Preview of the 2000 Midlands Championships

By Andre Gibson | Dec. 27, 2000, 12 a.m. (ET)
The 37th edition of the Annual Midlands Championships will be held Dec. 29-30 at Welsh Ryan Arena on the campus of Northwestern University. Widely regarded as the toughest folkstyle wrestling tournament in the country, this year's pre-tournament seeds indicate a very strong field loaded with past NCAA Champions and All-Americans. Here is a preview of the top participants in each weight class along with predictions for the top three place winners. (These predictions are the opinion of the author, and not or the Amateur Wrestling Alliance) 125 This weight class is dominated by top notch collegiate All-Americans but lacks the usual tough open competitors. I see this weight class unfolding as they are currently seeded. The potential finals match between Iowa's Jody Strittmatter and Minnesota's LeRoy Vega will definitely be important for future seedings, especially at the conference meet. The sleeper in this weight class could be Oregon State's Nathan Navarro, who has lost some close matches to date to some top competitors, but he is steadily improving. The top three picks are: 1. Jody Strittmatter, Iowa 2. LeRoy Vega, Minnesota 3. Ruben DeLeon, Cal. State-Bakersfield 133 This weight class typifies what makes the Midlands what it is, simply put-tough! Two former college stars and a former Midlands Champion highlight this weight. Former NCAA Champ Teague Moore(Oklahoma State, now Sunkist Kids), a rising freestyle star, and two time NCAA runner-up Cody Sanderson take the first and sixth seed. Sanderson's seed should move higher as the official pairings are released, but never the less, he should make it to the finals. Moore will be moving up a weight from last year's tournament, but I expect him to make it to the finals. The other challengers at this weight will be Joe Warren (former NCAA All-American from Michigan), Roman Flezcar of Hofstra, and Pat McNamara of Michigan State. The top picks are: 1. Teague Moore, Sunkist Kids 2. Cody Sanderson, Sunkist Kids 3. Joe Warren, Michigan WC 141 What appeared to be a three-man battle for the title, is now apparently a two man battle. The injury and withdraw to No. 3seed Eric Larkin of Arizona State from the tournament comes as a huge disappointment to wrestling fans hoping to see the much anticipated Doug Schwab/Eric Larkin match. Schwab should still be considered the favorite, while Montclair State's Florian Ghinea will provide very stiff competition. His conditioning may be suspect, while his tactics are far superior. This match should be a chess match, with the winner probably coming up Schwab. Factor in Matt Goldstein of Lehigh (who grew up in Illinois) and Chad Erickson of Minnesota as potential place winners. The top picks are: 1. Doug Schwab, Iowa 2. Florian Ghinea, Montclair State 3. Chad Erickson, Minnesota 149 From the quarterfinals on, this should be a very entertaining weight class. 1999 Co-Champion Bill Zadick of the Hawkeye WC returns to claim another Midlands title. The No. 2 seed and current top ranked Adam Tirapelle of Illinois has wrestled very well as of late and should also be in the title hunt. The old faithfulJohn Fisher will also be a factor and has tremendous finals potential. Dave Esposito of Lehigh, Eric Schmeising of Hofstra, and Jared Lawrence of Minnesota are all very evenly matched. I am however going out on a limb and predicting a heck of a tournament for Minnesota's Lawrence. 1. Bill Zadick, Hawkeye WC 2. Adam Tirapelle, Illinois 3. Jared Lawrence, Minnesota 157 Two former NCAA Champions and one former runner-up bless this weight class. The seeds are of the utmost importance in determining how this weight will shape up. Returning Midlands champ Chris Bono, second in the 2000 Olympic Trials, is considered a strong favorite. The return of Gerry Abas also makes this pretty interesting. 1998 NCAA Champ Kirk White of Boise State had dropped down from165 and has lost only once this year. All in all, experience is the basis for my top three picks, regardless of the other seeds. 1. Chris Bono, Sunkist WC 2. Gerry Abas, Unattached 3. Kirk White, Boise State 165 Iowa State junior Joe Heskett looks to add the prestigious Midlands title to his resume in 2000. To do that, he will definitely have to cradle his way through fellow All-American and numbe rtwo seed Steve Blackford of Arizona State. Challengers willbe Brad Pike of Minnesota, Matt Lackey of Illinois (who actually owns a victory over Blackford at Vegas), and Ian Nelms of Cal.St.-Bakersfield. I don't see a repeat of the Vegas Invite for Blackford. Look for Blackford and Heskett to match wits in the finals. This could be a very high scoring match. 1. Joe Heskett, Iowa State 2. Steve Blackford, Arizona State 3. Matt Lackey, Illinois 174 Joe Williams of the Hawkeye WC owns six Midlands titles and is a clear-cut favorite to take number seven. Born and raised in the Chicago area, Joe has rapidly emerged as one of the Midlands most dominant competitors. This should be a pretty smooth run for number seven for the former Iowa Hawkeye. Others to watch are Perry Parks from Iowa State, Ben King of Illinois, and All-American Mike Feeney of Eastern Michigan. 1. Joe Williams, Hawkeye WC 2. Mike Feeney, Eastern Michigan 3. Ben King, Illinois 184 A much anticipated match up between one current star and another star in the making could occur at the 37th annual Midlands. Look for freshman star Damion Hahn of Minnesota and the superb two-time NCAA champion Cael Sanderson of Iowa State to lock horns in the finals. Although worthy of the challenge, experience gets the nod with Cael running away with a major solid five point victory. This could be the beginning of a very special rivalry in college wrestling. Viktor Sveda will look to rebound from a disappointing loss to Daniel Cormier of Oklahoma State over the weekend, and should place high. 1. Cael Sanderson, Iowa State 2. Damion Hahn, Minnesota 3. Viktor Sveda, Indiana 197 For two years, Tim Hartung and Lee Fullhart entertained fans with epic battles throughout their careers with Hartung usually coming out on top. They are both here at the Midlands, and bothare looking to solidfy their past college careers. Fullharthas worked his way up the freestyle ladder and as of late, has had the upper hand on Hartung. Nick Preston of Ohio State and NCAA runner-up Zach Thompson of Iowa State have upset potential. 1. Lee Fullhart, Hawkeye WC 2. Tim Hartung, Minnesota Storm 3. Nick Preston, Ohio State Hwt 1999 World Champ Stephen Neal makes his return to the Midlands as the clear favorite to win his third Midlands title. 1998 NCAA Champ Mitch Clark makes the jump to heavyweight here for the second consecutive year after placing third at last year's event. He has been proven to give much heavier guys fits from the top position. Freshman Tommy Rowlands of Ohio State has been on a tear lately and also can be counted on for high placement points. John Lockhart of Illinois, a talented senior All-American, will also be a major player in the weight class. 1. Stephen Neal, Dave Schultz WC 2. Mitch Clark, Ohio International WC 3. Tommy Rowlands, Ohio State