By Stephen Stonebraker
My first thoughts on the Southern Scuffle are the same as they are every year. I love, love, love what the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga has done with the tournament, but it breaks my heart to know that one of our largest & most competitive in-season tournaments was originated at a school that no longer has a wrestling program. In memory of one of the many programs that never should have been cut & in hope of seeing it one day revived, long-live UNC-Greensboro wrestling!
The rankings I will be using in this preview are from thepindoctors.com and put together by the talented Portillo brothers Justin and Josh.
NOTE: The rankings used are from the FIRST set produced and not the ones posted on December 27th.
This year’s Scuffle is going to be a great one! Let’s take a look at the weight classes.
Returning Scuffle champ #4 Nick Piccininni of Oklahoma State leads the way as the favorite to win this year’s title. Iowa State’s Alex Mackall is the next highest ranked wrestler at #11 but both last year’s third place finisher #26 Jakob Camacho of North Carolina State & the fourth place finisher Luke Werner of Lock Haven return as well.
Who I think could make a surprise run to the finals is Stanford’s #15 Gabriel Townsell. He has placed 5th-7th-8th thus far in his career and looks to become a four time Southern Scuffle place-winner for the Cardinal.
#16 Nic Aguilar of Rutgers, #22 Jace Koelzer of Northern Colorado & #30 Jonathan Tropea of Rider will all contend for medals as well.
Very anxious to see how Air Force’s #18 Sid Flores does at this tournament. He has looked very sharp so far into the season winning the Cowboy Open in Wyoming and finishing as the runner-up at the Mountaineer Open at Appalachian State. He will for sure contend for a medal.
Finishing one match shy of placing the last two years is Chattanooga’s #33 Fabian Gutierrez. I highly doubt he’ll settle for anything less than a medal this tournament.
This will be an interesting weight class. At first I thought to myself that #4 Micky Phillippi of Pittsburgh would stroll to the title without much challenge. I still think he’ll win the weight class but I’m anxious to see Devan Turner of Oregon State in action and how he’ll do. His recent 6-2 victory over Ridge Lovett of Nebraska who took third at CKLV was very impressive.
#6 Cam Sykora of North Dakota State is the favorite of course to be in the finals against Phillippi but I also think that #17 Todd Small as well as #16 Mosha Schwartz could be finalist as well. Really, I think this weight class is pretty open as to who makes the award stand and who doesn’t.
Aslan Kilic of Navy is still the backup to Casey Cobb but he did place seventh here last season.
Perhaps most exciting is that we could see Little Rock’s first Southern Scuffle place-winner in Paul Bianchi. He’ll have to wrestle well and pull off a few upsets but it is a possibility.
This is a very interesting weight class for a multitude of reasons. First off does anyone challenge two time Scuffle champ #5 Kaden Gfeller of Oklahoma State? #6 Real Woods of Stanford who lost in last year’s finals to Gfeller looks to be his greatest challenge. With that said, there’a a lot that could happen here. A couple of bombs that if lit could explode.
#8 Ian Parker of Iowa State can wrestle very well when he wants to. #14 Tariq Wilson of North Carolina State has yet to come alive at 141 lbs the way he did at 133. It may simply be too big of a weight class for him to dominate the way he did eight pounds lighter. Then there’s also #19 Kyle Shoop of Lock Haven who was an All American last season. He’s been fourth and fifth here in year’s past and I’d imagine him to do well again this tournament. If he gets going in the top position like he’s capable, he’s liable to turn anyone and rack up a lot of backpoints.
#17 Evan Cheek of Cleveland State placed seventh here two seasons ago and I believe if he medals again this season, he becomes the Vikings first ever multiple time Southern Scuffle Place-winner.
Easier said than done, as the bracket looks to be rather loaded. Anxious to see if Peter Lipari who wrestled for Rutgers, now at Rider competes.
This is a very fun weight class. As far as I’m concerned Oklahoma State’s Boo Lewallen deserves to be part of the conversation when discussing plausible NCAA champions at 149 lbs. He’s undefeated so far this season and he’s the only one to defeat CKLV champion Brayton Lee of Minnesota. It wasn’t a squeaker either. He defeated the Golden Gopher by a convincing 8-3 decision.
Who I believe to be Lewallen’s greatest challenge, I don’t think will even compete. Yet a three time place winner with finishes of fourth, third and seventh I have to include Navy’s Jared Prince. Why with a clear year of eligibility remaining we haven’t seen him compete yet this year is a mystery to me. Love to see him at the Scuffle.
Iowa State’s #11 Jarrett Degen always finds his way on to the award stand and he could end up being Lewallen’s finals opponent. I’m anxious to see him against #13 Andrew Alirez of Northern Colorado and #16 Requir Van De Merwe.
As always I’ll be gunning for #18 Russell Rohlfing of Bakersfield to have a good showing. Having taken home both eighth and sixth place medals in the past, I expect him to end his career as a three time Southern Scuffle place-winner. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t.
I also hope to see Colston DiBlasi of George Mason wrestle well as well. Guy has the talent and skills to go with anyone, he simply gets sloppy sometimes out on the mat. A top eight medal is well within his grasp.
Appalachian State’s Jonathan Millner has made the finals of every tournament he’s entered so far this season. While I don’t see him making the finals here, I do see him placing.
Lastly the guy to keep an eye on here most is Jaden Abas of Stanford. Currently a redshirt, the son of Gerry, the nephew of Stephen, this kid is going to be a national champion someday. He already gave us a small glimpse of what he was capable of winning the RENO tournament of champions. If he enters this tournament, it’ll be fun to see what he can do against stiffer competition.
The match everyone wanted to see at CKLV has a 99.9% chance of happening here at the Southern Scuffle. #2 Hayden Hidlay of North Carolina State Vs #3 David Carr of Iowa State will most likely be our finals. The 0.01% chance I see it not happening? Dom Mandarino of Stanford. This kid is tough. Currently redshirting, Mandarino placed third at last year’s Scuffle. His last match of last season was a 2-1 loss to NCAA runner-up Tyler Berger of Nebraska.
Not counting out #6 Jesse Dellavecchia of Rider either. Think he’s a strong candidate for third place if Mandarino ends up not wrestling. Even if he does.
I’d also like to think #13 Taleb Rahmani of Pittsburgh is capable of doing big things at this tournament but he’s been playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde so far this season. If he ends up in the semi-finals looking red hot or if he ends up getting knocked out of the tournament early, either in my opinion is a safe prediction.
Appalachian State’s #14 Matt Zovistoski has placed seventh and eighth the last two Scuffles. I see him having a similar finish, capturing his third medal this tournament.
Oklahoma State’s Wyatt Sheets is just outside of the top 33 in a few different rankings and could easily propel himself into the top 33 with a good showing here.
Lastly Drexel’s Parker Kropman has a history of pulling off two or three upsets per season. The Southern Scuffle is as good of a place as any to do so.
A rather wide open weight class. Currently 12-0 on the season and ranked #7 Shane Griffith of Stanford looks to be our number one seed. The redshirt freshman has wins over CKLV fourth place finisher Ethan Smith of Ohio State, Kennedy Monday of North Carolina and Ebed Jarrell of Drexel. Challenging him for the title will be #9 Thomas Bullard who looked phenomenal at CKLV capturing third place in a rather loaded bracket where #10 Andrew Fogarty took fifth place. Also in the title hunt will be Pittsburgh’s #11 Jake Wentzel, currently 9-0 with wins over Smith, Jarrell and Quentin Perez of Campbell.
I’ll also throw Tanner Skidgel of Navy in as a plausible darkhorse champion. He won’t be seeded as high as the other four but he is a returning EIWA champion. He placed eighth at the Scuffle last year.
Speaking of returning champions, Iowa State’s #22 Chase Straw the 157 lbs BIG 12 champ last season looked dreadful at CKLV. Hopefully it was nothing more than a bad tournament. A case of perhaps being under the weather. Hope to see him wrestle much better here.
Not exactly sure how to take Oklahoma State’s #17 Travis Wittlake. He’s currently undefeated with a win over Jarrell. Like to see him against Griffith, Bullard, Fogarty, Wentzel and Skidgel before making too many assumptions. I think he’ll place, just not sure where.
West Virginia’s #20 Nick Kiussis, #29 Randy Meneweather of Air Force & of course Jarrell who placed seventh two seasons ago will all contend for medals.
If you’ve been reading my stuff since the beginning of the year you know that I’m a Dazjon Casto fan. I keep saying again and again that he’s one win shy of making a name for himself and propelling himself into the top twenty. He simply needs that one big moment to instill the confidence in himself that he is that good. He came so close at CKLV finishing one match shy of a medal. I believe that the Citadel sophomore is more than capable of taking home a medal from the Scuffle. We’ll see what happens.
The only reason why three time Southern Scuffle Runner up #7 Joe Smith of Oklahoma State doesn’t finally win the gold after three silvers? Simple, because he doesn’t compete. As to why he hasn’t wrestled this season, I have no idea. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what in the world was going on with him all of last season. Maybe if Robert Stack was still alive, he could give us answers. Until then, it remains an unsolved mystery.
If Smith isn’t competing, then this weight class follows Tom Petty into the great wide open.
#13 Joe Grello of Rutgers is currently undefeated but he’s only wrestled three matches.
#16 Marcus Coleman of Iowa State has a very impressive 9-6 victory over Minnesota All American Devin Skatzka, but a 5-4 overall record says to me he’s too inconsistent to bring home a Southern Scuffle title.
#25 Neal Richards of VMI is currently 16-4 and is more than capable of making history by becoming the Keydets first Southern Scuffle champion.
Then of course I can’t count out Rider’s #26 Dean Sherry who like Coleman has an impressive win over Skatzka, pinning him in 2:54.
Navy’s Spencer Carey is always tough. Finished one match shy of a medal the past two seasons.
Then there’s North Carolina State’s #18 Dan Bullard who in comparison to brother Thomas who finished in third place had a disappointing CKLV by not placing. No doubt in my mind he’s determined to make up for it at the Scuffle.
Did I say wide open?
I’d keep an eye on both Oklahoma State’s Andrew Shomers and Rutger’s Willie Scott. Shomers has a losing record right now, but don’t let that fool you. He’s still a Cowboy, and Cowboys know how to win when it counts. As to Scott, he’s inconsistent. He’s on and he’s off, but when he’s on, he can be quite dangerous.
Last thoughts I’ll give on this broken jigsaw puzzle of a weight class is that injuries thus far have gotten the best of North Dakota State’s Lorezno De La Riva. I highly doubt he’s healed up, 100% ready to go. Most likely the nagging injuries are still effecting him. However, if he is 100%, he’ll be the biggest surprise of this weight class.
It is often said in sports that the toughest thing to do is beat someone three times in a row. That’s exactly what #2 Trent Hidlay of North Carolina State will have to do in order to call himself this year’s Southern Scuffle Champion. He defeated #6 Lou DePrez of Binghamton 2-1 tiebreaker earlier this season and he defeated the Bearcat 5-2 last season. It should prove to be an exciting finals match, bear an upset keeping it from happening.
As exciting of a consolation finals, should be #9 Sam Colbray of Iowa State and #8 Nino Bonaccorsi of Pittsburgh, although I wouldn’t count out #14 Corey Hazel of Lock Haven being in that spot either.
Although he’ll have to wrestle well, I expect #33 Alan Clothier of Northern Colorado, a two time Scuffle place-winner to bring home a third medal as well.
The battle for a title will be a triple threat between Oklahoma State’s #4 Dakota Geer, North Carolina State’s #5 Nick Reenan and Stanford’s #6 Nathan Traxler. Traxler finished as the runner-up to Geer’s fourth place finish last season, defeating Geer in the semi-finals 9-7. Reenan has only wrestled one match this season and has a 6-0 loss to Geer last year. It’ll be interesting to see how things unfold.
#16 Noah Adams of West Virginia is always tough and at a current 16-0, deserves mention as a possible darkhorse champion.
Whenever I look over a weight, I try and decipher who will be the top twelve when it is all said and done. Here I was able to narrow it down to thirteen.
Jacob Seely of Northern Colorado is a wrestler I’m never quite sure how to feel about. He’s the type of guy that can get majored in a dual and then come back and beat the guy in a tournament. He wrestled exceptionally well at CKLV a couple of weekends ago placing seventh and he placed fifth at last year’s Scuffle. I believe he’ll place again.
What excites me most about this weight class is the potential for Presbyterian College to crown their first Southern Scuffle Place-winner. Much like it will be for Little Rock, the challenge is great but attainable. Love to see Stith get on the award stand and make history for the Blue Hose.
On paper this is #6 Demetrius Thomas of Pittsburgh’s tournament to lose. He’ll be the favorite going in and as long as he wrestles to his level, he should walk out the champion. As to who he’ll meet in the finals, I see that coming down to a semi-final between #12 Gannon Gremmel of Iowa State and #16 Cary Miller of Appalachian State.
The other five place winners? I think it’s pretty wide open but I think it’ll be between the nine other wrestlers I have listed in the photograph above. I realize that it probably isn’t realistic to think that all three HWTs from Stanford end up on the award stand but it is possible. The three continue to see who will be the starter for the Cardinal come the PAC-12 tournament. Maley finished one match shy of a medal at last year’s Scuffle.
And there you have it. My thoughts on this year’s Scuffle. For the first time in a long time, I feel that the Midlands is actually going to be tougher this season. I may be alone on my thinking as far as that’s concerned but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. There is so much more to collegiate wrestling than the national tournament. This is a huge tournament and with some of the higher ranked teams not participating this year, it gives some of the smaller schools a chance to shine and be seen. It’s a big deal to call yourself a Southern Scuffle place-winner. It’s rewarding to know that schools like Little Rock and Presbyterian in their first year of varsity competition could crown place-winners. It’s great for the sport in so many ways.