Photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
The Reno Tournament of Champions took center stage this week and provided the bulk of the best performances we saw in college wrestling. However, there were other outstanding feats to be found as well. We saw a pair of wrestlers make their season debut with a tournament title. We saw an NCAA champion return to a weight he hasn’t seen in a while and look good doing it. We saw some young men that seem to be getting better by the day. As we head into Christmas week, the wrestling offerings will thin out a bit so I hope you gorged yourself on the buffet this weekend. Here are the 10 best performances from week seven.
10) The return
One of our five most dangerous 0-0 wrestlers from last week no longer qualifies for that list as Amar Dhesi (Oregon State), sporting a sizable knee brace, showed up in Reno, claimed the top seed, then dispatched five opponents on his way to the title. The 2016 All-American was pushed, especially by Michale Boykin (NC State) in the semi-finals, but he did not surrender a single takedown on the day. When the Canadian topped Jere Heino (Campbell), 5-3, in an all-international final, he put himself right back in the conversation for a top-eight finish at 285.
9) Call him the bus driver
It happens to every senior who has ended his season on the award’s stand and is looking to get back there one final time. Younger wrestlers, hungry to prove themselves, rise up to challenge the older guys. For Pete Renda (NC State), who was an All-American in 2016 before redshirting last season, sixth-ranked freshman Taylor Venz (Nebraska) was the roadblock, but the veteran was up to the task. In a wild first period, Renda reversed Venz, who is dangerous on top, twice in the first period and added a four-point nearfall to build a lead he would never relinquish. The 9-6 win showed Renda is still one of the best at 184 and he blitzed the field in Reno, wrestling into the second period only once en route to the gold medal.
8) Here to stay
Montorie Bridges (Wyoming), a redshirt freshman from Altus, Oklahoma, cracked the rankings for the first time last week after beating Ian Parker (Iowa State). On Sunday, he made it clear he intends to stay a while, rolling to the 133 pound crown in Reno. After opening the day with a pair of falls and a 13-5 major decision over McGwire Midkiff (North Dakota State), the Cowboy would face the NC State double in his final two bouts of the tournament. First, it was Jamel Morris, who trailed 4-0 after the first three minutes and fell, 12-5. Then, Tariq Wilson, who is competing with Morris for a spot in the Wolfpack lineup, opened the match with a takedown before Bridges responded with a takedown of his own in the opening frame. Entering the third with a one-point lead, Montorie used a two-point tilt to put Wilson in a hole before a late desperation attempt gave Wyoming a wide margin.
7) Sneak preview
True freshman Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt) is expected to have a fantastic career for the Panthers and he flashed a little of that ability on his way to the top step at the Cleveland State Open. After fighting his way through an 8-6 opening round win over Ethan Smith (Ohio State), the young Pennsylvanian hit his stride, rolling into the title tilt opposite 2017 NCAA qualifier Dakota Geer (Edinboro) who is also redshirting this season. Bonaccorsi had suffered his only loss this season to Geer, 5-4, at the Clarion Open. However, showing improvement that had to be encouraging for his coaches, Nino avenged the loss to even a series that we could see for the next several years with an 8-5 decision.
6) Making it official
Matt Kolodzik (Princeton) was officially undefeated this season heading into his showdown with Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State). The Princeton All-American took a loss at the unofficial All-Star Classic in his home gym last month but had held serve since. Hayes had faced a much more stringent schedule and had held up well, including earning a victory over Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa), the same opponent who beat Kolodzik in the All-Star. Score one for the battle-tested grappler as Hayes rode Kolodzik for the entire second period and escaped in the third, working his way to a 2-0 decision as Ohio State blanked Princeton, 39-0. Ke-Shawn continued his shutout streak, which now sits at three matches, on Sunday, stuffing Chris Debien (Chattanooga), 15-0.
5) Providing a spark
On the road in a hostile gym, Forrest Przybysz (Appalachian State) watched the Oklahoma Sooners take the first three matches before he stepped onto the mat to face ninth-ranked Yoanse Mejias. With the potential of a blowout looming, the two battled into sudden victory before Przybysz, a 2016 NCAA qualifier, claimed his biggest win of this season with a sudden victory takedown. The win turned the tide for Appalachian State as they won the next three matches, taking a 13-9 lead before Christian Moody got the Sooners back on track. Appalachian State fell to Oklahoma, 19-13.
4) The first of many
We don’t have a lot of history to refer to when it comes to Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) coming off of a loss. However, the 2017 Junior world champion was in that situation Sunday, having lost his only match at the 2017 Under 23 World Championships before making his college debut at the Reno Tournament of Champions. While many true freshmen are eased into NCAA competition, Fix’s road would not be simple to navigate. After convincing wins in his first three matches, the man from Sand Springs, Oklahoma, faced Ronnie Bresser (Oregon State) who had advanced as far as the round of 12 at the NCAA tournament before redshirting last season. The junior played cat and mouse with Fix for much of the bout, but could not escape before the freshman had pushed his riding time over a minute in the third period. Though the Cowboy was held without a takedown, he found a way to win, 2-1. Another round of 12 guy, Sean Fausz (NC State) awaited in the finals. The fifth-ranked junior is excellent on top which convinced Fix to choose neutral in the third period, trailing 1-0. However, a late attack from Fix and an extended period of working to improve his position led to a winning takedown for Daton as he claimed the first of what should be many tournament titles for Oklahoma State, 2-1.
3) 149 is just right
Throughout his three seasons competing for Northwestern, Jason Tsirtsis was a 149 pounder. Last year, as he sat out hoping for one last shot at NCAA wrestling with Arizona State, he moved up to 157, competing at the Midlands. To start this year, he remained up, but could not beat Josh Shields for a spot in the lineup. That led to speculation that the career of the 2014 NCAA champion might be over, though that now looks a little premature. Back down at 149 in Reno, this looked like the Tsirtsis of old. He’ll never be a bonus point machine, but he knows how to win and is extremely difficult to score on. In five matches, Tsirtsis yielded just five points, all on escapes, and like he did at his peak, he found takedowns when he needed to. He got one to beat Boo Lewallen (Oklahoma State), who may well take over the starting spot in Stillwater from past All-American Geo Martinez now that he is eligible, in the semis, 3-2. The senior got another, both coming in the third period, to top Beau Donahue (NC State) in the title match. The formula hasn’t changed. Be stingy, ride tough, go get a takedown if you need to. If Jason can execute that like he used to, 149 pounds will get much more interesting.
2) There are many ways to win
The toughest weight in Reno was 141 pounds which featured the wrestlers who finished third, fourth, and fifth at the NCAA tournament last March. With Kevin Jack (NC State) having beaten Bryce Meredith (Wyoming) for third at that tournament and then again at the All-Star Classic, he got the top-seed, forcing the Cowboy to deal with Jaydin Eierman (Missouri) if he wanted another shot at his former teammate. We typically think of Meredith as a lightning quick takedown artist, but his neutral magic can overshadow how good he is in all three positions. That was on full display against Eierman who frustrated Bryce several times when a takedown appeared imminent. As the match headed for the third-period, all Jaydin needed was an escape to take a 3-2 lead. That escape never came. Meredith slapped a full period ride on to secure riding time and advance to the finals. Facing Jack once again, the two put on another classic show of scrambling prowess. Jack got the opening takedown, but Meredith earned a vital escape late in the first period. When he then rode his old rival out after an escape and a takedown in the second, the margin of victory was established. The third period was a scrap as always, but Jack could not find his way through. Meredith stood atop the most difficult weight in Nevada this weekend by the final of 4-3.