After an exciting 2022 senior world team trials last month, the nation’s top young stars will now take the mat and look to earn their world championship bids at the upcoming U23 world team trials in Geneva, Ohio.
To be eligible to compete in the U23 world team trials, a wrestler must have been born between 1999 and 2004, though no additional qualification standards are included in this event, creating an open, deep and intriguing field of competitors interested in booking their trip to Worlds this fall.
Here’s everything you need know about the top collegiate competitors in this event and the key storylines to follow for those athletes:
NCAA finalists Ridge Lovett and Trent Hidlay will aim for their first U23 world team spot
Nebraska’s Ridge Lovett had the kind of breakout performance at the 2022 NCAA tournament back in March that he’d been waiting to have throughout his college career, and now the Cornhusker star is back and ready to replicate that type of performance on the freestyle stage at the U23 world team trials. As the highest-ranked collegiate folkstyle wrestler in the 65kg field this year, Lovett will be a favorite to try and make his first U23 world team, but he’ll see a number of familiar foes at this event that will be doing everything in their power to take that world spot for themselves.
Pitt’s 2022 NCAA semifinalist, Cole Matthews, in particular, will be a formidable opponent for Lovett. Much like his Cornhusker peer, Matthews is only getting better and better as his career continues. These two All-Americans, Lovett and Matthews, have actually followed a fairly similar collegiate trajectory in that they both qualified for the 2020 NCAA tournament before the COVID-19 cancellation, qualified but came short of placing at the 2021 tournament and then finished in the top five at the 2022 tournament. Both athletes took four losses in the 2021-2022 season as well, but they have not yet faced each other in folkstyle competition, as Lovett wrestled up at 149 pounds and Matthews held down the 141-pound starting spot for his Pitt Panthers. They’ll now meet in the middle at 143.3 pounds (65kg) and battle for the chance to represent the United States on the World Stage.
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Clay Carlson of South Dakota State and Kyle Parco of Arizona State round out the former All-Americans in this field, with Carlson earning his All-American honor with an eighth-place finish in 2021 and Parco earning a spot on the podium in both 2021 and 2022 in sixth and eighth-place finish respectively. These two are joined by national qualifiers Cayden Rooks and Beau Bartlett, both of whom will be looking to pick up some key wins and build confidence heading into the collegiate season.
Rooks earned a bid to the NCAA tournament in 2021 and will start his junior year and fourth season as a starter in the fall.
Bartlett, on the other hand, qualified for NCAAs last season after missing the tournament in 2021, and while he was a contributor to Penn State's team title as the starter at 149 pounds, Bartlett would no doubt like to end up on the podium in 2022. Freestyle experience against talented All-Americans like Lovett and Co. will give him that opportunity as he fights to outscore them for a chance to represent the United States.
This is PENN STATE. WRESTLING lives here.#PSUwr pic.twitter.com/pGXHzxfHMC— Penn State WRESTLING (@pennstateWREST) March 20, 2022
Last year, former Oklahoma All-American Dom Demas won the world team spot at 65kg after beating Danny Fongaro, Joe Heilmann, Asa Garcia, Michael Burnett, Sammy Alvarez and Lawrence Saenz, but Demas isn't registered this year, setting the stage for a new champ to emerge.
Up three weight classes, another former NCAA finalist will be looking to make a mark of his own as N.C. State's Trent Hidlay comes in to the 86kg bracket as one of the favorites to book his trip to Worlds. Hidlay finished second and fifth in his two NCAA tournament appearances thus far, and he most recently took bronze at the senior world team trials in Iowa, beating out NCAA champion Drew Foster for that position. Hidlay has became known for his strength, speed and personality on the mat in his four years with the Wolfpack, and a U23 world team trials title is certainly not out of the realm of possibility for this star.
Looking at the folkstyle credentials of the ranked college athletes at Hidlay's weight, the former NCAA finalist has a clear advantage, but Oregon State's Trent Munoz could be tough, and certainly others such as Cornell's Jon Loew and Chris Foca, Illinois' Zach Braunagel and Iowa's Abe Assad can't be ignored. Hidlay has handled all of these foes at the NCAA level with the exception of Braunagel and Foca whom he hasn't met in folkstyle competition, and there's no reason to doubt that Hidlay could put up similar results against those two.
At the college level, 184 pounds was an elite weight this year with stars like Penn State's Aaron Brooks, Michigan's Myles Amine, Northern Iowa's Parker Keckeisen and Cal Poly's Bernie Truax. Hidlay was in the mix at this weight, finishing fifth, but the U23 86kg bracket offers him an even better chance to chase gold. If he makes the world team, he'll have the potential to add to his international medal collection after finishing third at the junior world championships in 2019, and he's in a good position to do so.
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Hidlay won't be the only N.C. State wrestler aiming for a world team spot as his teammates and fellow NCAA qualifiers Ed Scott and Isaac Trumble will each compete at 70 and 92kg, respectively. Additionally, Jarrett Trombley, Kai Orine, Dylan Reinert, Christian Knop and Tyrie Houghton will all wrestle at 57kg, 61kg, 79kg, 92kg and 125kg respectively.
Much like Hidlay, N.C. State's 92kg starter Trumble also wrestled in the senior world team trials in mid-May where he earned the chance to wrestle for true third place and a national team spot at Final X. His tricky style will be a hard match for his peers at the U23 trials this weekend, and he's still a favorite among a field that includes Northwestern's Andrew Davison, Cornell's Jacob Cardenas, Utah Valley's Evan Bockman and Penn's Cole Urbas, all former NCAA qualifiers as well.
3⃣ current members of @PackWrestle ranked among the top-4⃣ in their weight classes in Senior Freestyle according to @FloWrestling! #PackMentality— NC State Wrestling 🤼♂️ (@PackWrestle) May 25, 2022
Camacho - #⃣4⃣ at 57 kg
Hidlay - #⃣4⃣ at 86 kg
Trumble - #⃣3⃣ at 92 kg
🔗: https://t.co/bx0wGh1lFt pic.twitter.com/qzcb5uwdLz
Ed Scott has a tougher weight class at 70kg with All-Americans Jon Millner of App State and Yahya Thomas of Northwestern leading the way.
Scott and Thomas both finished in the Round of 12 at the NCAA tournament this year, though Thomas' third-place finish in 2021 shows his potential against similar fields in folkstyle. As the summer continues and the focus on freestyle sharpens, the gaps between the performance of these athletes will be interesting to follow. Last year, Missouri's Brock Mauller, a collegiate All-American, claimed the 70kg spot, but Mauller, much like several 2021 world team peers, is not registered, leaving the door open for someone else to take over the spot.
Penn's Doug Zapf will also be a name to watch in this field, as he recently beat NCAA champion Anthony Ashnault and NCAA finalist Sammy Sasso at the U.S. Open. Throw in Oklahoma NCAA qualifiers Willie McDougald and Jacob Butler, and 70kg is quite the weight to watch.
Tracking returning U23 champion Tony Cassioppi’s quest for repeat gold
If Ridge Lovett had his breakout moment at the 2022 NCAA tournament, Iowa's Tony Cassioppi's big statement performance came at the 2021 U23 World Championships. Cassioppi had been a valuable contributor on the NCAA championship Hawkeye team the year before, finishing third and posting a 13-3 record that college season, but the power and strength he showed at U23s suggested he had jumped levels. The Hawkeye earned his spot on the team after dominating wins over Michael Wolfgram, Bowen McConville, Zach Knighton-Ward, NCAA semifinalist Jordan Wood and All-American Lucas Davison, and his success continued on the world stage where he shut out or pinned all of his opponents to win world gold.
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A knee injury impacted Cassioppi in the Big Ten tournament, leading him to forfeit out of the finals, and he ultimately finished his season in seventh place at the NCAA tournament after losses to Wood and Michigan's Mason Parris. Neither of those two athletes are expected to be in the field this weekend, but that doesn't mean the 125kg bracket will be without star power.
Cassioppi's biggest competition will once again be Davison, the Wildcat senior who finished on the NCAA podium for the first time in his career this year and who is riding momentum after a successful season with his top-ten Northwestern team, but he'll also see familiar faces in All-American Trent Hillger, round-of-12 finisher Zach Elam and NCAA qualifiers Luke Surber, Joshua Heindselman, Taye Ghadiali and Tyrie Houghton. Of this group, Elam is the only other wrestler with previous international experience, as he earned a world junior silver medal in 2018.
Given that Cassioppi wrestled tough back in May at the senior world team trials, shutting out NCAA finalist Derek White before dropping to World Bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski, he'll be the expected favorite at the U23 tournament, but in a field of 61 competitors, there is always the possibility of an upset.
2021 World Team members Chris Cannon and Peyton Robb look to make back-to-back world teams
Tony Cassioppi is one of three 2021 U23 world team members set to compete for a second consecutive spot on the U.S. team, and the other two, Northwestern’s Chris Cannon and Nebraska’s Peyton Robb, will look to do so at 61kg and 74kg.
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Cannon leads the way among current college 61kg athletes as the only All-American thus far at the weight, though he could face some competition from two-time NCAA qualifiers Michael Colaiocco and Chance Rich, neither of whom Carlson has met in folkstyle competition.
Northern Iowa's Brody Teske is also a fun name to watch, as he's been on the border of earning All-American honors for the last two years and has tremendous talent on the mat. Teske will be looking for redemption in this tournament after dropping in the Round of 16 at NCAAs to Minnesota's Patrick McKee earlier this year.
NCAA qualifiers Connor McGonagle and Jake Gliva are also set to compete, and while all of these guys are gritty and competitive, Cannon is the guy to beat, assuming he can wrestle like he did in the postseason of the NCAA tournament.
Much like Cannon, Nebraska All-American Peyton Robb will be looking to lock up his second consecutive world team trials spot, and he has a recognizable opponent right behind him in the rankings in Jacori Teemer. Robb and Teemer wrestled each other for fifth-place at the 2022 NCAA tournament in one of the most memorable matches of the tournament, as they each battled to the final whistle before rolling over on the mat, exhausted from the effort. Their sportsmanship and heart in that moment captured the attention of fans, and those waiting to see these two compete again might not have to wait long.
Leave it all on the mat.— NCAA Wrestling (@NCAAWrestling) March 19, 2022
📺 ESPNU#NCAAWrestling x @HuskerWrestling pic.twitter.com/ADt1Hr2oUC
Robb currently leads an exceptionally deep 74kg weight class that includes Teemer as well as All-American Peyton Hall, upcoming excepted star Patrick Kennedy of Iowa and the following long list of NCAA qualifiers: Justin McCoy, Julian Ramirez, Josh Ogunsanya, William Formato, Bubba Wilson, Legend Lamar, Marcus Robinson and Michael Petite.
The stage is set for excitement at all ten weights for the 2022 U23 World Champions, and these college stars have the chance to earn valuable international experience if they can win their brackets in these large, open fields.