The first five challenge tournament weight classes are crammed with World-level experience, as four of the Junior National Champions with byes to the best-of-three finals have appeared in at least one World Championship tournament in their age-group careers. What you get with the upper-weights (which is to say the second five challenge tournament brackets) are plenty of talented wrestlers who have competed internationally — but have yet to make it to the big dance.
With the exception of Cohlton Schultz (130 kg, NYAC), of course.
We provided semi-in-depth scouting reports on all of these weight classes prior to the UWW Junior Nationals in April, so if you’d like to be brought up to speed, you’ll want to read this and that. However, things have changed a little. Nick Boykin (Sunkist), the humble bruiser who entered the domestic scene at heavyweight, has dropped to 97 kilograms. Also, 2016 Fargo National Champion Tyler Curd (MO) is throwing his hat into the proverbial ring and he is certainly an entrant worth keeping an eye on throughout the tournament. At heavyweight, 2017 Fargo winner and Cadet Pan Ams gold medalist Anthony Cassioppi (ISI) is also now in the mix to inject some added intrigue.
The 2018 UWW Junior Greco-Roman World Team Trials begin Friday morning in Indianapolis, Indiana and can be viewed live on FloWrestling (subscription required).
2018 UWW Junior Greco-Roman World Team Trials Preview
*2018 Junior National Champions receive a bye to the best-of-three finals
77 kg — National champ: Anthony Mantanona (Oklahoma)
77 kilograms is the deepest weight class on the Senior level, not so much when it comes to the Juniors, due primarily to 2017 World Champion Kamal Bey (Sunkist) and Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS) no longer having a say. Their absence opened a wide lane that former Fargo winner Mantanona had no trouble plowing through six weeks ago. Despite spending a lot of time in the leg-grabbing discipline(s), Mantanona can lean on a steady Greco-infused attack and his overall slickness. Combine those attributes with a refined ability to transition into nice scoring sequences, and it’s why he is so dangerous.
But he was given a scare in the National semifinals courtesy of NMU’s Josh Anderson. In fact, Anderson was up 6-0 thanks to a takedown and a follow-up hard-landing side lift. The NMU wrestler made a tactical error later in the first period; they were jousting at the edge, Anderson was sort of just hanging out holding head-and-arm, and Mantanona whipped him straight down and to his back for the fall. The end result spoke to Mantanona’s lightning-fast decision-making and instincts, for sure. Though if they meet again in the final, it is hard to picture Anderson stubbing his toe in the same manner.
2017 Cadet World Team member Jake Hendricks (X-Calibur) is who Mantanona dealt with in what should have been a more tightly-contested final. But that’s not how it went down. Hendricks never got out of first gear, Mantanona made him pay with a pair of four-pointers, and it was peace out fairly quickly.
As is the case with most of these weight classes, it’ll likely come down to who has made the most adjustments between late-April and tomorrow. Anderson has an advantage over most because of his training environment, but Hendricks didn’t really wrestle how he is capable of against Mantanona the first time around. That matters, because the best version of Hendricks is a threat to everyone, even if he’s new to the age group. Sawyer Knott (Unattached, third at Nationals) and Andrew Buckley (NMC-RTC, and who defeated a deflated Anderson in the consolation bracket) might work their respective ways into the argument, as well, but a lot is going to depend on what Anderson and Hendricks have working for them early on.
82 kg — National champ: Andrew Berreyesa (FLWC)
If Berreyesa is walking into Indy feeling all kinds of confident, then it’s because he deserves to be. Not that he was dominant back in April — he most certainly wasn’t. A grindingly difficult criteria decision over Zach Brunagel (IRTC) and an ever-so-slightly-more-cushiony win against Spencer Woods (NMU/OTS) escorted the Nevadan into the finals where he benefited from a couple of cautions to oust Tommy Brackett (Wave/NMU) 5-0. No, it’s not the way Berreyesa wanted to prevail, but to get past three terrific wrestlers in one day to claim the top spot says something. That Berreyesa also made the U23 Trial finals last weekend after slugging it out with Chandler Rogers (Cowboy RTC) should only contribute to his degree of self-assuredness.
Brackett is Brackett, and as a Greco athlete, his style is the one most coveted by coaches and old-schoolers who fall in love with positional brawlers. The word “toughness” is overused a bit around these parts, but not with Brackett. He is a furious clasher whose aggression is tempered by a mature level of patience rarely witnessed in athletes from this age group. But — he keeps getting banged for cautions that cost him dearly. Some of that is his fault, some of it isn’t. Either way, in order for him to set up a showdown with Berreyesa in the best-of-three, he’ll have to mind the officials a little more.
Woods might actually be the most interesting participant. Because he is an NMU competitor, Woods has trained overseas a number of times, and as such, he has steadily been applying those lessons learned to his domestic competitions. He’s figuring out how to turn on the jets more and more. There is a difference in how Woods is attacking; there is less timidity, less overreaching, less getting caught out of position. Woods is coming on strong early in matches and sustaining the same pace throughout. Could he be the scariest guy here all of the sudden? It’s possible.
Then again, to consider Brunagel some underrated sleeper would be a mistake. Maybe more than anyone else here, it is he who looks the most like a hardened Senior. His stance, when he stays disciplined, is perhaps the best out of all these guys. He also knows how to attack from his stance, which sounds trite, but it’s not. Getting comfortable from the “Greco stance” and being able to fight, twist, and contort into proper positions is not easy, particularly for American folkstylers. Actually, Brunagel is sometimes more vulnerable when he gets too “Greco-ie” when matched up opposite folky crossovers.
There aren’t a lot of guys at 82, unfortunately, but the ones who have raised their hands for this thing are among the best in the country.
87 kg — National champ: Barrett Hughes (Cowboy RTC/TMWC)
Greco-Roman fans will want to encourage Hughes to remain competitive in this style going forward. He is an gifted wrestler and overall powerhouse who also happens to demonstrate a merciless competitive mean streak that could play very nicely at the international level. Hughes came into the UWW Nationals without a whole lot of meaningful Greco training — which doesn’t necessarily set him apart from too many others at Cadet or Junior — but the natural instincts he displayed in conjunction with his physical boorishness helped elevate him to the Trials final, and that needs to be respected.
In that 87-kilogram final, Hughes battled Illinois’ Cameron Caffey (IRTC), who as you might expect given his home state, acquired a good amount of age-group experience before he set sail for Michigan State last fall where he redshirted his freshman year. Like Hughes, Caffey is an exceptional all-around wrestler who profiles as a potentially successful Senior should he choose that walk of life. Unlike Hughes, Caffey is well-schooled on Greco positioning and its relative mechanics enough to where a rematch of their hectic final from April is highly anticipated.
But regarding that final, as high-scoring as it was (the duo combined for 29 offensive points), it was also exceedingly sloppy. Again, lack of refinement coming from two guys who don’t train this style on daily basis all year long comes part and parcel at age-group. What you’re hoping for most is that both wrestlers have been upgrading their respective skill-sets leading up so that if one of them manages to represent the US at the Worlds in Slovakia this coming September, he will be operating with a workable baseline. Hughes has reportedly put workouts in at the OTC, so that should be a plus for him.
Nick Casperson (LOG) and Mike Waddell (OKRTC) both wrestled quite well in spots at the Nationals and together they comprised the bronze-medal match with Waddell emerging victorious via fall after he nailed a headlock down by four in the first. It was the same story for Waddell in the consolation semifinal. Dane Harter (Gator WC) looked like he was going to take complete control of their bout…and wham!…Waddell walloped a headlock to end it.
NMU’s Keaton Fanning may surpass the field eventually in his career as he continues to tack on matches and experience, and the same can be said for Kaleb Gaede (Olympia WC). George Sikes (NMU/OTS) did not have a great National tournament, but coming off of his win in Akron, he might be in the midst of a surge. When you glance at the bracket from a distance, it only appears as if there is some great disparity separating the Vegas finalists from everyone else. Most of these guys — be it Fanning, Harter, Waddell, or Gaede — can all beat each other and showed glimpses that they have what it takes to present issues for either Hughes or Caffey. So is 87 kilos a mess? You bet, but in the best way possible.
97 kg — National champ: Austin Harris (Cowboy RTC/TMWC)
Harris stands as one of the more physically gifted wrestlers in this tournament, and his length and his strength are two assets he knows very well how to employ in effort to find scores. 97 kilos at the Nationals was a round-robin bracket, so you only got a chance to see the Okie Stater compete three times — a relative shame if only because Harris performed so impressively. Plus, more importantly, it looked like he was having a whole lot of fun out there and that in turn made watching him even more enjoyable. You want to see guys compete with passion and Harris absolutely does.
Also — despite not being a full-timer (he and Hughes are teammates), Harris looked the part. He smoothly converted takedowns into further scores and really only gave up points when knocked out of position, which is an ultra-common occurrence. There is just a lot to like about this athlete.
But for as excellent and full of promise Harris is, he is not this weight class’s clear favorite, or at least not anymore. As mentioned in the intro, Boykin has dropped down to 97 and his presence completely changes the complexion of the bracket. Without Boykin, either Anthony Riopelle (NMU/OTS, and the owner of a beautiful, effective arm throw that rivals anyone in the US) or Hunter Mooring (CMWC) would be looked at as the most likely candidates to meet Harris in the finals series. With Boykin involved, Riopelle or Mooring getting that far will mean a huge upset has occurred.
Simply stated, Boykin is better at Greco-Roman wrestling than Harris; but, Harris is (probably) a better overall wrestler than Boykin. That makes the questions surrounding both athletes easy to ask.
- Has Harris, who like Hughes has spent time at the OTC and is surely familiar with Boykin, boosted his Greco skill-set enough to compliment his all-style attack?
- Can Boykin make 97 and still be able to go to his power game should it become necessary?
Boykin’s path to victory over Harris and everyone else is academic — par terre. The Tennessee kid is solid defensively and has mostly only given up turns to larger heavyweights, and a good brunt of those instances took place overseas. Boykin can lift, but he is quick to gut and has improved even more so in this area since he moved to Colorado Springs. For Harris, an unforgiving pace on the feet, the avoidance of mistakes (i.e., a Boykin headlock), and opportunistic counters that go somewhere will serve him well.
Another entrant who will be watched closely is Chad Porter (Sunkist), and rightfully so. Porter, fifth at Fargo a year ago, can offer significant problems for the field provided he doesn’t wilt under the type of pressure hardened foes like Boykin or Riopelle have a tendency to dish out.
Then again, how about Tyler Curd (Champion WC)? Curd, a tremendous prospect in his own right, is a strong, nasty competitor who is tailor-made for Greco. He got a lot of attention for stomping through Fargo two years ago, where lest anyone forget, he threw Schultz a couple of times en-route to a surprising tech. He also performed well at the Junior World Duals last May, earning a bronze. Curd is probably a little green still to assume he’ll definitely be in the thick of things tomorrow, but the fact he’s showing up automatically makes this weight class more thought provoking.
130 kg — National champ: Cohlton Schultz (NYAC)
2017 Cadet World champ Schultz has reached a stage now where it is difficult to lift up his virtues while still giving others in the bracket their proper due. There is no one to blame for any of this. How else are you supposed to handle it? The last “L” Schultz endured at the hands of a domestic opponent was two years ago (Curd, remember?). Ever since that fateful day at the Fargodome, he has not only gone undefeated in US tournaments, he hasn’t even really been pressed, save for Anthony Cassioppi (Ill) in Match 1 of the Junior Trials final last year. But Schultz came back in Match 2 and engineered a 13-4 tech that all but shut the door on any conversations involving his perceived vulnerabilities.
In April’s National tournament, Schultz got past a pair of prior Fargo finalists, Tommy Helton (SIRTC) and Brandon Metz (BWC) via tech in consecutive matches before handing Boykin a 10-0 drubbing in the final. All told, Schultz earned his bye to the heavyweight final by outscoring his four opponents 35-0, accumulating a mere 4:43 of match time along the way.
Helton, a terrific age-group athlete and verifiable beast of a young man, is better than how he performed in Vegas, no doubt about it. He finished fourth to Metz at the Nationals, victimized by a short throw-to-pin deal that speaks more to the division than anything else. The smart money says Helton has been making the adjustments necessary to get the taste of that event out of his mouth.
Cassioppi didn’t check in for the Nationals, however, and the reason why that means something is because this is one athlete who can be depended on to compete as hard as he possibly can each and every second of a match. Cassioppi expertly fights for position and will only ever concede if the other option is to give up a bigger score. He’s a wonderful battler who has experienced success both in the US and elsewhere, so if he should advance to the final it definitely wouldn’t come as a surprise.
What Schultz has over his fellow heavies that cannot be replaced is activity. Following his 2018 high school season, the Coloradan won the Austrian Open, participated in a Swedish training camp, won the National tournament we keep referencing, and tech’ed the field at the U23 Trials last weekend. Whoever emerges to face him Friday evening knows what they are up against, which is the country’s most dominant current athlete, maybe in any style.