International Wrestling

2020 Senior Nationals Greco-Roman Preview

Rau, Joe

photo courtesy of Richard Immel

After more than half a year, Senior-level competition through USA Wrestling is back this week with the 2020 Senior Nationals. The event will occur in Coralville, Iowa, Friday-Sunday and will feature many of the nation’s top superstars. On Friday, the Greco-Roman tournament will take place, in its entirety, as well as half of the women’s weights. The stakes for Senior Nationals are that the top-eight finishers will be allowed to take an Olympic redshirt. This tournament will not have any extra bearing on qualifying for the Olympic Trials themselves; however, any results can be factored into the Trials’ seeding. Of course, many of the athletes are just itching to compete against someone other than their normal training partners. 

Since we are about six months away from the Olympic Trials, this tournament will only consist of the Olympic weights. We have combed through the entries of these six Greco-Roman weights and provided a preview and predictions for all of the Greco-related action going down on Friday. 

60 kg

Current Utah Valley star Taylor LaMont is at the top of this weight class and carries the longest list of credentials. LaMont has made three world teams, a piece, at the Cadet and Junior levels, and even brought home a bronze medal from the Junior tournament in 2016. When last in action, Taylor fell in the Round of 16 in December’s Senior Nationals and battled back with six consecutive wins to claim third place. Perhaps his most significant competition will come from Randon Miranda, who has made a pair of Junior and U23 World teams, himself. Among other times, the two met in the third-place bout at the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament and it was LaMont who prevailed, 4-2. Travis Rice should also be a factor at this weight. He comes down from 63 kg, where he was fourth at the WTT’s in 2019. Rice was one of LaMont’s victims as he blew through the Senior Nationals consolation bracket. He ended up in eighth. In the bloodround of Senior Nationals, Rice teched Dylan Koontz, who has also entered. Dylan’s brother Brady is also expected to compete. He was a Junior World team member in 2018 and participated in Final X a year later. Brady also won a special wrestle-off of the 2019 U23 World team against Liam Cronin, who is entered, too. Cronin qualified for the 2020 NCAA Tournament as an Indiana Hoosier, but has since transferred to Nebraska. 

There is plenty of youth at this weight class as well. Current high school senior Conor Knopick was a 2019 Cadet World Team member that has registered. Some of the current collegiate wrestlers in this bracket that have had domestic success include Mosha Schwartz, Nick Raimo, Alex Thomsen, and Camden Russell. Russell was a Junior Greco national champion in Fargo last year, while Schwartz made the finals. Raimo captured a pair of Cadet stop signs during his only two appearances at the tournament and Thomsen won the Junior tournament in 2017. Both Thomsen and Schwartz were national qualifiers in 2020, as freshmen, for Nebraska and Northern Colorado, respectively. 

TOM Predictions

1st – Taylor LaMont

2nd – Randon Miranda

3rd – Travis Rice

4th – Brady Koontz

67 kg

This weight class will have a young field and appears to be pretty wide open. The top-ranked wrestler in this group is former Northern Illinois wrestler Nolan Baker. Nolan was fourth at Senior Nationals in 2019 after an impressive third-place finish at the WTT’s. The dangerous Baker earned falls in eight of his nine wins at those two tournaments. The runner-up at Seniors was Calvin Germinaro; however, he and Baker were on opposite halves of the bracket. Germinaro, a Cadet Pan-American gold medalist, was a 72 kg finalist at the Junior Trials, before his run at Senior Nationals. There he knocked off 2006 World Champion, Joe Warren, Junior and U23 World team member Peyton Omania, and Michael Hooker. Another placewinner from that tournament, expected to compete here, is Lenny Merkin, who was eighth. Merkin, a gold medalist at the Pan-American Junior event in 2018, also made the U23 World Team in 2019. He owns a win over Germinaro at the 2019 WTT’s. 

Other staples from the Greco scene that are expected to compete are Jessy Williams and Benji Peak. Williams was a runner-up at the 2018 Bill Farrell Memorial. Peak was fourth at the WTT’s in 2019, defeating Williams 14-6, before getting downed by Baker in the third-place bout.

Some names college wrestling fans should remember include former Nebraska star and current Army West Point coach Anthony Abidin. Current Husker Ridge Lovett was a 2017 Cadet World team member who won three Greco titles in Fargo (two as a Junior). 

TOM Predictions

1st – Calvin Germinaro 

2nd – Nolan Baker

3rd – Lenny Merkin

4th – Ridge Lovett

77 kg

There are two distinct favorites at 77 kg and it would be a big surprise if anyone else were to make the finals aside from Pat Smith and Kendrick Sanders. In 2019, Smith made his second world team and won the gold at the 2019 Pan-American Championships. Earlier this year, Pat was third at the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier, which means the weight still needs to get qualified for Tokyo. Sanders returned to the mat in 2019 and was victorious at the US Open, while competing at 82 kg. That earned Kendrick a berth in Final X; however, he fell to John Stefanowicz. Sanders was at this weight for Senior Nationals and went 2-2 and did not place. 

The large group that is looking to crash the Smith/Sanders party includes 2019 Junior World team member Tyler Eischens. The current Stanford wrestler pinned Minnesota Storm teammate Calvin Germinaro twice to make the Junior team. The only other placewinner from Senior Nationals in this group is Burke Paddock, who was seventh. Also, keep an eye on 2010 Junior World Team member Alec Ortiz. Alec placed third at the Dave Schultz on two occasions and was fifth earlier this year at the Cerro Pelado. Both Fritz Schierl and Tommy Brackett have been on the scene for some time and will contend for a place on the podium. Another current Nebraska star that will try his hand at Greco is Peyton Robb. Peyton was a 2017 Junior National Greco champion in Fargo. 

TOM Predictions

1st – Pat Smith

2nd – Kendrick Sanders

3rd – Burke Paddock

4th – Tyler Eischens

87 kg

As of now (Wednesday morning), this is the smallest bracket of the tournament. The heavy favorite is two-time world team member Joe Rau. Though his opportunities to compete in 2020 have been limited (like everyone else), Rau has had some strong performances. He was a gold medalist at both the Pan-American Championships and the Olympic qualifier. Rau had to get past two-time continental champion Luis Avendano Rojas (Venezuela) in one of the early rounds at the qualifier. Rau was also fifth in January at the Matteo Pellicone. The only other ranked opponent here is Alan Vera, who is currently fourth at the weight. Vera turned in a solid performance in 2019 as he won the Bill Farrell and took the bronze at the International Ukrainian Tournament. 

Illinois’ freshman national qualifier Zac Braunagel could make an impact here. Braunagel was a 2019 Junior World team member and a Junior National Champion in Fargo in 2018. Another decorated collegiate wrestler in this bracket is Lelund Weatherspoon. Lelund was a four-time national qualifier for Iowa State and an All-American in 2016. Also in this group is 2019 US Open seventh-place finisher, George Sikes. George was also a member of the U23 World Team in 2018. 

TOM Predictions

1st – Joe Rau

2nd – Alan Vera 

3rd – Zac Braunagel

4th – George Sikes

97 kg

Now we’re back to a weight class without a true favorite. Nicholas Boykin and Chad Porter are the two that have had the most success on the Senior level. Boykin’s 2019 saw him take fourth at the WTT’s and compete at the Junior World Championships. He was also fourth at Senior Nationals. Porter also has world-level experience, as he has competed at Junior and U23 Worlds. Porter was seventh at Senior Nationals in December, though he did not meet up with Boykin. 

Some intriguing entrants from the college ranks could play a role here, too. Most notably is Wisconsin’s true freshman Braxton Amos. Braxton won a pair of Cadet Greco national titles in Fargo and was a runner-up (due to injury) in the Junior finals. Amos was considered one of the top recruits in the entire Class of 2020, so could he be ready to be a prominent force at the Senior level already? Two more current collegiate stars at this weight are Nino Bonaccorsi and Kordell Norfleet. The Arizona State Sun Devil, Norfleet, captured a Junior Pan-American gold medal back in 2018 in Greco. We’re not entirely sure of Bonaccorsi’s Greco background, but he was the 10th seed at the 2020 NCAA Championships. 

A possible wild card at the weight is Tyler Hannah, who was a two-time Greco finalist in Fargo as a Cadet, making the finals in 2017 before winning in 2018. Tyler is currently a freshman at DIII Loras. 

TOM Predictions

1st – Nicholas Boykin

2nd – Chad Porter

3rd – Braxton Amos

4th – Kordell Norfleet

130 kg

Though he’s yet to wrestle an official match for Arizona State, Cohlton Schultz is a sizable favorite at 130 kg. The Cadet World Champion and Junior silver medalist already owns wins over 2016 Olympian Robby Smith and appeared in the 2019 version of Final X. Before his 19th birthday, in 2019, Cohlton had already competed in six age-group World Championship events. Suffice to say, anything short of a Schultz win on Friday would be a huge surprise. Among those looking to shock the Greco world is West Cathcart. West was fourth at Senior Nationals and advanced to that event’s semifinals before falling via tech to Schultz. Veteran Donny Longendyke should be in the mix, too. Longendyke was fifth at Senior’s and was upended in the quarters by Cathcart, who pinned him. 

Some current collegiate wrestlers could make an impact as Fresno State’s AJ Nevills and Illinois’ Luke Luffman are expected to compete. Nevills was sixth last year in freestyle at the U23 WTT’s, while Luffman made the Junior Greco finals twice in Fargo, winning in 2019. Luke was also a member of the Cadet World Team in 2018. From the rest of the weight class, the only other entrant that placed at the major domestic tournaments in 2019 was Conor Karwath, who was eighth at Senior Nationals. 

TOM Predictions

1st – Cohlton Schultz

2nd – West Cathcart

3rd – Donny Longendyke

4th – Luke Luffman

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