USA Greco

Bill Farrell Memorial 2018: Why It’s a Must-Watch

cheney haight, 2018 bill farrell memorial
Cheney Haight -- Photo: Richard Immel

Usually reserved for the fall, the annual Bill Farrell Memorial in New York City was shuffled to the spring for 2018, essentially switching places with the Dave Schultz, the US’ other pseudo-international event. Originally, this schedule wrinkle was not readily embraced by many athletes, particularly those who struggle to travel overseas. Match time is always at a premium for developing Seniors. With the Schultz being moved to the Farrell’s customary November slot and the US Nationals reappearing in April for the first time in three years, wrestlers who have a hard time getting their passports stamped were left with a pretty sizable gap between events.

But now that we’re finally here, it feels as though the 2018 Bill Farrell couldn’t have come at a better time. As discussed in this week’s Monday Roundup, just about everyone can get what they need leading up to April’s Open. High-profile Seniors who have been able to remain active throughout the entire season can use the tournament as a testing ground while high-speed Juniors can do the same for their Trials. Wrestlers who have been dormant can work some rust off, and guys entering back into Greco off of their folkstyle seasons will have the opportunity to regain a competitive feel with a decent amount of time still left to iron out any issues before Vegas.

Most importantly, fans will be treated to what is a substantially more packed edition of the Bill Farrell than we’ve seen in a couple of years — which is likely another result of the schedule change. Going by the pre-registrations, most of the country’s biggest stars are showing up and there are plenty of intriguing and highly-entertaining potential battles that could take place well before the medal rounds. If you’re available to watch this thing on Friday, you will need to be locked in from the beginning because a few of the weight classes are deep enough to where marquee match-ups are going to pop up early in the morning.

We’ve highlighted a few individual athletes (weight classes) for you to keep an eye on. Think of all this as a quick primer before action begins Friday morning at the New York Athletic Club.

2018 Bill Farrell Memorial — Reasons to Watch

5.  Kendrick is back

Until further notice, Kendrick Sanders ( 77 kg, NYAC/OTS) holds the distinction of being one of the best wrestlers in the country still waiting to make a Senior World Team. He is so overloaded with talent that it’s just hard to believe. Even Sanders himself has acknowledged his dubious standing and it’s something he’d like to correct before he walks away. A surprising tech loss at the hands of Dillon Cowan at the ’17 World Team Trials also resulted in an injury and (another) prolonged layoff. Sanders might need a minute or two to regain his footing on Friday but he’s won here before. 77 is beyond packed at this event and he’s one of the reasons why. You’ll never be disappointed watching Sanders compete if/when he’s at his best.

4. Cheney is returning, too

What is two-time World Teamer Cheney Haight‘s (NYAC) status? What do you call him? Is he half-retired, or half-active? Following Paris, there was a good amount of talk that Haight, 33, might call it a career. And then next thing you knew, there he was at the November Schultz. Haight wrestled well in that event but was cut down by Park Jae-Woo (KOR, who is listed for the Farrell at 97) in the consolation semis. It should also be noted that Haight was up at 87 for Schultz and will be again in New York. There didn’t appear to be any slowing in his game throughout the 2016-17 season at all. In some ways he was better than ever. Whatever Haight’s plans are, long-term or otherwise, it’s good that he’s checking in for this. We still need him around.

3. Movement

Two well-known Seniors are appearing in different weight classes than where we’ve last seen them. Lucas Sheridan (Army/WCAP) is up at 97, which immediately boosts the depth at that weight. Sheridan was a robust 85’er, so with the new weigh-in procedures it’s a move that makes sense. 2017 U23 World Team member Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm) is dropping from 87 back down to 82, a decision that instantly makes him a legitimate threat for the Senior spot in Tulsa. Incidentally, both Sheridan and Stanghill finished fourth at the Trials in 2017, their highest placings at that event thus far.

2. Williams Baptist’s legitimate, for-real Senior debut

It’s a strange situation. On one hand, there isn’t a lot to be expected out of the emerging program at this tournament. After all, the majority of Williams wrestlers do not possess meaningful competitive experience on the Senior circuit. On the other hand, just about everyone wants to see what this is all going to look like. WBC head coach Jonathan Drendel has been preparing his squad for this walk into the lion’s den for quite a while. Learning curve aside, there could be some fun moments out of the group, particularly from Ryan Whittle (77 kg), Chris Anderson (77 kg, formerly of NMU), Angel Nava (63 kg), and WBC’s resident tank, Conor Karwath (130 kg).

1. Too much craziness in these three weight classes

The chaos starts at 72 kilos, where 2016 World Team member Chris Gonzalez (NYAC), Anthonie “Twinkie” Linares (NYAC/OTS), Jamel Johnson (Marines), and Logan Kass (Minnesota Storm/OTS) are all setting up shop. Gonzalez, who finished second to Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) in the ’17 Trials finals, left Colorado Springs during the summer to pursue MMA out in California but came back for the Dave Schultz Memorial and put forth a strong effort to snag bronze. It was (sort of) a similar story for Johnson, although he hadn’t competed in over a year when he fought his way to a win over Brandon Mueller (Air Force) for third. Linares is unquestionably one of the most capable overall competitors in the tournament, though there have been some struggles recently. He’s going to round back into form eventually and that could come on Friday.

How many headliners does a weight class even need? 77 offers at least seven counting the aforementioned Sanders.

2017 Junior World Champion Kamal Bey (Sunkist) leads the pack, and after his thrillingly explosive run to gold in Cuba last month, he’ll be operating with the same high level of confidence that has made him a star. It’s still difficult to talk about Bey without mentioning Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS), but Porter deserves to stand on his own right now. He competed his heart out at the U23 Worlds and delivered a pair of impressive wins in Denmark that were extremely encouraging.

NCAA Division I All-American Jon Jay Chavez (NYAC) gave Bey a good run in the Trials semis a year ago, did the same against Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets) in the University National finals, scrapped well in Georgia, and then held a lead on Porter in both of their finals bouts at the U23 Trials before the latter busted it all open with some late-match heroics. Colin Schubert (NYAC/OTS) is a no-doubt-about-it talent who fights and fights and fights while still being able to demonstrate crisp technique. He was also a favorite to seal the U23 World Team spot at 72, but that event is where Alex Mossing (Air Force) fully came into his own. Those two battled three times last year. If they meet again in NYC, it might get nuclear. Like Porter, Alec Ortiz (Minnesota Storm) earned victories at the Thor Masters Invitational that you always knew were in him. Fans love Ortiz because he’s always aggressive, if not downright reckless. His matches never fail to deliver action one way or the other. But now that he’s had the chance to add some European polish, it’ll be interesting to see if that approach changes.

Xavier Johnson, 2018 Bill Farrell

Johnson (blue) loads up Ildar Hafizov with a bodylock at the 2018 Armed Forces Championships. (Photo: Armed Forces Sports)

87 kilograms should be a fun bracket to check in on throughout the day. The same can be said of 60 and 97. However, 63 offers the most density compared to those two. 2014 University World bronze Sammy Jones (NYAC/OTS) stands as the most experienced and well-rounded athlete in this weight class. We haven’t seen Jones get his licks with the new par terre yet, but given how explosive he can be when locked, it’s pretty hard to picture him being unable to find plenty of scores from that position. Senior Trials runner-up/2016 National Champion Hayden Tuma (Army/WCAP) defeated Jones at this event in 2016 and is right there with him in the power department. He’s coming off of nearly a year on the shelf, and as such, will be more concerned about shaping up heading to next month’s theatrics.

There might not be a hotter Greco athlete in the US right now than Xavier Johnson (Marines). It began in February with his bronze at Zagreb and continued later on that month with his stunning upset victory over Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP) at the Armed Forces Championships. He’ll probably be back down at 60 for the Trials, but his presence in this bracket makes it a “can’t miss” proposition. If Jones, Tuma, and Johnson weren’t enough, how about the Marquette duo of Travis Rice and Jordan Auen? Rice, somehow, some way, has not only been able to pull off going down a weight class, but he’s looked really solid so far even if the wins haven’t followed just yet. Fans seem to have forgotten about Auen, who did nothing other than win an overseas event during his first semester at NMU (Klippan Cup) and then earn another international medal four months later in Austria. Auen does not yet boast the same kind of seasoning as the rest of this bunch, but that doesn’t make him any less of a potential problem.

The Particulars

Wrestling is set to begin at 9:00 am with finals scheduled for 6:00 pm. Fans interested in watching the action unfold live can do so on FLO. 5PM will be providing updated results, a full recap, and follow-ups throughout the weekend.

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