Freestyle WTT Challenge Tournament previews for 86 kg men and 65 kg women

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | May 13, 2018, 2:52 p.m. (ET)
2018 U.S. Open action shots of Richard Perry and Forrest Molinari by John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com

For 10 straight days, TheMat.com will post two previews each day for the Freestyle World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, set for Rochester, Minn., May 18-20. One of the previews will be in men’s freestyle, with the other in women’s freestyle.

This is a closed tournament, in which the athletes in the field must have qualified, based upon approved Team Selection Procedures in each style. The winners of each of the 20 weight classes advance to one of the three Final X series events in June.

In weight classes in which there was a 2017 World medalist, the 2018 U.S. Open champion advances directly to the best-of-three Championships Series in Rochester. In the weight classes without a 2017 World medalist, the U.S. Open champion has advanced directly to Final X and nobody sits out to the finals series in Rochester.

Today, we provide previews in men’s freestyle at 86 kg and women’s freestyle at 65 kg.

MEN’S FREESTYLE 86 KG

As a weight class without a World medalist, U.S. Open champion David Taylor advanced directly to Final X, and nobody gets to sit out in Rochester. Taylor, who has been on National Team many years, seeks a spot on his first Senior World Team. Taylor defeated talented Richard Perry in the finals at the U.S. Open, 8-0, in a very competitive match where both athletes were able to display their skills and desire.

Perry has come a long way since competing at Bloomsburg, then deciding to pursue his Olympic dream. Perry has shown consistent improvement since he burst onto the national freestyle scene with a victory at the 2014 Bill Farrell International. He has won medals in major events in Belarus, France and Ukraine, and his second place in Vegas was his best domestic effort. Perry was dazzling on offense in his early rounds at the Open, and comes into Rochester with confidence and experience.

Fans are curious if 2018 NCAA champion Bo Nickal of Penn State will enter the tournament and where he will sort out on the Senior level at this time. Nickal, who won his second NCAA crown this year with a stunning pin of Ohio State’s Myles Martin, was a strong fourth in the 2017 U.S. Open. Nickal was fifth in the 2013 Cadet Worlds, along with a slew of other age-group achievements.

Taking third was NC State star Nick Reenan, who dropped a 6-2 match to Perry early in the U.S. Open, then powered back with six straight wins in the consolation rounds. Reenan, who was a prep star out of Texas, made the 2016 Junior World Team in Greco-Roman, but has been equally as effective in freestyle coming up the age-group development system. Reenan was on redshirt this year from college, and was third at the Bill Farrell International in March.

A past Senior World Team member is in the field, Joe Rau, but his World Team was in Greco-Roman. Rau won a freestyle gold medal at the 2018 Bill Farrell International, and he also qualified for the World Team Trials in both styles last year. For sure, Rau is focused on making his second Greco-Roman World Team in June, but he enjoys competing in freestyle, and has shown success when he does enter. Rau was a Div. III national champion under Steve Marianetti at Elmhurst College, so he has been successful in all three styles.

Taking fourth at the U.S. Open was Timothy Dudley, who made his name at Nebraska, winning three All-American honors including a runner-up finish in 2016. Dudley is still learning freestyle at the highest level, with a 2014 UWW Junior Nationals runner-up finish in his past but not a long freestyle resume.

The fifth and sixth place finishers at the Open are not well-known names on the freestyle level. Austin Coburn competed in college for Old Dominion and finished fifth in Las Vegas. You have to go back to his eighth place at the 2013 UWW Junior Nationals to find him on a major USA Wrestling podium. Ryan McWatters, who was a star at NAIA Southern Oregon, does not appear in the freestyle database at all prior to his sixth place in Las Vegas. Both are extreme longshots in Rochester.

Taking seventh at the U.S. Open was Pat Downey, a 2012 Junior World silver medalist in freestyle who has shown flashes of freestyle brilliance during a turbulent college career. Downey’s road included stops at Nebraska, Iowa Central, Iowa State and Iowa, plus some time when he was not in the college setting. Downey won a NJCAA national title for Iowa Central, and was an All-American at Iowa State. He went to Iowa this year with a chance for a final college season, but he never did compete for the Hawkeyes. Downey was fifth in the 2017 U.S. Open, his highest Senior-level finish, and is a dangerous opponent. His first loss at the 2018 Open was to Dominic DuCharme, who did not end up placing, and also lost to Reenan on the back side.

The winner of this weight advances to Final X in State College on June 16, to face U.S. Open champion David Taylor of the Nittany Lion WC for the World Team spot.

Men’s Freestyle 86 kg
Challenge Tournament entries

Nov. 17 Dave Schultz Memorial silver medalist – Richard Perry, Philadelphia, Pa. (New York AC/Pennsylvania RTC)
2018 NCAA champion – Bo Nickal, Allen, Texas (Penn State)
2018 Bill Farrell Memorial champion – Joe Rau, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm)
2018 U.S. Open third place – Nick Reenan, Dallas, Texas (Wolfpack WC)
2018 U.S. Open fourth place – Timothy Dudley Columbia, S.C. (Sunkist Kids)
2018 U.S. Open fifth place – Austin Coburn, Moseley, Va. (Predator)
2018 U.S. Open sixth place – Ryan McWatters, Hesperia, Calif. (Unattached)
2018 U.S. Open seventh place - Pat Downey, Iowa City, Iowa (Titan Mercury WC)
Note: Winner in Rochester advances to Final X in State College on June 16, to face U.S. Open champ David Taylor (Nittany Lion WC)

WOMEN’S FREESTYLE 65 KG

As a weight class without a World medalist, U.S. Open champion Julia Salata advanced directly to Final X, and nobody gets to sit out in Rochester. It was a first U.S. Open title for Salata, a veteran who has won a variety of medals in her career at a variety of weight classes, with 65 kg being the lightest during her Senior career.

Salata defeated Forrest Molinari in the finals at the U.S. Open, 5-0. Molinari is also dropping down to this new weight class, and has put together a strong season on the mats. The week after the Open, Molinari won a gold medal at the Pan American Championships. She and Salata split duties at 65 kg for the USA at the 2018 Women’s World Cup. Molinari won the U23 World Team Trials this spring. She also won the Dave Schultz Memorial in November, and has been on a number of tours. Molinari was a WCWA national champion and three-time All-American at King, then moved on to the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Taking third at the U.S. Open was high school star Jayden Laurent of Wisconsin, who burst onto the Senior scene by winning the Bill Farrell Memorial in March. Laurent was second behind Molinari at the U23 World Team Trials, and just yesterday won the UWW Junior Nationanls in Texas to earn a spot on the 2018 U.S. team at the UWW Junior Worlds. Laurent is showing great confidence and skill at the highest level, and has signed with the new women’s varsity team at Lakeland University in her home state.

Emma Bruntil is another young star who is already having Senior-level success, taking fourth at the U.S. Open. A Pan American UWW Junior champion in 2017, Bruntil won a Senior medal at the Flatz Open in Austria and also competed at the Senior level in Ukraine this winter. A Washington native, she boasts a variety of medals on USA Wrestling’s age-group levels, and went to Wyoming Seminary this year for high school as part of its new freestyle developmental program there under coach Erin Vandiver.

The other Rochester qualifier through the U.S. Open was 2016 Junior World bronze medalist Alexis Porter, who was a three-time WCWA All-American for McKendree, including a runner-up finish in 2018. Porter competed in the UWW Cadet World Championships and two UWW Junior World Championships for Team USA.

The winner of this weight advances to Final X at Lehigh on June 23, to face U.S. Open champion Julia Salata of the New York AC for the World Team spot.

Women’s Freestyle 65 kg
Challenge Tournament entries

Nov. 17 Dave Schultz Memorial champion – Forrest Molinari, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Titan Mercury WC)
2018 Bill Farrell Memorial champion – Jayden Laurent, Denmark, Wis. (Musky WC)
2018 U.S. Open fourth place – Emma Bruntil, Acme, Wash. (USA Wrestling Colorado Springs)
2018 U.S. Open fifth place – Alexis Porter, Ballston Lake, NY (NYAC)
Note: Winner in Rochester advances to Final X at Lehigh on June 23, to face U.S. Open champ Julia Salata (New York AC)