157 lbs Midlands Champion Trevor Chumbley (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Holiday wrestling staples - Midlands and the Southern Scuffle - were back in full force this year, along with the inaugural Soldier Salute in Iowa, giving wrestling fans plenty of options for entertainment and plenty of excuses to escape excessive family festivities.
Several Big Ten teams were in action this weekend for some final competition before diving into the conference dual slate.
Here's what we learned:
Well-rounded performance leads Northwestern to Midlands win
After 58 years of hosting the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships, the Northwestern Wildcats were crowned the team champions for the first time in program history.
The feat was even more impressive considering the Wildcats were without one of their top wrestlers in Michael DeAugustino at 125 pounds. They also had a few other wrestlers who had limited mat time due to injuries, coach Matt Storniolo told BTN's Shane Sparks, referring to his team as "the walking wounded."
Yet, the Wildcats still found themselves hoisting the team trophy at the end of the day thanks to first-place finishes from Lucas Davison (285), Yahya Thomas (149) and Trevor Chumbley (157) and podium finishes from Chris Cannon (2nd at 133), Andrew Davison (3rd at 197), Aiden Vandenbush (7th at 157) and Evan Bates (8th at 184).
The finals match that probably gave Coach Storniolo the most gray hairs was Thomas' 4-3 decision over Arizona State's Kyle Parco. Thomas led by a point when Parco got in deep on a shot and the two went off the mat with 15 seconds remaining. The Arizona State coaching staff wanted a takedown to be called, but after review, the two were deemed to have been off the mat and Thomas held on for the win.
Thomas, who improved to 11-1 on the season - including a 3-2 semifinal win over Penn's Doug Zapf - was awarded for his performance this weekend by being named not only the Art Kraft Champion of Champions, but also the Big Ten Wrestler of the Week.
A wrestler who didn't have to sweat out any close matches was heavyweight Lucas Davison, who rolled through the entire tournament without surrendering a single point. He collected a first-period fall, a decision and two major decisions before stopping the run of Pitt true freshman Dayton Pitzer, who took out top-10 opponents in Cohlton Schultz, of Arizona State, and Trent Hillger, of Wisconsin. Davison's size and length proved to be a bit too much for the freshman, as he controlled the match and prevailed with a 4-0 decision.
We, in this column, have been high on Chumbley since he won the Michigan State Open in the beginning of the season. The sophomore continued to impress in his title run this weekend, during which he gave up just two points in five bouts. Chumbley took out two Badgers along the way - a 6-1 win over Garrett Model in the semifinals and 8-0 over Drew Scharenbrock in the finals.
In his conversation with Sparks, Storniolo described Chumbley as a "selfless teammate" who was a key part of Thomas' third-place NCAA finish in 2021 and Ryan Deakin's NCAA title last season. But now, Storniolo said, it's Chumbley's time to shine and he's going to give "110%" every time he steps on the mat and have "an opportunity to make a name for himself."
Chumbley will have another one of those opportunities on Saturday when the Wildcats host Minnesota and he could take on All-American Brayton Lee.
Wisconsin has a solid showing at Midlands
The Badgers had a solid showing at the 58th Midlands Championships. The crew from Madison had 4 finalists, and ended up with one champion and a fourth place team finish. The Badgers had a contingent of 15 athletes competing at the event, notably missing Austin Gomez from this event. A theme you'll hear from me throughout this, is that I think that's fine. Sometimes people need to protect themselves (physically and mentally, not seeding), and that's fine.
Honestly, the biggest takeaway for me was that Eric Barnett looked awesome. Despite being a two-time All American and B1G finalist, I admittedly didn't give him enough credit up until this weekend. He was so solid and dangerous on his feet, and is unbelievable on top. He's very similar to Patrick McKee in that way. Barnett only has the one loss on the year to Iowa State's Kysen Terukina, but I feel like a 6-2 dominant win over former NCAA finalist Brandon Courtney makes up for that. Barnett is going to be a force as the year continues, and I'm excited to see how he fares against the rest of the B1G.
The remaining finalists for Wisconsin included Drew Scharenbrock at 157 (notably wrestling behind Garrett Model most of this year, who placed 5th at Midlands) who fell to Trevor Chumbley of Northwestern 8-0. Scharenbrock made a statement by making the finals, but ultimately the Wildcat breakout star at 157 was too much. At 165, Dean Hamiti dropped a hard fought match to Quincy Monday of Princeton, who announced he was staying up at 165 for the season with a Midlands title. Hamiti has close losses now to Carr and Monday this season, but should feel encouraged that he's been competing tightly with these guys. Braxton Amos dropped a double overtime match to Zac Braunagel of Illinois. Amos had two pins and a technical fall before his 2-1 semi-finals win to make the finals. Was in on some attacks at various points in the match, but wasn't able to capitalize before ride outs. With the B1G schedule getting going he'll have a chance to flip these results.
Speaking of, Wisconsin wrestles next in one of our B1G biggest duals of the year when they welcome the Nittany Lions of Penn State into Madison. That dual is this Friday, January 6th at 9pm EST on Big Ten Network. We'll get a chance to see Amos v Dean, Gomez v Van Ness, Hamiti v Facundo, and Hillger v Kerkvliet. This dual will be awesome, so don't miss it.
Zac Braunagel and Edmond Ruth stand out for Illinois at Midlands
Illinois also had a nice showing this weekend at Midlands, finishing behind Wisconsin at fifth with 104.5 points and two champions. Both Edmond Ruth (174) and Zac Braunagel won titles, while Lucas Byrd (3rd at 133), Danny Braunagel (3rd at 165), Dylan Connell (5th at 184), Danny Pucino (7th at 141) and Trey Sizemore (8th at 174) all made the podium.
Zac Braunagel's individual title-winning performance - his second of the season after pinning Ohio State's Gavin Hoffman to win the Michigan State Open - stood out for the Illini as the junior is looking increasingly comfortable up at 197 pounds this season.
As the No. 2 seed, Braunagel took care of business in the first couple rounds, setting up a semifinal with No. 3-seed Luke Stout, of Princeton. Despite giving up the first takedown, Braunagel kept his composure and rattled off four consecutive points - including a takedown of his own - and held on for the 4-3 win. The junior didn't get much of a break, though, as he was set for another grueling, tightly contested battle with top-seeded Braxton Amos, of Wisconsin. It took two sudden victory periods and two rounds of tiebreakers, but the Illini eventually earned the 2-1 win with an escape.
Ruth also found himself in several tight matches - including the championship bout against Penn's Nick Incontera, which he won, 4-1, thanks to a takedown on the edge with about 25 seconds remaining and a rideout to keep his 18-match win streak alive.
Both Braunagel and Ruth will be wrestlers to watch as the Illini travel to Iowa City on Friday to take on the Hawkeyes, as they could face Jacob Warner and Nelson Brands, respectively. Both will be good tests for two wrestlers still trying to establish themselves in their respective weight classes.
Illinois will then head back home Sunday to host Wisconsin, where we could see a rematch of Braunagel and Amos.
That is good news, because they definitely didn't get enough of each other this weekend!
Soldier Salute/Iowa wrestle offs
I kid, but Iowa had 8 champs, 3 other finalists, and many other placers at the Soldier Salute at Xtreme Arena in Corralville, IA. I have heard nothing but positive things from the event itself from coaches and media members, but I am curious if Iowa would have liked to have more competition that they don't already get in their own wrestling room.
Most notably was the 125 finals where Spencer Lee wrestled Drake Ayala wrestling unattached for the Hawkeyes. If you're reading this, then you likely know what happened, so I won't recap that. I will however share my thoughts.
In my mind everyone was justified in their feelings here. First of all, before the match all you see on Twitter is people outwardly saying that they hope to see the match, which makes sense, but it doesn't take the athletes and their specific situations into account all the time. I also like to be entertained, but I'm cool with breaks if it makes sense. We just want March to be great right? If I'm Spencer, I have extended my college career to finish this thing out, and wrestling your teammate in a finals match doesn't seem necessary. If you're Ayala, you want to see where you are and to get this match. If you're Tom and Terry, you probably want to see it also. In the end, Spencer did what he probably should've done and finished the match quickly. If you're Ayala and Brands and Co, you learned what you wanted to. Everyone is justified, and I'm sure they've figured it out by now, and I doubt it will linger. I think we have a tendency to overreact to things like this. It'll be fine.
In the end Iowa is about to start their B1G schedule as well when they take on Illinois in Carver Hawkeye at 8:00pm EST on B1G Plus. Patrick Kennedy (165) and Jacob Warner (197) will take on the Braunagel's at their respective weights, and I would certainly love to see Nelson Brands wrestle Edmond Ruth at 174. B1G season baby!!!
Southern Scuffle B1G Results
The Southern Scuffle just wrapped up in Chattanooga and we had a LOT of B1G action. Forgive me but we'll run through some of these. Purdue had two finalists in Matt Ramos at 125 and Kendal Coleman at 157. Ramos ends up with the win on the strength of a takedown and two nearfall points from the first period. He was able to rack up over a minute of riding time, which turned out to be helpful because he needed that minute to not subsequently give up riding time to Surtin who spent plenty of time in the top position. Ramos holds on in the third and gets the win. Coleman took on Jared Franek of NDSU, losing in rideouts 2-2. Despite a whole lot of action, neither guy was able to get a takedown in this match. Both guys were in on some pretty intense shots, but some insane defense kept each guy from successfully completing the takedown. I tweeted this, but I mean it, that this could very well be an NCAA finals preview at 157.
Minnesota placed fifth place while having 10 placewinners. They didn't end up with any finalists, but they had seven semi finalists between 133, 141,165, 174, and 285. Minnesota continued to display an impressive amount of depth. We've seen that the guys they can throw into the lineup can end up on the podium by the end of the year, as evidenced by Jake Bergeland last season. Jake placed third in this tournament behind Andrew Alirez of Northern Colorado and Allan Hart of Missouri. Minnesota takes on Northwestern, coming off of their Midlands Championship, on Saturday January 7th at 3pm EST, in Evanston Illinois. Hoping to see Michael DeAugustino and Patrick McKee at 125 as well as Brayton Lee take on the red hot Trevor Chumbley at 157.
Maryland had 3 placers with Braxton Brown taking 7th at 125, Ethen Miller took 4th at 149, and Jaxon Smith taking 4th at 197. Jaxon dropped a close match to Lou DePrez in the semis, but he continues to show that he's right there with some of the best in the country. The Terrapins take on Indiana on Monday, January 9th in College Park on Big Ten Plus at 6:30pm EST.