Jesse Mendez at 2023 U20 World Team Trials (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Saturday at the U20/U23 World Team Trials marked the first day of freestyle action. Both age groups started competition; however, the U20 tournament had qualifying criteria that resulted in significantly smaller brackets. Because of this, the U20 tournament finished in one day and a world team was set.
A pair of Ohio State teammates went back-to-back and clinched spots on the U20 at 61 and 65 kg as Nic Bouzakis and Jesse Mendez both swept their respective series'. Bouzakis never made it to the second period in either of his two finals bouts. He pitched a pair of 10-0 shutouts against Oklahoma State's Cael Hughes.
Winners of the UWW Junior Open automatically advanced to the best-of-three series, while the remaining qualifiers had to battle through a mini-tournament to wrestle for the world team berth. Only two competitors made it through the mini-tournament and prevailed in the best-of-three series'. One of which was Mendez at 65 kg. Mendez had three wins via tech before getting by Open runner-up Kannon Webster in the challenge tournament finals. With the world team spot on the line, Mendez downed U17 world silver medalist Tyler Kasak 4-3 and 9-1.
All-in-all, the 2023 U20 men's freestyle team will feature three members from the 2022 squad, Bouzakis, along with world silver medalists Mitchell Mesenbrink (74 kg) and Bennett Berge (86 kg). Mendez was also on the U20 team in 2021. 79 kg champion Matthew Singleton has U20 world experience on the Greco-Roman front from 2021. 125 kg winner Christian Carroll also made the Greco squad last year.
Both Mesenbrink and Berge had little resistance in returning to the U20 team. Mesenbrink won a wild 17-8 first match over Stanford's Hunter Garvin, then cruised to a 10-0 tech. Berge won 6-2 against Oklahoma State's incoming freshman Brayden Thompson in match one. He also clinched the trip to Poland with a 10-0 tech.
The 2023 team also features a pair of U17 world champions who are looking to continue their medal-winning ways at a new age group. Luke Lilledahl and Meyer Shapiro will be on the team at 57 kg and 70 kg, respectively. Lilledahl, a rising high school senior, got by new Oklahoma State Cowboy Troy Spratley, 9-4, 4-2. Shapiro looked ready to contend for a U20 medal as he downed Nebraska's Antrell Taylor, 8-0, 11-0.
Only two of the ten series' went the full three matches, 79 kg and 92 kg. At 79, a pair of Georgia natives squared off with Singleton and Iowa signee Gabe Arnold. The two are close friends and have spent plenty of time working out together, which likely led to some tight matches. Singleton took the first and third matches from Arnold to claim the world team spot.
Up to weights at 92 kg, Stanford's Jack Darrah rebounded from a loss in the first matches to beat Little Rock's Stephen Little in bouts two and three in the series.
Oklahoma State had four current or future Cowboys in the finals; however, the first three were defeated. Avoiding the sweep was Carroll who defeated Aden Attao 10-0 in two straight matches. Yesterday, Attao earned his second consecutive berth on the U20 Greco world team.
Last year, Camden McDanel fell in the U17 trials in three heartbreaking matches. This time, in front of a large contingent of friends and family, the Ohio native secured the 97 kg berth. McDanel needed a late rally in match one to win 11-6, but had no such drama in match two, winning, 8-2.
2023 U20 World Team Trials: Men's Freestyle
57 kg: Luke Lilledahl (X-Calibur Athletics WC) over Troy Spratley (Cowboy RTC) 9-4, 4-2
61 kg: Nic Bouzakis (X-Calibur Athletics WC) over Cael Hughes (Cowboy RTC) 10-0, 10-0
65 kg: Jesse Mendez (TMWC) over Tyler Kasak (M2 Training Center) 4-3, 9-1
70 kg: Meyer Shapiro (Spartan Combat WC) over Antrell Taylor (MWC Wrestling Academy) 8-0, 11-0
74 kg: Mitchell Mesenbrink (Askren Wrestling Academy) over Hunter Garvin (Iowa) 17-8, 10-0
79 kg: Matthew Singleton (Wolfpack WC) over Gabe Arnold (Sebolt Wrestling Academy) 6-1, 2-2, 5-4
86 kg: Bennett Berge (Jackrabbit WC) over Brayden Thompson (Cowboy RTC) 6-2, 10-0
92 kg: Jack Darrah (Missouri) over Stephen Little (Arkansas RTC) 3-5, 2-1, 4-4
97 kg: Camden McDanel (Ohio) over Stephen Burrell Jr. (New York) 11-6, 8-2
125 kg: Christian Carroll (Cowboy RTC) over Aden Attao (Suples WC) 10-0, 10-0