Michigan's Myles Amine topped Missouri's Daniel Lewis for third place at the NCAAs (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The first major tournament of the college wrestling season takes place this weekend. Many ranked teams, including No. 2 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Minnesota and No. 8 Missouri, will head to the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, which takes place Friday and Saturday. However, there are still some key matches taking place as part of dual meets. The following is a preview of the featured match in every weight class this weekend.
Note: Potential match at Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational is denoted with asterisk (*).
125: No. 6 Louie Hayes (Virginia) vs. No. 12 Travis Piotrowski (Illinois)*
Hayes is undefeated on the season and holding down a spot in the top 10. However, he has only wrestled three matches on the season. His last action came in Virginia's dual against Wyoming where he defeated Cole Verner via a 10-2 major decision. This will be Hayes' first tournament action since falling against Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern) in the blood round last season.
Piotrowski is another ranked wrestler who has not seen much action. In fact, Piotrowski is yet to wrestle this season, but he is registered for this tournament. Last season, he went 2-2 at the NCAA tournament, but scored victories over No. 17 Drew Mattin (Michigan) and Brian Courtney (Arizona State).
If Hayes is right and not battling weight issues, he should be able to defeat Piotrowski. However, Piotrowski is long for 125 pounds, and that can be a wildcard. On top of that, he has been through the Big Ten ringer, so he is more than prepared for this type of match. Hayes is the favorite, but the result of this match will tell fans a lot about his prospects this season.
Prediction: Hayes (Virginia) dec. Piotrowski (Illinois)
133: No. 14 Austin Gomez (Iowa State) vs. No. 10 Austin DeSanto (Iowa)
Even though Gomez has started his collegiate wrestling career with 12 straight wins, eight as a redshirt and four to start this season, he remains somewhat unknown. He has yet to face any really tough competition, but he certainly has the pedigree. Gomez was one of the few recruits from Kevin Jackson's last recruiting class to stick with the Cyclones after Kevin Dresser became head coach. The former Junior freestyle national champion will get his first real test in an Iowa State singlet here.
DeSanto transferred to Iowa in the offseason to fill an obvious need at 133 pounds. So far, he has won all four of his matches in a Hawkeye singlet. Naysayers will look at his one-point match against Tim Rooney (Kent State) and say that perhaps he is not living up to expectations. However, the winner of this match appears to be well positioned to make a run at All-American status this season.
The result of this match will likely tell us a lot about both wrestlers. DeSanto comes in as the favorite since he already has a season of collegiate wrestling under his belt, and his motor is an undeniable asset. This will be Gomez's toughest folkstyle match in at least two years. If he can pull it off, he might be a contender this year at 133 pounds.
Prediction: DeSanto (Iowa) dec. Gomez (Iowa State)
141: No. 2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State) vs. No. 3 Jaydin Eierman (Missouri)*
These two are expected to have a lot to say about who ends up in the NCAA finals at 141 pounds, and they have a history. Last season, the two faced off in the third-place match after both fell in the semifinals. McKenna won that match via a 7-2 score. However, the previous year, Eierman majored McKenna 8-0 in the blood round and prevent him from becoming an All-American.
Both wrestlers are undefeated on the season. McKenna needed to pull out a 3-2 victory over No. 9 Nicholas Gil (Navy) in his first action of the season. Eierman's toughest test so far was a 12-10 decision over No. 7 Mike Carr (Illinois). The Missouri wrestler also pinned returning All-American No. 10 Sa'Derian Perry (Old Dominion).
This match represents a pretty sizable divergence in style. McKenna likes to slow matches down and control positions. Eierman can explode at any minute and catch opponents on their back. In their last meeting McKenna's style won out, and he seems to have perfected that style in the interim.
Prediction: McKenna (Ohio State) dec. Eierman (Missouri)
149: No. 2 Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers) vs. No. 3 Micah Jordan (Ohio State)*
Ashnault missed last season due to injury, but he is back this year for his delayed senior season. He has started things off with a bang as he has put together five falls and one technical fall in his six matches this season. In his last action, he pinned Ryan Burkert (Hofstra) in the second period. Ashnault has previously defeated the likes of Cole Martin (Wisconsin), Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) and No. 1 Matt Kolodzik (Princeton).
Jordan is looking to make noise at 149 this season after spending last season up at 157. So far, he has won all seven of his match with two falls and two technical falls. In his last match, Jordan picked up his biggest win of the season as he majored No. 10 Josh Maruca (Arizona State).
Ashnault is a bit of an unknown at 149 pounds this season. He is coming off missing an entire year, and prior to this year his entire career had come at 141. Jordan has looked very impressive down at 149 pounds so far this season, and he should be considered the favorite. However, Ashnault should be his toughest test so far this season.
Prediction: Jordan (Ohio State) dec. Ashnault (Rutgers)
157: No. 3 Tyler Berger (Nebraska) vs. No. 8 Taleb Rahmani (Pittsburgh)*
This will be Berger's first tournament action of the season. So far, the returning All-American has gone 5-0 in dual matches. In his last match, he scored a 14-1 major decision over Dewey Krueger (Wyoming). Last season, Berger finished third at the NCAA tournament behind only No. 2 Hayden Hidlay (NC State) and No.1 Jason Nolf (Penn State).
Rahmani has gotten off to a strong start to this season with a pair of bonus point victories. First he knocked off Wyatt Gerl (CSU Bakersfield) with a major decision and then returned and decked Pat Schoenfelder (Northern Iowa). Last season, Rahmani qualified for the NCAA tournament, but he went 1-2 and failed to place. His draw did him no favors as his losses came against the number-one seed Hidlay and the second-seeded Joey Lavallee (Missouri).
Rahmani might surprise some people this season, but Berger will most likely end up being a bridge too far. The Nebraska wrestler has lost only match against a non-Big-Ten opponent since December of last year. That opponent ended up winning the national title at this weight.
Prediction: Berger (Nebraska) dec. Rahmani (Pittsburgh)
165: No. 6 Logan Massa (Michigan) vs. No. 10 Isaiah White (Nebraska)*
After struggling with injuries last season, Massa is looking to get back on track this season. He already has a ranked win on the season. In his second match of the season, Massa defeated No. 11 Cole Walter (Lehigh). In his first season for Michigan, Massa placed third in the NCAA tournament, but last season he failed to place after qualifying.
White came closer to All-American status last season than Massa, but he still fell in the blood round. However, unlike Massa, he has struggled to start the year. He has gone only 1-3 with losses coming against No. 20 Ebed Jarrell (Drexel), No. 2 Evan Wick (Wisconsin) and No.6 Branson Ashworth (Wyoming).
Massa and White wrestled once last season. It was a low-scoring match that Massa ended up winning 3-1 in sudden victory. The Michigan wrestler clearly was not at his best last season, and he still found a way to score the takedown in overtime. White desperately needs a win and some momentum, but he will likely not find it against Massa.
Prediction: Massa (Michigan) dec. White (Nebraska)
174: No. 3 Myles Amine (Michigan) vs. No. 4 Daniel Lewis (Missouri)*
Amine established himself as the third best wrestler at 174 pounds last season, but he needed overtime to do it. Amine and Lewis met in the third-place match of the NCAA tournament. The bout was tied at two each at the end of regulation, and Amine pulled it out in sudden victory. The Michigan wrestler took some losses last season, but over the last two months of the season he only dropped matches against No. 2 Mark Hall (Penn State) and No. 1 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State). Lewis entered the NCAA tournament undefeated and fell against Hall and Amine. So far this season, both wrestlers are undefeated.
It will always be an interesting match when these two run into each other. Both wrestlers are somewhat conservative on the feet and look to score points from the top position. Just like their NCAA tournament match, this one will likely be decided by who can score the takedown with the match on the line.
Prediction: Amine (Michigan) dec. Lewis (Missouri)
184: No. 20 Jelani Embree (Michigan) vs. No. 3 Taylor Venz (Nebraska)*
Embree went 15-2 last year during his redshirt season with his only two losses coming against No. 6 Nick Reenan (NC State) and No. 14 Dakota Greer (Oklahoma State). So far this season, Embree has gone 5-1. In his last match, he scored an 8-3 decision over Andrew Price (Lehigh).
Going into last season, there were probably not a lot of people who thought Venz would break through and finish fourth the NCAA tournament. However, this season he is not sneaking up on anybody. He has started his sophomore season with an undefeated 5-0 record including a fall over Owen Brooks (Drexel). In his last match, he scored a 7-1 decision over Carless Looney (Wyoming).
Embree has looked solid so far during his brief collegiate wrestling career. However, in the few occasions he has stepped up against highly ranked opposition, he has struggled. Venz is a legitimate contender at this weight, and he should be able to take this match. His ability to turn from the top is real difference maker, and that might play a role in this match.
Prediction: Venz (Nebraska) dec. Embree (Michigan)
197: No. 3 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) vs. No. 8 Nathan Traxler (Stanford)*
The tournament will be the first action of the college season for Moore. He had been kept out of the lineup in preparation for the U23 World Championships. Moore wrapped up that freestyle tournament with a silver medal, and now he is ready to concentrate on college wrestling. Last season, he was one of the favorites to take the title at 197 pounds, but he ended up dropping a pair of matches against No. 2 Kyle Conel (Kent State) and finishing fourth.
Traxler's redshirt freshman season was tough at times, but he still pulled off a 19-12 record and qualified to for the NCAA tournament. He entered this season ranked and has looked the part so far. Traxler has gone 6-1 with two falls and two technical falls. His lone loss on the season came against No. 7 Patrick Brucki (Princeton) at the Princeton Open.
Moore is a clear favorite going into this match. However, the bout should be a good early season test for the returning All-American. His performance in this match and the rest of the tournament could set the tone for his season.
Prediction: Moore (Ohio State) maj. dec. Traxler (Stanford)
285: No. 5 Anthony Cassar (Penn State) vs. No. 6 Jordan Wood (Lehigh)
After taking a commanding 7-2 victory over teammate and returning All-American Nick Nevills at the Keystone Classic, it looks like Cassar could the guy at heavyweight going forward for Penn State. The former 197-pound wrestler also defeated NCAA qualifier No. 15 Joey Goodhart (Drexel) via major decision in that tournament.
Wood came up one match short of All-American status last year as he defaulted out against No. 4 Youssif Hemida (Maryland) in the blood round. This year, the former Junior World Team member has gone 4-0, which includes a victory over No. 16 Tate Orndorff (Utah Valley) at the Journeymen Collegiate Classic.
Cassar is still a bit of an unknown at heavyweight. However, his talent and ability is likely to shine through as the season progresses. Wood is a skilled and accomplished heavyweight, but he is on the smaller end of the scale. Cassar's struggles might appear against larger heavyweights, but against wrestlers of Wood's size, he should be able to prevail.
Prediction: Cassar (Penn State) dec. Wood (Lehigh)