photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com
The first of the holiday tournaments are in the books as action took place on Thursday at the Reno Tournament of Champions. As most expected the tournament was dominated by Oklahoma State. Many schools did not send full rosters, so most weight classes were very Cowboy-heavy. John Smith’s team threw out a few new wrinkles and gave wrestling fans plenty to debate as we prepare for the holidays and the Midlands/Scuffle week. Here are five takeaways from the action in Reno.
1) Dakota Geer moving to 197 lbs is a great idea
We were given a sneak peek during Oklahoma State’s dual meet with Northern Colorado that Dakota Geer, the ninth-ranked 184 lber, could be moving up to 197 lbs. In that dual Geer wrestled 197 and earned a 13-2 major decision over NCAA qualifier Jacob Seely. Four days later at the Reno Tournament of Champions, Dakota was up at 197 lbs again. This time he took home a title from Reno after going 5-0. While Geer seemed to slow down a bit as the day wore on (during his fourth and fifth matches of the day), he did hang out to win against Cale Davidson (Wyoming), an opponent that had defeated his teammate Andrew Marsden earlier in the season.
Now a week ago it didn’t seem like a move up in weight would be a viable option for Geer or even a need for the Cowboys. However, after the Bedlam dual with Oklahoma, one where 197 lb All-American Preston Weigel won with a tech fall, Weigel was said to have gotten injured. While the exact extent of the injury is unknown this time people chose to the OSU team feared it would keep Weigel out for an extended period. Now having Geer weighing in at 197 shows that it is probably accurate.
With a 7-0 record at 184 lbs, Geer has worked his way up to the ninth spot in the nation at 184 pounds and was certainly on track to ascending higher and possibly earning All-American honors for the first time. However, the weight class, as a whole, has much more talent than 197 lbs. 184 has an undefeated All-American in Myles Martin (Ohio State) at the number one slot, along with All-Americans Emery Parker (Illinois), Shakur Rasheed (Penn State), Taylor Venz (Nebraska), Zack Zavatsky (Virginia Tech), Drew Foster (Northern Iowa), Max Dean (Cornell), and Chip Ness (North Carolina). On top of that Nick Reenan (NC State), Ryan Preisch (Lehigh), Louie DePrez (Binghamton), and Cash Wilcke (Iowa) are all top 10 to 12-ish guys that would surprise no one if they ended up on the podium. Martin, Parker, Rasheed, and Reenan are all still undefeated. 197, on the other hand, has two-time champ Bo Nickal (Penn State) on top, but after him with the loss of Weigel (and Geer wouldn’t wrestle him anyway), only Kollin Moore (Ohio State) and Willie Miklus are AA’s. Provided Geer has the prerequisite size/strength to bang with the big boys at 197, it seems like a no-brainer to me. Of course, most wrestlers and coaches claim to not care about the competition and which weights look “easier” than others, so who knows.
2) There are still plenty of lineup related decisions for Oklahoma State
Going into this season, I really had a hard time reading exactly how the OSU lineup would play out and also two months into the season, not much has changed. The first two dominoes to fall were at the beginning of the year when Nick Piccininni and Daton Fix manned 125 and 133, respectively. Still, the Cowboys also have a clump of three All-American’s, all of which should probably be 174 lbers in an ideal world. So far this season Chandler Rogers has dropped down and wrestled 165, with only a single loss. Jacobe Smith has not lost an official bout at 174, and Geer was at 184. Two-time All-American Joseph Smith was getting back into wrestling shape after dealing with injuries. There were always whispers that 165 was difficult for Joseph to maintain two years ago, before taking a redshirt. Reno was the first appearance of the year for Joseph, and he looked like a top-notch 174 lber. The two Smith’s did not wrestle each other after both made the finals.
So, with the Southern Scuffle eleven days away, will that event serve an as a wrestle-off of sorts for the 174 lbers? Does the loser move up to 184 with Geer going 197? Would the Cowboys try something drastic like having Smith go back to 165, move Rogers to 174, and bump Jacobe, the most physically imposing of the three up to 184?
Also, now at 141/149, with 2018 All-American Boo Lewallen said to be returning shortly, how does that impact the lineup. Kaden Gfeller has not missed a beat and worked his way into the top ten nationally at 149. If he were to lose the spot to Lewallen, could Gfeller drop to 141 and challenge the suddenly, struggling two-time All-American Kaid Brock.
We’re almost into the new year and there’s still all of these questions for John Smith and staff. The bright side is that under most configurations, the Cowboy lineup will be stacked with All-American types at all ten weights. The downside is that three AA caliber wrestlers (counting Weigel) will be on the bench for the postseason and how does that work team chemistry-wise. Also intriguing is that one of those left out of the lineup could be Smith’s son, Joseph. We’re definitely going to monitor this situation going forward.
3) Could Michigan State have two All-Americans?
For most of the past 10-12 years, the Michigan State Spartans have struggled to compete and keep up with the rest of the mighty Big Ten. In 2015 when long-time head coach Tom Minkel stepped down, his right-hand man Roger Chandler was elevated to take over in East Lansing. In his third season at the helm, Chandler has slowly built the Spartans into a team that is capable of competing with most of the conference (save for Penn State, Ohio State, Iowa). Michigan State came away from Reno with a champion and three runners-up. With Rayvon Foley ranked eighth at 125 lbs and Cameron Caffey 15th at 184 pounds, it begs the question, could MSU have two All-Americans?
The second question is when was the last time that Michigan State had two All-Americans? The answer is during the 2005-06 season when both Simmons brothers, Nick and Andy made the podium. Since then only two other wrestlers have placed in the top eight at nationals. While it’s far from a lock, it’s sure a possibility that Foley and/or Caffey could make the podium in 2019. Foley, of course, is ranked higher and is in a weight class that is not quite as talented as usual. As illustrated above, with Dakota Geer, 184 is quite loaded and would need an upset or two from Caffey at nationals. I think that just the possibility that we are mentioning two Spartan wrestlers as potential AA threats is a step in the right direction.
4) 141 may be the deepest weight this year
After doing rankings on a weekly basis at the college level, you can get “a feel” for certain weight classes. There are one or two that even when trying to fill out a top 20, you mention a couple of wrestlers that don’t necessarily feel like top 20 material. On the other hand, there are usually one or two weight classes where you look the names of the wrestlers left off of the top 20 and have to do a double-take, saying to yourself, “Whoa that guy didn’t make the cut.” This year 141 lbs is one of those weights. That’s what I’ll choose to focus on, rather than the fact that Kaid Brock took his third loss of the season in the Reno semifinals.
Unranked Sam Turner (Wyoming), a 14-10 loser to Brock in late November, reversed his decision and prevailed over the two-time All-American 5-4 in Reno. Turner was a 2018 NCAA qualifier at 149 lbs and has dropped down in weight this season and came into the tournament with a 9-8 record. That record is a little misleading as all of the losses, except one to NCAA qualifier Kyle Shoop (Lock Haven), came at the hands of wrestlers currently in the 20.
Before the next update for NCAA rankings, we’ll have to evaluate Turner’s case for cracking the top 20. However, he’s not alone. Here are some of the notable 141 lbers that are currently on the outside looking in at a national ranking: Shoop, Yahya Thomas (Northwestern), Cole Weaver (Indiana), Nate Limmex (Purdue), Corey Shie (Army West Point).
5) Grand View is really good!
If you follow college wrestling at the non-DI level, this probably is not groundbreaking information for you, but there is a large segment of wrestling fans that do not follow DII, DIII, and NAIA wrestling. Grand View has become a dynasty on the NAIA scene winning the last seven national titles, and in the 2018-19 season, three Viking wrestlers won individual titles, while ten wrestlers were All-Americans.
In Reno, Grand View finished in fifth-place which made them the highest of any non-DI school at the tournament. Individually the following Viking wrestlers earned spots in the top six: Ryan Niven (2nd – 165), Cooper Thomas (3rd – 285), Shiquan Hall (4th – 133). Notable wins from Grand View wrestlers include Hall 7-6 over #14 Josh Terao (American), Niven had a 3-1 win over Shane Griffith (Stanford) a big recruit for the Cardinal that was previously undefeated, and though he didn’t place Steven Lawrence pinned 15th ranked Andrew Shomers (Oklahoma State).
Suffice to say that Grand View can wrestle with anyone and good luck to the rest of the NAIA field as they will collectively try to prevent title number eight for Nick Mitchell’s crew.