photo courtesy of Justin Hoch; Jhoch.com
While most of the focus of the three days of wrestling in Raleigh, North Carolina was based around the 30 wrestlers that would punch their tickets to Final X, there was a world team that was actually getting sorted out, the Men’s Junior World team. This group that emerged is a formidable one, that while it only features one returning Junior World medalist (Brooks), who is also the only returning team member, they still have an excellent chance to make noise internationally at the 2019 Junior World Championships in Estonia. There are three 2019 team members that have won medals at the Cadet level, also. So here they are, the 2019 Men’s Freestyle Junior World Team.
57 kg – Vito Arujau (Cornell)
Vito just finished his freshman year at Cornell with a fourth-place finish at the 2019 NCAA Championships. His record was a sparkling 31-4, with the first loss coming in early November to a teammate up at 133 lbs. Arujau went into the NCAA Championships as the eighth seed and won his first two matches before falling to top-seeded Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern), who would end up accounting for both of his losses at the tournament. During the consolations, Vito earns wins over the second seed (Nick Piccininni – Oklahoma State) and the fourth seed (Ronnie Bresser- Oregon State). This is the third time that Arujau has made a world team, as he was a Cadet World silver medalist in 2016 at 58 kg and he won the 2018 U23 World Team Trials, yet he was unable to compete, due to injury.
Vito competed at the Senior level at the US Open in April and ended up taking fourth place. He earned wins over two-time NCAA champion Jesse Delgado, Pan-American Champion Josh Rodriguez, and four-time NCAA All-American Zach Sanders. Since Arujau did not win the Junior Open, he was forced to go through the Challenge Tournament at the Trials. That proved to be no big deal for Vito, who outscored his four opponents in the tournament 46-2. The second of those wins came over 2018 Cadet World Champion Matt Ramos. For the championship and a spot on the world team, Arujau handled 2017 Junior World team member Malik Heinselman 13-5 and 11-1. Vito and Heinselman also met in the first round of the NCAA Championships and it was Vito who prevailed 12-2. It’s safe to say that he will be one of the best gold medal threats for the US at Worlds.
61 kg – Gabe Tagg (EAP – North Carolina)
The first of two members of this team that spent the past school year working at the Olympic Training Center under it’s Elite Accelerator Program is Gabe Tagg. He is a high school senior from Ohio that has signed to wrestle for Coleman Scott at North Carolina. Gabe won an Ohio state title as a junior, then went on to make the Junior National freestyle finals in Fargo, and also was fourth at the Super 32, before heading out to Colorado Springs. He also participated in the four-man round robin at Who’s #1 to determine the top-ranked 138 lber in the nation but lost his first match to JoJo Aragona. During his sophomore year of high school, down at 113 lbs, Gabe won the Walsh Jesuit Ironman and was a finalist at the Beast of the East.
Tagg turned heads and was named the Adidas High School Wrestler of the Week after his performance at the 2018 US Open. Gabe downed a tough redshirting freshman from NC State, Jarrett Trombley, in the semis before pinning Penn State’s All-American Roman Bravo-Young in the finals. That gave Tagg a bye to the best-of-three finals at the World Team Trials, where he would face off with his future teammate at North Carolina, Jaime Hernandez. Jaime had a surprising run of his own, but he was brought back down to Earth by Tagg who needed only 45 seconds to earn a tech fall in their first match and then clinched the world team berth with a 12-3 finish.
65 kg – Yahya Thomas (Northwestern)
On a team filled with top-recruits that have been pegged for immediate success at the college and international level, Northwestern’s Yahya Thomas doesn’t exactly fit into that mold. Never a state finalist in Illinois, Thomas was not considered a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school, but has proven to be a good find for Wildcats head coach Matt Storniolo. While redshirting in 2017-18, Thomas amassed a 16-6 record and took seventh at the Midlands. This year, as a redshirt freshman, had a solid but not spectacular season going 12-6 at 141 lbs, before moving up and losing three matches at 149 lbs. The Wildcats already had Shayne Oster, an NCAA qualifier at 149, so Thomas did not start for the rest of the season.
Yahya went to the US Open and ran through a gauntlet of notable contenders at the Junior level. In the quarters he edged Keegan O’Toole, one of the top wrestlers in the Class of 2020, 4-4. Next up was 2018 Cadet and Junior World team member Joshua Saunders, who was blanked by Thomas 6-0. For the title, Yahya then defeated Andrew Alirez, a Northern Colorado-signee ranked second in the Class of 2019. At the Trials, it would be O’Toole who emerged as the finals opponent for Thomas. Yahya once again demonstrated that he is nearly impossible to score on in freestyle and won the series 7-0, 2-0.
70 kg – Brayton Lee (Minnesota)
Along with Gable Steveson, Brayton Lee was one of the top recruits from Minnesota Class of 2018, that ended up ranked third in the country. Lee had a very busy redshirt season competing in 33 matches overall and picking up 26 wins along the way. He was able to win two Open tournaments, the North County Open and the National Collegiate Open, both of which came at 149 lbs. As strange as it sounds, his best performance probably came at the Midlands when he went 2-2. The two wins came over EIWA champion Anthony Artalona (Penn) and three-time NCAA qualifier Cole Martin (Wisconsin). Both of his losses came at the hands of competent opponents in three-time NCAA All-American Alec Pantaleo (Michigan) and Cadet World bronze medalist Jacori Teemer (Arizona State). With the Gophers losing most of their lower-middle weights due to graduation, Lee will be depended upon heavily in 2019-20.
Lee had a strong showing at the US Open where he would ultimately take second after registering wins over Nebraska recruit Kevon Davenport, North Dakota State redshirt Jared Franek, and Teemer. We went into more details in TOM’s article about the top ten storylines from the Trials, but Brayton showed an incredible motor and impeccable reshots when he came back from large deficits to beat Teemer, Peyton Robb (Nebraska), then Sammy Sasso (Ohio State), in three consecutive bouts. After a second win over Sasso, the bruised and bandaged Lee made his first world team and left an impression on all that were watching.
74 kg – David Carr (Iowa State)
David Carr turned in a near-perfect 23-1 record while redshirting for Iowa State in 2018-19. He lost a one-point match to Peyton Mocco (Missouri) in the first event of the college season and did not lose again. Along the way, Carr earned tournament titles at four different opens. Perhaps, his most significant win of the year came at the UNI Open where he blanked now-Junior World teammate Brayton Lee, 6-0. He also picked up a victory over Lee’s WTT Challenge Tournament finals opponent Peyton Robb, 6-3, at the Grand View Open. This will not be Carr’s first taste of international competition. He was a Cadet World bronze medalist in 2016 and seemed to have one of the best chances at earning another world medal out of this group.
Carr had a difficult path through the Open, winning his Round of 16, quarterfinal, and semifinal matches, each by two-point margins. He was able to open things up a bit in the finals, by teching Danny Braunagel 12-1. That led to a bye to the JR WTT finals for Carr, who ended up running into Shane Griffith (Stanford). Both were mentioned earlier this spring in TOM’s top redshirting freshman of 2018-19. Though Griffith got on the scoreboard first in both finals matches, it was Carr who controlled the action in each bout and never seemed seriously threatened.
79 kg – Aaron Brooks (EAP – Penn State)
The second member of this team from USA Wrestling EAP, Aaron Brooks, is also the only 2018 world teamer that is back in 2019. Last year, Brooks was a Junior World silver medalist, after winning a Cadet World title in 2017. It probably goes without saying, but he should have the best shot at earning gold from this crew. Aaron is from the high school Class of 2018 and did not enroll directly at Penn State, choosing to head to the OTC for a year, instead. In high school competition, Aaron was a four-time NHSCA age group national champion and won a Cadet and Junior National title in Fargo. In January, Brooks competed at the Dave Schultz Memorial and earned wins over Senior level opponents Nathan Jackson and Stacey Davis. Jackson won go on to take fourth as a Senior at 86 kg in the World Team Trials.
Brooks dominated the field at the Open, outscoring the competition, 63-4. Only one match went the distance and one other even made it to the second period. It was more of the same in the WTT finals, as Aaron crush Parker Keckeisen, a top-20 recruit in the Class of 2019, 10-0 and 10-1.
86 kg – Trent Hidlay (NC State)
One of the best redshirt seasons of 2018-19 at any weight belonged to Trent Hidlay, who went 24-2, with his two losses coming to multiple-time All-Americans, neither of which was more than two points. Trent started the year with three straight open tournament wins at 174 lbs, then moved up to 184 and finished the season with wins at the Appalachian Open and the National Collegiate Open. Two of his biggest wins came over NCAA 12th seed Matt Finesilver (Duke) and All-American Brandon Womack (Cornell). Hidlay had a highly decorated prep career, as he finished the year ranked number one in the country at 170 lbs, after winning his second Pennsylvania state title, back-to-back crowns at the Powerade Invitational, and he was also a double Junior National finalist in Fargo.
Just to make the finals at the US Open, Hidlay needed to go through a pair of Cadet world bronze medalists, in Abe Assad (Iowa) and Gavin Hoffman (Ohio State). After having close matches with both Assad and Hoffman, Hidlay was able to widen the gap slightly in the Open finals against Zac Braunagel, winning 10-3. In the finals of the Trials, Trent was given a familiar opponent Victor Marcelli (Virginia). During the 2018-19, the two met twice and it was Hidlay that got his hand raised 10-3 and 6-1. Marcelli was able to put up more of a challenge this time, after starting their first finals bout off with a four-point move. The two would engage in a wild affair that saw Trent come out on top 12-7. Once again, in the second match, Marcelli took an early 4-0, but that was it and Hidlay came back to win 11-4. This tournament marked Trent’s first competition in NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum and he was loudly saluted by home fans after his wins.
92 kg – Lucas Davison (Northwestern)
The second Northwestern wrestler on this team, Lucas Davison spent the 2018-19 season redshirting for the Wildcats. While Davison did not get quite as many matches as others on this team, he did get to see a high level of competition. Lucas took a loss in his first week of competition to four-time All-American Willie Miklus. The next time he was out he fell to the most familiar foe opponent possible, his brother Andrew, who is at Michigan, by the score of 8-3. Davison’s best tournament was the Midlands where he ended up in third place and defeated three NCAA qualifiers, Rocco Caywood (Army West Points), Drew Phipps (Bucknell), and Round of 12 finisher Thomas Lane (Cal Poly). The only wrestler to down him at the Midlands is next on this team.
Lucas earned his spot in the WTT Finals after winning the US Open. He was rarely challenged at the Open, winning his first three matches by tech and then a 6-3 decision over Oklahoma’s NCAA qualifier Jake Woodley in the finals. The WTT Finals saw him paired with another NCAA qualifier Brandon Whitman (North Carolina), a competitor that he had teched at the Open 10-0. Though the score was not quite as lopsided, it was still all Davison who won 9-0 and 5-0.
97 kg – Tanner Sloan (South Dakota State)
One of the most unexpected surprise stories from the redshirts of the 2018-19 season was Tanner Sloan. Tanner’s breakout party was at the Midlands Championships where he had teched Iowa’s Jacob Warner, one of two eventual All-American’s that he had defeated at the event (Josh Hokit – Fresno State) was the other. He was also able to rack up a win over Junior World teammate Lucas Davison, 4-3. The only opponent to beat him at the tournament was Princeton All-American Patrick Brucki, which was his second of the season. Sloan is a monster on the mat and was able to earn bonus points in 69% of his matches, which is excellent for a true freshman.
Sloan was one of only a few wrestlers on this team that had to do it the hard way and fight through the WTT Challenge Tournament, as he was second at the Open, losing a shootout to Buffalo’s Sam Schuyler 17-13. Though he needed to wrestle a pair of matches at the Trials to get a rematch with Schuyler, neither of Tanner’s two opponents provided much of a challenge, and he earned tech falls in both matches. The Sloan/Schuyler rematches in the Trials finals were among the most competitive bouts of the finals, but it was Sloan that emerged victorious in two straight matches, 7-6 and 6-4. Sloan became the first Iowa native since Thomas Gilman in 2014 to make a Junior World team.
125 kg – Mason Parris (Michigan)
Initially, it looked like the Wolverines were going to try and keep Mason Parris in redshirt during the 2018-19 campaign, but his performances while unattached seem to force the Michigan coaching staff’s hands. In his first match in a Michigan singlet, Parris dominated returning All-American Amar Dhesi (Oregon State), 11-4. Mason was the victim of a stronger-than-usual young crop of talented heavyweights and he would end up finishing seventh in the Big Ten and a match shy of placing at the NCAA Championships. Pre-college, one of Parris most significant achievements was winning FloNationals twice, the first time was what really put him on the map nationally.
Parris did not compete at the Open, which was won by Iowa heavyweight Anthony Cassioppi who pinned or teched his way through the field. Cassioppi did not enter this week, which left the world team berth, wide open. It was Mason who would take advantage of Cassioppi’s advantage by earned a berth in the finals opposite Trent Hillger (Wisconsin). The Badger named Thor won the first match 7-6, but it was Parris who came storming back to tech Hillger in the second match and pin him in the third, in only 39 seconds.