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And as we gear up for Saturday's challenge tournament along with the much-anticipated best-of-three finals that will determine this year's team, we've narrowed down the five biggest questions that have been circulating since the 2017 U.S. Open.
Watch 2017 World Team Trials on June 9-10 LIVE, only on FloWrestling
Is this David Taylor's time? Everyone was impressed by how Taylor performed at the Open. He blew through the field and only gave up four points on the way to winning the title. But he will have to duplicate that performance and then improve upon it to make the team. Though his run in Las Vegas was impressive, the only difference is that none of those guys he faced was Olympic bronze medalist and three-time NCAA champion J'den Cox.
Surely, everyone is expecting the Magic Man to have a repeat performance in the challenge tournament to set up a meeting with Cox in the best-of-three finals. But can Taylor get the job done and make his first senior world team? He's had an impressive string of wins, which includes pinning Olympic champ Hassan Yazdani Chariti and said he finally feels adjusted to the 86kg weight class. So could this be the time for Taylor?
Can they go 8 for 8?In 2005, each one of the wrestlers who received the bye straight to the best-of-three finals won the series without dropping a match. That year, the world team was comprised of Sammie Henson (55kg), Michael Lightner (60kg), Chris Bono (66kg), Joe Williams (74kg), Mo Lowal (84kg), Daniel Cormier (96kg), and Tolly Thompson (120kg).
From year-to-year, the criteria and rules tend to vary along with the tournaments that were considered qualifiers, so not every guy who has won the U.S. Open always received the bye to the finals in previous years. But in recent years, it is the case. This year, the rivalries have been in full bloom as we approach the tournament, with each one of these bouts coming down to the final seconds to determine a winner.
Right now, Tony Ramos (57kg), Logan Stieber (61kg), Jordan Oliver (65kg), Jordan Burroughs (74kg), J'den Cox (86kg), Kyle Snyder (96kg), and Nick Gwiazdowski (125kg) sit in the finals. And as history can tell you, it is rare that this ends up being our world team. However, it has been done before, and the rivalries that everyone is anxious to get another installment of are pretty one-sided.
What will happen at 65kg, 74kg, 86kg, and 125kg?I've already discussed the situation at 86kg above. The Taylor versus Cox dynamic is certainly worth the price of admission. But what about 65kg? Will it be Zain Retherford or Frank Molinaro who makes it to JO in the best-of-three finals? And can JO remain unbeaten against them? Oliver defeated both Retherford and Molinaro on criteria at the Open to add to his wins over both of them at the Bill Farrell and Dave Schultz tournaments in the past. Certainly, both pose a threat to Oliver but still have never defeated him.
At 125kg, Nick Gwiazdowski finally got over the hump and took out longtime nemesis Zach Rey to win the Open title and get the bye. But unlike the other rivalries, Gwiaz does not lead the series. Rey has defeated Gwiaz on many occasions in the past, so that bout, should it happen again, could be the one to have a different result than the last time in Vegas.
Lastly, it's either Kyle Dake or four-time world and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs. Their final at the Open has left the door open for many questions, but ultimately, it comes down to whether Dake can get the job done or not.
What adjustments has Jason Nolf made?It's no secret that Jason Nolf has some of the craziest point-scoring tricks. But what works for him in folkstyle could get him in trouble in freestyle. After their match at the Open, world bronze medalist James Green said that he thinks freestyle contains Nolf because he can't roll across his back like he would in folkstyle. Surely, Nolf and the Nittany Lion coaching staff knows exactly that. So what types of things will we see from Nolf, especially now that he's had a chance to wrestle Green?
Watch Nolf and Green scrap at the U.S. Open.
How far can Thomas Gilman go?These two former teammates haven't been pulling any verbal punches lately. Gilman let it be known that he's got the keys to beating Ramos, and T-Ram fired back with some extreme bulletin board material like only he can provide. Now after doing the talking, Gilman has to back it all up on the mat. Is it possible for Gilman to make it through the challenge tournament to set up a meeting with his old teammate?
In our projected seeds, Gilman will be 10th. With that seed, he will possibly have to go through Alan Waters, Nahshon Garrett, and then Nathan Tomasello or Frank Perrelli. And that's just to make the challenge tournament finals. It's going to be a tough road for Gilman, and we will see if he can navigate it.
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