With the 2019 U23, junior and senior wrestling world teams nearly decided, it's time to take a look back at how some of the nation's top college wrestlers fared during these summer freestyle tournaments.
First though, here's a little more on this style of wrestling if you are not familiar with it. Freestyle, which differs from the college wrestling style of folkstyle, is the style of wrestling showcased in the Olympics and across international tournaments. The two styles are scored and structured differently. Folkstyle matches are set up as three periods of a total of seven minutes and freestyle matches are two periods for a total of six minutes. Freestyle style runs at a faster pace than folkstyle and focuses on back exposure. Wrestlers can earn points for riding time in folkstyle— holding an opponent down on the mat and working to score — and cannot in freestyle.
The next two years will be particularly important for wrestlers to compete in freestyle as the Olympic Trials get closer given that the Tokyo Olympics will be contested in freestyle.
The 2019 U.S. Open served as the unofficial start of the 2019 summer freestyle season for most of the current college wrestling stars, and this national tournament was followed by the Last Chance Qualifier, Beat the Streets, World Team Trials, Final X Rutgers, Final X Lincoln and Yasar Dogu.
Six of last season's NCAA champions made appearances at these events, but it was an NCAA finalist who ultimately secured the only senior world team spot of any of the current NCAA competitors. Daton Fix, a rising sophomore for Oklahoma State, beat out former Iowa wrestling All-American Thomas Gilman make his first senior world team, and he'll now represent the United States in Kazakhstan.
Fix, however, is just one of the many college wrestlers who delivered statement performances this summer during the summer freestyle tournaments. Here's what you need to know about the country's best college wrestlers and their summer 2019 success:
Yianni Diakomihalis won gold at the U.S. Open, beat the No. 1 wrestler in the world at Beat the Streets and topped the podium at Yasar Dogu. His World team spot still hangs in the balance.
Yianni Diakomihalis made a name for himself in the NCAA wrestling world when he won his first national championship in 2018 as a freshman at Cornell. The young grappler then took down Pete Lipari, Chad Red, Dom Demas, Jaydin Eierman and Joey McKenna at the same tournament this March to win back-to-back titles and set himself up for a successful summer. Competing at 65kg, Diakomihalis quickly established that his dominance extends to freestyle as well as folkstyle. He cruised through his bracket at the U.S. Open in May, defeating Frank Molinaro, Jordan Oliver and Zain Retherford on his way to earning Outstanding Wrestler honors and a bid to Final X. However, this was just the start of Diakomihalis' stellar summer.
The U.S. Open champ solidified himself as one of the best wrestlers in the world when he beat Bajrang Punia, the then- No. 1 ranked wrestler in the world, 10-8 at Beat the Streets. Though the match was just for charity and will not have a bearing on his World Team chances, the win reminded the wrestling community that Diakomihalis is a force.
Riding the momentum of Beat the Streets, Diakomihalis rolled into Final X to compete in one of the highest-profile matches of the event in his best-of-three battle against Penn State wrestling alumnus Zain Retherford. Diakomihalis beat Retherford earlier in the summer to claim the U.S. Open title, but, with the World Team spot on the line, Diakomihalis fell to the three-time NCAA All-American 10-4, 6-6 in a controversial fashion. The Cornell coaches protested the scoring of the second match, and an arbitration began on July 29 to determine if the match was improperly scored. The arbitration is expected to conclude next week. While waiting for the final decision to be made on the results of the last match, however, Diakomihalis did his part to prove he's qualified to represent the United States at 65kg when he beat Retherford in the opening round of the Yasar Dogu. He continued on after the win over his recent rival to win gold, while Retherford dropped out of the bracket due to injury. Diakomihalis' status on the World Team is still in limbo, but if we've learned anything this summer about Diakomihalis as a wrestler, it's that he's not slowing down. World Team or not, Diakomihalis will no doubt be ready to chase a third national championship this year.
Daton Fix has won every single tournament he's entered this summer. He's racking up the gold medals after finishing second to Nick Suriano in the 2019 NCAA tournament in March.
Fix entered the college wrestling scene last November as one of the most dangerous lightweights in the country and the young grappler lived up to the hype during his first season as a starter for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. He finished his season with a NCAA finalist and a 35-2 record, his only losses coming against Rutgers' Nick Suriano and Pittsburgh's Micky Phillippi, but he hasn't lost a tournament since starting his summer run. Like Diakomihalis, Fix claimed the U.S. Open title, but unlike his Cornell counterpart, Fix pulled off the win at Final X and earned a spot on the Senior World Team. The win and subsequent World Team qualification made him the youngest person from the Oklahoma State program to compete on a World Team since head coach John Smith achieved the same feat in 1987. He's also the first wrestler from Oklahoma State to compete on a World or Olympic Team in the last seven years.
The red, white and blue singlet is not a new one for Fix. Prior to his collegiate career, Fix won two Junior World Championships in 2017 and helped guide his team to an overall team gold. This year marks his sixth consecutive world team appearance but his first on the senior level. Fix won bronze at the 2016 Junior World Championship, bronze at the 2015 Cadet World Championship and silver in 2014 at the Youth Olympic Games. He'll now chase a medal in Kazakhstan this September, but first, he'll have a chance to represent Team USA at the Pan American Games in August. This has been the summer of Daton Fix, but he still has big goals ahead of him. Can he translate this freestyle success into a folkstyle national championship? The loaded 133-pound weight class will be waiting for Fix this fall, but his wins this summer against World medalists have showed off what Fix has to offer: strength and skill.
The Junior and U23 World Teams will be loaded with young talent. Aaron Brooks will be one of the incoming freshman athletes to watch this college season.
Brooks, who will make his Penn State debut this year, won his bracket at Junior World Team trials earlier this summer to earn a spot on his third world team and build his resume even further before he dons the White and Blue singlet in the fall. The incoming freshman took silver at last year's Junior World Championships and won gold at the 2017 Cadet World Championships — he'll be looking for gold this August in Estonia. Brooks is the only Penn State representative on the Junior team, but recently graduated Bo Nickal will represent the Nittany Lions on the U23 team with current Penn State grappler Brady Berge, while 2018 Penn State graduate Zain Retherford will compete on the Senior World Team. As a grayshirt this spring, Brooks had the chance to train at the Olympic Training Center, but come fall, he'll be an active member of the Penn State lineup and could compete for a starting spot. Several athletes, including Brooks, could opt to take a redshirt this coming season, altering the Penn State starting squad, but regardless, Brooks will be a name to know this year and beyond.
NCAA TOURNAMENT INFO: How the NCAA wrestling tournament works
He's just one of many rising stars competing for the United States this summer at the World level, with incoming North Carolina freshman Gabriel Tagg punching his ticket to Estonia as a member of the Junior World Team and incoming Ohio State freshman Daniel Kerkvliet earning a spot on the U23 World Team.
Four additional members of the U23 and Junior World Teams will be coming off redshirt seasons this fall and looking to make their mark on college wrestling. 70kg Junior World Team member Brayton Lee will look to start at 149 for the Minnesota Gophers this year after posting a 26-7 record during his redshirt season. At 74kg, David Carr will represent the United States this August at Junior World Championships, but he'll come back to the Iowa State wrestling room having lost just one match his entire redshirt season looking to crack the starting lineup for the Cyclones. Trent Hidlay, the Junior World Team representative at 86kg, will aim to accomplish the same goal at North Carolina State and follow in the footsteps of his older brother Hayden who has earned two All-American honors at previous NCAA tournaments. The last two incoming redshirt freshman on the Junior World Team, Lucas Davidson and Tanner Sloan, will compete for Northwestern and South Dakota State this fall, respectively. Sloan put together a stellar redshirt season that included a win over Davidson at Midlands. They'll likely both compete at 197 pounds this season.
Mason Parris, Micky Phillippi, Chase Singletary and Brady Berge missed out on All-American honors this March. They will compete for the United States of American on the Junior and U23 World Teams.
Parris, the Michigan Round of 12 wrestler from last year's tournament, earned his first Junior world Team spot in June at the World Team Trials in Raleigh with wins over John Borst and Trent Hillger. The sophomore Wolverine will use this experience to set him up for another successful folkstyle season in the fall, and he, along with fellow Round of 12 wrestler Micky Phillippi will aim to earn a spot on the NCAA podium this March. Phillippi will wrestle this summer in the U23 World Championships, despite not winning the World Team Trials at 61kg. Cornell senior Chas Tucker beat Phillippi in the finals but chose to give up his spot because of a heavy fall academic load at Cornell.
Chase Singletary of Ohio State and Brady Berge of Penn State will both look to make deeper runs in the NCAA tournament during their sophomore seasons. Berge redshirted the 2017-2018 season and wrestled on an off last season. For much of the year, his teammate Jarod Verkleeren held the 149-pound spot, but the U23 World Team qualifier took over the weight class for the postseason. Berge's NCAA tournament run came to a quicker end than expected after loses to Princeton's Matthew Kolodzik and Minnesota's Thomas Thorn before he had the chance to compete for a trophy. This year, Berge is expected to jump up to 157, a spot once held by Nolf, and aim to challenge Ryan Deakin, Kaleb Young, Hayden Hidlay and the rest of the 157 contenders. In 2018, Berge won bronze in a competitive bracket at the Junior World Championships at 70kg. At the U23 level this summer, he could chase hardware again, and his performances so far suggest that he's a medal contender. His summer freestyle season has built some momentum for the Nittany Lions, now he just needs to stay healthy and convert that into further folkstyle success.
Singletary fell to a similar fate as Berge during his NCAA tournament run after entering the bracket as Ohio State's representative at heavyweight. The then-freshman Buckeye dropped to eventual NCAA finalist Derek White in the second round and then took a loss to Brown's Round of 12 wrestler Ian Butterbrodt. Singletary, like Parris, Phillippi and Berge will come back to college wrestling this fall with additional international experience and motivation. He'll represent the United States at 97kg this summer on the U23 team and will take on some of the best in the world in Budapest. Watch for these four athletes to make an impact in early tournaments to set themselves up for success in March.
Ryan Deakin impressed at the U.S Open but fell in Final X. Now he has his eyes on an NCAA title.
Northwestern's Deakin finished sixth in last year's NCAA tournament, but now without 2019 Penn State graduate Jason Nolf in the mix, Deakin's hopes for a national title in his junior year just improved dramatically. Nolf held control of the weight class for the last three years and there's no better way to establish oneself as the next potential champion of that weight class than winning Nolf's bracket at the U.S. Open. Nolf and Deakin worked their way up different sides of the bracket during the April tournament, with Nolf falling to world medalist James Green in the semifinals and Deakin beating Michigan All-American Alec Pantelo before taking down Green 8-6 in the finals. The win propelled Deakin to Final X, where he would ultimately lose to Green, but his U.S. Open title turned heads.
Deakin had the chance to wrestle Alec Pantaleo for the U23 World Team spot, but if he wanted to do so, he would have needed to make that decision by June 22. Bo Nickal employed this option after losing his Final X match against J'den Cox at 92kg, and he went on to beat Jake Woodley of Oklahoma State to pick up the U23 spot in a special wrestle-off. By opting out of this option, however, Deakin will avoid any interruption to his pre-season training at Northwestern and can instead train as he normally would ahead of the grueling season. In 2017, Deakin earned a silver medal in the Junior World Championships, and while he won't make the international trip this year, Deakin can still keep his eyes on another honor: an NCAA title.