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The anticipation for World Team Trials is palpable. With half of the Final X field set, this year's Trials in Raleigh, NC will determine the final 30 participants competing for a world team spot next month.
May 17-19 | 10:00 AM Eastern
We've already broken down the first three weights in men's freestyle, and today we'll be covering the middle four weights. No one is sitting in the best-of-three finals at 70kg, but at 74kg, 79kg, and 86kg, the winner of Saturday's challenge tournament will know their opponent for Sunday's final series.
Winners of the first two of those weights will go to Final X: Lincoln on June 15, while the 79kg and 86kg winners will head to Final X: Rutgers on June 8. Brackets will be on FloArena after weigh-ins once they are completed. On to the preview.
- James Green, Sunkist Kids/NWTC
- Jason Nolf, Nittany Lion WC
- Alec Pantaleo, Cliff Keen WC
- Hayden Hidlay, Titan Mercury/Wolfpack WC
- Brandon Sorensen, Titan Mercury/Hawkeye WC
- Nazar Kulchytskyy, Minnesota Storm
- Jason Chamberlain, Titan Mercury/Valley RTC
- Mario Mason, NYAC/Lehigh Valley WC
- Anthony Ashnault, NJRTC
Total and utter chaos. That’s the most fitting way to describe the Open, not to mention the ever so slight possibility that Jordan Oliver comes up to join the fun. If that’s the case, he should be the two seed behind Green in my opinion, which creates a match we’ve never seen before: Jason Nolf vs Oliver in the semis.
Whether Oliver bumps up or not, Hayden Hidlay will be throwing his hat in the ring. They’ll either put him as the three seed since he beat Pantaleo in freestyle last year, or the four seed since he lost to Pantaleo at NCAAs in March. We’ve never seen him against James Green, but that may be a bad matchup for Hidlay. Generally speaking, a low scoring match focused on control ties (in this case Hidlay’s underhook) plays into the way Green has wrestled these last couple years. He’ll keep his hand on the mat and legs back, but if Pantaleo can get to his legs, there’s no reason to think Green can’t.
What makes Hidlay so effective against Pantaleo is what makes Green so effective against Nolf: the ability to get four pointers. Given the compact nature of the field, expect those four pointers to have massive implications in the championship bracket. If we get a Pantaleo/Nolf semi, a point of emphasis will be Nolf’s ability to either dig himself out of a hole again or avoid being down in the first place.
Last year's Final X runner-up Jason Chamberlain will be in Raleigh, as well as Pan Am champ Anthony Ashnault. Both will get low seeds, so an early upset is what they'll need to catapult them into the finals.
Even given the absurd happenings of the Open, it seems like we're going to get Green vs Nolf on Sunday. Nolf is 0-3 against Green, and I'm not picking him to start beating the two-time world medalist now. It might be the most anticipated series of the weekend, and it'll make the winner better.
Sitting in Finals: Isaiah Martinez, Titan Mercury/Illinois RTC
- Tommy Gantt, Titan Mercury/Wolfpack WC
- Anthony Valencia, ASU Wrestling
- Logan Massa, Michigan RTC
- Richie Lewis, NYAC
- Brian Murphy, MYAC/NJRTC
- Dan Vallimont, NYAC/Penn RTC
- Joey Lavallee, Titan Mercury/Valley RTC
- Jared Frayer, Titan Mercury/Southeast RTC
After winning his second straight U.S. Open, Isaiah Martinez gave one of the best interviews of his career. In it, he mentioned he's never been in a better place, and then later that night got engaged. Imar made a point to mention that the gap between he and Jordan Burroughs is much smaller than most people would expect. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen, but on the surface Martinez seems to feel confident that no one can stop him from getting another crack at JB in Lincoln.
One of the most fun wrestlers to watch grow over the past few years has been Tommy Gantt. At a great weight for his frame, with one of the best paces in the game, and wrestling in his home gym this weekend, Gantt should make it to the finals opposite Imar. He fell in last year's challenge tournament finals 5-3 to Nazar Kulchytskyy, so I do wonder if Nazar potentially moves up. However, even if he does, I don't see anyone else coming out of this bracket besides Gantt.
Richie Lewis will be at the Trials after winning the Schultz in January. We should get yet another Logan Massa/Anthony Valencia match, a not infrequent occurrence between NCAA and Juniors these past four or so years. It was good to see Jared Frayer qualify, but he'll probably be the only one out of Blacksburg competing at 74kg, as Junior world champ Mekhi Lewis will not be in attendance.
Sitting in Finals: Alex Dieringer, Titan Mercury/Cowboy RTC
- Zahid Valencia, Sunkist Kids
- Mark Hall, Nittany Lion WC
- Chance Marsteller, Titan Mercury/Lehigh Valley WC
- Nick Becker, Askren Wrestling Academy
- Matt Finesilver, Blue Blood WC
- Geno Morelli, Nittany Lion WC
- Stacey Davis, Titan Mercury/Wolfpack WC
- Ben Harvey, West Point RTC
The perception of this weight has shifted dramatically over the past few months, but it's back to where it was in the first place. Coming out of 2018, there was no question Kyle Dake was the best in the world at 79kg, but many felt that Alex Dieringer would also have been a world medalist based on his international performances. And since Zahid Valencia beat up Ringer twice, the consensus was that Zahid would also be able to contend on the senior level right away.
Then we weren't sure if Dake would drop to 74kg this year or not, and if Zahid or Mark Hall might try to position themselves into an Olympic weight. But then Dake accepted the Final X berth, Ringer ran through the Open, Zahid is confirmed to be wrestling in Raleigh, and Hall won the last chance qualifier. It's the first time in quite a few years we've had four legitimate senior level medal threats at one weight, and it comes at a time when there are 10 weight classes!
Valencia and Hall should be on opposite sides, setting up a one match final on Saturday for the right to face Dieringer in a best-of-three series on Sunday. It's a match we've never seen in freestyle, but they have built perhaps the greatest college rivalry of all-time. After the Scuffle, Hall said in his interview that he spent last summer working on his sprawl and keeping guys off his legs instead of relying on his scrambling, adjustments to his skills that he said will help him win world titles.
At this point, I'd lean about 60/40 in favor of Zahid to win the challenge tournament, though I have a hard time believing he'll be able to replicate how badly he beat Dieringer a year ago. While I think it will be closer, and that Ringer is even better than he was coming into the Trials than he was going into WTT in Rochester, the prevailing thought in my mind is that we'll see Zahid vs Dake once again at Final X.
Sitting in Finals: Pat Downey, Titan Mercury/NJRTC
- Nick Heflin, Titan Mercury/Oklahoma RTC
- Sammy Brooks, NYAC/Hawkeye WC
- Myles Martin, Titan Mercury/Ohio RTC
- Brett Pfarr, Minnesota Storm
- Nathan Jackson, NYAC/NJRTC
- Kenneth Courts, Titan Mercury/Finger Lakes WC
- Nino Bonaccorsi, Pittsburgh WC
There will be a heightened level of attention paid to 86kg at the Trials after David Taylor's injury at Beat the Streets. It's possible some guys change weights to try to increase their chances at a world team, but that seems unlikely since no one knows yet how much time, if any, that Taylor will miss.
Pat Downey is wrestling better than ever since moving to the NJRTC, having now won the Dave Schultz and U.S. Open. He is 0-2 against international opponents this year, but both were very high level (Yurieski Torreblanca of Cuba and Slavik Naniev of Russia) and he was facing them in their home country. Having beaten Nick Heflin, Myles Martin, and Brett Pfarr this year, Downey will be very confident no matter who makes it through that he can win these Trials.
Two training partners of Downey, one former and one current, also should probably lead to Downey being the favorite. PD3 made a point to say he's undefeated in freestyle against Sammy Brooks, who he used to train with at the Hawkeye WC, and Nate Jackson is coming up from 79kg, he trains with Downey now at the NJRTC. Brooks teched Jackson in drastically different ways in Vegas, 11-0 on the front side and then reeling off 20 unanswered after being down 10-1 on the backside.
Martin remains the most fascinating person in this bracket. A U23 world teamer last year, he was the heavy favorite to win NCAAs but fell in the semis and was up 7-0 on Downey at the Open, but lost 9-7 and did not wrestle back on day two. If he's back on track, I think he presents the biggest threat to Downey, though waiting in the semis is his nemesis Brooks, who has never lost to Martin.
I believe Brooks makes it to the challenge tournament finals against Heflin, where he avenges his open loss and takes the rubber match. All they did in the first four and a half minutes in Vegas was trade shot clock points before Heflin got a body lock and threw Brooks for four. That would ultimately be the difference in the match as Brooks would pick up a late takedown. While it would be great for the fans to see more bombs out of these two, I think neither gets in those positions and it comes down to leg attacks and stepouts, a match that favors Brooks.
70kg: Green over Nolf in two matches
74kg: Martinez over Gantt in two matches
79kg: Zahid over Dieringer in three matches
86kg: Downey over Brooks in two matches