photo courtesy of Cam Kramer
Walking into the Sears Centre at Hoffman Estates was less weird than a year ago. It makes me wonder if it will be weird walking back into Welsh Ryan next year. Probably not, I love that venue and its a great set up to watch the Ken Kraft Midlands. Unfortunately, the organizers did nothing to improve the layout for media not sitting at or near the head table this year. Thankfully I have pretty good eyesight and Trackwrestling kept me up to date on the scores in nearly real time. Plenty of things went right for teams today, and plenty of things went wrong. Let’s take a look weight by weight as I reminisce fondly about day one of the 56th Ken Kraft Midlands.
I feel like we say it a lot, but it is true every time. Spender Lee (Iowa) is very good. He has yet to give up an offensive point, I may have to go back and see if he has given up a point at all. He is into the semifinals and is after his first Midlands finals appearance. Patrick Glory (Princeton) looks phenomenal again. He has a rematch against Lee tomorrow, and the showdown will start things off at high noon here. Connor Brown (Wisconsin) was the most impressive wrestler at this weight besides the three guys you expected to be really really good. The SDSU transfer continues to grow under the tutelage of head coach Chris Bono. Sebastian Rivera is very good as well, but he might find himself in a battle tomorrow if he looks ahead to the finals against Lee. This weight was turned on its head quickly when Ryan Millhof (ASU) was forced out of the tournament in the first round because of a concussion. I expected Travis Piotrowski (Illinois) to give Glory a better match after the way he handled Jay Schwarm (UNI), but he just seemed overwhelmed by the freshman. Schwarm did not help his team out by going falling on the backside, they are in a dogfight for second with Northwestern and Wisconsin.
The story here is the injury to Nathan Tomasello. The former national champion and four-time All-American entered as a post-grad and started his day off with an easy win. He ran into trouble in his second match against Hunter Kosco (Brown). Kosco took him down quickly, but after that, it seemed to be all Tomasello. Then injury struck and Tomasello had to be helped off the mat with an apparent leg injury. It was tough to see the warrior have to be all but carried away from the competition mat. No Nathan Tomasello now and the lack of entry from Seth Gross (SDSU) put the bracket into disarray. Unseeded Paul Glynn (Iowa) was able to defeat Kosco and now he is in the Midlands semifinals. Austin DeSanto (Iowa) seems to have figured things out from his early struggles, and he has cruised into the semis himself. The other top seeds, Dylan Duncan (Illinois) and Noah Gonser (Campbell) advanced to tomorrow’s semis as well. Gonser becomes the first Camel to place in the top six at the Midlands tournament. The Eastern Michigan transfer has looked very strong, especially in the top position. The DeSanto versus Duncan matchup looms large for the team race as well as Big Ten tournament seeding.
Peter Lipari (Rutgers) tried to crash the party, but Josh Alber (UNI) put an end to his impressive run in the quarterfinals. Lipari had beaten the eighth and ninth seeds but was unable to find his offense against Alber. Alber is helping lead a UNI team that went six for six in the semifinals and currently sits in second place in the team race. Remember the name Michael Blockhus (UNI-Unattached), the future Panther starter has looked the part of the stud recruit we knew him to be. He has taken advantage of upsets and had one of his own against Mike VanBrill (Rutgers) to pace his way into the semis. He is going to be a big part of coach Schwab’s future lineup. Max Murin will try to derail him tomorrow in the semis and score some points for the Hawkeyes. He has looked steady in his competition but will be facing a tough test in this matchup. Yahya Thomas (Northwestern) took out the fourth seed Vince Turk to be a hometown semifinalist like Rivera.
Matthew Kolodzik (Princeton) has not exactly looked like the number one wrestler in the country his last two matches. After absolutely rolling into the round of 16 he needed an overtime takedown to beat Jacori Teemer (ASU-Unattached). The freshman phenom gave him all he could handle and more in their match and even seemed to have the win in his pocket with less than 45 seconds to go. Then Kolodzik again struggled to find his offense but won a 5-2 battle against the tough Henry Pohlmeyer (SDSU). With Alec Pantaleo (Michigan) on the other side of the bracket, Kolodzik will need to be ready to wrestle tomorrow. Pat Lugo (Iowa) will have a rematch against Kolodzik tomorrow in the semis. He has yet to wrestle a full match today scoring bonus along the way. He went fall, tech fall, injury default, and then injury default racking up the points. He has scored more points than 43 of the teams that entered the tournament. Max Thomsen (UNI) was an All-American last season, and he is a Midlands semifinalist now. He has a tough match against new Michigan 149 Alec Pantaleo. Pantaleo started off gangbusters in his first tournament since the cut, but slowed down against Minnesota freshman Brayton Lee in the quarters winning 3-2.
Zach Hartman (Bucknell) took his Cinderella story to the semifinals defeating the third seed John VanBrill (Rutgers). Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) and Kaleb Young (Iowa) have looked the part of the top two seeds at this weight. Deakin has scored two falls, a major, and a decision on his way to the semifinals. Young has yet to give up a point winning by three tech falls and a pin. Eric Barone (Illinois) will try to knock off the second-ranked Deakin in the first semifinal. Barone has looked very good, but he will need another gear against Deakin. Hartman and Young is a chance for each of these wrestlers to make their first trips to the semifinals. Young would follow in the footsteps of Micheal Kemerer who won back to back titles at this weight.
The seeding committee must be doing something right, the four top seeds are all into the semifinals. It almost did not happen though, Alex Marinelli (Iowa) needed overtime to defeat the seventh seed Jon Viruet (Brown). Top seed Evan Wick (Wisconsin) did not have as difficult a time, he dispatched Jacen Peterson (ASU) 7-2. Bryce Steiert (UNI) ruined Anthony Valencia’s (ASU-Unattached) return to competition by majoring him 10-1 in impressive fashion. Josh Shields (ASU) looks ready to take on Marinelli after dismantling Joey Gunther (Illinois) 17-2. If Marinelli does not find his offense or wrestle with a sense of urgency, Shields may repeat that performance. I’m interested to see the rematch between Wick and Steiert from the Cyclone Open where Wick was victorious 3-2.
Zahid Valencia (ASU) looks like Zahid Valencia. He seems none the worse for wear after his first regular-season loss in his career. He is after his third Midlands title and barring something crazy happening I believe he is on his way. He will take on Ryan Christensen (Wisconsin) who dropped Titan Mercury’s, Aaron Brooks. Christensen is a strong wrestler, but Zahid is strong and silky smooth. Brit Wilson (NIU) has looked very good on his way to the semifinals and a match against Taylor Lujan (UNI). Lujan has two falls in his three matches. Wilson has two majors and a fall during his impressive run as the Huskies try to stay in the top ten at the tournament.
Jackson Hemauer (Fresno State) is another unseeded wrestler in the semifinals. He is riding a five-match winning streak dating back to the CKLV. He will face a tough test in Drew Foster (UNI), the senior has scored bonus in all three of his matches so far. Mason Reinhardt (Wisconsin) has taken to the coach Chris Bono teaching and upset Kevin Parker (Princeton) to take his place in the semis. He will take on a Big Ten opponent in Cash Wilcke (Iowa). Wilcke was a champion at the Midlands a year ago up a weight at 197. He is looking to repeat but will need to show more offense to get past the ridiculously strong Reinhardt. This weight has team race consequences as Iowa will try to pad their lead while Wisconsin and UNI will look to take control of second.
The top half of this bracket held no surprises. Pat Brucki (Princeton) and Rocco Caywood (Army) will square off in an EIWA conference battle. Both wrestlers have been workmanlike on their way to their rematch from their meeting at the Princeton Open that Brucki won 5-2. The lower half of the bracket, listen if you tell me that you picked Lucas Davison (Northwestern-Unattached) and Tanner Sloan (SDSU-Unattached) I will call you a liar. The sixth seed and unseeded freshmen turned heads on the way to the semis. Davison has already ended one unseeded wrestler’s surprising run and will try to make it two tomorrow. Sloan is an Iowa native who was headed to Coe College in Cedar Rapids before changing his mind late and heading to South Dakota State University. What took him to Brookings South Dakota? Sheep. The agriculture program at SDSU was too good to pass up, and then Sloan stayed with his commitment after the departure of Bono to Wisconsin. Why do we now know who he is? Because he absolutely destroyed last years Midlands runner-up Jacob Warner (Iowa). The redshirt ended the match early by tech fall, after rolling Warner around from top. Tomorrow we will see what happens now that opponents have a few matches to watch and look at his skills. Either way, he has etched his name in Midlands lore.
This became all about guys not wrestling. Youssif Hemida (Maryland) was not cleared to wrestle this morning which meant the bracket was redrawn. Sam Stoll (Iowa) medically withdrew after his round of 16 win over Andrew Gunning (UNC). The match was close and was very heated, so much so that Gunning’s father was escorted out of the building by security after verbally assaulting the referee, Sam Stoll, and fans in around him. That opened up the path for Conan Jennings (Northwestern) to make the semifinals as a senior in his home tournament. He will take on freshman phenom Mason Parris (Michigan-Unattached). Parris handed Trent Hillger (Wisconsin), his first loss of the season in the quarterfinals. Parris looks like the heir apparent to Adam Coon and could step into the role this year if needed. Tanner Hall (ASU-Unattached) is trying to return to the Midlands finals after a controversial loss to Stoll a year ago. His quarterfinal match ended early when Matt Stencel (CMU) was concussed. He now has a match with the Finnish World team member Jere Heino (Campbell-Unattached). Heino ended Tony Cassioppi’s (Iowa-Unattached) undefeated run in his redshirt freshman campaign with a convincing major decision that saw him put the pinning machine on his back twice. Heino is back from the U23 championships and looks great. He is older, stronger, and maybe meaner than most of the wrestlers at this weight class.
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