photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com
As one would expect from the toughest regular-season tournament of the year, the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational produced some incredible matches, upsets, and moments. We very well could have named all ten champions as the top ten performers of the week. With the action around the country, outside of Vegas, that proved to be impossible. Not only were a bulk of the top wrestlers in the nation gathered in Sin City, but there was also a tough Princeton team that had as challenging of a weekend as possible. Also, some new MAC rivals squared off with surprising results. Those stories combined with some wrestlers winning multiple CKLV titles, a new number-one ranked wrestler, and a freshman making a name for himself all have come together for our top ten performances of the week.
10) Cleveland State
The Cleveland State program is one that may have gone overlooked by DI fans in the past, but head coach Josh Moore is out to show that the notion is outdated. On Friday night, the Vikings earned their first MAC Conference win over a Buffalo team that would go on to defeat West Virginia on Sunday. Heading into the final two bouts of the dual, CSU was down 17-13 to the Bulls. At 197 lbs, Ben Smith knocked off 20th ranked Sam Schuyler 7-6 to keep Cleveland State’s hopes for a team victory alive. Then big man John Kelby sealed the deal by shutting out Buffalo’s 285 lber Nolan Terrance, 2-0, to give his team the 19-17 win. Coach Moore’s team is a young group with four freshmen (three true freshmen) in the lineup and just two seniors. This match was CSU’s first-ever dual as part of the MAC conference. They are a team that went 1-6 last season in the EWL and logged only two dual wins over DI programs. This team is certainly one to keep an eye on going forward.
9) Tristan Moran (Wisconsin)
Less than a week after taking a close loss to Iowa’s Max Murin in Wisconsin’s shellacking by the Hawkeyes, Tristan Moran and his team were in action at SIU Edwardsville’s Cougar Clash. Moran got back on track in his first match by pinning Brown’s Samuel Lynch in the first period. Next up, the host school’s Saul Ervin, a redshirt freshman that came into the tournament with a 5-2 record. Tristan had little trouble with Ervin and moved on after a 7-2 win. That set the stage for a final with 2018 All-American Grant Leeth (Missouri). Moran waited until the closing seconds of the match to secure a takedown that would win the bout for him, 3-2. That ended up being Leeth’s first loss of the year.
8) Dresden Simon (Central Michigan)
This could very well go out to the entire Central Michigan team who had an incredible weekend, knocking off the 19th ranked Rider Broncs, two days after crushing a Lock Haven team that was previously in the top 25. One of the biggest stars of the weekend for head coach Tom Borrelli’s team was 141 lber, Dresden Simon. On Friday, against Lock Haven, Simon was pitted against 2019 NCAA All-American Kyle Shoop. Not only did Simon get the win against Shoop, but he also poured on an 18-5 major decision at the expense of the 12th ranked Shoop. The Chips would win that dual by the score of 24-12. Two days later, Simon racked up another bonus point win once he majored Rider’s Robert Cleary, 14-5. The two wins now move Dresden’s 2019-20 record up to 12-4. He has victories over four national qualifiers from 2019.
7) Luke Pletcher (Ohio State)
One of the top weight classes to follow at the 2019 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational was 141 lbs. All year, fans and media alike, have labeled the weight class as “wide-open” without the likes of Yianni and Jaydin Eierman. Maybe now, we’ll just have to acknowledge that top-ranked Luke Pletcher, may just be the guy to beat. Pletcher was the top seed in a bracket that included three of the top four wrestlers in the country and six of the top ten and prevailed to capture his second title at the event in three years. Throughout his career, Pletcher has had the label of being someone that isn’t aggressive enough on his feet. That theory could be shattered after his performance through the first month-plus of his senior season. Pletcher’s lowest-scoring outputs at the CKLV Invitational this year came in his first two matches when he put up nine points in each contest. Somehow in his quarterfinal match with Cole Mattin (Michigan), Pletcher managed to notch 13 takedowns in under six and a half minutes for a tech fall. He then took down a pair of returning All-Americans, Chad Red Jr (Nebraska) and Mitch McKee (Minnesota), in the semis and finals and scored a total of 21 points on the pair.
6) Brayton Lee (Minnesota)
The only freshman to come away with a title from the CKLV Invitational was Brayton Lee at 149 lbs. Lee displayed his trademark toughness and an incredible gas tank en route his title. Along the way, Brayton dropped three wrestlers that came into Vegas ranked in the top ten (#6 Sammy Sasso, #7 Max Thomsen, #10 Brock Zacherl). For good measure, Lee also beat another former national qualifier, Josh Maruca (Arizona State), in the Round of 16. Brayton was also the lowest-seeded wrestler to win his weight class in 2019 (fifth). His title came over Sasso in what could end up being an excellent college rivalry for the next four years. Sasso defeated Lee at the UWW Junior Open, but Lee turned the tables and put together an incredible comeback to beat Sasso in the first match of their Junior World Team Trials series. Lee is now 13-1 in his freshman year, with the only setback coming to Oklahoma State’s All-American Boo Lewallen.
5) Dylan Lydy (Purdue)
One of the leaders of a resurgent Purdue squad is senior Dylan Lydy. Dylan is the perfect representative for a Boilermaker squad that is on the rise. By his own admission in our post-finals interview, Lydy was not a huge recruit coming out of high school and worked his way into a starting role in the Big Ten. His last two seasons have ended in the NCAA Round of 12. Lydy and the Purdue team are looking to get over the hump in 2019-20 and if the CKLV is any indication, they are well on their way. Two of Dylan’s final four matches went to extra time, including his championship bout won with a takedown in sudden victory. To get into the finals, Lydy got a takedown with only 15 seconds left in regulation over returning All-American Mike Labriola (Nebraska). Both times the two squared off last season, Labriola won in tiebreakers, including once in the Round of 12. Labriola was one of two AA’s that Lydy took down in Vegas, with Northern Iowa’s Bryce Steiert being the other. Both Steiert and Labriola were the two top seeds at the 174 lb weight class.
4) Quincy Monday (Princeton)
On Sunday, the Princeton Tigers hosted the top-ranked Hawkeyes of Iowa. It was the back half of an incredibly challenging weekend that saw them travel to take on Oklahoma State on Friday. In the final match of Friday’s dual with Oklahoma State, Quincy Monday met Wyatt Sheets of the Cowboys. The fun subplot is that both wrestlers are sons of Oklahoma State legends Kenny Monday and Mike Sheets. The two were teammates on OSU teams in the 1980’s. Now their offspring clashed with each other in historic Gallagher-Iba Arena. Quincy emerged the victor by the score of 3-2. Against Iowa, Monday was also victorious by an identical score. Quincy’s opponent from the Hawkeyes was fourth-ranked Kaleb Young, an NCAA All-American last year at this weight. The win comes just over two weeks after Monday defeated then-sixth ranked Josh Humphreys (Lehigh) for a second time this season. In the Tigers next dual meet, Quincy is slated to meet undefeated, Jesse Dellavecchia (Rider), the only opponent to defeat him this year.
3) Jacob Warner (Iowa)
Another big upset from the Iowa/Princeton dual came at 197 lbs when Jacob Warner knocked off second-ranked Patrick Brucki, 5-4. The Tigers 197 lber went into the dual undefeated and had only suffered one dual loss during the entire 2018-19 campaign. Brucki started the third period on bottom and escaped, giving him a 4-3 lead. It wasn’t until there were three remaining in the bout before Warner secured the winning takedown. Iowa maintained its perfect record after downing the Tigers 30-9. Warner also is unbeaten through the first month of the season.
2) Zahid Valencia (Arizona State)
Earlier, we mentioned that 141 was one of the headlining weights at the CKLV Invitational, but 184 was another. Seven of the top eight wrestlers in the nation were in attendance at the tournament with Zahid Valencia sitting atop the weight class. Valencia, a two-time NCAA champion, had also won the CKLV Invitational his first two years of college. The primary reason why Valencia wasn’t chasing his fourth CKLV title is that ASU did not enter the 2018 tournament. Despite the high level of competition at the weight class, Zahid was never seriously challenged. The “closest” match of the weekend for Valencia came in the finals when he majored stud freshman, Trent Hidlay (NC State). Zahid also faced a pair of returning NCAA Round of 12 finishers, Louie DePrez (Binghamton) and Sam Colbray (Iowa State). Neither was a threat, as Valencia downed DePrez by nine points and teched Colbray 26-8. Zahid has now cemented himself as the favorite for the Hodge Trophy and has captured bonus points in 12 of his 13 matches this year.
1) Ryan Deakin (Northwestern)