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Men’s Freestyle World Team Trials Challenge Tournament preview

by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling

David McFadden turns Vincenzo Joseph in the 2022 U.S. Open finals. Photo by Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors.

Here is a weight-by-weight review of the field at the 2022 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, set for Saturday and Sunday in Coralville, Iowa.

In seven weight classes, only the winner advances to Final X, because a 2021 World medalist in their weight class has already qualified to compete. In three weight classes (65 kg, 70 kg, 125 kg), the semifinals winners both advance to Final X, as no wrestler has qualified yet in those weights.

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57 kg

Champion advances to Final X Stillwater against Thomas Gilman

The top seed is 2022 U.S. Open champion Matthew Ramos, the Purdue lightweight who is a past Cadet World champion. The most accomplished athlete in the field is 2022 U.S. Open champion and Junior World silver medalist Vito Arujau, the two-time All-American from Cornell. Former Illinois star Zane Richards, the 2022 Bill Farrell Memorial champion, is one of the most experienced of this young bunch. 2021 U.S. Open champion Jakob Camacho, the NC State star and three-time U.S. Open placer, is a tough freestyler. Anthony Molton, who competes for Campbell, reached the U.S. Open finals this year.

The rest of the field does not have extensive Senior level experience. It includes 2022 U.S. Open placers Caleb Smith, Greg Diakomihalis, Aden Reeves and Gabriel Townsell, most from the college community. Smith is from Appalachian State, Diakomihalis from Cornell and Reeves from Grand View. Townsell, who is a Stanford grad, has extensive Greco-Roman achievements to go along with a U23 National freestyle title. Other qualifiers include Michael Tortorice, who wrestled at UW-Whitewater and Timothy Levine from Brown.

61 kg

Champion advances to Final X Stillwater against Daton Fix

2022 U.S. Open champion Nico Megaludis, the former Penn State NCAA champion now training at Pitt, had his best performance at this weight class in Las Vegas. He won a tough battle with Josh Rodriguez, the ND State grad who trains at Penn State, in the Open finals. 2019 World bronze medalist Tyler Graff get the No. 3 seed after dropping a 9-5 semifinals bout at the Open to Rodriguez. High school star Jesse Mendez, who is No. 2 P-4-P according to Flo and is headed to Ohio State, was third at the Open. Mendes went 1-1 with veteran Daniel DeShazer at the Open, winning the last bout for third place.

Past NCAA champion Seth Gross, who made his Olympic Trials run at 57 kg, won the Bill Farrell this year, and fell in the U.S. Open semifinals to Megaludis. Gross puts up lots of points (and sometimes gives up lots also). Josh Kramer, the Arizona State wrestler, was seventh at the U.S. Open. Shelton Mack, who lost to Kramer at the Open, qualified through the Last Chance Qualifier last week. Mack was a 2021 U.S. Open champion and won a Pan American ztitle.

65 kg

Both semifinal winners advance to Final X New York

The wrestling world is still buzzing about 2022 U.S. Open champion Kendric Maple, who came out of retirement after making a deal with Junior World champion Keegan O’Toole, who he coaches at Missouri. When O’Toole won the Junior Worlds, Maple agreed to enter the U.S. Open, then won it. Maple gets No. 1 seed due to the Open title. 2021 World Team member and three-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis comes in as the No. 2 seed and the top favorite at this weight class. He is set to battle past U.S. Open champion and multiple age-group World medalist Joey McKenna in the semifinals in Coralville. McKenna beat Yianni in the 2019 U.S. Open, and is capable of winning every match he wrestles. No. 4 seed goes to Penn State’s two-time NCAA champion Nick Lee, who was third in the 2020 Olympic Trials and comes into Coralville with confidence. Any of the top four are capable of reaching Final X.

Looking to go on a run is former Princeton star Matthew Kolodzik, who reached the 2022 U.S. Open finals before falling to Maple. Iowa State’s Ian Parker also had a nice 2022 Open effort, placing third including a win in the medal round over former Ohio State star Luke Pletcher. Evan Henderson, a 2022 U.S. Open finalist, Patricio Lugo, who starred at Edinboro and Iowa, and past Oklahoma State two-time NCAA champion Dean Heil qualified through the U.S. Open. Young stars in the mix are Penn State’s Beau Bartlett, a 2021 Junior World bronze medalist, Oklahoma State’s Carter Young, who was third in the 2021 World Team Trials, and Cornell’s Joshua Saunders, who won the Last Chance Qualifier, round out a deep field.

70 kg

Both semifinal winners advance to Final X Stillwater

With the retirement of two-time World medalist James Green to join the USA Wrestling national coaching staff, the big question is who will step up to take over this spot. The top four are all super talented and capable, and should provide great drama in Coralville. No. 1 seed goes to 2022 U.S. Open champion Alec Pantaleo, who has been successful both nationally and overseas in recent seasons. 2019 U.S. Open champion and 2022 NCAA champion Ryan Deakin, a past Junior World finalist, gets the No. 2 seed. Jordan Oliver, who won the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials at 65 kg and won the 2019 U.S. Open, comes in at No. 3. Pantaleo beat Oliver in the 2022 U.S. Open finals. Three-time NCAA champion Zain Retherford of Penn State made two Senior World Teams at 65 kg, gets the No. 4 seed. Just like 65 kg, the top four at 70 kg is star-studded and all capable of reaching Final X.

Most of the rest of the field is young and emerging. Penn’s Doug Zapf had a great U.S. Open, placing third and scoring a big win over past NCAA champion Anthony Ashnault early at the U.S. Open. Michael Blockus of Minnesota and Sammy Sasso of Ohio State also placed at the U.S. Open and made the field. Tyler Berger, the former Nebraska star now training at Stanford, won the Bill Farrell Memorial to qualify for Coralville. Dayne Morton, from Div. II Northern State, got the final U.S. Open spot for Coralville by placing seventh. Virginia’s Jarod Verkleeren, a 2015 Cadet World champion, won the Last Chance Qualifier last weekend.

74 kg

Champion advances to Final X New York against Kyle Dake

The favorite is 2022 U.S. Open champion Jason Nolf, who won three NCAA titles for Penn State. Nolf seeks his first Senior World Team berth, after qualifying for the National Team in recent seasons. No. 2 seed Joshua Shields, a star at Arizona State and proven freestyler, reached the U.S. Open finals against Nolf and also won the Bill Farrell Memorial this season. Thomas Gantt, the former NC State star, comes in with the No. 3 seed. Gantt has been a Pan American Champion and U.S. Open runner-up. 2019 Junior World champion and 2021 NCAA champion David Carr from Iowa State gets the No. 4 seed, with a semifinal showdown with Nolf a possibility.

Collin Purinton, who wrestled for Nebraska, was third at the U.S. Open, and Peter Pappas, who wrestles for George Mason and was previously at Edinboro, was fourth at the U.S. Open. Earning his spot with a victory at the Last Chance Qualifier was Joey Lavallee, the former Missouri star now training at Lehigh.

79 kg

Champion advances to Final X New York against Jordan Burroughs

One of the big stories coming out of the U.S. Open was former Virginia Tech star David McFadden, who is now training with the Pennsylvania RTC. McFadden scored a stunning comeback last second win in the U.S. Open finals over past Penn State two-time NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph who now coaches at Stanford. Joseph was No. 8 seed and shook up the weight class with a quarterfinal win over Alex Dieringer, a 2019 U.S. Open champion and multiple-time National Team member. Dieringer, who won three NCAA titles at Oklahoma State, battled back to take third at the U.S. Open in a strong field. The No. 4 seed goes to two-time NCAA champion Carter Starocci of Penn State, who was third in the 2021 World Team Trials.

This weight class is so deep, athletes who are not seeded in the top four truly could win the bracket. No. 5 seed Chance Marsteller, the Lock Haven star who is a freestyle talent, was fifth at the U.S. Open, with close losses to McFadden and Dieringer there. Isaiah Martinez, a two-time NCAA champion for Illinois, a 2019 U.S. Open champion and two-time Final X runner-up, goes in at No. 6. Imar was pinned by McFadden in the U.S. Open quarterfinals then dropped out with injury, and came back to qualify at the Last Chance Qualifier. Taylor Lujan, the former Northern Iowa star, was a 2021 U.S. Open champion. NC State’s Nick Reenan reached Final X in 2018, where he lost to eventual World champion David Taylor. Reenan was third in the 2022 U.S. Open at 86 kg. Brayden Thompson of Illinois also reached the field with his sixth place at the U.S. Open.

86 kg

Champion advances to Final X New York against David Taylor

Mark Hall, the former NCAA champion from Penn State now with the Pennsylvania RTC, has won the last two U.S. Open titles and comes in as No. 1 seed. His freestyle pedigree is strong, with a pair of Junior World titles in his trophy case. Taking the No. 2 seed is former Arizona State two-time NCAA champion Zahid Valencia, who was a 2019 U.S. Open champion, 2018 Final X runner-up and a past Junior World silver medalist. Valencia comes off a 2022 Pan American title. 2019 Junior World bronze medalist Trent Hidlay of NC State was second at the 2021 U.S. Open. Past NCAA champion Drew Foster of Northern Iowa was third at the 2021 U.S. Open and is another top challenger. The seeds will change at this weight, as Pat Downey has decided to move up to 92 kg after the seeding meeting was finished.

Marcus Coleman of Iowa State had a great U.S. Open, reaching the finals against Hall. College wrestlers Owen Webster of Minnesota, Caden Steffen of Southwest Minnesota State and Caleb Hopkins of Campbell and Julien Broderson of Iowa State all punched their tickets for Coralville by placing at the U.S. Open. Andrew Morgan, who wrestled at Campbell and trains at Cornell, qualified through the Last Chance Qualifier.

92 kg

Champion advances to Final X Stillwater against J’den Cox

Michigan State’s Cameron Caffey had a strong effort to win the 2022 U.S. Open and secure the top seed. Caffey won Pan Am Junior titles in both freestyle and Greco-Roman and was eighth in the 2019 Junior Worlds in Greco-Roman. Former Indiana star Nathan Jackson, now with the New Jersey RTC, was a 2021 U.S. Open champion and qualified through the Last Chance Qualifier. Jonathan Aiello (known as Jay) from Virginia, a 2021 U23 World bronze medalist, will be a top challenger. 2022 U.S. Open runner-up Isaac Trumble of NC State is another young star making a move.

2019 World Team member Pat Downey, who has been focused on MMA recently, entered the Trials at 86 kg but has indicated that he is moving up to 92 kg. The other entries are collegians who placed at the U.S. Open, Max Shaw of North Carolina, Levi Hopkins of Campbell and Michale Batista of Virginia.

97 kg

Champion advances to Final X Stillwater against Kyle Snyder

2022 U.S. Open champion Michael Macchiavello, a past NCAA champion at NC State and National Team member, earned the No. 1 seed with his win in the finals in Las Vegas over two-time Greco-Roman World Team member Joe Rau. As of Monday, Rau had not registered for Coralville. Former Ohio State star Kollin Moore comes off an outstanding 2021 season, where he was second at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials to Kyle Snyder at 97 kg and second at the World Team Trials to J’den Cox at 92 kg. Moore boasts age-group World medals at the U23 and Junior levels, and won the 2020 U.S. Open. Timothy Dudley, who starred for Nebraska, moved up to 97 kg this year and placed fourth at the U.S. Open. He has placed at the U.S. Open at 86 kg, 92 kg and 97 kg.

Earning spots in the field in Coralville with 2022 U.S. Open placements were collegians Samuel Mitchell of Buffalo, Ethan Laird of Rider, plus Duncan Lee, an assistant coach at Central College. Jason Carter of Ursinus College won the Last Chance Qualifier.

125 kg

Both semifinal winners advance to Final X New York

2022 U.S. Open champion Hayden Zillmer, the former ND State star who has trained many years at Minnesota, gets the top seed based upon the Trials procedures. Zillmer, who has made National Team a number of times, previously competed at 97 kg and 92 kg, but has committed to heavyweight. Two-time World bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski, who was second in the Olympic Trials to eventual Olympic champion Gable Steveson, gets the No. 2 seed. Gwiazdowski competed in the 2021 Worlds but did not medal, which means he did not advance to Final X. The No. 3 seed is 2021 U23 World champion and Div. I All-American Tony Cassioppi of Iowa, who should have a strong fan following in Coralville. Veteran star Dom Bradley, who was second to Zillmer at the U.S. Open, gets the No. 4 seed. Bradley was a 2019 U.S. Open champion and has made a number of National Teams.

The next two wrestlers in the seeds were top stars at 97 kg, and have moved up. Past Virginia Tech star Ty Walz, a 2017 U23 World bronze medalist, was third at the 2022 U.S. Open at 125 kg. Kyven Gadson, a past NCAA champion at Iowa State, made numerous National Teams at 97 kg and was second in the 2018 and 2019 Final X, has also moved up. Gadson actually wrestled in the 2021 U.S. Open at 92 kg. Former Pitt star Demetrius Thomas was fourth at the U.S. Open. College stars Lucas Davison of Northwestern and Jordan Wood of Lehigh were also U.S. Open placers, and both are past age-group World medalists, with Davison winning a Junior World silver medal and Wood taking a Cadet World silver medal. Others to watch include Nebraska big man Christian Lance, former Oklahoma State runner-up Derek White and Ceron Francisco, who has made big strides in recent seasons.