Nate Jackson at the 2021 US Open (Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Before we can fully concentrate on the World Team Trials next weekend in Coralville, Iowa, we need to finalize the field. That occurs Friday and Saturday as the Last Chance Qualifier takes place in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The highest placewinner, who hasn't already qualified for the Trials, will earn a spot in the WTT's. With the top-seven Senior placers at the US Open locking up spots, along with various other qualifying criteria, you may assume that all of the stars have already secured a place in Coralville. That isn't the case. Some very notable competitors are still looking to officially book their travel to Iowa. Here are some of the biggest names:
Shelton Mack (New York City RTC)
As of now, the 2021 US Open champion at 61 kg, Shelton Mack, is on the outside looking in at the World Team Trials. Mack fell in the Round of 16 at the 2022 Open, when Indiana's Henry Porter rallied for four points in the last minute of their bout to take a 10-9 victory. He was eliminated two matches later with a 7-5 loss to former Arizona State wrestler Josh Kramer. Barring another upset, Mack should be able to qualify this weekend.
Joshua Saunders (Spartan Combat RTC)
There's a large group that hasn't qualified at 65 kg and Joshua Saunders has the longest international resume of those on the list. He has appeared at both the Cadet and Junior World Championships both in 2018. Now at Cornell, Saunders is looking to crack the starting lineup for the first time, consistently in 2022-23. Before that, he has some work to attend to. Saunders was tripped up in his first bout at the Open this year by Tristan Moran, 12-9. After winning three bouts, Saunders was downed by Iowa State's Ian Parker in the Round of 12. Parker went on to secure third place. With a field consisting of names like Brock Zacherl and Sammy Alvarez, qualifying won't be a given for Saunders.
Isaiah Martinez (Beaver Dam RTC)
Without a doubt, the most surprising name on this list is Isaiah Martinez. The two-time Final X participant was left without a guaranteed berth in Final X after settling for eighth place after medically forfeiting post a Round of 12 win at the US Open. Martinez was sent the the consi's after a stunning fall from David McFadden in the quarterfinals. Martinez led the bout 6-3 at the time of the fall. Provided he qualifies for WTT's, Martinez will make for some lights-out early bouts, as he'll likely take a knock in the seeding process. If healthy, Martinez should get the bid here.
Devin Skatzka (Spartan Combat RTC)
Looking to spoil Martinez's shot at the WTT's is former Minnesota All-American Devin Skatzka. Skatzka was third at the Open last year, but did not wrestle in Vegas in April. Right above Skatzka in the 2021 Open, was Martinez; however, he did outplace the 2022 winner, McFadden. In a normal circumstance, Skatzka would likely be one of the favorites at a tournament like this, but this is obviously not a normal circumstance.
Nate Jackson (NYAC)
After Martinez, the biggest name in this group is Nate Jackson. During the 2020-21 years, Jackson really emerged as a top-level threat domestically. He was the most active American male freestyler during that time period. Last year, Jackson was an Open champion at 92 kg. The previous year he was a runner-up down at this weight. Jackson was also fifth at 86 kg in 2019. Jackson did not compete at the 2022 Open, so hopefully, he's healthy and ready to make his run. If so, he should certainly emerge as the guy this weekend and make a dent in the WTT bracket.
Andrew Morgan (Spartan Combat RTC)
The fourth seed at the 2022 Open was Andrew Morgan, the former standout at Campbell. Morgan missed out on the top-eight in Vegas after going 1-2. He started with a win, then dropped back-to-back matches to Caden Steffan and Nick Reenan. In the Steffan bout, Morgan held a lead in the second period, while he hung close to Reenan. Should he make an adjustment or two, Morgan could easily flip either result. He'll have his work cut out for him though, having to go through Jackson to earn the WTT spot.
Derek White (Cliff Keen WC)
The 2019 NCAA runner-up at 285 lbs, Derek White, sits outside the field for the WTT's based on two razor-thin losses at the Open. The tenth seed, White, slipped by Gary Traub 2-1, before a 3-1 loss to 2022 NCAA All-American Lucas Davison, a former Junior World silver medalist. White got back on the winning track with victories over Ryan Vasbinder and Lewis Fernandes, before falling to another 2022 AA, Christian Lance. A two-point score from Lance, with under ten seconds left in the bout, proved to be the difference-maker, as the Husker star won on criteria, 4-4. White has placed fourth at the 2019 Open and has wins over others already in the field. He has a good shot at getting his hand raised in the finals this weekend.
Alex Liles (Army WCAP)
Most of the notable women have already secured a spot in Coralville already, but the biggest name that stands out is three-time age-group world team member Alex Liles. An eighth-place finisher at the Open, Liles missed out on the Trials berth after a 7-2 loss to Cierra Foster. Other setbacks from Vegas include losses to Nina Makem and Emmily Patneaud. Last year, Liles was an Open runner-up and she has a pair of top-seven finishes on her resume. Additionally, she was third at the WTT's in 2019. Liles has to be considered the favorite at 62 kg this weekend.
Jessy Williams (Spartan Combat RTC)
Even though he entered the US Open as the fifth seed, Jessy Williams was left out in the cold after going 1-2 at the competition itself. After a 9-0 loss in the quarters to Lenny Merkin, Williams was shocked by Jakob Murillo 6-3 in his first consolation bout. Murillo did all of his damage late in the first period and it was able to hold up for the final three-plus minutes. That performance was definitely a one-off showing for Williams, who had previously finished in the top seven at the last five US Open's, highlighted by a runner-up finish in 2018. He'll be the man to beat at 67 kg this weekend.