FloWrestling's Midseason Awards: Hodge, Best Coach, And Rookie Of The Year

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It's award szn! We've reached the midway point (or so) of the year, and although we aren't giving away the same plethora of awards as we do at the end year, we're going to hand out the big three right now: the Hodge Trophy, Coach of the Year, and Freshman of the Year.

We are well aware that there are still five more weeks of the regular season, plus the conference tournaments and NCAA championships, so things are bound to change. But it's good to recognize coaches and athletes for what they've done so far, so that's what we're going to do!

Hodge Trophy: Zahid Valencia (184), Arizona State

This is no surprise if you follow the Hodge rankings I do. To me it's a three-horse race between Zahid, Spencer Lee, and Mark Hall. The separating point right now for Zahid is pins, as he has six in 14 D1 matches (43 percent) vs Spencer's two in nine matches (22 percent). However, Spencer's ability to finish matches quickly, and the fact that he's bonused everyone, makes him an obvious and pretty close #2 in my book.

With past accomplishments being a criteria it's going to be difficult for Mark to leapfrog Zahid, especially since Penn State didn't do the Scuffle this year. He's had an odd last three matches, as he stalled out Joey Gunther and got an injury default win over Joe Grello. He'll have two more big opportunities the next two weeks in #6 Mikey Labriola on Friday and then #3 Michael Kemerer a week later.

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Finalists: Zahid Valencia, Spencer Lee, Mark Hall


Coach of the Year: Tony Ersland, Purdue

While things like the Hodge and Freshman of the Year are a little easier in March because we have the final NCAA results, something like Coach of the Year is a little less straightforward. There are several ways to look at it, from giving it to the coach of the title team to a guy earning it for an unexpected team trophy or first national champ, as well as factoring in dual performance and how a program improves throughout the year.

There's no question Tom Brands would be a justified choice if Iowa wins its first national title in a decade, and on the other side if Penn State overcomes their bevy of injuries Cael Sanderson could be a wise choice. Wisconsin's first team trophy since 2010 would likely get Chris Bono some discussion and likely be the result of Tristan Moran going from preseason #11 to high All-American, plus a Seth Gross national title after transferring in.

But right now I'm looking at some other coaches in the Big Ten in Tony Ersland of Purdue and Matt Storniolo of Northwestern. Right now Ersland has the edge there due to the Boilermakers' 21-13 win over the Wildcats in Evanston, though Sebastian Rivera and Yahya Thomas both missed that dual. Purdue started the year unranked and is up to #10 in our tournament rankings, while Northwestern went up from 16th to eighth.

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Similarly Virginia Tech has climbed from 18th to start the year to #11 now, and that's without the services of NCAA champ Mekhi Lewis while also suffering season-ending injuries to Korbin Myers and Brent Moore. They're second in our dual rankings and begin their ACC schedule this Friday against North Carolina.

We should also mention Mark Manning after Nebraska won CKLV and Chris Ayres taking Princeton from 15th in the preseason to #8 right now. Coach of the Year is also tricky because it singles out the head coach for something that also includes the work of his assistants and the accomplishments of their athletes.

While Sanderson and Brands are tremendous coaches, I'm more partial to the somewhat backhanded description of "most with the least," and to this point in January that is Ersland. He's taken Devin Schroder from #12 to #6, Kendall Coleman from unranked to #6, Dylan Lydy up eight spots to #4, and Christian Brunner jumping five spots up to #5.

Finalists: Tony Ersland, Matt Storniolo, Tony Robie


Freshman of the Year: Tony Cassioppi (285), Iowa

This one surprised me. My gut reaction told me it would be Brayton Lee or Trent Hidlay, until I started going through their resumes. Brayton is ranked #4 at 149 and won the Cliff Keen Las Vegas in December, which was a huge part of why he popped into my mind first. He's 18-2 overall (14-2 against D1 competition), and one of those losses was a DQ when Jimmy Hoffman couldn't finish the match.

The Gopher freshman has five ranked wins, all inside the top 15. Two of those are top-10 wins (#6 Sasso and #10 Pohlmeyer), as well as a win over past All-American Max Thomsen in the CKLV semis. Then looking at NC State 184 Trent Hidlay, who was teammates on the Junior world team with Brayton, he is also 18-2 on the year with a 14-2 record against other D1 opponents. He has four ranked wins, highlighted by his victories over #4 Taylor Lujan and #5 Louie DePrez at CKLV. His only win over an AA was when he beat Ben Darmstadt, now ranked 11th up at 197, and made the finals both in Vegas and at the Southern Scuffle.

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Finally we get to Cassioppi. Big Tony is undefeated at 12-0, one of just a handful of freshmen, and has beaten six ranked opponents (he defeated #25 Thomas Penola twice), plus a victory over Zach Elam, who is currently redshirting but started the season ranked eighth. He's the only freshman with wins over two AAs (#4 Matt Stencel and #5 Trent Hillger) and has a major tournament title at Midlands. He's tied with Hidlay and David Carr for the highest-ranked at their individual weight.

Other considerations are Scuffle champ Sammy Alvarez of Rutgers, who's ranked 11th at 133 and has six ranked wins, Scuffle champ Real Woods of Stanford, ranked #10 at 141 with four ranked victories (plus Gfeller), and Iowa State's #3 David Carr at 157, with two top-10 wins and four ranked wins overall.

Finalists: Tony Cassioppi, Trent Hidlay, Brayton Lee

Six Must See Day 1 Matches At The RTC Cup

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Cincinnati is known as the Queen City, and this weekend it will reign supreme over the wrestling world as it plays host to the inaugural RTC Cup presented by Titan Mercury. With six of the nation's best RTC's squaring off for a big payday, we are sure to get fire dual after fire dual, but these six potential matchups stand out from the rest. 

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Get To Know Dual Criteria Before The RTC Cup

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It's hard to beat the thrill of a good dual meet, especially when the stakes go up as the dual unfolds, and the final match decides the winning team. This weekend's RTC Cup will be packed with matches that should come down to the wire, but remember, this is UWW dual meet criteria and not folkstyle dual meet criteria. Before the RTC cup kicks off, bone up on the criteria that will decide which team wins.

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57kg Mercenaries Could Swing The RTC Cup

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Every match at the RTC Cup could be the difference in which team wins these highly competitive duals. This was incentive enough for four of the six RTCs to pick up 57kg wrestlers for their rosters in the weeks leading up to the event.

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Bader Show: Dave Habat

Dave Habat

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Bader and Bray talk with Dave Habat of the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club before he takes the mat at the RTC Cup this weekend.

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Tech Notes: What Gable Needs To Do To Get Over The Hump vs Gwiz

Gable Steveson

Gable Steveson took two-time world medalist, Nick Gwiazdowski to the brink in their two matches at Final X. So, what does the young phenom need to do to get over the hump this weekend at the RTC Cup? We turned a discerning eye on the things that Gable did well in his set against Gwiz and the things that will need to improve if he hopes to turn the tables against the Wolfpack legend this Friday night.

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FRL 580 - Day 1 RTC Cup Predictions

580. RTC Cup Day 1 Predictions

On episode 580 of FRL, the boys make their predictions for day 1 of the RTC Cup. 

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Get Excited: 125 kg Will Be An Olympic Trials Preview This Weekend

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57 kg and 65 kg are phenomenal, but I think most people have 125 kg circled as the weight to watch in Cincinnati. Two-time World medalist and NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski, three-time age level World champion Gable Steveson, and 2019 Junior World champion Mason Parris headline a phenomenal weight; and all in the same pool.

Iowa State Adds Cuban Junior World Silver Medalist Yonger Bastida

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AMES, Iowa – Iowa State head coach Kevin Dresser announced today the addition of Junior World Silver Medalist, Yonger Bastida, to the Iowa State Wrestling program. Bastida comes to Ames by way of Trinidad, Cuba. He projects to wrestle at 197 or heavyweight for the Cyclones and will be eligible this season.

Bader Show: Mike Macchiavello & Matt Kolodzik

Mike Macchiavello & Matt Kolodzik

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Bader and Bray talk with Mike Macchiavello of the Wolfpack RTC and Matt Kolodzik of the NJRTC before they compete in this weekend's RTC Cup.

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Cliff Keen WC to Host India's Bajrang Punia for Month-Long Training Camp

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Cliff Keen Wrestling Club/Michigan RTC will host three-time world medalist Bajrang Punia of India for a month-long training camp in December, the club announced Sunday (Nov. 29). Already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics after his bronze-medal world finish in 2019, Bajrang is currently ranked No. 2 in the world at 65kg."We continue to elevate our training environment at Michigan and are excited to have Bajrang here in Ann Arbor," said Michigan head coach Sean Bormet. "I've closely watched his wrestling over the last several years, and I really respect his fierce competitiveness and work ethic. He is highly regarded around the globe and is a world-class training partner. It's an outstanding opportunity for everyone.""I am excited to train with Michigan's Cliff Keen Wrestling Club," said Bajrang. "This will be my first time going there, so I am looking forward to training with the team. They have some great coaches in Sergei [Beloglazov] and Sean, and I hope to get good partners as well. I know it will be cold there, but I'm prepared. The U.S. has been a great destination for me. There are a lot of wrestling fans there who support me, for which I'm thankful. I'll do my best."Bajrang medaled at 65kg at the last two World Championships, claiming silver in 2018 before his bronze finish in 2019, and previously claimed bronze at 60kg in 2013. He also took 65kg silver at the 2017 U23 World Championships. He is a six-time Asian Championships medalist, capturing gold in 2017 and 2019, and twice reached the finals at the quadrennial Asian Games, with a gold-medal finish in 2018.He placed in the top two at each of his UWW Ranking Series events in 2020, defeating American Jordan Oliver, 4-3, to capture gold at the Matteo Pellicone tournament in January before earning silver at the Asian Championships in February. With those performances, he has assured himself a seeded start at the Olympic Games next summer.Bajrang will arrive in Michigan next week, and while stateside, he will participate in FloWrestling's eight-man 150-pound bracket on Dec. 18 in Austin, Texas.