NC State recruit Jackson Arrington (Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Over the weekend, FloWrestling held the ninth annual Who's Number One event. This dual meet has routinely pitted some of the nation's top high schooler's against each other in a preseason showcase for the top spot in the rankings.
In the second year of the event, we saw a pair of future NCAA champions clash (Zahid Valencia over Myles Martin), along with one of the best high school matches in recent memory (Nick Suriano over Daton Fix). Those two would later meet in the 2019 NCAA finals.
With the field of wrestlers selected to compete in 2021, there's no doubt that we saw some future college and international superstars in action. So, with that in mind, the question is which college's â€œwonâ€ Who's Number One? (A few months from now, this list could look drastically different since many of the participants are currently uncommitted).
This was easy enough. No other school had multiple recruits (yet) earn wins on Saturday night. Both Jackson Arrington (145) and Dylan Fishback (195) got their hands raised and have pledged to Pat Popolizio's team next year. While both have been near the top of the national rankings for some time, neither seems to get the type of attention that wrestlers of their caliber typically do.
Arrington earned his invitation to Who's Number One by finishing fourth in Junior freestyle at 145 lbs. Two of the other placewinners above him were graduating seniors, while Jordan Williams was up at 152. Fishback was a Junior National champion at the weight in Fargo.
Arrington's opponent was Hunter Garvin (IA), who was considered a potential high-finisher in Fargo that didn't end up competing due to injury. Fishback had Cadet World fifth-place finisher Gavin Nelson, who was ranked at 220 lbs.
Both Arrington and Fishback had to grind out wins. Neither was particularly flashy, but they got the job done. That's fine, as most big-time collegiate matches play out that way anyways.
Getting two Who's Number One winners, both in the same class, is not common. Add in 2020 winner Chase Horne and the Wolfpack's 2022 class is another great one.
The Cyclones had a pair of Who's Number One participants in Casey Swiderski (138) and Manny Rojas (170). Only Swiderski came out victorious, but it was quite the notable win. Facing, Jesse Mendez, the top pound-for-pound wrestler in high school, Swiderski never backed down and pulled the stunning upset.
Typically, when a top-ranked wrestler goes down, it can come in a tactical, low-scoring affair. Basically, the lower-ranked wrestler gets creative (stalls) and makes it a one-move match. This was not the case. Swiderski came out from the opening whistle and showed he wasn't afraid of the Junior World team member and his lofty ranking. That mindset and mentality are more indicative of success at the collegiate level than the actual result of the bout itself. In the match, Swiderski was able to lock up a pair of takedowns on Mendez and even tossed him in a non-scoring maneuver at the edge of the mat, that got the crowd on its feet, if nothing else.
The win was the next step in the evolution of Swiderski, who has flown up the rankings within the last year and a half. While he already had some strong national credentials, Swiderski made the country take notice when he defeated Drake Ayala (who was up a couple of weights) at the Ironman Duals. Since, Swiderski has placed fourth at the Super 32 and made the Junior freestyle finals in Fargo.
Fellow Michigan native and future Cyclone Manny Rojas participated in the four-man mini-tournament at 170 lbs. While he fell in the opening match to Rocco Welsh, 6-4, Rojas is still one of the top wrestlers in the Class of 2022. He claimed a Junior freestyle national title in Fargo this summer after finishing as a 16U runner-up in his previous two trips.
Swiderski's win gives Iowa State their first victory at Who's Number One since David Carr downed Joe Lee in 2017.
You'll have to go back even farther to find a Virginia Tech recruit that was a winner at Who's Number One. That happened to be one of the most decorated wrestlers in Hokie history, David McFadden, in 2014. He defeated future All-American Isaiah White. That match occurred at 152 lbs, the same weight as the most recent Virginia Tech recruit, Caleb Henson. I'm sure Tony Robie and the Hokie staff would be delighted if Henson's career mirrored McFadden's.
To grab a win at Who's Number One, Henson, a Fargo Junior freestyle champ, had to go through Oklahoma's Jordan Williams, also a 2021 Fargo champ. Williams was also making his third appearance at the event.
Unphased, Henson quickly struck first with a double leg and set the tone for the rest of the bout. Though the match was marred by a controversial sequence that saw Henson use a keylock which was deemed â€œpotentially dangerousâ€ instead of illegal. Following an injury timeout from Williams, Henson chose down and got an escape. Had that been handled differently, we could've seen a different result.
But focusing on the big picture, Virginia Tech is getting a middleweight who had been near the top of the 145/152 lb rankings for over two years. While the Hokies have freshmen at 157/165, Henson is sure to make an impact at the next level.
Who's Number One in 2020 was really the breakout showcase for Nicholas Feldman. Everyone knew he was good, just not THAT good. He dismantled Cadet World Teamer Kyle Haas 13-5 to claim the top spot at 220 lbs and hasn't looked back since. This year, Feldman was part of the main event, taking on Junior Freestyle national champion Christian Carroll. The Illinois recruit had steamrolled the field in Fargo and is one of the top wrestlers in the Class of 2023.
Leave it to the veteran Feldman to get an early takedown on Carroll to hold off the hard-charging junior, 3-2. The win put Feldman in rarified air, as far as Who's Number One goes. He becomes only the sixth wrestler to win matches at multiple Who's Number One events.
Looking at the pound-for-pound rankings, Feldman entered the event at number two, behind Mendez. You'd have to think after Mendez's loss and a spotless record from Feldman, he'd ascend to that coveted number one spot, especially after defeating Carroll, who came in at number three.