A two-stage Trials procedure for the Juniors not only means all ten National champs enjoy a bye to the finals, but it also provides several of America’s finest young athletes an all-important second chance to reach a goal, that in years past, would have already slipped away.
Our Watchlist portion of the 2018 UWW Junior Greco-Roman World Team Trials preview was completed prior to April’s National tournament, so race over here and there if you’re looking for detailed scouting reports. Only one winner in Vegas, Oklahoma State’s Barrett Hughes (87 kg) didn’t make the initial cut. But outside of Hughes’s eye-popping performance, no one else was really missed. Nearly all of the wrestlers thought of as legitimate candidates going in either won or placed, a fact that says more about the uptick in experienced domestic competitors currently than anything else.
We start with the first five weight classes of the 2018 UWW Junior Greco-Roman World Team Trials challenge tournament, scheduled for Friday in Indianapolis, Indiana and available to watch live on FloWrestling (subscription required). Of the five National Champions who will be awaiting the tournament winners from their respective weights, four have tasted the World Championships experience previously — Cevion Severado (2017 – Junior), Malik Johnson (2016, 2017 – Cadet), Peyton Omania (2016 – Cadet), and Dominick Demas (2015, 2016 – Cadet; 2017 – Junior).
For those athletes who didn’t punch it through at the Nationals in Vegas, Friday offers as much of a clean slate as they’re going to get. There is a vast collection of World Team-caliber competitors from 55 kilos on up, so there won’t be a lot of mismatches to speak of, resulting in perseverance and the ability to stay fresh seen as lockstep priorities.
2018 UWW Junior Greco-Roman World Team Trials Preview
*2018 Junior National Champions receive a bye to the best-of-three finals
55 kg — National champ: Cevion Severado (NYAC)
Although Severado earned a jaw-dropping silver at the 2017 World Championships, he entered the National qualifier as the #2 seed. That’s because last year, Elijah Varona (Garage Boyz) easily defeated Severado 2-0 in the 50-kilogram best-of-three series. 55 kilos portrayed a deep pool in Vegas, so it was nowhere near a lock they’d meet again in the finals — and they didn’t. Wisconsinite Dylan Koontz (Unattached) took care of that by going over Varona via decision.
The biggest surprise of April’s 55-kilo bracket was MWC’s Joseph Harrison, who all but streaked past three talented wrestlers in a row — King Sandoval (Unattached), Cadet World Teamer Hunter Lewis (WI), and the aforementioned Koontz. But unlike Varona, Severado advanced to the final where he gutted Harrison out for a snappy tech.
Camden Russell (MWC) had some moments in Vegas and so too did the other half of the Koontz duo, Brady. But the real x-factor in Indianapolis might be none other than Anthony Molton, a creative, flashy offensive machine who is one of Illinois’s most potent prospects. A first-year UWW Junior, Molton might lack some of the power his elders can dish out, though he can compensate by keeping a brisk pace and pouncing on transitional opportunities.
Severado proved a lot of critics wrong with how composed he remained during some dicey moments on the mat in April, and also by demonstrating he has upgraded his overall competitive temerity. Whoever winds up emerging to face him in the finals series is going to have to deal with a supremely confident athlete who now knows he has multiple ways to win.
60 kg — National champ: Malik Johnson (Unattached)
Johnson is a former two-time Cadet World Team member who may or may not wind up a full-time athlete down the road, which would be a loss for Greco because of how skilled and experienced he is, and how poised he can be. In the Vegas final, he outdueled one of the country’s best younguns Benji Peak (NMU/OTS) by erasing a 4-1 first period deficit that he converted into an 11-9 victory on the strength of a couple of timely takedowns in the second.
NMU’s Jon Massey is up-and-coming but still learning as he goes. The same can be said of his incoming teammate Delon Kanari, who is stepping up to this age group for the first time. Peak has been the most dangerous. Previously, that was due primarily to his height, but the rangy kid has hardened up some in Marquette and his in-match decision-making has evolved.
Johnson is going to have his work cut out for him no matter who he’s standing across in the best-of-three, and that is a sizable understatement.
63 kg — National champ: Alston Nutter (NMU/OTS)
The first thing you need to know about Nutter’s triumph at the Nationals is that in four matches, he spent a combined 4:25 actually competing. The rest of the time he was either warming up, cooling down, or posing with his plaque. It was one of the most dominant performances out of any Junior or Senior in Vegas, but it didn’t come without an allotment of sacrifice. Nutter left his Wisconsin high school career behind following his sophomore season so he could get an early jump on full-time Greco up at Northern. His first year in Marquette had its bumps and bruises, but he kicked off his 2017-18 campaign with a gold in Denmark and a bronze in Sweden before adding a silver from the Austrian Open this past March.
In other words, Nutter’s gold wasn’t a shock.
If you’re a Mason Hartshorn (NMU/OTS) fan, what you liked most is that he didn’t struggle piling up points, as well. Hartshorn, a product of the vaunted CYC program out of California, threw himself into the gauntlet this season by competing a lot, particularly internationally. But the Junior National tournament represented his breakthrough, even if Nutter got him out of there post-haste in the final. A couple of weeks after that, however, Hartshorn performed brilliantly at the Junior Greco World Duals, so he’ll be strolling into action on Friday perhaps operating with some additional chutzpah.
All the same, the 63-kilogram challenge tournament should have its share of bear traps for Hartshorn, provided everyone else here has made the appropriate adjustments. Plenty of folks thought Tyler Cunningham (MWC) could be a finalist a month and change ago given his length and technical maturation. Cunningham certainly wowed with his win over gifted Luis Hernandez (Garage Boyz) but Hartshorn eased past him into the final. Former Cadet powerhouse Mosha Schwartz (X-Calibur) shouldn’t be dismissed. After being overwhelmed by Hartshorn in the quarters, Schwartz put together four impressive wins to come in third, defeating Dylan Gregerson (Utah Valley RTC) via fall. And Gregerson is another one who impressed in April — and outside of Nutter — he may be the most intuitive scorer in the bracket.
The argument could be made that as far as challenge tournament weight classes go, 63 kilos stands as the most evenly-matched. You’ll want to keep tabs on what is going on with these guys throughout the day.
67 kg — National champ: Peyton Omania (Unattached)
Ignore the “unattached” — Omania, like Hartshorn, and Robby Smith (130 kg, NYAC) and Lucas Sheridan (Army/WCAP), is a CYC kid, which means he has spent practically his entire youth training Greco-Roman. You can also ignore that he’s ticketed for Michigan State next fall. Why? See the previous sentence. Omania can go wherever and do whatever, but it will not change the fact that underneath it all, he is a “true Greco guy.”
Then again, two-time Cadet/reigning Junior World Team member Dominick Demas (Oklahoma RTC) isn’t all that different. Demas has been an age-group wonder for years and betrays virtually no weaknesses when matched up with his fellow domestic athletes. And as most anticipated leading up to the Junior Nationals, Demas lit up the scoreboard on his way to the final — although he did experience a dicey moment or two along his travels. Britton Holmes (NMU/OTS), who also figures to be a factor in this bracket, hung in there toe-to-toe with Demas in their semifinal contest until the waning seconds when it all unraveled. Opposite Omania in the 67-kilo final, Demas saw an 8-2 first-period lead evaporate; from there, the train completely went off the rails as the pair combined for 28 points in what wound up being an 18-10 tech in Omania’s favor.
So you’ve got Omania. You’ve got Demas, and everyone knows by now what Holmes is about. 2017 Austrian Open gold medalist Riley Briggs (NMU/OTS) and Duncan Nelson (WBC) also require your attention. Both athletes are on the come-up and met twice in Vegas, with Nelson grinding out a 3-2 decision in the quarters and Briggs getting revenge via tech in the third-place match. The seeds aren’t out yet and where Holmes is bracketed might decide the whole thing, if only because you have to question what Briggs and/or Nelson would have to offer what will be a highly-motivated Demas. The only thing we know right now is that 67’s challenge tournament is probably not going to be decided by someone who thrives — but rather — survives.
72 kg — National champ: Tyler Dow (WI/Badger RTC)
One of the no-doubt-about-it best wrestlers in this weight class, Lenny Merkin (NYAC), was taken out in the round-of-16 at the Nationals by blazing talent Farouq Muhammed (Unattached). To his credit, Merkin wrestled all the way back to third place and looked pretty good doing so.
Merkin falling early came as a surprise, but Dow winning the whole thing really didn’t. He just doesn’t have a ton of missing pieces, other than occasionally going hips-back when he should really stay digging inside. Since he’s American, you have to let that go, especially given how lights-out he performed in April. There is a difference between a Greco athlete tech’ing all of his opponents and going virtually untouched. Dow’s day in Vegas: four opponents, four tech falls, outscored the opposition 36-4, and he never reached the second minute in any of his bouts. Do with that info what you will.
The two Minnesota tough guys thought to be big-time contenders, Tyler Eischens (Pinnacle) and Calvin Germinaro (Minnesota Storm), held up their end of the bargain fairly well. Eischens advanced to the final but ran into the buzzsaw that is/was Dow, and Germinaro opened with a pair of tech wins before he, too, was turned back by the Wisconsinite.
Muhammad lacks the polish the rest of the field possesses, but with over a month to fine-tune, should present a heightened degree of formidability. Germinaro is a full-time athlete who never got his engine running in the first tournament, so he’ll need to come off the starting line firing at full capacity this time around. Whether he, Muhammad, Merkin — really, whoever Dow’s finals opponent ends up being — has any steam left is the biggest question surrounding one very interesting bracket.