A literary gauntlet hath thus been thrown down. The people, the American people, desire little more than to enter a time warp which leads directly to the Olympic Trials. Alas, there is cause for concern. For the Olympic Trials, as previously declared, is not the most important tournament to arrive next on the calendar. Such a distinction belongs to its predecessor known as The Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier.
For a full introduction on why this is the narrative and how this process (and its associated procedural structure) operates, please refer back to the opening piece in this series centering around the lightest two weight categories.
2021 Watchlist: US Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier
In order to produce lists of potential contenders for the Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier, the 5PM Rankings served as the primary source — though recent performances along with track records and presumed athlete availability factored in, as well.
This time, we hone in on two exceptional weight categories, 77 and 87 kilograms. Both include ten athletes, the majority of whom are experienced competitors deemed capable of advancing to the Olympic Trials.
Kendrick Sanders (NYAC/NTS, 5PM #6)
3X National Champion, Multi-time US National Team
Arguably the best wrestler of any weight category in need of qualifying. This was the thought even before his latest National title, even if that tournament pushed the narrative a little further. Can still beat guys any number of ways if he has to. Frustrating to think about all of the opportunities missed. He has one more. If devoted to the cause and the mind is right, hard to see him sitting home the second weekend in April.
Alec Ortiz (Minnesota Storm, 5PM #11)
Might be a stretch to say that a season-plus away from competition was actually a net positive, especially since it was the result of a major knee injury; but then how do you explain the renewed conviction and heightened application of dynamic scores from October? In a great room, too. A top room for this weight in the entire country. His candidacy is widely understood and respected.
Jesse Porter (NYAC, 5PM #14)
3X U23 World Team, ’20 U23 National Champion, ’16 National runner-up
One more athlete whom you’d expect to have somehow already gotten himself qualified. But he hasn’t, and now the hill is steeper than it was before. Looked great at U23 in November despite piecing together training between his home and a couple of camps. Maybe that’s all he needs. Always has opponents on edge thanks to his unpredictable explosiveness and unorthodox entries.
Andrew Berreyesa (NYAC/Spartan Combat WC)
’18 Junior World silver, ’19 U23 World Team
First word that comes to mind is “maturity”, insofar as he prioritizes the principle components responsible for winning matches, which are position and par terre defense. Those are the two keys to success, and he gets that. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he can control with head-and-arm, or that his hand-fighting is up there with the older guys. Great competitor, like a Smith or Manville type.
Tyler Dow (Wisconsin RTC)
’18 Junior World Team
Would have loved to see him against Provisor last month. The Senior matches under his belt thus far count for something, you don’t throw those away — but he’s better now than he was then. Great “wrestling hips” combined with those long-armed underhooks he can yank from a distance make him formidable right out of the gate.
Burke Paddock (NYAC/Spartan Combat WC)
Not talked about enough. Flies under the radar maybe more than every other credible Senior. Can’t exactly score at will but if the circumstances are right, he just might try. Has defeated a few higher-profile characters, mostly within his age range and wheelhouse. Has also held his own against veteran Seniors. Wouldn’t be a seismic shock if he advanced to the final.
Ryan Epps (Minnesota Storm)
No one is going to want this work. They may say otherwise. They’re all competitively-driven. But he wasn’t even locked all the way in at the Nationals and everyone saw what happened. By the time this tournament hits, Epps will have had five more months to improve in, as mentioned with Ortiz, one of the best rooms for 77’s in the nation. To label him a mere sleeper might be an understatement.
Fritz Schierl (TMWC/Ohio RTC)
Tough, and growing tougher by the day. Has a sincere desire to score from the feet and will change levels for looks at the body, but might be better off just slugging it out in the pocket against more experienced types. Could use a definitive go-to from top. Then again, that’s the same story for 85% of this field. Up there with most everyone in this bracket. Future could begin now.
Zach Grimes (UA)
’20 U23 National Champion
Starting to develop into a Mack Truck sort of wrestler. Past couple of outings it is as though he has found his identity, how he wants to compete and what he wants it to look like. That’s important. NMU put some polish on him, not that he’s a finished product. Few are. But, aggressive in a meaningful way. Doesn’t care how he scores so long as it’s physical.
Riley Briggs (NMU/NTS)
A student athlete of high repute when it comes to work ethic. Also, is one of the most legit young “Greco guys” as far as upbringing. Hard to point to just one thing he does well because he does just about everything cleanly. Arm throw is especially nice. A shrewd and versatile competitor with serious experience. Worth wondering about the weight class since 72 is a better fit. Alas, not an option.
Alan Vera (NYAC, 5PM #1)
’20 US National Champion
It’s no secret. Doesn’t matter who you ask. It doesn’t when you ask them. The consensus is that Vera will make the finals, which will then position him as the top pick in the minds of many to advance to the Trials Challenge finals. At least. That’s what you’re dealing with when it comes to him. That’s the perception.
JD Souza (Army/WCAP, 5PM #11)
Sometime shortly after the ’19 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, Souza tore up his knee in similar fashion to Alec Ortiz. He had really started to prove himself as a reliable, consistent force prior to the injury. Word is that he is not only fully recovered, but clicking on all available cylinders and ready to compete on a moment’s notice. Assuming he is healthy, a verifiable beast.
Jake Clark (UA/Minnesota Storm)
2X World Team, 2X US National Champion
Likes to make a bunch of “old man jokes” but the joke is on him because everyone takes the idea of Clark entering this thing quite seriously. If he is in shape and can withstand a day’s worth of matches, those who pick him to qualify could come away looking very smart. Maybe Vera owns a slight technical edge. Maybe, not definitely. But if so, not by much. Plus, he can still probably crank someone’s neck into dust with that front headlock. That might be enough.
Zach Braunagel (IRTC, 5PM #13)
’19 Junior World Team
Has profiled as an eventual top Senior for roundabout three years now. In his pores, can’t help it. Wise beyond his years in terms of where his body needs to be. Patient without slogging through and around pointless tie-ups like so many other upper-weights. Actually juts his hips in and uses his legs. Can battle, can brawl. He can also outlast and out-wrestle people, too.
Dan Olsen (UA)
You wish it for him. You wish that he could have all of the partners he would ever need; wish that he had the opportunities to go overseas and get those feels and experiences. But even without those benefits, Olsen still manages to present a formidable package. Sticks to the basics. Goes about his business. A tough guy who could have a fighting chance based on the premise that he can train accordingly.
Cameron Caffey (MSU/UA)
’19 Junior World Team, ’20 U23 National Champion
The troublesome part is that you’re afraid freestyle is going to steal him away, and the only reason that makes any sense at all is the obvious collegiate connection. You don’t mind that he scrambles his way to points and abandons actual classical positions. Because, he tends to score a lot of points. Would love to see him enter this event dedicated entirely to winning it but who knows if that will be allowed to happen?
Tommy Brackett (UA)
’20 U23 National Champion
So important to the program. As enthusiastic for this pursuit as anyone, if not more. A tweener in terms of weight class, though. Several others are on that fence. But dating back to even high school, was on a different level compared to others his age when it came to foundational fundamentals. Jury still out on if Colorado Springs has been an asset but that is hardly his fault given the circumstances.
George Sikes (NYAC/NTS)
’18 U23 World Team
Gets flack for his height. But you have to pay attention, because he has rarely been overmatched. That competitiveness is what keeps him in the game. You’d think his center of gravity is the advantage, and it might be. Except, he is also active. Not lazy. Always trying to improve position, which on occasion has stymied a few experienced Seniors. Showed heart wrestling all the way back to third in November.
Bear Hughes (UA)
’18 Junior World Team
When he made the Junior squad two years ago, it appeared as though it was probably a detour, the result of a really good folkstyler just coming over to make a Team and then bounce. But, no. He seems to be serious. Effective when he isn’t reaching for collar-ties and remembers what actually works. Still, immense upside. You’d like to see him club, bash in underhooks, make it a mess without leaning forward so much. Imagine what he’d look like if traveling over the ocean was part of the plan?
Christian DuLaney (Minnesota Storm)
Really good wrestler. Had competed in age-group a bit previously but wasn’t thought of as an eventual Senior full-timer. That has apparently changed. Was raw in October but still put forth a couple of very encouraging matches –which provided a stark contrast to the December ’19 Nationals. Will improve fast and is with the right group. Might pose a problem for those who overlook him.