Evan Wick at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Cougar Clash (December 4th)
In a six-team tournament, Little Rock traded victories in their engagements with the field, leaving with a fourth-place team finish at the Cougar Clash, a half-point ahead of host SIU Edwardsville and behind third-place Brown University. The Trojans were led in their performance by tournament runner-ups Triston Wills (174lbs) and Josiah Hill (285lbs). Wills split his two matches against ranked opponents on the day, topping #12 Andrew McNally of Wisconsin, 9-6, in his first match of the tournament. After downing UR Eric Beck (Bellarmine) in the semifinals, 7-3, Wills wrestled a close final against #32 Mason Kauffman, just missing the tournament title in a 3-2 defeat. Josiah Hill also advanced to the finals on the strength of two wins - a fall over UR Lear Quinton (Brown) and a 5-2 decision over UR Colton McKiernan (SIU Edwardsville) - before falling to #5 Trent Hilger of Wisconsin in the championship match.
Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational (December 3rd-4th)
In the first "major" of the regular season, the Pac-12 conference was tested against a good mix of national contenders. Altogether, the collective efforts of #16 Cal Poly, #21 Stanford, CSU Bakersfield, and Oregon State earned eleven top-8 medals, with Oregon State pacing the conference with an 8th-place team finish. Cal Poly finished in 10th-place, followed by Stanford (13th) and CSU Bakersfield (23rd), respectively. Oregon State's Brandon Kaylor and Cal Poly's Adam Kemp thoroughly impressed InterMat head honcho Earl Smith, and both are featured in his Five Breakout Performances from the CKLV article. Cal Poly's Evan Wick earned conference praise for his tournament victory and outstanding wrestler performance, being named Pac-12 Wrestler of the Week on December 7th.
CSU Bakersfield generated sparks during the course of the Invitational, but only their #20-ranked 141lber, Angelo Martinoni, was able to manifest the flame and earn a medal. Martinoni racked up a 4-3 record over the two-day event, earning a notable win over then-#33 Chase Zollman of Wyoming, 3-1 in sudden victory, to open his tournament and another ranked win over #21 Dylan D'Emilio of Ohio State, 4-3, in the tournament round-of-12 to place. Martinoni's losses during the tournament were major decision defeats to #25 Jake Bergeland of Minnesota (twice) and a 5-4 loss to the competent, UR Cole Mattin of Michigan (who currently wrestles, presumptuously, behind #3 Stevan Micic). Although his fellow Roadrunners did not reach the podium in Las Vegas, they did return to California with promising victories.
In his first action of the year, #14 Chance Rich wrestled UR Dylan Koontz (Ohio State) in an exciting opening round bout, needing sudden victory to win, 7-5. (The match against Koontz would be Rich's only appearance of the tournament, as he would bow out of the tournament thereafter due to injury.) In a 1-2 effort, Roadrunner 174lber Albert Urias wrestled each of his opponents tough, earning a ranked win for his effort. In the opening round, Urias took Minnesota's #24 Jared Krattiger to overtime, falling 3-1 in sudden victory. In the consolation, Urias notched a 6-4 decision over California-native, #26 Anthony Mantanona (Oklahoma) before falling to UR Max Maylor (Michigan), 4-3.
The #21 Stanford squad was led, again, by their All-Americans, with #6 Jaden Abas and #4 Shane Griffith both earning tournament medals and elevating their Cardinal to a 13th-place team-finish. Earning a ranked-win in his 2-2 effort was #29 Tyler Eischens at 174lbs. After dropping an opening decision, 7-3, to South Dakota State's #13 Cade DeVos, Eischens earned two wins on the back-side, including a 9-1 major over #29 Joshua Kim of Harvard. Abas rebounded after an action-packed quarterfinal loss to #10 Ridge Lovett (Nebraska), winning ranked matches against in-conference, #29 Cory Crooks (Oregon State), 6-1, and #25 Michael Blockhus (Minnesota), 9-4, to reach the consolation-semifinals. There, Abas squared off against his nemesis from the NCAA tournament, #4 Yahya Thomas (Northwestern). The Cardinal All-American has not entirely closed the gap, as Thomas advanced over Abas, 7-4. In the 5th-6th match, Abas trailed #15, Mitch Moore, before Moore defaulted the match due to injury, conceding the victory to Abas.
Defending NCAA Champion Griffith advanced to the finals with poise, earning a tech-fall and fall before putting a 12-4 major on #24 Josh Ogunsanya (Columbia) in the quarterfinals. Facing a talented Ohio State Buckeye in #7 Carson Kharchla, Griffith wrestled a controlled bout to advance to the finals. Both traded takedowns and two escapes apiece during the match, but the Gable-wrapped Griffith earned the 5-4 nod with a strong, 105-second ride to secure riding-time in the third period. Griffith's semifinal victory set up an all-important, all-Pac-12 final against the highly-touted, #2 Evan Wick of Cal Poly.
The Mustangs of Cal Poly were impressive in their performances over the weekend, putting four on the podium and earning a 10th-place team-finish. The Mustangs were led, of course, by the aforementioned #2-ranked Evan Wick. En route to the finals against Stanford's Griffith, Wick earned four victories, including a 15-0 technical fall over in-conference Augustine Garcia (CSU Bakersfield) in the tournament first-round, as well as a 4-1 decision in the semifinals against #10 Cameron Amine (Michigan). In the finals, Wick used his overwhelming length and veteran savvy to propel himself past fellow All-American Shane Griffith. A first-period takedown - as well as sound leg-attack defense - set a strong tone and earned Wick a lead he would not concede throughout. A second-period rideout, a third-period takedown, and over three minutes of riding time paced Wick to a 6-2 decision over Griffith. The victory injects further fuel into the national title race at 165lbs, and makes Wick the presumptive favorite for the Pac-12 title. (Although, defending, 4x Pac-12 Champion, #6 Anthony Valencia of Arizona State may still have something to say about that yet.)
Watch Evan Wick's post-tournament interview with Earl Smith HERE on Rokfin.
The surging, #11 Adam Kemp continued his hot-streak in Las Vegas, as he earned an opening-round win over #8 Chris Foca, 3-2, followed up by an overtime effort over #19 Troy Fisher (Northwestern), 4-2. Into the tournament semifinals, Kemp could not supersede #6 Ethan Smith (Ohio State), losing 3-2 on a first-period takedown by Smith. Kemp would default to 6th-place, forfeiting would-be rematches to Foca in the consolation semifinals and Fisher in the 5th-6th match.
Also medaling for the Mustangs were lightweight Antonio Lorenzo (5th at 125lbs) and #16 Legend Lamer (7th at 149lbs). Lorenzo compiled a 5-2 record at the event, notching a big win, 5-2, over #14 Malik Heinselman of the Ohio State in the consolation quarterfinals. In his defeats, Lorenzo held #2 Patrick Glory (Princeton) and #18 Jack Medley (Michigan) to decisions, 3-0 and 8-2, respectively. Lamer, for his effort, compiled a 4-2 record, similarly going 1-2 against (D1) ranked opponents. After advancing to the quarterfinals, Lamer was beaten by Northwestern's #4 Yahya Thomas, 7-4. (Much like Stanford's Abas, Lamer is itching to take control of the series between himself and Thomas, who defeated Lamer at NCAAs and went on to All-American.) After a 9-2 victory over #2 (D2) Sam Turner of Nebraska-Kearney in the round-of-12, Lamer dropped an 11-7 decision to #15 Mitch Moore (Oklahoma). In his 7th-place bout, Lamer stopped #25 Michael Blockhus (Minnesota), 7-3, to leave Las Vegas victorious.
The heavyweight crown left with the Oregon State Beavers, as then-unranked "Gas Tank" Gary Traub returned to form to lift Oregon State to an 8th-place team-finish. After a brutal November start that saw Traub drop out of the national rankings after a 2-4 stretch with losses to top-ten, All-American heavyweights in Lehigh's Jordan Wood (twice), Central Michigan's Matt Stencel, and Penn State's Greg Kerkvliet, the "Gas Tank" put on a statement-making performance in Las Vegas. "Betting on [himself]," Traub defeated in-conference opponent Peter Ming (Stanford), 14-7, before rattling off three straight 3-1 sudden victory wins against #28 Josh Heindselman (Oklahoma), #8 Brian Andrews (Wyoming), and #13 Christian Lance (Nebraska) to advance to face mobile big-man, #15 Yaraslau Slavikouski of Harvard in the tournament finals. As the two heavyweights traded attacks in the first, it was Traub in on the single-leg at the close of the period. Staying patient with his finish, Traub lifted the single leg and drove Slavikouski down to the mat, earning the takedown on the edge before Slavikouski winced in visible pain, calling for injury time after an apparent knee injury. As he could not continue, the bout was called and Traub earned his fourth-straight ranked victory to earn the Cliff Keen Las Vegas title. In addition to the heavyweight title, "Gas Tank," Gary won a bet with Coach Nate Engel, who will be adding some new ink.
Watch "Gas Tank" Gary's post-tournament interview with Earl Smith HERE on Rokfin.
Oregon State lightweight, #26 Brandon Kaylor raised brows in his 3rd-place finish at 125lbs. Using his dynamic, athletic style to full effect, Kaylor notched a ranked victory over #14 Malik Heinselman of the Ohio State, 5-3, in the tournament quarterfinals. After falling to #7 Devin Schroder of Purdue, Kaylor went after "the next best thing" emphatically, beating Wyoming's Jake Svihel by 14-5 major decision before earning another ranked-win, over #18 Jack Medley (Michigan), in the 3rd-place bout, 7-2.
The Beavers at 133lbs and 141lbs held up their weight as well, with #21 Devan Turner also advancing to the 3rd-4th match. After advancing to the semifinals, Turner fell to #9 Chris Cannon (Northwestern) and needed sudden victory to top #26 Joshua Koderhandt (Navy), 6-5, in the consolation semifinals. In the consolation finals, Turner squared off against a crafty, #20 Haiden Drury of Utah Valley. Leading in the third, 4-2, on the strength of a first-period takedown, a stall-point and an escape, Turner appeared to be well in control with roughly a minute remaining in the bout. Drury, however, would not go quietly. A takedown and rideout by the Utah Valley 133lber forced sudden victory - and when Turner went after a leg-attack, Drury was able to chase a go-behind, hooking an ankle for the match-winning takedown.
At 141lbs, #11 Grant Willits earned two tech-falls and two falls across his two-day tournament. Willits pinned the aforementioned, UR Cole Mattin of Michigan to start his tournament before being upset, 9-4, by Purdue's #13 Parker Filius. Willits got right back to his winning ways, putting up back-to-back tech-falls over Chase Zollman (Wyoming) and #19 Jake Bergeland (Minnesota), 19-1 and 17-2, respectively. A 4-2 stumble against All-American, #10 Chad Red of Nebraska in the consolation semifinals set up a rematch against Filius (Purdue) for 5th-6th. It was clear Willits did not intend to lose again, as he transitioned a neutral danger zone takedown in the first minute of the match into a brutal back-bow Turk that kept Filius in danger for the better part of the first period. The score was 6-0, with 2:11 in riding time for Willits after the first. The onslaught was just beginning, as Willits earned a reversal within seconds into the second period. With 4:00 of riding time in his pocket heading into the third, Willits continued to press forward on Filius. With Willits in on a single-leg, tree-top finish, Filius aimed to dive-roll, but Willits caught him flat on his back, earning a 10-0 FALL to earn 5th-place and avenge his early tournament loss.
Just missing the tournament podium was #29 Cory Crooks, who took a 2-1 tiebreaker-2 loss to #15 Mitch Moore (Oklahoma) on the top-side and a 6-1 loss to in-conference, #11 Jaden Abas of Stanford in the round-of-12. Both #17 Hunter Willits (157) and #25 Mateo Olmos (174) were 1-2 on their days, wrestling three ranked opponents each. Willits topped Navy's #19 Andrew Cerniglia, 3-1, to open his tournament before taking lopsided decision losses to All-American, #2 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) and #16 Justin Thomas (Oklahoma). For Olmos, he defeated #32 Jared Krattiger (Minnesota) in the opening round of the tournament, 8-3, before falling by 18-1 tech-fall to the eventual tournament champion, #3 Mikey Labriola (Nebraska). In his only consolation bout, Olmos lost a 2-1 decision to #12 Chris Foca (Cornell), in a zero-takedown match that featured Olmos chasing Foca in the third, with Foca holding riding-time in the back pocket.
After an eventful Week 5 for the Pac-12 Conference, the six teams were inactive in Week 6. It is my hope that Week 7 will bring back the action for the Pac-12 - and that I am able to review it all as it occurs! (My apologies for the delay in the present weekly recap, as I have been doing my best Dan Gable performance for my high school squad, which has taken more and more time and focus out of my days than I had envisioned. I hope you all enjoyed this lengthier recap as a bit of a peace offering. If my prep-coaching experiences are something you want to hear more about, send me a tweet or two @WrestlingQuoter!)