College Wrestling News

Facts, Numbers, and Trends from the 2019 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational


photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com

The 2019 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational is in the books. With such a large tournament, there can be a lot to digest. Here are some interesting facts, numbers, trends, and general nuggets of information that you can use to impress your friends. 

Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) claimed his third Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational champion in as many tries. He was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the event for a second time. The last wrestler to win three titles was Gabe Dean (Cornell), whose final one came in 2016. The only year that Valencia did not win (2018) was when Arizona State did not enter the tournament. 

Nebraska took the team title with 118 points and one champion. It was the first time since 2008 that the Cornhuskers won the tournament. It’s not because they haven’t shown up either. They have been a mainstay of the CKLV, missing only three tournaments since then. To put it into perspective, Jordan Burroughs was a member of that team and was on the way to his first NCAA title. 

Nebraska’s only champion was Isaiah White at 165 lbs, who won the weight class for the second consecutive season. The Cornhuskers last two-time CKLV champion was one of his coaches, Robert Kokesh, who won the tournament in 2012 and 2014.

This a bit of an incomplete stat but, here it goes. Nebraska had nine placewinners at the 2019 tournament. No other school has had more than eight placers since at-least the 2000 tournament. Records can get sketchy going back further than that, so if you have more complete placewinner data, I’d appreciate it. 

Also winning his second CKLV title was Ryan Deakin. Ryan becomes Northwestern’s FIRST EVER two-time champion at the tournament. Actually, it’s not that dramatic since the 2018 tournament was the Wildcats first time in Vegas. 

Ohio State continued the tournament’s longest active streak with a champion. The Buckeyes have had at least one champion every year since 2011. Furthermore, Ohio State has had at least two champions every year since 2015. In 2017 and 2018, Ohio State had three champions each year. That small streak was snapped at two when they “only” had two with Luke Pletcher and Kollin Moore.

During Ohio State’s run of consecutive years with a champion, they have had 9 different wrestlers combined to win 18 titles (Luke Pletcher, Kollin Moore, Joey McKenna, Myles Martin, Nathan Tomasello, Micah Jordan, Logan Stieber, Johnni DiJulius, and Hunter Stieber).

Both of the Buckeye champions, Pletcher and Moore were previous champions. Pletcher claimed his second title, while Moore has won the 197 lb weight class the last three years. 

It’s time to rename the the 141 lb weight class at this tournament in honor of Ohio State. With Luke Pletcher’s title it has given the Buckeyes the winner at this weight class in six of the last eight years. Joey McKenna in 2018, Micah Jordan in 2015, Logan Stieber in 2013 and 2014, and Hunter Stieber in 2012. 

Between the level of competition at this tournament, injuries, and the fact that not all schools make the commitment to come to Vegas every year, means that it’s extremely rare to find a four-time placewinner at this tournament. Ohio State’s Kollin Moore and Arizona State’s Tanner Hall the only seniors in 2019 that placed at the tournament in all four of their tries. As mentioned above, Moore has won the last three titles and was third as a freshman. Hall was second this year, as well as in 2017. He was fourth in 2015 and 2016. 

Both times Tanner Hall had made the CKLV finals he lost to a Michigan heavyweight. This year it was Mason Parris and in 2017, Adam Coon. 

Now for the Purdue portion of the article. The Boilermakers crowned their first champion, Dylan Lydy, since 2005 when Ben Wissel won the 184 lb weight class. They also placed multiple (three) wrestlers in the finals for the first time since 2005. That’s when Wissel and Doug Withstandley were finalists. 

Purdue also had their first top-five finish, as a team, since the 2008 tournament. Their 92.5 points are the highest in program history at this event. (Shoutout to Purdue SID Tanner Lipsett for help with the Purdue notes)

The opponent that Lydy defeated in the 174 lb finals is Northern Iowa’s Bryce Steiert. Bryce was attempting to become the first champion for the Panther Train in their history at the event. Even so, Northern Iowa had a very respectable fourth-place finish and placed a wrestler in the finals for the second time in three years (Josh Alber 2017). 

More team finish related info..Arizona State finished third with 103 points. The last time that ASU finished in the top five was in 2005 when they were fifth and tallied 92 points. 

Jack Mueller started the finals off with a championship at 125 lbs. Mueller became only the second Virginia wrestler to ever win the CKLV Invitational. The only other Cavalier to win was Nick Sulzer, who was victorius at the 165 lb weight class in 2013 and 2014. 

Cal Poly’s Tom Lane took third place at the 197 lb weight class. This was the highest finish by a Cal Poly wrestler since Devin Lotito was third at 133 lbs back in 2012. 

Virginia Tech ended their streak of having at least one CLKV finalist per year. They had at least one finalist every year since 2013. 

Fresno State’s Jacob Wright earned fifth place at 157 lbs. He is the first Bulldog wrestler since the reinstatment of the program to get onto the medal stand. Fresno State’s last placer was Clint Walbeck who was seventh at 285 lbs in 2004. (tip of my Washington Nationals cap to Izzy Silva for that note). 

Havard’s Phil Conigliaro became his teams first placewinner since the 2015 tournament. That year coach Jay Weiss’ team had three, Todd Preston (2nd), Devon Gobbo (6th) and Nick Gajdzik (6th). Conigliaro was seventh at 165 lbs. 

Much has been made about Northern Colorado being a program on the rise. The Bears had two placewinners in Vegas with true freshman Mosha Schwartz and Jacob Seely. That was good enough for a 15th place finish for Troy Nickerson’s group, just ahead of Michigan. 

There was a lot of hype surrounding a talented freshman class in the tournament. Even so, only one of them ended up on top of the podium Saturday evening and that was Brayton Lee (Minnesota) at 149 lbs. Lee happened to defeat another freshman, Sammy Sasso (Ohio State), in the finals, so either way a freshman would have won the weight. 

Brayton was also the lowest seeded wrestler this year to come away with a title. He started as the fifth seed at 149 lbs. Seven of the ten champions were one seeds.

Lee’s title gives Minnesota titles by freshmen in back-to-back years with Gable Steveson in 2018. Again, going back to the year 2000, I don’t have record of a school with freshmen winning consecutive years. 

This was the fifth year in a row where at least one freshman won a title. 2015 – Micah Jordan (Ohio State), 2016 – Logan Massa (Michigan) and Zahid Valencia (Arizona State), 2017 – Taylor LaMont (Utah Valley) and Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell), 2018 – Gable Steveson (Minnesota)

NC State had a pair of brothers in the finals with Hayden and Trent Hidlay at 157 and 184 lbs, respectively. Both fell in the finals, just like in 2017 when the Jordan brothers (Micah and Bo) both lost. The last pair of brothers to both win a CKLV, in the same season, are the Stiebers (Logan and Hunter) in 2012. 

How does winning this tournament correlate to NCAA success? Last season two of the CKLV champions went on to win NCAA titles (Nick Suriano – Rutgers and Anthony Ashnault – Rutgers). Two non-CKLV champions bounced back to win NCAA titles (Mekhi Lewis – Virginia Tech and Drew Foster – Northern Iowa). In 2017, two CKLV champs were also NCAA champs (Yianni Diakomihalis – Cornell and Zahid Valencia – Arizona State). That year no national champions lost in Vegas. 

The champions-by-home state race went to Indiana! Brayton Lee (Brownsburg), Dylan Lydy (Indianapolis), and Mason Parris (Lawrencburg) are all Indiana natives. 

Pennsylvania is always regarded as the top wrestling state in the nation. PA natives had a rough go of it in the finals with a 1-4 showing. Luke Pletcher accounts for the win while Sasso, the Hidlay brothers, and Josh Shields (Arizona State) were all runners-up. 

The third-place bouts featured three rematches from earlier in the tournament. In two instances the wrestler that lost the first match ended up turning the tables and winning the second. Those were at 165 lbs with Thomas Bullard (NC State) defeating Ethan Smith (Ohio State) in their rematch, while Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech) did the same against Taylor Lujan (Northern Iowa). The only third place two defeat his opponent twice was Tate Orndorff (Utah Valley) who held off Gannon Gremmel (Iowa State) on two occasions. 

Both Mike Labriola (Nebraska) and Devin Skatzka (Minnesota) must be getting sick of each other. The pair wrestled five times last year with Labriola getting the upperhand 3-2 and winning their match at NCAA’s. This time they squared off with third place at CKLV on the line. The Husker prevailed again 7-5 in sudden victory. The two are scheduled to meet again this year in dual action, along with possible clashes at Big Ten’s and NCAA’s. 


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