photo courtesy of Richard Immel
Since the calendar has turned to September and high schools are back in session (though many are online), it’s time to revisit the top, available wrestlers from the Class of 2021. The freeze on the recruiting season at the DI-level hasn’t had much of an impact on the upper-echelon of this year’s senior class. Only three of the top ten wrestlers in the country are still free, while only 20% of the top-25 have yet to commit. With so few predicted game-changers currently out there, recruiting will only heat up more for these, few available studs. Below are the top-ten available wrestlers from the Class of 2021, per TOM’s Top 150 from April. Of course, once more competitions take place, these rankings will be modified too.
#1 Shayne Van Ness (Blair Academy, NJ)
The services for the top recruit in the Class of 2021 are still in question as the calendar turns to September. Shayne was supposed to be in action at FloWrestling’s Who’s #1 in early October but has already pulled out with an injury. At WNO, he was in a four-man mini-tournament alongside Jesse Mendez, Jordan Williams, and Joel Vandevere. It was at that same event, in 2019, that Van Ness solidified his top ranking at 132 lbs and made his case for the top pound-for-pound wrestler in the Class of 2021. At that event, he defeated Mendez in the finals after downing Nebraska-signee Dominick Serrano earlier in the evening. Van Ness has competed at the National Prep Championships twice, earning runner-up honors as a sophomore, before winning a title in 2020.
Most of the top programs should be in the hunt for Van Ness. His father Rodney, was a standout at Rutgers, so they could have a slight advantage. Though Scott Goodale’s team has dominated the recruiting landscape in New Jersey over the last decade, many kids from Blair have gone to other places. If not Rutgers, look for a school that combines a top-flight wrestling program and a high-quality education.
#2 Richard Figueroa (Selma, CA)
There’s an argument to be made that Richard Figueroa deserves the top-billing in the Class of 2021 and who could blame him? Figueroa is seeking to become only the fifth high schooler to win four California state titles. Richard can win his fourth Doc Buchanan championship, as well. Outside of California, Figueroa has won the FloNationals, the Super 32, and the Walsh Jesuit Ironman in 2018. That same year he made the first of his two Cadet World Team appearances and captured a world silver medal at 48 kgs. California has long been known for the great lightweights and Figueroa certainly has the tools to be the next in line for that legacy. Figueroa will be making his third appearance at Who’s #1 in October when he takes on Iowa-recruit Drake Ayala at 120 lbs. Last year, at the event, he cruised by Stevo Poulin, 8-1, and as a sophomore, he downed Jacob Decatur, 1-0.
Figueroa initially verballed to Arizona State, but has since reopened the recruiting process. The Sun Devils make sense being on the West Coast; however, all of the traditional powers are interested in Figueroa, as well. He should be able to jump in and start from day one 125 lbs, if needed.
#8 Cael Valencia (St. John Bosco, CA)
After a 2019 Fargo where he missed the podium while competing in Junior freestyle, Cael Valencia went on a serious run through the majority of the 2019-20 season. Cael claimed titles at the Super 32, the Reno Tournament of Champions, the Doc Buchanan, and the Five Counties and headed into the California state tournament unbeaten. There he was knocked off by Andrew Sparks, who signed with Minnesota, in one of the bigger upsets of any state tournament. Since then, Valencia has returned at the Midwest Iron Man Duals and went unbeaten in freestyle and folkstyle, while competing at 182 lbs. On the freestyle side, Valencia was not tested at all, despite wrestling some quality competition. Despite being one of the top ten wrestlers in the nation, Valencia will head into his senior year, chasing his first CIF state title. He was also a runner-up as a sophomore and missed out on placing as a freshman.
Since Cael is the younger brother of Anthony and Zahid Valencia, Arizona State seems like a perfect fit. While the Sun Devils are certainly in play, Valencia has been in contact with plenty of other schools. While his growth spurt wasn’t quite as drastic as Zahid, who went from 132 to 182 over a year, Cael has continued to grow. He competed at 132 as a freshman and was recently at 182.
#22 Luka Wick (San Marino, CA)
Another Californian seeking his first state title in 2019-20 is Luka Wick. Luka was fifth as both a freshman and sophomore before getting injured near the end of his junior year. Had he been able to compete, Wick would have been one of the top contenders at 145 lbs. Luka started the season at 152 lbs, where he took third at the Reno Tournament of Champions, before moving down and winning the Doc Buchanan and the Battle for the Belt. At the Battle, Wick registered a 4-2 victory over Alex Ramirez, who ended up winning a state title at 138 lbs. Luka has also earned All-American honors in Fargo in Cadet freestyle, back in 2017, and also broke into the top-eight at the Super 32. He accomplished the latter feat before the 2018-19 season.
Like Valencia, Luka Wick has a pair of prominent older brothers who have wrestled collegiately at the DI level. While twins Evan and Zander Wick have competed at Wisconsin, the prevailing logic is that Luka will look for a program of his own. Plenty of possible suitors could be in play and don’t be surprised if Wick does come to the midwest.
#25 Quayin Short (Simley, MN)
Like the two wrestlers mentioned ahead of him, Quayin Short comes into the 2020-21 campaign without a state title. Last year, he was in a Minnesota AA weight class that contained Patrick Kennedy, one of the nation’s top pound-for-pound wrestlers. Short fell in the state final by a respective 5-2 margin. It was Quayin’s second state finals appearance, as he did so in 2018 as a freshman at 152 lbs. In the summer of 2018, Short grabbed a stop sign in Fargo at the Cadet Freestyle National Championships. Before his junior season, Short placed eighth at the Super 32. In the regular season last year, Quayin was a champion at Cliff Keen Independence Invitational and the Minnesota Christmas Tournament before breaking into the Cheesehead finals. This summer, Short competed at the Midwest Ironman Duals and won five of six matches in folkstyle and six of seven freestyle matches. His only freestyle loss came at the hands of Valencia.
Traditionally, Minnesota has done an excellent job at retaining top in-state recruits, so expect the Gophers to be in the hunt for Short. Quayin has spent most of the last year at 182, but did compete at 195 early in the 2019-20 campaign. If he projects as a 197, that would be a perfect get for Minnesota. Either way, there aren’t many 184/197 lbers of his caliber available, so he shouldn’t be short of potential suitors.
#30 Evan Bates (Chesterton, IN)
The top available 197/285 lber in the Class of 2021 is Indiana state champion Evan Bates. Evan was one of the breakout stars of the summer in 2019. After giving up one point in seven matches at the 16U National Duals in freestyle (none of which went the full distance), Bates upset the returning 16U freestyle champion, Noah Pettigrew, in the first round at Fargo. He would end up teching his next four opponents on his way to the finals. Not a bad feat for someone who was third in Indiana just a few months prior and in his first state tournament appearance. Bates would carry that momentum into the fall, where he was fifth at the 2019 Super 32, while competing at 195 lbs. Evan started his junior year at 195, but moved up to 220, where he earned a major decision in the state finals.
The prevailing logic is that Evan will go sign with a school that combines high-level academics with a great wrestling program. Ideally, it would be great for a relatively young staff at Indiana to be able to retain Bates. Evan is, hands down, the top in-state recruit and traditionally, Indiana and Purdue have not been able to prevent this caliber of recruits from leaving. The midseason move up to 220 may indicate that Evan’s future is at 285 lbs, but we’ll have to see once he returns to the mat.
#36 Alex Ramirez (Rowland, CA)
California is well-represented on this list with Alex Ramirez being the fourth uncommitted wrestler out of the top ten. Alex prevailed last year in a 138 lb California state bracket that did not have a clear-cut favorite. Though he had never been on the California podium before, Ramirez’s first time included a state championship. Also, during his junior season, Ramirez was fourth at the Doc Buchanan, losing to a pair of out-of-state opponents. He also fell to Wick in the finals of the Battle for the Belt at 145 lbs. Alex was recently in action competing up at 152 lbs in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Nationals. He wasn’t seriously tested with two techs and two falls. None of his six matches ended closer than a six-point margin. Ramirez has grown a lot throughout his high school career, (113 as a freshman), so he could stay at 152 as a senior.
While there’s plenty of reasons for the rest of the California contingent on this list to go out of state, it would make sense for one of the in-state schools to try and nab Ramirez. Or maybe one of the other Pac-12 schools.
#39 Emmanuel Skillings (Broken Arrow, OK)
The line of potential big men available continues to roll with Oklahoma’s two-time state champion Emmanuel Skillings. Emmanuel really opened some eyes at the Walsh Ironman last season when he took fourth at the 195 lb weight class. Skillings earned wins over some top Ohio talent at the event and shot up the rankings accordingly. Before the Ironman, Emmanuel had also placed third at a solid tournament in Kansas, the Gardner-Edgerton Invitational. After the layoff in the spring, Emmanuel returned to the mat in July at the Grand River Rumble and went undefeated while competing at 220 lbs.
Looking first at the in-state schools for Emmanuel, while his recent teammate Reece Witcraft started for Oklahoma State in 2019-20, there doesn’t look like there would be much room available in the upperweights. The Cowboys top-ranked Class of 2020 was loaded with big men and they even have another already aboard for 2021. Maybe Oklahoma makes more sense or even Little Rock, who has former OSU Cowboy Neil Erisman at the helm and has signed some talent from OK.
#40 Jake Evans (Elyria, OH)
The last upperweight on the list is one that may have the most upside and could move up quickly, once action gets back underway. Jake Evans was in line to claim his first Ohio state title in 2020, but their state championship was cancelled due to COVID-19. Evans was fourth as a sophomore and followed that up with a sixth-place showing at the Cadet WTT’s in freestyle. Later in 2019, Jake took sixth at the Super 32. If that wasn’t enough to get noticed, Evans made the finals of the Ironman and was third at the Beast of the East in back-to-back weeks. In 2019-20, Jake competed at 182 lbs, so he could be a college 184 or even the, hard-to-find, 197. For my money, 197 is the most challenging weight class to fill, so he could be more sought after at the higher weight.
Whichever weight Evans is projected at, he should be in high demand. It’s hard to get a read on a logical landing spot for Jake based on his former high school teammates, which is often a key. Elyria has sent a handful of wrestlers to different DI programs over the past few seasons.
#41 Diego Sotelo (Marmion Academy, IL)
We’ll finish with a lightweight from Illinois that has been a part of some absurd weight classes during his high school career. Diego Sotelo is a three-time state finalist, who won at Illinois’ 3A classification as a sophomore and has been a runner-up twice. He also could be a lifetime 125 lber in college, which is always a hot commodity. Sotelo has placed top-four at the Ironman on two occasions, including a third-place performance in 2019. Diego was also sixth at the 2018 Super 32; however, he missed out on placing last year.
Illinois produces so much talent that it is hard to keep everyone in-state, especially for Illinois and Northwestern. You many see Sotelo going out-of-state to a program that tends to pull in a lot of talent from the Land of Lincoln.