Oregon State 125 lber Brandon Kaylor (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Friday and Saturday saw college wrestling return to Las Vegas as the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational was contested for the 39th time. The tournament returned after a hiatus in 2020 due to modifications made to the collegiate wrestling season amid the spread of Covid-19. One of the hallmarks of the event is that it is typically a place for freshmen to shine for the first time. This year's version of the CKLV was different than usual, in that no freshmen captured titles, a feat that hasn't happened since the 2014 tournament. While the tournament was devoid of any unexpected championship runs from freshmen, there were still some breakout performances from younger wrestlers.
So, how do we define breakout? All of the wrestlers we've noted were either ranked lower than #25 or not mentioned at all prior to the tournament. While heavyweight champion â€œGas Tankâ€ Gary Traub fits that bill, he is generally a household name due to his exploits in the 2019-20 season for Ohio State. Only one of this bunch has previous NCAA experience (though he didn't pick up a win there). This group of five is hoping to go against the old axiom â€œWhat happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,â€ as they look to build off of their momentum during the rest of the season.
Brandon Kaylor (Oregon State)
Entering Vegas with the #26 ranking at 125 lbs, Brandon Kaylor was given the sixth seed at the Cliff Keen. Kaylor was an NCAA qualifier for Oregon State in 2021 after taking third place in the Pac-12 and receiving an at-large berth. He did not post a win in his inaugural nationals appearance and finished the year 9-7.
In 2021-22, Kaylor started the year with a loss to the defending EIWA champion Jaret Lane (Lehigh). He only competed two other times before Vegas and was a winner in both contests. From the get-go, Kaylor was putting up points in the Las Vegas Convention Center. He totaled 11 in his opening match against 2021 NCAA qualifier Jake Ferri (Kent State). That set the stage for a quarterfinal contest with then-#9 Malik Heinselman (Ohio State), the third seed. Kaylor wasted little time and struck a little over a minute into the bout with a takedown. Early in the third period, he added a second to ice the bout, 5-3. In the semifinals, against the defending runner-up Devin Schroder (Purdue), Kaylor tallied a pair of first-period takedowns and even led 6-5 after two periods. Schroder was able to prevail 8-6 and moved into the championship bout.
Despite the semifinal loss, Kaylor was undeterred and majored Jake Svihel (Wyoming) and notched a solid, 7-1 victory over 2020 national qualifier Jack Medley (Michigan) to claim third. The wins over three returning national qualifiers and a top-ten opponent, have boosted Kaylor into the number #13 slot at the 125 lb weight class.
Haiden Drury (Utah Valley)
After Fresno State dropped their program (again!) following the 2021 season, Haiden Drury moved on to Utah Valley. Drury started his career with the Wolverines by going 3-1 at a series of duals hosted by Big 12 foe Northern Colorado. The lone loss at that event came to the Bears starting 133 lber Mosha Schwartz. Less than two weeks later, Drury claimed two wins in dual competition against Cal Baptist and CSU Bakersfield. That same weekend, Drury went 4-0 and came away with the Roadrunner Open title.
A gaudy 10-1 record was still only good enough for the seventh seed in Vegas. No worries, though, as Drury started his tournament with an 11-3 major decision over Binghamton's dangerous Anthony Sobotker. Unfortunately, Drury didn't get the opportunity to clash with the #2 seed as Chance Rich (CSU Bakersfield) medically forfeited in the quarters.
The forfeit set up a semifinal contest with third-seeded Dylan Ragusin (Michigan). Though Drury lost, his 4-3 setback was the closest match of the tournament for the Ragusin in a battle of Wolverines. After the Ragusin loss, Drury showed his clutchness with sudden victory wins over ranked opponents Jake Gliva (Minnesota) and Devan Turner (Oregon State). The two-time Pac-12 champion, Turner, was ranked #20 in the nation and seeded fourth at the tournament.
Adam Kemp (Cal Poly)
Incredibly, the second former Fresno State wrestler on this list is Adam Kemp. A few weeks ago, our friend Corby Van Deventer, co-host of MatScouts â€œThe First Word,â€ took a trip to Cal Poly and saw Kemp working out with three-time All-American Evan Wick. Corby was extremely impressed by Kemp and had been singing his praises, as a possible darkhorse, ever since. He was proven correct by Kemp in Vegas.
In his opening bout, Kemp was tasked with an imposing opponent in Chris Foca (Cornell), who was ranked ninth at the time and the tournament's third seed. Only :14 seconds into the first period, Kemp got on the scoreboard with a takedown. That ended up being the difference-maker, as Kemp held on to win, 3-2. His upset was one of the most significant of the tournament. Next up in the quarterfinals was #19 Troy Fisher (Northwestern). This bout ended up being distinctly different from Kemp's previous match. Fisher and Kemp battled for over nine minutes before the Mustang secured a takedown during their first : 30-second tiebreaker. Kemp only surrendered an escape in the second tiebreaker and prevailed 4-2.
In the semis, the competition was turned up a few notches as returning All-American #6 Ethan Smith (Ohio State) stood across from Kemp. Despite the disparities in the rankings and resumes, Kemp proved he belonged with someone of Smith's caliber. The Buckeye star grabbed an early takedown and ended up with a 3-2 win. That wasn't without a hard charge from Kemp, who pushed the entire match. Kemp's two notable victories, combined with his performance against Smith, led to one of the greatest rankings jumps of the week. He went from #31 at 174 lbs, to #10.
Josh Koderhandt (Navy)
We already mentioned how this was the first time since 2014 that no freshmen had captured titles at this tournament. That isn't to say that some freshmen didn't make a name for themselves, because Josh Koderhandt certainly fits the bill at 133 lbs. Koderhandt started his collegiate career with a tournament title at the Clarion Open the first week of this season. He then went 2-2 at the Bearcat Open and made the finals of the Navy Classic. Those performances warranted some consideration for a place in the national rankings, but still left a little to be desired.
Not so, after Vegas. Unseeded, Koderhandt made his presence felt immediately and earned a 7-2 win over a ranked opponent (then-#24 Matt Ramos - Purdue). In his next contest, Koderhandt was utterly dominant as he pinned Brendon Fenton (Kent State), while leading by 15. Koderhandt ran into the eventual champion, Dylan Ragusin (Michigan), in the quarterfinals and was sent to the consolations.
For a place amongst the top eight, Koderhandt put together a solid, 12-5 win over Wyoming's Job Greenwood. A week earlier, Greenwood won the Cowboy Open, by downing returning All-American Michael McGee (Arizona State). In the next round, Koderhandt shutout Ramos for his second victory of the tournament over the young Boilermaker. He dropped to the fifth-place bout after losing a heartbreaker to Devan Turner in sudden victory. For fifth-place, Koderhandt sealed the deal with a second-period fall over Minnesota's Jake Gliva.
Josh Ogunsanya (Columbia)
A title at the season-opening Southeast Open over a field that was decent, but not spectacular, was a slight hint that Josh Ogunsanya was probably â€œfor real.â€ In Columbia's only dual thus far, Ogunsanya squared off with returning All-American Cameron Amine (Michigan) and acquitted himself well in a 3-1 loss.
Ogunsanya had a difficult draw as the #10 seed at 165 lbs. He was tasked with facing the seventh-seed, Tanner Cook (South Dakota State), one of the most dangerous pinners in the nation in his first match. It didn't come as a surprise that Ogunsanya got his hand raised, but the score, combined with the high-caliber opponent, made you double and triple-take. The Lion registered a 20-3, first-period tech fall over Cook. Four takedowns, along with four sets of four-point nearfalls, were enough to do the job.
A major decision win over Brady Chrisman (Kent State), sandwiched between losses to Shane Griffith (Stanford) and Julian Ramirez (Cornell), put Ogunsanya in the seventh-place bout. While trailing Bubba Wilson (Nebraska), 4-3 in the third period, Ogunsanya got a takedown and nearfall before pinning his Husker counterpart. After starting the week ranked #31, Ogunsanya gets a modest bump to #25.