Day one in Fargo featured Cadet men’s freestyle opening the competition on 24 mats. No championships or All-American honors would be clinched on day one, but dreams were dashed for many as wrestlers crashed out of the tournament early and often. By day’s end, each weight class was paired down to 16 competitors, with eight in the quarter-finals and eight still alive in the consolations. Here are five athletes who deserve applause after a fine opening day.
Terrell Barraclough (Utah)
After winning a UHSAA state title at 120, Barraclough added a freestyle state championship in April. He took a big step towards placing here after being shut out a year ago by winning four matches on the day, including wins over Iowa state champ Cael Happel (Iowa) and Folkstyle Nationals champion Isaac Salas (California). Barraclough heads into the quarterfinals tomorrow morning against Dominick Serrano (Colorado). Serrano hasn’t had a match last longer than 2:35 so far.
Bubba Wilson (Kansas)
After finishing fourth at Southern Plains and going 3-2 at Cadet Duals, Wilson wasn’t on most people’s radars coming into Fargo. He should be now. Fargo doesn’t seed but instead separates wrestlers based on past accomplishments. Nicholas Burgard (Ohio) earned the spot at the bottom of the bracket where the two seed would be, then Wilson, after two shutout tech-falls, took him out, 14-4. After digging himself a 6-0 hole against Troy Pleski (Minnesota) in the round of 16, Wilson 13 straight points, eventually taking a 19-8 tech to advance to the quarters. He’ll face Drew Eller (Georgia).
Carter Starocci (Pennsylvania)
After an eighth place finish here in 2016, Starocci looked the part of a title contender on Saturday, conjuring three consecutive 10-0 techs, including his last one over Ohio state freestyle champion Chris Donathan. The win over Donathan was truly impressive as it took 4:02 and displayed Starocci’s patience. It wasn’t an easy match by any means, but Carter gave Donathan no openings, masterfully picking his spots on his way to the quarterfinals. He’ll face the next man on our list, Jax Leonard (Ohio).
Jax Leonard (Ohio)
After losing to Donathan at the Ohio state freestyle tournament and winning just one freestyle match here a year ago, Leonard seems to be out to prove a point in Fargo. He owns four wins after day one, all ending early, three by tech-fall with one pin. The pin got him past Daniel Snediker (Washington), the Washington state and Northwest Regional freestyle champion. That one had the makings of a score-fest as Leonard opened with a takedown, Snediker got a reverse, then Leonard stepped over a gut wrench attempt to get the fall. The Leonard/Starocci clash in the morning might be similarly explosive if the Ohio man can hold up his end. Starocci is the favorite, but I’ll be watching!
Luka Wick (California)
Wick takes today’s ironman award after battling through more than 21 minutes of competition time. Though he probably came into the tournament harboring stop sign aspirations, those went out the window when Northeast Regional champion Robert Garcia (New Jersey), another title contender, took him out in round one, 13-10. That wouldn’t keep Wick down as he got a fall in 2:08, a 12-2 tech in 3:39, and rolled 10-0 in 56 seconds in his only simple match of the day. In the next match, he found himself trailing Garrett Fisk (Maryland), 13-6 with a minute remaining, but scored the last eight points of the match with a takedown and three exposures off of a high gut, then held on to win 14-13! Even after all that, he had to survive Manzona Bryant (Indiana), an Indiana freestyle state champ who was third at Folkstyle Nationals, just to make day two. Wick was again up to the challenge, pinning Bryant in 2:29. He needs two more wins to become an All-American.