Photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
With more than half of Division I at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, that tournament featured an incredible gathering of talent the likes of which we rarely, if ever, see during the regular season. While there was good wrestling elsewhere this weekend, the sheer volume of matches, upsets, and top performances kept anyone not in Nevada Friday and Saturday off our top performers list this week. My apologies to wrestlers such as Mikey Labriola (Nebraska), Kyle Shoop (Lock Haven), Luke Karam (Lehigh), Hayden Hidlay (NC State), and Michael McGee (Old Dominion). Some weeks are just tougher than others, but we see you. Here are the ten best performances from week five, all from the CKLV.
10) How good is Taylor Venz?
Redshirt freshman Taylor Venz (Nebraska) got off to an excellent start to the season, earning wrestler of the week honors in week one and heading to Vegas undefeated. However, he had yet to face a ranked opponent which raised the question of just how good he might be. The answer will make every Cornhusker fan very happy. Venz pushed his record to 10-0 on day one with four falls, including pins of sixth-ranked Drew Foster (Northern Iowa) and 11th ranked Jordan Ellingwood (Central Michigan), firmly establishing himself as a top-10 guy just more than a month into the season. While second-ranked Myles Martin (Ohio State) showed Taylor he has much to learn in a 19-4 semi-final romp, the Nebraska 184 rebounded well, defeating 12th ranked Ricky Robertson (Wisconsin), 8-3, then 10th ranked Zack Zavatsky (Virginia Tech), 9-3 to finish third.
9) Seeds don’t matter
We knew how dangerous Josh Terao (American) could be from his past exploits at 125 and he had already shown himself to be just as good, if not better at 133. Still, he was seeded seventh for a reason, a situation that never seems to phase his family. The junior held serve early, beating number 17 Ian Parker (Iowa State), 9-2, then really started to roll in the quarters, dealing seventh-ranked Dom Forys (Pitt) his first loss of the season, 6-3. If that weren’t enough, Terao would claim another win over a top-10 foe, shutting out fifth-ranked Jack Mueller (Virginia), 6-0, to reach the finals. While he would not stand on top of the podium thanks to another of our top performers, Josh put himself squarely in the All-American conversation with two of the biggest wins of his college career.
8) The favorite for a reason
When you’re the favorite in a tournament like the CKLV where madness is happening all around you, it can be a little hard to get noticed. However, Myles Martin (Ohio State) was so impressive en route to victory at 184 pounds, it was impossible to ignore. After a 14-4 major decision of 15th ranked Steven Schneider (Binghamton) and the aforementioned 19-4 destruction of Taylor Venz (Nebraska), who should rise into the top 10 this week, Martin got his first look at Domenic Abounader (Michigan), the seventh-ranked wrestler in the country who redshirted last season. While Abounader managed to push Martin more than anyone else had this season, an impressive takedown by the Buckeye with less than 30 seconds remaining clinched the title as Myles won 8-5.
7) The senior is a new man
Entering his senior season in Chapel Hill, Troy Heilmann (North Carolina) had been solid, qualifying for two NCAA tournaments, but sporting a career record of just 57-46. However, he was 8-0 heading to Vegas and, once there, solidified himself as one of the most improved wrestlers in the country this season. Heilmann navigated potentially dangerous matches against Kyler Rea (West Virginia) and Hunter Ladnier (Harvard) early as was expected of him as the five seed. It looked like he might be done on the top side when eighth-ranked Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State) built a 6-0 lead over the Tar Heel after the first three minutes only to watch Heilmann explode for eight of his own, including a late six-point move in the second. The match was tied at eight with just over a minute to go when Troy completed the comeback, scoring another takedown to win it, 10-8. As if that weren’t enough, Heilmann scored an even bigger win in the semis, making an early takedown stand up in a 3-2 decision over third-ranked Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa). 2016 All-American Justin Oliver (Central Michigan) was finally able to solve the riddle of Heilmann in the finals, taking him down 9-7, but even then, Troy was right there all the way with a proven top-10 foe.
6) Still one of the best
Speaking of Justin Oliver (Central Michigan), despite spending the past two seasons as one of the best 149s in the country, he wasn’t chosen to win the title by many before the tournament. Some might have pointed to his missing the podium in St. Louis last spring. Others might have been focused on his loss to Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa) the last time they tangled. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter to the Chippewa in the end. Oliver gave up just one point over his first three matches winning 16-1, 6-0, and 8-0. The sledding got tougher from there, but Oliver was up to the task, handling 13th ranked Josh Maruca (Arizona State), 9-4, then posting an incredible 12-0 major decision with over four minutes of riding time against fifth-ranked Colton McCrystal (Nebraska). Facing the red-hot Troy Heilmann (North Carolina) in the finals Oliver notched a pair of first-period takedowns and iced the match with the final takedown to win, 9-7.
5) Tall drink of water, heck of a wrestler
The towering presence of Evan Wick (Wisconsin) is going to quickly become a sight wrestling fans easily recognize if he keeps wrestling like this. The Badger redshirt freshman didn’t have a single match that looked easy on paper, but worked his way to the finals without having a single margin of victory less than four points on his way through the bracket. Beating Clay Lautt (North Carolina) and Jon Viruet (Brown) may have been expected, though they are dangerous opponents. However, it was his quarter-final, when Wick stopped third-ranked Logan Massa (Michigan), 8-4, that really turned heads. It is fair to note that Massa had to take an injury timeout early in that match, but it was 2-1 Wick at that point, Massa continued, got the next takedown to take the lead, then watched the young Californian score six of the last seven points to spring the upset. Evan then built on that by taking down eighth-ranked Nick Wanzek (Minnesota) four times in his 10-4 semi-final victory. Wick fell to David McFadden (Virginia Tech), who had a great weekend as well, in the finals.
4) Pletcher passes his first test of the season with flying colors
Ohio State claimed the team title at the CKLV and if Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) continues to wrestle like he did this weekend, they could do the same in Cleveland. The sophomore came to Nevada undefeated on the season, but it was difficult to know where he actually stood given an early schedule devoid of other All-American types. Pletcher continued to just win, posting no bonus points, but earning a 5-1 victory over 16th ranked Korbin Myers (Edinboro) in the quarters. When he finally did get a chance at another top-notch 133, Pletcher made the most of it, scoring on a leg attack with less than 20 seconds remaining to knock off second-ranked Stevan Micic (Michigan), 7-5. When Luke cruised past Josh Terao (American), 9-2, in the finals, he made a strong case that he was more likely to be wrestling in the national semi-finals than the round of 12 this coming spring.
3) The freshman has ice in his veins
Taylor LaMont (Utah Valley) had already climbed to 12th in the national rankings as a redshirt freshman. After his run in Vegas, that seems way too low. A pair of falls got the 2016 Junior world Greco bronze medalist off to a fast start and he was only more impressive as the tournament moved along. His 8-5 win over 19th ranked Drew Mattin (Michigan) looked better and better as the Wolverine true freshman mashed his way through the consolation bracket, finishing fourth. The biggest upset of the tournament to that stage was up next with LaMont scoring two takedowns and then managing to stay off his back against second-ranked Ethan Lizak (Minnesota), a feat few can claim, in a 4-3 upset of the 2017 NCAA runner-up. Earning such a big win was a big step forward, but the way LaMont finished the tournament was almost as impressive. He found himself in a scrap with past All-American Connor Schram (Stanford) that drifted into tie-breakers before Taylor found a way to break through for a takedown, winning 4-1. Then his third consecutive opponent who has been a DI All-American, Sean Russell (Edinboro) who was seventh last season, became the second opponent this weekend to put LaMont behind with the first takedown. There was no panic in the young LaMont as he escaped, scored a takedown of his own with nine seconds left in the second and got the ride out that, ultimately, won him the title, 4-3.
2) No panic
Remarkably, LaMont was not the only freshman to beat an NCAA finalist in Vegas. Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) was like a lot of guys headed West with high expectations. We knew he’d be good, but exactly how good just a month into his college career? We still may not know for sure, two-time defending champion Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) and second-ranked Kevin Jack (NC State) weren’t in attendance, but Yianni added his name to the list of guys chasing Heil in earnest on Saturday. The true freshman picked his way through day one without incident to earn a date with third-ranked Bryce Meredith (Wyoming) in the semis. In a scramble-fest, it looked like the two time Cadet world champion might be the victim of a controversial call, seeing what looked to be the winning takedown over-turned on review, sending the match to sudden victory. Never one to panic Diakomihalis simply took Meredith down again in sudden victory for the 4-2 victory. He finished the tournament in style, extending his margin over Josh Alber (Northern Iowa), who he beat by three in their dual, to six, claiming a CKLV title, 8-2.