2019 16U double champion Jore Volk (Photo courtesy of John Sachs; Tech-Fall.com)
We are just one day away from the first whistle blowing at the FargoDome as the Junior/16U National Championships will occur for the first time since 2019. Because of the cancelation of the 2020 tournament, the wrestlers have decided to show up in full force at Fargo. Early entries indicate that it will be the deepest in 10-15 years.
Over the next couple of days, we'll go conference-by-conference to preview recruits from each school and their chances for success. We have only included recruits that have been tabbed to participate in one of the tournaments. We're wrapping up our previews with the Big 12. This huge conference was responsible for six of the top 19 recruiting classes in 2021. The Big 12 is only getting bigger and better as Missouri made the move back this offseason. Not only did mainstays like Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Oklahoma earn places in the recruiting rankings, but so did North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, and South Dakota State. Here are the future stars of the Big 12 to watch in Fargo.
Ashton Barker (Iowa) - Class of 2021: 182 lbs
Jack Gaukel (Iowa) - Class of 2021: 152 lbs
Gabe Greenlee (Iowa) - Class of 2021: 285 lbs
Paniro Johnson (Pennsylvania) - Class of 2021: 160 lbs
Manuel Rojas (Michigan) - Class of 2022: 170 lbs
Casey Swiderski (Michigan) - Class of 2022: 138 lbs
We have two excellent classes combined for Iowa State as they have six recruits slated to compete in Fargo. The pair from the Class of 2022 could be the highest placers. Manuel Rojas has made the Cadet/16U freestyle finals on two occasions. He's looking to get over the hump this year. Rojas has to be considered one of the favorites at 170 lbs. Casey Swiderski has developed greatly over the last year and currently holds a number two ranking at the 138 lb weight class. Swiderski had an excellent summer dual series in 2020 and continued to impress after a fourth-place finish at the Super 32. Back in 2018, Swiderski was eighth in Cadet freestyle. He's on the shortlist of title contenders at 138.
For the Cyclones incoming freshmen, Paniro Johnson has the longest list of credentials. He was third in both styles in 2019 while competing in the 16U division. Johnson was also third in Pennsylvania's AAA classification in each of his last two years of high school. Typically, Johnson finds a way to get onto the podium in big events, expect it to happen again here. The remainder of the Cyclones recruits are of the homegrown variety. Two-time state runner-up Gabe Greenlee is probably most likely to have a deep run. His 285 lb weight class has some studs, but is more manageable than Ashton Barker or Jack Gaukel's brackets.
Ryan Boersma (Illinois) - Class of 2022: 285 lbs
Zeke Seltzer (Indiana) - Class of 2022: 132 lbs
Korbin Shepherd (Missouri) - Class of 2021: 132 lbs
Clayton Whiting (Wisconsin) - Class of 2022: 182 lbs
Missouri had a huge recruiting class in 2020 and dialed it back a bit in 2021. One of the headliners for the Tigers was in-state product Korbin Shepherd, a two-time Missouri state champion and four-time finalist. He, along with 2022 recruit Zeke Seltzer, will do battle in a deep 132 lb weight class. If he's on, Shepherd could contend for a place among the top-eight. Seltzer is a two-time Cadet/16U freestyle placewinner, taking sixth in 2018 and making the 120 lbs finals in 2019. He should be among those in the title hunt this time. The same can be said for Ryan Boersma, who comes into Fargo ranked eighth in the nation at 285 lbs. Boersma was fourth at the Super 32 and sixth at the Cadet World Team Trials. He'll try to keep the 285 lb Junior freestyle title in-state as Illinois natives have won it the last three years (Luke Luffman, Tony Cassioppi x2). Also in championship contention is Clayton Whiting of Wisconsin. Whiting was third in 16U freestyle in 2019 and earned the same placement at the 2020 Super 32. He's one of the key contenders at 182 lbs.
North Dakota State
Michael Caliendo (Illinois) - Class of 2021: 160 lbs
Gavin Drexler (Wisconsin) - Class of 2022: 145 lbs
Lathan Duda (Nebraska) - Class of 2021: 195 lbs
Spencer Mooberry (Iowa) - Class of 2021: 195 lbs
DeAnthony Parker (Illinois) - Class of 2021: 182 lbs
Maxwell Petersen (Minnesota) - Class of 2022: 138 lbs
Dominick Vacura (Minnesota) - Class of 2021: 220 lbs
The North Dakota State Bison have the home-field advantage as the tournament will be held on their campus. Head Coach Roger Kish and staff did an incredible job on the recruiting front in 2021 as their crop of incoming freshmen was deemed to be 15th in the nation, the best in recent memory. Two of the Bison's top gets, Michael Caliendo and DeAnthony Parker, are late bloomers that have come into their own within the last year. Both finished the year among the top-100 on the Big Board despite missing the state finals as juniors. Parker showed at the Junior Duals that he's capable of competing with the best in the nation. Both weights are too deep to simply pencil Caliendo and Parker in for placements, but the odds are they will earn AA status.
The remainder of the Class of 2021 that is set to compete in Fargo are upperweights, with Lathan Duda and Spencer Mooberry competing at 195, while Dominick Vacura is at 220. Mooberry was a Cadet Greco All-American in 2018 (8th), while Vacura took fifth in both styles the same year. Both weights have more high-caliber entries than normal, so they may have to notch an upset or two to get into the top-eight.
The Class of 2022 is represented with Gavin Drexler and Maxwell Petersen. Drexler was a 16U Greco finalist in 2019. Expect him to have a very high placement in that portion of the tournament, while fighting for a place on the podium in freestyle. Petersen still has another year remaining in high school, but is already a four-time state finalist, winning a title as an eighth-grader.
Benjamin Alanis (Arizona) - Class of 2021: 138 lbs
Xavier Doolin (Missouri) - Class of 2021: 285 lbs
Brady Hankin (Colorado) - Class of 2022: 132 lbs
Dyson Kunz (Nebraska) - Class of 2021: 138 lbs
The Northern Colorado staff was able to get in early on a couple of Class of 2021 studs that broke out as seniors with Benjamin Alanis and Xavier Doolin. Alanis has placed at the NHSCA grade-level tournament twice and was fifth at the 2020 Super 32. He really went on a roll at the Ultimate Club Duals, dominating then-number one Shayne Van Ness (New Jersey) and others. If he is competing at that high of a level, Alanis can win it all. Xavier Doolin was an NHSCA Sophomore National runner-up and then was sixth at the Super 32 last fall. He has been active on the national scene and finished his high school career #89 on the Big Board. Doolin should have a deep run and has what it takes to make the podium.
The other two recruits for the Bears actually have a history in Fargo. Dyson Kunz was eighth in Cadet freestyle way back in 2017 at 94 lbs. He's a two-time Nebraska state champion and three-time finalist. Brady Hankin was fifth in 16U freestyle in 2019. Later that year, he took eighth at the Super 32. Both are in extremely deep weights, but have a strong pedigree and could make a run at the podium.
Adam Ahrendsen (Iowa) - Class of 2021: 182 lbs
Cael Rahnavardi (Iowa) - Class of 2021: 145 lbs
Kalob Runyon (Iowa) - Class of 2021: 220 lbs
Jared Simma (Kansas) - Class of 2021: 182 lbs
Connor Thorpe (Wisconsin) - Class of 2021: 145 lbs
RJ Weston (Georgia) - Class of 2021: 160 lbs
The Northern Iowa staff has consistently recruited well in-state and 2021 was no different. Half of their six recruits slated to compete are homegrown, led by Adam Ahrendsen, who finished the year ranked #159 on the Big Board. Ahrendsen was a 16U Greco-Roman finalist in 2019 and appeared in three Iowa state finals, winning one. He'll contend for top honors in Greco and be in the hunt for the podium in freestyle. Kalob Runyon placed in the top-four twice in Iowa. Even so, he should advance deep here. Cael Rahnavardi made a pair of Iowa state finals and has proven to be adept in Greco. He'll have a good shot a the podium there.
Leading the way for the out-of-state recruits is RJ Weston. Weston was a Greco-Roman national champion at the 16U level in 2019 and third in freestyle. He's among the top contenders in Greco and will be a podium threat in freestyle. The same can be said for Jared Simma, a two-time Kansas state champion, who is a past 16U finalist in Greco and a seventh-place finisher in freestyle. Connor Thorpe is a Wisconsin champion that trains with Askren Wrestling Academy. He'll be well-schooled and a quality competitor.
Christian Forbes (Oklahoma) - Class of 2022: 106 lbs
The lone Sooner recruit in Fargo, Christian Forbes, has a solid track record thus far. He was eighth in Cadet Greco-Roman in 2018, while competing at 88 lbs. The following year he was fourth in Junior Greco and sixth in 16U freestyle. The 106 lb weight class will not be a large as most others in the tournament and Forbes will be one of the most seasoned competitors in the field. That's a combination that will likely have Forbes placing very high, possibly winning titles in both disciplines.
Cooper Birdwell (Montana) - Class of 2021: 132 lbs
Talmadge Carman (Utah) - Class of 2021: 182 lbs
Luke Mechler (Wisconsin) - Class of 2021: 160 lbs
Teague Travis (Oklahoma) - Class of 2021: 145 lbs
A handful of future Oklahoma State Cowboys, all from the Class of 2021, has registered to compete. Teague Travis was third in Cadet freestyle in 2018, while living in Missouri. After committing to OSU, he moved out to Stillwater and now will represent Oklahoma. Travis will be among the long list of podium contenders at 145 lbs. Cooper Birdwell and Talmadge Carman are both past placers in Fargo. Carman was eighth in U16 freestyle in 2019, while Birdwell took seventh in Cadet Greco in 2018. Both are capable of grabbing multiple wins and could be a larger factor in Greco. Luke Mechler got on the Cadet podium in both styles in 2018, finishing as a runner-up in Greco and taking eighth in freestyle. Like Carman and Birdwell, he's highly capable, though in deep brackets. He'll have the best opportunity to shine in Greco.
South Dakota State
Derrick Cardinal (Minnesota) - Class of 2021: 132 lbs
Luke Rasmussen (South Dakota) - Class of 2022: 195 lbs
Cael Swensen (Minnesota) - Class of 2021: 152 lbs
Two of the cornerstones of the South Dakota State 2021 recruiting class ranked 12th in the nation by Intermat will be in action. Cael Swensen and Derrick Cardinal were both top-75 recruits on the Big Board and skilled in both freestyle and Greco. Swensen has placed three times in Greco, highlighted by an appearance in the Junior finals in 2019. He'll be one of the favorites this time. In freestyle, he's capable of a high finish, too. Cardinal was fifth in 16U freestyle in 2019 and was a four-time Minnesota champion. He's one of the main contenders in both styles. Luke Rasmussen comes into Fargo ranked #25 in the nation after grabbing fifth-place at NHSCA Juniors. His weight class is littered with past All-Americans, so he'll need to shake things up to earn a place on the podium.
Yusief Lillie (Washington) - Class of 2021: 120 lbs
The most decorated wrestler coming into the Big 12 and still competing this year is Utah Valley signee Yusief Lillie. Lillie has earned All-American honors five times already, highlighted by a Cadet Greco-Roman title at 100 lbs in 2017. He also made the Cadet freestyle finals a year later. Most recently, he was fourth in Junior freestyle in 2019. Odds are, he'll add a couple more AAs next to his name, and possibly a title.
Garett Lautzenheiser (Ohio) - Class of 2021: 132 lbs
Davin Rhoads (Ohio) - Class of 2021: 138 lbs
Both of West Virginia's recruits in Fargo were teammates in high school and will be in Morgantown together. Davin Rhoads was a Cadet Greco-Roman champion in 2018, while Garett Lautzenheiser, who was eighth in Cadet freestyle the same year. Rhoads was a state champion this year, while Lautzenheiser was third. Both should be able to make deep runs this time and threaten for spots on the podium.
Quayin Short (Minnesota) - Class of 2021: 195 lbs
Jore Volk (Minnesota) - Class of 2022: 126 lbs
Wyoming has gotten a boost in recruiting of late and landed some highly decorated recruits from Minnesota. Two will be in attendance with Quayin Short and Jore Volk. Both are past Cadet/16U national champions in freestyle. Volk doubled up and won both styles during his most recent trip to the FargoDome. He'll likely add placements for a fifth and sixth time in Fargo to his resume. Short was finally able to climb to the top step in Minnesota as a senior. He was second on two previous occasions.