Only Jordan Burroughs was not in Vegas to "defend" their spot as the top freestyle wrestler heading in to the final World Championships before the Olympic year. This, and a slew of contenders, made this tournament very interesting as the Olympic team shakes up. Of course, not to be overlooked is when action returns to Sin City this September for the 2015 World Championships. Everyone wants in for this opportunity to compete against the World's best while having the comfort of being on your home turf. USA Wrestling is also looking for a better showing than the very disappointing 10th place finish in 2014 in Tashkent.
My big question before last Friday was which veterans of the 2014 team would get knocked off. With the wealth of talent in these brackets it would have been really surprising if all of them held court. Two were knocked off, but it was perhaps the two most wouldn't think would happen (Ed Ruth & Jake Varner). I think what we are finding out is while we crave rivalries (weight classes that are between just two guys), our 2016 Olympic Team is a large question mark. That's probably a good thing because it shows the talent we have. It is a possibly bad thing, because some talent that'll win spots in Iowa City in 11 months may not have any significant international experience.
Here are my random thoughts:
1) Ed Ruth & Jake Varner should have won their brackets in theory, but didn't and that's probably great. I like the idea that they'll be pushed especially since many considered 2014 Varner to not be prepared. We don't want guys with a locked up spot that don't have to work to be on the Olympic team. We need really motivated guys just to represent our colors.
2) Tony Ramos keeps winning. Let's not forget Ramos was a big surprise winner at the 2014 trials (also remember he didn't win the Open). Ramos survived Nick Simmons, Joe Colon, and Andrew Hochstrasser. It's an impressive win for the Hawkeye, but the weight class is still wide open.
3) Nick Simmons took 3rd. After a very odd appearance at the Bill Farrell, I wondered what was left of the over 30 Sparty Alum and former World Team member. He wasn't in the pre-seeds which made me think USA Wrestling felt the same way. Instead Simmons had a great tournament with wins over Zach Sanders, Joey Dance, Angel Escobedo, and Joe Colon. Simmons is still a contender is an understatement.
4) Kendrick Maple is a handful at the lower weights. After a poor senior season at 149 (still an AA though), Maple reappeared at 61kg. Being able to weigh in the night before is a plaus for weight cutting and Maple can use his reach and leverage with the lower weight opponents. He took 2nd after pinning Alan Waters in 30 seconds in the semis and just falling short to Reece Humphrey 7-6.
5) The shot clock is not effective against stalling. Jordan Oliver got a questionable call over Kellen Russell in the semis with about 45 seconds left. Oliver than ran away and stiff armed for 45 seconds and the ref is powerless with freestyle only really (fleeing rarely gets called) has the shot clock to call stalling. The shot clock seems like a formality as well. 0-0 after 90 seconds and someone goes on the clock. 30 seconds in to the 2nd period then the other wrestler goes on the clock. It's bad, and somehow JO running for close to a minute was as bad as someone with 4 seconds left. Freestyle needs something better.
6) Don't sleep on Kellen Russell! I feel guys like Russell get put on the back burner and forgotten about at this point in the cycle (again my point of wanting rivalries between 2 guys on not weights where 5-8 guys could actually win). Russell was a 2-time NCAA champ himself and the 2014 US Open champ. Oh and he also beat Logan Stieber twice this tournament.
7) Gotta love healthy Dustin Schlatter. He tore his way to the finals (4 wins totaling 41-0 score tally) before being stopped by the defensive legs of Marable 4-2. He'll learn from this and has a really good shot at the trials this year. (James Green did take 3rd here so buyer beware on writing him off)
8) Anthony Valencia came out firing but then found out what it's like to wrestle a stonemen (GOT) like Andrew Howe. The 4-0 lead for Valencia in this first minute was just a precursor to 5 minutes of being worked over by Howe. Impressive wrestling by both though.
9) Most finals in freestyle are low scoring as is the nature of our sport. When 2 exceptional wrestlers face off the scoring opportunities are less often there. It is very pleasant to know the that Ed Ruth & Jake Herbert don't seem to have that problem. This time Herbert bested Ruth with a 13-11 final. Herbert had a large lead but then found out it's hard to stall against Ruth as he kept coming. Herbert not being seeded in the top 3 was ridiculous and he wrestled (mullet flowing) like a man possessed. It was great to watch and makes another weight class a question mark.
10) Kyle Snyder had a rough NCAA final when Gadson performed his signature move and then crafted a catch phrase. Less than two moths later Snyder knocks off Olympic Gold Medalist Jake Varner. Varner struggled to put up points this tournament against Enock Francois, JD Bergman, and Snyder. The young guns Snyder along with J'Den Cox were impressive in this tournament creating doubt that this weight class is locked up going forward.
11) Tervel Dlagnev defeated reigning 2-time NCAA Champ Nick Gwiazdowski 8-2 and sits solidly a top the hill. Gwiz and Coon (who chose to go Greco on Friday after all and took 3rd) are athletic and coming for him. It just may not be enough time left for the amount of seasoning it will take to knock off Tervel. I don't think anyone else is capable at heavyweight.