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  • Photo: Photo/Sachiko Hotaka

    Photo: Photo/Sachiko Hotaka

    NLWC Event Preview & Predictions

    Bo Nickal celebrates after winning a gold medal at the U23 World Championships (Photo/Sachiko Hotaka)

    There seems to be more and more wrestling these days. In the same week as the return of Beat the Street, the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club will host an event featuring some of the best wrestlers the U.S. has to offer. The main event will be a meeting between a pair of Dan Hodge Trophy winners as Alex Dieringer takes on Bo Nickal. The event takes place Saturday at 8 p.m. ET and can be purchased on Rokfin.

    74 kilograms: Malik Amine vs. Rick Durso

    Amine qualified for the NCAA tournament in his final two years at Michigan. During his senior year in 2019, he went 12-11 and picked up wins over Alfred Bannister, Josh Maruca and Jarod Verkleeren. Like his brother, Amine represents San Marino on the international scene and has competed in the 2019 and 2020 European Championships as well as the 2019 World Championships.

    Durso was an All-American for Franklin and Marshall back in 2014, and he has been mostly absent from competition since leaving college in 2016. That season he went 39-10 and qualified for the NCAA tournament. Along the way, he scored victories over Anthony Abidin, Jared Prince, Chris Mecate and Randy Cruz.

    Durso seems to have a slight edge in terms of accolades, but Amine has been much more active recently. Oftentimes athletes coming straight out of college are in better condition and form. That may be exaggerated here since Durso has been seemingly out of competition entirely for an extended period.

    Prediction: Amine over Durso (VSU1)

    125 kilograms: Nick Nevills vs. Jordan Wood

    Nevills was a two-time NCAA All-American at Penn State before backing up Anthony Cassar during his senior season. His best finish came in 2017 when, as a sophomore, he finished fifth and defeated Jacob Kasper, Billy Miller and Michael Kroells at the NCAA tournament. In 2019, Nevills wrestled his way to a pair of fourth-place finishes at the Bill Farrell and Senior Nationals. At Senior Nationals, he had a particularly strong performance with wins over Hemida, Tanner Hall and his brother A.J. Nevills.

    Wood still has one more year of eligibility at Lehigh. This past year he was looking to become an All-American for the second time before the NCAA tournament was canceled. He went 17-5 and won the EIWA tournament. Following the year, the NCWA awarded Wood with second team All-America honors. This past year in freestyle, he made the finals of the U23 Nationals before falling against Kerkvliet. Wood also finished third at the Alexander Medved with his only loss coming against rival Gable Steveson.

    Nevills won the only collegiate meeting between these two competitors with a 2-0 score. Since it is a heavyweight match scoring will be at a premium. In theory, the more athletic and dynamic wrestler might have an edge. However, Wood has struggled to deal with larger heavyweights in the past. Look for history to repeat itself as Nevills takes the match.

    Prediction: Nevills over Wood (VPO1)

    62 kilograms: Jennifer Page vs. Desiree Zavala

    Page appeared to be rounding back into form last year after missing extensive time with injuries. At the 2019 Senior Nationals, she finished fifth and scored victories over Alexis Porter and Michaela Beck. Then this past January, Page got over the hump and picked up a gold medal at the Klippan Lady Open.

    Zavala made the finals of both the 2019 U23 Nationals and the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. Unfortunately for her, she fell in the finals of both events against Kayla Miracle. The following month she got back on track with a bronze medal performance at the Canada Cup. Zavala was then invited to be a part of the Women's World Cup team, which finished second behind Japan.

    These two met in the consolation bracket at the recent Senior Nationals. In that match Zavala got off to a quick start and scored the first three points of the match. However, Page got it together and ended up taking the bout via a 9-6 score. During the match, Page seemed to figure things out, and that should pay dividends here.

    Prediction: Page over Zavala (VPO1)

    196 pounds: Domenic Abounader vs. Jaime Espinal

    Abounader broke through and became an All-American in his final year at Michigan in 2018. He had it onto the qualified in his first three seasons for the Wolverines, but never made podium. Abounader has represented Lebanon on the international scene with his best result coming at the 2018 Asian Games. He finished second at the event with his only defeat coming in the finals against Hassan Yazdani.

    Espinal won a surprise silver medal at the 2012 Olympics. In the process, he became only the second silver medalist and ninth medalist overall for Puerto Rico. Espinal qualified for the 2016 Olympics but dropped a pair of matches against Selima Yasar (Turkey) and Reineris Salas (Cuba) to be eliminated.

    Espinal has always been a boom or bust talent. He will struggle mightily at times and then break through and score dramatic upsets. Abounader has made strides as a competitor, and his style seems better suited for freestyle in a lot of ways. Looks for him to pick up the victory over the Olympic medalist here.

    Prediction: Abounader over Espinal (VPO1)

    157 pounds: Zain Retherford vs. Alec Pantaleo

    Retherford earned the chance to represent the U.S. at the 2019 World Championships, but he took quite the road to get there. He originally won Final X over Yianni Diakomihalis. After an arbitrator ruled that the second match should be nullified, he would need to beat Diakomihalis again in a wrestle-off, which he did in early September. Despite earning the spot, Retherford would lose his first match at the Worlds against Valdes Tobier of Cuba. The former Hodge Trophy winner and three-time NCAA champion was also sent to the Pan American Olympic Qualification Tournament this past March, but he came up a match short. The U.S. will still need to qualify 65 kilograms for the upcoming Olympic Games.

    Pantaleo finished his college career at Michigan in 2019. He walked away as a three-time All-American, including a third-place finish as a senior. Pantaleo quickly transitioned into freestyle full time and won a spot on the U23 world team. Last fall he competed at the 2019 Senior Nationals where he scored an impressive 10-2 victory over Tyler Berger but ended up finishing eighth at the event. In his most recent action, Pantaleo won the Cerro Pelado with victories over Cuba's Orislandy Perdomo and Reece Humphrey.

    These two wrestled three times during the 2016 college season and none of the matches were particularly close. In fact, all three of the matches ended up being falls for Retherford. He should be a solid favorite in this bout. It will be interesting to see if he has made strides from the top position in freestyle. On the college mats, he was a dominant scorer from the top position, but it has not entirely translated to the Olympic style.

    Prediction: Retherford over Pantaleo (VSU)

    79 kilograms: Jason Nolf vs. David McFadden

    Nolf headlined one of the first events back after the shutdown as he faced Jordan Oliver in the main event of the "Rumble on the Rooftop." Despite the fact that the bout was an inter-weight dream match, it was mostly uneventful. In the end, Nolf escaped with a 4-1 victory. The three-time NCAA champion needed the victory to get back on track after falling in the finals of the Bill Farrell against collegiate rival Isaiah Martinez.

    McFadden returned to action on the debut Wrestling Underground show. He took a short notice match against Tommy Gantt and pulled out an 8-4 decision. Prior to that, McFadden had his senior year at Virginia Tech cut short. He was awarded All-America honors by the NWCA after going 21-5 with victories over Evan Wick, Zach Hartmann and Thomas Bullard. In addition to his freestyle success, McFadden also represented the U.S. in freestyle at the U23 World Championships in 2018.

    Historically, Nolf has been the much more accomplished wrestler, but recent results suggest a closer match. Nolf is returning from injuries and looked hesitant to pull the trigger against Oliver. On the other hand, McFadden looked outstanding against Gantt at Wrestling Underground. With that being said, Nolf's ability to scramble and score from anywhere should be enough for him to take the bout.

    Prediction: Nolf over McFadden (VPO1)

    77 kilograms: Vincenzo Joseph vs. Dan Vallimont

    The 165-pound division at the NCAA tournament would have likely come down to another rematch between Joseph and his rival Alex Marinelli. The two split matches during the year with Joseph winning a 7-5 decision in January, and then Marinelli winning via a 3-2 score in the Big Ten tournament final. The NCAA tournament never occurred, and Joseph finished his career as a four-time All-American and three-time finalist. Last November, Joseph also entered the Bill Farrell where he won his first three matches, including a victory over NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis. However, he then lost against teammate Jason Nolf in the semifinals and defaulted out.

    Vallimont was an NCAA finalist for Penn State in 2010 and left school as a two-time All-American. He is still competing actively on the freestyle circuit and has placed twice at the U.S. Open including a runner-up finish in 2018. In 2019 he earned medals at both the Dave Schultz Memorial and the Cerro Pelado taking second and third respectively.

    If Joseph wants to become a contender for World and Olympic teams, he will need to routinely beat opponents like Vallimont. He will get that opportunity here. Joseph's tendency to go upper body should be a factor in this match as he will likely hit a big move or two and hold on for a victory.

    Prediction: Joseph over Vallimont (VPO1)

    125 kilograms: Greg Kerkvliet vs. Youssif Hemida

    After a lengthy recruitment process and a midseason transfer, Kerkvliet finally ended up at Penn State for his true freshman season last year. He wrestled in only two open tournaments and finished with a perfect 9-0 record. Despite the redshirt season, Kerkvliet still made an impact on the freestyle mats last year. He won the U23 World Team Trials and finished one match away from a medal. This past November, he competed at the 2019 Senior Nationals and finished third with victories over Nick Nevills and Garrett Ryan.

    Hemida was coach Kerry McCoy's last All-American at Maryland after finishing sixth as a senior in 2019. Following the season he moved to Michigan to train at the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club. In freestyle he finished fourth at both the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament and the U23 Nationals. Along the way, Hemida defeated the likes of Tate Orndorff, A.J. Nevills and Derek White.

    Hemida has always had some tricky freestyle counters, which give a lot of heavyweights trouble. However, Kerkvliet's above average athleticism for a heavyweight and his ability to finish leg attacks clean should allow him to score without danger. Look for this one to perhaps be closer than expected, but Kerkvliet should still walk away the winner.

    Prediction: Kerkvliet over Hemida (VPO1)

    77 kilograms: Bekzod Abdurakhmonov vs. Logan Massa

    Abdurakhmonov famously eliminated Jordan Burroughs from the 2016 Olympic Games. Since then he has represented Uzbekistan at three straight World Championships. He won gold at both the 2017 Asian Championships and the 2018 Asain Games. Last August, the former Clarion wrestler won the Alexander Medved tournament.

    Massa has one more year of eligibility at Michigan after using an Olympic redshirt for the 2020 season. He finished third as a freshman to become an All-American, but he has yet to return to the podium. Massa certainly made the most of his redshirt year. It started right after the 2019 college season with a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Open. He then made the finals of the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament before falling to Jason Nolf. Massa then won the 2019 Senior Nationals this past December. During 2019, he scored victories over Mekhi Lewis, Nazar Kulchytskyy, Tommy Gantt and Chance Marsteller.

    Massa certainly comes into this match with a lot of momentum, but Abdurakhmonov may still be too much of a step forward. Abdurakhmonov has a pretty wide experience edge and has proven he can compete with anyone across the world. This was one of the latest matches announced, and it certainly increased the profile of the event.

    Prediction: Abdurakhomonov over Massa (VPO1)

    62 kilograms: Jane Valencia vs. Julia Salata

    This past March, Valencia won the Pan American Olympic Qualification Tournament to become the first-ever Mexican women's wrestler to qualify for the Olympic Games. In the semifinals, she upset 2019 world champion Linda Morais of Canada and then took a forfeit over Helen Maroulis in the finals. The previous November, Valencia finished second at the Bill Farrell with wins over Tianna Kennett, Batbaatar Enkhtsetseg and Koral Sugiyama.

    Salata had a rather busy 2019. She placed fifth at the Klippan Lady Open in February. She then returned for the Grand Prix of Germany the same month and took home a bronze medal. Salata then won the Pan American Championships in April. In her most recent action, she finished fourth at the 2019 Senior Nationals with wins over Louisa Schwab, Desiree Zavala, Zoe Nowicki and Alara Boyd.

    Despite the impressive result from Valencia at the qualification tournament, Salata is the more refined wrestler. She has extensive experience competing against some of the best domestically and internationally. This match might prove a bit closer than expected, but Salata should be the one getting her hand raised.

    Prediction: Salata over Valencia (VPO1)

    59 kilograms: Thomas Gilman vs. Darian Cruz

    Gilman recently relocated to the NLWC despite spending his college days at Iowa and previously wrestling for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. At Iowa, Gilman was a three-time All-American and a finalist in 2016. Immediately following his senior season, Gilman earned a spot on the 2017 world team and brought home a surprising silver medal. He tried to return to the world team this past year, but he dropped a three-match series against Daton Fix at Final X.

    Cruz was a three-time NCAA All-American and he won the 125-pound title in 2017. Since leaving Lehigh and the college ranks, he has placed third at the 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial and finished second at the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. In his most recent action, he entered the 2019 Senior Nationals where he picked up wins over Sean Russell and Josh Rodriguez but failed to place.

    Cruz famously upset Gilman at the NCAA tournament during his senior year. The match went to overtime, and Cruz ended up taking the 4-2 win in sudden victory. Despite this memorable victory, the two have met multiple times since in freestyle with Gilman getting the better of the series. The recently met in the finals of the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, and Gilman won the two-match series with 4-0 and 5-2 victories. There is little reason to expect a different result here.

    Prediction: Gilman over Cruz (VPO)

    99 kilograms: Kyle Snyder vs. Mike Macchiavello

    Last October, Snyder announced that he was making the move from Ohio to the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. The former Ohio State wrestler has competed in four events since making the change and collected three gold medals and one bronze. He won the Bill Farrell and Alany tournaments to end 2019. After dropping a match against Iran's Mohammad Mohammadian at the Matteo Pellicone, he finished with bronze, but he bounced back to win the Pan American Championships this past March. Snyder is a two-time World champion and an Olympic champion. He hopes to return to the team at 97 kilograms and make another run at the Olympic goal in 2021.

    Macchiavello somewhat surprisingly won the NCAA title in 2018 after never previously reaching the All-American level, and he has been competing on the senior circuit ever since. The former NC State wrestler had a strong 2019 that saw him finish third at the U.S. Open, second at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament and second at the Bill Farrell.

    Unfortunately for Macchiavello, the second-place finish at the Bill Farrell came at the hands of Snyder. The Olympic champion won the match via a 10-0 score inside the first period, and it is hard to see the rematch playing out any other way.

    Prediction: Snyder over Macchiavello (VSU)

    190 pounds: Bo Nickal vs. Alex Dieringer

    Nickal finished his Penn State career in 2019 with his third straight NCAA title. He went a perfect 61-0 during his final two years and quickly made his intentions to compete for a spot on the Olympic team known. He won the 2019 U.S. Open and earned a berth in Final X. However, his run of success came to an end in a two-match series against J'den Cox. Nickal went on to represent the U.S. at the U23 World Championships where he achieved match termination in three of his four matches and won a gold medal. In his last action, Nickal wrestled at the Matteo Pellicone where he went 2-2 including a forfeit to fellow American Kyle Snyder.

    The shrinking number of weight classes at the Olympics can create some interesting matches. Dieringer, who wrestled his last two college seasons at 165 pounds is all the way up at 86 kilograms for this cycle. His debut at the new weight came last November at the Bill Farrel, and he won a gold medal with victories over Domenic Abounader and Myles Martin. Dieringer then lost a rematch against Martin at the 2019 Senior Nationals and finished third. In his only action of 2020, he won a silver medal at the Matteo Pellicone and a bronze medal at the Pan American Championships.

    Dieringer has the skill to compete with anyone. However, his best bet in a match like this is to slow down the scoring and make it a positional battle. That might keep this match close, but in the end, Nickal has a wider array of ways to score. That should be enough to edge the match in his favor.

    Prediction: Nickal over Dieringer (VPO1)

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