Oklahoma State's Kaid Brock will meet Ohio State's Joey McKenna (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Even though a few dual meets have already taken place, the NWCA All-Star Classic still serves as the unofficial start to the college wrestling season. The field this season features eight returning NCAA All-Americans and 10 WCWA All-Americans. The event took a hit when the highly anticipated rematch between No. 1 Seth Gross (South Dakota State) and No. 3 Tariq Wilson (NC State) was scrapped on Wednesday. However, the event will remain an entertaining spectacle. The following is a match-by-match preview of the event. As a reminder the NCAA (men's) matches will follow folkstyle rules, while the competitors in the WCWA (women's) matches will wrestler under freestyle rules.
141: No. 2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State) vs. No. 5 Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State)
Only one point kept McKenna out of last year's NCAA tournament final at 141. He dropped a 1-0 match in the semifinals against Bryce Meredith (Wyoming) before wrestling back with wins over Kevin Jack (NC State) and No. 3 Jaydin Eierman (Missouri) to take third place. On the season, he went 21-2 with his only loss outside of the NCAA tournament coming against No. 15 at 149 Tommy Thorn (Minnesota). He holds victories over No. 4 Nick Lee (Penn State), No. 8 Mike Carr (Illinois), No. 13 Vince Turk (Iowa), No. 14 Nate Limmex (Purdue), No. 15 Cole Weaver (Indiana), No. 16 Luke Karam (Lehigh) and No. 18 Ryan Diehl (Maryland).
Brock will bump up to 141 this season after finishing fourth at the NCAA tournament at 133 last season. After two seasons at 133, Brock holds a 59-9 record as well as 10 wins against All-Americans. It will be interesting to see how he does against bigger competitors this season.
Size will likely play a role in this match. McKenna is very stout defensively, and some of the best wrestlers in the country have struggled to score against him. Brock has a very diverse offensive skill set, but McKenna should still be able to control the pace of this match. Look for this to be a close match with McKenna taking it by a point or two.
Prediction: McKenna (Ohio State) dec. Brock (Oklahoma State)
149: No. 8 Mitch Finesilver (Duke) vs. No. 1 Matt Kolodzik (Princeton)
Finesilver will be the only Colorado native competing at the All-Star Classic. Last season for the Blue Devils, he earned the 12th seed at the NCAA tournament while competing at 157. He won his first match over Casey Sparkman (Kent State), but he eventually was knocked out of the tournament by No. 5 at 157 Josh Shields (Arizona State). Finesilver is looking to become an All-American this year in his senior season after making three-straight trips to the NCAA tournament.
In his first season at 149 Kolodzik took some losses early in the season, but he bounced back to win the EIWA tournament and place third at the NCAA tournament. In the NCAA tournament, his only loss came against eventual runner up Ronnie Perry (Lock Haven). During his run, he also defeated graduating seniors Brandon Sorensen (Iowa) and Troy Heilmann (North Carolina) as well as No. 4 Grant Leeth (Missouri) and No. 6 Justin Oliver (NC State).
Kolodzik had some trouble last season when he was not able to get to his leg attacks early in matches. However, Finesilver does not really have the neutral defense to hold up to Kolodzik's attacks. Look for the Princeton wrestler to score early in the match and potentially run up the score.
Prediction: Kolodzik (Princeton) maj. dec. Finesilver (Duke)
174: Myles Amine (Michigan) vs. Jacobe Smith (Oklahoma State)
After the end of the first semester last year, Amine went 16-4 with three of those losses coming against NCAA champions. At the NCAA tournament, his only loss came against No. 1 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) who went on to win the tournament. Also during the season, he knocked off the likes of No. 4 Daniel Lewis (Missouri), No. 7 Jordan Kutler, No. 9 Taylor Lujan (Northern Iowa), No. 19 Ryan Christensen (Wisconsin) and No. 20 Devin Skatzka (Minnesota).
Smith started last year for the Cowboys. He qualified for the NCAA tournament and ended up finishing eighth to become an All-American. In the blood round, he knocked off Lujan to stay alive in the tournament. Overall, he went 22-8 with signature wins over No. 13 Ben Harvey (Army), No. 15 Kimball Bastian (Utah Valley) and No. 17 Daniel Bullard (NC State). It remains to be seen if Smith will once against represent the Cowboys at 174. In a lot of ways, their lineup is still in flux. Smith might find himself up a weight class or out of the lineup. InterMat currently projects that No. 8 Chandler Rogers will hold down this spot for Oklahoma State.
Amine has much better wins on his resume and is a more accomplished wrestler. Smith does not have reliable offense and ends up in close matches against quality competitors. Even if he is able the slow the match down against Amine, the Michigan wrestler is a very tough rider. There are not very many paths to victory for smith in this contest.
Prediction: Amine (Michigan) maj. dec. Smith (Oklahoma State)
184: No. 8 Max Dean (Cornell) vs. No. 3 Taylor Venz (Nebraska)
This bout will be a rematch of a NCAA tournament consolation match from last season. After the pair of redshirt freshmen knocked off veterans in the blood round, they met in the following round. Venz took the victory via 11-6 decision and ended up finishing fourth. Dean then lost against Chip Ness (UNC) in the seventh-place match to finish eighth.
Venz got off to a very strong start to the season last year. He picked up seven falls in his first nine matches including a pair of sub-20-second finishes at the Cliff Keen Invitational. His bonus rate dropped off as the season went along, but he continued to win. Venz finished the year 29-9. To advance past the blood round, he needed to beat Pete Renda (NC State) who had beaten him earlier in the season. In the rematch, Venz advanced via dominant major decision, which indicates improvement over the course of the season.
Even after a strong redshirt season, expectations for Dean were not very high. However, he turned in a strong season and continued his family legacy at Cornell. For his freshman season, he finished 32-6 with wins over No. 17 Lou DePrez (Binghamton), No. 20 C.J. LaFragola (Brown), No. 19 Corey Hazel (Lock Haven), No. 16 Owen Webster (Minnesota) and No. 9 Drew Foster (Northern Iowa).
If you include freestyle, Venz has multiple wins over Dean. His best position is probably the top. However, against Dean, he has consistently been able to get to legs and score. Dean continues to improve, but he is still a ways away from doing anything other than closing the gap against Venz.
Prediction: Venz (Nebraska) dec. Dean (Cornell)
285: No. 4 Derek White (Oklahoma State) vs. No. 3 Youssif Hemida (Maryland)
Last season Hemida broke through and became an All-American for the first time. At the NCAA tournament, he defeated Tyler Love (UVA), No. 7 Jordan Wood (Lehigh) and No. 1 Sam Stoll and ended up finishing eighth. During the year, he was almost certainly Maryland's most consistent wrestler. He finished with a 30-8 record and also picked up wins over No. 11 Billy Miller (Virginia Tech), No. 9 Jere Heino (Campbell) and Seth Nevills.
White bumped up to heavyweight after spending his previous three years of collegiate wrestling at 197 pounds. He fell in the blood round against now-graduated Hofstra wrestler Michael Hughes to narrowly miss out on becoming an All-American. During the year, he knocked off Wood, Miller, No. 16 Cory Daniel (North Carolina), No. 8 Thomas Haines (Lock Haven), No. 20 A.J. Nevils (Fresno State) and No. 6 Tanner Hall (Arizona State).
This should be an interesting matchup. Hemida normally finds success, because he is quicker and more athletic than your average heavyweight. However, as an undersized heavyweight, White may be able to combat this advantage. The NWCA deserves credit for putting this bout together, because it will likely feature more action than most heavyweight matches. Expect Hemida to score on counter attacks against White and take the edge in a close match.
Prediction: Hemida (Maryland) dec. White (Oklahoma State)
109: Charlotte Fowler (Campbellsville) vs. Maria Vidales (Emmanuel)
Last year in the All-Star classic Fowler blitzed Vidales and ended up taking the match via technical superiority (14-3). However, the two rematched in the WCWA semifinal last season, and in that match, Vidales hit a four-point throw in the last minute of the match and held on to win 5-2. Vidales went on to finish second, while Fowler ended up finishing third.
If Vidales is able to stay on her offense, she should be able to break through. She does not want to end up on the bottom against Fowler as she was turned multiple times in the All-Star classic last year. If she moves forward and attacks, she should be able to put up enough points to take the bout.
Prediction: Vidales (Emmanuel) VPO over Fowler (Campbellsville)
123: Gabriela Ramos-Diaz (Wayland Baptist) vs. Dominique Parrish (Simon Fraser)
Parrish made a dominant run through the WCWA tournament last year. She outscored her opponents 44-8 and took the title at 123. This bout will serve as a bit of a warmup as Parrish will head to the U23 World Championships later this month where she will represent the U.S.
Last year, in her freshman season, Ramos-Diaz made the WCWA tournament, but she lost in the round of 16. She wrestled all the way back to a third place finish. Ramos-Diaz has twice represented Puerto Rico at the Junior World Championships.
At this point in their career, Parrish will simply be too much for Ramos-Diaz. Parrish has a strong penetration step and can easily get to legs when she controls the ties. Look for her to score a lot of points on her feet in this bout.
Prediction: Parrish (Simon Fraser) VSU over Ramos-Diaz (Wayland Baptist)
130: Erika Mihalca (Missouri Baptist) vs. Abby Nette (Emmanuel)
Mihalca broke through and became an All-American last season in her third trip to the WCWA national tournament. She finished fourth losing to eventual runner up Nicole Depa (Simon Fraser) in the semifinals and Megan Black (McKendree in the third-place match.
Nette still plans to compete this season at 123 where she placed third at the WCWA tournament last year. Like Parrish, she will also represent the U.S. at the upcoming U23 World Championships. She holds a 63-17 career record in college.
Nette should be the favorite in this bout. She does a good job controlling the match with her ties and head control. Facing off against a larger opponent might hurt her in that department, but she is crafty enough to make it work.
Prediction: Nette (Emmanuel) VPO over Mihalca (Missouri Baptist)
143: Nicole Joseph (King) vs. Alexis Porter (McKendree)
King is moving up to 143 after finishing fourth and becoming an All-American at 130 last season. Her 143-pound campaign will get off to a tough start here as she faces off against Porter. Porter finished second at 143 last year with her only loss coming against 2018 World bronze medalist Mallory Velte. Porter is a Junior World medalist in her own right, and she should be able to control this match.
Prediction: Porter (McKendree) VSU over Joseph (King)
170: Brittany Marshall (Wayland Baptist) vs. Mariah Harris (Campbellsville)
This contest is a rematch of the 170 final at last year's WCWA tournament. Marshall took an early lead with a four-point takedown in the first minute of the bout. Harris responded with a takedown of her own, and she went to the break down by two. In the second period, she cut into the lead further with a shot-clock point, and then she picked up a takedown with less than a minute and a half left to take a 5-4 lead. Marshall well full desperation mode and plowed forward with a double. She spun to the back with one second left of the clock to take the match and the championship.
Marshall may have won the first match, but Harris really did not do herself any favors by getting too conservative too early in the match. If she is able to continue to move forward, she has the more polished offense and should win a takedown contest.
Prediction: Harris (Campbellsville) VPO over Marshall (Wayland Baptist)