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The Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational will take place this Friday and Saturday (Nov. 30 and Dec. 1) in the Las Vegas Conventional Center. This is the 31styear of the CKLV with former Michigan national champion Mark Churella and his son Mark Jr., also a former Wolverine All-American, serving as executive director and tournament director for the event.
The top five teams from last year’s event all return: Ohio State (which scored 129 points), Michigan (116), Wyoming (114.5), Nebraska (106) and Oregon State (100).
The other teams competing in Las Vegas this weekend include:
Action begins on Friday at 9 a.m. (PST) with the quarterfinals beginning that night at 7 p.m. The semifinals are set to start on Saturday at 10 a.m. with the finals scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.
The following are a weight-by-weight preview of possible finalists:
125 — Junior Alan Waters of Missouri is ranked No. 4 in the current WIN rankings. His biggest competition could come from North Dakota State senior Trent Sprenkle, who is ranked No. 5.
Other ranked wrestlers expected to compete are Virginia’s Matt Snyder (9th), Cornell freshman Nahshon Garrett (13th), West Virginia’s Shane Young (15th) and Ohio State’s Nikko Triggas (20th).
In last year’s CKLV, Nic Bedelyon of Kent State defeated Cornell’s Frank Perrelli, 3-1. Both wrestlers have graduated.
133 — Logan Stieber, last year’s NCAA champion and the top-ranked wrestler at this weight during his current sophomore year, won the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational last December when the Buckeye defeated Edinboro’s A.J. Schopp, 10-5.
Stieber’s biggest competition this season could come from Northern Iowa junior Joe Colon, who is ranked No. 4 by WIN. Other ranked wrestlers to consider are Wyoming’s Zach Zehner (10th), Cornell’s Nick Arujua (15th) and West Virginia’s Colin Johnston (20th).
141 —In last year’s CKLV final at this weight, Oregon State’s Mike Mangrum won by a 6-3 margin over Ohio State’s Hunter Stieber, who reached the finals with a victory over Michigan’s eventual national champion Kellen Russell. Both Mangrum and Stieber — who also met in last year’s NCAA fifth-place match with Mangrum winning — are expected to be back for this year’s Las Vegas Invitational.
The only difference is that Stieber, the younger brother of Logan, is ranked higher (second) than Mangrum (fifth), who earlier this season lost to Michigan freshman Camryn Jackson, who has been battling teammate Steve Dutton (ranked 20th by WIN) for that spot in the Wolverine lineup.
Perhaps the biggest challenger at this weight is Wisconsin senior Tyler Graff, the two-time All-American who is ranked No. 4 by WIN after taking an Olympic redshirt last winter. Graff did suffer one loss in November against Virginia Tech’s Zach Neibert, who is ranked No. 11.
Other ranked wrestlers to watch are Harvard senior Steven Keith (12th) and Arizona State’s Nathan Hoffer (14th).
149 — Michigan’s Eric Grajales (ranked No. 14 by WIN) was the lone Wolverine to win a CKLV championship last year, when the current junior majored Air Force’s Cole VonOhlen, 9-1. Both finalists are back this December with VonOhlen, who has just missed earning All-American honors the past two NCAAs, rated No. 9.
But both wrestlers will also have to get past Oregon State junior Scott Sakaguchi (3rd) and Boise State senior Jason Chamberlain (4th). Chamberlain, a 2011 All-American who took an Olympic redshirt last winter, was ranked No. 1 in WIN’s preseason poll before losing last weekend to Sakaguchi.
This weight class could also produce a rematch of a battle between two wrestlers from the Commonweath of Virginia: Virginia Tech’s Nick Brascetta (12th) and Virginia’s Derek Valenti (13th). The Hokie defeated the Cavalier, 3-2, last weekend. Brascetta, whose only loss this season was against VohOhlen, also defeated Ohio State All-American Cam Tessari (13th) this winter.
157 — Nebraska’s James Green, who has received countless comparisons to a former New Jersey native and Cornhusker wrestler — Olympic and World champion Jordan Burroughs — should be the man to beat in Vegas as the sophomore is ranked No. 5. But right behind him is Virginia Tech senior Jessie Dong, who is rated No. 6, but has dealt with numerous injuries and is looking to land his first All-American honor this year.
Meanwhile, there are plenty other ranked wrestlers who could compete: Ohio State’s Josh Demas (11th), Air Force’s Josh Kreimer (13th), Northern Iowa’s David Bonin (14th), Oregon State’s Roger Pena (15th) and Boise State’s George Ivanov (19th).
In last year’s final, Cornell’s Kyle Dake — who eventually claimed his third NCAA Division I title — defeated Nebraska-Kearney’s T.J. Hepburn, who later claimed an NCAA Division II championship. Hepburn has since graduated but his former team from Kearney was ranked No. 1 in the NWCA Preseason Rankings.
165 — Cornell’s three-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake won this championship at 157 pounds last season but is now competing at 165. Dake’s biggest challenge could come from Virginia Tech and Virginia as the Hokies’ Peter Yates (4th) and the Cavaliers’ Nick Sulzer (7th) are both ranked in WIN’s Top 10. Yates was 8-0 this week after beating Sulzer, 7-2, last Sunday.
Meanwhile, they should also be challenged by North Dakota State’s Steve Monk (9th) and Nebraska’s Tyler Koehn (14th) as well as a newcomer in Michigan redshirt freshman Taylor Massa (18th).
In last year’s CKLV final, Wyoming’s Shane Onufer defeated Hofstra’s Paul Gillespie. Both have graduated.
174 — Both finalists — Cal Poly’s Ryan DesRoches and Michigan’s Justin Zeerip — have graduated, but Ohio State’s Nick Heflin — ranked No. 2 by WIN after finishing fifth in last year’s NCAAs — looks poised to capture a CKLV title this weekend.
There are six ranked wrestlers ready to take down the Buckeye: Nebraska sophomore Robert Kokesh (6th), Virginia junior Jon Fausey (5th), Michigan junior Dan Yates (11th), Missouri senior Todd Porter (15th), Cal Poly sophomore Dominic Kastl (16th) and Army sophomore Coleman Gracey (19th).
184 — Cornell’s Steve Bosak (ranked No. 2 by WIN) won last year’s NCAA championship but lost to Wyoming’s Joe LeBlanc in last winter’s Vegas tournament. With LeBlanc graduated, the Big Red senior should get plenty of competition from Nebraska’s Josh Ihnen (6th) and Northern Iowa’s Ryan Loder (7th) who are the highest ranked wrestlers at the weight.
Also in strong contention for a CKLV title are Missouri senior Mike Larson (10th), Boise State junior Jacob Swartz (12th) and North Dakota State senior MacKain Stoll.
197 — The last time most college wrestling fans saw Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore was two years ago in Philadelphia where the Golden Flash captured his school’s first NCAA championship. Since then, Kilgore — a three-time All-American — took an Olympic redshirt last spring but has returned as the nation’s top-ranked 197-pounder as a senior. So far this winter, Kilgore has won all ten matches and pinned six of his foes.
Kilgore’s biggest challenge could come from a pair of top-10 ranked wrestlers in Wyoming senior Alfonso Herandez (3rd) and Missouri senior Brent Haynes (6th).
But there are at least six other ranked wrestlers who are expected to compete: Oregon State sophomore Taylor Meeks (11th), American University senior Dan Mitchell (13th), Michigan sophomore Max Huntley (15th), Arizona State senior Jake Meredith (17th), Harvard’s James Fox (18th) and Ohio State senior Cody Magrum (20th).
Hwt — In last year’s CKLV heavyweight final, Oregon State’s Clayton Jack pinned Ohio State’s Peter Capone. And while Jack has since graduated, one of the Beaver teammates standing nearby was Chad Hanke, who redshirted last winter but has replaced Jack in the line-up. Hanke is ranked No. 6 in WIN’s rankings but must get past the likes of Missouri’s Dom Bradley — a former All-American, who like Hanke, also redshirted last winter.