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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    History Watch at the 2021 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational

    2x Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational Champion Ryan Deakin (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)


    Big individual bracketed tournaments are back in 2021-22 and one of the majors takes place this week as the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational will return. In the coming days, we'll get to actual previews and predictions, but for now, here is a primer on some of the historical aspects to focus on for the 2021 CKLV Invitational.

    First and foremost, all eyes should be focused on Ryan Deakin, who can join the elite three-time champions club. He has captured the title at 157 lbs in each of the last two tournaments. Three CKLV titles is a relatively rare feat, having only been accomplished by Kollin Moore (Ohio State), Zahid Valencia (Arizona State), Nahshon Garrett (Cornell), Logan Stieber (Ohio State; won 4x), Mack Lewnes (Cornell), and Ben Askren (Missouri) over the last 15 years. This bodes well for Deakin at the 2022 NCAA Championships. All except Moore and Lewnes were national champions at some point in their careers. Of course, Moore was undefeated and seeded #1 when the 2020 tournament was canceled.

    One of the few wrestlers with an opportunity to win a second title is Brayton Lee. Lee was a champion at 149 lbs in 2019, as a freshman. Now at 157 lbs, Lee could be on a collision course with fellow 2019 champion, Deakin. If the two were to meet in the finals, it would mark the first time that returning CKLV champions met in the finals since 2013 when Andrew Howe (Oklahoma) defeated Robert Kokesh (Nebraska).

    Brayton Lee's 2019 title continued a run with at least one freshman CKLV champion every year since 2015. That run includes him, teammate Gable Steveson (2018), Taylor LaMont and Yianni Diakomihalis (2017), Logan Massa and Valencia (2016), and Micah Jordan (2015).

    Brayton Lee, Deakin, LaMont, Diakomihalis, and Steveson, are past champions expected to compete. Myles Amine and Mason Parris have titles, as well, but are not among the Wolverines entries.

    In addition to the former CKLV champions in the field, there are a handful of past finalists expected to compete. They are Devin Schroder (Purdue), Sammy Sasso (Ohio State), Taylor Venz (Nebraska), Eric Schultz (Nebraska), Tate Orndorff (Ohio State), and Evan Wick (Cal Poly).

    There could be three past NCAA champions in this field with Diakomihalis, Steveson, and Shane Griffith. The last time a returning national champion lost at the CKLV was in 2016, when Myles Martin (Ohio State) was beaten by Zack Zavatsky (Virginia Tech).

    Winning in Vegas can be a precursor for NCAA success. This event is typically loaded with top-flight teams and individuals. Since 2011, the 2016 tournament was the only one where none of its ten champions went on to win the NCAA Tournament in the same season. Usually, more than one of the CKLV champions stood on the top step of the NCAA podium a few months later. Since 2011, there have been at least two CKLV champs that went on to win NCAA's that year.

    Even with such high-level competition, the only time we've seen a preview of an NCAA final at this tournament has been in the most recent tournament when Anthony Ashnault defeated Micah Jordan.

    Also, losing this tournament is not the be-all-end-all. In 2018 (the most recent year with a tournament and NCAA Tournament), two of its third-place finishers went on to win nationals later in the season (Mekhi Lewis and Drew Foster).

    The team race could come down to #5 Michigan, #7 Northwestern, #8 Ohio State, #9 Cornell, #11 Minnesota, and #13 Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are the defending champions after winning in 2019, which was the first time since 2008. Northwestern has never won the tournament. Ohio State won three times in a row, being stopped by Nebraska in 2019. Cornell's only victory came in 2010 and Michigan's last win came in 2007.

    The only wrestler expected to be in the field that has the potential to place for the fourth time is Nebraska's 184 lber Taylor Venz. Venz was third as a freshman in 2017, a runner-up in 2018, and fifth in 2019.

    Devin Schroder (2nd - 2019, 8th - 2018), Dom Demas (3rd - 2019, 4th - 2018), Chad Red (5th - 2019, 4th - 2017), Kanen Storr (3rd - 2018, 8th - 2017), Mikey Labriola (3rd - 2018, 4th - 2018), Louie DePrez (6th - 2019, 5th - 2018), Eric Schultz (5th - 2019, 2nd - 2018), Tate Orndorff (3rd - 2019, 2nd - 2018), and Brian Andrews (8th - 2019, 7th - 2018) all can place for a third time at this tournament.

    Nebraska is in good position to repeat as they feature seven potential starters who have placed at this tournament in the past (Red, Ridge Lovett, Peyton Robb, Labriola, Venz, Schultz, Christian Lance). That's the highest number out of any squad in the field.

    A few wrestlers are trying to place at this event for multiple schools. Joey Prata (4th - 2019; Virginia Tech), Michael Blockhus (6th - 2019; Northern Iowa), Mitch Moore (8th - 2019; Virginia Tech), Jacob Wright (5th - 2019; Fresno State), Tate Orndorff (3rd - 2019, 2nd - 2018; Utah Valley), and Evan Wick (2nd - 2017; Wisconsin), have a shot at doing so this year.

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