 6-0 win over Spann during the most recent road trip for the Bison.
Finals Prediction: Rayvon Foley over Jake Gliva
3rd) Kai Orine; 4th) Kai Orine; 5th) Kellyn March; 6th) Chance Rich; 7th) Cullan Schriever; 8th) Jackson DiSario
Ranked Wrestlers: #6 Clay Carlson (South Dakota State); #7 Real Woods (Stanford); #8 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado); #22 Angelo Martinoni (CSU Bakersfield); #26 Quinn Kinner (Rider); #28 Collin Gerardi (Virginia Tech); #30 Dylan Droegemueller (North Dakota State)
Unranked Threats: Anthony Brito (Appalachian State); Wyatt Henson (Iowa); Dusty Hone (Oklahoma State); Marcos Polano (Minnesota); Franco Valdes (Chattanooga)
Three top-eight wrestlers are in the mix at 141 lbs and we have the chance to see a possible rematch between Clay Carlson and Andrew Alirez, who battled in a back-and-forth affair during the CKLV finals. On paper, the result was a fall in Carlson's favor, but the match was still in doubt in the moments leading up to the final whistle. That loss accounted for Alirez's only of the year, while Carlson is still unblemished at 13-0.
Before we get another meeting between these two Big 12 foes, Real Woods may have something to say about that. Woods has made the Scuffle finals on two occasions, winning in 2020 and finishing second in 2019. Also in 2020, Alirez was a Scuffle runner-up to Woods' teammate Jaden Abas. Woods has only seen action in three bouts this year, as he won all three in Reno before medically forfeiting out. A Woods/Carlson final could be fun, since the two met in the NCAA Round of 12 last year, with Carlson prevailing 11-4
Angelo Martinoni, Quinn Kinner, Collin Gerardi, and Dylan Droegemueller round out the ranked wrestlers at this weight. Martinoni and Gerardi both have some positive history here in Chattanooga. Each has a sixth-place finish on their resume. Martinoni's came in 2020 and Gerardi did so the year before, at 133 lbs. Earlier this year, Martinoni was eighth at the CKLV.
A young guy to watch here is Iowa's redshirting freshman Wyatt Henson. So far, Henson has won three open tournaments (Luther, Lindenwood, and Cyclone) and is 13-0. This tournament would constitute a significant step up in competition as Henson has only faced four DI opponents.
Some vets with past NCAA experience in this bracket are Anthony Brito, Dusty Hone, and Marcos Polanco. Hone was also third at the Scuffle in 2020. Brito shocked the SoCon by winning its title at 141 in 2021; however, earlier in the season, he suffered a loss to Franco Valdes of the host school.
Finals Prediction: Clay Carlson over Real Woods
3rd) Andrew Alirez; 4th) Wyatt Henson; 5th) Angelo Martinoni; 6th) Collin Gerardi; 7th) Dusty Hone; 8th) Quinn Kinner
Ranked Wrestlers: #5 Jonathan Millner (Appalachian State); #7 Josh Finesilver (Duke); #22 Josh Edmond (Missouri); #26 Alex Madrigal (George Mason); #32 Zach Price (South Dakota State)
Unranked Threats: Ben Alanis (Northern Colorado); Cody Chittum (High School); Alek Martin (South Dakota State); Travis Mastrogiovanni (Oklahoma State); Michael North (Maryland); Peyton Omania (Michigan State); Caleb Rathjen (Iowa); Chris Sandoval (Northern Colorado); Victor Voinovich (Oklahoma State)
Frequent Scuffle-goers Appalachian State is looking for their first finalist at this tournament since Denzel Dejournette did so in 2012! #5 Jonathan Millner should be the top seed and favored to not only make the finals, but win the whole thing. The 2021 All-American's record sits at a cool 8-1 heading into Chattanooga. Millner picked up a win over the likely #2 seed, Josh Finesilver, at ASU's Mountaineer Invitational. In one of his most recent outings, Millner downed fellow All-American Zach Sherman.
The loss to Millner accounts for the only defeat of the year for Finesilver, who has competed early and often, already seeing action in 17 bouts. Not only has Finesilver won frequently, but he's also done so in dominating fashion. More than 50% of his wins included bonus points.
There's a bit of a drop-off between the North Carolina boys and the rest of the field, but Josh Edmond, Alex Madrigal, and Zach Price account for the rest of the ranked competitors expected to compete. Edmond had a bit of a tough go of things at the Collegiate Duals. We'll see how he responds and adjusts.
The last time Madrigal was here, he left with a fifth-place medal. In 11 contests this season, his only loss came to Millner. Price was an NCAA Round of 12 finisher last year at 133 lbs, and has taken some lumps this year, moving up two weights.
This may be a weight class we look back on and marvel at three years down the road. A handful of talented redshirts are expected to do battle here, like Caleb Rathjen, Ben Alanis, Victor Voinovich, Travis Mastrogiovanni, and Alek Martin. Each was considered a top-50 recruit from the Class of 2021. Finally, the Class of 2023 is represented by perhaps the best high school junior in the nation, Cody Chittum. The Minnesota recruit is from Tennessee and has a physical style that will make him fit in with a boatload of DI studs.
Finals Prediction: Jonathan Millner over Josh Finesilver
3rd) Josh Edmond; 4th) Victor Voinovich; 5th) Caleb Rathjen; 6th) Alex Madrigal; 7th) Peyton Omania; 8th) Ben Alanis
Ranked Wrestlers: #4 Brayton Lee (Minnesota); #8 Jared Franek (North Dakota State); #21 Chase Saldate (Michigan State); #23 Jarrett Jacques (Missouri); #24 Colton Yapoujian (Cornell); #31 Dazjon Casto (The Citadel); #32 Cody Bond (Appalachian State)
Unranked Threats: Terrell Barraclough (Penn State); AJ Kovacs (NC State); Parker Kropman (Drexel); Joe Lee (Penn State); Brock Mauller (Missouri)
Losing North Carolina late, negated one of the best matches of the tournament, one between 2021 NCAA champion Austin O'Connor and Brayton Lee. Lee is still expected to be in action and his biggest threat could come from Jared Franek. These two already clashed once this year, at the Bison Open, a match won by Lee in sudden victory.
Someone capable of ruining a potential Lee/Franek rematch is two-time NCAA All-American Brock Mauller. Through three years of competition, Mauller is 83-8 with a pair of top-six finishes at nationals. Those numbers came down at 149 lbs, so we're not sure what to expect from Mauller up at 157 lbs. He's currently in redshirt and hasn't competed in 2021-22.
Aside from Maulller, maybe Chase Saldate is capable of knocking off one of these top-ten foes atop the weight. Saldate is 13-1 on the year with a title at the MSU Open and a boatload of bonus-point wins. This field will represent a step-up in competition for most of his season.
Another Missouri Tiger will vie for a spot on the podium in Jarrett Jacques. Jacques is looking to right the ship after a 1-2 showing at the Collegiate Duals. Cornell's Colton Yapoujian went 2-1 at the duals, though their teams did not meet.
A pair of SoCon stars will make a push for the podium here, as Dazjon Casto and Cody Bond are looking to move up from the bottom of the national rankings.
Penn State is still trying to figure out this weight class and two of their contenders, Terrell Barraclough and Joe Lee, are expected to be in action here.
Another non-starter to watch is AJ Kovacs, who is responsible for the only loss of the year on teammate Ed Scott's resume. Kovacs also has a seven-point win over Casto.
Finals Prediction: Brayton Lee over Brock Mauller
3rd) Jared Franek; 4th) Chase Saldate; 5th) Colton Yapoujian; 6th) Joe Lee; 7th) Jarrett Jacques; 8th) AJ Kovacs
Ranked Wrestlers: #3 Keegan O'Toole (Missouri); #7 Luke Weber (North Dakota State); #12 Peyton Hall (West Virginia); #19 Thomas Bullard (NC State); #20 Andrew Sparks (Minnesota); #24 Will Formato (Appalachian State); #26 Tanner Cook (South Dakota State)
Unranked Threats: Donald Cates (NC State); Gabe Dinette (Duke); Alex Facundo (Penn State); Caleb Fish (Michigan State); Patrick Kennedy (Iowa); RJ Mosley (Gardner-Webb); Drew Nicholson (Chattanooga); Selwyn Porter (The Citadel); Clayton Ulrey (Virginia Tech)
Like most tournaments this year, the 165 lb weight class will be one of the headliners. Undefeated Keegan O'Toole leads the charge. The 2021 All-American has only lost once in his collegiate career and has bonus points in over 87% of his matches this year. One of those victims was Luke Weber, a 2021 Big 12 champion. O'Toole pinned Weber in his 2021-22 debut. That loss is Weber's only of the year. Another unbeaten member of this bracket is West Virginia's Peyton Hall. As of yet, Hall hasn't met any of the primary contenders at the weight, but still sports a sparkling 13-0 record.
After the Big 12 contingent, look out for North Carolina's best with Thomas Bullard and Will Formato. The pair have met five times in the collegiate careers, with Bullard holding a 3-2 edge; however, Formato took the most recent meeting, 6-1. Bullard is looking to place here for the second time, as he was fourth in 2020.
Some big guns at this weight are sitting in the â€œunranked threatsâ€ category, including Patrick Kennedy and Alex Facundo. Through a year and a half of collegiate competition, Kennedy's only losses have come to multiple-time AA's Mikey Labriola (Nebraska) and teammate Alex Marinelli. The Marinelli loss was by a single point this year at the Luther Open. Facundo was considered one of the top recruits in the Class of 2021, but his only appearance of the year was at the Clarion Open, where he went 6-1. While the PSU staff seemed poised to keep him in redshirt, a deep run at the Scuffle may force them to reconsider.
Two other under-the-radar guys to watch are Donald Cates and Caleb Fish. Cates was inserted for the Collegiate Duals and responded with an early takedown against Marinelli, then fought to avoid bonus points. So far, he's 12-4 on the year. In only the third dual appearance of Fish's career, he knocked off 2021 NCAA All-American Zach Hartman (Bucknell), 9-5.
Finals Prediction: Keegan O'Toole over Patrick Kennedy
3rd) Peyton Hall; 4th) Luke Weber; 5th) Alex Facundo; 6th) Will Formato; 7th) Thomas Bullard; 8th) Tanner Cook
Ranked Wrestlers: #8 Matt Finesilver (Duke); #12 Cade DeVos (South Dakota State); #13 Peyton Mocco (Missouri); #15 Mickey O'Malley (Drexel); #28 Tyler Eischens (Stanford); #31 Triston Wills (Little Rock); #33 Thomas Flitz (Appalachian State)
Unranked Threats: Austin Brenner (North Dakota State); Peyton Craft (Cornell); Logan Messer (George Mason); Bailee O'Reilly (Minnesota); Dom Solis (Maryland); Albert Urias (CSU Bakersfield)
This should be the second weight class with a Finesilver in the mix. Matt has placed twice at this tournament, taking fifth in 2019 and eighth in 2018. He's a perfect 17-0 on the year and has not had a match closer than four points. The most likely finals opponent for Finesilver could be the rapidly improving Cade DeVos. Moving up two weights, hasn't affected the Iowa native and he was fourth at the CKLV Invitational. This year he's posted wins over five returning national qualifiers in 13 wins.
Expected to make life difficult for Finesilver and DeVos pre-finals are Peyton Mocco and Mickey O'Malley. Mocco is only 5-3 on the year, but has a pair of losses to top-five opponents in Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech) and Hayden Hidlay (NC State). The Lewis match ended up in tiebreakers, before Mocco fell, 11-9. O'Malley already has seven falls in his nine wins this season. In his most recent outing, he pinned Maryland's Dom Solis and lost 6-2 to Finesilver.
One of the guys on the rise at this weight is #33 Thomas Flitz. Against North Carolina, Flitz knocked off Clay Lautt, who was ranked in the top-ten, at the time. He was seventh at this weight in 2020.
Austin Brenner and Albert Urias are both entrants that spent some time ranked in the top-33 this year. True freshman Logan Messer has piled up the wins (18-5) and could be seeking a breakthrough. Also, Bailee O'Reilly is a past NCAA qualifier that is trying to work his way back into the Gopher lineup with a 13-3 record.
Finals Prediction: Matt Finesilver over Cade DeVos
3rd) Mickey O'Malley; 4th) Peyton Mocco; 5th) Tyler Eischens; 6th) Thomas Flitz; 7th) Bailee O'Reilly; 8th) Austin Brenner
Ranked Wrestlers: #13 Jonathan Loew (Cornell); #14 Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech); #15 Jeremiah Kent (Missouri); #28 Layne Malczewski (Michigan State); #29 Isaiah Salazar (Minnesota); #32 Kyle Cochran (Maryland)
Unranked Threats: Jha'Quan Anderson (Gardner-Webb); Anthony Carman (West Virginia); Colton Hawks (Missouri); Bryan McLaughlin (Drexel); DJ Parker (North Dakota State); Matthew Waddell (Chattanooga)
The only returning All-American at 184 lbs is Virginia Tech's Hunter Bolen. He's expected to take the second seed after a sudden victory loss to Jonathan Loew at the Collegiate Duals. Bolen has also faced the third seed, Jeremiah Kent, this year and prevailed 6-3. With Loew being such a difficult matchup, due to his height, I'd expect a different gameplan from Bolen since he's already had his hands on the Big Red 184 lber. Loew showed he was for real with a third-place finish at the CKLV Invitational. At that event, he downed three past national qualifiers. Kent has been consistent this year, aside from his losses to the ACC All-Americans (Bolen and Trent Hidlay - NC State).
The rest of the ranked wrestlers at this weight hail from the Big Ten. Layne Malczewski is a two-time national qualifier that was the 15th seed at the NCAA Championships. Isaiah Salazar has been good this season, but in limited doses. He's only competed in six matches and in his only loss, Salazar took two-time AA Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State) to sudden victory. Salazar is looking for that signature win(s) to boost his stock. Maryland veteran Kyle Cochran has been nearly perfect in the earlygoing, with a 9-1 record. His only loss was avenged two weeks later in dual competition.
One young unranked guy to watch is DJ Parker of North Dakota State. Parker competed unattached for the first month of the year and suffered a few losses to returning AA's, plus a one-pointer to Salazar. He was a fast riser during his final years of high school and could continue that upward trajectory here.
The depth of the Mizzou lineup has kept Colton Hawks on the outside, but he's capable of a deep run here. Hawks was a Junior World Team member in 2021 and is 2-1 in open competition this year.
Finals Prediction: Hunter Bolen over Jonathan Loew
3rd) Jeremiah Kent; 4th) Isaiah Salazar; 5th) Layne Malczewski; 6th) Kyle Cochran; 7th) DJ Parker; 8th) Colton Hawks
Ranked Wrestlers: #7 Rocky Elam (Missouri); #18 Owen Pentz (North Dakota State); #19 Jacob Cardenas (Cornell); #20 Cameron Caffey (Michigan State); #22 Tanner Sloan (North Dakota State); #24 Alan Clothier (Northern Colorado); #31 Michial Foy (Minnesota)
Unranked Threats: Michael Beard (Penn State); Matt Correnti (Rider); Josh Loomer (CSU Bakersfield); Kaden Russell (Duke); Jaron Smith (Maryland)
There's the potential for a lot of fun here at 197 lbs. 2021 Junior World Champion Rocky Elam leads the charge. When we last saw Elam, he went 2-1 at the Collegiate Duals and suffered his first loss of the 2021-22 campaign. Even so, Elam figures to be in the mix for a national title at a deep 197 lb weight class and the favorite here. Elam already has a major decision victory over the likely three-seed, Owen Pentz. Pentz made himself known last year when he upset #2 Eric Schultz (Nebraska) at the NCAA Championships. He was the 31st seed last year, but will be much higher after starting the season 8-2.
One of the new faces to watch at this weight has been Jacob Cardenas. He has supplanted All-American Ben Darmstadt as the Big Red starter at 197 lbs and has performed admirably thus far. Cardenas nearly knocked off former teammate, Max Dean (Penn State), at the Collegiate Duals, a match that could have propelled Cornell to an upset. Speaking of Penn State, the Nittany Lions 2021 All-American, Michael Beard, is here and has a real chance at a title. In limited action, Beard is 4-0 with bonus points in all four appearances. He and Elam met in the NCAA consolations last year and Elam prevailed, 5-0.
Two others at this weight were top-15 seeds at the NCAA Tournament last year with Cameron Caffey (#10) and Tanner Sloan (#13). Both fell in the Round of 12 last season, but have taken a few lumps this year. Sloan is 1-2, while Caffey is 11-3.
Someone on the rise at this weight is #31 Michial Foy of Minnesota. Foy had a 9-3 win over Sloan in dual meet action and majored his way through the UNI Open in his last outing.
Northern Colorado's Alan Clothier will attempt to make the podium for a fourth time at the Scuffle. He was seventh in 2020 for UNC, after placing twice for Appalachian State. He and veterans like Matt Correnti, Josh Loomer, Kaden Russell, and Jaron Smith, are capable of deep runs.
Finals Prediction: Rocky Elam over Michael Beard
3rd) Jacob Cardenas; 4th) Cameron Caffey; 5th) Tanner Sloan; 6th) Owen Pentz; 7th) Michial Foy; 8th) Alan Clothier
Ranked Wrestlers: #15 Zach Elam (Missouri); #18 Lewis Fernandes (Cornell); #19 Michael Wolfgram (West Virginia); #20 Owen Trephan (NC State); #23 Brandon Metz (North Dakota State); #24 AJ Nevills (South Dakota State); #29 Zach Schrader (Maryland)
Unranked Threats: Hunter Catka (Virginia Tech); Aaron Costello (Iowa); Austin Harris (Oklahoma State); Michael McAleavey (The Citadel); Seth Nevills (Penn State); Jacob Seely (Northern Colorado); Deonte Wilson (NC State)
If any weight class had the chance to go sideways, it could be 285 lbs. #15 Zach Elam is the highest-ranked wrestler in the bracket; however, seven others are among the top-33, along with some unranked notables.
The Big 12 is extremely deep at heavyweight and it'll be on display with Elam, Michael Wolfgram, Brandon Metz, AJ Nevills, Jacob Seely, and Austin Harris. Wolfgram has really broken out this year, while Metz and Nevills are as steady as they come. Seely is a veteran that is back for one last ride and Harris was the Cowboys starter last year and advanced to the NCAA Round of 12.
NC State comes in with a strong triumvirate of big men, #20 Owen Trephan, 2021 ACC champion Deonte Wilson, and Tyrie Houghton. Any or all three could end up in the top-eight.
Lewis Fernandes has the opportunity to be that All-American heavyweight that Cornell has long yearned for. He had a tough draw at the Collegiate Duals, but fought valiantly.
The last of the ranked wrestlers is Maryland's Zach Schrader, a graduate transfer from Cal Baptist. Schrader and the rest of the Terp upperweights have been heavily responsible for his squad starting with a 3-2 dual record.
There are many others that could break into the top-eight, including NCAA qualifier Hunter Catka, Aaron Costello, and Seth Nevills.
Finals Prediction: Michael Wolfgram over Zach Elam
3rd) Lewis Fernandes; 4th) Seth Nevills; 5th) Owen Trephan; 6th) Brandon Metz; 7th) Deonte Wilson; 8th) Hunter Catka