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By Willie Saylor, WIN writer
Recently, we gave you a feature on Division I athletes with breakout potential for this college season.
In keeping with that concept, we’ll detail here some wrestlers to watch out for on the high school circuit.
While there are certainly household names that have long been at the beginning of conversations regarding some of the best talents across the country, there have also been several ‘new’ stars that have emerged after Fargo and the many preseason tournaments that were recently staged.
With the regular high school season just a month away, here are some kids that may go from ‘little-known’ to full-fledged stardom this season.
106 – Brady Berge, 7th Grade, Kasson-Mantorville, Minn.
The opening weight class offers several options for the ‘breakout star’ category. It’s often the launching pad for future success. But Berge just may be the most intriguing option. He’s been a phenom, often beating kids much older. And, in a state that allows seventh graders to wrestle varsity, it will be interesting to see how he fares.
Others: Paul Mascarenas, Jr. Rio Rancho, N.M.; Ke-Shawn Hayes, Fr. Park Hill, Mo.; Davion Jeffries, Fr. Collinsville, Okla.; Jaydin Clayton, Fulton, So. MO; Israel Saavedra, Fr. Pitman, Calif.
113 – Zahid Valencia, Freshman, St. John Bosco, Calif.
While many that follow youth wrestling will probably be familiar with this name already, Valencia will make his high school debut this year. He’s the consensus No. 1 freshman in the country, and already has two Nuway Preseason titles to his credit, with wins over several nationally-ranked wrestlers including Johnson Mai and Micah Perez, who both placed in the top three at Fargo in the Juniors division.
Others: Cassidy Oshiro, Sr. Maryknoll, Hawaii; Freddy Stroker, Fr. Bettendorf, Iowa; Sam Krivus, Fr. Hempfield, Pa.
120 – Tim Lambert, Senior, Forest Hills East, Mich.
Until this summer at Fargo, Lambert was an unknown commodity. In fact, in the first round of that tournament, when he beat former No. 1-ranked Evan Silver, many members of the media were sent scrambling to find out the details on this kid. He backed up his third-place showing at Fargo with a title at the Michigan Grappler preseason event. It will be interesting to see if he can keep the momentum going in pursuit of his first state title this year.
Others: Ryan Diehl, Trinity, Jr. Pa.; Jason Nolf, Kittaning, So. Pa.; DeShaun Brown, Jr. West Mesa, N.M.; Josh Fuqua, So. Crown Point, Ind.
126 – Jake Smith, Senior, Newark Memorial, Calif.
Smith has always been a steady wrestler, placing in major events like Super 32 and Beast of the East. But he posted a huge victory last week when he upset Brandon, Florida’s Rossi Bruno, who was then ranked No. 1 in the country by several outlets. Smith moved this summer from Virginia to California, and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the Golden State.
Others: Maverick Passaro, Sr. South Eastport, N.Y.
132 – Joey Ward, Senior, Moeller, Ohio
Back in March, a relatively unknown Ward upset highly-ranked Kagan Squire in the state finals.
Was it a one-bout anomaly?
Ward had a fabulous third-place finish at the Super 32, narrowly missing the finals when he was taken down by Alex Cisneros with just three seconds left on the clock.
Watch out for Ward this year.
Others: Luke Zieger, Sr. Glasgow, Mont.; Tyler Berger, So. Hermiston, Ore.
138 – Laike Gardner, Senior, Biglerville, Pa.
Like Smith, Gardner has always been a solid wrestler. But he really got over the hump this offseason, placing at both Fargo and at Super 32.
Others: Aaron Hartman, So. Palm Harbor, Fla.; Jamel Hudson, Sr. St. Anthony’s, N.Y.; Grant Leeth, So. Fulton, Mo.; Nikko Villareal, So. Gilroy, Calif.
145 – Lenny Richardson, Senior, St. Peter’s Prep, N.J.
Here’s a kid that didn’t have much of a resume six months ago. He placed fifth in his state tournament, but then posted two consecutive giant statements at national tournaments. He won the NHSCA JR Nationals, then finished as runner-up at the Super 32.
Others: Sr. Willie Fox, Gilroy, CA
152 – Josh Llopez, Sophomore, La Plata, Md.
One of the best young middleweights in the country, Llopez proved he was ready for primetime in winning a state title as a freshman. He followed it up with a third-place showing at Fargo and a Super 32 title last month.
Others: Garrett Peppelman, So. Central Dauphin, Pa.; Ryder Newman, Jr. Las Vegas, Nev.; Cody Copeland, Sr. Greenville, Pa.
160 – Daniel Woiwor, Junior, Apple Valley, Minn.
With all of the many studs in Apple Valley’s line-up, Woiwor often gets overlooked. But here’s a kid that won a state title as a freshman. He had a solid offseason and could be in line for a break-out year in which he enters national rankings.
Others: Nick Kee, Jr. Scotland, N.C.; Taylor Lewandowski, Sr. Foley, Minn.
170 – Zach Beard, Junior, Tuttle, Okla.
Beard helped lead his Tuttle squad to a state team title last year. He won an individual state crown before going 9-1 at Cadet Duals and then winning Fargo.
Others: Kalvin Hill, Sr. Minooka, Ill.; Sean Mappes, Sr. Center Grove, Ind; Ben Sullivan, Sr. Apple Valley, Minn.
182 – Brandon McBride, Senior, Olympus, Utah
This kid might be one of the country’s best-kept secrets. He’s won three state titles in three different states: Idaho, Illinois, and Utah. As a sophomore he placed fourth at the Cheesehead and went 5-1 at The Clash. Maybe after winning his fourth state title, he’ll receive the credit he deserves.
Others: Jacob Morrisey, Junior, Oconto Falls, Wisc.
195 – Ben Stroh, Senior, Chinook, Mont.
The three-time state champ was one of the hot topics on the Fargo floor this summer when he placed sixth in a dynamite bracket.
Others: Matt McCutcheon, Jr. Kiski Area, Pa.
220 – Nate Rotert, Junior, Spearfish, S.D.
How’s this for an offseason: NHSCA Sophomore title, 8-1 at Cadet Duals, Fargo Cadet Freestyle runner-up. That’s what Rotert did in the last six months. There could be good things ahead for this kid.
Others: Alex Bambic, Jr. Desert Vista, Ariz.; Brian Moran, Jr. Fowlerville, Mich.; Spencer Empey, Jr. Reed, Nev.; Nick Cobb, Jr. Allen, Texas
HWT – Mike Shoff, Senior, Cambridge, Neb.
Talk about an athlete. Shoff runs sprints for his high school track team at 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds!
He has just one loss in high school, and that came as a freshman in the state finals. Since then, he’s a two-time undefeated state champion.
Others: John Schupp, Sr. Vacaville, Calif.; James Buss, Sr. De LaSalle, IL; Chet Spears, Jr. Sheldon, Ore.