2019 16U double champion Seth Shumate (Photo courtesy of John Sachs; Tech-Fall.com)
We are less than a week 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. Today we're focusing on the big one...actually the Big Ten (or 14). The Big Ten has long been the most powerful conference in the nation and has shown no hints of slowing down. Six of the top ten teams at the 2021 NCAA Championships came from the conference, including national champion Iowa and runner-up Penn State. The league has also dominated in recruiting, which leads to their own-mat success. Six of the top ten spots in InterMat's Class of 2021 recruiting rankings were held by Big Ten schools. So expect Fargo to include some future Big Ten stars shining brightly and prominently.
Christian Carroll (Indiana) - Class of 2023: 220 lbs
Kannon Webster (Illinois) - Class of 2023: 120 lbs
There are only a few rising juniors in the nation that have already made the collegiate commitments publicly and two of them are Illinois recruits, Christian Carroll and Kannon Webster. Because of an injury and eligibility concerns, Carroll has the opportunity to win a Fargo title before a state championship. The Indiana native is expected to be the highest-ranked 220 lber in action, so he'll be among the shortlist of favorites at the weight. Other major wins for Carroll, before winning a state crown, include the Super 32 and the Grappler Fall Classic. Webster will make his second appearance in Fargo. In 2019, he took third place in both styles, while competing at 120 lbs. Expect Webster to contend and possibly exceed his previous placements.
Jake Evans (Ohio) - Class of 2021: 182 lbs
Tyler Lillard (Pennsylvania) - Class of 2022: 170 lbs
Henry Porter (California) - Class of 2021: 145 lbs
The Hoosiers have stepped up their recruiting efforts under head coach Angel Escobedo and have a solid trio set to compete. Incoming freshmen Jake Evans and Henry Porter are both well-traveled and rarely miss an opportunity to compete. The two-time Ohio state placewinner, Evans, finished in the top-three at the Walsh Ironman and Beast of the East in 2019. Porter is a three-time California state medalist and never finished lower than third at the event. Both Evans and Porter are looking forward to earning All-American honors for the first time in Fargo and are capable of deep runs. The rising senior, Tyler Lillard, got onto the Fargo 16U freestyle podium in 2019, when he was fourth at 152. Lillard comes into this tournament as the highest-ranked high schooler at 170 lbs. He has the goods to win it all.
Drake Ayala (Iowa) - Class of 2021: 126 lbs
Caleb Rathjen (Iowa) - Class of 2021: 145 lbs
The Iowa Junior National Dual team captured their first freestyle title since 2005 and the state has now turned its attention to Fargo. Leading the way for an Iowa team that will push for top-team honors in Junior freestyle are a pair of future Hawkeyes, Drake Ayala and Caleb Rathjen. Ayala has already been there and done that as far as Fargo goes. He is seeking his third freestyle championship after getting one as a Cadet and another as a Junior in 2019. Winning a second would only further cement his status as an Iowa high school legend. While Ayala will have to contend with a dangerous field, led by Princeton recruit Dean Peterson, he should be considered a favorite. Rathjen has had success in his own right in the FargoDome, but is seeking his first title. He was a finalist in Cadet freestyle in 2018 and seventh the previous year. Rathjen's 145 lb weight class is extremely deep, but he should be among those select few capable of winning it all.
Kal Miller (Missouri) - Class of 2022: 145 lbs
Maryland will have top-100 recruit Kal Miller in action at the FargoDome. Miller has some past experience at Fargo, as he was seventh as a Cadet in 2018 in freestyle, before setting foot in high school. That occurred down at 113 lbs. Miller has grown into the 145 lb weight class, which is imposing even with some top contenders that went down due to injury. Expect for Miller to be in the hunt for the podium and he'll be a cornerstone of another strong class for head coach Alex Clemsen.
Rylan Rogers (Washington) - Class of 2022: 195 lbs
We've mentioned already that 195 lbs is likely one of the most top-heavy weights in Fargo. Six of the top-seven wrestlers in the nation are expected to enter and that doesn't include any graduated seniors. The top-ranked 195 lber in the land is Rylan Rogers, who recently committed to Michigan. The number-five overall senior will come in as the favorite. In 2019, Rogers was a runner-up in Akron at the Cadet World Team Trials and did the same in Fargo's U16 division. Both placements came in freestyle. He'll try to move up a step on the podium and possibly his ranking overall in the Class of 2022.
Blaine Brenner (Wisconsin) - Class of 2021: 138 lbs
Tagen Jamison (Texas) - Class of 2021: 138 lbs
Hunter Lyden (Minnesota) - Class of 2022: 170 lbs
Troy Spratley (Texas) - Class of 2022: 126 lbs
Bennett Tabor (Minnesota) - Class of 2021: 220 lbs
The largest contingent of recruits expected to hit the mat in Fargo belongs to Minnesota. That takes into account Cody Chittum, one of the favorites at 145 lbs. Even so, there are a handful of future Gophers that could earn All-American honors and possibly take home a stop-sign, if all breaks well. High school teammates Tagen Jamison and Troy Spratley are rare recruits that will head to Minneapolis from Texas. Spratley is currently the top-ranked 126 lber in the nation after all of the seniors were removed. To get a title, he'll have to contend with a pair of favorites from the Class of 2021, Drake Ayala and Dean Peterson. Jamison has done well at national-level events, but hasn't placed at Fargo. The remaining three recruits, Blaine Brenner, Hunter Lyden, and Bennett Tabor, have all found a place on the podium, at one time or another. Brenner's best results have come on the Greco side as he was a Cadet sixth-place finisher twice. He'll compete in the same bracket as Jamison. Lyden was sixth in 16U freestyle in 2019 and represents one of maybe five possible champions at 170 lbs. Dangerous big man Bennett Tabor will be in the mix of a loaded 220 lb weight class. He was fifth in 16U freestyle in 2019 and took home the crown at the most recent Super 32.
Harley Andrews (Oklahoma) - Class of 2022: 220 lbs
Antrell Taylor (Nebraska) - Class of 2022: 160 lbs
Adam Thebeau (Illinois) - Class of 2021: 160 lbs
Above, we mentioned that the 220 lb bracket is expected to be lined with contenders. One of those is Harley Andrews, who currently holds the #3 ranking nationally. Andrews was fifth at 182 lb in 16U freestyle during his last trip to Fargo. One of the top recruits from Nebraska over the last decade is Antrell Taylor, who decided to stay in-state and attend Nebraska. Taylor saw his stock soar in 2019 after making the 16U national finals in freestyle, down at 132 lbs. 160 is pretty wide open this year. There isn't any reason why Taylor couldn't be the one winning on the raised stage. Also in that weight class is Adam Thebeau. Adam was an under-the-radar pickup for the Cornhusker staff that ended up winning Folkstyle Nationals and earning himself a spot on the Senior Big Board (#138).
Evan Bates (Indiana) - Class of 2021: 195 lbs
Sammy Hayes (Illinois) - Class of 2022: 113 lbs
One of the darlings of the 2019 tournament was Evan Bates, who was relatively unheralded and ran through a gauntlet to make the 16U freestyle finals. For good measure, Bates also took third in Greco. Since then, Bates has had some up and down results, but tends to do well at national events. He was fifth at the 2019 Super 32 and seventh a year later. Bates could be in the mix to place in the upper half of the podium in 2021. Northwestern's first recruit from the Class of 2022, Sammy Hayes, is looking to place in Junior freestyle for the second time. He was fourth in 2019 at 100 lbs. He'll move up slightly to 113 this time. That weight should have some younger, more heralded entrants, but don't be surprised if Hayes knocks them off and has another high showing. His experience may be too much for the younger competition.
Gavin Brown (Ohio) - Class of 2022: 145 lbs
Seth Shumate (Ohio) - Class of 2022: 195 lbs
Earlier this week, we learned that Ohio State's top recruit from the Class of 2022, Nick Feldman, is not expected to compete due to injury. Even without Feldman, there are a pair of future Buckeyes that could make an impact. Seth Shumate dismantled the field in 2019 and became a double 16U champion at this same weight. He has placed four times in two years and never lower than fifth. He'll be one of the top contenders again in 2021. Gavin Brown also is a returning All-American. He was fifth in 16U freestyle in 2019, but is currently ranked #22 nationally. Brown will have his hands full getting back to the AA round again, as 145 is very deep.
Ben Vanadia (Ohio) - Class of 2021: 220 lbs
Before heading to West Lafayette, Ben Vanadia has an order of business left. He aims to end his high school career on a high note and earn All-American honors in Fargo for the first time. Vanadia's senior year was disrupted by injury, though he was unbeaten and headed for his first state crown. Vanadia has put together an impressive resume with high finishes at the Beast, the Ironman, and NHSCA grade-level tournaments. Since he's in the Class of 2021 and missed the high school state tournament, Vanadia may be overlooked in Fargo. That shouldn't be the case. If healthy, he'll contend for yet another high placement.
Brandan Chletsos (Pennsylvania) - Class of 2022: 138 lbs
Brian Soldano (New Jersey) - Class of 2022: 182 lbs
The Scarlet Knights have both of their 2022 recruits to follow in Fargo. Brian Soldano is a 16U All-American in freestyle (7th) from 2019. He was victorious at the Super 32 before his junior season and recently had an impressive Junior Duals performance. Soldano is on the very short list of favorites at 182 lbs. Brandan Chletsos doesn't have any Fargo credentials next to his name (yet?), but is capable. He was top-seven at the Ironman and Beast in 2019. His in-season placements have continued to progress in Pennsylvania. He went from sixth, as a freshman, to third in 2020, before making the AA state finals this year.
Cale Anderson (Wisconsin) - Class of 2021: 152 lbs
The lone Badger recruit expected to compete will be Cale Anderson, an undefeated 2021 state champion in Wisconsin. Anderson had been close to capturing a state championship on two previous occasions, finishing third as a sophomore and junior. His resume doesn't have any significant national credentials, so Anderson would be considered a dark horse at the 152 lb weight class. That weight is expected to contain three of the top-five wrestlers in the nation plus a host of graduated seniors.