Who are the dark horses that could surprise the field and make waves at the Men's Freestyle Senior World Team Trials in Lincoln, Nebraska, this weekend? We go through the competitors and pick out some potentially overlooked contenders.
With the qualifying criteria being as tough as it is, and the brackets as small as they are, it's a stretch to call any of the wrestlers who made it to challenge tournament a dark horse. Nonetheless, their are some under the radar folks worth highlighting
No one in Lincoln should be counted out of the running until the world team is finally set. The guys we've picked out in each weight class could very well add credence to that notion.
57kg - Frank PerrelliCornell has had an amazing run of lightweights since Travis Lee burst on to the NCAA scene in 2002. Frank Perrelli got in on the fun, reaching the fourth-place podium step his senior year in 2012. Perrelli has been stepping up his freestyle activity, wrestling overseas with the Titan Mercury Wrestling Club in Cuba, France, and Ukraine all within the last eight months. He finished fourth in a loaded U.S. Open bracket, teching Jesse Delgado and losing two matches to Tony Ramos and Nathan Tomasello by a combined two points.
61kg - Brandon WrightBrandon Wright was a blue-chip recruit coming out of Indiana in 2010, but he chose to take his talents to the NAIA and Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. While there, Wright racked up two NAIA championships and then showed why folks should not have forgotten about him at the U.S. Open last April, where he placed second, dropping a tight finals match to the No. 1 seed in the trials challenge tournament, Kendrick Maple.
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65kg - Kellen RussellAs one of the best wrestlers to come out of the Michigan Wolverine program in decades, Kellen Russell has been at the cusp of making a world team since he graduated as a two-time NCAA champion in 2012. Russell was a 2013 U.S. Open champion and has been in the mix at every world team trials since. He'll have his work cut out for him in a loaded bracket, but if Russell can raise his game a notch or two, he might be able to punch through and rep the red, white, and blue in Paris.
70kg - Chase PamiCal Poly All-American Chase Pami has already won one gold medal in Paris this year. Granted, the competition at the Paris Grand Prix in January is nothing like it will be at the World Championship in August, but Pami has been grinding out freestyle wins since 2011. He also knows what it's like to compete in the toughest international tournaments, having entered both the Yarygin and the Medved. Pami also raised some eyebrows with a third-place finish over Penn State's recently crowned NCAA champ Jason Nolf in Vegas last week at the U.S. Open. If Pami gets hot, he could be a problem for the rest of the 70-kilogram field.
74 kg - Chance MarstellerAfter a false start or two in college, recently minted university national champion Chance Marsteller seems to have his wrestling career back on track. Marsteller was one of the most hyped high schoolers in history, with comparisons to Cary Kolat being mentioned on the reg. Besides tech-mauling a slew of NCAA qualifiers in Akron, Ohio, last week, Marsteller had an impressive U.S. Open in April. He gave Alex Dieringer all he wanted in a first-round loss and notched some nice wins on his way to seventh place. A natural freestyler, Marsteller does not shy away from trying high-risk upper-body throws early and often. He is an opponent no one will look forward to facing this Saturday.
86kg - Joe RauPerhaps the darkest horse on our list, Joe Rau has zero Division I accolades to his name; nor has he wrestled an international freestyle tournament since 2012. He does, however, have a DIII national championship from Elmhurst College and has had made two world teams in Greco-Roman. Rau switched back to freestyle to have a go at the Last Chance qualifier, which he won over Vic Every in about 30 seconds with a flurry of head-pinch exposures. If Rau can replicate that kind of devastating counter offense at the Trials, he could catch a lot of people off guard and wreak some havoc at 86 kilograms.
UWW Junior and Senior WTT schedule
97kg - Ty WalzTy Walz did not exactly set the world on fire when he made his senior-level debut at 97kg at the U.S. Open last April. But the three-time NCAA All-American for Virginia Tech might have just needed to get his freestyle sea legs under him. The 2017 Hokies grad will get another chance to wrestle guys his own weight in Lincoln, having spent his college career as a relatively undersized heavyweight. He got the strength and speed to do a lot of damage at 97kg, and the rest of the qualifiers at this weight should not take Walz lightly.
125kg - Tony NelsonMinnesota has produced a seemingly unending streak of high-caliber heavyweights, from Brock Lesner to Michael Kroells. Arguably the best of them all is two-time NCAA champion and three-time finalist Tony Nelson. While Nelson hasn't quite turned the corner on the freestyle senior circuit, he's not far away either. He was right there in the thick of it at the last U.S. Open and has had encouraging results overseas, including winning the Ukrainian International Tournament last March and placing second in the prestigious Yashar Dogu in 2016. The rest of the 125-kilogram wrestlers will underestimate Toy at their own peril.
The odds are still against any of our dark horses from making the 2017 world team, but at least now no one can say they didn't see them coming, either this year or in the future. Make sure you tune in this Saturday to watch it all go down LIVE on FloWrestling.