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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    What we Learned About Ten College Wrestlers from the Olympic Trials

    Vito Arujau (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    The Olympic Trials typically feature top Senior level postgraduate athletes who have starred in college and now have made focusing on an Olympic berth as their full-time job. In the men's freestyle tournament, five of the six winners were out of college, with the most recent grad being Kyle Snyder, who finished up in 2018. Even so, there were plenty of current collegiate stars who had varying degrees of success at the Trials. Here are ten active college wrestlers who were in action and the Trials and what we can make of their future based on the tournament results.

    Vito Arujau (Cornell)

    Vito's had an impressive Trials and landed on the national team due to his runner-up finish at 57 kg. His most significant win was over past world team member Daton Fix in the semifinals of the challenge tournament. There have been two distinct camps when it comes to Vito's weight. Most close to the Cornell program have insisted that he doesn't cut much weight and would have no problem going 125 again. With the glut of 125 lb talent in Ithaca already, and down the pipeline, a move up to 133 could help the team. Defeating a two-time NCAA runner-up fix could help everyone associated with the possible move believe Vito can win a title at 133.

    Nick Lee (Penn State)

    It sounds strange to say this about a four-time All-American and 2021 NCAA champion, but Nick Lee's stock rose as much as anyone's currently in college after the weekend's results. Lee knocked off Nahshon Garrett, Yianni Diakomihalis and Zain Retherford in succession, none of which were particularly close bouts. Looking ahead to the next collegiate season, Penn State will be in need of a 149 lber as they entered true freshman Beau Bartlett into the 2021 Big Ten tournament. He was undersized and did not qualify for nationals, the only weight in which Penn State failed to qualify. With his wins, particularly over Diakomihalis, maybe the Nittany Lion staff feels better about flip-flopping Bartlett and Lee in the lineup next season.

    Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell)

    Nothing really changes for Yianni, although he did not make the national team as most would have bet pre-tournament. He still is on pace to win four national titles if he chooses to do so; however, with a loss to Lee, a 2022 title isn't necessarily a guarantee. The way in which Lee defeated Diakomihalis would translate to folkstyle; in other words, there weren't a bunch of exposure points that would not score in the collegiate world.

    David Carr (Iowa State)

    The Iowa State sophomore, David Carr, won a national title in late March at 157 lbs and was forced to enter the 74 kg weight class due to the limited opportunities in an Olympic year. Carr won his opening bout 8-0 over Michigan's two-time All-American Logan Massa. Massa got onto the podium this year at 174 lbs. With Carr's ability to compete at a high level at approximately 163 lbs, that begs the question, “Does Carr move up for the Cyclones in 2021-22”? Seems like a logical move and one that he would be prepared for. Carr wouldn't have to cut to 157 anymore and can handle top-flight competition at the Trials.

    Evan Wick (Wisconsin)

    Evan Wick always seems to do well at freestyle and he has a boatload of solid wins throughout the Trials. He picked up a pair of victories over Tommy Gantt, pinned Chance Marsteller, and won a shootout over Logan Massa. What we can glean from this is Wick will be a major player in the NCAA title hunt next year. 165 lbs was a fun weight this year with plenty of contenders from a couple different conferences, now throw Wick back into the mix; it gets so much deeper.

    Aaron Brooks (Penn State)

    There wasn't much “new” we learned about Brooks based on his 2-2 performance at the Trials. At least in respect to his collegiate career. The two-time Big Ten champion claimed his first national title this year and went unbeaten in the process. Maybe what we can decipher from his wins over freestyle staples like Nate Jackson and Sam Brooks is that Aaron can distance himself from the rest of a crowded 184 lb weight class in 2021-22. With some more time in the Nittany Lion wrestling room and a more “normal” offseason, he could elevate himself to someone who could push Gable Steveson and Spencer Lee for the Hodge Trophy in 2022.

    Braxton Amos (Wisconsin)

    The only wrestler in the field to compete in both Greco-Roman and freestyle was Braxton Amos. Braxton even made it to the best-of-three finals in Greco, where he fell to G'Angelo Hancock. Amos just reiterated the fact that he'll wrestle anyone, anywhere. He has the grit and toughness needed to succeed at the collegiate level. Provided he is able to compete at 197 lbs, he'll elevate himself to title contender status very quickly.

    Gable Steveson (Minnesota)

    Gable's situation is very unique, which is fitting as he is a one-of-a-kind talent. My takeaway is that Gable will be able to contend for a gold medal, this year. No one in the world has been able to defeat an opponent like Nick Gwiazdowski with such ease. Even the Taha Akgul and Geno Petriashavili's of the world. How this impacts the Minnesota team in 2021-22? If Steveson could do the previously unthinkable and win an Olympic gold medal in 2021 (possibly medal at all), does he feel like he has anything left to accomplish on the wrestling mats? Steveson hasn't been shy about his desire to eventually land in the WWE and even WWE personalities such as Paul Heyman (who is close to former Gopher and Steveson training partner Brock Lesnar) have shown him love through social media. Earlier in the season, Steveson implied he would be back in college next year; however, before the Trials, he was more cryptic about his future. Steveson's dominance and post-match flips have spread quickly around social media and many people have speculated that he could fare well in MMA or even football. Needless to say, Steveson will have a lot of options post-Olympics and I'm not sure that college wrestling will win out of the other possibilities.

    Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State)

    In his first season competing for Penn State, Greg Kerkvliet finished seventh in the nation, which is excellent for a freshman at 285 lbs. Expectations for the big man from Minnesota were sky-high, so some figured he'd play a more prominent role in the title hunt. After going 2-2 at the Trials, with a win over NCAA runner-up Mason Parris, Kerkvliet showed he can challenge for a title in 2021-22, especially if Gable is out of the picture. What slowed the Nittany Lion at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships was a lack of mat time after suffering an injury; it wasn't him being outclassed by the competition. If he can stay healthy during the spring and summer, I suspect we'll see an even better version of Kerkvliet next year.

    Mason Parris (Michigan)

    We mentioned above that Mason Parris fell to Kerkvliet in the quarterfinals of the Trials, but didn't note how Parris battled back to finish third and lock up a spot on the national team. Along the way, Parris racked up wins over longtime veterans Dom Bradley and Tony Nelson, along with Tanner Hall. Both Bradley and Nelson are the kind of big heavyweights that have given Parris problems in the past. While Michigan's Cliff Keen Wrestling Club is an excellent place to train, Parris will also have more opportunities available to him with his presence on the national team. Parris is still relatively young, in the sense that he'd only been a full-time wrestler for a few years, so expect him to continue to fine-tune his skills and possibility separate himself from the rest of the 285 lb class if Steveson doesn't return.

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