Bryant Bytes: Five wrestlers I’ll miss in college wrestling

Bryant Bytes

By Jason Bryant
Editor, Amateur Wrestling News

With the college season over, it’s strange to wake up on a Monday morning with no rankings to compile and no scores to comb over. For over 100 athletes around the country, last weekend marked the end of their wrestling careers. Hundreds more finished their collegiate wrestling careers the weeks prior at the NAIA, Division II and Division III championships.
Across all classifications, certain wrestlers stand out and over the course of the last several years, getting the opportunity to cover some of their careers has been something I’ve been privileged to be able to do. Here’s a breakdown by weight class of some of the graduating wrestlers who were the most fun to cover during their competitive careers.

Matt McDonough, Iowa
It’s hard to continue to bring up Matt McDonough’s fall from grace without some degree of apprehension and sadness. Off the mat, McDonough was respectable but always a tad shy. He really didn’t talk about his wrestling as much as people might have liked. I understand the sentiment to a point. This year, I don’t even want to know how many times McDonough got the “what’s wrong,” question from acquaintances or a passer by in Iowa City, let alone the folks in the world of message boards. McDonough wasn’t supposed to be the guy initially. His three finals appearances would be a highlight to any number of wrestlers, let alone McDonough’s two national championships. And when I say “wasn’t supposed to be the guy,” I mean he wasn’t the prized recruit coming in, at least not initially. When McDonough was in Fargo in 2006, he lost to future teammate Nate Moore in the Cadet Greco-Roman finals. It wasn’t a surprise at the time. Moore was ranked at the top of the high school rankings, while McDonough, notably accomplished at the high school level, wasn’t getting the hype Moore was. Then McDonough beat Moore in the Cadet Freestyle finals. Then, as the two entered school at the University of Iowa, it was McDonough who finally gained the attention of the Hawk faithful, even though there were constant comments circulating about when Moore would come back, if Tony Ramos could cut down to 125, etc. McDonough’s last college match would be a loss to North Dakota State’s Trent Sprenkle. Not the way any of us thought he would go out. But I always liked watching McDonough wrestle and admired his perseverance and dedication. While I didn’t get to cover Hawkeye wrestling in person too many times over the last four years, one point that will always standout to me about the kind of guy I like to think McDonough is comes from a short “hello” at the Quaker Steak & Lube in Council Bluffs, Iowa at the 2009 World Team Trials. In case you’re wondering, it’s a wing joint, not an oil change place. I was sitting at a table with some people, I can’t even remember who, and McDonough walks by, sees me, extends his hand and gives me a good handshake. I don’t remember even what he said, but it was a sincere moment. He just wanted to say hello. I don’t play favorites, but there was something about McDonough after that which made me want to see him do well.

Jarrod Garnett, Virginia Tech
Also at 125 pounds comes Virginia Tech’s Jarrod Garnett. I first met Garnett when he was wrestling in high school at Caravel Academy in Delaware. He wasn’t a real national name until he won the NHSCA Junior title in 2007. He was a Cadet freestyle All-American the year prior, but Garnett ultimately chose Virginia Tech to wrestle for newly-appointed head coach Kevin Dresser.
Garnett was ranked nationally and was one of those mid-range kids Dresser was starting to stockpile in Blacksburg. How good was Garnett though? We found out pretty early when he majored Ohio State’s Nikko Triggas at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. Triggas was a highly-recruited freshman from Ohio State and Garnett’s major decision started to put him into the discussion among top 125-pounders.
As Garnett’s career continued, we’d cross paths, but sometimes those paths would cross in situations where Garnett wasn’t coming out on top. During the Wrestling 411 year, I drove 24 hours back to Norfolk to announce the Old Dominion-Virginia Tech dual. Garnett never beat ODU’s James Nicholson, but he definitely made things interesting. When Garnett fell to Triggas in the Round of 12 in 2010 and then to Nicholson in the third-round consolations in 2011, I wondered if this kid would ever catch a break at the NCAA’s.
And I wondered the same thing in 2013, where as the fifth seed, Garnett was upended by Appalachian State’s Dom Parisi and fell to the wrestlebacks. Then the line of opponents would get tough. An overtime win over Evan Silver of Stanford just to stay alive, then a match against Steve Mitcheff of Kent State, who Garnett edged at the Virginia Duals. Then a Round of 12 matchup with a opponent Garnett previously had mastery of – Virginia’s Matt Snyder. Previous mastery meant nothing, after all, it was Triggas who beat Garnett in the Round of 12 previously. Garnett would major Snyder and pin Minnesota’s David Thorn before losing his next two to finish sixth. Garnett was a kid I was happy to see hit the podium regardless of where he placed. Just one of those kids you get to know from a few social interactions. It wasn’t how he wanted his senior year to end, but at least he got on the podium in his last shot.

Naveed Bagheri, San Francisco State
With a lot of swagger, Naveed Bagheri strolled through Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on the morning of March 10. The San Francisco State senior had capped his career with a Division II championship at 141 pounds and like many of the athletes leaving the Division II Championships Festival that morning, hadn’t slept a wink.
I first met Bagheri in 2010 in Fresno. He was one of the preliminary matches at the NWCA All-Star Classic and would beat Menlo’s Christian Martinez. Bagheri was my first interview while working television for Fox College Sports. The interview never aired and was more of a practice run, but it was one of those moments in the context of an All-Star Classic, Division II athletes don’t get the opportunity to revel in much.
San Francisco State is essentially on an island in the West. Not like how Alcatraz is on an island, but in the Division II world. Coach Lars Jensen had five duals against Division I opponents this year and the nearest Division II school to San Francisco State is a six-hour drive down I-5 to Cal Baptist in Riverside.
Bagheri was a three-time All-American, but he would always be one of those guys who fans would look at after he beat a decent Division I kid and immediately question the Division I kid and not recognize Bagheri’s accomplishments. Case in point this year was Bagheri’s technical fall over Michigan’s Camryn Jackson. Bagheri won big less than a week after Jackson beat Oregon State Division I All-American Michael Mangrum. He capped his career in Birmingham with a tie-breaker win over Adams State’s Ryan Fillingame, an opponent Bagheri had split with this season. I’m pretty sure Bagheri still carries his swagger today.

Jason Welch, Northwestern
Watching Jason Welch wrestle at the Ironman coming out of Las Lomas, Calif., was like watching kids back home. When I say back home, I mean the kids from Virginia Beach. Their flexibility comes from surfing. I don’t know where Welch’s flexibility comes from, but the kid was one of the most unorthodox athletes I’d ever had the opportunity to cover.
Some of it involves a conversation I had with John Welch, Jason’s dad, at the Ironman. As years went by, I got to talk to John periodically at events. Each time, it felt like the conversation was less about wrestling and more about how each of us were doing as people. Perhaps it was John Welch who made me appreciate the time away from wrestling and talking about my family first. When you see a guy who comes out to suburban Chicago numerous times a year to watch his kid wrestle, conversations arise that don’t always involve our great sport, and this is something that always made me want to seek out Mr. Welch at tournaments. Just an all-around good guy who cares about the people he meets. Jason is the same way, at least in the limited interactions I’ve had with him over the last seven years. While Welch’s style was unorthodox, I don’t think it was super crazy, but his scrambles would be more methodical than they would be quick. It’s also amusing to see what “middle name” Welch would try to come up with on Facebook based on whatever movie he and his teammates were into at the time.

Kyle Dake, Cornell
There really isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said. Love him or hate him, Kyle Dake knows how to win. I only saw one of his losses (EIWA’s), but saw every one of his four titles. The guy clearly wants more. His trips to the Olympic Training Center validate that desire. Considering 50 of Dake’s final 72 wins were bonus victories, he does take offense to those who don’t say he’s offensive. Is he flashy? No. Is he quick? Yes, but he doesn’t evoke the quickness talk like Jordan Burroughs or a David Taylor do. Is he strong? He’s got to be. Is he the best ever? I’ll let everyone else argue that point.
It’s short, sweet and to the point – Kyle Dake wasn’t the most memorable wrestler after his freshman year, but after his sophomore year, people started to take him more seriously. It’s a shame people didn’t right off the bat. And I’m was in that group.

Honorable Mention
Bryan Pearsall, Penn State- Veteran holdover from the Troy Sunderland era finally reached the NCAA championships after taking his lumps at 133 and 141. District 3 represent!
Kodie Silvestri, Wartburg- Funky Division III two-time finalist who defied conventional wisdom of when to stepover and when not to stepover. Didn’t matter, he’d stepover anytime.
Matt Meuleners, Northern State- Four-time Division II All-American and two-time champion was super talented and a Midlands placewinner.
Mitchell Lofstedt, Southern Oregon- Three-time NAIA champion who stepped away from wrestling for a music career only to come back and win two more titles, including pinning his way to the championship in 2013. He would have pinned his way to the title in 2012, but he only scored a tech fall in the quarterfinals.