For the past 14 seasons, the Southern Scuffle has been assembling one of the best college tournaments outside of the NCAA championship. Following the migratory paths laid out by the unladen swallow (not the African or European but the North American variety, naturally) as well as those of many sets of grandparents, college wrestling heads toward warmer climates every new year to battle it out at this annual classic at McKenzie Arena in downtown Chattanooga, TN.
We will ring in 2018 with a cavalcade of combatants, including six reigning NCAA champions. The action begins at 10 AM ET on Jan. 1, so shake off the champagne hangovers and join us online as we bring you all the action.
But first, prepare for the event with our previews, starting with the lightweights.
No. 5 Darian Cruz, Lehigh
No. 9 Louie Hayes, Virginia
No. 12 Jay Schwarm, Northern Iowa
Daton Fix, Oklahoma State
Nick Farro, Lehigh
Though not deep as some of the heavier weight classes, 125 packs a tremendous punch at the top of the Scuffle bracket, thanks to the entry of reigning NCAA champ Darian Cruz and reigning freestyle junior world champ Daton Fix.
Many a Lehigh fan has taken umbrage at Cruz being ranked at No. 5 in the top 20 for most of the year, due largely because of Cruz's loss to Nick Piccininni at the All-Star Classic, a defeat which does not count on Cruz’s official record. Those fans may have a point, and Cruz could very well go undefeated on the season and earn himself a No. 1 seed at NCAAs. However, to do that he’ll have to first maneuver his way through a bracket with a couple of talented young 125-pounders in Louie Hayes and Jay Schwarm, as well as the aforementioned world champion Fix, who will be wrestling unattached for Oklahoma State.
Also keep an eye on Cruz’s teammate Nick Farro, who has cut down from 133. Farro owns a win over Luke Pletcher in a freestyle match at the world team trials last June. Pletcher is the current No. 3 at 133 pounds, so Farro down a weight class could be dangerous.
Spey’s Picks: 1) Darian Cruz 2) Daton Fix 3) Louie Hayes 4) Jay Schwarm
Nomad's Picks: 1) Darian Cruz 2) Daton Fix 3) Jay Schwarm 4) Louie Hayes
Willie's Picks: 1) Darian Cruz 2) Daton Fix 3) Jay Schwarm 4) Louie Hayes
All picks are purely for motivational purposes only. There is no disrespect intended to anyone not picked (or listed as a contender). It is all to provide inspiration to prove the pickers wrong.
Watch Ethan Lizak and Jack Mueller battle in the finals of last season's 125 Southern Scuffle final:
No. 2 Scott Parker, Lehigh
No. 5 Jack Mueller, Virginia
No. 7 Austin DeSanto, Drexel
No. 18 Corey Keener, Penn State
Sean Nickell, CSU-Bakersfield
DJ Fehlman, Lock Haven
Rico Montoya, Northern Colorado
Fans could be treated to the match that they we were denied at the Lehigh Drexel dual, when a convalescent Scott Parker was held out of a scheduled match with Austin DeSanto. With the All-American Parker likely receiving the No. 1 seed, DeSanto will probably first have to get by his nemesis from the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Jack Mueller, who beat DeSanto twice with a dominant and unrelenting top game.
We were also denied a DeSanto match versus Corey Keener in the semifinals of the Keystone Classic earlier this year, when Keener withdrew from the tournament after the quarterfinals. Whoever does toe the line against the true freshman phenom from Drexel will make for appointment viewing, as DeSanto’s attacks from neutral are a sight to behold.
Rounding our our list of contenders are three unranked wrestlers just outside the top 20. Sean Nickell, Rico Montoya, and DJ Fehlman all qualified for the NCAA tournament last season, and all three have quality wins so far on their resumes this season.
Spey’s Picks: 1) Scott Parker 2) Jack Mueller 3) Austin DeSanto 4) Sean Nickell
Nomad's Picks: 1) Jack Mueller 2) Scotty Parker 3) Austin DeSanto 4) Corey Keener
Willie's Picks: 1) Jack Mueller 2) Scotty Parker 3) Austin DeSanto 4) Corey Keener
Watch Scott Parker and Kaid Brock go at in last seasons’ Scuffle final at 133:
No. 7 Josh Alber, Northern Iowa
No. 17 Luke Karam, Lehigh
No. 19 Russell Rohlfing, CSU-Bakersfield
Mike Pongracz, Chattanooga
Jared Prince, Navy
Kaden Gfeller, Oklahoma State
Nick Lee, Penn State
Brian Courtney, Virginia
Jared Cortez, Penn State
Nic Gil, Navy
Kyle Shoop, Lock Haven
Two unattached wrestlers help prop up a 141-pound weight class that otherwise only has one top 10 wrestler registered. Two-time NCAA qualifier and likely top seed Josh Alber is going to have his hands full with the unattached duo of Kaden Gfeller and Nick Lee.
Gfeller is a crafty yet powerful 141-pounder who’s been training lately with the likes of Dean Heil and about half a dozen All-American-caliber 149-pounders that Oklahoma State has in the room. Nick Lee is still a true freshman but spent his senior year in high school training with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, so he’s been preparing against DI-caliber competition for over a year.
Luke Karam and Russell Rohlfing have both proven themselves capable of handling top 20 talent this year, whereas Jared Prince is a welcome addition to the bracket, as the Midshipman has been absent from competition so far this year. Prince’s teammate Nic Gil has been filling in admirably so far this season, but it was Prince who held down a top 20 ranking for most of last season while advancing as far as the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.
Highly touted Virginia frosh Brian Courtney will be competing with his redshirt intact, while Jared Cortez will be wrestling varsity in the same bracket as his redshirted teammate Nick Lee for the first time this season. Kyle Shoop, an NCAA qualifier last season, rounds out a contenders list in a bracket that is as wide open as any at the Scuffle this year. Expect most picks to go horribly wrong.
Spey’s Picks: 1) Nick Lee 2) Jared Prince 3) Josh Alber 4) Kaden Gfeller
Nomad's Picks: 1) Josh Alber 2) Kaden Gfeller 3) Nick Lee 4) Jared Prince
Willie's Picks: 1) Josh Alber 2) Kaden Gfeller 3) Nick Lee 4) Jared Prince
Dean Heil and Joey Ward were last season’s Scuffle finalists at 141. Watch their match:
No. 1 Zain Retherford, Penn State
No. 6 Max Thomsen, Northern Iowa
No. 15 Ronnie Perry, Lock Haven
Matt Zovistoski, App State
Cortlandt Schuyler, Lehigh
Jamal Morris, North Carolina State
Jarod Verkleeren, Penn State
Tristan Moran, Oklahoma State
Requir Van der Merwe, Stanford
Sam Krivus, Virginia
Our second NCAA champion has entered the fray! The Zain Train of Pain and Migraines rolls into Chattanooga on a 72-match win stretch. Retherford’s last loss was nearly four years ago.
Looking to at least slow down the Penn State juggernaut are a pair of top 20 contenders. Alex Thomsen is an All-American who is most qualified for the task, followed by a 13-1 Ronnie Perry, who is in the midst of an excellent senior season.
Making things interesting for the rest of the competitors are two unattached wrestlers who could make deep runs. Oklahoma State's Tristan Moran is stuck contending with an unbelievably deep middleweight bench in Stillwater, OK, but he’s shown himself capable of competing with the best of the division. Meanwhile, Jarod Verkleeren has a freestyle cadet world championship to his name. If either of these wrestlers gets on a roll it could be trouble for the rest of the 149-pound entries.
The rest of the bracket has a good mix of past NCAA qualifiers (Matt Zovistoski, Jamal Morris, Sam Krivus) and hungry wrestlers still looking to make their postseason mark (Cortlandt Schuyler, Requir Van der Merwe)
Spey’s Picks: 1) Zain Retherford 2) Max Thomsen 3) Tristan Moran 4) Ronnie Perry
Willie's Picks: 1) Zain Retherford 2) Max Thomsen 3) Ronnie Perry 4) Tristan Moran
All picks are purely for motivational purposes only. There is no disrespect intended to anyone not picked, only inspiration to prove the pickers wrong.
Check out this instant Scuffle classic as Lavion Mayes and Anthony Collica battle in last season’s 149-pound final:
No. 1 Jason Nolf, Penn State
No. 10 Mitch Finesilver, Duke
No. 14 Coleman Hammond, CSU-Bakersfield
No. 18 Ian Brown, Lehigh
Paul Fox, Stanford
Alexander Mossing, Air Force
Austin Kraisser, Campbell
Tyler Marinelli, Gardner-Webb
The second of five Nittany Lions NCAA champions headlines this bracket. Jason Nolf shows off both an indefatigable motor and an artist’s creativity every time he steps on the mat. He also very politely and precisely returns his ankle bands to the center of the mat after every match.
A trio of ranked wrestlers will stand in his way, plus an All-American who is right on the top 20 bubble. Mitch Finesilver has been steadily moving up in weight classes and up in the rankings over his career. This will be as good a time as any for the undefeated Duke junior to put his stamp on the 157-pound weight class.
Coleman Hammond has qualified for two NCAA tournaments and is due for a signature tournament performance. Ian Brown is also looking for his breakout tournament, though he does have a signature win this season with a decision over No. 5 Alec Pantaleo. And Paul Fox has stumbled a bit since his surprise seventh-place finish at last year’s NCAAs, but a high placement in this Scuffle field will put him right back in the mix and into the top 20.
Alexander Mossing, Austin Kraisser, and Tyker Marinelli are potential dark horses, but their competitors discount them at their peril.
Spey's Picks: 1) Jason Nolf 2) Ian Brown 3) Mitch Finesilver 4) Paul Fox
Willie's Picks: 1) Jason Nolf 2) Mitch Finesilver 3) Coleman Hammond 4) Quentin Hovis
Although they're both up at different weights, last season's 157 finalists, Joe Smith and Jordan Kutler, are both back this year. Check out their 2017 finals match:
No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph, Penn State
No. 11 Chance Marsteller, Lock Haven
No. 18 Lorenzo De La Riva, CSU-Bakersfield
Joe Smith, Oklahoma State
Bryce Steiert, Northern Iowa
Cole Walter, Lehigh
Drew Longo, Lehigh
Gordon Wolf, Lehigh
Keilan Torres, Northern Colorado
Mekhi Lewis, Virginia Tech
Andrew Atkinson, Virginia
Perhaps the most intriguing of all the Scuffle weights, 165 has a little something for everyone. We’ve got the top-ranked returning NCAA champ back in action for the first time since mid-November; we’ve got Chance Marsteller eligible and looking as good as ever; and we’ve got some of the toughest unattached wrestlers as you’ve find in any weight class in any tournament this season.
Joseph hasn't wrestled since PSU’s Binghamton dual in mid-November, although he did weigh in and was ready to compete a couple weeks ago against Indiana before receiving a forfeit. Meanwhile, Chance Marsteller has racked up 19 wins so far against zero losses. Those two should get the top two seeds and be set on a collision course with each other for the finals.
There will be plenty of landmines, however, for both Joseph and Marsteller to negotiate., chief among them being two-time Oklahoma State All-American, Joe Smith, who is wrestling unattached and is moving up from 157 to 165 while taking a redshirt. Another unattached redshirt who could cause problems is Northern Iowa bloodrounder Bryce Steiert.
Not to be overlooked is Virginia Tech’s true freshman Mekhi Lewis as well as Bakersfield’s No. 18 Lorenzo De La Riva.
And then there’s Lehigh’s troika of troublemakers. Cole Walter is last year’s NCAA qualifier, but he’s been off to a slow start this season. Gordon Wolf qualified for the 2016 NCAAs up at 174. He’s trying to scramble is way into the lineup down a weight class and has looked solid so far. Then there is Drew Longo, a redshirt senior who started his career at 141. He is another dangerous scrambler, and any one of these Mountain Hawks could make a deep run at this year’s Scuffle.
Spey’s Picks: 1) Chance Marsteller 2) Vincenzo Joseph 3) Joe Smith 4) Gordon Wolf
Willie’s Picks: 1) Vincenzo Joseph 2) Chance Marsteller 3) Joe Smith 4) Mekhi Lewis
Don’t blink or you’ll miss last year’s shocking 165 final between Daniel Lewis and Chandler Rogers:
No. 2 Mark Hall, Penn State
No. 4 Jordan Kutler, Lehigh
No. 7 Taylor Lujan, Northern Iowa
No. 8 Jadaen Bernstein, Navy
No. 12 Keaton Subjeck, Stanford
No. 18 Forrest Przybysz, App State
No. 19 Will Schany, Virginia
Hunter Bolen, Virginia Tech
Cody Hughes, Virginia Tech
Kimball Bastian, Utah Valley
With five entrants ranked in the top 12, 174 is going to be one of the most stacked weight classes in Chattanooga. Mark Hall and his NCAA title headline the group. His one loss on the season is to Zahid Valencia at the All-Star Classic, so he’s still on track for a No. 1 seed in March, as that loss doesn't go on his NCAA official record.
Jordan Kutler represents the stiffest competition from the challengers. He also only has one loss on the year, but it was to Hall in an official dual meet earlier this month. Kutler has otherwise adjusted splendidly up two weight classes from last season and will likely receive the No. 2 seed at the Scuffle after Hall.
At No. 7 and 8 in the top 20, respectively, Taylor Lujan and Jadaen Bernstein should get the next two seeds and are both worth keeping an eye on: Lujan for his otherworldly scrambling ability and Bernstein for his lightning-quick upper-body throws. If you’re signing up for FloArean Alerts (and you should — it rules!) then these are two names I recommend following.
Another funky 174-pounder I’d advise you keep an eye on is Keaton Subjeck. The Stanford senior made some waves at the beginning of last season when he took out future 165-pound NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph in a wild 18-12 match.
Forrest Przybysz and Will Schany are unlikely to challenge for a Scuffle title this year, but they are dark horse All-American contenders who are worth watching next Monday and Tuesday. The same goes for Kimball Bastian and the two Virginia Tech hammers that are locked in an internal battle for the starting spot on the Hokies squad, Hunter Bolen and Cody Hughes.
Spey’s Picks: 1) Mark Hall 2) Jordan Kutler 3) Taylor Lujan 4) Jadaen Bernstein
All picks are purely for motivational purposes only. There is no disrespect intended to anyone not picked, only inspiration to prove the pickers wrong.
Watch Mark Hall make a statement as a true freshman while wrestling unattached in last season’s Scuffle final over All-American Kyle Crutchmer.
No. 1 Bo Nickal, Penn State
No. 9 Drew Foster, Northern Iowa
No. 12 Bryce Carr, Chattanooga
No. 18 Dylan Gabel, Northern Colorado
No. 19 Michael Coleman, Navy
No. 20 Nick Corba, Cleveland State
Nick Reenan, North Carolina State
Lehigh’s Ryan Preisch is still recovering from a minor injury and thus won’t be able to try and avenge his loss to the No. 1-ranked returning NCAA champ, Bo Nickal. That opens the door for one of five other top 20 wrestlers registered at 174 pounds.
The top contenders for a finals berth are Northern Iowa’s All-American Drew Foster and Chattanooga’s own Bryce Carr. Foster has taken a few losses already this season, but he avenged one of them already and is the most credentialed wrestler in the field after Nickal.
Bryce Carr did not reach the podium last season as a freshman but has an solid opportunity to do so this year. He’ll be looking to pick up some wins at the Scuffle to help his future NCAA seed. He’s 10-3 on the year, having only taking losses to the Nos. 2-, 3-, and 7-ranked wrestlers at 184.
Though he’s currently redshirting and therefore unranked, Nick Reenan has a win over No. 7 Zack Zavatsky this year and would surely join this salty group of seven Scuffle contenders in the top 20 should be be in the starting lineup for the Wolfpack right now.
Dylan Gabel, Michael Coleman, and Nick Corba round out our list contenders. While they are long shots for a Scuffle title, they could make a deep run in this season’s New Year tournament.
Spey’s Picks: 1) Bo Nickal 2) Ryan Preisch 3) Bryce Carr 4) Nick Reenan
Watch Mr. Scuffle himself, Gabe Dean, take on Nolan Boyd in the 2017 184-pound final:
No. 9 Anthony Cassar, Penn State
No. 11 Matt Williams, CSU-Bakersfield
No. 14 Scottie Boykin, Chattanooga
No. 16 Nathan Traxler, Stanford
No. 17 Jacob Holschlag, Northern Iowa
No. 18 Jacob Seely, N. Colorado
No. 20 Jake Jakobsen, Lehigh
Chris Weiler, Lehigh
Matt McCutcheon, Penn State
Shakur Rasheed, Penn State
Stephen Loiseau, Drexel
Steban Cervantes, Navy
There are heaps of 197-pound contenders but few elite wrestlers at the top, making this year’s Scuffle a microcosm of the weight class in general. With the title up for grabs, the smart money is on one of Penn State’s three entries to claim the prize.
Anthony Cassar has been starting all year for the Nittany Lions and appeared to have solidified his starting spot when he defeated his teammates, then-No. 4 Matt McCutcheon at the Keystone Classic in November. McCutcheon hasn’t seen any action since, but the three-time NCAA qualifier will be a force to reckon with in Chattanooga. As will Shakur Rasheed, who looked for a starting spot with Penn State anywhere from 165 to 197 over the course of his career. The cradle-savvy junior is dangerous at any weight.
The Lehigh duo of Jake Jakobsen and Chris Weiler may have something to say about Penn State taking over all the top spots in the 197-pound bracket. Jakobson has a win over No. 15 Frank Mattiace and Weiler defeated No. 10 Jeric Kasunic, so they are both capable of pulling off upsets.
Of the five remaining top 20 entries not yet discussed, Bakersfield’s Matt Williams has gone the furthest in the NCAA tournament, reaching the round of 16 in St. Louis last March. He’ll have is work cut out for him at the Scuffle, as besides six other ranked wrestlers, there are the Penn State's and Lehigh's backups to worry about, who are all arguably rankable, as well as bubble guys such as Steban Cervantes and Stephen Loiseau. Whoever emerges from the carnage of this bracket will have earned his trophy.
Spey’s Picks: 1) Anthony Cassar 2) Matt Williams 3) Matt McCutcheon 4) Chris Weiler
The 2017 Scuffle provided a preview of last season's NCAA finals. Watch J’den Cox and Brett Pfarr wrestler in the previous final at 197:
No. 3 Nick Nevills, Penn State
No. 5 Jacob Kasper, Duke
No. 7 Mike Hughes, Hofstra
No. 10 Jordan Wood, Lehigh
No. 11 Thomas Haines, Lock Haven
No. 14 Nathan Butler, Stanford
Jere Heino, Campbell
Joey Goodhart, Drexel
Dustin Dennison, Utah Valley
Nick Nevills split matches with Jacob Kasper at the 2017 NCAA tournament, losing in the quarterfinals but winning in the fifth-place match. Nevills then won the rubber match in the finals of the Keystone Classic this November. Both wrestlers should get the top two seeds, setting up round four in the finals. That is, if they both make it there.
Standing in the way will be the gargantuan Mike Hughes of Hofstra. Hughes is undefeated on the year but still looking for a match against his first top 10 opponent, something he should be able to find in Chattanooga.
Jordan Wood picked up this season right where he left off from his redshirt freshman campaign, which is going toe-to-toe with the best heavyweights in the nation. That group would include the streaky Thomas Haines and Nathan Butter, who are both looking to notch some major wins to help their seeding case in March.
Top 20 bubble guys Jere Heino, Joey Goodhart, and Dustin Dennison complete our very competitive heavyweight Scuffle bracket. We’re looking forward to it and hope you all are too. See you in 2018!
Spey’s Picks: 1) Nick Nevills 2) Mike Hughes 3) Jacob Kasper 4) Jordan Wood
Jacob Kasper won it all last year. Watch his match with Michael Kroells: