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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Post-Fargo Stock Up Report

    Junior National Champion TJ Stewart (Photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    Fargo has come and gone and, as usual, there was a trail of chaos left in its wake. On Monday, Willie at MatScouts did his best to make sense of the carnage and posted his new high school rankings. With updated rankings and a set of eyes on the actual competition, we've been able to target ten wrestlers from the Junior Men's tournament that sharply improved their stock in Fargo. Remember, improvement doesn't always equate to a breakout performance. Some of the wrestlers we noted were already household names for high school wrestling followers; they just continued to move up the ranks.

    Kannon Webster (Illinois)

    Give Mike Poeta and the Illinois staff credit. They got in early on Kannon Webster. The rising junior gave the Illini a verbal commitment in late April, less than a week after Poeta was elevated to head coach at Illinois. At that time, the move seemed like a solid pickup as the school has had issues with keeping the cream of the crop in-state. After Fargo, it could be a monumental addition. Webster largely dominated a talented field at 120 lbs to claim a Junior National freestyle title. Along the way, he claimed wins over former Fargo finalists Mitch Neiner (Washington), Jett Strickenberger (Colorado), and Yusief Lillie (Washington). All three of those wins came via tech. Perhaps his most significant win came in the quarterfinals over top-seeded Virginia Tech signee, Cooper Flynn. Though there was some controversy surrounding the final point awarded, Webster pushed the pace for most of the second period and had Flynn on the defensive.

    After winning Junior freestyle, Webster also entered the Greco tournament. He would suffer a one-point loss to Paul Kelly (California) in the Round of 16 and rather than bagging it and resting on his freestyle accomplishments, Webster battled back with six straight wins to take third. Along the way, he turned the tables on Kelly with an 8-3 win. His win streak also included another win over his freestyle finals opponent, Lillie.

    Nasir Bailey (Illinois)

    Alongside fellow Illinois native Kannon Webster, Nasir Bailey became the only rising juniors at 120 lbs or above to capture Junior freestyle titles in Fargo. Bailey was undoubtedly a long shot to come home with the stop sign considering he was in a weight class that featured the pound-for-pound #1 Nic Bouzakis (Wyoming Seminary, PA) and plenty of others. In round two, Bailey downed a top-50 graduated senior in South Dakota State signee Derrick Cardinal. Cardinal didn't even make it out of the first period against Bailey. Two matches later, in the Round of 16, Bailey teched Virginia signee Kyren Butler, a past 16U All-American in freestyle. The quarters saw him get by Bouzakis' teammate Gregor McNeil, 5-3. For a spot in the finals, Bailey upset the #10 overall senior, Zeke Seltzer (Indiana), 8-5. In the finals, it was Bailey who came up clutch and got a takedown over Emilio Ysaguirre (Arizona) in the final seconds to claim a 4-4 win on criteria. As the tournament progressed, college coaches flocked to Bailey matches and he will undoubtedly move up significantly from his ranking of #51 in the Class of 2021.

    Emilio Ysaguirre (Arizona)

    First of all, the entire Valiant Prep contingent could be on this list as the team had an incredible run in Fargo. Emilio Ysaguirre's run to the finals at 132 lbs was at the top of the list of best performances from the Arizona powerhouse. Ysaguirre pulled one of the biggest upsets of the entire week when he took out top-ranked Nic Bouzakis 10-5 in the quarterfinals. That wasn't it, though. Ysaguirre also scored notable wins over Hunter Mason (#11 in the Class of 2023) and Garrett Grice (#104 in the Class of 2022). As mentioned above, while Ysaguirre had the national title slip away by the narrowest of margins in his final bout with Bailey, he did lead for the entire match. Even though his actual ranking may not change significantly, Ysaguirre opened up plenty of fans and coaches' eyes at the tournament. Currently, he's ranked #41 in the senior class, but that should change after last week.

    Danny Wask (New Jersey)

    Before his freshman year at Blair Academy, Danny Wask burst onto the scene and placed in both styles in Fargo during the summer of 2018. Since then, Wask has moved up in weight and his results have not been quite as consistent. That notion could be a thing of the past after his performance in Fargo. Wask made the 152 lb Junior freestyle finals and scored three wins over ranked opponents in the process. In the Round of 16, Wask quickly distanced himself from then-#9 Nick Hamilton (Nebraska), with six second period points in a 13-8 win. Next up was #14 Logan Ours (Ohio). Wask only needed 1:25 to dispatch of him in an 11-0 tech. For a place in the finals, Wask needed another second-period rally, this time over then-#5 Erik Gibson (Pennsylvania). Wask outscored his future EIWA rival 8-2 in the final stanza. Both are members of the Class of 2022, with Wask committing to Navy and Gibson to Cornell. In the finals, Wask was on the wrong side of a 9-9 match against Virginia Tech recruit Caleb Henson (Georgia). It was truly a seesaw affair that saw seven lead changes before Henson survived. Wask went from being unranked to fourth in the nation after his Fargo.

    Jacob Gonzales (Michigan)

    Two-time Michigan state champion Jacob Gonzales has been on the cusp of the rankings before, but an All-American performance in Junior Freestyle pushed him into the top-25. Gonzales earned his biggest win of the tournament in the Round of 64, with emphasis on the word “earned.” He fell into a 5-0 hole early in the first period against Iowa State signee Paniro Johnson (Pennsylvania), a third-place finisher in both styles at the 16U age group in 2019. Both wrestlers threw the proverbial kitchen sink at each other, but it was Gonzales who pulled away in the final minute. In the last 60+ seconds, Gonzales scored 11 unanswered points to win 22-13. After a quarterfinal loss to Cael Swensen (Minnesota), 6-4, Gonzales was paired with Ohio's Connor Euton for a place on the podium. Euton was an undefeated Ohio state champion in 2021 and was ranked in the top-200 in the Class of 2022. While facing an early 3-0 deficit, Gonzales and Euton engaged in a prolonged scramble. Gonzales caught his opponent with a lat pull and bullied him straight to his back for a fall. The Colorado native punctuated his tournament by teching Dylan Elmore (Kansas), an opponent that pulled a handful of upsets, for seventh place.

    Brody Baumann (Indiana)

    Brody Baumann was a known commodity in Indiana prior to Fargo, as he was a state champion in 2021 at 160 lbs. Winning Indiana's one-class state tournament is typically good enough to get you on the radar. That helped Baumann earn a place in the top-25 (#21) before the tournament. Afterward, he got a nice boost because of a fifth-place finish in Junior freestyle. Not only did Baumann pick up some key wins, but he did so in dominating fashion. Baumann's biggest win came in the round that clinched All-American status for him, the quarterfinals. There he teched graduated senior, Evan Canoyer (Nebraska), a Cornell recruit, 17-6. In the match itself, Baumann found himself down 6-5 midway through the first period. He responded by outsourcing Canoyer 11-1 and securing a place in the semifinals. Baumann finished in fifth place in the 170 lb weight class.

    Codei Khawaja (Indiana)

    The wrestler that Baumann met in the fifth-place bout was fellow Indiana-native Codei Khawaja. Codei was a state qualifier at 170 lbs for Floyd Central High School. He was off the national radar before last week, but left Fargo placing sixth in both styles. In freestyle, Khawaja went down the Round of 64, but battled back with seven straight wins to place and eight in a row. His first big win came in the consi's over returning 16U double AA Bradley Gillum (Illinois). In the bloodround, Khawaja found himself down 8-2 to Canoyer, but kept his cool and pinned the Cornell recruit. A match later, he got by New Jersey runner-up Sabino Portella, 7-6, to lock up a berth in the top six. At the conclusion of the Junior Freestyle Championships, Khawaja was presented with an award for most falls in the least time (4 in 4:41). He would make the semifinals of the Greco tournament before falling to the eventual champion, Canoyer. For his trouble, Khawaja went from unranked to 18th in the nation at 170.

    TJ Stewart (Maryland)

    Many on this list went from unranked to ranked or got a boost from a ranking near the bottom of the top 25. TJ Stewart is the outlier of the group. He was a known commodity (#6 at 182 lbs) and deemed the #30 wrestler in the Class of 2022 coming into Fargo. Even with such lofty credentials, Stewart managed to raise his stock by winning the whole thing at 182 lbs over a loaded field. Though he was the tournament's one seed, he ran into an extremely dangerous Round of 16 matchup with North Dakota State signee, DeAnthony Parker (Illinois). While Parker tested Stewart, he managed to advance with a 6-3 win. In his next two contests, Stewart grabbed wins over Northern Iowa signee Jared Simma (Kansas) and then-#14 Hayden Walters (Oregon). That set up a meeting between Stewart and Brian Soldano (New Jersey) for all the marbles (and the big stop sign). Soldano was the top-ranked wrestler at the weight pre-Fargo. It only took :45 for Stewart to take a commanding lead after tossing Soldano with a lateral throw at the edge of the mat. Stewart methodically picked apart Soldano, as needed, with another takedown off a low-attack, late in the first. In the final period, he used his match IQ and avoided putting himself in any positions (chest wrap) that could have favored the New Jersey native. That final result was an 8-4 win and Stewart's second career Fargo title. He also moved into the pound-for-pound rankings for the first time, debuting at #13.

    ***Side Note*** Stewart's parents also deserve a tip of the cap for their resourcefulness. They flew into Minneapolis with the intention of renting a car and driving to Fargo. To their surprise, after landing, there were no more rental cars available. Stewart's mother, determined to watch her son, decided to rent a U-Haul and drive it to Fargo. Although they slightly embarrassed their son showing up to the Dome in a moving truck, they made it on time and got to see their boy earn the number one spot in the nation.

    Andrew Blackburn-Forst (Illinois)

    Based on the track record of Illinois in Fargo, it's always a safe assumption that the state will have a few breakout performers at the event, particularly in the upperweights. This year one of those new stars is Andrew Blackburn-Forst, who was a seventh-place finisher in Junior freestyle and a runner-up in Greco-Roman. In freestyle, Blackburn-Forst posted impressive victories over a pair of wrestlers that were already in the rankings, #12 Ashton Davis (Tennessee) and #18 Alex Semenenko (New York). During consolation action, he teched Semenenko 11-0 before scoring a fall over Davis. In Greco, Blackburn-Forst lit up the scoreboard, scoring 11 or more points in all of his pre-finals bouts. In the championship bout, it was Semenenko who prevailed 16-10. It was his second-time AA'ing in Fargo Greco, as he was fifth in 16U in 2019. Blackburn-Forst's performance took him to #15 in the nation. As a senior, he'll look to place at the Illinois state tournament for the third time after taking fifth as a sophomore and winning the IWCOA championship in 2021.

    Charles Crews III (Pennsylvania)

    At most tournaments, the upperweight brackets are not quite as deep as the lower and middleweights and Fargo is no exception. That isn't meant as a slight to the big guys, but just facts. But regardless of weight class numbers, getting onto the podium at Fargo puts you into the minds of college coaches and rankers, alike. That's extremely important for someone like Charles Crews III at 285 lbs. Crews III is going into his senior year at Williamsport High School, but has yet to make the state tournament, even while posting a 15-8 record in 2020-21. Regardless of credentials, Crews III went out there and got it done on the mat, placing fourth in Junior freestyle and going 3-1 in Greco before an injury cut short his tournament. In freestyle, Crews III scored wins over New York state qualifier Ryan Stein and West Virginia signee Tristan Kemp (Massachusetts). Kemp was a New England champion this year. He defeated Adolfo Betancur (Rhode Island) for the title, another opponent that Crews III defeated during his Fargo run. Crews III went from missing the PA state tournament to #25 in the national rankings with his performance.

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