Cliff Keen Las Vegas Bracket Reactions

Taylor Lujan

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The Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational brackets are here at last. Nothing better than digging into 10 fresh brackets at a tournament of this caliber. So let’s begin with or rapid reactions!

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125 Pounds

Pre-seeds held. Right out the chute Malik Heinselman draws top seed Jack Mueller. Cole Verner has former national qualifier Jake Gromacki in round one before he gets to face 9-seed Patrick McKee. Jakob Camacho has Christian Moody of Oklahoma right away to round out the best Round of 32 matches on the top side.

Looking at the bottom side, Deviin Schroder will have a game Dom Lajoie in the first round. Looking ahead, Schroder will then see Joey Prata, so his road to the quarters isn’t a cakewalk. Brandon Courtney is looking at Josh Portillo in the Round of 16; Portillo is ranked second in Division II for Nebraska-Kearney and has a win over Verner this year. Alex Thomsen is your 10 seed but draws Jack Medley, potentially a bad matchup for him. Thomsen has looked excellent this year on his feet but the bottom position seems to have cost him some matchups, and that is where Medley is strongest. The winner of that match gets Jace Koelzer.

As for juicy quarterfinals we’ll see today, I like the winner of that trio mentioned above against #7 Alex Mackall of Iowa State, the Northern Colorado coaches in particular feel Koelzer is in an excellent spot in the bracket to make a deep run. Then you’ve got Schroder/Prata against Courtney (or possibly Portillo), because there’s good parity in this weight. With Mueller likely to terrorize the top side, the bottom quarters and semis are more probable to be competitive.


133 Pounds

No changes to the pre-seeds through nine, but Tye Varndell of Edinboro slid up to the 10 replacing Quinn Kinner, followed by Louie Hayes at 11. Let’s once again start up top, where unseeded Todd Small has a huge opportunity in front of him to attempt to knock off #6 Chas Tucker in the second round. Collin Gerardi starts off with a bye and then we’ll get a ranked matchup between he and Chance Rich in the Round of 16. Jack Skudlarczyk looked great against Nebraska, can he continue that momentum against four seed Jarrett Trombley in round two?

Down below, true freshman Ridge Lovett gets a big test right away against 2017 CKLV champ Taylor LaMont. There’s not as much juice here matchup wise, but the best potential first round matchup in this bracket is at the very bottom, with true freshman Travis Ford-Melton drawing #7 Montorie Bridges, and the winner getting another true freshman in Mosha Schwartz. Louie Hayes against Anthony Madrigral could be fun in the second round.

Given the upset potential at this weight, these quarters are good not great. Might just need to go quad view and watch them all just in case something wild happens.


141 Pounds

Up top we start off with a good one between eight seed Cole Mattin of Michigan and Brian Courtney of Virginia. The winner of that one should get #1 Luke Pletcher in tonight's quarterfinals. Also on the top side Michael Blockhus starts off with Chad Red, a match that did not get Blockhus' way in the dual. If seeds hold, we'll also get the highly anticipated Red/Tariq Wilson quarter tonight.

Down below, there are two clear paths for the seeds to go chalk. Mitch McKee could get a good challenge right away from Navonte Demison but otherwise all signs point to him facing Ian Parker in the quarters. There shouldn't be much stopping Dom Demas from meeting Mitch Moore in the quarters, either.


149 Pounds

This bracket could go any number of ways. The top 8 seem like they’ll make the quarterfinals, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess. In the top quarter, we could see a rematch of a controversial bout from earlier this year between Northwestern’s Yahya Thomas and Northern Iowa’s Max Thomsen. Thomsen, the 1 seed, got the better of that match.

The second quarter is seeded to be between highly touted Minnesota freshman Brayton Lee and Clarion super senior Brock Zacherl. The 4 seed Zacherl would be the favorite here, but don’t sleep on Lee.

The next quarter could see Griffin Parriott of Purdue against Sammy Sasso of Ohio State. Parriott has looked solid since his descent to 149, and Sasso is as good as it gets when he’s on.

The final quarter final could be between Collin Purinton of Nebraska and All-American Jarrett Degen of Iowa State. Purinton already has a win over the 1 seed Thomsen this year. A Purinton vs Degen match feels like it could be completely wild.

This weight has a few early matches to keep your eyes on. In the first round, top seed Max Thomsen will have Fresno State’s #21 Greg Gaxiola. Though Thomsen will be the favorite here, this is no easy draw. The second round could offer an intriguing match between #20 Josh Maruca and #8 Brock Zacherl as well as a showdown between #4 Colin Purinton and #15 Henry Pohlmeyer. Pohlmeyer owns a 4-2 decision over Purinton from a season ago.


157 Pounds

This weight class is all about the top four. Our semis could include #1 Hayden Hidlay vs #7 Kendall Coleman as well as #2 David Carr against #4 Ryan Deakin. We’ve never seen these two potential matchups, and they’re as exciting as any in the whole tournament.

Hayden Hidlay’s path to the semis looks navigable. His toughest test could come in the quarterfinals against Nebraska’s Peyton Robb who hasn’t faced a lot of top competition but who has been a bonus point machine.

It is worth noting that Kendall Coleman will have a tough first-round opponent in Minnesota’s Carson Brolsma. If he beats Brolsma, he could see a very game Colton Yapoujian of Cornell. All of that would happen before a potential rematch with #11 Will Lewan who Coleman beat at the Michigan State Open.

David Carr’s path seems clear until the quarterfinals although he will see NDSU's solid Jared Franek in the first round. Assuming he makes the quarters, he could face a tough out in Oklahoma’s #20 Justin Thomas.

Ryan Deakin also appears to have a clear path to the quarterfinals where he could meet 7 seed Jacori Teemer, a freshman with all the potential in the world.


165 Pounds

This bracket is now missing Virginia Tech’s David McFadden and looks like it will come down to a Josh Shields vs Isaiah White showdown. White and Shields have a storied past. Their most recent meeting took place at the Journeymen Collegiate Classic where White won 7-1.

There is plenty more action in this bracket. One potential second-round matchup to watch features North Dakota State’s #8 Andrew Fogarty and Iowa State’s Chase Straw. Fogarty’s top game could give him the edge here, but Straw has looked increasingly solid throughout his Cyclone career. Fogarty did have a win over Straw back in 2015.

One quarterfinal to circle at this weight is the 5 seed Thomas Bullard of NC State and the 4 seed Ethan Smith of Ohio State. Both of these youngsters have looked solid so far this season. Bullard is on a 7 match win streak while Smith recently beat 6th ranked David McFadden.


174 Pounds

A rematch from the Northern Iowa vs Nebraska dual meet from two weeks ago looms large, as Bryce Steiert of UNI has the #1 seed and Husker Mikey Labriola has the #2. Steiert beat Labriola 2-1 in a battle of escape points plus a locked hands call on Labriola. 

The weight class is deep nationwide and a lot of that depth showed up in Vegas. For example, All-American Brandon Womack is just the eighth seed. Also in the top half of the bracket are #4 Anthony Valencia and #5 Devin Skatzka, who are poised for a quarterfinal collision.

All-American contender Kimball Bastian could only muster the fourteenth seed, which means #3 seed Dylan Lydy will have a dogfight in the second round. Lydy beat Bastian 4-2 at the Journeymen Northeast Duals earlier this season, and Bastian will be looking for revenge. 

Another outstanding second-round match we could see is human highlight reel #11 Anthony Mantanona vs #6 seed Daniel Bullard. 


184 Pounds

The #1 pound-for-pound wrestler in America, Zahid Valencia, has the #1 seed, naturally. Zahid could be tested ear;y in the quarterfinals, however, by the winner of #9 Jelani Embree and #8 Sammy Colbray, which should be an entertaining bout in its own right.

184 is considered to be the best weight class in Vegas, and this bracket shows exactly why, as the other quarterfinal could be #5 Taylor Venz vs #4 Lou DePrez. If Venz wins, which is no sure thing, he could get another crack at Valencia, who barely hung on to beat Venz 8-7 at the Journeymen Collegiate Classic less than a month ago.

Taylor Lujan, the #2 seed, handled Venz by a much more comfortable margin 15-6 just two ago. Lujan will likely have to get by Hunter Bolen in the quarters and then Trent Hidlay in the semis for a chance to prove himself against the two-time NCAA champion on the other side of the bracket. 

With that much talent in once bracket, it’s safe to say that whoever make the podium here in the Las Vegas Convention Center will also have a good shot at making the top eight in Minneapolis at the end of the season. 

Pretty much every bout in this weight class will be decent, but one under the radar bout that could be extra fun is #6 Ben Darmstadt vs #11 Owen Webster in the second round.


197 Pounds

Kollin Moore will be a heavy favorite in every match he wrestles in his quest for a third straight Vegas title, however, Eric Schultz could be waiting in the semis, and the last time those two met Moore needed sudden-victory to get the dub. 

The bottom half of the bracket is much more wide open. Jay Aiello and Tanner Sloan have the #2 and #3 seed respectively, but upsets could come from #6 Jake Woodley, #7 Christian Brunner, #10 Lucas Davison or unseeded Colin McCracken, Joel Shapiro or Jacob Seely. All those potential spoilers have a big opportunity to move up in the rankings and help position themselves for a high seed when March rolls around. 

An outstanding first-round bout can be found between Greg Bulsak of Clarion and Tanner Orndorff of Utah Valley. 


285 Pounds

Mason Parris has the number one seed, so he won’t have a chance to wrestle #2 seed Tate Orndorff or #3 Tanner Hall -two competitors who are controversially ranked ahead of him- until the finals, assuming none of them suffer upsets before then. 

Parris should have no trouble getting to the semifinals where could see #4 seed Chase Singletary, a bout in which he will be the heavy favorite.

Orndorff and Hall should likewise maneuver through the landmines of the first three rounds and meet in the semifinals as well. 

A good first-round match between unseeded heavies to watch is Zachary Knighton-Ward vs Thomas Penola. Penola is currently acquiring mass as he attempts a Boilermaker Bulkjob, moving up from 197 where he previously found success this season. That mass will come in handy against the very massive ZKW. 

Another good first-round match is #12 Yaraslau Slavikouski and unseeded Joe Doyle. The winner will have a decent shot at upsetting #5 Christian Lance, which would put them in the quarters which would set themselves up nicely for a podium placement.

NLWC Event Match Notes And Takeaways

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