70 kg US Open champion Tyler Berger (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Friday night marked the conclusion of the Senior Men’s freestyle tournament at the US Open. The ten finals matches had plenty of unexpected results and a host of action-packed bouts.
The evening was capped off with a Gable Steveson backflip after a 10-0 tech fall over frequent opponent Nick Gwiazdowski. Steveson returned to the freestyle scene in a big way after missing the last year to pursue a career in the WWE. In his four matches, Steveson outscored his competition by a 44-1 margin.
If the night ended as many expected, it started off in a quite different manner. At 57 kg, Zane Richards, six years removed from a career as a two-time All-American at Illinois, moved a step closer to making his first world team. Richards blocked a shot from Nick Suriano and countered for a takedown of his own. He’d fend off Suriano for the duration of the bout and win 3-3 on criteria.
The next bout was an illustration of just how quickly things can end in a freestyle bout. Austin DeSanto made his first Open final after downing Joe Colon and Seth Gross; however, it all came to an end in :54 when he surrendered a takedown to Vito Arujau. The Cornell star locked up a leg lace and turned DeSanto four times to bring his surprising run to a screeching halt. Arujau continues to run on a high from the NCAA tournament and will await a Final X opponent after the World Team Trials conclude.
65 kg started a run of six consecutive matches with high-action and exciting finishes. Despite trailing 5-0 at the break, Nick Lee came alive in the second period to shock top-seeded Joey McKenna. Less than :20 into the final stanza, Lee picked up a takedown and was able to turn McKenna, pulling within a point and signaling that the match was far from over. Lee continued to pour it on to the tune of a 10-5 victory. After beating an old college rival in the Open, he’ll face another in Final X with Yianni Diakomihalis.
McKenna was the victim in the 65 kg final; however, it was his Penn RTC teammate Tyler Berger that wowed the crowd a match later. A takedown and gut wrench staked Berger to an early 4-0 lead against Sammy Sasso in a contest that was filled with plenty of good scrambles and scoring opportunities. A Berger challenge that ruled he and Sasso should both get exposure points after a counter from the Buckeye star left Berger down by two points with :08 on the clock. Right off the whistle, Berger hit a low attack and eventually locked up a takedown to take the lead at the buzzer. Following a Sasso challenge, a point was added to make the final score, 10-9.
In a battle between ex-Penn State teammates Jason Nolf and Vincenzo Joseph, it was Joseph who struck first with a four-point takedown. Though there were a handful of great exchanges between the two, the rest of the bout belonged to Nolf. He started the second period with a pair of points for step outs, before adding two four-pointers of his own. Nolf will get a Final X rematch with world champion Kyle Dake.
A Final X rematch is in the works at 79 kgs as well after Chance Marsteller finally solved the riddle that is Alex Dieringer. The two met in the 2019 Open finals and Dieringer took an 11-0 tech. That was one of four past losses at the Senior level for Marsteller to Dieringer. In his post-match interview, Marsteller stated that his first-period takedown of Dieringer, “was probably the first one I’ve ever gotten on him.” He picked the right time for it, as the takedown was instrumental in a 3-2 victory for Marsteller. He’ll see Jordan Burroughs once again at Final X.
86 kg had another match where one wrestler grabbed a 4-0 first-period lead. That was the case with Zahid Valencia as he garnered four points with a takedown of Aaron Brooks. Undeterred, Brooks battled back in the second period and really blew the match wide open with a takedown and two leg laces to lead 8-6. He’d add a pair of step-out points to win 10-6. Brooks will face fellow Nittany Lion Wrestling Club member David Taylor in Final X.
With J’den Cox moving to 97 kgs, no one was waiting in Final X at 92 kgs. After a period, Kollin Moore looked to have an inside track on Final X as he led long-time rival Mike Macchiavello 2-0. As was the case for most of Friday night, that didn’t make a difference in the second period as Macchiavello posted a pair of takedowns. After the second, he was able to lock up a leg lace and ended the bout after four straight turns. There is definitely a chance for a rematch with the pair as Moore will have to qualify for Final X through the WTT’s.
Speaking of Cox, J’den wasn’t entirely pleased with his Open finals performance but still turned in a lopsided 12-3 victory over NC State 197 lber Isaac Trumble. A Cox win sets the stage for a huge series at Final X with fellow Olympic medalist Kyle Snyder.
57 kg - Zane Richards over Nick Suriano 3-3
61 kg - Vito Arujau over Austin DeSanto 10-0
65 kg - Nick Lee over Joey McKenna 10-5
70 kg - Tyler Berger over Sammy Sasso 10-9
74 kg - Jason Nolf over Vincenzo Joseph 10-5
79 kg - Chance Marsteller over Alex Dieringer 3-2
86 kg - Aaron Brooks over Zahid Valencia 10-6
92 kg - Mike Macchiavello over Kollin Moore 12-2
97 kg - J’den Cox over Isaac Trumble 12-3
125 kg - Gable Steveson over Nick Gwiazdowski 10-0