Cover Photo by Tony Rotundo – Wrestlersarewarriors.com
By Ross Bartachek
Selection week is here! Last weekend in Iowa City World Champions David Taylor battled it out over rock, paper, scissors for the opportunity to make the first draft selection for the inaugural American Wrestling League.
Now in a little less than four weeks 20 wrestlers will take the mat inside the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to witness AWL I: The Beginning.
But before we can get to the event there are some decisions to be made. At last week’s draft Taylor and Dake were responsible for drafting 20 wrestlers each, and from there trim that down to their final 10 competitors.
Yesterday, we tried to dive into the minds of captains Dake and Taylor and took a look at the lightweight possibilities for each squad and today we will examine the middle of each team’s lineup.
70 kg — James Green/Frank Molinaro (Team Dake) vs Brandon Sorensen/Anthony Collica (Team Taylor)
The first wrestler selected in AWL draft history was two-time World medalist James Green and assuming Dake opts to go with his top selection on November 30th he will be the wrestler with the most Senior level credentials competing in the event. Of all draft nominees Green is second to only Robbie Smith in World Team appearances (Green has four appearances to Smith’s five) and his two medals makes him the competitor with the most hardware won.
On the other side of this matchup Team Taylor boasts four-time Hawkeye All-American Brandon Sorensen and former Oklahoma State All-American Anthony Collica. When they were in college and competed against one another it was Sorensen that held the edge in matches over Collica two to one, but the margin was always tight. Sorensen might be the hot hand for Taylor to ride in this matchup as he benefits from wrestling in front of a hometown crowd, and he won his last International tournament, the Canada Cup.
In an embarrassment of riches, Dake also has 2016 Olympian Frank Molinaro as his alternate. That means that regardless of who Dake selects to compete at 70 kg he will have the favored competitor. That is of course assuming Taylor doesn’t try and bump one of his 65 kg wrestlers up, as Evan Henderson is more than capable of coming up to 70 kg.
Prediction: James Green (Team Dake) vs Brandon Sorensen (Team Taylor)
74 kg — Isaiah Martinez/Richie Lewis (Team Dake) vs Tommy Gantt/Joey Lavallee (Team Taylor)
One of the biggest names coming out of the NCAA this past season was two-time NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez, who broke into the 74 kg ranks as the second best wrestler domestically. With as good as we’ve seen Martinez be the past couple months it was little surprise when Dake selected him with one of his top picks last Saturday night further strengthening his middleweight hold.
Taylor’s duo features former NC State stand out Tommy Gantt and Missouri All-American Joey Lavallee at the heart of his lineup. Gantt finished third at this year’s World Team Trials Challenge bracket placing him fourth on the ladder.
Heading into the dual it definitely looks as though Dake is holding the trump card at this weight and he’s also stashed away 2017 U23 World Champion Richie Lewis, who is an excellent second option at this weight.
Prediction: Isaiah Martinez (Team Dake) vs Tommy Gantt (Team Taylor)
79 kg — Nate Jackson/Josh Asper (Team Dake) vs Alex Dieringer/Dan Vallimont (Team Taylor)
With the second overall pick in the draft Taylor selected National Team member Alex Dieringer to man his 79 kg spot, which definitely puts him in the driver’s seat for this weight class. This weight has only been in existence for one year but during that stretch American fans have seen Dieringer emerge as a true World Class wrestler.
The other side of this matchup on Team Dake is a pair of former Big Ten standouts Nate Jackson and Josh Asper, and choosing between the two could be a tough decision. At last year’s Open Asper finished third compared to Jackson, who finished fifth, but later that summer Jackson won head-to-head 10-4 over Asper at the World Team Trials.
For a backup Taylor picked a former Nittany Lion teammate Vallimont who is more than capable of contending with the likes of Jackson and Asper, but obviously he wouldn’t be the favorite like Dieringer. Both Martinez and Lewis are suited to 74 kg which means Dake won’t have the luxury of bumping anyone.
Prediction: Nate Jackson (Team Dake) vs Alex Dieringer (Team Taylor)
The 10 starters on each side will pick up a $2,500 check for competing in the event and the winners will take home an additional $5,000.
The dual will be streamed live on Trackwrestling.