By Stephen Stonebraker
Before I get started I want to make a few things clear. I am not the one doing the rankings for the Pin Doctors. Rankings are put together by the Portillo brothers, Josh and Justin. I am however using the Pin Doctors Rankings for Division I.
With that out of the way I am very excited about this year’s Midlands. I think it is going to be a great tournament with lots of exciting action. I’m not sure if anyone else is, but I’m anxious to see if any post grads enter this season. As a kid, I always loved it when a wrestler years removed from his senior year of college would enter the tournament. Seeing matches that I otherwise never would have seen. While we won’t know who they are until final brackets are released, I do hope to see at least a handful this season.
Now let’s take a look at the weight classes!
Two time NCAA Champion Spencer Lee has yet to win a BIG 10 title! That’s hard to believe isn’t it? You know what else he hasn’t won yet? A Midlands title! Sixth as a freshman and second last year, is it a curse or will 2019 be his year? Easier said than done with both #2 Jack Mueller Virginia who recently won CKLV and #3 Patrick Glory of Princeton in his way. The one thing that Lee has going for him is that he’ll only have to face one of them in route to a title.
Devin Schroder of Purdue has looked phenomenal thus far this season. He had a fantastic CKLV where he finished in second place. Currently ranked #5, he finished 8th here last year. I expect him to improve upon that finish, but it won’t be easy. #7 Brock Hudkins of Indiana & #8 Drew Hidlebrandt of Central Michigan will both be gunning for medals as well. On top of it, there’s also home school freshman sensation #9 Michael DeAugustino who finished an extremely impressive third at CKLV.
Who I’m really anxious to see in action is Illinois’s #32 Justin Cardani. He kind of came out of nowhere last season to place sixth and I’m wondering if maybe he’ll upset his way to another medal.
As always, I expect #23 Gage Curry of American to turn a few heads and garner an upset or two. Northern Iowa’s Jay Schwarm has looked hot lately not only capturing seventh place at CKLV, but winning the Gorriaran award on top of it. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him on the award stand.
I was hesitant to put Oklahoma’s Christian Moody on the list because he has not looked good this season at all. I’m not sure if he’s injured or if the cut to 125 has finally caught up with him or what. All I know is that he’s not wrestling as well as I know he’s capable. He placed eighth here once. Love to see him do well here again. It’ll be a hell of a task. As you can tell by the photograph above, not only does he have the wrestlers I mentioned to contend with, but quite a few others as well.
At first glance it looks to be a rematch between #1 Austin DeSanto of Iowa and #2 Seth Gross of Wisconsin. DeSanto shocked the wrestling world and made a statement that he’s going for the national title by upending the 2018 NCAA champion a few weeks ago by a score of 6-2. While this is a match many fans look forward to, it’s not a guarantee that it’ll happen. The real question mark here is where does #5 Sebastian Rivera fit into all of this? He did nothing, but give Spencer Lee trouble at 125 lbs all of last year. It’ll be interesting to see him against both Gross and DeSanto if that happens. In case you are unaware, DeSanto, Gross and Rivera have all won Midlands titles in the past.
Campbell’s #10 Noah Gonser made the finals last year, but I believe the competition is far too stacked for him to do so again. It’ll be hard enough re-making the award stand let alone standing in the runner-up spot. I think he’ll medal, but I’m just not sure where. I think a lot depends on whether he has to wrestle Ohio’s #30 Mario Guillen or not. While Gonser seems to be able to handle opponents who have defeated Guillen, Guillen has been his Achilles’s heel.
#9 Travis Piotrowski was fifth at 125 lbs a year ago and much like Rivera, I’m anxious to see where exactly he stand as a 133 lbs’er.
The thing I love about a tournament like the Midlands is that it gives backups a chance to show how good they really are. Northwestern’s Collin Valdiviez has his ups and downs, but he always wrestles well here. He placed fifth as a freshman and seventh as a sophomore. Wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him medal again this tournament. Iowa’s Paul Glynn a backup to DeSanto could also find himself on the award stand. He placed fifth a couple of years ago.
#20 Louie Hayes of Virginia missed out on a CKLV medal by one match. I think he should place here though.
Last but not least let me give a little love to someone not in NCAA Division I. NAIA All American Jacob Seto of The Cumberlands. He placed eighth at the national tournament last season. I think the bracket may be a little too loaded for him to medal, but I can see him wrestling well enough to pull off an upset or two and show the wrestling world that NAIA produces some good talent too.
#3 Dom Demas of Oklahoma will most likely receive the number one seed as the #2 seed will go to last year’s runner-up #7 Max Murin of Iowa. Yes, this makes the third Hawkeye in a row I see making the finals. Although hosted by Northwestern, the Midlands in years past has been known as Iowa’s tournament. 2019 will make a believer out of anyone who doubts that statement. Not only do you have Murin, but transfer Jaydin Eierman may make an appearance. If he does, he’ll throw the seeding out of whack and he may receive the #1 seed. Then there’s Carter Happel who has placed sixth at this tournament in years past. Three Hawkeyes on the award stand all at the same weight? Very plausible.
As to the other place-winners you have to think that #10 Tristan Moran of Wisconsin who placed seventh last year is in the discussion but I’m not so sure that one can go based off of rankings in order to make the best prediction. Zach Sherman of North Carolina is ranked #22 at the moment, much lower than that of #10 Josh Heil of Campbell & #13 Michael Blockhus of Northern Iowa, but he finished third here last season. If he wrestles anything at all like that this tournament, may I say “dark horse champion.”
Another guy to watch out for is Bucknell’s Unranked Joey Gould, who took fifth last season. I’m anxious to see what he ends up seeded if seeded at all. Either way, I think he out wrestles wherever he is placed.
Lastly keep an eye on Illinois’s Dylan Duncan. He’s not one to go into a tournament with a lot of hype or expectation but once he gets going he’s tough to beat. I doubt he receives a very high seed, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him place. He’s been fourth and sixth here in years past.
So here’s the deal… North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor is currently ranked #1 in the nation. Yet Princeton’s Matt Kolodzik is a five time Midlands place-winner and two time Midlands champion. If I were in the seeding committee I’d give the nod for Kolodzik over O’Connor as to who gets the number one. No guarantee that 5th-1st-2nd-6th-1st Kolodzik will even be in the tournament. I’d like to see it though. To know that when his career is said and done as a Tiger that he could potentially be a 7 time Midlands medalist is as epic as it is historical.
If Kolodzik is not in the tournament, its yet another Hawkeye, this time #6 Pat Lugo who looks to meet O’Connor in the finals. Challenging for that spot will be #7 Yahya Thomas of host Northwestern who has finished third in the past. Thomas also finished a very impressive third looking like the T-1,000 in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY in his run through the consolations. He’s a wrestler I would NOT want to face in the wrestle-backs.
Then there’s also #8 Griffin Parriott of Purdue and #10 Max Thomsen of Northern Iowa who finished as the runner-up to Kolodzik last season.
When I was making the picture, #17 Mike D’Angelo slipped my mind. Being fourth and sixth thus far in his career, he most certainly poses a threat at another medal, if not a finals appearance.
Then there’s also #14 Cole Martin of Wisconsin, #15 Kizhan Clarke of American & three other ranked wrestlers contending for a spot on the award stand as well.
Then we also have Iowa’s Jeren Glosser who has placed fourth and his teammate Vince Turk who was one match shy of a medal. Three Hawkeyes plausibly on the award stand at 149 lbs? I believe so.
If you’re looking for the thorn in the side, the answer as to who it’ll be I believe will be Purdue’s Nate Limmex if the Boilermakers decide to enter both him and Parriott into the tournament. Limmex, like Glosser & Turk is one of the best backups in the country. He finished fourth here in the past and he’ll be a force to be reckoned with against anyone he steps on the mat against.
Lastly, it’d take a miracle as loaded as this weight is for anyone not a Division I wrestler to medal but I believe if anyone can do it, I think Elmhurst’s Jimmy McAuliffe can.
Has Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin more than proved his #1 ranking or what? With convincing wins over both David Carr of Iowa State and Hayden Hidlay of North Carolina State feel safe in predicting him to win his second Midland’s title this tournament.
The number two seed here I believe will be #8 Quincy Monday of Princeton who recently defeated #4 Kaleb Young of Iowa in dual meet action. Speaking of Young, he’s had a rather rocky start to his senior season. Being fifth, fifth, runner-up thus far at the Midlands, I do however expect this to be his redemption. A plausible rematch between he and Monday should prove to be an exciting one.
A surprise finalist? I think Deakin’s finals opponent is going to be between Monday and Young, but I can see a slight possibility of Pennsylvania’s #9 Anthony Artalona sneaking in.
As to the other place-winners I think any of the names mentioned in the photo have a shot at taking home a medal. The guy I think that could be a monkey-wrench in all of this is #21 Eric Barone. There’s just something about the Illinois’ guys at a tournament like this that makes me think they’re the ones to watch out for. He has placed fifth here in the past.
And before I move onto 165 lbs, I have to once again tip my hat to the University of the Cumberlands. There haven’t been many NAIA wrestlers to take home Midlands medals in the past but I think there’s a legitimate shot that they could here. Tres Leon won three matches here last season.
The Midlands is not on Virginia Tech’s schedule. However in a recent interview with Jason Bryant, Jared Frayer confirmed that David McFadden will be participating in this year’s championships. This makes it a whole new ball game. Collegiality McFadden is undefeated against both #1 Alex Marinelli of Iowa and #2 Evan Wick of Wisconsin. He pinned Marinelli in their only meeting at the 5:14 mark. He also pinned Wick, in the first period, along with owning a 3-0 win over him as well. I still think Marinelli, a two time Midlands champion will receive the number one seed. I also see Wick being last year’s runner up receiving the number two seed and McFadden the number three. Regardless of seeding, in order for any of these three to call themselves the 2019 Midlands Champion they’re all going to have to go through each other.
A chance at anyone knocking any of the top three off? No. You never say never in this sport and stranger things have happened, but I’m going to say no. #12 Zach Hartmann of Bucknell used his patented cradle last season to capture third place & North Carolina’s #13 Kennedy Monday always seems to lurk in the shadows ready to pounce but I believe the battle between everyone else here is going to be for fourth place.
I feel fairly confident in the names I picked in the photo above as to who I think will be our top twelve. I threw in Emmett LiCastri of Franklin and Marshall because he’s been wrestling fairly well this season. I don’t know if that means capturing a medal at the Midlands championships but I can see it meaning coming within a match.
#3 Mike Kemerer with two Midlands championsips to his name looks poised to receive the number one seed and win his third title. With the way #4 Dylan Lydy looked winning CKLV recently, that third title is anything but a given. Kemerer will have to wrestle well in order to defeat Lydy. Lydy catches him sleeping, he’ll win his second major tournament of the year.
And speaking of sleeping, don’t think that I’m sleeping on #5 Bryce Steiert of Northern Iowa. I know what he’s capable of too. He lost in the finals of CKLV to Lydy by a score of 3-1 sudden victory. It could just as easily be him in the finals against Kemerer as it could be Lydy.
As to the other place-winners I expect #11 Joey Gunther of Illinois who placed seventh a year ago to improve upon his finish. Talent and ability wise, I would say he’s every bit as good as Lydy & Steiert but seems to have difficulty winning those really big matches. Perhaps this tournament will be his “over the hump” moment.
If the NCAA gave out a “most improved” award #20 Anthony Mantanona of Oklahoma would be more than eligible to receive it. He’s twice the wrestler he was last season and I’m anxious to see how he’ll do here.
Who I really want to see have a great tournament is Army’s Ben Harvey. He is so much better than his current #23 ranking. So much better. Has had a few hiccups thus far into his senior season but there’s still plenty of season left. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him do very well at this tournament. He’s more than capable.
This is going to be an interesting weight class for an assortment of different reasons. #4 Taylor Lujan of Northern Iowa who has a runner-up finish to his name at 174 should receive the number one seed I would imagine. Although it may go to #10 Cash Wilcke of Iowa who finished as runner-up last season after winning a title in 2017.
And that’s really where a huge focus will be concerning this weight class. Who’s Iowa going to go with Wilcke or Nelson Brands? This tournament will determine that. Whoever wrestles better here, I say will be who we see start at the BIG 10 tournament. What would be most interesting, would be to see Nelson Brands against #25 Johnny Sebastian of Wisconsin and to see Wilcke against #22 Travis Stefanik of Princeton. Sebastian defeated Wilcke in dual action earlier this season and Stefanik defeated Brands.
As to the rest of the weight class, #14 Andrew Morgan of Campbell finished fourth at 174 last season and he’ll have his hands full if he wants to finish that high again this tournament. It’ll be a battle for those spots on the award stand.
What I’m personally most excited about is Ben Sarasin’s slight chance of placing. I know it’s a stretch against Division I competition but I think the chance exist. The University of Chicago has been coming to the Midlands at least as long as I’ve been alive. Maybe longer but I think their first Midlands tournament was around 1985. They have yet to place someone on the award stand. How exciting would it be for Sarasin to be the Maroon’s first place-winner?
On paper this finals looks to be another classic confrontation between #2 Jacob Warner of Iowa and #3 Patrick Brucki of Princeton. Brucki won last year’s Midlands title defeating Warner 4-2 along the way. Warner recently defeated Brucki 5-4 in dual meet action.
However I would dare not count out Cal Poly’s #7 Tom Lane’s chances of upsetting his way into the finals. The Mustang senior defines tenacity, has defeated Warner 4-2 sudden victory and kept it within one point of Brucki. Upsetting both would not only be great for his career but for the Cal Poly program in general.
Also keep in mind that #9 Jake Warner of Oklahoma owns a 5-4 victory over Warner as well. Then there’s Purdue’s #8 C.J. Brunner who owns a 10-6 victory over Warner, a 2-1 victory over Woodley & a 8-1 victory over Lane.
Needless to say I think the battle for a title is an all out war between five very talented wrestlers.
As to the other place-winners #19 Lucas Davison adds yet another Wildcat who looks to place at his home tournament. #26 Drew Phipps of Bucknell I expect to turn it on and capture a medal. Unranked Jay Aiello of Virginia is sure to pull off an upset or two.
Keeping the faith alive in hopes for the success of a non DI wrestler, I once again refer to the University of the Cumberlands. Eric Deluse is a guy I can see sneaking in to that eighth place spot on the award stand.
Ranked #3 with a recent 3-2 win over #7 Trent Hilger of Wisconsin, Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi looks to continue to prove to the Hawkeye faithful that they have a tremendous HWT. Winning a Midlands title would further cement that belief.
Easier said than done…
Along with having to get past Hilger again, there is also Campbell’s #10 Jere Heino to contend with who majored Cassioppi at last year’s Midlands 11-3. Although he has yet to figure out Michigan’s Mason Parris, Central Michigan’s #11 Matt Stencel has defeated everyone else he’s stepped on the mat with this year. May I add the pinning machine who has already racked up eight falls in thirteen matches stuck Cassioppi in forty-three seconds last season.
As to the other place-winners I think spots fifth through eighth are up for grabs. I’m anxious to see Harvard’s #24 Yaraslau Slavikouski in action. I hope I spelled that right. There’s no way I’d be able to pronounce it right. He came within one match of earning a medal at CKLV. I think he can get one here.
With that, that concludes my thoughts on the Midlands. As you can see team wise I look for Iowa to really show their dominance. To Channel the years of domination under Dan Gable, and have a multitude of champions along with top three place-winners at damn near every weight.
I’m also excited to see how good of a tournament this can be for both Purdue and Army. Both teams are lead by coaches I believe in. I can see the Boilermakers placing as many as ten. I can see the Black Knights putting as many as six on the award stand.
Will the University of the Cumberlands do as well as I’d like to see them do? Probably not, but I for one think NAIA wrestling is a lot tougher than anyone seems to want to give it credit for and I’d love to see them prove it.
Probably some wrestlers that will be participating that I’m unaware of and some wrestlers I included that will not be participating.
Either way, as it has been since 1963, this is going to be a great tournament!!