We’re mixing some freestyle with our folkstyle this week.
The U.S. Senior Nationals is set for this weekend in Fort Worth, Texas. It’s the next and biggest Olympic Trials qualifier, as the top-five finishers at each weight will advance. It’s basically the U.S. Open, but with fewer weights and bigger stakes.
Like most big-time wrestling tournaments, there will be a heavy Iowa presence. As many as 12 wrestlers with Iowa ties are already registered, and more could conceivably throw their names in before the weekend.
The primary draw will be Iowa’s Spencer Lee, at least for people here. The junior is registered at 57 kilograms (about 125 pounds) and is a real threat to not only qualify for Olympic Trials, but make the team, too.
Other big-time talents will be on the mats in Fort Worth, but really, this weekend’s action is a precursor to what’s shaping up to be the greatest American wrestling tournament ever: the 2020 Olympic Trials, April 4-5 at State College, Pennsylvania.
USA Wrestling has thrived the last three years in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Games. The men’s freestyle team won a world title in 2017, took second at the 2018 world championships and third in 2019. The women’s freestyle team went second, third, third. While Greco-Roman hasn’t seen the same success, the talent is as good as it's ever been.
In that same span, the United States has won 28 medals at the world championships, including 12 gold. The men’s team had three world champions in 2018 and the women matched that total this past summer. You know the names — Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Snyder, Helen Maroulis, Kyle Dake, David Taylor, J’den Cox, Adeline Gray and more.
At the same time, the U.S. has experienced tremendous success at different age levels. Nineteen wrestlers have won titles at the Cadet, Junior and U23 world championships in all three Olympic styles during the past three years.
Now combine all of that talent, in fewer weights — non-Olympic years have 10 weights while Olympic years have six — with the superstars from NCAA’s Division I and the continually-growing women's college wrestling scene, and you’ve got a super-storm of talent that’ll take over State College in April.
This weekend is, technically, the third-to-last opportunity for wrestlers to qualify. Those who win NCAA Championships in March are in, as well as the finalists at the Last Chance Qualifier the following weekend.
Olympic years always carry more weight and excitement, but especially so this year given the sport’s rise in popularity and the country’s success of late.
Now, then. Onto the wrestling mailbag. There won't be a mailbag next week because of Christmas. This may actually be the last one of 2019 since the Midlands Championships runs Dec. 29-30 and the Southern Scuffle follows Jan. 1-2. This holiday portion of the schedule is always funky.
Please give me a follow on Twitter (@codygoodwin) and I’ll keep you guys up to date on all things wrestling in Iowa. Thanks so much for your help here, and for reading.
A lot of these guys have previous freestyle and Greco-Roman experience.
Alex Marinelli barely lost to Mekhi Lewis at the 2018 junior world team trials. Michael Kemerer was a multi-time All-American at the Cadet and Junior national championships in Fargo, North Dakota. Same with Max Murin, Abe Assad and more.
Competing at top-tier freestyle events is a great way to gain recruiting exposure. College coaches flock to the age-level world team trials and the Cadet and Junior national championships each year in search of the country’s best high-schoolers.
As for current Iowa wrestlers who could be sneaky good as post-grads, I really like Nelson Brands. The combination of his gas tank and still-improving technique leads me to believe he could be a force on the freestyle scene for years if he pursues it.
Austin DeSanto is an intriguing freestyle prospect. You make a good point about push-outs, and his motor could probably break some competitors with consecutive three-minute periods. His ability to hit and finish different shots will only help.
There’s also Jeremiah Moody, a UWW Junior freestyle national champion a couple of years back. He actually beat Lewis there before losing two-straight at the world team trials a month later. Yes, Moody owns a win over an NCAA champion. People forget that.
One more: Kaleb Young. His overall athleticism and big-move potential could be a lot of fun in a freestyle match. He actually took third at the U23 freestyle national championships in 2018. Perhaps it’s on his future radar, too.
The Hawkeye Wrestling Club seems like the next logical step for those who want to continue wrestling after college. It will be interesting to see how many from this year’s team take that path in a couple of years.
► MORE WRESTLING COVERAGE FROM THE DES MOINES REGISTER
- CYCLONES: Iowa State dominates Chattanooga at Hilton
- HIGH SCHOOL: 14 things we learned from Week 2 of the season
Very excited, if only because Lee’s freestyle talent might be better than his folkstyle ability. That’s a crazy thought, considering how good he’s been the last few years.
But in addition to the excitement, I’m also just genuinely curious to see how he’ll look. Lee hasn’t wrestled a competitive freestyle match since, what, 2016? That was the summer before his senior season, and he won a Junior world title that year.
Freestyle and folkstyle are similar in many ways, but they’re different enough that one misstep could mean the end of a match. Lee is good enough that he will be ready for whatever comes his way this weekend, but I want to see how he looks in that transition.
The other thing: 57 kilos is stacked. Here’s who’s already registered for this weekend, per Flowrestling: Cory Clark, Nahshon Garrett, Nathan Tomasello, Vitali Arujau, Darian Cruz, and many more. Clark, Garrett, Tomasello and Cruz all won NCAA titles. Arujau was a junior world finalist this past summer.
Lee is going to have to earn it in order to qualify for the Olympic Trials. But this has been a goal of his for as long as he could remember, and he’s closer than he’s ever been to attaining it.
As such, I expect we’ll see one of the best versions of Spencer Lee this weekend.
About the Midlands Championships …
I haven’t seen a team list yet, but last year, the top five went: Iowa, Northern Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Princeton. Arizona State, Army, Illinois, Campbell, and a bunch of unattached wrestlers were all there.
If those teams all return again this time around, those couple of days are going to be a treat.
What’s great about the Midlands each year is that we finally get to see Iowa in a tournament setting, which is always revealing, even if there are other in-season tournaments that are maybe tougher than the Midlands. And we get to see some of the redshirts in action against that same competition, which is fun.
I know Northern Iowa will also be there this year, as will Northwestern, North Carolina, Army and a few others. Grand View will be there, too, which is fun. Outside of that, I’m not sure.
With regards to Iowa, this will be the tournament that will solve the few lineup spots in question. It looks like it’ll be Murin for the foreseeable future at 141, but this will be his chance to truly solidify that. There’s also the case of 184, between Brands and Cash Wilcke.
The same can be said for Northern Iowa at 157 and 165. I know the UNI Open was this past weekend, but the Midlands will be another opportunity for those guys to take a step forward.
This seems like a good spot to do it.
The state’s annual premiere dual competition — we can call it that, right? — features many of the state’s best teams. This year’s tournament, set for Friday and Saturday at Young Arena in Waterloo, features 11 ranked teams, per the Predicament, and 110 ranked wrestlers.
The Waterloo Courier’s Jim Nelson revealed the brackets on Sunday and the possibilities are endless.
Bracket A features 31 ranked wrestlers. Don Bosco and Denver lead the way, with nine and eight, respectively, but Independence and Prairie are also teams to watch.
Bracket B is full of firepower. The potential semifinals between Waverly-Shell Rock and Union, as well as Osage and Linn-Mar, look like all sorts of fun.
West Delaware is the heavy favorite in Bracket C, but Indianola and West Des Moines Valley present some interesting individual matchups. That Assumption-Lake Mills first-round dual also has potential.
The idea of a Lisbon-Ankeny final in Bracket D sounds like a blast. It would be highlighted, obviously, by another Cael Happel and Caleb Rathjen matchup at 138 pounds, but also Cade Siebrecht and Trever Anderson at 113.
If we go strictly by the seeds, Saturday’s championship pool would feature Don Bosco, Waverly-Shell Rock, West Delaware and Lisbon — or whoever beat any one of those four.
I got my Christmas gift early this year: a new laptop. MacBook Pro. I haven’t played with it yet, but I’m very excited about it.
Jokes aside, the time spent with my family is the best gift each year. I’ve got an older sister with her own family and twin younger brothers who go to different schools, so we’re spread out and don’t get to see each other much. That’s not unlike other families, of course, but we take a tiny bit of pride in that we’re all in four different states.
Christmas is one of the few times of the year we’re all in the same place at the same time for an extended period of time, and I love that time together. I get to see my nephews and niece and hang out with my siblings for a few days. There’s not much better than that.
I’ve got a bottle of Redbreast 12 with my name on it in Kansas City. ’Tis the season
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal