Benji Peak at the 2022 World Team Trials (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
The World Team Trials Challenge Tournament determined the final competitors for Final X. Those who win their best-of-three contests at Final X will advance to represent the U.S. at the upcoming Senior-level World Championships. While many of the best domestic competitors were sitting in Final X and awaiting opponents, there were plenty of high-level wrestlers in action over the weekend. The following looks at the statistical accomplishments of some of those wrestlers and previews their challenges at Final X.
Over the last few years, there have been very few wrestlers who have been able to put up points on the domestic scene like Benjamin Peak. The Greco specialist is still looking for his first Senior-level World team, but he has claimed a pair of U.S. Open titles and finished second at both the 2020 Olympic Trials Challenge Tournament and the 2021 World Team Trials.
This past weekend, he earned a spot in Final X and a rematch against Pat Smith, who bested him in last year's Trials finals. As always, Peak got it done with his dynamic offense. In his two matches, he averaged 13.02 points per minute. Even though he allowed 2.26 per minute, he still finished with a +10.75 point differential. Both his points per minute rate and point differential were far and away the highest of the tournament across all three styles. Fellow Greco competitor Alan Vera was second in both categories, and his points per minute rate (8.57) was nearly four and a half points lower.
Peak bested both of his opponents, Ryan Wheeler and Michael Hooker, in a combined 106 seconds. In that limited time, he put a whopping 23 points on the scoreboard. Against Wheeler, he scored a takedown off a missed throw attempt and quickly added a gut wrench. After the restart, Peak went double unders and scored a four to end the bout (FloArena has the result listed as a fall, but it clearly seems to be VSU). In Peak's next bout, Hooker actually started the scoring with an early four-point arm throw. Almost immediately Peak got back in the match with a takedown. He then locked in a trap-arm gut wrench and finished the bout with six turns. Hooker challenged the sequence, which only gave Peak another point. In theory, the match should have been called when the score hit 12-4 since that would have been an eight-point differential, but looks like the referee and scorers gave him an extra gut wrench.
On the other side of the 72-kg bracket, Smith also took care of business with a pair of victories over Noah Wachsmuth and Jamel Johnson. While Smith only averaged 2.27 points per minute, he did have the edge against Peak in their two-match series at the last trials. In those matches, Peak was able to keep it close, but he scored only seven points and notched only one two-point score. Peak has shown the ability to put points on the board, but they have come at a premium against Smith. Some early offense could go a long way to knocking off Smith at Final X Stillwater and making the World team.
On the women's freestyle side, Skylar Grote had the highest point differential at +6.98. Of course, her trip to Final X at 72 kg consisted of only one match at the Trials. She scored a 10-0 VSU win over Marilyn Garcia. Even though it was a small sample size, the performance was in line with how Grote has been performing recently. She had a +6.09 point differential at the recent Pan American Championships, which was the fifth-highest differential across all three styles.
Interestingly enough, none of the competitors in men's freestyle were able to crack the top five in terms of point differential at the World Team Trials. The closest, and the competitor with the best differential in the style, was Yianni Diakomihalis He finished with a +6.56 differential thanks to a pair of 10-0 match termination victories over Luke Pletcher and Ian Parker. In the Final X match at 65 kg, he will face off against Evan Henderson who qualified for the event after defeating Pat Lugo and scoring upsets over both Kendric Maple and Nick Lee.
Top Five Point Differential Performances
Benjamin Peak (72 kg/GR) +10.75
Alan Vera (87 kg/GR) +8.57
Jesse Thielka (63 kg/GR) +7.91
Skylar Grote (72 kg/WFS) +6.98
Sammy Jones (63 kg/GR) +6.58
While all of the wrestlers mentioned above had prolific offensive performances, defense remains an integral element of success for many competitors. Across all three styles, there were 18 wrestlers who did not surrender a single point in the tournament. All 18 of those wrestlers qualified for Final X and will have a shot at the upcoming World team.
While it is certainly not always the case, the Greco competitors were really letting it fly over the weekend. Of the top 20-point differential performances, 11 came in Greco brackets. Despite this, there was only an average of 9.73 points scored combined in the Greco matches compared to 10.57 scored in men's freestyle matches. While there was a lot of scoring in the Greco style, it was mostly one-sided matches. As you can see in the following chart, folks were getting blown out left and right in the no-leg-grabbing style.
In terms of highest scoring matches, there were three bouts that ended with 27 points on the board. On the Greco side, Cole Smith and Dominic Robertson had the potential for an even higher scoring contest. However, Robertson bowed out in the final minute with an injury. He hit a four-point throw to cut the lead but injured his arm on the throw, which ended the match.
At heavyweight in the men's freestyle division, Demetrius Thomas and Jordan Wood also finished with 27 points. Wood actually scored the first four points on the bout, but the former Pittsburgh wrestler got back into things with a four-pointer. After going to the break up 9-6, Thomas blew it open in the second period and took the VSU1 win by a 19-8 score.
Down at 57 kg, Michael Tortorice maintained control over Aden Reeves on the way to a 19-8 match termination victory. However, Reeves deserves credit for hanging in the match. Tortorice held an 8-4 lead at the break, but Reeves managed to close it to 9-8 less than a minute into the second period. In the end, Tortorice finished things off with a takedown into a leg lace with 29 seconds left in the match.