High School Wrestling

Team IL Takes Fourth Straight Men’s Junior Freestyle National Championship in Fargo,Plus Other TOM Takeaways

Pictured: 182-pund national Champion Thomas “TJ” Stewart (Maryland). 

What we saw:  Day Four from Fargo 2021 was undoubtedly fun and eventful. The day’s action showcased quite a few memorable matches that came down to the wire and even a few upsets amongst the top seeds at certain weights, just as was the case during Day Three of completion.

For the fourth year in a row, Team Illinois took home the team title at the Junior Freestyle National Championships. The effort was assisted by four finalists, two of whom brought home gold (Kannon Webster at 120 pounds and Nasir Baily at 132 pounds), plus a pair of silver medalists in Benjamin Aranda (113 pounds) and Brayden Thompson (170 pounds). Including the Illinois quartet of finalists, the squad had seven other All-Americans for a total of 11.

With that, Illinois ended the tournament with 130 total points. Illinois was followed by Pennsylvania (111), Michigan (107), Wisconsin (103), and Iowa (98).

Iowa’s Drake Ayala, the champion at 126, was awarded the Junior tournament Outstanding Wrestler.

 Below are the final results from the Junior Men’s Freestyle Finals.

100 Zane Donley (Oklahoma) VSU1 Nate Smith (Indiana), 13-2 2:29

106 Hunter Taylor (Missouri) VSU Brandon Morvari (Minnesota), 10-0 4:21

113 Braeden Davis (Michigan) VSU1 Benjamin Aranda (Illinois), 11-1 3:37

120 Kannon Webster (Illinois) VSU1 Yusief Lillie (Washington), 12-1 4:22

126 Drake Ayala (Iowa) VSU Sergio Lemley (Indiana), 10-0 0:52

132 Nasir Bailey (Illinois) VPO1 Emilio Ysaguirre, jr. (Arizona), 4-4

138 Tagen Jamison (Texas) VPO1 Casey Swiderski (Michigan), 7-2

145 Jordan Williams (Oklahoma) VPO1 Caleb Rathjen (Iowa), 4-3

152 Caleb Henson (Georgia) VPO1 Daniel Wask (New Jersey), 9-9

160 Joshua Barr (Michigan) VPO1 Aiden Riggins (Iowa), 4-4

170 Manuel Rojas (Michigan) VPO1 Brayden Thompson (Illinois), 5-2

182 Thomas Stewart (Maryland) VPO1 Brian Soldano (New Jersey), 8-4

195 Dylan Fishback (Ohio) VFA Seth Shumate (Ohio), 8-3 5:25

220 Christian Carroll (Indiana) VSU Ben Kueter (Iowa), 12-0 3:24

285 Ben Kawczynski (Wisconsin) VPO1 Chase Horne (Georgia), 12-4

Now Some of TOM’s Takeaways.

Mike Poeta is Very Happy Right Now: Mike Poeta has had quite an exciting offseason. He was promoted to head coach of the Illini wrestling program after longtime head coach Jim Heffernan retired in April after nearly three decades on staff in Champaign.

Shortly after assuming the role, Poeta got to work on the recruiting trail. The first two verbal commitments of the Poeta era were Class of 2023 stars and newly-minded Fargo Men’s Junior Freestyle National Champions Kannon Webster (120) and Christian Carroll (220). Both of them looked utterly dominant in their respective finals matches Tuesday afternoon.

Webster’s path to the title included taking out the weight’s top seed in Tennessee’s Cooper Flynn and a ranked Jett Strickenberger (CO), who Webster teched.

As for Carroll, the big man, who surprisingly has yet to wrestle a high school match as a now-rising-junior had to storm back from an 8-0 deficit in the quarterfinals to beat Minnesota’s Bennett Tabor 15-10 before beating former Fargo champ, Noah Pettigrew. Then, in the finals, Carroll beat Iowa’s Ben Kueter handily by way of a 10-0 tech to get his revenge from Super 32 loss earlier this year at 195.

Obviously, both Webster and Carroll still have two years of high school scrapping before they get in the Illini room. Still, you have to be ecstatic if you’re Poeta (or an Illinois wrestling fan) that your first two verbal pledges of this new era are Fargo freestyle champs. Poeta will likely have to continuously re-recruit both youngsters over the next two years.

A Round of Applause for Drake Ayala: It’s no secret that Drake Ayala is one of the best high school senior wrestlers in the country. He is a three-time Iowa state high school champion and a four-time finalist with a career record of 171-3, competing for the storied Fort Dodge Dodgers. Additionally, this week in Fargo, Ayala became a 2-time Junior Men’s Freestyle National Champion. His trek to the 2021 national title was as dominant as it gets. Ayala defeated Indiana’s nationally-ranked Sergio Lemley by 10-0 tech in 52 seconds to win it all at 126. Overall, he went 7-0 and outscored his opponents 72-4 this week in North Dakota. He finished every match before the start of the second period.

To cruise through arguably Fargo’s toughest bracket the way Ayala did is simply remarkable. And, to do this all when he could have easily moved on to his college career in Iowa City by now, it shows the passion and commitment the soon-to-be Hawkeye has for the sport and representing Team Iowa.

 Fight Until the End Nasir Bailey: Well done, Nasir Baily. A guy ranked outside of the Top-20 at his weight storms through a solid 132-pond bracket to take out Zeke Seltzer (MO) in the semifinals, who many projected as a Fargo finalist and Emilio Ysaguirre (AZ) in the finals at the buzzer. Ysaguirre made waves in Fargo by taking out the projected champ Nic Bouzakis out of Pennsylvania. Baily needed every second of his finals match to get the W. The Texas transplant secured a takedown with 01 left on the clock to earn his stop sign. What makes the win even cooler is that Baily called this last week on Twitter.

Jordan Williams Won Fargo….Again: Jordan Williams is still undefeated in the FargoDome. The 2021 iteration was Williams’ first time in the Junior division, but the result was still the same. An exposure via crotch lock right at the buzzer gave Jordan Williams a 4-3 win over future Hawkeye Caleb Rathjen for his third title. Williams is coming off a stellar run at Junior Duals earlier this year. The Oklahoman beat some heavy-hitters, including Rathjen, Kael Voinovich, and others. He will be a steal for the school he chooses when the time comes.

Someone is Getting a Star with TJ Stewart: The 182-pound bracket was another one with some serious star power. It had a pair of former Fargo champs in (Bennett Berge and Stewart) and a Super 32 winner (Brian Soldano) at this weight. TJ Stewart looked phenomenal in the finals, getting his revenge over future Rutgers Scarlet Knight Soldano thanks to a big four-point move. The 182-pounders will be a fun weight to monitor next year.

Is Iowa Back? Despite the Hawks winning the NCAA title in 2021, some have said wrestling-crazed Iowa has been “down” with respect to the successes of their in-state Iowa high school wrestling talent  over the last decade or so. Well, over the previous few months, some of Iowa’s best preps have done all they can to change that narrative.

In April, Team Iowa captured its first Freestyle National Duals crown, the Hawkeye state’s first since 2005. Then, in July, Nate Jesuroga, Southeast Polk (IA) star, captured a gold medal at the Cadet World Championship in Budapest, Hungary (51 kg).

Here in Fargo, Iowa has had a very respectable showing as well. Team Iowa took fifth overall in the Junior men’s freestyle tournament. Iowa had seven Fargo All-Americans, including four finalists and one champ in Junior freestyle OW Drake Ayala.

Also of note, per Des Moines Register’s Cody Goodwin, the 2021 Iowa Class 3A state championship match at 152 pounds ultimately featured two Junior men’s freestyle national finalists: Iowa Hawkeye commit Rathjen and Aiden Riggins.

Case in point, Iowa high school wrestlers are on a roll as of late.

What a Throw Dylan Fishback: Alongside the 126-pound bracket, 195 was another weight that you can make a case for as the deepest weight on the Junior men’s freestyle side. In what was an all-Ohio final at 195, Fishback not only got a win by fall but also had a rare five-point throw over a very talented future OSU Buckeye in Seth Shumate, who was a 2019 Fargo champ himself.

Down Goes No. 1: The heavyweights were last to take the mat in Tuesday’s Junior freestyle finals, but it was certainly worth the wait as Ben Kawczynski (WI) handily dismantled the consensus top Big Man in the land, Chase Horne (GA), in what was a surprisingly offensive heavyweight final. Kawczynski was able to take down Horne numerous times in the 12-4 decision that wasn’t as close as the score suggests.

Surprisingly, Kawczynski, an Askren Wrestling Academy (AWA) trained athlete, is currently slated to wrestle at Division III University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in the fall. After his showing in Fargo, it’s safe to say the Class of 2021 big man may be fielding some last-minute calls from Division I coaches in the coming days.

All-American Results by Weight:


At Fargo, N.D., July 20

100 LBS

1st Zane Donley (Oklahoma) tech-fall Nate Smith (Indiana), 13-2 2:29

3rd Treshaun Tecson (Oklahoma) tech-fall Tyson Roach (Louisiana), 10-0 1:17

5th Kolter Burton (Idaho) tech-fall Hank Kriegler (Nebraska), 12-1 2:00

7th Tucker Bowen (Idaho) fall Isaac Stewart (Montana), 6-4 3:44

106 LBS

1st Hunter Taylor (Missouri) tech-fall Brandon Morvari (Minnesota), 10-0 4:21

3rd Daniel Guanajuato (Arizona) dec. Christian Forbes (Oklahoma), 10-9

5th Connor Fiser (Iowa) dec. Wyatt Skebba (Wisconsin), 11-4

7th Isiac Paulino (Massachusetts) tech-fall Ty Edwards (Illinois), 10-0 1:06

113 LBS

1st Braeden Davis (Michigan) tech-fall Benjamin Aranda (Illinois), 11-1 3:37

3rd Alan Koehler (Minnesota) tech-fall Dominic Mendez (California), 11-1 3:42

5th Codie Cuerbo (Ohio) dec. Cole Hunt (Georgia), 11-10

7th Drew Heethuis (Michigan) forfeit Caden Horwath (Michigan)

120 LBS

1st Kannon Webster (Illinois) tech-fall Yusief Lillie (Washington), 12-1 4:22

3rd Cooper Flynn (Tennessee) dec. Jett Strickenberger (Colorado), 10-2

5th Grigor Cholakyan (California) dec. Dillon Campbell (Ohio), 8-1

7th Max Black (Colorado) forfeit Sean Seefeldt (Ohio)

126 LBS

1st Drake Ayala (Iowa) tech-fall Sergio Lemley (Indiana), 10-0 0:52

3rd Jore Volk (Minnesota) dec. Gabe Whisenhunt (Oregon), 11-7

5th Vincent Robinson (Illinois) tech-fall Braden Basile (Florida), 10-0 1:00

7th Nico Provo (Connecticut) tech-fall Sebastian Melguizo (Florida), 10-0 2:09

132 LBS

1st Nasir Bailey (Illinois) VPO1 Emilio Ysaguirre, jr. (Arizona), 4-4

3rd Nic Bouzakis (Pennsylvania) VSU Danny Nini (Florida), 11-0 1:29

5th Zeke Seltzer (Indiana) VFO Garrett Grice (Nebraska)

7th Hunter Mason (Tennessee) VFO Greyson Clark (Wisconsin)

138 LBS

1st Tagen Jamison (Texas) dec. Casey Swiderski (Michigan), 7-2

3rd Ty Whalen (New Jersey) inj. Kimo Leia (California)

5th Jude Swisher (Pennsylvania) dec. Blaine Brenner (Wisconsin), 7-6

7th Rocco Camillaci (New York) dec. Kole Brower (Illinois), 10-8

145 LBS

1st Jordan Williams (Oklahoma) dec. Caleb Rathjen (Iowa), 4-3

3rd Matthew Bianchi (Wisconsin) dec. Jackson Arrington (Pennsylvania), 14-6

5th Nicco Ruiz (California) tech-fall Richard Fedalen (Maryland), 15-5 6:00

7th Henry Porter (California) tech-fall Benjamin Alanis (Arizona), 12-1 4:17

152 LBS

1st Caleb Henson (Georgia) dec. Daniel Wask (New Jersey), 9-9

3rd Paniro Johnson (Pennsylvania) tech-fall Luka Wick (California), 12-12

5th Cael Swensen (Minnesota) dec. Erik Gibson (Pennsylvania), 14-3 2:57

7th Jacob Gonzales (Michigan) tech-fall Dylan d. Elmore (Kansas), 16-6 3:56

160 LBS

1st Joshua Barr (Michigan) dec. Aiden Riggins (Iowa), 4-4

3rd Rocco Welsh (Pennsylvania) dec. Braeden Scoles (Wisconsin), 6-3

5th Antrell Taylor (Nebraska) forfeit Luke Mechler (Wisconsin)

7th Holden Garcia (Pennsylvania) forfeit Adam Thebeau (Illinois)

170 LBS

1st Manuel Rojas (Michigan) dec. Brayden Thompson (Illinois), 5-2

3rd Luke Geog (Ohio) tech-fall Jared Stricker (Wisconsin), 11-0 1:07

5th Brody Baumann (Indiana) tech-fall Codei Khawaja (Indiana), 12-2 1:55

7th Sabino Portella (New Jersey) dec. Derek Matthews (Idaho), 11-10

182 LBS

1st Thomas Stewart (Maryland) dec. Brian Soldano (New Jersey), 8-4

3rd Hayden Walters (Oregon) inj. Bennett Berge (Minnesota)

5th Clayton Whiting (Wisconsin) tech-fall Jared Simma (Kansas), 15-2 2:35

7th Deanthony Parker (Illinois) tech-fall Griffin Gammell (Iowa), 10-0 2:44

195 LBS

1st Dylan Fishback (Ohio) fall Seth Shumate (Ohio), 8-3 5:25

3rd Rylan Rogers (Washington) dec. Kolby Franklin (Pennsylvania), 10-2

5th Caden Rogers (Pennsylvania) tech-fall John Gunderson (Wisconsin), 11-0 2:13

7th Evan Bates (Indiana) dec. Wyatt Voelker (Iowa), 2-2

220 LBS

1st Christian Carroll (Indiana) tech-fall Ben Kueter (Iowa), 12-0 3:24

3rd Noah Pettigrew (Georgia) dec. Martin Cosgrove (New Jersey), 8-3

5th Bennett Tabor (Minnesota) tech-fall Logan Shephard (Ohio), 10-0 3:32

7th Andrew Blackburn-forst (Illinois) forfeit Ben Vanadia (Ohio)

285 LBS

1st Ben Kawczynski (Wisconsin) dec. Chase Horne (Georgia), 12-4

3rd Ryan Boersma (Illinois) tech-fall Charles Crews iii (Pennsylvania), 13-1 4:35

5th Jamikael Lytle (California) fall Tristan Kemp (Massachusetts), 9-8 4:14

7th Ethan Vergara (Florida) forfeit Harley Andrews (Oklahoma), 0-0


Drake Ayala (IA)-126 lb champion



170 – Codei Khawaja (IN) – 4 pins in 4:41


1 – Illinois (130)

2 – Pennsylvania (111)

3 – Michigan (107)

4 – Wisconsin (103)

5 – Iowa (98)

6 – Indiana (95)

7 – Ohio (87)

8 – Minnesota (80)

9 – Oklahoma (79)

10 – New Jersey (72)

11 – California (68)

12 – Georgia (67)

13 – Arizona (37)

14 – Washington (35)

15– Maryland (32)

16 – Oregon (27)

17 – Florida

18 (tied) – Missouri & Texas (25)

20 – Nebraska (23)

21 – Tennessee (20)

22 – Colorado (17)

23 – Idaho (16)

24 (tied) – Louisiana & Massachusetts (12)

26 – Kansas (9)

27 (tied)  – Connecticut & New York (5)

29 – Montana (2)

It should be interesting to see what the remaining days have in store as the Greco-Roman action gets underway.

To see USA Wrestling’s recap of the Junior Men’s Freestyle Finals click here. Click here to read about the 34 finalists.

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