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Five match-ups still up for grabs in 50th Junior Nationals fantasy bracket first round; voting ends today for this round

by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling

On Friday, USA Wrestling launched an interactive 32-athlete bracket featuring the best Men’s Junior Freestyle competitors of the last 50 years of the Junior Nationals, which has been created for fans to vote on.

This voting is based upon their Junior National freestyle careers only, and should not reflect their successes in Greco-Roman, nor how well they did in college and the international levels.

First-round voting ends at 11:59 p.m. Monday night, and there are a number of close contests which could still go either way based upon fan votes on the final day. We look at five key matchups which could go right down to the wire, with the vote percentages after the first three days.

VOTE NOW: 50th Junior Freestyle Nationals - Fantasy Bracket

Lee Roy Smith (OK) vs. T.J. Jaworsky (OK)

In this battle of Oklahoma legends, Lee Roy Smith holds a slight lead over T.J. Jaworsky, 52% to 48%, the closest matchup so far in the first round. Smith, from the world famous Del City, Okla. Smith family, won Junior National freestyle titles in 1975 and 1976, one of the top stars in the early days of the Junior Nationals. Jaworsky, hailing from Edmond, Okla., also was a two-time Junior Nationals freestyle champion, capturing titles in 1987 and 1990. Both of these guys were freestyle specialists in high school.

A look at who they beat might add some information for voters. Smith beat Dennis Reed of Pennsylvania in the 1975 finals, then stopped beat Andy Rein of Wisconsin in the 1976 finals. Smith was second in the 174 finals, losing to Mike Land of Iowa in the finals.

Jaworsky was the 1987 champion at 98 pounds, beating Jason Buxton in the finals and was the 1990 champion, beating Trent London of Oklahoma in the finals. In 1989, Jaworsky was second, losing to Bobby Janisse of Oregon at 114.5 pounds.

Alex Dieringer (WI) vs. Damion Hahn (NJ)

In this battle of powerful stars, Alex Dieringer has the lead, 56% to 44%. Dieringer claimed a pair of Junior National freestyle titles in 2010 and 2011. Hahn won three Junior National titles, winning consecutive years in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Dieringer’s opponents that he beat in the Junior National finals were Dylan Ness of Minnesota (2010 at 145) and Zach Skates of Oklahoma (2011 at 160). Dieringer was a 16U champion in 2009, in the era when athletes usually did not go both age groups in Fargo.

Hahn won a Junior National finals as a sophomore in a heavy weight class, an excellent achievement, beating Tom Grossman of Texas in 1997 at 178 pounds. In 1998, Hahn beat Scott Kaufman of Iowa in the 178 pound finals, then in 1990, he stopped Justin Potter of Illinois in the 178-pound finals.

Steve Knight (IA) vs. Scott Schatzman (MO)

Both of these stars were one-time Junior National champions, with Steve Knight winning in 1982 and Scott Schatzman winning in 1994, but their body of work in the Junior Nationals tournament during their high school years placed them both on the bracket. Both of these wrestlers were also two-time Junior National freestyle runners-up. After the first two days of voting, Knight led Schatzman 57% to 43%.

Both were also talented in Greco-Roman, two finals appearances for each in that style. Knight won two Greco titles, while Schatzman had one. Knight beat Tom Dickman of Wisconsin in the 1982 freestyle finals, while Schatzman beat Mark Angle of Pennsylvania in the 1994 finals. Knight’s Junior freestyle finals losses came to Phil Ogan of Washington (1980) and Jeff Carter of Iowa (1981). Schatzman’s losses in the Junior freestyle finals came to Mark Angle in 1993 and Eric Guerrero of California in 1995.

Adam Coon (MI) vs. Garrett Lowney (WI)

In a battle of great big men, Adam Coon held a 61%-39% lead over Lowney after the first two days. Coon won two Junior National freestyle titles in 2012 and 2013, while Lowney won three Junior freestyle titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

Lowney won his first Junior freestyle title in 1996 at 191.5 pounds, beating Victor Sveda of Ohio in the finals. His last two Junior freestyle crowns came at 220 pounds, with wins over John Lockhart of Illinois in 1997 and Brad Steele of Minnesota in 1998. Both of Coon’s freestyle titles were at 285 pounds, beating Donte Winfield of Kansas in the 2012 finals and Nathan Butler of Kansas in the 2013 finals. Coon was the first two-time USA Wrestling Junior Triple Crown winner (winning Junior national titles in all three styles the same year).

When you combine their Junior and Cadet careers, both were seven-time finalists. Both were also accomplished Greco-Roman wrestlers in high school and up through the Senior level, where Lowney on an Olympic bronze medal and Coon won a World silver medal in Greco-Roman.

T.J. Hill (MO) vs. David Kjeldgaard (IA)

T.J. Hill, one of the great light weights in U.S. age-group history, won two-time Junior National freestyle titles in 1996 and 1997. David Kjeldgaard, also one of the most accomplished on the age-group stars, claimed a pair of Junior freestyle titles in 1995 and 1996. After the first three days of voting, Hill led Kjeldgaard, 64%-36%.

Hill’s Junior Nationals finals wins came in 1996 over Kyle Bunch of Oklahoma at 98 pounds and in 1997 over Dean Martinez of Illinois at 105.5 pounds. He was a runner-up at 98 pounds in 1995, losing to Eric Dunmire of Montana and a runner-up in 1998, losing to Zach Roberson of Kansas in the 114.5 pound finals. Kjeldgaard was the 143-pound freestyle champion in 1995, beating Kasey Gillis of North Dakota in the finals, and the 154-pound champion in 1996, stopping Cael Sanderson of Utah in the finals.

When you look at their Junior Nationals careers in both styles, Hill was an eight-time finalist, winning five golds and three silvers, while Kjeldgaard was a five-time finalist, winning all five gold medals. Add in their 16U careers and Hill was a 10-time finalist (with 7 golds), while Kjeldgaard was a nine time finalist (with 8 golds). Few wrestlers were this dominant on the age-group national circuit.
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