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  • Photo: Photo/Sam Janicki

    Photo: Photo/Sam Janicki

    Path to title for top recruits competing in Las Vegas

    This weekend, the U.S. Open and UWW Junior Nationals take place in Las Vegas. While the Open serves as a qualifier for this year's World Team Trials, the weekend's events also give fans one of the first opportunities to see some of the best incoming recruits face off against college level competition. Between the two tournaments, nine of the top 20 recruits from last season will be in action. The following is a preview of the path to the championship for those recruits.

    David Carr is among the top contenders at 70 kilograms (Photo/Sam Janicki)

    70 kilograms, Junior freestyle

    Top recruits: No. 3 David Carr (Iowa State), No. 7 Jacori Teemer (Arizona State) and No. 10 Brayton Lee (Minnesota)

    The field at 70 kilograms in the Junior division is loaded in terms of top-20 recruits. Depending on the draw, fans might get to see a rematch between Lee and Teemer. The two recently faced off in a folkstyle match at the IndianaMat Dream Team Classic. Lee won a match that featured several questionable referee decisions, both ways, and plenty of controversy. Carr, who is expected to kickstart the rebuilding process at Iowa State for coach Kevin Dresser, will also contend for the title at this weight.

    The field also includes a pair of top recruits from last season who will be coming off redshirts for Penn State next winter. Brady Berge competed in only one tournament last season and finished second at the Princeton Open. Jarod Verkleeren, a former cadet world champion, also had a light workload during his redshirt campaign. He went 9-2 with his losses coming against veterans Jared Prince (Navy) and Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa).

    Rounding out the field is another pair of blue chip prospect from last season who will be coming off redshirt. Austin O'Connor went 20-3 in his first season at North Carolina, and Dominick Demas is expected to contribute to Lou Rosselli's Oklahoma squad next season.

    79 kilograms, Junior freestyle

    Top recruits: No. 2 Travis Wittlake (Oklahoma State) and No. 17 Aaron Brooks (OTC/Penn State)

    The top two recruits in the 79-kilogram weight class provide some unique storylines. Wittlake defeated Brooks for the chance to represent the U.S. at the cadet world championships last season. However, Wittlake pulled out with an injury, and Brooks went on to win the world championship. Two months after Brooks won the gold medal, Wittlake decommitted from Penn State and end up signing with Oklahoma State. Brooks, who was one of the best unsigned talents, signed with Penn State and will spend a year at the OTC before reporting to campus.

    In terms of college wrestlers competing at this weight, it is safe to say that it is stacked with talent.

    Beau Breske (Nebraska) and Michael Labriola (Nebraska) might end up getting an early rehearsal for their wrestle-off for next season. Breske, who came to the Cornhuskers as a blue-chip recruit, had a tough season, ended up going 9-12 and missed out on qualifying for the NCAA tournament. Labriola redshirted his first season at Nebraska. During his off-the-books season, he won three open tournaments and knocked off the likes of David Kocer (South Dakota State), Jacobe Smith (Oklahoma State), Joey Gunther (Iowa) and Johnny Sebastian (Northwestern).

    Marcus Coleman's redshirt season for Iowa State turned into a bright spot for the program. He won four open tournaments and went 24-2. His only two losses during the season came against veteran Taylor Lujan (Northern Iowa).

    Matt Finesilver (Duke) along with his three brothers all qualified for the NCAA tournament for the Blue Devils. During the season, he went 25-11 and picked up wins over Daniel Bullard (NC State) and Forrest Przybysz (Appalachian State).

    Joe Grello (Rutgers) started for the Scarlet Knights and went 14-10. He went 0-2 at the Big Ten Championships and failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament. His best wins came over Breske and Chris Pfarr (Minnesota).

    Fellow top-25 recruit Trent Hidlay will also be in the field before heading to NC State and joining his brother who recently finished second at the NCAA tournament. Hidlay has wrestled both Wittlake and Brooks before. The familiarity might lead to an upset.

    Anthony Mantanona (Oklahoma) spent his first season in Norman as a redshirt campaign. He went 13-2, but he did not face a very tough schedule. His losses came against Joe Smith (Oklahoma State) and Devin Kane (North Carolina). Mantanona is also registered to compete in the Junior Greco-Roman bracket this weekend.

    Ethan Smith (Ohio State) went 19-7 as a redshirt this past season. The former blue-chip recruit could contend to replace the departed Bo Jordan at 174 pounds next year, but he might end up being too big for that spot.

    86 kilograms, Junior freestyle

    Top recruits: No. 13 Gavin Hoffman (Ohio State) and No. 14 Michael Beard (Penn State)

    Hoffman and Beard have already started a rivalry that might just continue in the Big Ten. The two wrestled at Who's No. 1, and Hoffman came out with a victory. Neither are expected to start next for their respective teams. However, fans will still get a chance to see them against Division I competition here.

    Jelani Embree (Michigan) went 15-2 during his redshirt season. His only losses on the season came against Dakota Greer (Edinboro) and Nick Reenan (NC State). Embree picked up a pair of wins over fellow prospect Ethan Smith (Ohio State).

    Kordell Norfleet (Arizona State) was forced into action in his true freshman season. He certainly took his lumps and finished with a 12-12 record. However, he finished the season by winning the Pac 12 tournament and qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

    125 kilograms, Junior freestyle

    Top recruit: No. 5 Seth Nevills (Penn State)

    Despite still being in high school, Nevills might be the favorite to take this weight at the Junior level. The consensus top five pick proved once again this past season to be a legitimate heavyweight prospect. Standing in his way are Fargo runner-up and North Dakota State recruit Brandon Metz. While the field does not include many returning starters, Gonna Gremmel (Iowa State) and Aaron Costello (Iowa) will be there representing historical powers.

    Gable Steveson celebrates after winning the gold medal (Photo/Richard Immel)

    125 kilograms, U.S. Open

    Top recruit: No.1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota)

    After a pair of Cadet world titles and a Junior world title, Steveson decided it was time to move up to the senior level. This past season, he won another state title, defeated No. 2 (at 220) Daniel Kerkvliet and even won a collegiate open that he entered last November. Unsurprisingly, the senior field features multiple wrestlers that could push the 17-year-old including Dom Bradley, Tony Nelson and even Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner. In the preseeds released by USA Wrestling, Steveson earned the fifth seed, which means he could meet NCAA runner up Adam Coon who knocked off multiple-time world champion Kyle Snyder last season.

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