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CKLV: Preview and Thoughts

By Stephen Stonebraker


For the last few seasons and rightly so the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational has been deemed the toughest in season tournament in collegiate wrestling. With 14 teams ranked in the top 25 & 90 wrestlers ranked in the top twenty the 2019 tournament looks to be the toughest it has ever been.

*NOTE – Rankings used are of intermatwrestle.com 12-1-2019*

If he’s wrestling I would have to give the top seed to NCAA runner up #2 Jack Mueller of Virginia who finished third here a year ago. I can’t see anyone challenging him for this year’s title.  As to who takes runner-up honors, that will be a fight determined as early as round two.  While Iowa State’s Alex Mackall with his #6 ranking seems the most likely, it is anything but a shoe-in.  While he looked great tech falling #16 Jay Schwarm of Northern Iowa in his first match of the season, among last year’s losses are to both #15 Jakob Camacho of North Carolina State & U.R. Malik Heinselman of Ohio State.  Let’s also not forget Devin Schroeder of Purdue who has looked rather sharp lately. He finished eighth last year.  Nor should we forget Joey Prata of Virginia Tech who with a good showing will be right back in the top twenty.

#19 Brandon Courtney of Arizona State of course looks to take home a medal but he’ll have his work cut out for him with those who are unranked but every bit as hungry.  One can never count out Oklahoma’s Christian Moody who placing eighth two seasons ago has already proven that he can show up when it counts.

Patrick McKee of Minnesota has the tools to place here, so I’ll give him the nod. Dylan Ryder of Hofstra although he has yet to win a match this season, did manage a few upsets in route to a R12 finish here last year.  As to both Cole Verner of Wyoming and Jake Gromacki of Clarion, neither have looked all that great so far into the 2019-2020 season, but both are the type that if I leave them off of the contenders list will make me regret it.

With eleven wrestlers ranked in the top twenty and six wrestlers being returning medalists, “loaded” is an understatement.  This weight class is insane.  First and foremost their are two returning champions. Albeit, both of them won their titles at 125 lbs but  both #3 Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern who won the 2018 title and #9 Taylor LaMont who won the 2017 title are both here.  Now there is a chance that Northwestern could wrestle Colin Valdiviez instead but that wouldn’t seem to be a wise move.  If Rivera is at 133 lbs for good, we might as well see where he stands. CKLV is a great opportunity to do just that.

Neither of these guys have made the finals yet.  Iowa State’s Austin Gomez has yet to wrestle this season but he remains ranked #6.  If still out due to injury that opens up the doors for others who might not have other wise placed.   This is a golden opportunity for Cornell’s #7 Chas Tucker who placed 7th here last year as well as Wyoming’s #6 Montorie Bridges  who placed sixth, to cement themselves above the rest.

Fighting it out for the remaining medals will be #10 Cam Sykora of North Dakota State who was eighth last season, #12 Zach Trampe of Binghamton, #13 Jarrett Trombley of North Carolina State, #14 Josh Kramer of Arizona State, #15 Anthony Madrigal of Oklahoma & #20 Tim Rooney of Kent State.

Who I suggest to keep an eye on the most is Virginia’s Louie Hayes who despite being suited for 125 lbs is doing quite well at 133.  He recently won Keystone and looks to do well here despite being unranked.

Others I’d keep an eye on that could pull off an upset or two in route to a placement are Bakersfield’s Chance Rich, Edinboro’s Tye Varndell, Fresno State’s Gary Joint, Northern Colorado’s Ricky Padilla, Ohio State’s Quinn Kinner & Virginia Tech’s Collin Gerardi.

My hat’s off to #1 Luke Pletcher of Ohio State who has thus far taken everything that has been thrown at him and made like Wilson Phillips and held on to his top ranking.  He’s defeated #2 Dom Demas of Oklahoma this season & he’ll most likely have to again if he wants to call himself a two time CKLV champion.  #4 Mitch Mckee of Minnesota as well as #6 Chad Red of Nebraska also have their eye on the title.

A lot of interesting things could happen here at 141 lbs.  Wolfpack fans continue to wonder if #12 Tariq Wilson will ever open up like he did at the 2018 NCAA championships where he annihilated the competition in route to a third place finish. If he wrestles anything like he did that tournament, everyone else is in for a rude awakening.

#13 Ian Parker of Iowa State, I would call a darkhorse. Not 100% positive if #16 Sam Turner of Wyoming will be wrestling or not and I still think Mitch Moore of Virginia Tech is better than the #18 ranking he currently holds. There is certainly enough opportunity here for him to prove that.

A question to be answered is to what Michigan plans to do.  Cole Mattin has fared a bit better than Drew Mattin, but Drew with fourth and fifth place finishes has placed at this tournament twice. Granted, both were at 125 lbs.  Not sure if that weighs into the Wolverine’s decision or not.

Lastly look for Binghamton’s Anthony Sparacio, Fresno State’s Durbin Lloren & especially Cornell’s Noah Baughman to perhaps pull off an upset or two in route to making their way onto the award stand. Baughman took #1 Luke Pletcher of Ohio State to the distance in a dual this past Sunday losing 8-6.

Another weight class that is loaded with an unbelievable amount of talent.  Eleven ranked wrestlers, six of whom are returning place-winners.  I would imagine that the top seed would go to two time CKLV place-winner #5 Max Thomsen of Northern Iowa who placed seventh last season and fourth the year before that. Challenging him for the title will be #6 Jarrett Degen of Iowa State and #7 Griffin Parriott of Purdue who upset his way to a runner-up finish last year. Clarion’s #5 Brock Zacherl who finished in fourth place will also be gunning for that title.

Minnesota’s Brayton Lee currently ranked #9 has been having a phenomenal freshman campaign thus far with only one loss.  I’m not sure I agree with Matt Findlay of Utah Valley being as high as #10.  He has spent his entire career at 141 lbs thus far and has yet to wrestle a match at 149.  Not knocking his talent or his ability but eight pounds of muscle is a huge change. So in other words, I welcome it with arms wide open….prove me wrong.

In the same breath, I feel that #12 is far lower than what Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso will perform.  I’m not sure if I see him in the title picture, but I think he’ll finish better than one match shy of placing.

I think something should be said about Mark Manning’s retention rate at Nebraska. At many schools in many circumstances a kid doesn’t make the varsity lineup and become a star in his freshman year, he either transfers or gives up on himself. Not at Nebraska.  Collin Purinton hasn’t wrestled in a conference tournament since he was a freshman where he went 0-2 on a season of 12-15.  Now a senior he’s undefeated and ranked #13.  One of his wins against #5 Thomsen.  What a story it’d make if he were to win this weight class.

Northern Colorado’s #18 Andrew Alirez, Northwestern’s #19 Yahya Thomas & Virginia’s #20 Denton Spencer all fight for a spot in the top eight as well.

Who to look out for here though that could easily sneak his way into the semi-finals is Arizona State’s Josh Maruca.  He has his ups and downs, but when he’s hot, he’s hot.  He placed fifth here as a sophomore two years ago.

Henry Pohlmeyer of South Dakota State has a habit of catching people on their backs and it doesn’t take a referee more than a second to register a pin.  Speaking of which if Brent Moore of Virginia Tech can pull off what he did to Sammy Sasso in the recent Ohio State Vs Virginia Tech dual, he’ll open up a few eyes himself.

I’m still not ready to give up on Bakersfield’s Russell Rohlfing yet.  He has it in him and besides this has traditionally been a tournament he’s performed well in. As a freshman he placed 4th and as a sophomore he was one match shy of placing.  He gets out of his own head, he’ll do well here.

Fresno State’s Greg Gaxiola looked pretty good at the Road-Runner Open, taking Runner-up honors.  I think a top 12 finish is very doable for the bulldog.

There is a lot to be determined here.

After upsetting Iowa’s Kaleb Young who was ranked #2 at the time, some fans are already listing #3 David Carr of Iowa State among Pat Smith, Cael Sanderson, Logan Stieber and Kyle Dake as our next four time NCAA Division I champion.  My thinking is, let’s see him win his first CKLV title before we talk about him winning his fourth NCAA title.   With North Carolina State’s Hayden Hidlay ranked #1 & Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin the returning champ from last year, I see Carr receiving the number three seed.  Which means that he would have to go through both Deakin and Hidlay in order to win the title.

The real wrench in this weight class is Ke-Shawn Hayes of Ohio State.  Now the Buckeyes might not wrestle him but he’s more than proven what he’s capable of here in the past.  He placed fourth last year as a junior and third as a sophomore. Very confident that if he is entered, he becomes a three time CKLV place-winner.

#8 Kendall Coleman of Purdue is poised to have a great tournament sporting a 12-0 record thus far.  During his redshirt last season he suffered a loss to Edinboro’s Peter Pappas.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens if the two meet again.

#11 Will Lewan of Michigan, #15 Justin Thomas of Oklahoma and #19 B.C. LaPrade will all contend for medal status as well.  Among those unranked at the moment, Jacori Teemer of Arizona State, Pedon Moore of Northern Iowa, Jacob Wright of Fresno State and Justin McCoy of Virginia are all more than capable of pulling off an upset of two.

While not as likely, Harvard’s Hunter Ladnier could pull off an upset somewhere in here as well.

Another weight class with two returning champions.  Last year’s champion #4 Isaiah White of Nebraska and 2018’s Champion #6 David McFadden of Virginia Tech.  Both of these guys have their hands full if either wants to repeat as champion.  #5 Josh Shields of Arizona State who has thus far finished in fifth and third place, would like to add a CKLV title to his resume before he graduates.  Also in the hunt is North Dakota State’s Andrew Fogarty who despite always having a fairly high ranking do to dual performances, has yet to make his mark in a tournament such as this one.  Ironically the polar opposite can be found in Utah Valley’s Demetrius Romero.  Despite being out of the top twenty at the moment, Romero had the most impressive tournament of his career here last year when he finished third.  While some would conclude it is, I do not think it is a stretch to think he could contend for this year’s title.

#13 Thomas Bullard of North Carolina State, #12 Ethan Smith of Ohio State & #15 Philip Conigliaro of Harvard will not only have a chore in trying to place, but in also keeping their ranking.  Conigliaro is one of the best wrestlers Harvard has produced in quite a while, and it’d be nice to see him do well.

Speaking of schools that haven’t had a lot of success in recent years, that is the beauty of this weight class.  I’m not sure if Sacred Heart has ever had a CKLV place-winner before. I’m thinking that 197 lbs’er Anthony Reynolds may have placed at this tournament nearly twenty years ago but I’m not for certain on that.  Regardless the Pioneers haven’t had many CKLV medalists and I believe that if he wrestles well Brandon Levesque will bring home a medal.  I’ll say the same for The Citadel in regards to Dazjon Casto, who still searches for that pivotal moment in his career where he shows the wrestling world how good he truly is.

Easier said than done though….

Still have BIG XII champion Chase Straw of Iowa State to contend with.  He has placed at this tournament before and most certainly plans to again.

Now wrestling at his third school, Northern Colorado’s, who was Edinboro’s, who was Clarion’s Austin Matthews stands a legitimate shot at earning a medal himself.

Other potential medalists here that could sneak on to the award stand are Cam Coy of Virginia, Emil Soehnlen of Purdue, Shayne Oster of Northwestern and Dewey Krueger of Wyoming.

This is a fun weight class.  Ten ranked wrestlers and six returning place-winners, four of which are two-time medalists.  As far as I’m concerned this is a five man race, with two plausible darkhorses mixed in for the title.  This isn’t a battle, this is an all out war.

#4 Bryce Steiert of Northern Iowa who has placed sixth the previous two seasons at 165 lbs & #5 Mikey Labriola of Nebraska who placed fourth last year have already met once this season in a tight match which went to Steiert.  A finals match between the two rivals would prove to be an exciting one.

Let’s face it both #7 Dylan Lydy of Purdue and #8 Anthony Valencia of Arizona State both have something to prove. Lydy is one of the best wrestlers in the nation yet to be an All American.  Winning this weight class as stacked a it is would be an incredible statement for his confidence and his career.  Valencia is consistently taking a backseat to his brother’s accomplishments.  Winning this weight class would be an incredible statement for his confidence and his career.

With that said, I dare not dismiss the ability of #9 Devin Skatzka of Minnesota.  An early season blemish seems to have lit the fuse, and he’s ready to explode.   Last but certainly not least in the title picture are the names Kaleb Romero of Ohio State and Brandon Womack of Cornell who are currently ranked #19 and #14 respectively.  Romero recently defeated Womack 6-5 on Sunday, and for either of them to win this tournament, they’ll both have to go through Hell.

I’m sure #13 Daniel Bullard and the North Carolina State faithful wonder why I put Womack in as a darkhorse and not him.  Fair enough question and gut feeling is the best I can answer it.  I do feel that Bullard is very capable of having a great tournament though.

I’m anxious to see where unranked Kimball Bastian of Utah Valley ends up being seeded.  Hopefully a respectable seed in which he deserves.  The two time CKLV place-winner who has finished in seventh and eighth place during his career, has managed to find his way on to the award stand more than once.  If snubbed, I feel bad for anyone that has to face him in the early rounds.

#15 Jackson Hemauer of Fresno State & #20 Hayden Hastings of Wyoming will also make a run for medals against a pool of unranked talent.

Oklahoma’s Anthony Mantanona has certainly stepped it up a notch since last season as it is more than apparent to notice his improvement.  Placing here would further the statement.

Other’s to watch out for are Edinboro’s Jacob Oliver, Iowa State’s Marcus Coleman, Kent State’s Andrew McNally and Virginia’s Robert Patrick.

IF North Dakota State’s Lorenzo De La Riva is fully healed and 100% from the injury he suffered earlier this season, he too will be a force to be reckoned with.

In wrestling you never say never.  Impossible is a word with no meaning.  The second you think something cannot happen, it will.  With that said, I find it hard to believe that #1 Zahid Valencia of Arizona State  will do anything other than win his third CKLV title.

The real battle here is for runner-up honors and for those on the same side of the bracket as Valencia, who takes the bronze.  Nebraska’s #6 Taylor Venz has medals of both bronze and silver.  He took third here as a freshman and second last year as a sophomore.  Down a weight, Northern Iowa’s #3 Taylor Lujan took third last season as well.

Then there’s #4 Trent Hidlay of North Carolina State who has been on one heck of a streak lately with wins over #5 Lou DePrez of Binghamton & #7 Ben Darmstadt of Cornell, who in their own right are also both contenders for those silver and bronze medals.

If your mind isn’t blown yet with the enormity of skill in this weight class we also have to factor in #9 Hunter Bolen of Virginia Tech, looking to make his mark.

If that isn’t enough #11 Sam Colbray of Iowa State also throws his hat into the mix.

It’s difficult to think that after mentioning these eight guys that there is even anyone else in honorable mention, let alone serious contention for a medal.  There is.

#15 Jelani Embree of Michigan is bound and determined to make a name for himself this season and if he wants to get an early start, this is the place to do it.   #18 Zach Carlson of South Dakota State and #19 Owen Webster of Minnesota look to do the same.

Former Mountaineer now Bear, Alan Clothier of Northern Colorado has looked pretty good thus far this year and could pull off an upset.   Could also see notable performances out of Gavin Hoffman of Ohio State, Max Lyon of Purdue, and Tate Samuelson of Wyoming.

When last writing about Sacred Heart, sophomore Kyle Davis asked that I not forget about him.  I like that kind of attitude.  I hope to see him do well.

As said before, there are no guarantees in this sport.  However, if I were a man with money and a man who wanted to place that money on a bet, I’d feel very comfortable placing it on #1 Kollin Moore of Ohio State. Like Zahid Valencia a weight class below him, he’ll be going for his third title.

Nick Reenan of North Carolina State based on his ranking of #5 could be the number two seed but he has yet to wrestle a match this season.  If that factors in, I would imagine that #10 Eric Schultz of Nebraska gets the nod over #8 Tanner Sloan of South Dakota State and I’ll tell you why.  Sloan recently got upset by #18 Tanner Orndorff of Utah Valley. Schultz who finished in second place here last year, is currently undefeated.

I didn’t forget about #7 Jay Aiello of Virginia who is also undefeated who could also wind up being the number two seed.

Regardless of who is seeded what, simply placing in the top eight will be a chore.

#12 Tom Lane of Cal Poly looks to medal after finishing one match shy of placing last season.  I thought by now #16 Jake Woodley of Oklahoma would’ve established himself as a top eight wrestler in the nation. Placing high at a prestigious tournament like this one would do just that.

#17 C.J. Brunner of Purdue who placed fifth last year and #19 Kordell Norfleet of Arizona State on a high after knocking off Penn State’s Kyle Conel both look to place themselves.  It’ll be interesting to see if Norfleet’s victory over Conel was an indication of what to expect from him or if it was more an indication that Conel isn’t the same wrestler he was two years ago.  CKLV will be rather revealing.

Ironically enough, two previous place-winners Greg Bulsak of Clarion who placed sixth last season and Jacob Seely of Northern Colorado who placed eighth in 2017, are not currently ranked. Both look to earn another medal.

Among the names already mentioned look for Lucas Davison of Northwestern, Cordell Eaton of North Dakota State, Jackson Striggow of Michigan, Colin McCracken of Kent State, Joel Shapiro of Iowa State and Dom Ducharme of Bakersfield to possible contend for a spot on the award stand as well.

The hunt for a CKLV title at HWT looks to be a three man race with the possibility of a fourth sneaking in. #3 Mason Parris of Michigan is looking hotter than ever and should receive the top seed. Likely to meet him in the finals will be determined in what should be a semi-final between #4 Tate Orndorff of Utah Valley and #5 Tanner Hall of Arizona State. While not a high probability, give it at least a chance that as well as #7 Chase Singletary of Ohio State has been wrestling lately, he could upset his way into the finals.

Fort Hays State transfer Christian Lance of Nebraska seems to be finding his way around the world of Division I just fine as he’s currently ranked #13. With the grind that is a tournament such as CKLV, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares in a situation where he has to string together multiple matches against top ranked talent.

#14 Brian Andrews of Wyoming was seventh a year ago and he is capable of improving upon both that finish and his current ranking.

Look for #19 Brandon Metz of North Dakota, #20 Carter Isley of Northern Iowa, #16 Gannon Gremmell of Iowa State, Jon Spaulding of Edinboro, Quinn Miller of Virginia and Jon Borst of Virginia Tech to all contend for medals.

Not sure if he’ll be wrestling or not, but if he is A.J. Nevills of Fresno State will be a thorn in somebody’s side. He was one match shy of placing last season and won’t settle for anything but a spot on the stand.

Lastly, I hope to see Bobby Steveson of Minnesota have some success at this tournament.  He has more than taken the role for younger brother Gable who is currently suspended. He’s stepped up and taken the HWT position with honor, class and pride. Love to see him bring home a medal and hear the Minnesota faithful praise him for a change.

And there you have it!  My preview and thoughts for this year’s CKLV!  What a tournament it’s going to be!

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