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  • Photo: Photo/Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Photo/Tony Rotundo

    Final X: Rutgers Preview & Predictions

    For the second straight year the path to the U.S. World Team goes through Final X. The first of the two events takes place this Saturday on the campus of Rutgers University. Thirteen spots on the Greco Roman, women's freestyle and men's freestyle will be determined. Injuries to World champions David Taylor and Kyle Dake took some of the star power away from the card, but there are several key matches remaining. The following is a weight-by-weight preview.

    Greco-Roman 87 kilograms: Joe Rau vs. Ben Provisor

    Rau qualified for Final X with a victory at the U.S. Open. After besting Provisor on criteria in the semifinals, Rau defeated the No. 1 seed Patrick Martinez 3-1 to take home the tournament title. In addition to the Open, Rau also competed this year so far at the Dave Schultz Memorial where he took third in Greco and fourth in freestyle.

    After falling against Rau at the Open, Provisor needed to win the World Team Trials to find a place in Final X. He outscored his first three opponents 21-0 before facing off against Martinez in the best-of-three series. Provisor won the first match 1-1 on criteria and then seal with his trip to this final qualifier with a 3-1 victory.

    Provisor had defeated Rau in the finals of the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Open before the former Division III champion got to him this year. In the match this year, both wrestlers got a chance from the top, and neither was able to score. It will clearly be a close match, but Provisor has historically been the one able to score on the feet, so he should be the favorite in this series.

    Prediction: Provisor over Rau

    Women's wrestling 72 kilograms: Alyvia Fiske vs. Victoria Francis

    Fiske has already locked up spots on both the 2019 Junior and U23 World Teams at this weight class. She accomplished this feat with a very strong showing at the Women's Nationals last month where she outscored her opponents in both tournaments 86-10. Fiske also won the Open where she scored a 5-4 victory over Francis in the finals.

    Francis bounced back at the World Team Trials to make Final X. She defeated Nahela Magee 16-5 in the semifinals before knocking off Iman Kazem in two straight matches. Francis put on a stamp on the tournament victory with a fall in the final match.

    Even though Fiske is still a college student at Simon Fraser, she seems to be primed to earn a spot on three World Teams. In their match at the Open, Fiske was the aggressor throughout the contest. Francis was able to get an early lead with some veteran counters. However, Fiske never stopped coming forward and attacking legs. That persistent will likely lead her to another victory in the rematch.

    Prediction: Fiske over Francis

    Greco-Roman 82 kilograms: Kendrick Sanders vs. John Stefanowicz

    Spencer Woods really busted up the 82-kilogram bracket at the Open with upset victories over Vladyslav Dombrovskiy and Cheney Haight. However, he could not get past Sanders in the finals. To reach that final, Sanders scored 7-3 win over Stefanowicz. He scored seven points in the first period and managed to hold on.

    Following his semifinal loss against Sanders, Stefanowicz had to go through the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament in order to make Final X. He entered the field as the sixth seed, but he went on a run with wins over former Oklahoma State wrestler Chandler Rogers and No. 2 seed Gordon Speiller to make the best-of-three finals. There he knocked off two-time World Team member Haight with a pair of 5-1 wins.

    Sanders has experienced a resurgence this year in what turned out to be a wide-open weight class. He should in their first match he can control position and put up points against Stefanowicz. With such a short turnaround before Final X, it is hard to see this result turning out any differently.

    Prediction: Sanders over Stefanowicz

    Whitney Conder gets her hand raised after winning a U.S. Open title in April (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors)

    Women's wrestling 50 kilograms: Whitney Conder vs. Victoria Anthony

    These two have a long history, and their most recent match went to Conder. She defeated Anthony 4-4 on criteria in the semifinals of the Open on her way to earning this spot in Final X. In the finals, she took home a commanding victory over No. 1 seed Erin Golston via a 7-0 score.

    Anthony also needed to get past Golston to reach Final X. She achieved that accomplishment twice in the best-of-three finals of the World Team Trials. Anthony won the first match 8-2 and sealed her ticket with a 5-1 victory in the second match.

    Not only did these two meet at the Open, but they also had a three-match series as part of Final X last year. Conder has won five of their last six matches. In their most recent bout, she put her trademark neutral defense on display and put up enough points to take the title. This will likely be a close series, and it will probably go to three matches. However, Conder has showed the strategic tactics necessary to advance to the World Championships.

    Prediction: Conder over Anthony

    Greco-Roman 55 kilograms: Max Nowry vs. Brady Koontz

    Nowry won his first three matches at the Open without surrendering a single point. Prior to the finals, he outscored his three opponents 24-0. Once he made the finals, he took home a gritty 5-3 decision over Dalton Duffield to qualify for this event.

    Koontz represented the U.S. at the Junior World Championships last year, and this allowed him to immediately qualify for the World Team Trials. The Ohio State wrestler will be a sophomore next year for the Buckeyes, but he is focusing on Greco for the summer. He entered the Trials as the seventh seed, and he defeated Jabari Moody, Ibrahim Bunduka and Duffield to take the tournament title.

    Despite being shy of his 30th birthday, Nowry seems to have been around the Greco scene forever. He seems to finally be putting together after being a National Team member four times. Koontz has a youthful exuberance that has served him well up to this point. However, Nowry has the veteran savvy to survive this match and continue the journey.

    Prediction: Nowry over Koontz

    Greco-Roman 67 kilograms: Ellis Coleman vs. Jamel Johnson

    On his way to winning the Open and qualifying for Final X, Coleman average 9.5 points per match. In the finals, he dispatched Army WCAP teammate 12-3 in the only match in which he allowed points. Coleman is an Olympian and a two-time World Team member, but he is still looking for his first Senior world medal.

    Johnson got smoked by Tuma in the semifinals of the Open. He gave up an early takedown to his back and was teched in less than a minute and a half. The two entered the World Team Trials as the top two seeds. The seeds held, and they faced off in the best-of-three final series. This time Johnson was able to control the pace of the match and won in straight matches via 4-1 and 5-1 scores.

    This will be an interesting match. Both wrestlers like to go for throws and put up points. Johnson showed that he can transition into a more conservative style when necessary, but he will likely have issues dealing with the offensive explosions from Coleman.

    Prediction: Coleman over Johnson

    Women's wrestling 57 kilograms: Becka Leathers vs. Jenna Burkert

    Leathers upset Burkert in the finals of the Open. She entered the field as the third seed and made her way to the top of the podium. The 2017 world bronze medalist came up short in Final X last year and is looking to earn another spot on the World Team.

    Burkert bounced back with a strong performance at the World Team Trials. She defeated 2012 Olympian Kelsey Campbell and Arian Carpio (twice) by a combined score of 29-3. Like Leathers, Burkert also fell in Final X last year, but she ended up going to the World Championships as an injury replacement.

    In their match at the Open, Leathers was persistent with her offense. It got her in trouble early as Burkert was able to score on counters with short offense. However, Leathers got back into it with a reversal and a gut wrench. Eventually she was able to breakthrough with her leg attacks and iced the match. Leathers was the one pushing forward and dictating the action. If she cleans up her offensive finishing, this one could end up with a wider margin.

    Prediction: Leathers over Burkert

    Women's wrestling 65 kilograms: Forrest Molinari vs. Maya Nelson

    This bout will be yet another rematch. Molinari knocked off Nelson in the U.S. Open finals to earn this spot in Final X. Along the way, she also defeated Melissa Jacobs via fall and Macey Kilty via a 7-3 score. Molinari nearly picked up a world medal last year, and she is certainly looking to get back and reach the podium this time.

    Since falling against Molinari, Nelson has gotten back on track with a pair of tournament victories. First, she won a spot on the U23 World Team. She then knocked off Kilty in straight matches at the World Team Trials.

    Despite the recent result, Nelson does hold a win over Molinari from the 2017 edition of the Open. However, their recent match seemed to show a growing divide between the two. Molinari has had the better results of late and therefore she should be the favorite going into Final X.

    Prediction: Molinari over Nelson

    Kamal Bey claimed a 7-5 victory over Pat Smith in the U.S. Open finals (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors)

    Greco-Roman 77 kilograms: Kamal Bey vs. Pat Smith

    Many expect Bey to have a stranglehold over this weight for at least the next few years. That certainly appeared to be the case at the U.S. Open. Bey made his way to the finals by winning four matches via a combined score of 44-1. He then defeated Smith in a close 7-5 match.

    Smith needed a victory at the World Team Trials to reach Final X following his loss against Bey. He got it done in the finals with a pair of wins over former World Team member and current Penn State wrestler Mason Manville. As expected, the matches were low scoring with Smith taking the first 3-0 and the second 3-2.

    Their match at the Open was closer than some expected. However, Bey's ability to put up big points with big moves gives him the clear advantage in this match. Even if Smith is able to hold position for the majority of the match, one small lapse could give the edge to Bey.

    Prediction: Bey over Smith

    Women's wrestling 68 kilograms: Tamyra Mensah-Stock vs. Alexandria Glaude

    There are few wrestlers on this card who are on a roll like Mensah-Stock. She picked up a bronze medal at the World Championships last year, and she has continued to win in 2019. The run includes a victories at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix, Dan Kolov, Sassari City and Pan American Championships. She advanced directly to Final X based on her bronze medal.

    Randi Beltz was waiting for Glaude in the finals of the World Team Trials based on her victory at the U.S. Open. Glaude knocked off Skylar Grote and Jayden Laurent before facing off against Beltz in the best-of-three finals. After giving up a fall in the opening match, Glaude picked up back-to-back decisions to advance to this event.

    These two met earlier this year, and it was not close at all. Mensah-Stock has been running through the competition recently, and this series is not expected to keep her off the world stage.

    Prediction: Mensah-Stock over Glaude

    Freestyle 125 kilograms: Nick Gwiazdowski vs. Gable Steveson

    Over the last few years Gwiazdowski has cemented himself as the best heavyweight domestically and one of the best in the world. He enters this event coming off back-to-back bronze-medal performances at the World Championships. In his last action, he scored a dominant 9-0 performance over Derek White at the annual Beat the Streets event.

    Even though he was only a true freshman, most in the wrestling world expected Steveson to run through the NCAA field and pick up a championship. However, he ended up dropping a pair of matches to Penn State's Anthony Cassar and finishing third. Despite that result, Steveson was able to put on a masterful performance at the World Team Trials. He advanced to the finals with a 5-1 victory over Tony Nelson. The Minnesota wrestler then went on to dominate returning Greco world silver medalist Adam Coon in a pair of matches by a combined score of 21-4.

    Steveson's performance at the Trials shows that he will be a player on the international stage going forward. However, this appears to be a tough match for him. He thrives by being quicker than most heavyweights. Against Gwiazdowski that might not have a huge advantage. Plus, the former North Carolina State wrestler will likely be able to come out on top of the scrambles and take the match.

    Prediction: Gwiazdowski over Steveson

    Yianni Diakomihalis topped Zain Retherford in the U.S. Open finals (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors)

    Freestyle 65 kilograms: Yianni Diakomihalis vs. Zain Retherford

    After running through the field at the U.S. Open, Diakomihalis put himself directly into contendership for a World championship with a victory over world No. 1 Bajrang Punia of India at Beat the Streets. If he gets past Retherford he could easily be considered a favorite to medal despite still being in college and wrestling for Cornell.

    Retherford fell against Diakomihalis at the U.S. Open, and therefore he needed a win at the World Team Trials in order to qualify for Final X. Not only did he need to go through the field, but also needed to win a pair of matches against Jordan Oliver in the finals. Both matches were wild and full of scrambles, but in the end, Retherford won both via 7-6 scores.

    This was a 6-4 match is favor of Diakomihalis in the finals of the Open. The Cornell wrestler got out to a 2-0 lead early in the first period and carried that lead into the break. Early in the second, Retherford got on the board with a takedown that led directly to an exposure to take a 4-2 lead. However, Diakomihalis then scored off a pair of shots from Retherford and took the match 6-4. If the Penn State wrestler wants to be successful here, he will need clean finishes. That is likely easier said than done.

    Prediction: Diakomihalis over Retherford

    Freestyle 92 kilograms: J'den Cox vs. Bo Nickal

    Cox finally scaled the mountain in 2018 and became a world Champion. Since then he has won a gold medal at the 2018 Pan American Championships and blitzed Patrick Brucki 13-0 at Beat the Streets. In the past, he has had a few head-scratching matches, but he has appeared to put that behind him and could be the favorite for gold in 2019 and beyond.

    Nickal finished his collegiate wrestling career with another NCAA title and a Hodge Trophy. He then went right into freestyle and won the Open. Since Cox had already qualified for Final X, Nickal's path also had to go through the World Team Trials. In the finals, he knocked off fellow NCAA champion Mike Macchiavello in two straight matches.

    This should be an interesting style match. Nickal is known for his wide open and improvisational style. On the other hand, Cox is extremely technically sound and rarely gets pulled out of position. In the end this match will likely end up with Cox scoring on a counter and holding on to a lead.

    Prediction: Cox over Nickal

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