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  • Photo: Photo/Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Photo/Tony Rotundo

    HWC Showdown Open Preview & Predictions

    Spencer Lee gets his hand raised after winning in the semifinals of Senior Nationals (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    The Nittany Lion Wrestling Club appears to have started the trend of regional training centers hosting their own events. The Hawkeye Wrestling Club will host their own event with the HWC Showdown Open on Sunday. The event, which will air live on Trackwrestling, features some of the top Iowa wrestlers such as Spencer Lee, Michael Kemerer, Alex Marinelli and Jaydin Eierman taking on domestic and international challengers.

    Spencer Lee vs. Zach Sanders

    Lee was hoping to win another NCAA title in 2020 and then earn a spot on the Olympic team. While he did not get a chance at the NCAA tournament, he did put together an undefeated 18-0 record on the college mats. Lee also took a hiatus in mid-December to enter to 2019 Senior Nationals where he bested Darian Cruz, Vito Arujau and Nathan Tomasello and took home first place. Before ever setting foot on campus at Iowa, Lee had already won three world championships, two at the junior level and one at the cadet level.

    Sanders has been out of the collegiate ranks since 2012. That year, he finished his career at Minnesota as the seventh four-time All-American in Golden Gopher history. Later in that same year he brought home a silver medal at the 2012 World University Championships. Sanders would continue to compete on the international circuit for years and brought home gold medals from the 2015 Pan American Championships and the 2018 Cerro Pelado International. He returned to action earlier this year at Rumble on the Rooftop and took part in a wild match against Zane Richards. Both wrestlers hit big moves in the match, but Richards eventually took it 13-11.

    Lee is a phenomenon, and he might actually be better in freestyle. Sanders struggled to keep Richards off the board in his last fight, and that could mean trouble in this match. If Lee is able to get on top, it could be over very quickly.

    Prediction: Lee VSU over Sanders

    Sarah Hildebrandt vs. Erin Golston

    Hildebrandt won a silver medal at the 2018 World Championships at 53 kilograms, and she appears ready to move down in weight and attempt to bring home an Olympic medal. Hildebrandt qualified the weight through the Pan American Olympic Qualifier. She was also down at the weight for the recent 2020 Senior Nationals, where she won all four of her matches without surrendering a single point. In the finals, Hildebrandt took an 8-0 victory over Amy Fearnside.

    Golston is a three-time junior world medalist with her last one coming as a silver in 2013. She moved up to the senior level later in the same year and has been there ever since. In 2019 Golston picked up a trio silver medals after placing second at the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov Tournament, Pan American Championships and the Bill Farrell Memorial International.

    This could easily be a preview of the Olympic Team Trials. Hildebrandt seems to have conquered the weight cut down to 50 kilograms, and she has had outstanding results at the new weight. Look for her to set the tone early, and control the match with her ability to score from distance.

    Prediction: Hildebrandt VPO over Golston

    Austin DeSanto vs. Bryce Meredith

    After spending his freshman season at Drexel and finishing in the round of 12, DeSanto transferred to Iowa prior to the 2019 season. As a sophomore he went 23-6 and finished fifth at the NCAA tournament. He returned last season and quickly established himself as a contender for the NCAA title. In his third match, DeSanto upset former NCAA champion Seth Gross in a 6-2 match. As the season continued, DeSanto dropped a pair of rematches against Gross and a two-match series against Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young.

    Meredith finished his collegiate career in 2018. During his senior season, he went 33-2 and made the NCAA finals. Meredith dropped the championship match against Yianni Diakomihilas, who handed him his only two losses on the year. He finished his time at Wyoming as a three-time All-American and two-time finalist. Meredith finished sixth at the 2019 Senior Nationals with wins over Josh Saunders, Dean Heil and Ethan Lizak. A few weeks ago, he returned to action on the second Nittany Lion Wrestling Club show and scored a 8-6 victory over Beau Bartlett.

    In a lot of ways, this match would be considered the people's main event. It might not be the last match on the card, but both wrestlers are known for being in exciting and high-paced matches. DeSanto comes forward and persistently works for leg attacks. That might get him into trouble here since Meredith does some of his best work in scrambles. On top of that, DeSanto does not regularly compete in freestyle. Meredith has been full-time in freestyle since 2018, and that should give him an edge.

    Prediction: Meredith VPO1 over DeSanto

    Jaydin Eierman vs. Vladimer Khinchegashvili

    After three years and three All-American seasons at Missouri, Eierman transferred to Iowa before last season. He sat out for an Olympic redshirt season, and he is expected to join the Hawkeye lineup this upcoming year. While Eierman has placed as high as third at the NCAA tournament and picked up key victories over Dom Demas, Yianni Diakomihalis and Nick Lee, he also has accomplishments in the freestyle world. Eierman represented the U.S. at the 2019 U23 World Championships and holds a victory over world silver medalist Beka Lomtadze.

    Khinchegashvili will certainly be a big challenge for Eierman. He is a two-time Olympic medalist after picking up a silver in 2012 and a gold in 2016. In addition to that, Khinchegashvili also holds three world medals. He failed to place at the 2019 World Championships, but he bounced back with a third-place finish at the Alrosa Cup. Back in September, Khinchegashvili faced off against Diakomihalis in the main event of Beat the Streets. The bout feature several extensive scrambles, but the Georgian won it 4-4 on criteria.

    Eierman's style has helped him surprise some top international wrestlers, but Khinchegashvili has faced off with several Americans at this point. It is unlikely anything will surprise him in this match. It could easily turn into a wild match with a lot of scrambles, but in the end, that plays into the style of Khinchegashvili. He should be able to hold on for a close victory.

    Prediction: Khinchegashvili VPO1 over Eierman

    Pat Lugo vs. Matthew Kolodzik

    Lugo missed out on his final NCAA tournament due to the cancellation, but he was certainly in a good position to make a run at the 149-pound title. He entered the Big Ten tournament with an 18-1 record. His lone defeat came against Ohio State's Sammy Sasso in a dual meet. After defeating Collin Purinton and Brayton Lee, Lugo earned a rematch against Sasso. This time, he had the superior game plan and strategy and took a 2-1 decision. The former Hawkeye wrestler returned to action against Luke Pletcher at the Rumble on the Rooftop event. Lugo was surprisingly dominant and took home a 5-0 decision.

    After starting his collegiate career with three straight All-American seasons, the plan was for Kolodzik to use an Olympic redshirt for the 2020 season. However, after the end of the first semester he returned to the line up for one more run at a championship. Kolodzik went 10-0 prior to the EIWA tournament. He entered the bracket and, despite an overtime match against Jared Price, he took home the championship. Kolodzik recently finished sixth at the 2020 Senior Nationals with wins over Sean Fausz, Mitch McKee and Kanen Storr.

    Lugo and Kolodzik have an interesting history. They met three times in folkstyle starting during the 2018 season. In their first match, Lugo scored a second-period fall. However, the following season, Kolodzik won both of their meetings via the exact same 7-4 score. They also met under freestyle rules at the 2018 U23 Nationals. In that match, Lugo was dominant and won via matching termination with a 14-4 score.

    While Lugo has had success against Kolodzik the recent matches have been trending the other way. Kolodzik gets into trouble against Lugo who they get into upper body or scramble positions. He seems to have found ways to avoid those positions and to finish his leg attacks clean. If he can duplicate that strategy here, he should be able to pull out the victory.

    Prediction: Kolodzik VPO1 over Lugo

    Precious Bell vs. Jordan Nelson

    Bell is one of the top domestic wrestlers at 76 kilograms. Unfortunately for her, she is behind five-time world champion Adeline Gray. Despite this, Bell had a very strong 2019 season. During the year, she won the U.S. Open, finished second at Final X behind Gray and represented the U.S. at the U23 World Championships. She also closed the year with a victory at the 2019 Senior Nationals.

    Nelson is currently a senior at Life University. This past collegiate season she placed fifth at the NAIA as well as third at the WCWA Nationals. Her lone loss at the WCWA Nationals came in the semifinals against eventual champion Mariah Harris. She bounced back in the consolation bracket with victory over Alyssa Schrull and Jade Piper to finish third.

    This will be a big step up in competition for Nelson. Bell has the experience edge, and she has defeated the better competition. She will likely have a physical edge over Nelson as well. Despite this, Nelson is often very competitive against tough opposition, and she might even fight hard enough to make sure this match is closer than expected.

    Prediction: Bell VSU1 over Nelson

    Alex Marinelli vs. James Green

    In his last match of the 2020 season, Marinelli avenged his only defeat of the season. He had previously lost to rival Vincenzo Joseph during the year, and the rematch came in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament. As you might expect considering their history, it was a close match, but in the end, Marinelli took the 3-2 victory. The win pushed his season record to 20-1, and during the year he also defeated the likes of Travis Wittlake, Isaiah White, David McFadden and Evan Wick.

    Green was a four-time All-American at Nebraska before adding a pair of world medals on the freestyle level. In 2015, he broke through for the first time with a bronze medal in the 70-kilogram division. Green returned to the podium in 2017 with a silver medal in Paris. In 2019, he returned to the World Championships after winning both the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament and Final X. Last December he made the finals of the Alans tournament before coming up short against two-time world medalist Khetik Tsabolov.

    Weight might be an interesting factor in this match. Even though Green has moved up to 74 kilograms for the Olympic cycle, his best results have come down at 70 kilograms. Marinelli regularly competes at 165 pounds. Marinelli relies on his ability to own the control ties and physically impose on his opponents. That might be tough against Green. The world medalist always seems to do a good job clearly ties and getting to his leg attacks. If he can create enough distance, he should be able to get to legs and finish against Marinelli.

    Prediction: Green VPO1 over Marinelli

    Michael Kemerer vs. Tommy Gantt

    This past year Kemerer returned from an injury layoff and moved up two weight classes. He staked his claim as one of the best wrestlers in the country at 174 pounds. In late January, Kemerer scored an upset victory over Mark Hall to move into the number-one spot at the weight. The two rematched in the Big Ten tournament finale with Hall taking the bout. Kememer and Hall appeared destined for a rematch before the NCAA tournament was cancelled. After receiving honors from NWCA, Kemerer became a three-time All-American.

    Gantt was an All-American at NC State who exhausted his eligibility in 2015. On the freestyle circuit, he had a very strong 2019. He began the year by winning the Henri Deglane Challenge. Gantt then picked up silver medals at both the Cerro Pelado-Granma and U.S. Open. He finished the year with a bronze medal performance at the 2019 Senior Nationals. Gantt returned to action earlier this year on the debut Wrestling Underground show and dropped a four-point match against David McFadden.

    Kemerer likes to attack legs early and often in his matches. That offense should go a long way in this match. Gantt has solid defense, but it is hard to see if hold up under a continually onslaught from the Iowa wrestler. Kemerer has been absent from the freestyle scene for some time, but he did win the 2016 Junior Nationals, so it is a world that is certainly not foreign.

    Prediction: Kemerer VSU1 over Gantt

    Tony Cassioppi vs. Nick Gwiazdowski

    After a strong redshirt season, Cassioppi joined the starting lineup last season. He finished the year with a 20-3 record with his only losses coming against Gable Steveson and Mason Parris. During the year, he picked up victories over Trent Hillger, Seth Nevills and Gannon Gremmel. Like many prospects coming out of Illinois, Cassioppi actually had more impressive results on the freestyle side during his high school career. In 2018 he dominated his way to a Fargo title. The following year after his redshirt year, he finished third at the U23 Nationals with a key victory over former Maryland All-American Youssif Hemida in the third-place match.

    Since the retirement of Tervel Dlganev, Gwiazdowski has held down the heavyweight spot on the domestic freestyle ladder. Not only has he dominated domestically, but he has also brought home a pair of world bronze medals. His first came in 2017 with the other following shortly after in 2018. Gwiazdowski returned to the World Championships in 2019 after beating out Gable Steveson for the spot, but he failed to medal. So far this year, he qualified the weight for the Olympics through the Pan American Qualification Tournament and scoring a match-termination victory over Kyven Gadson in the main event of the debut Wrestling Underground show.

    There are going to be a lot of young challengers coming through the ranks for Gwiazdowski over the next few years. One of those challengers might be Cassioppi. However, for the time being, the story will likely remain the same. Cassioppi is a dynamic athlete for the heavyweight ranks, who uses that skill to outwork larger heavyweights. That advantage will not really be available against Gwiazdowski.

    Prediction: Gwiazdowski VSU1 over Cassioppi

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