• Brandon Dodson

Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational Preview

Over the last year, I have been striving to provide much needed coverage for Ohio State Wrestling. I started this venture towards the end of last season and decided to make a website to grow my platform. The author of this piece, Cory Falbo is a fellow wrestling enthusiast who shares my passion for Ohio State athletics. After a lot of discussion regarding Ohio State wrestling, Cory asked to help provide content on my website. The following piece is Cory’s first for my blog. If you enjoy the material, please subscribe and share.

The Ohio State Wrestling team will be rolling into Las Vegas, Nevada for the Cliff Keen Wrestling Invitational December 6th and 7th. This invitational is widely regarded as one of the toughest regular season tournaments in College Wrestling. This year’s field will include 105 ranked wrestlers from 14 of the top 25 programs in the country according to FloWrestling. Historically, Ohio State has performed very well at this tournament, including 3 straight team titles and numerous individual titles. Many current and past Buckeyes have emerged onto the national stage at the Cliff Keen Invitational. Some of these wrestlers include Hunter Steiber, Micah Jordan, Luke Pletcher, and Kollin Moore. This tournament provides a great opportunity to gauge where Ohio State stands on a national level.

Below is a weight by weight preview of what you can expect to see from the Buckeyes in Las Vegas;

125 Pounds: Malik Heiselman (6-4, So.)

Heinselman will be making his first trip to Las Vegas to represent the Buckeyes at the Cliff Keen Wrestling Invitational.

The 125-pound weight class will be represented well in Las Vegas with 7 out of the top 25 wrestlers in the country registered. The ranked wrestlers are as follows; No.2 Jack Mueller (Virginia), No.7 Alex Mackall (Iowa State), No.10 Devin Schroeder (Purdue), No.14 Jakob Camacho (NC State), No.15 Jacob Schwarm (Northern Iowa), No.18 Jace Koelzer (Northern Colorado), and No.19 Cole Verner (Wyoming).

Heinselman started the year ranked in the top 25 in his weight class but has had a rough start to the season, although he looked solid in his last outing, earning a victory by an 8-4 decision over Dom Lajoie of Cornell. I am hopeful he can carry this momentum into this weekend and rack up some quality wins. Heinselman’s success in this tournament will depend on his ability to escape from the bottom position. His opponents have been successful utilizing tilts from the top position often leading to back points. If he can avoid giving up back points/riding time and start being more aggressive on his feet then we may start to see the progression many were expecting for his sophomore year. To place in this event, he will have to win several matches vs quality opponents. I think Heinselman will rack up most of his points in the wrestle backs (loser bracket) for the Buckeyes and potentially end up on the podium.

133 Pounds: Dylan Koontz (5-5, r-So.)

This will also be Koontz’s first trip to Las Vegas for the Buckeyes.

Eleven out of the top 25 133 pounders in the country are currently registered, the ranked wrestlers are as follows; No.6 Chas Tucker (Cornell), No.7 Montorie Bridges (Wyoming), No.8 Cam Sykora (North Dakota State), No.11 Josh Kramer (Arizona State), No.12 Anthony Madrigal (Oklahoma), No.15 Chance Rich (CSU Bakersfield), No.17 Collin Gerardi (Virginia Tech), No.20 Tim Rooney (Kent State), No.23 Tye Varndell (Edinboro), No.25 Louie Hayes (Virginia). I also expect to see the 3rd ranked 125-pounder in the country Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern to be at 133 pounds for this tournament.

Koontz recently wrestled Chas Tucker from Cornell and lost by a 12-5 decision. Koontz was unable to break through Tucker’s defense in the match. I believe Koontz will fail to place on the podium but the real question is will he be able to score any team points for the Buckeyes through the wrestle backs.

141 Pounds: No. 1 Luke Pletcher (9-0, Sr.)

This will be Pletcher’s third appearance at the Cliff Keen Invitational. As a sophomore, Pletcher emerged on to the national scene by defeating Michigan’s Stevan Micic 7-5 in the Semis. Pletcher went on to win the title at 133 pounds. Last year, Pletcher placed third, losing a hard-fought battle to Pittsburgh’s Mickey Phillippi in the semis.

There are currently 7 out of the top 20 wrestlers in the country registered to represent their teams in Las Vegas in the 141-pound weight class. The ranked wrestlers are as follows; No.2 Dom Demas (Oklahoma), No.4 Mitch McKee (Minnesota), No.6 Chad Red (Nebraska), No.7 Tariq Wilson (NC State), No.13 Ian Parker (Iowa State), and No.19 Mitch Moore (Virginia Tech).

As the top ranked 141-pounder in the country, Pletcher should be the No. 1 seed. Regardless of seed, the path to a title at 141 pounds will be tough. He could have potential semifinal matches against Mitch McKee, Chad Red, Tariq Wilson. Mitch Mckee and Chad Red are returning All-Americans in the 141-pound weight class. Tariq Wilson redshirted last season but placed 3rd at NCAAs after beating Pletcher in 2017. All three are explosive athletes that wrestle with unorthodox styles. The key in these matches will be clean finishes from neutral because these guys have elite scrambling ability that can create problems for opponents. If Pletcher can make the finals he will most likely have a rematch with the 2nd ranked Dom Demas. Pletcher edged Demas in Ultimate Ride Outs 2-1 earlier this season. Pletcher can win this tournament but I feel he falls at some point in this tournament and finishes second or third.

149 Pounds: No. 10 Sammy Sasso (8-1, r-Fr.)

This will be Sasso’s first appearance at the Cliff Keen Invitational. Thirteen out of the top 25 149-pounders in the country are currently registered for this tournament. The ranked wrestlers are as follows; No.4 Collin Purington (Nebraska), No.5 Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa), No.6 Jarrett Degen (Iowa State), No.7 Griffin Parriot (Purdue), No.8 Brock Zacherl (Clarion), No.12 Brayton Lee (Minnesota), No.14 Yahya Thomas (Northwestern), No.16 Henry Polmeyer (South Dakota State), No.17 Russell Rohlfing (CSU Bakersfield), No.19 Brent Moore (Virginia Tech), No.21 Josh Maruca (Arizona State), No.22 Greg Gaxiola (Fresno State). True freshman Phenom Andrew Alirez from Northern Colorado is also registered. Alirez is not ranked as he has not faced a ranked opponent but has looked dominant this season. Out of high school Alirez was the No.2 pound for pound wrestler in the country.

Sasso is coming off a 12-9 victory over Hunter Richard of Cornell. Sasso appeared to really fade late in the match, allowing Richard to easily get to his legs and get several takedowns. Sasso will need to improve on this performance in order to contend for a title at this weight. I think one of the three freshmen (Alirez, Sasso, or Lee) will make their way through this gauntlet to win the individual title at 149 pounds.

In order for the Buckeyes to be in contention for a team title in this tournament they will need Sasso to have a top 3 finish with bonus point victories along the way.

157 Pounds: Jaden Mattox (3-2, r-Fr.)

There has been a lot of speculation as to who would wrestle for the Buckeyes at 157 this weekend. Many thought Hayes would return to the lineup after injuring his shoulder earlier this season but after Ohio State released their lineup on Tuesday it appears Jaden Mattox will get the nod at 157. This will be Mattox’s first tournament in the starting lineup for the Buckeyes who is currently 3-2 on the season.

There are currently 8 out of the top 25 157 pounders in the country registered to represent their respective teams in Las Vegas. The ranked wrestlers that are registered includes; No.1 Hayden Hidlay(NC State), No.2 David Carr (Iowa State), No.4 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern), No.7 Kendall Coleman (Purdue), No. 11 Will Lewan (Michigan), No.17 BC LaPrade (Virginia Tech), No.19 Justin Thomas (Oklahoma), and No.21 Jacori Teemer (Arizona State).

Hayden Hidlay, Ryan Deakin, and David Carr are all legitimate National title contenders. Outside of those three, you have three impressive freshmen in Kendall Coleman, Will Lewan, and Jacori Teemer. I would not be surprised to see any of these freshmen finish on the podium at the end of the year. Mattox will have a rough road to placing on the podium in his first tournament in the lineup. Ultimately, I think Mattox fails to make the podium.

It is getting to the point in the year where decisions may affect postseason seeding. Since Hayes is not ready to go, the staff may need to send him to the Midlands tournament to improve his RPI ranking.

165 Pounds: No. 14 Ethan Smith (7-3, r-So.)

This will be Smith’s second appearance at the Cliff Keen. Last year he wrestled in the 174-pound weight class and went an underwhelming 1-2. This year he made the cut down to 165 pounds for the Buckeyes.

Ten out of the top 25 165-pounders in the country are currently registered for the Cliff Keen Invitational. The ranked wrestlers are as followed; No.4 Isaiah White (Nebraska), No.5 Josh Shields (Arizona State), No.6 David McFadden (Virginia Tech), No.8 Andrew Fogarty (North Dakota State), No.10 Austin Matthew (Northern Colorado), No.15 Phillip Conigliaro (Harvard), No.17 Tommy Bullard (NC State), No.23 Emil Soehnlen (Purdue), No.24 Ricky Stamm (Hofstra).

Smith has been very inconsistent this year, losing to two unranked opponents then defeating Virginia Tech’s No. 4 David Mcfadden in an upset a couple weeks ago. Most recently, Smith defeated an undefeated senior from Cornell by a 12-4 major decision. I think Smith struggled with his weight management early in the season which led to some unexpected results. He has looked much better as of late, so this tournament will be a great opportunity for Smith to make a name for himself in the 165-pound weight class. Smith will need continue pushing with his offense and utilizing his elite defense to place in Las Vegas. I think Smith can finish top 3 depending on his seeding.

174 Pounds: No. 13 Kaleb Romero (8-0, r-So.)

Romero wrestled in this tournament last year at 165 pounds, he went 1-1 until an injury caused him to default out of the tournament.

Thirteen out of the top 25 174-pounders in the country are currently registered for this tournament. The ranked wrestlers are as follows; No.4 Bryce Steiert (Northern Iowa), No.5 Mikey Labriola (Nebraska), No.7 Dylan Lydy (Purdue), No.8 Anthony Valencia (Arizona State), No.9 Devin Skatzka (Minnesota), No.10 Hayden Hastings (Wyoming), No.11 Brandon Womack (Cornell), No.14 Anthony Mantanona (Oklahoma), No.21 Daniel Bullard (NC State), No.22 Jackson Hemauer (Fresno State), No.23 Jacob Oliver (Edinboro), and No.25 Kimball Bastian (Utah Valley).

Romero is coming off a huge 6-5 win over #11 Brandon Womack of Cornell. This is by far the biggest win of Romero’s college career and he appears to be wrestling with great confidence. His blast double from neutral has become extremely effective and he is controlling the pace of his matches. In years past he could get to opponent’s legs but had trouble finishing. Romero should be seeded well for this tournament and we should learn a lot about where he stands with the elite guys at 174 lbs. I think Romero will easily make the podium.

184 Pounds: Gavin Hoffman (8-4, r-Fr.)

This will be Hoffman’s first appearance at the Cliff Keen Invitational. The field at 184 lbs. consists of Twelve out of the top 25 184-pounders in the country. The 184-weight class could be toughest weight this year in Las Vegas with 8 of the top 10 184 pounders being registered.

The ranked wrestlers include; No.1 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State), No.2 Trent Hidlay (NC State), No.3 Louie DePrez (Binghamton), No.4 Ben Darmstadt (Cornell), No.5 Taylor Lujan (Northern Iowa), No.7 Sammy Colbray (Iowa State), No.9 Taylor Venz (Nebraska), No.10 Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech), No.17 Jelanie Embree (Michigan), No.22 Max Lyon (Purdue), No.23 Alan Clothier (Northern Colorado), and No.24 Tate Samuelson (Wyoming).

Hoffman came to Ohio State as an elite recruit and went an impressive 25-3 in his redshirt year. Hoffman has struggled both offensively and defensively this season. Hoffman is coming off a 5-0 loss to No. 4 Ben Darmstadt of Cornell. Hoffman showed some good things in this match that showed his progression. Hoffman has the talent to compete in this weight class and this tournament will serve as a good opportunity for Gavin to get his season back on track. His path to the podium will be extremely difficult, but hopefully he can notch a couple ranked wins and start to gain some confidence. Ultimately, I think Hoffman fails to make the podium.

197 Pounds: No. 1 Kollin Moore (9-0, r-Sr.)

This will be Moore’s 4th and final appearance at the Cliff Keen Wrestling Invitational. Moore took third as a freshman and has dominated the last two years, winning the title at 197 pounds.

There are currently 12 out of the top 25 197-pounders registered for this tournament. The ranked opponents are as follows; No.3 Jacob Holschlag (Northern Iowa), No.5 Nick Reenan (NC State), No.6 Eric Schultz (Nebraska), No.9 Jay Ariello (Virginia), No.10 Tom Lane (Cal Poly), No.11 Tanner Sloan (South Dakota State), No.15 Tanner Orndorff (Utah Valley), No.16 Jake Woodley (Oklahoma), No.19 Christian Brunner (Purdue), No.20 Kordell Norfleet (Arizona State), and No.25 Lucas Davison (Northwestern). Jacob Holschlag has been injured and may not wrestle in this tournament. Nick Reenan wrestled at 184-pounds last year and was ranked second at one point in the season before suffering a torn ACL.

Moore has looked impressive this season with bonus point victories in 8 of his 9 matches. If Moore is at his best, he should capture his third individual title in Las Vegas. Bonus points from Moore will be very important if Ohio State hopes to claim another team title.

HWT: No. 8 Chase Singletary (2-0, r-So.)

Singletary will be competing in Las Vegas for a second time. Last year, Singletary had a strong tournament taking 5th place with multiple victories over ranked opponents.

There are currently 11 out of the top 25 heavy weights registered for this tournament.

The ranked wrestlers are as follows; No. 4 Tate Ondorff (Utah Valley), No.5 Tanner Hall (Arizona State), No.6 Mason Parris (Michigan), No.13 Christian Lance (Nebraska), No.14 Brian Andrews (Wyoming), No.15 Gannon Gremmel (Iowa State), No.18 Carter Isley (Northern Iowa), No.19 Brandon Metz (North Dakota State), No.20 John Borst (Virginia Tech), No.21 Jon Spaulding (Edinboro).

Singletary has looked good so far this year, albeit in limited competition. Both of his victories on the year have come over opponents ranked in the top 20. Singletary has a history with two of the better wrestlers in the field. Last year, he lost 8-2 to Orndorff in the semis at the Cliff Keen. Singletary also wrestled Mason Parris twice last year, splitting matches. Tanner Hall is the only All-American in the field at heavy weight, taking 3rd place at NCAA’s in 2017. I expect Singletary to wrestle well ultimately finishing in the top 4.

Overall, the Buckeyes will have their hands full in trying to bring home their 4th straight team title. In a year where the Buckeyes have a roster full of young talent, will the Buckeyes perform above expectations or will they come back down to earth? 7/10 starters for Ohio State are Sophomores or younger. Ohio State is currently ranked 5th in the country as a team with No.3 Nebraska, No.4 NC State, No.7 Iowa State and No.8 Arizona State looking to end the Buckeyes reign at the Cliff Keen Wrestling Invitational.

Written By Cory Falbo

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