photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com
With the calendar turning to 2020, it marked the beginning of the Southern Scuffle, which is the last of the major, in-season bracketed tournaments. That’s also the official, unofficial halfway point of the collegiate wrestling season. From here on out, it’s dual meets, mostly conference ones, until we get to the postseason. As you would expect, the Scuffle provided many exceptional individual performances, as did the small slate of dual that were on the schedule for the first weekend of January. We’ve narrowed down those performances down for you to the top ten of the week.
10) Jacob Wright (Fresno State)
Back in action for the first time since the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Jacob Wright and the Fresno State Bulldogs picked up a pair of wins on Thursday night against Cal Poly and Utah Valley. Wright got his first win of the evening when he edged Cal Poly’s Brawley Lamer, 8-7. There was no such drama in the second bout as Wright pinned UVU’s Jerry Rubio in the third period. Wright is now 17-3 overall and 6-1 in dual meet action. The 2019-20 season has been a breakout year for Wright, who was fifth in Las Vegas, as well. For those that follow the FSU program closely, this shouldn’t come as a huge shock, since Jacob excelled last season after dropping to 157 lbs. He narrowly missed qualifying for nationals despite going 17-6 at the weight. The Bulldogs rolled to a 24-16 win over Cal Poly and a 24-19 win over Utah Valley. Wright and Fresno State will be in action this week at the Virginia Duals, where he may have the opportunity to run into multiple, top-flight 157 lbers.
9) Grant Willits (Oregon State)
On Sunday afternoon, the #22 ranked Michigan Wolverines played host to Oregon State in the school’s annual Joe Wells Classic. Even with a lineup that was less-than-ideal, most would have given the edge to the host Wolverines. After a difficult to overcome forfeit at 133 lbs, Michigan’s hopes to hang on for a win were dealt a severe blow when Grant Willits pulled out a 6-5 win over freshman Cole Mattin. A late takedown in favor of Willits helped him ice the match for the visiting Beavers. The win gives the sophomore Willits a 12-7 record and brings Oregon State’s dual record to 3-1. Willits and the Beavers will open their home schedule on Friday evening against Northern Colorado.
8) Gannon Gremmel (Iowa State)
Each year that Gannon Gremmel has suited up for Iowa State, he has gotten progressively better. After posting a winning record as a freshman, but missing the national tournament, Gremmel qualified for Pittsburgh in 2018-19. This season he’s jumped to another level with a 14-4 record and a title at the Southern Scuffle. Gannon made the finals after getting by an opponent ranked just above him in Cary Miller (Appalachian State), by the score of 3-2. The championship match pitted Gremmel against one of the upstarts of the tournament Dalton Robertson (Northern Colorado). Robertson had upset the top seed Demetrius Thomas (Pittsburgh), 5-4, in his previous match. Gannon had earned a pair of first-period takedowns against Robertson before the Bear wrestler had to default out of the match with an apparent ankle injury.
7) Anthony Gibson (Northern Illinois)
One of the fun aspects of dual meet competition is that the hero of a big win can come from an unlikely source. Tournaments scoring revolves around high-scoring individuals. With that being said, Northern Illinois pulled off an impressive upset over MAC-rival #24 Central Michigan. Looking through the box score, the Huskies received a boost from 141 lber Anthony Gibson, who knocked off 16th-ranked Dresden Simon, 9-3. Less than a week earlier, at the Midlands, Gibson went 0-2 while Simon finished seventh. Along with Gibson, NIU also was victorious in matches at 133 and 149, which could have been labeled as toss-ups or where Central Michigan was favored. Gibson is not 7-4 in his redshirt freshman season and is undefeated (4-0) for head coach Ryan Ludwig in duals.
6) Justin Thomas (Oklahoma)
Justin Thomas was not in action when Oklahoma headed to the Midlands, but he was back for Sunday’s dual with the Bobcats of Ohio. Thomas faced one of Ohio’s top wrestlers in 2019 national qualifier, Zac Carson. Regulation wasn’t long enough to settle it for those two, so Thomas and Carson headed to sudden victory. With no score in that period, the pair took it to tiebreakers. Thomas was able to lock up a fall in the second tiebreaker, just a second before the final whistle. The win brought Justin’s season record to 13-5 and was part of a 35-6 win by the Sooners.
5) Zach Sherman (North Carolina)
For the second consecutive year, Zach Sherman left Hoffman Estates, Illinois, as a third-place finisher at the Midlands. This time Sherman’s only loss came in tiebreakers to second-seeded Tristan Moran (Wisconsin). Following the defeat, Zach bounced with four consecutive wins, three coming over past national qualifiers, to claim third place. This weekend Zach and the Tar Heels were back in dual action. Sherman was one of three UNC wrestlers to finish Saturday’s quad at Army West Point with a perfect 3-0 record (Two others were 2-0). The Tar Heels also won all three of their duals. For the second time in less than a week, Sherman tallied a win over a tough competitor from American, Sal Profaci. The rest of the day, he put up bonus points against Logan Brown (Army West Point) and Chase Zollman (Wyoming). For the year, Zach is now 18-3 and figured to rise in tomorrow’s rankings.
4) Real Woods (Stanford)
One of the trio of freshmen for the Cardinal to come away with Southern Scuffle titles, Real Woods’ meeting with Kaden Gfeller (Oklahoma State), was the de facto “main event” of the finals. Woods prevented Gfeller from capturing his third consecutive title at the Scuffle. Both of Woods’ takedowns against Gfeller came after stymied an attack by the Cowboy. Not only did Woods down Gfeller, but he also defeated his Cowboy teammate Dusty Hone, who had an excellent tournament, himself. He also logged a win by fall over Evan Cheek (Cleveland State), the 2018 EWL champion, handing Cheek only his third loss of the year. Speaking of losses, Woods only has one during his redshirt freshman season, coming at the hands of #1 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State), in sudden victory.
3) Noah Adams (West Virginia)
Noah Adams extended his winning streak in the 2019-20 season to 21 matches with his title at the Southern Scuffle. Along the way, Adams picked up three wins over ranked wrestlers and ended his tournament with a fall over #4 Nathan Traxler (Stanford) in the finals. For his efforts, Adams was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler. The West Virginia sophomore qualified for nationals last season, but with only a 19-15 record. He has already exceeded that win total and has doubled his pin total (four from two). Noah has injected himself into the discussion for an NCAA title at the 197 lb weight class after his showing at the Scuffle. Aside from Adams, the only competitor at the weight class without a loss is top-ranked Kollin Moore (Ohio State). Keep an eye on Adams in two weeks as he takes on returning All-American Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State) and #8 Jake Woodley (Oklahoma) during the Mountaineers road trip through Oklahoma.
2) Louie DePrez (Binghamton)
Just about a month ago, Louie DePrez took sixth place in a Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational weight class that was the deepest of the tournament. Last week, at the Southern Scuffle, DePrez also entered a bracket that was considered one of the best of the competition. Louie, the second seed, made the quarterfinals after racking up a major decision and a fall. In the quarters, DePrez downed NCAA qualifier Alan Clothier (Northern Colorado), 6-3. That set the stage for a match in the semis against longtime-rival Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh). The pair met twice in the 2017-18 season while they both redshirted and DePrez was victorious both times. This meeting was blown open in the second period by DePrez, who earned a takedown and then garnered a set of backpoints with a turk. He would end up winning 10-2. For the title, DePrez had to take on one of the nation’s top freshman, at any weight, Trent Hidlay (NC State). Earlier this season, Hidlay handed DePrez a 2-1 loss in tiebreakers. This time, the Bearcat star was able to secure a takedown in the opening period and it would be the difference-maker in a 3-2 win. It was only the second loss of the year for the freshman Hidlay, who was ranked #2 at 184 lbs.
1) Sammy Alvarez (Rutgers)