The Last Chance World Team Trials Qualifier for men’s freestyle is set for Saturday and Sunday, May 20th and 21st, in Rochester, Minnesota. The highest placing wrestler in each weight class who has not yet qualified for the trials in Lincoln, Nebraska next month will punch their ticket. This winner take all setup should make for some intense action and there is plenty of quality in this field with more planning to register on-site. Here are five things to watch as the weekend unfolds.
1) Isaiah Martinez heads up to 74 kg
After skipping the US Open, the two-time NCAA champion and three-time finalist from Illinois is moving up after wrestling 70 kg at the World Team Trials last November. This won’t be a walk in the park for the senior to be as a pair of former Nittany Lions may stand in his way. Two-time NCAA top three finisher Dan Vallimont is registered and we could see former national champion Matt Brown in this weight class as well. For all his folkstyle success, we have yet to see Martinez at the international level. While he would not be favored next month in Lincoln, just getting there would be a feather in his cap and help him prepare for future runs.
2) Hayden Zillmer and Jacob Kasper could offer fireworks at 97 kg
If you followed college wrestling at all this season, you’ve probably heard about Kasper, the high-flying Duke 184 turned heavyweight who wound up sixth at the NCAA tournament. That was the same spot Zillmer finished in 2015 for North Dakota State after dropping his opening round match. Since graduating in 2016, Zillmer has been focused on Greco, finishing third in last year’s Olympic Trials and earning a handful of solid finishes on the Senior circuit. Kasper’s willingness to engage upper body could lead to some explosive exchanges if these two meet. Given the Duke heavyweight’s year spent at the OTC, they probably know each other fairly well which might slow down other wrestlers. However, nothing seems to keep Kasper from going for it.
3) Ness brothers aim for titles at 61 kg and 70 kg
Jayson Ness, a 2010 NCAA champion, didn’t do much on the freestyle scene immediately after his graduation, but has slowly started to become a factor, winning the Dave Schultz in 2016 and finishing second at the Grand Prix of Paris in January. He has a good chance to navigate this field and could end up with a strong finish in June. Dylan Ness became a crowd favorite at Minnesota on his way to becoming a four-time All-American and two-time finalist. His style in college wasn’t one that looked like it would transition well to freestyle, but he was an excellent Greco wrestler in high school and with Martinez moving up, Dylan has enough freestyle experience to contend. His loss to world bronze medalist James Green at the Open was expected, but a 15-7 loss to the red-hot Chase Pami raised a question or two. A potential clash with Hunter Stieber could be informative as to where both wrestlers are right now.
4) Thomas Gilman is the favorite at 57 kg
Unless Obe Blanc can return to his old form after a rough US Open, Gilman should punch his ticket to Lincoln this weekend. The three-time All-American for Iowa has always wrestled with a chip on his shoulder and I don’t expect that to change after he came up short of his goal of a national title. Gilman is a former Junior world bronze medalist who made three world teams at the age group level. Expect him to make himself into a contender at the Senior level as well, even if doing so this year might be asking a bit much. I’m sure Gilman doesn’t see it that way, though. He’ll be out to dominate here and have eyes on a bigger prize next month.
5) Jaydin Eierman leads the field at 65 kg
Unless Joey McKenna (Stanford) or Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers) show up, a salivating prospect after Eierman beat them both at the NCAA tournament, Eierman will be the clear favorite in a field that doesn’t feature anyone with a lot of Senior level success on their resumes. The Missouri sophomore to be started the year making 133 which makes me wonder if he’ll be a little undersized making 65 kg (143.3 pounds) with night before weigh-ins, but that won’t likely be too much of an issue until he meets tougher competition in Lincoln.