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Penn State Wrestling: US Open Preview

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Freestyle season rolls along. Two weeks ago, Team USA won its first World Cup in forever, dominating the rest of planet Earth in Iowa City, Iowa. Americans wrestled 40 matches, and won 31 of them. It was actually much worse than a 31-9 record might suggest, as none of the 9 losses came by more than a couple of points. Had USA finished a few matches in better fashion, the record easily could have been 36-4, or thereabouts.

This week, having sent the rest of the planet home, we focus attention on ourselves. All red-white-and-blue eyes turn toward Las Vegas, Nevada, for the Junior (age 20 and under) and Senior (all ages welcome) US Open championships. You can watch the action live on FloWrestling ($), this week, April 26th - 28th.

Juniors

The two craziest brackets, from our view, will be 70kg (154 lbs) and 79kg (174 lbs). Redshirted freshmen Brady Berge and Jarod Verkleeren both entered the 70kg bracket under the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club banner. Their battle for the 149-lb spot in the PSU lineup next season begins now. They’ll need to navigate a difficult field that features Austin O’Connor (UNC), Brayton Lee (MINN), David Carr (ISU), Dom Demas (OU), Jacori Teemer (ASU), and the impeccably named Brock Mauller (MIZZ). (What a perfect name for a wrestler).

PSU recruits Michael Beard (86kg - 189lbs) and Seth Nevills (125kg - 275lbs) will join their new teammates Berge and Verkleeren in Las Vegas. Both are among the favorites in their respective weights.

But the most ridiculous bracket is likely 79kg, where newest Lion Aaron Brooks joins the fray, looking to add more hardware to his Cadet (16 and under) World Gold medal last summer. It won’t be easy. The recent high school graduate will be tussling with college sophomores like Mikey Labriola (NEB), Travis Stefanik (PRIN), Marcus Coleman (ISU), Joe Grello (RUTG), Ethan Smith (OHST), and Hunter Bolen (VATECH), as well as old nemeses Travis Wittlake (OKST) and Trent Hidlay (NCST). Should be a whale of a battle.

Seniors

Penn State’s presence at freestyle tournaments like the Open has grown incredibly in the last decade. Nittany Lion alumni - and current NLWC members - figure prominently at almost every weight class. Take a look at entrants:

  • 57kg - Josh Rodriguez (NLWC)
  • 61kg - Nico Megaludis
  • 65kg - Luke Gardner
  • 70kg - Frank Molinaro
  • 74kg - Dan Vallimont
  • 86kg - David Taylor
  • 125kg - Jon Gingrich
  • 125kg - Assistant Coach Jake Varner

How about Varner, eh? The old man is putting his boots on, and wrestling 275-lb grizzlies in search of a good time. Jake’s the 3-seed, according to Flo’s pre-seed announcement.

The registration lists are notoriously slow to update, so there’s at least a chance we’ll see a few more names added to the roll by the time the Open kicks off. Still, it makes you wonder why Zain isn’t listed among the entrants at 65kg. Although he’s guaranteed a spot at the Team Trial Challenge Bracket due to winning another NCAA title, Zain stood to gain a spot in the “Final X”, which as we’ve described before, is the new USA Wrestling 2-man best-of-3 wrestle-off for America’s World Team starter spot. The “Final X” for 65kg this year is held June 16th at Rec Hall. So...curious why Zain would turn down one of his two chances to make Final X. Similar situation for Mark Hall and Bo Nickal. Assuming Mark tries 79kg and not 74kg, then both Mark and Bo turned down a shot at securing a Final X berth, presumably to rest up / heal up for a run at Trial Challenge bracket. (Nolf and Cenzo are in different situations. Winning the Open does nothing for either of them, since USA features returning world medalists at their weights (70kg-James Green, and 74kg-Jordan Burroughs); and since they’re both auto-qualified for the Trials Challenge bracket).

In any event, if you’re hearing any news, please plop your rumor in the comments below. None of us will believe what you write, and we may even harass you if we don’t like it. But it’s still a lot of fun to read and speculate. Thanks (and apologies) in advance.