Nebraska's national finalist Ridge Lovett (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
The college wrestling season has finished, but that doesn't mean you have to stop watching wrestling. Goodness no, in fact, some might say that this is the most exciting wrestling time of the season, the freestyle season. Freestyle brings us higher amplitude moves, more wrestling on their feet, the best wrestlers in the country (many of which compete currently or previously in the B1G), and some incredible matchups. Multiple-time NCAA Champions and All-Americans compete for a chance to represent their respective countries. Being that I am one of the B1G correspondents, and the US Open starts next week (April 26-30), I thought it would be fun to look at some of the B1G wrestlers competing (or at least registered to compete as I write this).
For this exercise, I'm going to mainly focus on athletes who still have eligibility to come back and compete for their schools in the 2023-2024 season, and who were previously starters for their college teams. More specifically, they are likely to come back and compete. I believe technically Gable Steveson has one more year of eligibility, but I believe it remains very unlikely that it will happen. There is one noteworthy exception to this rule, but you'll see that shortly, and understand why. Anyway, in an effort to look at the bright future of B1G wrestling, let's take a long look at the youth that will be competing next week in Las Vegas.
Ridge Lovett - 65 kgs: The Cornhusker redshirted last season after placing second at NCAAs the year before. Ridge has been as dynamic offensively as you can get, and seems comfortable wrestling in seemingly any position. A wrestler with such a wide range of offensive looks certainly transitions to freestyle very well, and in the case of Ridge, he has the resume to prove it. Most recently he traveled overseas at the beginning of 2023 and placed 3rd at the Henri Deglane in France, getting wins over athletes from Kazakhstan, France, Argentina, and eventually Matt Kolodzik of the United States. Ridge should be considered one of the legitimate US Open title contenders, and that's even with the likes of Luke Pletcher, Joey McKenna, Anthony Ashnault, the aforementioned Kolodzik, and the always-dangerous Evan Henderson in the field.
Sammy Sasso - 70 kgs: Fresh off his second second-place finish behind Yianni at NCAAs, you've got to believe that Sammy is ready to get back to competing. Sammy up to 70 kgs is interesting as well. He's as dangerous as it gets with counter offense, and his cradles and length will still come in handy here, even up a weight. Sammy's most recent freestyle results come from the RTC Cup, where he had wins over Mitch McKee and Kevin Jack. Historically, Sasso also has freestyle wins over David Carr, so the man is tremendously skilled at this level. In his weight class, some of the top competitors will be guys like Hayden Hidlay, Alec Pantaleo, and Tyler Berger.
Derek Gilcher - 74kgs: The first Hoosier we've got competing at the US Open is Derek Gilcher. Derek had a strong season last year, placing 8th at the B1Gs and going 1-2 at NCAAs. He had wins over several ranked wrestlers last season, and was really able to put a strong and consistent season together. I attribute this a lot to Indiana consistently sending their athletes to freestyle competitions, as you'll see. Getting wins over guys at these events helps set the stage for a lot of these athletes that they are where they need to be, and I feel like Derek is one of the guys who will springboard from last season's success and into a strong showing at this event. Derek competed last season at the WTTs and before that at U23 nationals, just in the last two seasons. This might not come as a shock to you, but as it turns out, 74 kg is a loaded weight class. His competition will include notable athletes such as Vincenzo Joseph, Keegan O'Toole, Tommy Gantt, Luka Wick, Kaleb Young, and Josh Shields.
Carson Kharchla - 79 kgs: This is the second Buckeye we have seen up a weight from their college season. Probably means nothing, but not enough of a nothing where it's not noted. Anyway, Kharchla has proven results in freestyle at the Senior level. He has a win over Mekhi Lewis from the RTC Cup, but injuries have largely kept him out of freestyle competition since then. Finishing this most recent college season with a 2-1 loss in the bloodround to Izaak Olejnik I'm sure has him excited to get back to competition and totally redeem himself. Will be exciting to see if healthy, and possibly at a better weight, Kharchla will be able to make waves at the US Open. This weight is absolutely loaded with veterans such as Alex Dieringer, Alex Marinelli, Michael Kemerer, Chance Marsteller, David McFadden, Taylor Lujan, and even registered is our old NC State friend, Max Rohskopf.
Donnell Washington - 79kgs: Continuing the fun at 79kgs, is the Hoosier. Washington has relied on wild card bids the last two NCAA seasons, but nonetheless, he's a three-time NCAA qualifier. Even looking at his results at NCAAs, it looks like he's largely lost to guys he should lose to. It's not like he's getting upset, maybe just 174 is really hard (and 184 that one year). Washington has been consistently competing on the freestyle scene, and has competed in the 2021 U23 Junior World Championships for the United States. With the names listed above, it'll be tough for him to place, but I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll be able to do against this field.
Ben Kueter - 97 kgs: Yes, please. The last time I watched Ben Kueter wrestle people, it was high school kids. Better than that though, the last time I watched Ben Kueter wrestle freestyle was at the U20 World Championships in 2022, when he beat everyone that he wrestled. That's first place ladies and gentlemen. If Ben wrestles at the Senior level, which he's registered to do, that would be amazing. Not to mention having this dude compete against the likes of J'Den Cox, Michael Macchiavello, and Isaac Trumble, would be pretty damn awesome. It'll be a nice preview of the levels he'll be able to reach when he's in Iowa City next year, and how early we should expect to see him in the lineup.
Jacob Bullock - 125 kgs: The third Hoosier to watch is their monster heavyweight. Bullock has become a fan favorite of mine. The enormous and athletic heavyweight had some solid wins this NCAA season, like his win over All-American Tate Orndorff, and getting an at-large bid to the Championships, where he went 1-2. Bullock wrestling freestyle should be awesome since he has such a powerful double leg, and has such a strong gas tank. He, like Washington, has extensive freestyle experience over the last couple of years. Not many notable wins, but the point isn't always the wins, but the experience gained from competing in these events. The B1G heavyweight will only be better competing in this field including notables, Gable Steveson, Mason Parris, Wyatt Hendrickson, Nick Gwiazdowski, Jordan Wood, Dom Bradley, and Hayden Zillmer.
***Edit*** The below wrestlers signed up after this was published.
Aaron Brooks - 86 kgs: FINALLY! Cue the GIF from the old lady in Titanic saying “It’s been 84 years.” It hasn’t been that long, but it has been since the 2020 US Open (which was actually held in 2021) that we watched Aaron Brooks compete in freestyle wrestling. At that tournament, he had wins over Handsome Nate Jackson and Sammy Brooks, and loses to Zahid Valencia and Pat Downey. The Cadet World Champion will finally be back and I am very excited to watch. Pay close attention to his hand fighting. I don’t know how I missed it, but he is relentless with his hands and that’s certainly a skill that transfers well across all styles. Another interesting point is that Aaron will be competing at 86 kgs, whereas NLWC teammate David Taylor has been dominating the planet for the last couple of years. Would love to see those two battle at some point.
Carter Starocci - 79 kgs: It makes sense that a guy who says that he’s going to be the Olympic Champion next year would compete in the US Open first. Starocci is a dude who backs up everything he says with his wrestling, so respect to that for sure. He’s joining a LOADED 79 kg weight class, so it’ll be interesting to see how he is able to compete with this group of veterans. The U23 World Silver medalist will have his work cut out for him, but let’s not forget, this is a guy who has freestyle wins over Jason Nolf, Evan Wick, and Chance Marsteller. He has every bit of ability to win this weight, or take 8th, and everything in between. Not a knock on Carter, but a reminder of the depth of the weight.
Nelson Brands - 79 kgs: Big Nelson Brands guy right here. Heavy hands, chip on the shoulder, motorcycle accidents be damned. Dude is going to show up and battle with the best of them. As previously mentioned, 79 kgs is the thunder dome of weight classes, but it’ll be fun to see where this hard-hitting Hawkeye ends up. Coming off the 5th place finish at NCAAs and somehow being probably healthier than when he started the season, he is certainly a wild card at the US Open. He hasn’t competed in freestyle since the 2020 U23 trials, but he does have a win over Muhamed McBryde from that tournament. Nelson is going to be a dangerous competitor. He could beat your favorite wrestler, or pull the Metcalf and wear them out so they lose their next match.
Beau Bartlett - 65 kgs: Have you ever seen Beau’s Instagram flips? He is a crazy athlete. Makes sense when you watch him wrestle, he is so confident and comfortable in almost any position. After finally getting to compete for Penn State at his proper weight class, the man put together a tremendous season placing third at one of the more difficult and deep weights. He has some solid wins from his most recent freestyle competitions, over guys like Kolodzik, Clay Carlson, and Shannon Hanna, but he also has some losses to Ian Parker, Kendric Maple, and Dylan D’Emilio. That was then though, and this is now. This is a different Beau, and Beau knows wrestling.
Cullan Schriever - 61 kgs: Schriever back in action! The young Hawkeye battling for a starting spot for most of last season is going to be back on the mat at the Open. He competed at the Senior level at last year’s US Open, ultimately taking 8th place. That’s solid though for a guy who is still putting everything together. He was able to get a win over Sean Fausz last year, and has close losses to Daniel DaShazer and Josh Kramer. 61 is deep, but we’ll get a better feeling for where Cullan is after the Open for sure.