Oregon State's Devan Turner (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The final week of the calendar year brought in a torrent of wrestling for the Pac-12, as conference competitors laced up their wrestling shoes against the field all over the country. #16 Cal Poly sent a few of their horses to the inaugural MatMen Open in Illinois, as did Oregon State, while #21 Stanford, Little Rock, and CSU Bakersfield sent their squads to the Southern Scuffle. Meanwhile, #23 Oregon State and #6 Arizona State each traveled to neutral-site "dual-meets" against the Wolverines of Utah Valley and #4 Michigan, respectively.
(Quotes are used here as the emergence of society out of the holiday break brought a wave of COVID-related cancellations of which the Pac-12 was not immune. The hyped dual between Arizona State and Michigan was whittled down to four matches, while #23 Oregon State had duals against Penn and Drexel "postponed," as did Cal Poly, who was set to face Northern Colorado. Oh, and Arizona State's home-dual against Iowa State. Lovely.)
Illinois MatMen Open (December 29th & 30th)
A humble, but talented, group of Pac-12 wrestlers took the mat at the inaugural MatMen Open, with a handful of #16 Cal Poly and Oregon State wrestlers finding themselves in the thick of the competition.
At 125lbs, #30 Antonio Lorenzo (Cal Poly) split ranked, sudden victory matches on the top-side of the bracket, topping #26 Gage Curry (Pitt), 7-5, before losing to eventual champion, #29 Justin Cardani (Illinois), 3-1. Lorenzo would bounce back in the consolation for 3rd-place, topping Penn's Blair Orr and a red-hot Sheldon Seymour (Lehigh, behind #14 Jaret Lane), who had notched wins over #26 Curry and #25 Dylan Shawver (Rutgers) earlier in the tournament. Fellow Cal Poly Mustang Brawley Lamer (157lbs) finished in 5th-place, splitting a pair of ranked matches en route to the quarterfinals. Lamer defeated #29 Robert Kanniard (Rutgers), 6-2, to set a quarterfinal match with #28 Elijah Cleary of Pitt, a bout that resulted in Cleary advancing, 5-4. Lamer rattled off two wins in the consolations before being sent to 5th-place by way of an 11-5 defeat to #33 Alex Carida (Bloomsburg).
The 197lbs weight class offered two Pac-12 entrants, with Ryan Reyes (Oregon State) leading the way. Reyes advanced to the semifinals on two victories to set up a meeting with #2 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt). The returning NCAA runner-up proved a formidable test, as Reyes fell by a 10-2 major decision. He would default out of the consolations. For his efforts, Trent Tracy (Cal Poly) went 3-2.
#6 Bernie Truax (Cal Poly) and #16 Trey Munoz (Oregon State) both entered a star-lined 184lbs bracket, which saw #2 Myles Amine (Michigan) square-off against post-grad Mark Hall in the tournament finals. In his first matches since the Michigan State Open, Truax looked to be in full-form, as he earned two victories (including a fall in the 3rd-place bout) over #19 Zac Braunagel (Illinois), in addition to an important victory over conference foe Munoz of Oregon State, 3-1, in the consi-semis. The meeting between Truax and Munoz was a tactical affair, with Truax preventing Munoz from scoring a couple promising attacks during the course of the bout. A second-period takedown was enough for the Mustang to emerge victoriously. Truax's only loss was to Mark Hall, 7-3, in the semifinals. The aforementioned Munoz was knocked into the consolation by #7 Brit Wilson (Northern Illinois) via a 2-1 quarterfinal decision. Munoz would recover well, defeating #24 Chris Weiler (Wisconsin) in the round of 12 and avenging the loss to Wilson with a 12-7 victory for 5th-place.
Southern Scuffle (January 1st & 2nd)
An individual title from #7 Real Woods at 141lbs paced not only the Stanford squad, but the Pac-12 contingent at the "Scuffle." The Cardinal would leave the event in 11th-place with two medals, with #28 Tyler Eischens (174) finishing in 8th-place. Also sending their squads to UT-Chattanooga were CSU Bakersfield and Little Rock, who each had a few wrestlers a match or two away from the tournament top-eight.
Finishing their tournament in the round of 16 for the Trojans were Jayden Carson (125), Tanner Mendoza (184), and Josiah Hill (285). Of note, Josiah Hill earned a conference victory over Bakersfield's Jake Andrews via first-period fall in the consolations. Finally, the Little Rock Trojans just missed a medal, with Tyler Brennan (165) falling in the round of 12. The Roadrunners' #22 Angelo Martinoni (141) lost in the round of 16, while Josh Brown (149) and Albert Urias (174) just missed the podium with round of 12 finishes. Stanford's #29 Jackson DiSario (133) ended the tournament in the round of 16, alongside Charlie Darracott (157) and heavyweight Peter Ming. 197lber Nick Stemmet was just outside of the top-eight in the round of 12.
Scuffle Champion Real Woods reaffirmed to the national landscape that he is, indeed, "for real" on his path to the championship. Steadily advancing through the bracket, Woods defeated Marcos Polanco (Minnesota), 4-0, Andrew Bloemhof (Oklahoma State), 6-0, and Ethen Miller (Maryland), 3-1, to set up an intriguing semifinal match against #8 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado). The highly-talented Alirez gave Woods all he wanted, as the Golden Bear scored the first takedown in the opening period. Woods, however, was unphased, getting an escape in roughly 11s, ending the period with a takedown of his own to lead 3-2 into the second period. A quick escape after choosing down made the score 4-2 for Woods. In the third, Alirez took his opportunity on the bottom. After putting on a nearly one-minute ride, Woods had seemingly collected his riding-time point, but Alirez wasn't done competing. A sudden reversal made the score knotted at four apiece and erased riding time. On the first reset, with roughly a minute remaining in the bout, Alirez opted to go optional-start, cutting Woods to give him the 5-4 lead, and the chase was on. With short-time, Alirez found himself on a low-single, built up and hunted down a match-winning takedown - but Woods was game. Dodging a back-trip and sitting through a cradle attempt, Woods narrowly avoided Alirez's final offense to advance to the finals, 5-4. In the championship final, Woods squared off against #15 Allan Hart (Missouri) and used a workmanlike performance to win, 4-0, on the strength of an escape, an in-transition 2pt nearfall, and a riding time point.
#23 Oregon State vs. Utah Valley (January 2nd)
Starting at 133lbs, Oregon State pulled away from Utah Valley early, spurred on by an upset by #16 Devan Turner over #15 Haiden Drury, 5-3. Drury had previously beaten Turner at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invite in the consolation finals on a late comeback, 6-4SV. Falls at 141 and 149 by #12 Grant Willits and #29 Cory Crooks provided a sizable cushion, as Oregon State went on to take eight of ten bouts. Perhaps most importantly, the Beavers defeated three of four ranked Wolverines. In addition to the victory over Drury, #26 Mateo Olmos defeated #32 Kekana Fouret, 5-3. To close out the dual, #15 Brandon Kaylor continued his hot-streak with a 5-3 upset over #5 Taylor LaMont - a victory that knotted their collegiate series at one-match apiece and settled the dual at 31-6 Oregon State.
#6 Arizona State vs. #4 Michigan (January 3rd)
Despite an unfortunate turn of events leading to the original dual-meet being reduced to four match-ups, the wrestling matches that did occur delivered in full. Fielding their #4-ranked lightweights, Arizona State's Brandon Courtney got the evening started with an exciting 5-4 bout against #19 Jack Medley at 125lbs. Pushing ahead with two takedowns in the first period, Courtney stayed in the fire with the steady and workmanlike Medley, conceding three escapes and a short-time stall point. Following up Courtney's performance was a red-hot Michael McGee at 133lbs. In a top-eight match-up, McGee showed no fear as he unloaded an offensive arsenal on #8 Dylan Ragusin. Although Ragusin was undeterred early, McGee's pace and confidence would envelop the Michigan stand-out, as McGee scored a takedown per period, to go alongside a two-point nearfall, an escape, and nearly five minutes of riding time to emerge victorious, 10-0.
Then, Michigan unveiled their Olympians. At 141lbs, #3 Stevan Micic took the mat against a very game Julian Chlebove. Chlebove currently sits behind #17 Jesse Vasquez, but that was not a deterrent as Chlebove fought Micic in every situation. Entering the third, down 7-3, Chlebove earned a quick escape and immediately got himself to a lefty high-c that evolved into a forty-second scramble to a takedown. With the match winding down, Chlebove cut Micic and worked hard to run the Olympian down to force overtime, but the veteran slipped away, 8-6. In the closing match of the evening, it was Olympic Bronze, #2-ranked 184lber Myles Amine of Michigan facing Josh Nummer of Arizona State. Although Nummer did not concede to Amine, the Olympian was clearly on another level, scoring eight points in the first period before pouring on another nine in the second for the match-terminating, 17-2 technical fall. Altogether, the four bouts each brought unique flair and captivating action, and nearly made up for "what could have been."
As the aforementioned cancellations continue to roll in, we will stay optimistic that our Pac-12 teams will return to competition sooner rather than later.