We’re going to continue with the second part of our Midlands preview, if you’d like to check out Part 1 you can do so here.
165: #2 Evan Wick, Wisconsin (13-0)
#4 Alex Marinelli, Iowa (6-0)
#11 Bryce Steiert, Northern Iowa (8-2)
#12 Joshua Shields, Arizona State (9-2)
#16 Joey Gunther, Illinois (10-4)
#19 Jonathan Viruet, Brown (9-2)
Anthony Valencia, Arizona State (0-0)
As much as I like Alex Marinelli, and he may be my favorite on this team, this is Evan Wick’s tournament until The Bull knocks him off. Like The Bull, Wick is a redshirt sophomore, but he capitalized on his opportunities and took 3rd in last year’s NCAA tournament. Along the way he throttled Marinelli 16-3.
So far on the season Wick has already beaten Steiert and Shields, each by a one-point decision. He is without a doubt the cream of the crop, but The Bull has a legit chance to ruin his weekend if they collide in the finals. And I truly think he will. So far Alex looks like he’s out for blood and the only way he satisfied is by absolutely pulverizing his opponents.
Other notable entries are 2x NCAA qualifier, Anthony Valencia, who is redshirting this season, but he did take fourth in last year’s Midlands. His participation has not been confirmed quite yet, but be ready for it. Former Hawkeye Joey Gunther, who is now grappling for Illinois, is entering into the fray. Nelson Brands is going to bring his high pace and energy into this field and explode with an insane amount of TD’s, especially early on. Also, Jeremiah Moody will look to get back on track and do some damage.
I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see Gunther, Brands, and Moody all going for a medal entering into day two, but I fully expect to see Wick vs. Marinelli Part 2. Marinelli wins btw.
174: #2 Zahid Valencia, Arizona State (9-1)
#8 Taylor Lujan, Northern Iowa (10-1)
#10 Ryan Christensen, Wisconsin (11-3)
#11 Johnny Sebastian, Northwestern (2-0)
#12 Ben Harvey, Army (12-3)
#20 Brit Wilson, Northern Illinois (8-2)
Mitch Bowman, Iowa (2-0)
The returning NCAA champ Zahid Valencia lost his #1 ranking and lost for just the fourth time in his career a couple weeks back to Mark Hall (PSU). He’s going to enter into this thing looking to redeem himself and beat up on anyone in his way of a third consecutive Midlands title. He is easily the top contender and everyone else is looking to play spoiler card. They won’t get to.
Lujan, Sebastian, Christensen, and Harvey are all returning NCAA qualifiers and looking to up their game and not only go for a podium position here, but at the big show in March as well. This is their chance to make a claim and climb the rankings.
Also, let it be known that Penn State’s Aaron Brooks is possibly attending this scrap. He’s wrestling unattached as a true freshman and is was a big time recruit. He’s also a finalist contender.
But of course, the one I’m looking forward to the most is Mitch Bowman! He’s wrestled at 197lbs twice this season, even though he weighed in the low 180’s. While wrestling up he beat then #12 Christian Brunner 7-5. Now he finds himself cutting weight over the past month and will officially check in at 174 for the first time since his college career began.
Will the weight cut be too much? Will his energy hold up? If he looks good in day one, can he keep that same energy into a second consecutive day of weigh ins? These are the big questions, but if he can, he will be a very big 174 pounder. By that I mean he’s cutting some serious weight to go down and will be well adapted to wrestling bigger opponents. In theory, the little guys could be a bit easier for him. Let’s hope this is the case.
Either way, this is Bowman’s senior and he last chance to make his mark. This is his last chance to write his name in Iowa’s history books. He’s done everything Tom and Terry Brands have ever asked from him and he’s always given it his all. He’s all in and so am I. Bowman is coming in and ready to go out in a blaze of glory. I believe he finds his way onto the podium and up into the rankings.
184: #2 Emery Parker, Illinois (7-0)
#5 Drew Foster, Northern Iowa (10-2)
#17 Cash Wilcke, Iowa (5-1)
#19 Noah Stewart, Army (11-4)
#20 Kevin Parker, Princeton (8-3)
I realize Wilcke is the returning Midlands champ, but similar to the other classes, this is Emery Parker’s tournament until someone else takes him down. Parker entered last year’s NCAA’s as a 10 seed, lost in the opening round, then went on a run for the ages and came back to take third. He hasn’t lost since.
UNI’s Drew Foster had a stellar campaign last year until he bumped into Max Dean (Cornell), who coincidentally beat him again this year, then ran into the charging Parker to get knocked out and end his 2018 season. Foster is also a 2017 All-American and with amazing year could eclipse the 100 career wins mark, but that will rely heavily on how this Midlands goes for him.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t know what else to say about Wilcke. He has the physical abilities, but it seems that his mental game never quite peaks at the same time. And if it does, he’s under the weather or injured. He needs to be firing on all cylinders if he wants to win this, let alone reach the finals. Can he do it? Yes. Will he? I dunno.
Stewart and Noah Parker are no push overs and Wilcke has the propensity to wrestle at his opponent’s level. He can’t do that here. If he’s able to secure that #3 seed and land on Foster’s side of the bracket I can envision a scenario in which he upsets Foster and finds his way into the finals once more. There, anything can happen. But again, this is Emery’s show until Wilcke finally ups his game and turns the spotlight on him.
197: #3 Patrick Brucki, Princeton (11-0)
#4 Jacob Warner, Iowa (1-0)
#7 Rocco Caywood, Army (10-1)
These are the three contenders and will expose everyone else as pretenders. This weight class is so top heavy it might fall over, but it’s inevitable that these guys will collide at some point and that makes me very, very excited! My best guess here is that Brucki has a clear shot to the finals, whereas Warner and Caywood will be on a side together and face off in the semis.
Brucki opened the season ranked #17 and has steadily climbed the rankings. He shot up to #3 after All-American’s Kyle Conel (Kent State) and Jacob Holschlag (UNI) each had their seasons end due to injuries. Several upsets and turnover, such as Warner beating Willie Miklus (ISU), helped him launch himself up there. He has a few big wins over ranked opponents, but in my opinion he still has a lot of prove. This will be his chance as Warner and Caywood are gunning for him. Though he has beaten both in the past. He toppled Warner 4-2 in last year’s Midlands version and Caywood this season 5-2.
Warner has the hype and allegedly the talent to contend with the big guns in this class. He showed us his potential by gutting out a win over Miklus, while hobbled with a twisted ankle, but sadly we’ve only seen him wrestle once this year. What are we going to get?
Honestly, I think Warner is ready to go and show us what he has. He was ready last year, now this year he’s been slugged down by exhaustion and injury, so he’s anxious to get on the mat and destroy some people. This is as good as it gets. I think Miklus is hands down better than Brucki and Warner has handled him twice now. This is Warner’s gig, but he needs to keep his emotions in check and get it done.
285: #2 Sam Stoll, Iowa (1-0)
#6 Youssif Hemida, Maryland (0-0)
#9 Trent Hillger, Wisconsin (12-0)
#13 Jake Gunning, Buffalo (9-2)
#18 Matt Stencel, Central Michigan (9-3)
Tanner Hall, Arizona State/ Unattached (1-1)
Stoll is the returning Midlands champ and should be considered the front runner once again. Though Youssif Hemida did ruin Stoll’s NCAA’s last year when they met up in the second round. Hemida dominated our boy 7-2, but Stoll went on a great backside run and ended up finishing higher on the podium. Stoll took 5th whereas Hemida finished 7th.
The only downside is Stoll has only wrestled once and Hemida hasn’t at all. We’ve seen very little to no action from these guys so far. So we know who the front runners are, but what about the others? With several upsets and losses Trent Hillger shot into the top 10 in early December and has sat comfortably there since. Hillger has an early season win over Jake Gunning, who has gone on a solid run himself.
Then there’s the curious case of Arizona State’s Tanner Hall. He’s redshirting this year, but apparently entering into this unattached. He fell apart late last year and failed to medal, but he took 3rd at the NCAA’s in 2017. He’s lost in SV1 to Minnesota’s mega freshman heavyweight Gable Stevenson in the Bison Open in mid-November, but hasn’t wrestled since. He’s a serious threat here and should be considered as much.
Also, we have our own big time heavyweight in waiting, Tony Cassioppi, entering into his toughest tournament yet. He’s 11-0 and has pinned 10 of them. He’s lone lackluster performance he won by major decision to give himself a 100% bonus point rate. He was named USA Wrestling Athlete of the Week back on Dec. 11 for embarrasing the three NCAA starters he came up against at the UNI Open. He pinned all three en route to a tourney win and had a total mat time of 3:10. I’m not sure if he’s ready for Stoll and Hemida, but he’s going to give these guys a run for their money. Don’t be surprised if we see a Cass vs. Stoll thunderstorm in the semis.
Personally, I think Stoll and Hemida meet up in the finals and hopefully Stoll has revenge on his mind.
So there we have it. What do you guys think? I believe another team title is well within reach, but how many champs are we bringing back to Iowa City? Two? Three? Can we match last year’s output with five?
Coverage begins Saturday, Dec. 29 at 9:30AM CT.