BY MATT DIANO
One day removed from earning eight placement finishes in the Greco-Roman discipline, our native sons were back on the mat today to compete in the freestyle portion of this weekend’s Memorial Day festivities at the 2013 ASICS FILA University National Tournament under the roof of the Louis and Freda Stile Athletic Field House on the campus of the University of Akron.
While the majority of the student-athletes with ties to New York State would win multiple bouts on Saturday to ensure that they would live to see tomorrow’s final day of action, it would be a prestigious group of eight that would stand out, going unblemished this afternoon to punch their own respective tickets to the quarterfinals. Led by a quintet of past, present, and/or future members of the Cornell Big Red—Mark Grey (competing under the banner of the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club; 60kg), Eli Bienstock (also wrestling for the FLWC; 63kg), Duke Pickett/Jesse Shanaman (both at 79kg), and 2012 NCAA National Champion, Cam Simaz (84kg), the Empire State will have championship bracket representation in six of the 10 contested weight classes. Rounding out the list of those still in contention to potentially hoist the hardware tomorrow will be 2012 NYS DI Champion/current Hofstra true freshman Jamel Hudson (63kg), 2013 NCAA Qualifier from Columbia University Matt Bystol (66kg), and current North Carolina State big man, Nick Gwiazdowski (120kg), a former two-time NYS Division II Champion for Duanesburg, who was an NCAA All-American last season in his rookie year for Binghamton University before electing to follow former Bearcat Head Coach, Pat Popolizio, to Raleigh.
Going unscored upon in their three matches today would be Grey and Simaz as each notched a trio of technical falls, with both the former and the latter racking up a 32-0 margins over their opponents. Grey will open up day #2 with a date against two-time NCAA Tournament qualifier, Shelton Mack from the University of Pittsburgh, while the next stop on Simaz’s journey to Titletown will come in the person of 2013 EIWA Conference Champion, Lehigh University’s Nathaniel Brown.
Almost as dominant on the day as his two Cornell brethren would be Shanaman, who aside from a hard fought 7-4 decision victory in the second round over Steven Nelson of the Clarion Wrestling Club, outscored his other two foes by a combined tally of 15-0. The Blairstown, NJ native will not have it nearly as easy tomorrow as he will be pitted against 2013 Big 12 Conference runner-up, Tanner Weatherman, from Iowa State University. A breakout star for the Cyclones in his redshirt freshman campaign, Weatherman just missed earning All-American honors at the NCAA National tournament by a single victory, going 2-2 in front of the home crowd.
Joining Shanaman at 79kg in the first of only two weight classes that witnessed multiple New Yorkers wrestling their way into the quarterfinals is his college teammate, Pickett. While not as imposing on paper as the aforementioned, Pickett has been every bit as effective, proving that it does not matter how large the victory as long as it is you who gets his hand raised in the end. Posting three consecutive wins by decision, commencing with a 10-7 first round victory over Wisconsin’s Frank Cousins and capped off by his most impressive performance of the day, a 9-2 “w” over Santiago Martinez, the freshman from Culpepper, Virginia has found a way to get it done each and every time this far. If he hopes to continue this winning streak, he will need to be at the top of his game as he will kick off the second day of freestyle with an encounter with a mighty tough opponent in the person of 2013 NCAA All-American Logan Storley. Finishing sixth in the nation this season for the University of Minnesota in his true freshman year, Storley was ranked as high as #1 in the country during parts of his 2012/2013 frosh campaign.
Pulling off one of the most impressive come-from-behind efforts in securing himself a spot in the quarterfinals was Hudson. After cruising to a pair of technical fall victories, 10-0 and 11-0 over Joshua Shupe (Minnesota) and Nathan Coburn, “the Renaissance Man” would find himself on the brink of being knocked into the consolation bracket when he fell behind 11-2 in his round-of-16 bout against Iowa State’s Shayden Terukina. Rather than panic, Hudson would slowly fight his way back into the match, using his excellent takedown skills to record the final 14 points of the match to emerge with the 16-11 decision. The 2012 New York State High School Wrestler of the Year will need to bring this same level of intensity and endurance to the match tomorrow as he will likely be in for an action packed showdown with University of Iowa redshirt sophomore, Ethan Owens. While unable to break into the Hawkeye starting line-up early in his career, Owens has fared quite well in open competition, compiling a 14-5 overall record this season at weights ranging from 141-157. Should Hudson successfully navigate his way past Owens, an All-NY affair can ensue as Bienstock is also on the bottom half of the 63kg bracket. The Finger Lakes Wrestling Club product has demonstrated an ability to put points up in bunches, averaging just under 9pts/match in going 3-0 on the day. Before we can even think about the battle of NYS, like Hudson, Bienstock must first take care of business against a tough customer in the person of Clarion student-athlete, Sam Sherlock.
Finding himself as a member of perhaps the deepest field of the entire tournament was Gwiazdowski, who like Pickett, had to sweat it out a bit, but still managed to always walk away with the “w”. Opening up his day with a 14-9 decision over Ohio University’s Jeremy Johnson, a 2012 NCAA All-American (7th) who fell one win short of repeating the milestone this season, Gwiazdowski would find himself in a battle-and-forth barn-burner in his second match of the afternoon against Wisconsin’s Connor Medbery. Trailing 9-8 late in the match, the Wolfpack sophomore (who sat out the 2012/2013 season following the previously cited transfer) would come on strong in the last half minute, scoring a pair of takedowns to win 12-9. While by no means an easy opponent, “Gwiz” should enjoy a significant experience advantage over Minnesota true freshman, Michael Kroells, when they meet first thing tomorrow morning.
Bystol would also be light outs on Saturday, outscoring his three opponents 31-5. He will have the toughest quarterfinal match as he will be pitted against 2013 NCAA runner-up, Jason Chamberlain, who just completed his eligibility for Boise State University. A former member of the Junior World team, despite his strong folkstyle resume, many consider the Bronco to be much more adept at freestyle.
Other New Yorkers who remain in contention to finish top-8 in freestyle include:
*55kg: Mike Soria (Buffalo)
*55kg: Max Soria (Buffalo)
*60kg: Jamie Franco (Hofstra)
*60kg: Nick Wilcox (Bloomsburg)
*60kg: Penn Gottfried (Columbia)
*66kg: Mike Nevinger (Cornell)
*66kg: Chris Villalonga (Cornell)
*66kg: Luke Vaith (Hofstra)
*66kg: James Carucci (Lehigh)
*70kg: Kevin Hartnett (Bloomsburg)
*70kg: Connor Sutton (Columbia)
*74kg: Josh Veltre (Bloomsburg)
*74kg: Ryan Fox (NC State)
*74kg: Josh Houldsworth (Columbia)
*74kg: Ben Villaret (Columbia)
*79kg: Jermaine John (Hofstra)
*84kg: Gabe Dean (Finger Lakes/Cornell)
In the other tournament going on this weekend, the FILA Cadet Nationals, the Empire State would not fare as well, as none of our 7-man contingent was able to advance to tomorrow’s placement rounds. Coming the closest to making it to the second day of the tournament was South Jefferson’s Daniel Smith. Competing at 76kg, Smith would post a .500 record, going 3-3 today. The only other wrestler from NYS to win more than one match was Greg Kleinsmith, who went 2-2 (also at 76kg).