U23 Men's Freeestyle World Team Trials preview
by Mike Willis, USA Wrestling
Feature photo of Tony Cassioppi courtesy of Tony Rotundo/Wrestlers are Warriors
The men’s freestyle U23 World Team Trials take place Friday, May 28 and Saturday, May 29 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Neb. The tournament is loaded with some of the nation’s top college talent, who will all be vying for a spot to represent the Red, White and Blue in Belgrade, Serbia this November. The tournament will be streamed in its entirety live on FloWrestling.
Arizona State’s NCAA finalist Brandon Courtney leads the way at 57 kg but will face steep competition from a deep field. Pat McKee, who finished third at the NCAA Championships for Minnesota and Taylor LaMont, who finished sixth for Utah Valley, will be both be in the hunt, as will 2019 Princeton All-American Pat Glory. 2018 Cadet World Champion Matt Ramos, who is teammates with McKee at Minnesota, is another wrestler to keep an eye on.
2021 Junior World Team member Jesse Mendez is aiming to make his second World Team of the year. It will be a tall order with hammers like Arizona State All-American Michael McGee (6th) and Northwestern All-American Chris Cannon (7th) looming large. Additionally, 2020 Senior Nationals runner-up Dylan Ragusin and 2020 Senior Nationals Greco-Roman champion Alex Thomsen are also poised to contend for a title. 2020 NWCA Second-Team All-Americans Michael Colaiocco of Pennsylvania and Sammy Alvarez of Rutgers are also wrestlers to watch. Colaiocco was a runner-up at this tournament in 2020 and took third in 2019.
Oklahoma’s All-American Dom Demas will look to claim a spot on an age-group World Team for this fifth time in his career. Demas recently finished runner-up at the 2021 Senior Nationals. 2018 Cadet and Junior World Team member Josh Saunders and 2016 Cadet Greco-Roman Word Team member Mosha Schwartz are also aiming to get back to representing the U.S. on the World stage. Nebraska’s three-time All-American Chad Red and 2021 All-American Clay Carlson of South Dakota State are other heavy hitters in the bracket.
Three former age-group World Team members will compete at 70 kg including Minnesota All-American Brayton Lee (2019 Junior World Team), Northwestern All-American Yahya Thomas (2019 Junior World Team) and Arizona State All-American Jacori Teemer, who brought home a bronze medal from the 2017 Cadet World Championships. Missouri’s two-time All-American Brock Mauller, the returning U23 Nationals champion, will look to claim his second-straight title at this tournament. Appalachian State All-American Jonathan Millner is another hammer in the bracket. Don’t count out Nebraska’s Ridge Lovett or Pennsylvania’s Anthony Artalona either.
2019 Junior Pan Am champion Danny Braunagel, a two-time NCAA qualifier for Illinois, will look to claim the top spot on the podium after a runner-up finish at this tournament in 2020. Princeton’s 2020 NWCA First-Team All-American Quincy Monday will be one of the frontrunners in the bracket as well. Three-time NCAA qualifier Jarret Jacques of Missouri and two-time NCAA qualifier Peyton Robb of Nebraska will also be in the mix.
Two-time Nebraska All-American Michael Labriola will take on a strong field on his quest to make his first World Team. 2021 Junior World Team member Donnell Washington, an NCAA qualifier for Indiana, is another competitor looking to make his second World Team this year. 2020 UWW Junior Nationals champion Michael O’Malley, a two-time NCAA qualifier for Drexel, is another wrestler to watch in the bracket. He recently finished fourth at the 2021 Senior Nationals. Other wrestlers to watch include Oklahoma’s Anthony Mantanona, a two-time NCAA qualifier and a 2018 Junior Pan Am champion, 2020 UWW Junior Nationals runner-up Patrick Kennedy of Iowa and Purdue’s NCAA qualifier Gerrit Nijenhuis.
2019 Cadet World Team member Kyle Haas is the only former World Team member in the bracket. He will face tough competition in the form of Rutgers’s freshman All-American John Poznanski, who finished runner-up at the 2020 UWW Junior Nationals and 2020 U23 Nationals runner-up Max Lyon, a three-time NCAA qualifier for Purdue. Princeton’s two-time NCAA qualifier Travis Stefanik and Northwestern’s Jack Jessen, a 2021 Senior Nationals fifth-place finisher, are two more wrestlers to keep your eyes on.
The 92 kg weight class is stacked. 2021 NCAA finalist Nino Bonaccorsi of Pittsburgh will look to fend off fellow 2021 All-Americans Rocky Elam, the 2020 UWW Junior Nationals champion, of Missouri and Jakob Woodley, the returning U23 Nationals champion, of Oklahoma. Others to watch in the bracket include Cornell’s 2018 All-American Ben Darmstadt and Michigan State’s three-time NCAA qualifier Cam Caffey, a 2018 Junior Pan Am champion and 2019 Greco-Roman Junior World Team member. Caffey won this tournament in Greco-Roman last year and placed third in freestyle.
While 97 kg isn’t quite as deep as some of the other weight classes, there are still high-level competitors in the bracket. Virginia’s three-time NCAA qualifier Jay Aiello should be considered one of the frontrunners. Others to watch include 2016 Cadet World Team member Brandon Whitman, a 2019 NCAA qualifier for North Carolina, and 2017 Cadet World bronze medalist Gavin Hoffman of Ohio State.
The favorite in the 125 kg bracket is Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi, a 2021 All-American (3rd) and four-time Junior Pan Am champion (twice in Greco and twice in freestyle). Cassioppi finished runner-up at this tournament last year and more recently placed second at the 2021 Senior Nationals. Missouri’s Zach Elam, a 2018 Junior World silver medalist and two-time NCAA qualifier for Missouri and Northwestern’s Lucas Davison, a 2019 Junior World silver medalist and two-time NCAA qualifier will both look to push Cassioppi for the World Team Spot. 2018 Cadet and 2021 Greco-Roman Junior World Team member Luke Luffman, a 2021 NCAA qualifier for Illinois, is another wrestler to watch, as is 2020 UWW Junior Nationals champion Josh Heindselman, a 2021 NCAA qualifier for Oklahoma. Two-time NCAA qualifier Brandon Metz of North Dakota State can’t be counted out either.