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By Craig Sesker, WIN Magazine
Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder has wrestled in it.
So have NCAA champions Ed Ruth, Jordan Oliver and Dustin Kilgore.
The annual AAU Scholastic Duals at ESPN’s Disney Wide World of Sports near Orlando has become a popular summer destination for some of the country’s best high school wrestlers.
The prestigious folkstyle wrestling event, held annually since 1997, is scheduled for June 24-28 in Kissimmee, Fla.
The tournament field includes 165 teams that will compete in five divisions. Each boy’s team is guaranteed at least eight dual meets.
“This has become one of the biggest high school dual-meet events in the country,” tournament director Cindi Trombly said. “We have excellent competition in all of our divisions. There are some really tough teams, no matter what division you are in. We get some great teams and some amazing wrestlers.”
There are 158 boys’ teams entered that will be split into four divisions – All-Star, Developmental, Community 1 and Community 2.
The All-Star division features handpicked squads of elite wrestlers. The Young Guns Black team won the All-Star title last year. Coach Jody Strittmatter’s powerful squad earned a dramatic 25-24 triumph over Knight Point of the Middle Atlantic Wrestling Association in an all-Pennsylvania final last year.
Heavyweight Isaac Reid, wrestling with an injured elbow, won the final match to send the Young Guns team to their fourth championship in five years.
Reid’s victory knotted the team score at 24-24, and the Young Guns prevailed on criteria after winning 8 of 14 matches over Knight Point.
Max Murin, now wrestling for the University of Iowa, went a perfect 11-0 for the Young Guns in last year’s event. Cam Coy, who now competes for the University of Virginia, also went 11-0 in Florida.
MAWA Knight Point returns 8 of its 14 team members from last year’s runner-up squad. Nine members of its team won state high school titles this year and all but one reached the state finals.
MAWA is led by Gavin Hoffman, a three-time Pennsylvania state champion, who is headed to Ohio State University. He competes at 195 and 220 pounds. The team also features 138-pounder Ryan Anderson, a state champion as a junior who is drawing recruiting interest from a number of NCAA Division I schools.
MAWA has won this event seven times, most recently in 2016.
“We lost a heartbreaker last year,” MAWA coach Steve Harner said. “There are always some exciting matches and great battles. We want to wrestle the best competition – that’s what makes it fun. It’s a great atmosphere to wrestle in and our kids enjoy this event. It’s a fun experience.”
The Young Guns Blue team defeated the Ohio Titan Red team 64-12 to win the Developmental Division title last year.
Rhino Wrestling Club’s Grey team won the Community 1 title in 2017 while York Town prevailed in the Community 2 division.
The AAU Scholastic Duals feature a new wrinkle this year with a girls’ division being added. Trombly said there are seven girls’ teams entered. Female wrestling continues to grow at all levels.
“We’re really excited about adding a girls’ competition,” she said. “We’re looking forward to providing that opportunity for the girls to be a part of this. We think the number of girls’ teams will double by next year.”
The roll-call list of previous prep talent who competed in the event reads like a “who’s who” of recent wrestlers who have had a lot of college and high school success.
That list includes: 2018 Hodge winner Zain Retherford, Cam Coy, Pat Lugo, Jason Nolf, Spencer Lee, Ty Walz, Vincenzo Joseph, George Dicamillo, TJ Dudley, Dean Heil, Jimmy Gulibon, Darian Cruz, Mike Evans, Logan Storley, AJ Schopp, Ryan Mango, Robert Kokesh, and Mitchell Port.
The AAU Scholastic Duals will be held in a spacious facility at Disney World – called “The Arena” – that will house 29 mats.
“ESPN’s Wide World of Sports built a brand new facility and we are fortunate to be able to move our event there,” Trombly said. “The whole tournament will be held in one venue this season, which is a big plus for us. The facility was actually built for cheerleading, but we are one of the first sports to compete in there. We’re excited to be able to wrestle in there.”
Trombly loves the concept of having a premier wrestling event staged at Disney World, one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet.
“This is a very well-organized event and it provides a very unique experience,” she said. “It’s a fun trip for the kids. It’s definitely something to see – it’s quite impressive. The competition is really intense. You will see some great wrestling.
“We’ve had a lot of really good kids, like Kyle Snyder, who have wrestled in this event and have gone on to excel in college. This event has really become the place to be – the wrestlers love to be a part of it.”