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  • Photo: Photo/John Sachs

    Photo: Photo/John Sachs

    Ten matches to watch at Midlands Championships

    Evan Wick defeated Alex Marinelli at the NCAAs last March (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)

    In the wrestling world, winter break from college represents the midpoint in the season and the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships. This year is not an exception. Several top teams will compete in the tournament including No. 3 Iowa, No. 10 Arizona State and No. 13 Princeton. The following is a breakdown and predictions for some of the top potential matches.

    125: No. 1 Spencer Lee (Iowa) vs. No. 2 Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern)

    Last season, the Midlands was Lee's last big test as a redshirt before he made his official Hawkeye debut and joined the lineup. He was expected to make the finals and face off against No. 3 (at 133) Nick Suriano (Rutgers). However, he was upset in the semifinals by No. 3 Ronnie Bresser (Oregon State). At the time, the upset set up an interesting backside match between Lee and Rivera. However, Lee defaulted out after falling to Bresser. Rivera and Lee went on two wrestler on two other occasions. Lee defeated River 7-4 in the Northwestern-Iowa dual, and he scored as 12-0 major decision at the Big Ten Championship tournament.

    So far this season, Lee has won all five of his matches via bonus points and outscored his opponents 80-6. Rivera is also undefeated after eight matches on the season. He won the Cliff Keen Invitational where he needed sudden victory to best Bresser 6-4.

    As shown last year, Lee should be able to handle Rivera. However, familiarity can occasionally lead to close matches, and these two will likely wrestle multiple times this season.

    Prediction: Lee (Iowa) maj. dec. Rivera (Northwestern)

    133: No. 1 Seth Gross (SDSU) vs. Nathan Tomasello (Unattached)

    Unfortunately, the returning NCAA champion at 133 has wrestled only one match. If he returns for the Midlands, fans could be treated to an interesting new match. Tomasello finished his college eligibility last season as a four-time Big Ten champion and a four-time All-American. Following the year, it was announced that he wrestled the entire season with a torn ACL. He missed the freestyle season while recovering from surgery, and he will be returning to action at the Midlands as a post grad.

    In his one match this season, Gross pinned Josiah Kline (Arizona State). Last season, he went 29-1 with his only loss coming after he moved up in weight to take on Bryce Meredith (Wyoming). This year, he is looking to make his third straight NCAA final and bring home his second-straight title.

    Tomasello wrestled collegiately at both 125 and 133, but has not faced Gross in college competition. Post grads often underperform due to a focus on freestyle and a less regular training environment. However, in this case, neither wrestler has been competing regularly at this point. It should be a good gauge to see where both wrestlers are in their return from injury.

    From a style standpoint, it is a very interesting match. Tomasello has had trouble with riders in the past, but he will likely have the advantage in a takedown battle. If he is recovered, he should be able to slow down the pace and a win a one takedown match.

    Prediction: Tomasello dec. Gross (SDSU).

    141: No. 10 Bryan Lantry (Buffalo) vs. No. 14 Tristan Moran (Wisconsin)

    These two wrestlers kicked off the season against each other. Back on Nov. 1, Lantry turned back a challenge from Moran and defeated him 7-3 in Madison. Since then, Lantry has continued to win and built an undefeated 5-0 record. In his last match, he scored a 6-1 decision over Andrew Gapas (Clarion).

    Moran has won both the Cyclone Open and the SIUE Invitational this season. He has also picked up a signature victory over No. 9 Josh Alber (UNI) via fall on his way to putting together a 9-3 record. In his last match, he fell via major decision against No. 2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State).

    Lantry always seems to be a good job holding position and moving his opponents around the mat. That was certainly the case against Moran in their first match. However, not only does Moran appear to be developing his offense since moving to Wisconsin, but he is also a tricky wrestler who can can catch tough guys on their back. Lantry is the favorite, but Moran is always a live underdog.

    Prediction: Lantry (Buffalo) dec. Moran (Wisconsin)

    149: No. 1 Matt Kolodzik (Princeton) vs. No. 8 Pat Lugo (Iowa)

    Lugo came into this season looking to replace four-time All-American Brandon Sorensen. Despite having big shoes to fill, the Hawkeye faithful were faithful in Lugo at least partially due to a fall he picked up over Kolodzik in last year's Midlands. However, the two met again this season. In the rematch, Kolodzik claimed a 7-4 victory. The win put him on the right path this season, and he has now built a 6-0 record and looks to be a top contender at this weight. On the other hand, Lugo has now struggled to a 2-3 record. He still clearly has the pedigree to become an All-American, but there is plenty of work to do.

    In their first match this season, Kolodzik was able to get takedowns when he needed. Lugo's stature and scrambling ability will give a lot of guys problems. However, it will be tough for him to knock off Kolodzik unless he is able to hit a big move.

    Prediction: Kolodzik (Princeton) dec. Lugo (Iowa)

    157: No. 2 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) vs. No. 3 Larry Early (Old Dominion)

    On the last day of November, Early handed returning finalist No. 5 Hayden Hidlay (NC State) only his second collegiate loss via a 4-2 score. However, his momentum was then halted. He face off against Deakin in a dual meet between the two schools and dropped a one-sided decision. Since then, Early has wrestled only one match and defaulted out of the Reno Tournament of Champions.

    Deakin seems to have made the right decision to move up to 157. He has looked sharp at the new weight, and he has already defeated the likes of Early, Isaiah Hokit (Fresno State), No. 9 Griffin Parriott (Purdue) and Paul Fox (Stanford).

    The Wildcat seemed to be a bridge too far for Early when they met earlier this month. Deakin allowed him to score only a single point and took the bout 6-1. It is hard to imagine this result being any different, but the victory over Hidlay showed that Early is always prime for an upset.

    Prediction: Deakin (Northwestern) dec. Early (Old Dominion)

    165: No. 2 Evan Wick (Wisconsin) vs. No. 4 Alex Marinelli (Iowa)

    Despite being in the same weight and conference for an entire season, Wick and Marinelli did not meet until the NCAA tournament last year. They finally ran into each other in the consolation semifinals, and Wick took a dominant 16-3 major decision victory.

    Marinelli went undefeated before the Big Ten Championships last year, and he ended up with six losses. This year, he has gotten off to a hot start as he has won all six of his matches with 100 percent bonus rate. He finished with only a 28 percent bonus rate last year.

    Wick has also been a force. He has won all 13 of his matches and defeated the likes of No. 5 Josh Shields (Arizona State), No. 11 Demetrius Romero (Utah Valley), No. 6 Isaiah White (Nebraska) and No. 12 Bryce Steiert (UNI).

    If Marinelli is able to physically dominate the standing exchanges, he is usually able to pull out victories. However, he was not able to impose his will against Wick in their last meeting. On top of that, Wick is a powerful wrestler from the top position. If he is able to score an early takedown, this match could get out of reach quickly.

    Prediction: Wick (Wisconsin) dec. Marinelli (Iowa)

    174: No. 8 Taylor Lujan (UNI) vs. No. 11 Ryan Christensen (Wisconsin)

    Christensen has improved his winning percentage every year as a starter for the Badgers, and he seems well positioned to make a run at All-America honors this year. He has gone 11-3 so far this season and defeated No. 12 Ben Harvey (Army), No. 18 Kimball Bastian (Utah Valley) and No. 9 Michael Labriola (Nebraska). However, he has not been able to defeat Lujan in college.

    These two met earlier this season, and Lujan took a 9-5 decision. They previously met twice during the 2017 season. The UNI wrestler won 10-3 in a dual match and then knocked off Christensen 6-1 at the NCAA tournament. On the season, Lujan has gone 10-1 on the season with his only defeat coming against Daniel Lewis. In his last match, he scored a major over No. 14 Brandon Womack (Cornell).

    Clearly Lujan has the edge over Christensen. However, Christensen closed the gap a bit and finished with his highest point total against Lujan. Strange things happen in tournament, so there might be some room for an upset. However, Lujan has been wrestling some of his best matches recently and should be able to take care of business.

    Prediction: Lujan (UNI) dec. Christensen (Wisconsin)

    184: No. 2 Emery Parker (Illinois) vs. No. 7 Drew Foster (UNI)

    Parker holds a 2-0 record over Foster in college. However, their last match is reason enough to get excited about a rematch. The two met in the consolation bracket at the NCAA tournament last season and had a bit of a shootout. In the end, Parker eliminated Foster from the tournament via a 13-10 decision and ended up wrestling all the way back for third.

    Parker has wrestled sparingly this season, but he has emerged as one of the favorites to challenge No. 1 Myles Martin (Ohio State) for supremacy at this weight. After winning the Lindenwood Open, he took nearly a month off before returning against Northern Illinois and knocking off Will Feldkamp.

    Foster has gone 10-2 on the season with both of his losses coming against contenders No. 5 Taylor Venz (Nebraska) and No. 6 Max Dean (Cornell). Despite those defeats, he has defeated the likes of No. 17 Sammy Colbray (Iowa State), No. 10 Louie DePrez (Binghamton) and No. 9 Zack Zavatsky (Virginia Tech).

    Parker has shown that he can pull out close matches and put up points. Foster's matches usually seem to turn into high scoring affairs, so regardless of what happens, this will likely be an exciting bout.

    Prediction: Parker (Illinois) dec. Foster (UNI)

    197: No. 3 Patrick Brucki (Princeton) vs. No. 4 Jacob Warner (Iowa)

    In the preseason, many fans circled the dual meet between Princeton and Iowa on the early season schedule. Brucki defeated Warner last year at the Midlands during his redshirt season, and the rematch would say a lot about the future of both wrestlers. However, Iowa ended up holding Warner out of the match, and Brucki went on to put up a 10-3 decision over Connor Corbin. It will be interesting to see if Warner even competes in this tournament. He has wrestled only one match on the year and defeated All-American No. 5 Willie Miklus (Iowa State).

    Brucki, on the other hand, has already wrestled 11 matches on the season and won them all. He has defeated the likes of No. 6 Rocco Caywood (Army), No. 8 Nathan Traxler (Stanford) and No. 15 Tom Sleigh (Virginia Tech).

    Warner should be able to stay aggressive and win this match. However, one has to wonder why he has been sitting out so much this season. If he is injured or not in shape, this match could easily get away from him. It is entirely possible that Warner is simply getting some rest time after competing extensively over the summer and making a junior world team.

    Prediction: Warner (Iowa) dec. Brucki (Princeton)

    285: No. 1 Sam Stoll (Iowa) vs. No. 4 Youssif Hemida (Maryland)

    Stoll had twice dominated Hemida before they met at the NCAA tournament last year. In their first match back in 2016, Stoll scored a 15-4 major decision at the Big Ten Championships. Last year, he knocked off the Maryland wrestler once against at the conference tournament 8-1. However, their NCAA tournament match was a different story. This time, Hemida won the match 7-2 in the round of 16.

    Hemida has yet to wrestle an official match this season. He dropped a decision at the NCWA All-Star Classic against No. 3 Derek White (Oklahoma State), and he scored a silver medal at the U23 World Championships. Stoll may have been even more inactive. He wrestled only one match and defeated Gannon Gremmel (Iowa State) via a 5-1 decision.

    There are plenty of questions going into this match. Both guys have not wrestled a lot this season and seemingly dealt with injuries. Hemida should be the faster and quicker, but size can be a great equalizer. If Hemida can score early, it should be his match. If that does not happen, look for Stoll to win a close one.

    Prediction: Hemida (Maryland) dec. Stoll (Iowa)

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