By Rob Sherrill, W.I.N. High School Editor
I am not writing this column from the FargoDome fly swatter firmly in hand. However, I hope I will give you the flavor flies and all of a week in the 72-degree (at least inside) world that is the ASICS Vaughan USA Wrestling Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D.
For wrestling fans, unlike Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, USA Wrestling truly has the real midsummer classic. Held July 19-26 at the Dome, one of high school wrestling’s shrines, perhaps 3,000 wrestlers of high school age will compete on as many as 24 mats to get the best competition possible anywhere any time.
This year, I’ll be starting a new attendance streak, too. Last year, I was unable to attend the event; the first Juniors I’ve missed since 1978. This year, though, everything is in order and I’m looking forward to seeing some folks that I only get to see a couple of times a year these days.
Ready to solve the problems of the wrestling world? Cast your ballots below.
What five states will be the most impressive (in alphabetical order)?
1. Illinois ‘ New year, same old M.O. Want proof of how tough Illinois state tournament is? Of the 20 Illinois wrestlers who became placewinners in the FILA Cadet Nationals in April remember, this was a NATIONAL tournament 15 did not place in the state tournament this year. Granted, 127.75-pound freestyle champion, Tony Ramos of Carol Stream Glenbard North High, is a two-time state champion, but the state’s two Greco-Roman champions, Josh Castellano (138.75) of Bensenville Fenton High and Mark Stenberg (152) of Lockport High, have barely tasted any success at Champaign. Stenberg advanced to the state meet for the first time this year, finishing sixth, while Castellano has yet to earn a state medal. I’m guessing that would be surprising to the state champions and placewinners they pounded en route to their titles.
So what do the Penny Savers have on paper? Who cares? A new group of no-names will exit the Dome with another load of hardware.
2. Iowa Waverly-Shell Rock High and Iowa City West High, the state’s two Class 3A powers, demonstrated plenty of star power this year and should comprise the heart of this team’s accomplishments. You’ve heard the names: West’s Nate Moore (130), Dylan Carew (135), Nick Moore (140), Derek St. John (145-152) and Grant Gambrall (171-189) who’s had one of the hottest springs anywhere and WSR’s Cody Caldwell (119), Mark Ballweg (135), Dylan Wrage (189) and Eric Thompson (285). The Hawks are in the team title scenario if most of these guys show. Add Matt McDonough (135) of Marion Linn-Mar High and Trent Weatherman (152) of Ballard Huxley to the mix, too.
3. New Jersey The Shore Gang will have the usual Blair Academy contingent: Chris Villalonga (125), Austin Ormsbee (130-135), Mario Mason (145-152) and Corey Peltier (171) are all solid medal or title threats. If defending champion Scott Winston (160) of Jackson Memorial High and Dan White (130) of Hightstown Peddie School, who has twice finished third, return, a top-five freestyle trip is likely.
4. Ohio Monroeville High’s young guns, brothers Hunter (112) and Logan Stieber (119), Cam Tessari (125-130) and Chris Phillips (171), are around for another two or three years to terrorize opponents. Lakewood St. Edward High’s Gus Sako (103) and Jamie Clark (112) should be in the hunt as well, along with heavyweights John Hiles of Columbus DeSales High, Orlando Scales of Cincinnati Elder High and Jeremy Johnson of Broadview Heights Brecksville High. Wrestlers like Chris Kline of Westerville North High and St. Paris Graham High’s Zach Neibert and Brian Stephens used Fargo success as a springboard to winter victories. Who will follow them this year?
5. Pennsylvania Keystone state performances in recent history have had an up-and-down quality to them, but it’s hard to imagine another state matching their young guns. Twin brothers Dylan (135) and Andrew Alton (140) of Mill Hall Central Mountain High, Josh Kindig (135) of Schuylkill Haven Blue Mountain High and Marshall Peppelman (145) of Harrisburg Central Dauphin High are four of the best sophomores you’ll find anywhere. All four move up from the Cadet to the Junior level this year, so it will be interesting to watch their progress. And with the state’s Fargo contingent having racked up a combined 649 victories last year ‘ a comfortable margin over any other state you know there’s plenty behind them. (Thanks, trackwrestling, for providing those figures.)
Why do these five states have a shot?
1. California Lightweights Cody Pack of Quincy High, Zach Zimmer of Fresno Clovis West High and David Klingsheim of Brentwood Liberty High have been there and done that. So has Hunter Collins (171) of Gilroy High. No state, it seems, has been hurt more by not getting the most big names to the Dome. Some underclassmen that may be ready: state champions Vlad Dombroski (140) of Sacramento Natomas High and Roger McCovey (285) of Crescent City Del Norte High, Tyler Sheridan (145) of Concord DeLaSalle High and Drew Meulman (215) of Mountain View St. Francis High.
2. Missouri This state has learned a lot about performing when the bright lights are on. Gone, however, are the upper-weight stars of previous years. Can Craig Wilson of Farmington High reach the finals again? How will Kansas City Oak Park High standouts Mac Bailey (135) and Elijah Madison (285) keep up as their weight classes get tougher? Will four-time state champions Colin Pierce of Kearney High and Tyler Holloway of Brookfield High elevate their Cadet success to the Junior level? Some successful newcomers: Cody Brewer (103) of Oak Park, Alan Waters (119), Kaleb Friedley (125-130) and John Eblen (171) of Kansas City Park Hill High and Greg Amos (145) of Wentzville Holt High.
3. New York I gave the Empire State a big buildup last year, but the actual performance fell a little short of my expectations. They’ve still got the horses, though. Kyle Dake (130) of Lansing High has had a huge spring and Ian Paddock of Warsaw High, the wrestler who beat him in the state finals, are in the position of having something to prove. So does Steven Keith (112) of Shoreham-Wading River High, who didn’t sit around and mope after being dethroned as state champion. He’s been on fire this spring. So have Donnie Vinson (145) of Whitney Point High and Austin Meys (171) of Clifton Park Shenendehowa High.
4. Oklahoma This is a big year for some of the states high-profile underclassmen. Three-time state champion Ladd Rupp (119) of Perry High has done it plenty of times under the Dome, but put fellow juniors Joey Sheridan (160) of Tulsa Union High, Dallas Bailey (160) of Catoosa High and Chris Perry (189) of Stillwater High all squarely in the something to prove category.
5. Washington Defending Junior freestyle champion Michael Mangrum (145), who won despite going up three weight classes from the previous year, and Auburn (Wash.) Riverside High teammate Eric Jones (152) have been star power.
There’s more: lightweights Steven Romero of Sunnyside High, Efrain Aguilar of Graham-Kapowsin High and Brian Owen of Spokane (Wash.) University High, middleweights Jim Belleville of Olympia (Wash.) A.G. West Black Hills High and Derek Garcia of Sedro Woolley (Wash.) and former Fargo medalist Eric Starks (171) of Battle Ground High and Jake Swartz (171) of Auburn (Wash.) High.
How have the new rules affected the tournament?
On the plus side, they’ve cut down on the amount of time needed to contest the tournament. USA Wrestling has done an outstanding job in recent years running and managing the tournament in terms of keeping sessions short and spectator-friendly. Despite the fact the tournament goes on for an entire week, it doesn’t have a marathon feel or quality to it.
But they’ve created challenges, too. The new rules have made the Greco-Roman and freestyle disciplines more drastically different from the scholastic style than at any time in wrestling history as we know it. Anything that reduces the everyman quality of the Cadet and Junior Nationals threatens its growth and viability. We’ve seen the numbers from many states decline as travel and competition costs continue to climb. If FILA maintains these rules beyond Beijing, more and more wrestlers may consider the international styles less relevant to their future, making the popular saying, Summer Wrestlers Make Winter Champions, a progressively harder sell.
Still, when it comes right down to it, wrestling is wrestling. Which brings us back to an advantage: The Cadet and Junior Nationals still attract the best of the best. That’s what the best look for, regardless of the style. And that’s why Fargo always will have something unique and important to offer.
What are some of the toughest weight classes?
There are so many possibilities, but we’ll give you five. Some are very familiar with each other; others have never met. All or none of them could actually take place. Whichever of them do will be worth the price of admission. Some may wind up as more than a two-horse race.
112: Based on what’s happened so far this spring, Keith has joined Clark, Tyler Cox of Gillette (Wyo.) Campbell County High, Ryan Mango of St. Louis (Mo.) Whitfield School and Shane Young of Harrison City (Pa.) Penn-Trafford High as Junior favorites.
119: Pencil Ohio standouts David Taylor of Graham and Logan Stieber arguably the nation’s top junior against the nation’s top sophomore into a Junior freestyle final for the ages. This could be as exciting as their Walsh Ironman final two years ago, which Taylor won 3-2.
130: A weight class with Moore, Jordan Oliver of Easton (Pa.) High, Eric Grajales of Brandon (Fla.) High, Owen of Spokane (Wash.) University High, Dake, Paddock, and maybe even Ramos, will have the pundits scrambling. Oliver vs. Grajales? Everyone wants it. But since Grajales is a Greco specialist and Oliver goes the other direction, we might see an Oliver-Moore showdown instead. I’d settle for that.
145: Prior to the Olympic Trials, where Jake Deitcher of Anoka (Minn.) made the team at 145.5 pounds, there could have been a matchup between him and another future University of Minnesota star, Mario Mason of Blairstown (N.J.) Blair Academy. Now it will be a separator’s nightmare if Mangrum is here, too. Vinson will make things interesting on the Greco-Roman side. Juniors Belleville and R.J. Pena of Salem (Ore.) Sprague High and sophomores Peppelman, Garcia and Joe Cozart of Brandon High, depending on who’s in, make this a dizzying array of talent.
171: Even if Gambrall were to stay at 189, where he’s been much of the spring, this weight class was star-studded all year. Will it be the old guard, like Gambrall, Starks, Ben Bennett of Rockford (Mich.) High, Brian Roddy of St. Edward, Quentin Wright of Wingate (Pa.) Bald Eagle Area High or Travis Rutt of Jackson (Minn.) County Central High? Or one of the young guns, like Meys, Swartz, Ethan Lofthouse of Hyrum (Utah) Mountain Crest High or Ben Provisor of Stevens Point (Wis.) High? Stay tuned to find out.
Will the tournament decide the Asics Wrestler of the Year?
We�ll see. As you know, the Wrestler of the Year is not announced until the Junior National freestyle finals.
The three most high-profile candidates, among seniors, at least, are Oliver, named Wrestler of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association and the National Wrestling Coaches Association, Jason Welch of Walnut Creek (Calif.) Las Lomas High, who owns W.I.N.’s Junior Dan Hodge Trophy, and four-time Utah champion Jason Chamberlain of Springville High. Taylor and Grajales are two juniors also in the mix.
(Rob Sherrill is one of the top high school wrestling analysts in the country and a long-time columnist of W.I.N. He also publishes the American High School Wrestling Yearbook. To order a copy, e-mail him at email@example.com.)