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2014 Ken Kraft Midlands Championships Preview

We preview the Midlands Championships, held at Northwestern December 29 - 30, 2014.

Now entering its 52nd year, the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships still stands apart.  Renown as "the toughest tournament", Midlands has presented some classic individual battles over the years.  Twenty different competitors have won Olympic Gold.  And one of the most special aspects of Midlands - post graduates putting on their headgear and stepping to the line - has picked up the pace this season.  Jason Welch, Nestor Taffur, Tyler Clark, Zach Sanders, and Joe Rau will all enter the brackets.

Plus, according to the twitters, BTN Plus will stream - for FREE - all eight mats, from the opening session thru the finals.

How about that?  Two days of awesome wrestling, for the price of...on the house.  Awesome work Midlands, and BTN!  Here is your list of teams attending this season's Midlands.  Rankings are from the good guys at InterMat, as always, and reflect their Tournament Power Index.

Rank School
1 Iowa
4 Edinboro
9 VaTech
10 Northwestern
15 Illinois
17 Wisconsin
19 Old Dominion
23 Penn
25 Indiana
NR Eastern Michigan
NR Air Force
NR Maryland
NR Purdue
NR Harvard
NR Princeton
NR Rider
NR Columbia
NR Brown
NR CSU Bakersfield
NR Binghamton

125 LBS

Natl Rank Wrestler
1 Delgado - Illinois
4 Gilman - Iowa
5 Dance - VaTech
8 Martinez - Air Force
14 Rodriguez - NDSU
20 Jeske - ODU
PG Zach Sanders

If Delgado wrestles (he's been missing a few duals lately), then he's your favorite on paper.  But I don't believe the two-time NCAA champ has a Midlands title to his name yet.  Post-grad Sanders adds a little spice to the mix here, and should make a run to the semifinals.  Iowa's Gilman is the defending Midlands champ.

Our Pick: Gilman.  Delgado holds the credentials, but he's been in and out of the lineup, and based on the last two seasons, December Delgado is not the same thing as March Delgado.

133 LBS

Natl Rank Wrestler
1 Schopp - Edinboro
4 Clark - Iowa
7 Richards - Illinois
11 Alexander - Maryland
16 Taylor - Wisconsin
17 Sabatello - Purdue
19 Norstrem - VaTech
PG Tyler Clark

The top two here, Schopp and (Cory) Clark, are probably a notch above the rest of the field, assuming Clark performs as well or better up at this weight as he did down at 125 last year.  It's a reasonable assumption to make.  But watch out for Zane Richards, and further down the field, Purdue's Danny Sabatello.  Sabatello was wrestling well last February before turning in a disappointing NCAA.  He's been looking strong out of the gate this season.

How fun would it be to see former Hawkeye Tyler Clark take out current Hawkeye Cory Clark?  The guy who transferred from Iowa State to Iowa, and could beat Tony Ramos 3-2 in wrestle offs but couldn't win the starting spot in the Hawks' lineup - that's the guy who knocks out Tom Brands' projected finalist here.  Sounds like a fun scenario to me.

Our Pick: Schopp.  He's good.

141 LBS

Natl Rank Wrestler
2 Port - Edinboro
3 Carter - VaTech
6 Dziewa - Iowa
9 Mecate - ODU
16 Preston - Harvard

This isn't exactly the deepest field in the tournament.  Worse, Mitchell Port and Devin Carter have both proven to be a notch above the rest.  The good news, though, is that we should have a whale of a final.

Our Pick: Port

149 LBS

Natl Rank Wrestler
1 Tsirtsis - jNW
3 Habat - Edinboro
10 Sorensen - Iowa
11 Cobb - Penn
12 Richardson - ODU
18 Krop - Princeton
20 Clagon - Rider

NCAA Champ Jason Tsirtsis will be the prohibitive favorite.  But on the bottom half of the bracket, we'll get a chance to learn a few things.  The 'Boro's Habat is a returning All-American, and he'll probably run into one of Iowa's 49lbers - Brandon Sorensen, or Brody Grothus.  The final result from those two will go a long way toward setting Tom Brands' Big Ten lineup.

Our Pick: Tsirtsis

157 LBS

Natl Rank Wrestler
5 Brascetta - VaTech
7 Matthews - Edinboro
10 Martinez - Illinois
13 Pack - SDSU
15 Schieidel - Columbia
18 Brill - jNW
19 Staudenmayer - Brown
20 Parson - Army
PG Welch

Brascetta broke onto the collegiate scene two years ago with a Midlands final appearance.  But it's not known for certain whether he'll be competing this weekend, as he recovers from injury.  Behind him are three young guns, all of whom possess podium talent - Matthews, Martinez, and Brill.  And, depending upon his weigh-in, post-grad Jason Welch might steal the whole show from all of them.

Our Pick: Welch.  No Welch?  Brascetta.  No Brascetta?  Martinez.

165 LBS

Natl Rank Wrestler
3 Jordan - Wisconsin
4 Walsh - Indiana
7 Moore - Iowa
8 Harger - jNW
12 Morse - Illinois
14 Warner - ODU
16 Fierro - Bakersfield
19 Stafford - Air Force
PG Nestor Taffur

This should be a fun weight class.  The top 5 all hail from the Big Ten, and, for the most part, know each other well.  Iowa's Nick Moore holds the upper hand in that class - with the exception of recent addition Isaac Jordan, who bumped here from 157.  And with Nestor Taffur lurking, things could get very interesting.

Our Pick: Moore

174 LBS

Natl Rank Wrestler
3 Evans - Iowa
8 Brunson - Illinois
9 Epperly - VaTech
11 Hammond - Bakersfield
15 Julson - NDSU
18 Jackson - Indiana

Evans and Hammond are both returning All Americans.  But this Epperly kid showed awfully well at the Penn State dual, and North Dakota State's Kurtis Julson has been known to pull an upset or two as well.

Our Pick: Evans

184 LBS

Natl Rank Wrestler
2 Thomas - Penn
4 Dechow - ODU
8 Brooks - Iowa
10 Zilmer - NDSU
13 Bernstein - Brown
14 Avery - Edinboro
19 Robertson - Wisconsin

Thomas, Dechow, and Bernstein all made the podium last March.  Robertson has shown well early in the year for Barry Davis at Wisconsin.

Our Pick: Brooks.  This guy is fun to watch.

197 LBS

Natl Rank Wrestler
6 Burak - Iowa
8 Polizzi - jNW
10 Ayala - Princeton
11 Atwood - Purdue
15 Rotert - SDSU
16 McCall - Wisconsin

Burak hasn't wrestled this year for the Hawks.  His handful of matches on the season have come as "unattached".  We'll have to wait for the brackets to see if he's in it at all.  Outside of Burak, Polizzi is wrestling on his home mat, and will be the favorite, though Purdue's Bradon Atwood can give him a match.

Our Pick: Nathan Rotert, South Dakota State.  Let's get nuts.

285 LBS

Natl Rank Wrestler
1 McMullen - jNW
3 Telford - Iowa
5 Medbery - Wisconsin
6 Walz - VaTech
13 Knutson - NDSU
17 Deuel - Binghamton
18 Henderson - ODU

This sets up for (at least) four outstanding matches - two semifinals, one consolation final, and the championship final, which is likely to give us McMullen and Telford.  I'd love to see a Medbery-Walz matchup as well - two big boys that can move.

Our Pick: Flip a coin.  McMullen?  Telford?  Let's take McMullen.

From a team perspective, this looks like the Hawkeyes in a runaway.