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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    Answers to Our Five Big Questions from the Collegiate Wrestling Duals

    3x NCAA Champion Spencer Lee takes on Jakob Camacho (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    Before the Collegiate Duals, InterMat published an article with five important questions regarding teams or athletes competing in the event. Now that all has finished in Niceville, we've circled back around to see how these questions were answered.

    1) Will we see Iowa's full lineup?

    The answer was, “We saw more of it than we have.” The biggest addition for the Hawkeyes was the return of Spencer Lee. In our preview and our original article, we stated how we doubted Lee would go in all three, but we ended up proven wrong. The three-time NCAA champion wrestled in all of Iowa's three duals and got his hand raised each time.

    Lee started with a tech over Brock Bergelin (Central Michigan), then majored then-#11 Jaret Lane (Lehigh) and was held to a decision by then-#5 Jakob Camacho (NC State). I'd say the results are about what you'd expect from Lee, given the circumstances. It was his first competition since March and the Camacho match was the first bout of what most expected to be a tight-dual. If a wrestler as talented as Camacho wants to ensure the margin of victory is under eight points, it's difficult for anyone to rack up bonus, particularly a less-than 100% Spencer Lee.

    All along, the information the public was given regarding Lee's status was that he probably wouldn't compete in every single event for the Hawkeyes. I don't think any changes regarding this going forward. Expect to see Lee in some of the more prominent dates on Iowa's dual schedule or if Tom Brands has devised some sort of regular schedule.

    Now, some fans were a bit concerned as he defeated Lane by major decision, without accumulating any riding time points. Let's keep that thought in the back of our minds, but also remember it was his first time out and Lane is a long, difficult guy to wrestle.

    The other big question mark regarding Iowa's lineup was Michael Kemerer at 174 lbs. Kemerer was listed on the roster put out by Iowa and even weighed in. That was likely preplanned and just used to get Kemerer accustomed to getting down to weight. It didn't appear as if Kemerer ever warmed up or was planning to wrestle.

    One piece we didn't necessarily count on seeing was Abe Assad at 184 lbs. Assad was famously pinned by Wisconsin high school star Clayton Whiting at the Luther Open and hasn't been in the lineup since. In his absence, Myles Wilson had went 2-1 in dual competition. Assad made his presence felt immediately and tossed Ben Cushman (Central Michigan) for a fall in his first match back. After a major decision against Lehigh, the stakes were much higher against returning NCAA runner-up Trent Hidlay (NC State), in the Hawkeyes barnburner with the Wolfpack. Assad was taken to his back and seemingly ready to surrender a fall. He fought from getting pinned and lost 6-0. While three additional points wouldn't have won the match for NC State, the momentum created by a fall could have changed the outcome of the decision bout at 197 lbs.

    Iowa was scheduled to appear at the Midlands, which was canceled yesterday (though some form of the tournament is expected to be held). Rumors of a Hawkeye Open appear to be credible on New Year's Day. I still wouldn't hold my breath expecting Lee and/or Kemerer.

    A January 6th dual with Minnesota might by the optimal time to see the Iowa lineup altogether for the first time.

    2) Is Vito going down to 125?

    All signs pointed to Cornell's Vito Arujau returning to 125 lbs during his trip to Florida. Those hints proved to be accurate and the Big Red star looked incredible on the mat. His tournament started with an 18-7 major decision of #10 Brody Teske (Northern Iowa). In Cornell's showdown with #2 Penn State, Arujau struck early and gave his team a 6-0 lead after needing less than a minute to pin Jakob Campbell. He wrapped up his tournament by majoring 2021 All-American Sam Latona (Virginia Tech), which set the stage for a minor upset of the Hokies.

    In the course of a couple of weeks, 125 lbs went from a seemingly two-horse race (Lee and Patrick Glory - Princeton), to one of the most intriguing weight classes in the country. In addition to the Olympic Trials, finalist Arujau returning, 2019 NCAA champion Nick Suriano will return and compete for Michigan. Additionally, 2021 NCAA finalist Brandon Courtney (Arizona State) looked as aggressive and dangerous as ever.

    Now Spencer Lee has wins in some form or fashion over all of the key contenders at one point in their careers. As of now, he's still the man to beat. But, it's safe to assume that even as he gets more mat time, Lee won't be the walking tech-fall machine, that we're accustomed to seeing. It's also a safe assumption that Suriano, Arujau, Glory, and Courtney won't care what condition the two-time Hodge Trophy winner is in.

    All of this will lead to a highly anticipated showdown at the Big Ten Championships (Michigan is not on Iowa's schedule) and some incredible potential NCAA semifinal and final matchups.

    3) Will Arizona State unleash Cael Valencia?

    This one got answered a day before the event as Cael Valencia competed unattached at the Reno Tournament of Champions. Valencia got off to a hot start with bonus points in each of his first two bouts. Next up, he logged a pair of close wins over returning national qualifiers Timothy Fitzpatrick (American) and Tyler Eischens (Stanford). In the semis, the competition was even stiffer and Valencia was pinned by Wyoming's #14 Hayden Hastings. For third place, he was pinned again, this time by Mason Reiniche (Oregon State).

    Those results would lead you to believe that it's not a “slam-dunk” decision that Valencia should come out of redshirt. While an NCAA berth looks like it would probably be a formality, barring any significant injuries, just getting the to dance doesn't have any impact on the team race. While the battle for an NCAA team trophy appears to be as tight as any year in recent memory, you have to get on the podium to really have an impact.

    Can Valencia get onto the podium this year? With his talent, the coaching staff at ASU, and the typical development of a freshman from December-March, it's certainly a possibility. But this year, 174 is no joke, especially at the top. 8 All-Americans return, including 2 national champions and four past finalists. Just getting to the Round of 12 would be a good achievement for a true freshman.

    This begs the age-old question: how many points is it worth bringing a freshman out of redshirt?

    Remember, there are also plenty of other considerations that the ASU staff has to keep in mind, in these “will they-won't they” redshirt situations. More than just on-the-mat performance.

    Arizona State's current starter, Zane Coleman, got a pair of matches at the duals. He led off with a win over a solid competitor in Ross McFarland (Hofstra), before falling victim to returning NCAA champion Carter Starocci (Penn State) via technical fall in the championship bout. Ryan Rochford also stepped in against Virginia Tech and lost to 2019 NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis by tech, as well.

    4) What the heck happens with Mizzou/NC State?

    Before the madness that was Iowa/NC State, the Wolfpack had a pretty darn entertaining dual with Missouri. It was one that could have gone a bunch of different ways and led to a 5-5 split for our conference correspondent crews' weekly picks. If not for the Red pool final, it would have been in the running for Dual of the Year, thus far.

    Right off the bat, we saw a top-five ranked opponent go down in Jakob Camacho at 125 lbs. He fell victim to Noah Surtin, who has been on a tear of late. Since suffering his only loss of the year to #10 Brody Teske, Surtin has responded by defeating Latona, Lane, and now Camacho. One match in and NC State was playing catch-up and had a limited path to victory.

    The dual turned back towards the middle ground as the Wolfpack notched an upset of their own at 157 lbs. Second-year freshman, Ed Scott, displayed excellent skills on top and rode out then-#15 Jarrett Jacques to grab a 3-2 win. That gave the Wolfpack a 9-6 lead.

    At 184 lbs, Trent Hidlay was relentless and put NC State up by seven points when he pushed hard for a major against Jeremiah Kent (Missouri). That bonus point looks like it would be the difference-maker as the final two bouts featured a favored Missouri wrestler. Isaac Trumble ended up making it a moot point as he handed Rocky Elam (Missouri) only his third collegiate loss. Trumble gutted out a close 5-3 win which clinched the dual for the Wolfpack at 19-9, heading into the 285 lbs contest.

    Even at 285 lbs, with the dual locked up and third-string Tyrie Houghton on the mat, NC State still had reason to cheer. Houghton fought tooth and nail against #16 Zach Elam and earned a takedown at the buzzer to pull within a point in the final score (6-5).

    5) Where's the best chance for a day one upset (team-wise)?

    So, this ended up being a trick question as no one was able to pull an upset on day one. But, for intents and purposes of the original question, it was actually Cornell who came closest to knocking off #2 Penn State in the final round of the day.

    Through four matches, the dual played out as one may expect. Cornell held a 10-8 lead based on a fall at 125 lbs from Arujau and a major by Yianni at 149 lbs. The next weight (157) was a bit of a toss-up as Colton Yapoujian grinded out a two-point win over Joe Lee (Penn State). Julian Ramirez (165) then held out to defeat a game Creighton Edsell, which extended Cornell's lead to 16-8, heading into the final four bouts and the meat of the Penn State lineup.

    The two difference-making matches ended up occurring at 174 and 197 lbs. 174 lbs saw returning national champion Carter Starocci get pushed to the brink by Cornell's Chris Foca. Starocci needed to ride Foca for the entire third period to amass sufficient riding time for a 3-2 win. At 197 lbs, Max Dean and Cornell's Jacob Cardenas engaged in multiple scramble situations, the last of which was won by Dean; however, Cardenas was close to finishing a couple of different times. Had he been able to secure a takedown, he likely would have won and put the Big Red up 19-15 heading into 285 lbs.

    In the blue pool third-place bout, Cornell saw 184 lber Jonathan Loew outlast 2021 All-American Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech) in sudden victory, which boosted his team past then-#9 Virginia Tech. Cornell (then #11) pulled the slight-upset and knocked off the Hokies 18-15.

    More exposure for some of these athletes that have been a part of Cornell's program for a few years (Foca, Loew, Lewis Fernandes) and were unable to compete due to the Ivy shutdown last season, have proven that Cornell has a stacked team, that is now top-ten worthy.

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