USA Greco

Last Chance OTT Qualifier: 60, 67, & 77 KG

lenny merkin, thor masters 2023
Lenny Merkin -- Photo: Brydeklubben Thor

In the February edition of Marquette Matters, Northern Michigan University head coach Andy Bisek echoed a sentiment likely held by many other coaches when it comes to next week’s Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier. “I don’t know how many of them there are,” Bisek said of the number of his wrestlers who may enter, “but I also don’t know if pumping them full of pressure is the best way, either. There is a tournament and a task to do. If we do it, two weeks later you have to wrestle again.”

That sums it up.

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The assignment is both simple and complex. Olympic Team procedures are limiting when compared to a typical World Team selection process. There are fewer opportunities for athletes to earn entry into the most prestigious domestic tournament available, partly because the United States does not host the same number of events as it had in the past. And for those wrestlers, in this particular season, who were unable to secure Olympic Trials berths via one of the previous competitive endeavors offered, they have “Last Chance”. But unlike the most recent iteration of this event for ’20 Tokyo, finishing in the top-2 will not be enough. Athletes with designs on earning spots in the Trials must emerge as tournament champions. That is the simple part.

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The complication resides only in the degree of difficulty. The field, in most brackets, is not only large but stocked with capable, accomplished competitors, as well. Weight categories are simultaneously well-populated and dense. There is also the “pressure” Bisek warns against, the noun itself as much associated with the tournament as singlets and bodylocks, though met with avoidance if not downright disdain. Pressure is, in a word, imaginary, but the majority of serious entrants on Saturday will sense it once the action begins. How they harness that feeling and perform under its rigors will go a long way towards determining their results. Which is how it should be. If an athlete deems himself a viable candidate at the Olympic Trials, then approaching “Last Chance” with anything other than a willingness to eagerly accept the stakes involved would run counterintuitive to the overall mission.

2024 Last Chance Qualifier: 60, 67, & 77 KG

Registration for the 2024 Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier is open until Friday, April 5 — which means that there is still time for athletes to appear in brackets. This preview (as well as the second part covering 87, 97, and 130 kg) may be updated to reflect changes accordingly.

60 kg

Samuel Braswell IV (Cougar WC)
It has been a minute since Braswell last competed in Greco but, prior to his hiatus, he had performed well at the U23 level and is an all-around excellent wrestler who is unafraid to try and unleash offense. Brings excitement.

Mitch Brown (Air Force RTC)
A rough buzzer-beater defeat at the hands of Billy Sullivan (Army/WCAP) at Armed Forces last month is why Brown is heading to Last Chance. Brown has made constant improvements to his skill-set and is generally just a very tough competitor. It’s a deep bracket, but he could be equipped to have a big day.

Paxton Creese (Minnesota Storm)
Most could not wait until Creese ventured into full-time Greco-Roman competition and he showed why at the December Nationals. Although he did not place high enough to qualify for State College, Creese demonstrated the athleticism, instincts, and scoring ability that defined his time as a star age-grouper.

Jonathan Gurule (NMU/NTS) — ’22 U20 World Team, ’23 U23 WTT runner-up
Fast has been the rise of Gurule, who is in his third year at the nation’s most valuable institution for Greco-Roman wrestling. He should be right in the thick of things next weekend. That is the expectation. Gurule claims one of the more complete arsenals in this weight class.

Phillip Moomey (Spartan Combat RTC) — 2X U23 World Team, ’18 U17 World Team
Moomey (who fell twice to Gurule last year before gaining revenge in the U23 best-of-three) is terrific and yet underrated. He has done nothing other than consistently contend in virtually every meaningful tournament. A legitimate force with which to be reckoned.

King Sandoval (DMV RTC) — ’21 US National Team
So long as the weigh-in does not prove problematic, Sandoval is yet one more athlete who is seen as a threat to earn the 60 kg Trials spot. He has a history of putting together solid matches and can run off chains of points once he gets going. And once Sandoval gets going, he has shown to be tough to stop.

Full Entries: 60 kg

Samuel Braswell IV (Cougar WC)
Mitch Brown (Air Force RTC)
Ruben Calderon (Paradigm Wrestling)
Jayden Carson
(Arkansas RTC)
Paxton Creese (Minnesota Storm)
Peter Del Gallo (Southside WC)
Amin Dindar (CO)
Jonathan Gurule (NMU/NTS)
Austin Long
(Cougar WC)
David Medina (TN)
Phillip Moomey (Spartan Combat RTC)
Emil Necula
(Level Up WC)
Josh Paulson
(Patriot WC)
Theorius Robison (Sons of Thunder)
Aaron Runzo
King Sandoval (DMV RTC)
Roger Stewart
Tyshawn White

67 kg

Joel Adams (TBW) — ’22 U17 World Champion, ’23 U20 World Team
Ignore the resume, ignore how young Adams still is. Just go by optics, and it is apparent that the intensity of Senior-level competition fits Adams exceedingly-well. After his US Open in April, Adams did not experience the same degree of success, hence his presence in this event. But the fire and competitive maturity he brings are hard to miss, both of which are assets heading into next Saturday.

Brett Back (Dubuque RTC)
Back, along with the young man below, might not be ready just yet to win Last Chance. Then again, maybe he is. Either way, what he can, and very well might, achieve is serving as an obstacle that knocks someone else out of the running. Back is positionally-disciplined, quite strong, and gaining ground with his par terre offense.

Jeremy Bockert (IGA)
As mentioned, Bockert is similar to Back insofar that both are young, both are recent Fargo champs, and both have tons of promise. An additional arrow in Bockert’s quiver is overseas experience, though that might not prove so advantageous in a US domestic tournament. A solid scorer with robust foundational technique, Bockert cannot be taken lightly.

Chayse LaJoie (CARTC) — ’21 U20 World Team, ’20 U20 National Champion
Undoubtedly one of the most gifted athletes in this event, LaJoie is a resourceful, innovative wrestler who can blend styles in order to find points. Has shown glimpses on the Senior level, and has earned some good wins, but is waiting for a breakthrough.

Hunter Lewis (Wolfpack RTC) — ’18 U17 World Team
Very few athletes, college-aged or even older, have acquired as much time on foreign soil as Lewis has, but folkstyle aspirations have occasionally taken him away from Greco. He is locked-in for this selection season, however, and it would not shock anyone if he manages to fight his way to the final.

Lenny Merkin (NYAC) — ’18 U23 World Team
Due to the restrictive nature of the selection procedures, several top-caliber domestic athletes have yet to qualify for the Trials and Merkin is one of them. The Brooklyn native won this event back in ’21 and now has his sights set on becoming a two-timer. Most know how dangerous Merkin is on the feet, but knowing that and being able to do something about it are mutually-exclusive propositions.

Duncan Nelson (OTC)
Nelson has wrestled some extremely impressive matches this season (New York in November, the Nationals in December) and has had to endure a few really tough losses along the way. With how he has looked, and with the time he has had to prepare, Nelson should be coming into this tournament carrying the requisite amount of confidence to make a run.

Aidan Nutter (NYAC/NTS) — ’22 US Open runner-up
Too big for 60 and maybe just a touch undersized for 67 is where Nutter has found himself this season. A truly standout Greco athlete who normally wields a tight grasp of how he wants to attack each match, the weight fluctuation (Nutter has tried both 60 and 67 thus far this season) has, probably, contributed to his needing Virginia to gain eligibility for the Trials. If he feels good, a threat to go the distance.

Colton Parduhn (IGA)
Teammate and training partner of Bockert’s, Parduhn boasts similar upside and has put on display a good competitive disposition in addition to having a grasp of how to deploy par terre offense. That is a nice combination to have for a young prospect. Parduhn also received a bit of attention at the US Nationals in December, so he at least has a feel for what an important domestic tournament is like.

Full Entries: 67 kg

Joel Adams (TBW)
Brett Back (Dubuque RTC)
Jeremy Bockert (IGA)
Charlie Dill (NMU/NTS)
Justin Feldman (South West WA WC)
Peyton Harris (Western Colorado WC)
Savion Haywood (Iguana WC)
Jackson Higgins (Cougar WC)
Maddox Khalimsky (NMU/NTS)
Chayse LaJoie (CARTC)
Hunter Lewis (Wolfpack RTC)
Pierson Manville (PA)
Lenny Merkin (NYAC)
Pablo Monreal (VA)
Duncan Nelson (OTC)
Aidan Nutter (NYAC/NTS)
Colton Parduhn (IGA)
Mauricio Reyes (Savage University WC)
Max Schierl (NMU/NTS)

77 kg

Riley Briggs (NMU/NTS)
There are other athletes receiving blurb overviews who have higher billing than does Briggs, but that sort of material is based on results as opposed to actual competitive viability. Pertaining to the latter, no one in this bracket has anything on Briggs, whose knowledge and skill are both top-quality. If he has prepared adequately, for sure an ultra-serious contender.

Tyler Eischens (Tar Heel WC) — ’23 U23 World Team, ’19 Junior World Team
The kind of competitor who can easily steal headlines. Eischens — whose NCAA career has been a priority in recent years — is more of a Greco kid who wrestles in college than he is a college wrestler just hopping into Greco. Versatile and sufficiently mean when it counts, Eischens could be a favorite in the eyes of some observers.

Arvin Khosravy (CA) — 2X U17 World Team, ’23 U20 Pan-Am Championships gold
Khosravy might be the youngest of the bunch. That does little to diminish his odds in an otherwise wide-open bracket. It will come down to defending from bottom — or catching fire to the point where grinding his sternum down on a lock ceases to become a necessity.

Aydin Rix-McElhinney (Northern CO WC)
If not for the unique procedures for the December Nationals, Rix-McElhinney would not be in this tournament as he had placed fifth in Fort Worth. And, few saw that performance coming, nor did they expect the steady conviction and opportunistic scores that were on display in his matches. A whole lot of potential brightside.

Alec Ortiz (Minnesota Storm) — ’21 National Champion
He knows what this feels like. Back in ’16, Ortiz downed former NMU’er Colin Schubert in the finals of the Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier. Four years later (really five), Ortiz was in the running once again before ultimately falling short. A wonderful crowd-pleaser is he regardless of result. Ortiz does not cheat fans. Even to his own detriment, he refuses to put forth a boring match. A little more “boring” and a little less electricity would probably help him. Nevertheless, Ortiz is anticipated to have his say in how this all plays out.

Eddie Smith (Dubuque RTC)
Smith has, in fairly limited Senior action, had his moments but is still developing as he continues to gather full-time sensibilities. An advantage he does have is learning from two-time Olympian Ben Provisor, who is currently training in Dubuque and regularly works with Smith. A breathless pace-pusher, Smith won’t be an easy out, but this also might not be his time just yet.

Noah Wachsmuth (NYAC) — 2X US National Team
Wachsmuth, who committed to full-time Greco-Roman as an age-group athlete, began to hit his stride in ’22 and ever since has impressed those who pay attention with his dynamic ability from top par terre as well as with his general feel for in-match mechanics. The jump from 72 to 77 has been an adjustment for him; if that is no longer the issue it was earlier in the season, a trip to State College would not be a shocker.

Ryan Wheeler (UP Vikings WC)
When he has entered National-level tournaments, Wheeler has been effective. It has only been against the main top guys when he has struggled. Most opponents who are also on the come-up have not posed problems for him. This is a deep field, obviously, and so it won’t be easy. But a strong showing, one way or another, could help propel Wheeler further should he desire to continue pursuing this style.

Full Entries: 77 kg

Riley Briggs (NMU/NTS)
Aaron Dobbs (NMU/NTS)
Tyler Eischens (Tar Heel WC)
Rudy James (Minnesota Storm)
Arvin Khosravy (CA)
Tyler Loethen (Natural Athlete WC)
Alek Martinez (NOVA WC)
Quinlan Nelson (IL)
Alec Ortiz (Minnesota Storm)
Mason Parsons (Sons of Thunder)
Loranzo Rajaonarivelo (Patriot WC)
Glenn Rhees (Graham Greco)
Aydin Rix-McElhinney (Northern Colorado WC)
Benjamin Smith (MD)
Eddie Smith (Dubuque RTC)
Noah Wachsmuth (NYAC)
Ryan Wheeler (UP Vikings WC)
Caden Young (Mustang WC)

The 2024 Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier takes place on April 6 at the James W. Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, VA and will stream live on FLOWrestling.

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