After a summer filled with keg parties, 3 a.m. pizza slices, and a general lack of regard for cross training, the nation's wrestling elite are once again bound to their sunless Resilite prisons to atone for their spats of heathenry and trim themselves to an acceptable preseason weight. The young men are also meeting freshman teammates and getting a sense of where they fall in the lineup. These first few weeks are filled with plenty of hope, but also an equal measure of realization that boozing and eating snacks is a more pleasure-filled life (though not as satisfying).
Coaches too are back in the rooms. They are setting up meetings with athletes and learning about their team's new social dynamic. The chemistry of a team will always change from year-to-year, but the head coaches will spend the better part of these first few weeks establishing firm expectations for work ethic and output. How they deal with those who don't meet their goals on and off the mat will impact that team dynamic for the next several months, so for many this grooming period is vital. Team captains begin to emerge and anointing those can create extra pitfalls. The coaches also have the stress of setting expectations with the administration across their columns of responsibility: recruiting, results, and fundraising.
Fans are also working their way back into folkstyle shape, readying their eyeballs for 14-minute matches of rodeo-like rides and four-point nearfalls! Hands to the face penalties have been reviewed and lessened by the NCAA Rules Committee, but will that lead to more concussion and bouts filled with brutality remains to be seen.
What will the sport offer everyone in 2020? With a slew of top names taking redshirts it could be a quiet season, but for some fans with programs in need of wins it could be a chance to see wrestlers work their way onto the podium and generate attention, which translates to donations and recruits.
Good luck to the athlete, coaches, and fans who love this sport so much. I'm sure there will be many disagreements, but for now we can look excitedly towards the first semester of action!
To your questions …
Chris Bono and Jon Reader celebrate with Evan Wick after a win (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarrriors.com)
Q: What NCAA team do you expect to surprise (exceed expectations) this season?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Maybe it'll surprise some casual fans, but I like what Wisconsin can do this season. They finished 21st in 2019, but with Seth Gross in the lineup, Evan Wick looking to make a run to the finals and All-American Trent Hillger back, there is top ten potential for the Badgers.
Chris Bono gets a lot out of his athletes and I'd expect another few names to make their way into the top ten by the time of the NCAA tournament. How high can the Badgers go? With new talent getting team points and the old guard delivering they could sneak into the top five.
Q: All-American Kyle Conel transferred to Penn State. Do you think he's a safe bet to make the lineup at 197 pounds? Or could you see talented freshman Michael Beard taking the spot?
-- Mike C.
Foley: There are some health question marks with Conel. He sat out last season with an injury, which could still be an issue if rehab was split between locations or if he wasn't able to access the proper athletic training facilities.
We all know about the upperweight talent in State College so it would be surprising to me if Conel or Michael Beard are not able to find their way onto the podium in 2020. Both will have the support and coaching necessary to become the very best version of themselves and considering their past successes (albeit on different levels) one should expect them to perform.
Between the two I'd give the hat tip to Conel early in the season, but would be interested to see if Beard can do something to challenge for the starting spot by January. Also, it's worth considering that Beard was 12-0 last season with 11 wins coming with bonus points. That could equate to the type of fire power the Penn State coaching staff wants to see on the mat in a year where they will be challenged to win the team race.
Q: Should Olympic redshirts be banned? They ruin a perfectly good college wrestling season just so youngsters can chase silly pipe dreams.
Foley: No. Daton Fix is currently No. 1 on the Olympic ladder at 57 kilograms, Kyle Snyder won his Olympic title during college, and it hurts absolutely nothing for these select individuals to go after their dream of winning an Olympic title. I have a feeling that one of these Olympic redshirts (not including Fix) will be on a world team in the next three years.
Q: When will InterMat's preseason NCAA Division I rankings be released?
-- Aaron H.
Foley: While I'm not on InterMat's rankings committee, I have been told InterMat's preseason NCAA Division I wrestling rankings will be released next week.
Michael Beard is good, but Kyle Conel did place third at NCAAs
Link: Relive Kent State's Kyle Conel surprising third place run at 197
Good inclusion of wrestling regarding sportsmanship starring Robert Howard
Q: If this isn't wrestling roots material I don't know what is.
Just a average Tuesday night in Russia. pic.twitter.com/ES364uBvxQ�" #BoxingHeads 🌐 (@DavyTrengove) October 15, 2019
Q: Can countries send more than one competitor in each weight class to the Ranking Series? It stands to reason that Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder would like to build on their points they already have from the 2019 World Championships and would participate. Do you think Kyle Dake and J'den Cox will also be looking to gain some points to try to earn a seed as well to maybe get on the opposite sides of Zaurbek Sidakov and Abdulrashid Sadulaev? Is it possible we see some Americans wrestling each other in these anticipated matches before the Olympic Team Trials?
-- Tom B.
Foley: Yes, countries may enter up to three wrestlers in any Ranking Series event. In 2020, that will be Rome in January and Poland in June.
The issue with Dake and Cox is that they won their titles at non-Olympic weights and those points don't transfer (if they even make the team). There isn't much incentive for wrestlers who haven't made the team to go out hunting for points unless they were testing their weight and already had the January week as a point in that weight loss progression. Although if they somehow knew they would also be the representative at the Pan Am Championships (highly unlikely for Dake) then they might want to make a run at getting enough points to slide into a seed.
That said, there probably wouldn't be enough entries at the events to allow them to slide into the top four. To accomplish that they'd also need finishers 2-8 to sit out and/or not accumulate a lot of points.
Also, I think Cox is more likely to go down that to go up given the spot isn't qualified and his opponent (Taylor) won't have the advantage of sitting out until the semifinals.
Q: Did Kyle Snyder sign a contract with Nittany Lion Wrestling Club? What if after a year it is determined that it's not a great fit for him? Obviously, Snyder could leave whenever he wants, but was curious about the terms.
-- Mike C.
Foley: A contract between the NLWC and one of the most successful wrestlers in American history is just not something many of us would be able to guess. The terms would probably be a trade of paid residence fee and coaching against working with college athletes and fellow NLWC residents. Maybe some local promotional stuff, but again it's all pretty much unknowable at the moment.
The chance Snyder moves (again) before the 2020 season is very, very thin. Conditions in State College would have to be bad and be bad right away. Given the Olympic year and genial personalities involved there just isn't a high likelihood that Snyder's bolting after only a few months. However, if he DOES want to leave, I recommend Charlottesville!
Q: What international stars might retire after 2020? Some I've thought about are Abdulrashid Sadulaev, Ismael Borrero Molina and Adeline Gray.
Foley: I don't know about Adeline. In a way she's kind of timeless in that she's done an exceptional job of protecting her body as she's gotten older. Still, if I had to guess I think she would join the ranks of the retirees and wait for the Hall of Fame dinner to be requested by USA Wrestling and UWW. (On a related note, we need her to stay involved in the sport. Need more female leaders!)
Frank Staebler will retire. Mijain Lopez will retire. Haji Aliev, Vlad Khinchegashvili, Sharif Sharifov, and Taha Akgul will also almost certainly retire. Roman Vlasov is 1000 percent going to retire.
Tough to think Borrero will retire since he's a heavy favorite to win the Olympics in 2020. That said, he may just settle into a fun-loving island existence.
Sadulaev isn't going anywhere.