It’s Showtime:

Ironman Returns to Walsh-Jesuit Better than Ever

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Once a year, Ohio wrestling fans are treated to the opportunity to see how the best in our state stack up against some of the best wrestlers in the nation.  Without fail, every year produces a timeless classic that fans will talk about for years to come. Last year, you had the epic Roddy-Phillips bouts, and we saw #1 rated Mario Mason (considered by some the nation’s best regardless of weight) go down- twice.  The year before, there was the unforgettable overtime pin of #1 ranked Zach Kemmerer by Shawn Harris of St. Edward, and a fairly high-profile bout some may recall between a couple of guys named Taylor and Stieber.

This year will be no different. You’ve got your marquee match-ups: Phillips/Lofthouse and Phillips/Ruth, Taylor/Kindig, Toal/Lang, White/Neibert, and the big one- Palmer/Alton….but the real story will be following who makes their big “coming out” this weekend as inevitably seems to happen on this incomparable weekend for wrestling. Starting at 112 lbs, here is a breakdown of what to expect at each weight.

Hunter Stieber’s toughest competitioin last season came from Gus Sako, and the two state champions could meet again this weekend. Photo Credit: Bob Tuneberg, Villager News

IRONMAN 112 LBS PREVIEW

1. Hunter Stieber
2. Devin Carter
3. Gus Sako
4. Evan Silver
5. Ty Mitch
6. Jerome Robinson
7. Mason Beckman
8. Kyle Johnson
9. Andrew Romanchik
11. Kagan Squire

This type of weight class is what makes the Ironman the Ironman.  Of the five best 112’s in Ohio (in my opinion), all five will be competing this weekend. Throw in returning runner-up and Super 32 Champ Devin Carter, cadet All-American Evan Silver of Blair, super-tough Mason Beckman of Pennsylvania and some exciting freshmen, and you have a completely unpredictable affair.

At the end of the day, the pick must be Hunter Stieber of Monroeville.  Stieber’s record of achievement speaks for itself.  Cadet National Champion and Runner-up, Ironman Champ, and an unbeaten state champion who never needed to utilize the third period from Sectionals through State.  Stieber is not as explosive as his older brother Logan (who is?) but his technical skills and focus are second-to-none.  As good as Ty Mitch and Evan Silver are in his half-bracket, it’s difficult  to not see Stieber emerging as a finalist.

This is what sums up just how tough this weight is best: State Champion Ty Mitch of Aurora will need to avenge three losses just to make the finals.  In the 2nd round, he faces Kagan Squire of Wadsworth (currently ranked #3 in the state in Division I but a bona-fide title contender), who upset him for 3rd place in Fargo this past summer.  Should he pass that test, he will next face cadet All-American Evan Silver of Blair, who defeated Mitch 11-4 at Ironman last year.  The road certainly does not get any easier, as he would then face Hunter Stieber in the semis.  Nevertheless, I would not count Mitch- who isn’t noted as much of a mat wrestler but is a superb TAKEDOWN ARTIST- out of any of these matches with the progress he showed down the stretch last year.

As tough as Mitch’s road to the finals is, the other side of the bracket may be even more daunting.  There are four wrestlers here with a virtually equal shot at getting to the finals in my view: Devin Carter, Gus Sako, Jerome Robinson, and Mason Beckman.  Sako and Robinson are well-known to Ohio wrestling fans.  Sako is the defending state champion in Division I and can certainly beat anyone here on any given weekend.  After finishing 3rd in Fargo in 2007, he failed to place this summer in an unbelievable weight class, in large part due to missing the greater part of the spring and summer with an injury.  Look for him to rebound this weekend.  Robinson is another wrestler who is looking for redemption.  Extremely explosive, he has at times struggled with mental errors that have caused him to lose close bouts. Last year he missed the majority of the season, and then made the ill-fated decision to move up to 119 before state where me made a quick exit.  However, Robinson possesses the raw talent to beat anyone in this bracket.

Look for Cam Tessari- shown here in a loss to David Taylor as last year’s Ironman- to emerge as one of the state’s premier wrestlers this weekend. Photo Credit: Bob Tuneberg, Villager News

I was very close to picking Mason Beckman of Pennsylvania to make the finals opposite Stieber.  Beckman is nationally ranked (#12) and split two bouts here last year with the excellent Cam Tessari. However, at the end of the day, once again, I have to go with track record. Devin Carter may not have the freestyle credentials of some others, but in folkstyle, his record speaks for itself- last year he was a finalist at the Ironman, Beast of the East, and Powerade (arguably the three toughest in-season high school tournaments in the nation).  A very quick wrestler with outstanding leg attacks, who is also very “dangerous”, this year he was the champion at Super 32  in very impressive fashion (winning handily over the wrestler who beat Robinson, to see the match go here: http://www.flowrestling.org/videos/coverage/view_video/234262-112-lbs-high-school-rankings/77379-112lbs-final-devin-carter-christiansburg-v-robert-dyar-vestavia-hills-al
).  Carter was beaten by a major decision by Stieber last year in the finals- look for the same winner but a closer score this time.

OWS Finals Projection:  Hunter Stieber dec. Devin Carter 7-3.

Most “Underseeded” Wrestler: I have two for you here, both unseeded entirely- freshmen David Jeffery of West Virginia and Isaac Jordan of Graham both come in with tremendous youth and middle school credentials but did not get a seed in part because of their lack of Fargo experience.  However, either will be a nightmare draw for one of the seeded guys in the first or second round.

Projected Ohio Place-winners: Stieber, Gus Sako, Ty Mitch, Jerome Robinson, Kagan Squire.

IRONMAN 119 LBS PREVIEW

1. Jamie Clark
2. Sean Boyle
3. Jesse Delgado
4. Shane Gentry
5. Gabe Gomez
6. James Inghram
7. Andrew Robertson
8. Derek Steeley
11. Jordan Hancock
12. Jacob Corrill
14. Nick Hannan

When I look at the results of all the nation’s best 119’s I can draw only one conclusion- Jamie Clark of St. Edward is the best wrestler in the nation at this weight bar none.  His freshman year, Clark was a small 103, last year, he was a small 112, kind of a “tweener” who was a little small for 112 but too big for 103.  For the first time, Clark- the state’s most high-octane wrestler since Sponseller- will not be “undersized” for his weight class and I expect pure domination on his part.  Consider that in the past two years, with all the great wrestlers he’s faced, Clark’s only losses are to Stieber, Taylor, and White- and he has wins over Taylor and White (leads the “series” 3-2).  Last summer Clark was hurt in the Greco-Roman competition, but when the freestyle competition was over both finalists were wrestlers he had defeated.  Hopefully after he walks through the field this weekend the rankers will catch up and move him to #1.

This weight will very much be a two-man showdown with Clark and Sean Boyle of Blair being the cream of the crop.  Boyle was 3rd in Clark’s weight here last year, though they never wrestled (Boyle lost early to Mason Beckman and then went on to defeat Steve Mitcheff for 3rd). Clark went on to defeat Boyle 3-0 in the dual meet between St. Edward and Blair.  There is a chance, however, that Clark’s finals opponent could also be Jesse Delgado.  Delgado has placed third twice in California’s very tough lightweight divisions (the lightweight classes in California always seem to be second-to-none), and 4th and 3rd in Fargo the past two years.

Also for Ohio, James Inghram will try to live up to lavish praise heaped upon him by the Plain Dealer’s Pat Galbincea- who recently stated that he stood a chance to beat David Taylor if only he could get off the bottom. And if Galbincea’s aunt had a **** she would be his uncle, right? Please excuse my crudeness but the analogy fits.  This would be sort of like saying that if only JD Smyers did not yield 15 takedowns to Chris Phillips last year he could have been state champ (though I haven’t yet see Inghram get a takedown on Taylor either…but I digress).  A big showing this weekend could possibly establish Inghram as the favorite among the very tough group assembled in Division II at 119 (Neff, DiJulius, and Minnard among others).

OWS Finals Projection: Jamie Clark dec. Sean Boyle  9-3

Most “Underseeded” Wrestler: None. It looks about right to me.

Projected Ohio Place-winners: Clark (1st), James Inghram (6th-8th)

IRONMAN 125 LBS PREVIEW

1. Sam White
2. Zach Neibert
3. Pat Owens
4. Brandon Westerman
5. Jerry Huff
6. Simon Kitzis
7. Garrett Frey
8. Brandan Rocha
13. Pawlos Campbell

Obviously, there is a major letdown there with Logan Stieber being sidelined with a broken hand.  Nevertheless, I think a credible argument can be made that we will see a bout between the 2nd and 3rd best 125’s in the nation- considering that White has been  2nd in Fargo (to Logan Stieber) the past two years and Neibert- who doesn’t wrestle freestyle- has looked very impressive in claiming some major folkstyle titles- notably at NHSCA Junior Nationals and Super 32. His only loss in the past year was to his likely finals opponent Sam White (other than when he got caught and pinned late by Pope with a lead approaching a technical fall).  Personally, I am very impressed with the “funk” and the scrambling abilities of Neibert- he just has that innate ability to create opportunities for himself that cannot be taught.

Nevertheless, I think that Sam White wins this bout. White has a talent for winning those close, low-scoring bouts.  A high-paced match with a lot of flurries would favor Neibert (see the 2008 state finals where he pinned Cody Garbrandt, or the unbelievable “funk” that he unleashed in the finals at Super 32) but White isn’t going to give him that match. I think we see White pick his spots, and win a close, low scoring bout.

Like all of them, this is a deep weight class with wrestlers whose credentials include:

1. A 3x state champ
2. A Beast of the East Runner-up
3. A California State Runner-up who is rated #12 in the nation.
4. A FILA Cadet National Champion; and
5. A 2x cadet freestyle All-American.

Nevertheless, it is difficult if not nearly impossible for me to see anyone other than White and Neibert in the finals here.  This will be one of the highlights of the night, for sure.

OWS Finals Projection:  Sam White dec. Zach Neibert 5-4

Most “Underseeded” Wrestler: Brandon Rocha, CA (#8 seed)

Projected Ohio Place-winners: White (1st-3rd), Neibert (1st-3rd)

IRONMAN 130 LBS PREVIEW

1. Tony Ramos
2. Chris Villalonga
3. Luke Goettl
4. Cody Kelly
5. Michael Garofalo
6. Cam Tessari
7. Frank Martellotti
8. Cortland Choate
10. Dalton McHenry
12. Danny Foore
13. Felipe Martinez

This is perhaps the most interesting field in the tournament to me, with some established, nationally-ranked stars (Ramos, Villalonga, Goettle, and Garofalo are all ranked in the top seven in the nation by AWN, plus Kelly was the runner-up here last year) and some promising young talents looking to unseat them.

Cody Kelly of Reynolds, PA is proof of the phrase, “and no good deed shall go unpunished.”  Kelly finished as a runner-up here last year and has placed top three at state all three years in always-tough Pennsylvania.  For that he has earned the #4 seed- a rather dubious honor, considering that uber-frosh Felipe Martinez received the #13 seed, meaning they will be wrestling in the second round on Friday night.  Clearly, Kelly would like his chances better with no seed at all and a “blind draw”.

The top two seeds here, Ramos and Villalonga, are no strangers to each other.  This would be a rematch of the 2006 Ironman final at 112 lbs., won by Ramos. Last year, Villalonga was victorious at 125 lbs. when Ramos lost early, hampered by injury.

In what will surely be a controversial selection- I am looking for an All-Ohio final here between sophomore Cam Tessari and Felipe Martinez.  Tessari wrestled well at Ironman last year, but since then has been unbelievable- only on a team as star-studded as Monroeville could he be overlooked, but that is exactly what has transpired.  Tessari took it to Mitcheff, Robinson, and Inghram last year at Brecksville, and this spring, pinned Junior National Champ Jon Morrison and very nearly defeated Sam White- in freestyle, which is a style he pretty much just “dabbles” in.  Tessari also won over Ohio Division I state champ Garrett Henry in convincing fashion.  I realize that he is far from the “on-paper” favorite over Villalonga in their likely semis but he’s my pick.

My prediction is that “Felipe-Mania” will begin sometime Friday night in the Walsh Jesuit gymnasium just as Dustin Schlatter, Collin Palmer, and Chris Phillips all took over the gym their freshman years with their dazzling performances.   With the quickness of cat and balance of an Olympic Gymnast to go with raw power, this kid can be as good as he wants to be it would seem.  The only question mark for me is whether he may have difficulty getting out from bottom against some of the top upperclassmen (especially Villalonga should they meet).  In truth though, Martinez has the toughest road to the finals of any competitor here.  After meeting Kelly, he would have to beat Garofalo and Tony Ramos- who are both top five nationally- just to make the finals.

In short- this is my long-shot pick- I could look like a genius, or I could (and maybe will) look like an idiot on Saturday night. It occurs to me that maybe I am just hoping this is the final, as both Martinez and Tessari create real excitement in their matches, as opposed to the more controlled styles of Ramos and Villalonga (see their 1-0 barnburner of two years ago).

OWS Finals Projection: Felipe Martinez dec. Cam Tessari 8-7

Most Underseeded Wrestler: Martinez, followed by Tessari.

Projected Ohio Place-winners: Martinez and Tessari

IRONMAN 135 LBS PREVIEW

1. David Taylor
2. Joshua Kindig
3. Jimmy Chase
4. Ian Squires
5. Joe Waltko
6. Nicky Gordon
7. Andrew Williams
8. Josh Chang
9. Zack Hancock
10. Austin Ornsbee
12. Anthony Salupo

Just when I thought 130 was the ultimate weight class, along comes 135 and possibly eclipses it.  This weight features what has to be the toughest half-bracket that has ever been assembled in Ironman history.  In my view, the best seven wrestlers in this weight are David Taylor, Josh Kindig, Jimmy Chase, Austin Ornsbee, Nicky Gordon, Zack Hancock, and. Andrew Williams.  Of these seven, all but Taylor and Hancock are in the bottom half bracket.  The end result is that a three-time state champ (and soon to be 4x Virginia state champ in all likelihood) is the 5th best wrestler on his side of the bracket…..really take a moment to think about that fact.

There is not much to be said about David Taylor that has not already been said- five national titles in Fargo, three state titles, two Super 32 Titles, and look for him to become the first four-time Ironman Champ on Saturday Night.  Until he lost to Zach Sanders (who is a full three years older) this past spring while attempting to make the FILA Junior World Team, he had won every competition of significance he’d entered since beginning high school.  However, watching Taylor- voted in a landslide as the 2008 Ohio Wrestling Site Wrestler of the Year- make the transition from a 112 to a 135 will without question be one of the most intriguing developments of the tournament, and while he is not in the tougher half-bracket, rest assured, there is talent on his side too.

Brian Stephens and Zack Hancock battled at Ironman last year in one of their numerous great bouts of the past two years. Photo Credit: Bob Tuneberg, Villager News

The fireworks will begin for Taylor in Saturday Mornings Quarterfinals, where he could face Zack Hancock of Troy Christian.  As most readers know, Hancock was the 2008 state champ in Division III, and he by no means had an easy path to that title, knocking off 2x state champ Daniel Kolodik in the finals (avenging about six prior losses in the process).  While that victory was surprising, Hancock is far from a “flash in the pan”- remember that he also beat Brian Stephens (twice), Ryan Fields, and Nick Sulzer last year.  Compact and very difficult to score on, Hancock will present a fascinating style contrast with the lanky, wide-open mat specialist Taylor.  I see two possible scenarios here- one, Hancock is able to slow down Taylor, who settles for winning a close, low-scoring bout, or two, Taylor is slowed by Hancock on their feet, but unleashes his arsenal from the top position and blows the Troy Christian Senior out. Now, all this assumes that Hancock even makes the quarterfinals- to get there he will have to knock off a 3x state champ from Arizona in the second round (three-time state champs pull the #7 and and #8 seeds in this weight at Ironman). Hancock will have his hands full to place- with the other bracket being so loaded, whoever he gets after losing to Taylor in the quarters will be an absolute hammer.

Taylor’s Semi-final opponent is likely to be Joe Waltko of Pennsylvania- merely a former cadet and junior national all-american and a past Ironman placewinner. In the finals he should face Josh Kindig of Pennsylvania- the junior national runner-up in Fargo this summer at 135 in both freestyle and Greco-roman.  In fact, Kindig is a five-time finalist in Fargo (with one title, winning at cadet freestyle over Tony Ramos in 2007).  Three of his losses at Fargo have been to Jordan Oliver and Dylan Alton (more on him later). This would be a rematch of the Super 32 Final, won by Taylor by a score of 2-0.  I look for a more decisive victory from Taylor this time- the Super 32 time format (2-1-1) did not lend itself to Taylor unleashing his unmatched arsenal from the top position.  Indeed, at the end of the third it looked like Taylor was about to begin possibly launching his “offensive” from the top position but the one-minute period ended.

It should be noted that it is far from automatic that Kindig will be the final opponent for Taylor. Also in the bracket are Jimmy Chase of Illinois and Austin Ornsbee of Blair Academy.  Chase is the Illinois state champion and took 4th this summer in the Olympic Trials in Greco-Roman; again, presenting quite a style contrast with Taylor.  Ornsbee may be even better.  Last year as a freshman he took 3rd at Beast and 5th at Ironman- which may not sound like much until you consider that he defeated Kyle Lang to earn that 5th place finish. Ornsbee also pushed Collin Palmer to the wire in an early round bout (Palmer did win more easily in their later dual match). How he ends up the #10 seed I’m not quite sure, but suffice it to say that whoever faces him Friday night cannot be pleased with their draw, and he is a very likely finalist.  The way the seeding has worked out, Kindig will have to defeat both Ornsbee and Chase to make the finals.

OWS Finals Projection:  David Taylor dec. Josh Kindig  7-0

Most “Underseeded” Wrestler: Austin Ornsbee (#10).  Look for a top four finish. Also, unseeded Ian Miller of Oak Harbor has an outside chance at placement.

Projected Ohio Place-winners: Taylor, Zack Hancock (6th-8th)

IRONMAN 140 LBS PREVIEW

Seeded Wrestlers
1. Collin Palmer
2. Andrew Alton
3. Vlad Dombrovsky
4. Dane Johnson
5. Cullen Isenberg
6. Raider Lofthouse
7. Jordan Thome
8. Drew Squires
9. Matt Stephens

And now, for the main event- Palmer versus Alton.  Without question two of the best middleweights in the nation regardless of weight, the credentials of both wrestlers are second here to only those of David Taylor.  Both also create a great deal of excitement in their matches with their aggressive styles, so this should be a big match that lives up to the hype.  Palmer, of course, is a three-time state champion and never tasted defeat at the hands of an Ohio wrestler (with two career losses being against Nikko Triggas of California and Colin Johnston of Pennsylvania).  Andrew Alton begins his junior year with a perfect track record in Fargo in freestyle- he has competed three times, and won three national titles, including last year via first period fall.

I think the winner of this match will be determined by who gets the first takedown.  When Palmer strikes first, he is able to go to his punishing leg rides and often score back points.  Even if he cannot score backs, the physical and mental toll it can take upon his opponent is tremendous.  However, both times that we have seen Palmer lose in his career, he has seemed “out of sorts” once he fell behind early, and unable to muster any sort of a rally.  Alton is not nearly the mat wrestler that Palmer is, but is a relentless attacker on his feet and is extremely powerful- sort of a wrestler in the Brent Metcalf mold you might say.  At the end of the day, I see Alton wearing down Palmer for the “W”. And then, there is the fact that common opponents seem to point to the edge going to Alton- (for previous discussion of this factor, go here:  http://www.ohiowrestlingsite.com/wp-content/old/articles/article99.php).

Of course, as one might expect from prior discussion here, a Palmer versus Alton final is by no means guaranteed.  In fact, an unbelievable six wrestlers here are ranked among the top eight in the nation by www.amateurwrestlingnews.com.  Alton will face Vlad Dombrovsky in the semifinals. Dombrovsky, rated #4 nationally at 145, is the state champion in single-division California (with nearly 1000 schools in that single division) and hails from the Ukraine. Before that, he should face the very tough Kyle West in the quarterfinals, a state runner-up in California.  West has been rated as high as #6 in the entire nation but comes in here as the #10 seed.  Palmer will likely be tested in the semis by another Pennsylvania standout, two-time state champion Dane Johnson.  Johnson, ranked #4 in the nation, is a defensive wizard who is very highly regarded by Pennsylvania observers. My feeling is that the highly technical Johnson will be outmatched by the physicality and raw power of Palmer (Note: To see the Powerade final between Johnson and Ian Squires, who is also competing at Ironman at 135, go here:http://www.flowrestling.org/videos/play/72850).

OWS Finals Projection: Andrew Alton dec. Collin Palmer 6-5

Most “Underseeded” Wrestler: Kyle West (CA) #10 Seed.  Look for a top five finish.

Projected Ohio Place-winners: Palmer (1st-3rd), possibly Matt Stephens (6th-8th) or Jordan Thome (6th-8th)

Brad Squire and Seth Horner should continue last year’s great rivalry in the semi-finals of Ironman. Photo Credit: Bob Tuneberg, Villager News

IRONMAN 145 LBS PREVIEW

1. Dylan Alton
2. Seth Horner
3. Brad Squire
4. Brian Stephens
5. Weston Lymangrover
6. Pierce Harger
7. Chris Burns
8. Justin Martinez
9. Harrison Hightower

Here we have a weight class with a distinctive Ohio flavor to it- not quite the Ohio state tournament preview I envisioned with Habat at 152, but a hellacious weight class nevertheless.  However, with all the great Ohio talent assembled, a Pennsylvania wrestler looks nearly unbeatable.  Dylan Alton vaulted into the national spotlight last spring by winning (like Logan Stieber) the FILA Junior National Title (20 and under) as a mere sophomore in high school.  He also defeated one of the nation’s top seniors (Jordan Oliver) and was a “double” champ in Fargo. Without question, he is (like his brother Andrew) one of the nation’s ten best wrestlers regardless of weight class and grade and possibly even top five.  With all due respect to Horner and Squire, it looks to be a battle for second place.

And what a battle it will be. Seth Horner and Brad Squire first met at Ironman last year in the finals, where Squire captured the crown in a very exciting 130 lb. final.  However, later in the year Horner was to hand Squire the first loss of his career at the Mayfield Big Eight. While Squire won against Horner by default later at Delaware Hayes, Horner won on his home turf at the Perry District and again in a state final overtime epic.  The edge in the series seems, in my mind, to have shifted to Horner, and for that reason he is the narrowest of picks to win their projected semifinal.  Squire will have his hands full in the semi-finals against Pierce Harger of Moeller.  Harger took just 7th in the state last year but beat all three state champs at his weight, and followed that up with a great summer of wrestling.  Harger is one of the five wrestlers who I anticipate can vault to the top echelon of wrestlers this year (the other four being Tessari, Martinez, Nick Heflin, and Max Thomusseit). I look for a him to push Squire to the limit and have a chance to win.  Squire beat Harger by a score of 4-1 at state when they were freshman, my gut feeling is that the gap between them has narrowed in the past two years.

Another wrestler from Ohio that can make some real noise here is Brian Stephens of Graham.  Stephens could easily be a two-time state champion right now, but instead lost a heartbreaker to Brian Dean as a sophomore and inexplicably failed to place last year. Reports are that he cut too much weight last year, resulting in his demise at the state tournament.  Up three weights, look for him to be hungry (or less hungry, as the case may be) to atone for last season’s late collapse.

OWS Finals Projection: Dylan Alton dec. Seth Horner 8-4

Most “Underseeded” Wrestler: Pierce Harger, #6 Seed. Look for a top four finish.

Projected Ohio Place-winners: Horner (1st-3rd), Squire (1st-3rd), Harger (4th-6th), Stephens (4th-6th), Hightower (6th-8th)

IRONMAN 152 LBS PREVIEW

1. David Habat
2. Brandon Rolnick
3. Zach Skates
4. Andy Church
5. Nick Sulzer
6. David Wilber
7. Brad Wukie
8. Adam Hogue
9. Jonathan McGookey
13. Huston Evans

At first glance, this weight appears to be a two-man showdown between Brandon Rolnick of New Jersey and David Habat of St. Ignatius High School.  However, I think the real story here is going to be Ohio battles that Habat will likely see in the quarterfinals and semifinals.  In the quarters, he faces Jonathan McGookey, the #1 ranked wrestler in Division II (rankings are not completed yet for Division II but that’s where he is going to be ranked).  In the semis, he may face Nick Sulzer of St. Edward, currently ranked #1 in Division I (Habat was ranked at 145).  McGookey had a great off-season of wrestling after finishing 3rd in the state last year (including wins over one of the nation’s best middleweights in Joey Napoli of PA and a win over a three-time state champ) and my view is that he is likely much closer to Habat than many are anticipating.  Sulzer has grown from a 112 to a 152 in the past two years. If last year’s performances at 130 are any indication, this move won’t hurt him at all. In my mind, Habat has the slightest of edges over McGookey, while Habat/Sulzer is too close to call.  I am going with Habat- with the thinking that this will be a close, low-scoring bout decided by a single takedown, and Habat presents a little more offensive threat from neutral than Sulzer does.

All this assumes that Sulzer makes the semis- and that, my friends, is far from a guarantee.  Much like Cody Kelly received no favors from his #4 seed, Nick Sulzer has been given none by his #5 seed- since super-frosh Jason Luster drew the #12 seed.  One of the nation’s top five freshman (along with Martinez, Mark Grey, and Taylor Massa and Jordan Thomas of Michigan), Luster first came into the national wrestling conscious when he won a major high school tournament as a 7th grader, defeating a nationally ranked three-time Michigan State Champion. He has taken a few losses since then to show that he is human, but he did have a big win last year over Felipe Martinez (should be noted that Martinez was competing up a couple of weights, as you can see they are 22 lbs. apart here).  It’s difficult to say how he stacks up with a top high school wrestler right now as he did not attend Fargo or Super 32 in the past year, but my feeling is that there is an excellent chance Luster will make the finals.

McGookey advancing to face Habat is also by no means a sure thing as he faces Adam Hogue of Blair Academy in the second round. Hogue, as most of you know, hails from Twinsburg, Ohio, where his father is a coach of their excellent program.  Hogue is a very strong and physical competitor who has placed 3rd and 6th at the national prep championship.  At the end of the day- and I realize this is really no prediction at all- it would not surprise me to see either Habat, Sulzer, Luster, Hogue, or McGookey emerge as the finalist. Rolnick emerges from the much easier bracket.

Should a Habat/Rolnick final occur, there is, unfortunately, little reason to believe that Habat will defeat the New Jersey ace.  Rolnick won their prior meeting in Fargo easily (back in 2007) and recently at the Super 32, Habat lost by a major decision to the nation’s best 152 (Marshall Peppelman, the wrestler who beat Andrew Alton at state last year) who then beat Rolnick in a very tight bout.

Graham chips in their own super-frosh here in 2x Junior High State champ Houston Evans. Once again, it is difficult to say how Evans fits, but observers close to the program seem to feel that he can be a high state place-winner this year. If he could surprise and grab a low placement (a tall order in this weight) that would help Graham’s chances of unseating Blair. Brad Wukie of University School (ranked #2 in the state) will also be looking to return to form after an injury-plagued sophomore season.  He can absolutely place here.

OWS Finals Projection: Brandon Rolnick dec. David Habat

Most “Underseeded” Wrestler: #12 Jason Luster, Virginia (look for a top six finish)

Projected Ohio Place-winners: Habat (1st-3rd), Sulzer (3rd-5th), Hogue (4th-6th), McGookey (4th-6th), Wukie (6th-8th).

Zach Toal scored a huge win in this bout against 4x state champion Tony Jameson last year. He looks to win an Ironman crown at 160 this weekend. Photo Credit: Bob Tuneberg, Villager News

IRONMAN 160 LBS PREVIEW

1. Kyle Lang
2. Zach Toal
3. Riley Kilroy
4. Isaiah Gonzalez
5. Alex Utley
6. Zack Goins
7. Marc Bryan
8. Matthew Cunningham
9. Zach Garbrandt
12. Justin Armstrong
13. Adam Walters

While the seeding this year seems to generally reflect reality as well as a point system can, this is a weight there you can throw the seeds out.  The big three here are the nationally ranked trio of Kyle Lang, Zach Toal, and Justin Armstrong. Armstrong was the Super 32 Champ, but pulls the #12 seed and that certainly cannot make the CVCA Coaching Staff happy- as their brilliant sophomore Alex Utley must now face him in the second round Friday Night. Armstrong had to wrestle up a weight last year as Bishop Lynch had Ironman finalist Alex Munoz at his weight, but this year down at 160 has been superb in the early-going. I think he advances to the semis and gives Lang all he can handle.

Also in the seeding confusion here, Adam Walters is seeded #13 and Riley Kilroy is #3 despite the fact that Walters is ranked higher at this point. A wrestler who could throw this bracket into complete confusion is Kyle Ryan of Graham.  A former two-time junior high state champ, we haven’t gotten to see what Ryan can do yet for the most part because he was behind Coby Boyd and James Mannier last year, and then had to miss Fargo with an injury.  He did win the NHSCA Freshman Nationals, however, and it is possible that he may be ready to beat the Alex Utleys, Riley Kilroys, and Adam Walters’s of this bracket- and Graham will need him to do so if they are to hold off Blair.

This is a rare weight that will be dominated by Ohio wrestlers- and frankly, after Lang and Toal, there are about eight or nine of them who are of almost identical ability. Given that many of these wrestlers have proven to be hot-and-cold in the past (Kilroy, Utley, and Bryan especially), it’s really anyone’s guess if individual wrestlers will be high placers or out of the running entirely.

A Lang versus Toal final at Ironman is something that one could have foreseen when this duo were freshmen, but certainly, you could not have foreseen it would take place at 160 lbs. since Lang began his career at 103 and Toal at 112.  However, as so often happens, the jump in weight has worked out well for them and both are even better than you would have anticipated when they were lightweights.  This bout (Part I of a two-part series, they should also meet at Brecksville) will be a classic contrast in styles much as the Jameson-Toal bout was last year (at Brecksville).  Toal is very conventional, a master of basic wrestling fundamentals who almost never makes a mistake, whereas Lang is a wide-open scrambler who scores points in bunches.  Toal showed last year at Brecksville that he is pretty good against that style, and I think the ever-dangerous Lang will have a tough time opening him up.

OWS Finals Projection: Zach Toal dec. Kyle Lang 5-3

Most “Underseeded” Wrestler: #12 Justin Armstrong (look for a top three finish)

Projected Ohio Place-winners: Toal, Lang, Walters, Kilroy, Goins, Utley, Bryan.

IRONMAN 171 LBS PREVIEW

1. Ethan Lofthouse
2. Chris Phillips
3. James Mannier
4. Nick Heflin
5. Braden Carter
6. Michael Harvey
7. Ed Ruth
8. Ian Daube
9. Kyle Kwiat
13. Mike Mallernee

Not only do we have #1 versus #2 in the nation here, we have #3 in the mix as well.  Chris Phillips of course needs no introduction other than to say that last year he was the best freshman upperweight, every, anywhere, period.  However, the Monroeville Sophomore will face two major tests in his return to the venue where he became an overnight sensation in Ohio wrestling last year.  In the quarters, Phillips faces Ed Ruth of Blair. Ruth is the last wrestler to defeat Phillips, in the Disney Duals in the summer before Phillips’s freshman year (score of 6-4).  Not sure how much relevance that win has today as it was before Phillips even began his high school career, but it certainly shows that Ruth will be in this match.  Ruth’s incredible quickness may be exactly what is needed to take Phillips out of his game- then again, Ruth’s propensity to shoot often may simply set-up Phillips for his incomparable re-shots.

In the finals, Phillips should face 2nd-ranked Lofthouse of Utah. Once again, this is by no means an automatic win as good as Phillips is.  Phillips’ signature win was of course against Brian Roddy of St. Edward last year, Lofthouse also defeated Roddy (in freestyle at Las Vegas) so that shows that he is of the same elite caliber.  Lofthouse will present a completely different stylistic challenge for Phillips than Ruth will.  Not as quick as Ruth, Lofthouse is a brawler who is very powerful, never leaves his stance and is difficult to create an opening on (think Steve Luke). However, my feeling is that he will not be able to create an opening on Phillips either, who will pick his spots and win by a score of something like 5-2.

I look for OSU-bound Nick Heflin to demonstrate that he is a lot closer to the top three than many realize and take a solid 4th place finish.  Graham will be counting on a high finish from James Mannier, and I look for him to deliver.

OWS Finals Projection: Chris Phillips dec. Ethan Lofthouse 5-2.

Most “Underseeded” Wrestler: #7 Ed Ruth (look for a top three finish)

Projected Ohio Place-winners: Phillips (1st), Heflin (4th-6th), Mannier (4th-6th)

IRONMAN 189 LBS PREVIEW

1. Max Huntley
2. Nick Mills
3. Max Thomusseit
4. Roman SanDoval
5. Donald McNeil
6. Carl Foreside
7. Billy Curling
8. Mike Lanigan
9. Greg Hojnacki
11. Andrew Phillips

OWS Finals Projection: Max Huntley dec. Nick Mills 7-4

Huntley of Blair is a solid favorite here over a host of excellent competitors.  His top challenger may be Nick Mills of University School.  Ranked #1 at 189 lbs, Mills is a returning 3rd place state finisher in a very tough weight and took 2nd at the Super 32 Challenge. His projected semi-final opponent- Max Thomusseit- would create what will most likely be a state final preview.  Thomusseit’s story is an interesting one.  A state placer at 130 as a freshman, the Graham junior possibly could have wrestled as low as 152 last year but of course that weight was held by Coby Boyd.  He then lost his wrestle off with Mannier (after beating Kyle Ryan to even have the chance to wrestle off) and with his older brother Zach at 171, he was forced all the way up to 189.  It seemed like success was a longshot, but at the end of the year, he had finished 3rd in the state despite weighing just a little over 170 at the time.  This year he returns as a much bigger 189, and I expect him to have a big year.  Adding to this new rivalry is the fact that Mills and Thomusseit’s older brother were archrivals for the past two years, trading wins in numerous bouts.

That being said, I think it is a 50/50 proposition whether he advances to the semis to face Mills.  Carl Foreside of Montini, IL, was unimpressive at Ironman last year (failing to place) but finished 2nd in a very tough Illinois state tournament, losing just 8-6 to one of the nation’s best 171’s in Jordan Blanton (a wrestler who finished 152-1 on his career with his only loss being to a four-time state champion in Mike Benefiel).  To project how Foreside compares to a bulked-up Thomusseit is obviously very difficult to say.

Most “Underseeded” Wrestler: #6 Carl Foreside- look for a top four finish

Projected Ohio Place-winners:

IRONMAN 215 LBS PREVIEW

1. Joe McMullan
2. Ryan Nelisse
3. Terry Williamson
4. Jon Weber
5. Logan White
6. Ben Krakower
7. Mike Green
8. Glenn Barnes

Along with 103 and 285, this is the least noteworthy weight class I’m afraid.  The easy pick here is nationally-ranked McMullan, a National Prep Champ from PA.  While the maddeningly-inconsistent Ryan Nelisse is seeded 2nd, my feeling is that Krakower of Blair will be the finalist in that bracket.  Krakower beat Nelisse 11-5 in the 2nd round last year at Ironman, so I think he must be the choice. However, Nelisse went on to place 6th while Krakower failed to place, so it is not impossible that he could be the finalist here.  Oklahoma State Runner-up Williamson also probably stands an almost equal shot at the finals.   This will be another key weight in the team race, as Graham will need Logan White to step up and Krakower to falter.

OWS Finals Projection: Joe McMullan dec. Ben Krakower 6-2

Most “Underseeded” Wrestler: #6 Krakower- look for a top three finish, and unseeded freshman Nick Tavanallo of Wadsworth- look for him to place.

Projected Ohio Place-winners: Ryan Nelisse, Nick Tavanello #4-6, Logan White #6-8

IRONMAN 285 LBS PREVIEW

1. Jeremy Johnson
2. James Meder
3. Will Ringer
4. Ben Buzzelli
5. Michael McMullan
6. Josh Jackson
7. Zack Corl
8. Keith Graeff

At heavyweight, it is very difficult to say how out-of-state wrestlers may compare to our Ohio guys as heavyweights can improve by tremendous amounts from year to year. However, provided James Meder is healthy, I have a tough time seeing anyone unseating him here.  Meder stormed to the finals last year in dramatic fashion- including a win over #1 ranked (in Ohio) Adam Walls in one of the best heavyweight bouts I’ve ever seen.  The previously unknown Meder then took the #2 heavyweight in the nation into overtime before succumbing.  From there, as most of you know, Meder battled a number of health and injury issues and ended up falling to 6th in the state.

To me, this will be a battle for second, between Jeremy Johnson and Ben Buzzelli. Johnson wrestles year round and was an All-American in Fargo each of the past two years. Buzzelli’s primary passion is football, and he has to cut hard to make the 285 lb. limit.  My thinking is that Johnson may have overtaken Buzzelli with his commitment to year-round wrestling (or perhaps I just think that is how it “should” work) but with a 2-0 record against Johnson, Buzzelli must be the choice.

OWS Finals Projection: James Meder dec. Ben Buzzelli 7-3

Projected Ohio Place-winners: Meder, Buzzelli, Johnson,

TEAM RACE: In 2008, the National Championship was decided in the Walsh Jesuit gymnasium, where a total team effort vaulted Walsh to the title by a commanding score.  Once again, the National Championship will be so decided, but this year’s edge must go to Blair Academy. Simply put, it will be an uphill battle for the Falcons to repeat.

Comparing the lineups, I have Graham favored at three weights 125, 135, and 145.  I have Blair favored at 103, 112, 119, 152, 171, 189, and 215, with tossups at 130 (very controversial, I realize), 140, 160, and 285.  While it is not impossible that they could win, Graham will need not only a total team effort comparable to last year’s showing, but also for Blair to falter unexpectedly in a few weights.

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