Photos courtesy of Dennis Scheidt, IAWrestle.com
There is something about walking into historic Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a wrestling event. Your heart begins to beat a little faster, your palms start to sweat a little, and all around you, there is a sense of those who have come before. Feeling that just as a fan, I can only imagine what it is like walking in as a competitor. I was never fortunate or, to be honest, talented enough to walk onto the mat there as a wrestler. I certainly was nowhere near the level of the athletes who put on a show Friday the 13th at Night of Conflict 3.
A show was put on for the crowd Friday night and it was more than worth any price of admission. It was not just fans, former wrestlers and even current head coaches were in attendance to see the crop of almost certainly future college All-Americans and perhaps even national champions. There were matches that came down to the wire, a showcase of one wrestler’s total domination, and even a few spots of controversy.
The night began with an incredible tribute to Logan Luft, the young Iowa native who passed away in early July after an ATV accident. He will continue to live on though, as he and his family’s choice to be an organ donor meant that many of his organs went to others in need. On Twitter, #LuftTuff became a rallying cry for his family and friends. It was a powerful way to start the evening that was followed by an incredible rendition of the National Anthem as performed by Gigi Bragg. The young lady, I do mean young, was wonderful and would have brought the arena to its feet if they were not all already standing. Just like that, we were off!
The teams were divided up with all the Iowa natives on one side coached by 2017 national champion Cory Clark and World silver medalist Alli Ragan. “Team Iowa” was joined by Illinois heavyweight Tony Cassioppi and Minnesota grappler Peyton Robb. The blue team, comprised of the rest of the wrestlers who traveled to Iowa City, had World silver medalist Thomas Gilman at the helm assisted by Lauren Louive of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. True to his nature and his past, Gilman ran directly into the opposing corner to shake Clark’s hand. It was hard not to make a joke about it, but rest assured no actual fisticuffs ensued.
Luke Kemerer is not currently ranked by TOM, but if he wrestles this season the way he did against Cade DeVos it is only a matter of time. The Pennsylvania senior and Pitt commit wrestled an excellent match where he was never out of position or control. A reversal and takedown in the second period were enough to secure the win and become the second Kemerer to have his hand raised on the mat in Iowa City in 2017.
Matthew Ramos stepped on the mat for his third match this summer against the phenomenal freshman Caleb Rathjen. The Iowan wrestled hard for all three periods but came up short in his upset bid. Ramos took advantage of some mistakes by the freshman to earn two early takedowns and then held off Rathjen to finish the match. Watching Rathjen you can see the raw talent that will be honed by more time on that mat. Ramos looks poised for a big year and another state medal in Illinois seems to be all but his already.
Malik Johnson kept the ball rolling for Team Gilman. The three-time Missouri state champion very nearly had the major decision against Drew Bennett before a late takedown was wiped off. The Fort Dodge senior was ready and willing to go, but he was just unable to get anything going against Johnson. The result was surprising to me, I expected Bennett to be able to break through and take down the younger wrestler, but it was not to be.
At this point, it was 9-0 for Team Gilman and Team Clark really needed some momentum. Out stepped Felicity Taylor of South Winneshiek, Iowa. Carly Valleroy made the trip from Missouri in search of top-level competition and she found it in Iowa City. Taylor came out like her corner coach Alli Ragan and immediately started putting it to Valleroy. An early takedown was followed by a period of her working for the fall on top. It took until the second period, but it seemed inevitable from that first takedown. Taylor put Team Clark on the board in a big way with the fall in the second. Felicity Taylor narrowed the dual deficit to 9-6 and it looked like things might be turning around for Team Clark.
Jace Koelzer is planning to wrestle for the Troy Nickerson coached University of Northern Colorado Bears. Tonight it looks as though they have a good one coming in. He took on a very strong two-time Iowa state champion in Kyle Biscoglia, using two escapes and a takedown to secure the 4-3 victory. It was a little revenge for the Kansas native for a loss to Biscoglia a couple of years ago at a tournament in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Malcolm Robinson was one of two Blair Academy wrestlers competing on the night. He came out quickly and earned a push-out point against Michael Blockhus. He seemed poised to do it again against the young man headed to Northern Iowa, then it all changed. The future Panther found his back against the edge and decided to fight. He hit a perfectly timed throw against the Rutgers commit and sent him flying for a push-out point of his own to tie the match. That one move seemed to take the wind out of the sails of Robinson. From there it was all Blockhus and the 7-4 final score was not nearly as close at it appears. Two third period takedowns seemed to come easy as Robinson hit the wall.
Jeremiah Reno versus Cullan Schriever was one of the most action filled matches of the night. In another Missouri invades Iowa match, the southern neighbors took another close battle. Schriever was in the match the whole way, but a late takedown by Reno sealed the deal. They were all over the mat and went hard for the whole six minutes, the 8-6 affair was one of the best matches of the night.
Andrew Merola came out of the tunnel looking to bring a win back to Blair Academy. His match against Minnesota’s Peyton Robb was a battle between two seniors ranked in the TOM class of 2018 top 100. This match was absolutely controlled by Robb for five minutes and fifty seconds. Unfortunately for the South Dakota State University commit, that still left 10 seconds for Merola to strike. With short time on the clock and down a point, the Cornell commit used a reversal and nearfall to win the match 5-2.
The best match of the night, in my mind, was Cody Phippen versus Aden Reeves. These two athletes really let it fly and wrestled every second of regular time and then into the overtime period to finally settle this one. Phippen was unable to get anything accomplished on his feet, while Reeves took the Missouri native down twice. Then in the third Phippen took advantage of Reeves choosing down. It took almost the entire period and he even had what looked like the tying nearfall wiped away, but with no time left on the clock, he was awarded the nearfall to send it into extra time. Reeves, who was able to finish takedowns twice in regular time, could not get to the legs again in the first overtime. It seemed like all of Carver knew what was coming next in sudden victory after how regulation ended. Reeves took his turn on the bottom and was unable to escape. Phippen did not waste his turn and won the match with an escape. I enjoyed this match and it really seemed to have the crowd fired up going into the last two bouts.
I want to say something first to temper the Hawkeye fans enthusiasm for Tony Cassioppi, but after watching this match I am not sure I can come up with something. The Iowa commit absolutely dismantled a quality opponent from his home state and dismantled may not be a strong enough term. Ronald Tucker is no slouch, he is a state medalist with international style credentials. He is almost certainly one of the top five heavyweights in the state of Illinois. Cassioppi pushed him around, again literally, took him down (also literally), and left the first period with a 7-0 lead. In the second he made short work of his fellow Illinoisan and secured the fall for Team Clark.
The final match of the night brought together a future wrestler for the University of North Carolina and a wrestler headed to Ames, Iowa to compete as a Cyclone. Brandon Whitman is a three-time Michigan state champion and he looked every bit the part of his top 40 ranking among the class of 2018. Joel Shapiro is no slouch by any means, he is in the TOM top 100 among seniors as well, but he seemed to be outhorsed by the Dundee wrestler. The final score of 4-1 might as well have been 10-1, Whitman controlled the match from start to finish. I have to wonder if these two will meet again at 184 or 197, either way, tonight was the perfect place to be measuring their development so far.
Another great event was put on by the IAWrestle crew and NOC3 was a huge success in my mind. There were excellent matches from the athletes and except for a minor hiccup or two, the night ran smoothly. I look forward to seeing these athletes names in the future, almost certainly some of them will be wrestling for hardware at the next level.