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  • Photo: Photo/Gabor Martin

    Photo: Photo/Gabor Martin

    Does a Cadet world title in freestyle predict college success?

    Spencer Lee gets in on a shot in the finals of the 2014 Cadet World Championships (Photo/Gabor Martin, United World Wrestling)

    Since UWW relaunched the Cadet World Championships as a 17-and-under event in 2011, there was have 14 U.S. representatives to win gold medals. Next week another 10 will compete in Sofia, Bulgaria. In many cases the event represents one of the last international competitions before these wrestlers head off to college. Even though it is a freestyle event, the Cadet event is often thought of a strong predictor of college success. Is this actually the case? The following takes a look at those 14 world champions and how they have done on the NCAA mats.

    NCAA champions

    Zain Retherford (63 kilograms in 2012): After winning his gold medal at 63 kilograms in 2012, Retherford went on to have a storied career for Penn State. His run included three NCAA titles and two Hodge Trophies. He recently made his second senior-level world team will represent the U.S. this fall if he remains injury free.

    Mark Hall (76 kilograms in 2014): Three years after his Cadet world championship, Hall came out of redshirt for Penn State. He dropped his first match out of the gate, but he went on to capture an NCAA title in his true freshman season. Since then he has made back-to-back finals appearance but fell both times against Zahid Valencia (Arizona State).

    Spencer Lee (50 kilograms in 2014): After an absolutely dominant run through the NCAA tournament in his true freshman season, many believed that Lee would be basically untouchable in his second season. That did not turn out to be the case, but he still got things in order by the time March rolled around. At the tournament he defeated Sean Fausz (NC State), Sean Russell (Minnesota), Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State) and Jack Mueller (Virginia). Despite his success on the collegiate mats, Lee has remained entirely absent from the freestyle world where he was quite dominant at multiple age levels. Many anticipate his return to the international style more and more each day.

    Yianni Diakomihalis (58 kilograms in 2015, 63 kilograms in 2016): Unlike Lee, Diakomihalis has remained active on the freestyle scene while running through the college ranks. This past winter, he picked up his second NCAA title with a sudden victory win over Joey McKenna (Ohio State). Diakomihalis then won the U.S. Open, knocked off world No. 1 Bajrang Punia of India and nearly defeated Retherford at Final X for a spot on the 2019 U.S. World Team.

    NCAA All-Americans

    Adam Coon (100 kilograms in 2011):Coon almost certainly would have been an NCAA champion if he had not been in the same weight class as multiple-time world champion Kyle Snyder. During his senior season, Coon knocked off Snyder in the dual meet, but he failed to repeat the feat in either the Big Ten or NCAA tournaments. Since graduating the three-time All-American has continued to compete in both freestyle and Greco, where he was a 2018 world silver medalist.

    Gable Steveson (100 kilograms in 2015, 100 kilograms in 2016): Heading into his true freshman season, Steveson was the prohibitive favorite in the heavyweight division. However, he developed an unlikely rivalry with Penn State's Anthony Cassar and ended up falling in the finals of both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. After a solid summer that saw him nearly make the 2019 U.S. World Team, Steveson should be one of the favorites for the NCAA title again this year if he finds his way back to campus.


    Aaron Pico (63 kilograms in 2013): Pico was always going to have an unusual path after he turned professional in high school and forfeited the opportunity to wrestle in college. He made the Olympic Team Trials finals in 2016, but he came up short against Frank Molinaro. Pico then began his MMA career, where he was regarded as perhaps the best prospect in the history of the sport. Unfortunately, things haven't been than easy, and he currently sits at only 4-3 in Bellator. The promotion recently announced a tournament in his weight class, and he was left out after back-to-back losses

    Mason Manville (69 kilograms in 2014): The former super prep has had trouble cracking the lineup at Penn State. This past season he filled in with some spot duty, and he might not be a starter for another few seasons. However, he has remained active on the Greco circuit where he was a member of the 2017 U.S. World Team and remains a threat to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.

    Too early to tell

    Jarod Verkleeren (63 kilograms in 2015): Verkleeren spent some time in the starting lineup for the Nittany Lions last year, but he ended up sitting behind Brady Berge when tournament time came around. He is expected to be a starter this upcoming season since Berge is likely to move up to 157 pounds after the graduation of multiple-time NCAA champion Jason Nolf.

    Will Lewan (68 kilograms in 2017): This past season the former Cadet world champion redshirted for Michigan. He competed in the Michigan State Open, Ohio Intercollegiate Open and the Midlands. Lewan finished with a 9-2 record, which included a victory over teammate Alec Pantaleo. He is expected to start for the Wolverines next year.

    Next wave

    The 2017 U.S. Cadet World Team finished with four gold medalists, three of which are scheduled to begin college in the fall. Kurt McHenry left high school early to enroll at Michigan. Aaron Brooks spent a year at the Olympic Training Center. He will report to Penn State for this year. Greg Kerkvliet is the second highest profile heavyweight prospect over the last few seasons, and he will join Ohio State. Matt Ramos was the lone U.S. champion from the 2018 Cadet World Championships, and he will attend Minnesota in the fall.

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