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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    How do U23 World Medalists Fare in Their Collegiate Seasons?

    2018 U23 World silver medalist Kollin Moore back on the mat for Ohio State at the 2019 NCAA Championships(photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    United World Wrestling launched the U23 World Championships in 2017, and it immediately became a freestyle proving ground for some of the top college-aged competitors from the U.S. The tournament usually coincides with the start of the college season, so while most college wrestlers head to open tournaments, others travel internationally to face some of the top competitors in the World.

    This year, the U.S. squad brought back a pair of medals in men's freestyle. At 97 kg, Virginia's expected starter at 197 pounds and three-time NCAA qualifier, Jay Aiello, brought home a bronze medal. One weight up, Iowa's heavyweight Anthony Cassioppi dominated on the way to a title. He outscored his opposition 38 to eight and did not surrender a single point after his opening round bout.

    What do these performances say about their prospects this upcoming season? Will Aiello finally be able to break through and reach the All-American podium? Can Cassioppi improve on his third-place finish at last year's NCAA tournament? It will undoubtedly be tough for the Hawkeye as heavyweight will feature four other age-group World champions and the reigning Olympic gold medalists.

    The following takes a look back at the U.S. medalists from the previous three editions of the U23 World Championships to gauge the impact it had on those wrestlers' following collegiate seasons.

    2017

    For the debut edition of the tournament, the U.S. sent an impressive squad featuring the likes of Daton Fix, Mitch McKee and Isaiah Martinez. However, unexpectedly the only gold medal performance ended up coming from Richie Lewis at 70 kg. At the time, Lewis was on the squad at Rutgers and coming off an injury-shortened season that held him to only one match. On the World's stage, he won all five of his matches and then returned to the college mats less than two weeks later. Lewis would go on to qualify for his second NCAA tournament and finish in the bloodround. Earlier this year, he made his MMA debut and currently holds a 2-0 professional record.

    Joey McKenna transferred from Stanford to Ohio State prior to his trip to the U23 World Championships. He ended up winning a bronze medal at 65 kg. McKenna's only loss would come against Russia's Nachyin Kuular, who is now a multiple-time Yarygin placer and finished second at the 2019 Russian Nationals. He then returned to Ohio State, where he went 21-2 and finished third at the NCAA tournament. The following year, he returned for his senior season and made the finals before ultimately coming up short against Yianni Diakomihalis in sudden victory.

    Ty Walz had actually exhausted his collegiate eligibility by the time the inaugural U23 tournament came around. He was a three-time All-American for Virginia Tech and finished fourth as a senior. Walz dropped from heavyweight to 97 kg for freestyle and picked up a bronze medal. He has continued to compete on the international circuit and has brought home medals from the Medved and International Cup.


    2018

    Throughout his college career at NC State, Sean Fausz was known as one of the tallest 125 pounders in the country. In late 2018, he got a break from the cut and moved up to 61 kg for the U23 event. Fausz made the finals before dropping a match against Magomedrasul Idrisov of Russia to finish with a silver medal. On the way to the podium, he knocked off China's Liu Mingu, who would go on to finish with a silver at the Asian Championships the following year. Fausz then returned to NC State for his senior year. He finished the campaign with a 14-4 record and qualified for the NCAA tournament. His run eventually came to an end in the round of 12.

    Kollin Moore was already a two-time All-American and a Junior World medalist before he entered the U23 World Championships. At the previous NCAA tournament, he had been upset twice by Kent State's Kyle Conel on his way to a fourth-place finish. Moore rounded back into form over the summer and headed into this event with a lot of momentum. He eventually made the finals before coming up short against Georgia's Givi Matcharashvili to finish with a silver. Back on the college mats, Moore made the finals as a junior. The following year, Moore appeared to be a favorite going into the NCAA tournament after going undefeated and winning a Big Ten title. However, the tournament was canceled due to the pandemic.

    Maryland heavyweight Youssif Hemida was a somewhat unlikely member of the U23 World team. He finished eighth at the previous NCAA tournament to become an All-American for the first time. Hemida went on a strong run through the bracket that ultimately ended with a loss against Said Gamidov of Russia in the finals. Hemida returned to the US with a silver medal, but he did not make his collegiate return until January. Things got off to a tough start as he dropped a match against Seth Nevills, who was still greyshirting at the time. However, Hemida turned things around and finished sixth at the NCAA tournament with wins over Matt Stencel, Tate Orndorff and Gannon Gremmel. He currently represents Egypt internationally and recently relocated the Spartan Combat RTC.

    2019

    Bo Nickal earned a special wrestle-off for the U23 World team spot after making Final X. He then defeated Jakob Woodley and headed to Hungary for the event. Nickal had already finished his run at Penn State with three NCAA titles and four finals appearances. His performance at U23 Worlds was dominant as he scored match termination victories in three of his four matches and dispatched returning champion Shamil Zubairov of Azerbaijan. Earlier this year, Nickal made the finals of the US Olympic Team Trials and came up short against David Taylor. He has since started his MMA career and is 2-0 as an amateur.

    The jury is still out on if success at the U23 World Championships is an indicator of future college success. Of the seven medalists, prior to this year, two had already finished college. Of the remaining five, only three went on to become All-Americans during the following season.

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