Anthony Cassar before his finals match at the 2019 NCAAs (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
On Friday and Saturday the path to the 2020 U.S. Olympic team in wrestling will get a little bit clearer. The 2019 Senior Nationals will serve as an Olympic Team Trials Qualifier this year. The top five finishers in each weight class will qualify for the 2020 Olympic Team Trials in State College, Pa.
Several college wrestlers, both active competitors and redshirts, will be in Fort Worth, Texas, looking to qualify. If they come up short, they will likely only have two more opportunities to make the Trials: win an NCAA title or finish in the top-two at the final qualifier in March. The following looks at 10 collegiate wrestlers who have the best shot of coming out of this weekend with a spot in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Spencer Lee, 57 kilograms
Iowa's Lee is taking a hybrid approach to his junior season. The two-time NCAA champion competed in the Hawkeye's first three duals of the season before sitting out their last match against No. 12 Princeton. Lee has finished with bonus points in all three matches and outscored his opponents 49-7. Lee has been out of the freestyle world since entering the college ranks, but he is a former Cadet world champion and a two-time Junior world champion. He will likely receive tough tests from former collegiate rivals Nathan Tomasello and Nick Suriano as he tries to make his way through the bracket.
Nick Lee 65 kilograms
The Nittany Lion wrestler is currently the second-ranked 141-pound wrestler in the country and is a heavy favorite to make the NCAA finals this year. So far this season he has gone 8-0 with three falls and three technical falls. This weight class features multiple high-level wrestlers who are redshirting as well as perennial contenders such as Jordan Oliver and Frank Molinaro. It might be a struggle, but Lee may be able to pull off some upsets with his pace and snag a qualifying spot.
Zahid Valencia 86 kilograms
The two-time NCAA champion at 174 pounds has moved up this season to 184 pounds, and he has continued to have success. Valencia has already built a gaudy 13-0 record, which includes five falls. In his most recent competition at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, he scored a pair of major decision victories over No. 2 Trent Hidlay (North Carolina State) and No. 6 Lou DePrez (Binghamton). He has a pretty clear path to a qualification bout, but there is also a good chance his series against Alex Dieringer could continue. He had his number during the 2018 cycle, but this past year Dieringer was able to take it to him at the World Team Trials. 86 kilograms will be a stacked weight at the Trials, and we could certainly see Dieringer and Valencia again in April.
Kollin Moore 97 kilograms
The three-time All-American appears to be the current favorite to take home the NCAA title at 197 pounds this year. Outside of a sudden victory win over Jake Woodley (Oklahoma), Moore has been basically dominant all year long. The 2016 Junior world champion has taken some time off from freestyle, but there were times in the past when many pundits thought it was his better style. The 97-kilogram weight class is not particularly deep, so Moore should be poised to go on quite a run this weekend.
Anthony Cassar 125 kilograms
Cassar has been in and out of Penn State's lineup so far this year. The returning NCAA champion was also expected to compete at the recent Bill Farrell Memorial in freestyle but that never really developed. His emergence last season and his pair of victories over Gable Steveson could portend a successful freestyle career. If he is at his best, he should qualify. However, there will be some interesting tests in Fort Worth including some past and current teammates: Nick Nevills and Greg Kerkvliet.
Other contenders: Dom Demas at 65 kilograms, Vincenzo Joseph at 74 kilograms, Anthony Valencia at 74 kilograms, Aaron Brooks at 86 kilograms and Tanner Hall at 125 kilograms
Yianni Diakomihalis 65 kilograms
It was not long after winning his second NCAA title when Diakomihalis announced that he was taking an Olympic redshirt to prepare for the 2020 Olympic Games. The Cornell wrestler is probably one of the most accomplished international wrestlers with college eligibility in terms of wins. He has already defeated the likes of Bajrang Punia (India) and Sayatbek Okassov (Kazakhstan). As previously stated, the 65-kilogram field will be strong here and at the Trials. Diakomihalis got past Oliver last year, but it will likely be a close match if they end up meeting once again.
Nick Suriano 57 kilograms
After transferring from Penn State, Suriano became the first wrestler to win an NCAA title for Rutgers. He decided to take an Olympic redshirt this year, and he had a strong performance at the Bill Farrell. Despite the performance he came up short against fellow NCAA champion Seth Gross and will still need to qualify. The 57-kilogram bracket will not be easy to navigate, and many fans will likely want to see Suriano meet Lee in a rematch of the 2018 NCAA final at 125 pounds.
Jaydin Eierman 65 kilograms
Eierman announced his Olympic redshirt shortly after becoming a three-time All-American for the Missouri Tigers. When he returns to college next year, he will be wearing an iconic black singlet as he transferred to Iowa. Not only has Eierman been successful on the collegiate mats, but he has also been active on the freestyle scene as well. He finished second at the 2018 U.S. Open and represented the U.S. at the U23 World Championships.
Mekhi Lewis 74 kilograms
Lewis went on an incredible run at the NCAA tournament last year. He knocked off No. 3 Evan Wick (Wisconsin), No. 2 Alex Marinelli (Iowa) and No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) on his way to the title in his true freshman season. The Junior world champion is currently taking an Olympic redshirt and sitting out the season at Virginia Tech. At the Bill Farrell he dropped a freestyle rematch against Joseph in the quarterfinals but managed to wrestle his way back for a fourth-place finish.
Greg Kerkvliet 125 kilograms
Kerkvliet has not wrestled a college wrestling match, but there always seems to be a lot of news around him. After committing to Minnesota in high school as a top recruit, he switched his commitment to Oklahoma State before eventually signing with Ohio State. Kerkvliet then announced his intentions to transfer and eventually ended up at Penn State. He was a two-time world medalist at the Cadet level and recently represented the U.S. at the U23 World Championships and ended up finishing fifth.
Other contenders: Vito Arujau at 57 kilograms and Logan Massa at 86 kilograms