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Five Big Ten Wrestlers Set For U20 World Championships

92kg U20 World Team Member Jaxon Smith (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

While the college season is inching closer, there's still plenty of wrestling to be done this summer. The U20 men's freestyle World Team is getting ready to travel to Sofia, Bulgaria for the World Championships set for Aug. 15-21.

Members of the team include four freshmen, as well a high school commit, who are sure to make a splash in the Big Ten in the coming years: redshirt freshmen Alex Facundo (Penn State) and Jaxson Smith (Maryland), true freshmen Nic Bouzakis and Nick Feldman (both of Ohio State), and high school senior Ben Kueter (verbally committed to Iowa).

Here's what to know about how each of them have been spending their summers and their preparations for the U20 World Championships.

Nic Bouzakis (61 kg) -- freshman, Ohio State

Bouzakis is no stranger to international competition, having represented the U.S. on the 2021 U20 World Team in Greco-Roman. This time, though, he'll be wrestling freestyle. Bouzakis has been busy this summer. In addition to enrolling at Ohio State and getting settled in on campus, he's also picked up gold medals at the U20 Pan American Championships, U20 World Team Trials and at the US Open in the U20 freestyle division.

The Buckeye freshman recently returned from Pan Ams in Mexico with teammates Andre Gonzales and Feldman and volunteer assistant coach Logan Stieber. Bouzakis didn't give up a single point en route to his gold medal, collecting three 10-0 shutouts and an injury default.

Bouzakis and Feldman arrived in Columbus near the end of June, according to Stieber, and immediately got to work training with their older teammates. Even though he'd only been training with them for about three weeks, Stieber said last month that he believes both Bouzakis and Feldman have already shown growth.

"The nice thing about the young guys - and some of the old guys still have it - but the young guys are really eager," Stieber said. "They're really trusting and they really want to learn. It doesn't always stay like that, but with the best guys, it does. It's really fun because you can really deep dive into areas where they need to get better and it makes it really fun to be a coach."

Stieber plans to accompany Bouzakis and Feldman to Bulgaria, along with Ohio State associate head coach J Jaggers.


Alex Facundo (74 kg) - redshirt freshman, Penn State

Like Bouzakis, Facundo has competed on the World stage before, representing the U.S. on the Cadet World Team in 2018 and 2019 - bringing home bronze medals both times.

While it's been three years since his last World Championships, Facundo said he's feeling increasingly confident thanks to his performances so far this summer and his training at Penn State. Facundo also won gold in the U20 freestyle division in the U.S. Open, World Team Trials and Pan American Championships. Facundo didn't give up a point in Mexico, winning 12-0 and 13-0 and collecting a pin in the finals.

"Ever since going to Penn State and being in the room, it just really, really helps me with the different training partners I have to give me different feels," Facundo said. "I probably have a lot more knowledge than I did in high school about foreign wrestlers and just like the little details that I needed to correct. In my last two World Championships, I had resources but I didn't have the resources I have now. So, I think this should be the best World Championships I've had so far."

Facundo said that all the success he's had this summer has helped to boost his confidence after struggling a bit to adjust last season as a true freshman. He went 11-3 in open tournaments, falling short of his own expectations.

But thanks to some advice from coach Cael Sanderson and a certain teammate, Facundo says he feels like everything is starting to click.

"Aaron Brooks once said, when I was wrestling with him one time, 'Don't stray away from what got you here. You're good and you go here for a reason, so just keep doing what you're doing,'" Facundo said. "So that's something I picked up, to just keep wrestling the way I have been my whole life and adding the little thing they're teaching and just adding that to my arsenal.

"And I think that's shown so far through the summer."


Jaxon Smith (92 kg) - redshirt freshman, Maryland

Smith is preparing to begin his first NCAA Wrestling season at 197 pounds for the Maryland Terrapins, but first, he has some work to do in Bulgaria. Smith's first major tournament victory was winning the U20 World Team spot in June, which he did in dominant fashion, getting a tech fall over his opponent in the finals.

He kept his domination going at Pan Ams in July, going 2-0 en route to a gold medal in his first international competition, with a 10-0 tech and a fall. All this success has boosted Smith's confidence heading into the World Championships.

"I would say that I'm just as confident going into World's as I was going into Pan Ams. I feel that I'm the best 92 kg wrestler in the world."

In preparation for Worlds, Smith said last week that he's been focused more on wrestling, spreading out the lifting schedule a bit more. He's been focused a lot on Par Terre scoring, as well as gut wrench defense.

Despite the fact that Smith's first season of NCAA wrestling eligibility is right on the horizon, he said he and his coaches are singularly focused on the task at hand.

"My coaches and I are just thinking about winning a Gold Medal in Bulgaria," Smith said.

Ben Kueter (97 kg) - verbal commit, Iowa

Although he's not yet officially a Big Ten wrestler, Iowa commit Kueter will also represent the U.S. in Bulgaria, winning his best-of-three final, 2-0, at U20 World Team Trials in June. The Iowa City High School senior committed to wrestle and play football for the Hawkeyes in the 2023 recruiting class.

While this will be Kueter's first World team, he has already gotten some international experience under his belt this summer, having just won gold at the U20 Pan American Championships last month.

As a multisport athlete at Iowa City High (wrestling, football, baseball and track & field), Kueter has gotten used to balancing his obligations. While Kueter is preparing for the World Championships, he's also getting ready for the start of fall football practice.

"I just have fun. I love competing and being on the spot," Kueter told Cody Goodwin, of the Des Moines Register, in 2021 about balancing state playoffs for baseball with competing at Junior Nationals in Fargo that summer. "We were on the spot in the playoffs and it was a great atmosphere, super fun. And, obviously, Fargo finals was another great atmosphere, there's nothing like it. I mean, yeah, you're going to be a little sore and a little tired but it's nothing a good warmup won't fix."

Nick Feldman (125 kg) - freshman, Ohio State

Feldman, another member of Ohio State's top-ranked recruiting class, will be making his debut on the World stage. While this is Feldman's first experience on a World team, the freshman is no stranger to winning big tournaments. As the top-ranked P4P recruit in his class, Feldman capped off his senior year at Malvern Prep by winning the Ironman, Beast of the East, Who's #1 and his second National Prep title.

He kept his success going over the summer, also sweeping gold medals in the U.S. Open, World Team Trials and Pan American Championships in the U20 freestyle division. The Buckeye freshman racked up points at Pan Ams, outsourcing his opponents 43-6.

While Feldman was at the top of his class in high school, he's had to quickly acclimate to the increased intensity and skill level in the college ranks.

"When you go to a college room, you're not at the bottom of the totem pole but you're having really, really tough practices every single day for the whole time, whereas in high school it's one hard practice a week or you're wrestling one or two tough people," Stieber said. "(Feldman and Bouzakis) have grown a lot already in the three weeks they've been here and they're getting better."

Stieber is excited about the energy Feldman and his classmates have already brought to the wrestling room with the way they push the more experienced guys in the lineup. For the rest of the summer, Stieber said Feldman and Bouzakis will keep training in freestyle while the rest of the team prepares for school and official practice to begin.

"I'm excited for them and I think Buckeyes fans should be very excited about the future," he said.

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