This weekend in Las Vegas the UWW Junior U.S. Open will take place over 12 different weight classes with some of the elite high school and college wrestlers in the field. Winners of the 50, 55, 60, 66, 74, 84, 96, and 120 kilogram weight classes will advance to the finals of the Junior World Team Trials, which will take place later this summer in Texas.
Additionally the 55 kg, 60 kg, 74 kg, and 84 kg Open champions will have the opportunity to wrestle next month in Times Square at the Beat the Streets event. The U.S. team will face members of the Iranian Junior team.
The man to beat: Spencer Lee – Pennsylvania prep (Iowa recruit)
Others to watch: none
This weight is as open and shut as it gets at the UWW Junior’s. Spencer Lee has dominated the 50 kg weight for the last three years (though 2013 and 2014 was in the Cadet division). Lee has just about beaten every American by technical superiority so he seems like the safe pick to make it out on top of this weekend. Being as 50 kg is equivalent to 110-pounds, it’s typically populated by high school wrestlers as opposed to college wrestlers.
The man to beat: Daton Fix – Oklahoma prep
Others to watch: Austin Gomez – Illinois prep (ISU recruit), Gavin Teasdale – Pennsylvania prep (Iowa recruit), Kris Williams – Nebraska, Nick Piccininni – Oklahoma State.
Iowans: Drew West – Highland, Bryce West – Highland, Perez Perez – Iowa, Gomez
Last year Stevan Micic entered as the favorite to earn the World Team spot and was considered a World medal threat, until Oklahoma prep Daton Fix defeated him in the finals. Micic eventually rebounded sweeping the World Team Trials’ finals and then later that summer won a Junior bronze medal.
This year Fix returns as the favorite to win the 55 kg bracjet, but he will be pushed by quite a few promising high school stars in addition to a couple college redshirts. One might think Fix’s biggest claim to fame was winning the 2015 Junior U.S. Open, but later he went on to defeat Spencer Lee in the 54 kg finals of Cadet Nationals, earning his spot on USA’s Cadet team. Fix then brought home a bronze medal at the Cadet World Championships, and added a Junior Fargo title to his resume, making him the chief here.
College wrestlers to keep an eye on are Kris Williams and Nick Piccininni. Both just wrapped up solid redshirt seasons for their respective college programs. Williams will most likely be on the larger side of this weight-class.
Future Cyclone Austin Gomez will be one of the top high school preps looking to knock Fix off this weekend. Gomez has plenty of freestyle experience, winning a Fargo national title and was named the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler at the 2015 Cadet Pan American Championships. Gavin Teasdale will be making his first appearance since the sophomore gave his verbal commitment to the Hawkeyes. Teasdale is a two-time Cadet national champion and will be making his first attempt in the Junior division.
Both Drew and Bryce West of Highland-Riverside will also be making their Junior level debut. Drew was the 2014 Cadet Greco-Roman World Team member.
The man to beat: Stevan Micic – Michigan
Others to watch: Jayden Eierman – Missouri, Kaden Gfeller – Oklahoma prep, Mitch McKee – Minnesota prep, Seth Gross – South Dakota State, Yianni Dakomihalis – New York prep.
Iowans: Noah Ajram – Princeton
No longer the favorite at 55 kg, Micic will be moving up to 60 kg in what is a bit of a surprise move. After winning a World medal in 2015, many would expect Micic to once again be in the thick of things on the World level, and given he will most likely wrestle 125 pounds for Michigan next season, 55 kg would seem to me a manageable weight (55 kg is about 120-pounds). The net result may favor the strength of Team USA, however Micic will no longer be the heavy favorite going into this tournament.
That’s because the rest of the field features several wrestlers with highly accomplished freestyle resumes, including Seth Gross of South Dakota State. Gross was a three-time Fargo freestyle national champion in high school, and just finished off a successful redshirt freshman season for the Jackrabbits. If not Gross, Jayden Eierman of Missouri is another college name that could push Micic.
For the high school talent Mitch McKee is the returning runner-up at this weight from a year ago, but New Yorker Yianni Dakomihalis might be the bigger threat given he is the reigning Cadet World champion at 58 kg. Flowrestling tabbed this as their nastiest weight of the weekend, which means fans will want to keep a close eye on all the action.
The man to beat: none
Others to watch: Paul Glynn – Iowa, Ben Freeman – Michigan prep, Zach Davis – Navy
Iowans: Anthony Wesley – Iowa State, Glynn
This is not a weight contested at the Junior World Championships, so it’s not a weight you see typically filled with all the elite freestyle talent. That said the top three guys appear to be Hawkeye Paul Glynn who had a solid true freshman season, Navy’s Zach Davis who was a NCAA qualifier, and Michigan’s Ben Freeman who has placed at multiple Cadet National tournaments.
The man to beat: Alec Pantelo – Michigan
Others to watch: Fredy Stroker – Minnesota, Jarod Verkleeren – Pennsylvania prep, Griffin Parriott – Minnesota prep
Iowans: Aaron Meyer – Iowa, Vince Turk – Iowa, Josh Wenger – Grand View, Stroker
A 66 kg weight-class without Aaron Pico is going to take some getting used to (unless he happens to register last minute), and without him USA takes a step back as far as a gold medal threat at the World tournament, but there are still plenty of names to like here.
All-American Alec Pantleo is probably the lead man in the group, though his lead is marginal at best. After spending a year in the Gopher wrestling room, one can expect Fargo national champion Fredy Stroker to be a major player here. Stroker was also fourth in the 2015 Junior World Team Trials challenge tournament.
In addition to the two college wrestlers at this weight Minnesota’s Griffin Parriott and Pennsylvania’s Jarod Verkleeren are two of the high school names to be watching this weekend. Parriott was third at this tournament just a year ago, and Verkleeren won a Cadet World title up at 69 kg.
While Stroker may be the top name from Iowa to watch this weekend, the state will be bringing a lot of talent to Las Vegas. Vince Turk received a ton of buzz for his practice room performances this past year, and Josh Wenger looks to be the next star in the making for Nick Mitchell’s Grand View program.
The man to beat: Michael Kemerer – Iowa
Others to watch: Josh Maruca – Arizona State, Cameron Harrell – Virginia
Iowans: Cole Erickson – Iowa, Jeren Glosser – Iowa, Kemerer
Like 63 kg, this weight won’t be contested at World’s, but unlike 63 kg a lot more solid wrestlers can end up ‘tweeners (too big for 66 kg, but too small for 74 kg) which makes for a great wrestling bracket. Had it not been for illness, Michael Kemerer would have been a big favorite to win his first Fargo national title a year ago, but even lacking that on his resume he still will be the top man to beat. Already penciled in at the future 157-pound starter for Iowa next season, Iowa fans should take it as an encouraging sign to see him wrestling at this weight as opposed to 66 kg.
The other names in this bracket are Arizona State’s Josh Maruca and Virginia’s Cameron Harrell, both former top 100 recruits. Kemerer and Maruca actually share a little bit of history, as both competed for the nationally ranked Franklin Regional team back in high school.
The Hawkeyes will also be sending Jeren Glosser and Cole Erickson, two former Iowa prep standouts that are coming off stable redshirt seasons.
The man to beat: Mark Hall – Minnesota prep
Others to watch: Logan Massa – Michigan, Anthony Valencia – Arizona State
Iowans: Jeremiah Moody – Iowa, Joey Gunther – Iowa, Skyler St. John – Iowa, Chase Straw – Iowa State, Colston DiBlasi – Iowa State
If there is one weight that stands out in terms of several guys being a top talent, it’s 74 kg. Not only the top three guys all have a legitimate shot at winning this weekend, but saying that all three could win a medal at the Junior World Championships isn’t out of the question.
Mark Hall is probably ‘the guy’ at this weight, and not because he is the reigning Junior World team member. In the past month Hall has won decisions over both Anthony Valencia and Logan Massa, that’s what makes him the man to beat. Hall was a 2014 Cadet World champion, and many thought he could win a gold at last year’s Junior World Championships. Hall will certainly be a threat on the World level, but winning this weekend would go a long way in him getting back on this World team.
Anthony Valencia was the Junior World team member back in 2014, but opted for the Senior division last summer where he finished fifth at the Senior World Team Trials. That performance allowed him to take an Olympic redshirt which gave him the benefit of training in freestyle full-time this past year. Valencia’s double leg is deadly, and he has shown he has the ability to score points on Hall. Massa is the other big gun and like Valencia, he has proven that he can score points on Hall, so no one will be sleeping on him this weekend either.
The state of Iowa is sending a collection of wrestlers from both Iowa State and Iowa who will all be competing for their team’s 165-pound spot in the lineup next season. Jeremiah Moody and Joey Gunther are coming off of their redshirt seasons, and of the pair, Gunther holds the early edge. Skyler St. John saw limited action this year, but it has been said he displays many of the same that his brother Derek, who was a NCAA champion for Iowa, did.
From Iowa State we will see Colston DiBlasi and Chase Straw, two wrestlers that will most likely be battling it out to replace senior Tanner Weatherman this coming season. Most of Straw’s success came at 157-pounds so this weekend could give us a larger sample on how he fares against larger competition.
The man to beat: Beau Breske – Wisconsin prep
Others to watch: Myles Amine – Michigan, Josh Ugalde – Maryland
Iowans: Luke Entzel – Iowa State, Lawton Benna – Grand View
This is the third and final weight that wont be wrestled at the Junior World Championships, which is why it lacks a true favorite on paper. There is a good chance the favorite is three-time Fargo national champion Beau Breske, and he will face his competition from college wrestlers Myles Amine and Josh Ugalde.
From the state of Iowa, we will see Lawton Benna of Grand View and Luke Entzel of Iowa State. Entzel was a three-time Montana state champion, making him one of the top additions to the Cyclone’s 2015 recruiting class. He saw limited action this past season, so seeing him compete this weekend is definitely encouraging.
The man to beat: Zahid Valencia – Arizona State
Others to watch: Myles Martin – Ohio State
Iowans: Ethan Leighton – Grand View, Michael Pixley – Grand View
As crazy as it sounds, the current 174-pound NCAA champion Myles Martin is not the favorite this weekend at 84 kg. That honor would belong to Arizona State wrestler Zahid Valencia, who is looking to win his second straight 84 kg U.S. Open title. Last year the two wrestlers met in the finals of this same tournament and it was Valencia that came out on top in a 7-0 decision. Both wrestlers are coming off fantastic redshirt years, but the key to watch is whether training in a college room like Ohio State will have helped Martin close the gap on Valencia.
Those two wrestlers are the top dogs of this weight-class, but Grand View’s Michael Pixley will certainly have his say before it is all said and done. A Fargo standout in high school, Pixley has wrestled at the NAIA level the past two years taking second as a freshman for Lindsay Wilson, and putting together an undefeated season for Grand View this past year.
The man to beat: Lance Benick – Arizona State
Others to watch: Kollin Moore – Ohio State, Angus Arthur – Adrian Andrew Marsden – Oklahoma State
Iowans: Cordell Eaton – NDSU, Evan Hansen – Grand View
Post-Kyle Snyder, this weight has been lacking it’s “oompf”, with Anthony Cassar winning the spot World spot on a relatively barren weight a year ago. This year has some interesting names, and former top high school recruit Lance Benick is probably the most credentialed and the favorite, but there still isn’t much of a track record to go off of. College wrestlers Kollin Moore, Angus Arthur, and Andrew Marsden could also challenge for the top spot. Both Arthur and Benick competed on the 2013 Cadet World team together.
The Iowans in this group are another pair of interesting names. Evan Hansen performed very well as a true freshman this season for Grand View, and looks to be one of the biggest steals in the 2015 recruiting class after he defeated eventual All-American Patrick Downey earlier this year. Former North Scott prep Cordell Eaton is the other Iowan to watch.
The man to beat: Patrick Grayson – Nebraska
Others to watch: Gannon Gremmel – Dubuque Hempstead, Jake Gunning – Buffalo
This is another weight where USA will lack a heavily credentialed wrestler, though three names appear to be emerging as guys to watch. The favorite might be Patrick Grayson of Nebraska, though he will face stiff competition from Buffalo’s Jake Gunning and Iowa high school prep Gannon Gremmel.
Gremmel comes in with some solid domestic freestyle accolades, having won a Cadet Fargo national title and finishing top six at Cadet nationals a year ago. In addition to his freestyle success, Gremmel has had a strong senior season which saw him win his first Iowa high school state title, and last month he was able to knock off Carter Isley of Albia at the North/South All-Star dual in a battle of top ranked seniors.