Fargo 2024 Preview: Which future Olympians could we see?

Updated: July 9, 2024

Photo: Cody Merrill of California defeated Cole Mirasola of Wisconsin for the 220-pound Junior National championship in men’s freestyle last summer in Fargo. The two highly-ranked stars could meet again in this year’s Fargo finals, which take place next week in the Fargodome.

By Rob Sherrill

There’s a saying in the scientific world, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Although many wouldn’t confuse science with wrestling, that saying is as applicable to man’s oldest sport as it is to physics.

It wasn’t that long ago that the now 16U and Junior Nationals were the crowning achievement of every elite wrestler’s season, year in and year out. With the increasing interest in qualifying for and competing on national teams at more age levels, a significant number of wrestlers we’d normally see at Fargo are competing on a bigger stage. They’ll be going not against the nation’s best, but the world’s best instead.

Due to 2024 being an Olympic year, the U17 World Championships and the U20 World Championships aren’t immediately on the horizon. The U17 event won’t be contested until Aug. 19-25, in Amman, Jordan; the U20 event will be nearly two months after Fargo has concluded — Sept. 2-8 in Pontevedra, Spain.

That amount of lead time might result in some World Team members competing in the FargoDome. Nevertheless, we’ve eliminated eight members of each team from consideration for the finals in our Fargo predictions.

They include five U20 team members who are ranked No. 1 at their weight class in the newest WIN rankings: Junior Hodge Trophy winner Luke Lilledahl (126) and Bo Bassett (138) of Pennsylvania, Marcus Blaze (132) of Ohio, LaDarion Lockett (165) of Oklahoma and Connor Mirasola (190) of Wisconsin.

All but one of the 16 in the two age groups are in our rankings; all 15 in the top 10, and nine are in the top five. So that’s a lot of star power potentially on the sidelines.

But as is the case every year, the door swings open for others to grab the spotlight, as you’ll see at the end of this column. You may not be facing that one elite opponent until another time. But the big stop sign awaits just the same.

The stars of the 16U and Junior Duals

Held a week apart, California won a pair of titles in the 16U and Junior National Duals. The Golden State took the freestyle title in the 16U Duals at Herriman, Utah, then added the Junior Greco-Roman title in Tulsa, Okla. Iowa won the 16U Greco-Roman title, and Wisconsin came from behind to nip Ohio in a thrilling Junior freestyle final. By now, you’ve probably seen the All-Tournament teams for the four events and all were outstanding.

A total of 35 wrestlers, 16 from 16U and 19 from the Juniors, were undefeated in both styles. The 175-pound class led the way in the 16U Duals, with three wrestlers going unbeaten in each style; two did so at 132 and 157. The lower and middle weights were the deepest in the Junior Division, with three wrestlers going unbeaten at 113 for the week. Two went unbeaten at 120, 126, 144, 150 and 175.

Now, it’s our turn. Here are three who shined in each event.

16U Duals

Ariah Mills (88 pounds), Georgia — The Mills pipeline continues, giving the often-overlooked lightest weight some attention. Mills went 15-0 during the week, following up an 8-0 Greco-Roman run with a 7-0 freestyle record. He did not wrestle a match that went the distance, racking up two pins, 12 technical falls — six in each style — and a forfeit. He allowed a total of two points.

Liam Collins (113), Minnesota — The 3A state champion at 107 at Prior Lake, Collins also didn’t have a match go the distance, going 5-0 in each style. After scoring a pair of pins and three technical falls in Greco-Roman, Collins won all five freestyle matches by technical fall. Only eight points were scored against him all week.

Salah Tsarni (165), Maryland — Like Collins, a rising sophomore, Tsarni racked up six technical falls in each style en route to a 15-0 week, eight wins coming in freestyle. He allowed only one point in Greco-Roman, and five points total. The independent state champion from Potomac Bullis School finished seventh in the National Prep Championships at 157.

Junior Duals

Ezekiel Witt (120), Kansas — Witt’s 9-0 record included four wins in Greco-Roman, all by technical fall, and a 5-0 freestyle record that included two pins and three technical falls, not allowing a point. The North Dakota State recruit pinned his way to his second 6A state title at 113 at Manhattan.

Vince Bouzakis (157), Pennsylvania — The rising senior achieved perfection — of sorts — in his 13-0 record for the week. All 13 wins, seven in the freestyle tournament, were by technical fall. Bouzakis was unscored upon in freestyle and allowed only three total points. He completed an unbeaten season at Kingston Wyoming Seminary with a National Prep Championships title.

Nicholas Sahakian (285), California — Sahakian played a lead role in California’s run to the Greco-Roman title, beating three ranked opponents in going 7-0 with a pin, five technical falls and a forfeit. He added a 6-0 freestyle mark that included five more technical falls and a forfeit. The rising senior at Bellflower St. John Bosco lost to Junior Hodge finalist Cody Merrill in the state championship match in February.

(A native of Chicago’s south suburbs, Rob Sherrill has been covering high school wrestling on the national level since 1978 and has served as WIN’s high school columnist since 1997.)