BTN's Shane Sparks previews Midlands; tourney live on BTN2Go

@NUSports.com

BTN's Shane Sparks previews Midlands; tourney live on BTN2Go

The Holidays are a great time to spend with family and friends reflecting on the past year, with hope and excitement for the upcoming year and of course…..WRESTLING!! This upcoming week is one of the best weeks on the college wrestling mats. It begins with the 53rd annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston.

[ MORE: View the complete Midlands brackets (PDF) ]

The two-day event begins Tuesday with the championship matches Wednesday night. More than 400 wrestlers are expected to compete, making it the largest field in the tournament’s history. Iowa has set the team scoring record in each of the last two events, and it is the heavy favorite to capture its 25th team title.

The Midlands is littered with ranked wrestlers and will provide some great individual matchups. These championships serve as a mid-season barometer that sets the tone for the new year. Potential matchups could also play a key role for seeding at the 2016 NCAA Championships in New York City.

At 125 pounds, second-ranked Thomas Gilman won the Midlands two years ago and is off to a great start for the Hawkeyes. Oregon State’s Ronnie Bresser (No. 6) and Northern Iowa’s Dylan Peters (No. 7) are among several ranked guys in the mix at this weight class. I like how Gilman has opened up and scored more points this season. As excited as I am to see how these matches play out, I am more interested to see the manner in which matches are won or lost. I want to see who makes a statement when they step inside that circle, especially against strong competition.

Corey Clark follows Gilman at 133 to give Iowa a great one-two punch out of the gate. Ranked No. 2 in the country, Clark won the Midlands crown last season by beating current No. 9 Zane Richards, of Illinois, 4-2. Iowa State’s Earl Hall (No. 5) is a contender, although he has never beaten Clark, most recently falling 9-2 in late November.

I am really excited to watch 141 unfold. I have mentioned Rutgers’ Anthony Ashnault a couple of times in the last month, and he continues to impress. Coming off an 11-2 major decision over Nebraska’s Anthony Abidin, who had beaten him twice last year, Ashnault is off to an 11-0 start, with seven of those wins by bonus points as he has climbed to No. 2 in the rankings. Joining Ashnault in this 141-pound Midlands field, are No. 3 Chris Mecate, of Old Dominion, and 2015 NCAA runner up Clayton Jack (No. 5), of North Carolina State. Also in this weight class is former Iowa State and Penn State wrestler Andrew Long, who is now wrestling at NAIA Grand View. The two-time All-American is back on the mats this season after four years away from college wrestling. Can’t wait!!

Three of the top four guys in the rankings at 149 will mix things up in Evanston. Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen (No. 2) and Northwestern’s Jason Tsirtsis (No.3) wrestled three times last season, with Tsirtsis winning at both the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. I’m licking my chops over another potential meeting between those two horses. Sorensen has dominated his way to a perfect 8-0 mark, while Tsirtsis has been limited to only a couple of matches. Old Dominion’s Alexander Richardson (No. 4) and Nebraska’s Jake Sueflohn (No. 7) add to the talent at 149.

Without No. 1 ranked Isaiah Martinez of Illinois everything changes. No. 6 Cody Pack of South Dakota State and North Carolina State’s Thomas Gantt (No. 7) lead the way with No. 11 John Boyle of American and No. 15 Louis Mascola also in the mix.

One of the more wide open weight classes at the Midlands is the 165. Purdue’s Chad Welch (No. 6), Rutgers’ Anthony Perrotti (No. 10) and Nebraska’s Austin Wilson (No. 11) are all capable of winning this title.

After dropping an 11-10 decision to Oklahoma State’s Kyle Crutchmer, Iowa’s Alex Meyer (No. 3) is on track and wrestling well. I was high on this guy coming into the season and expect him to win his first Midlands Championship. Meyer is the man to beat at 174 pounds.

The “Magic Man” is back! David Taylor has entered the field at 184 pounds. One thing that makes the Midlands so unique is the opportunity for post-graduates to compete. Taylor has always wanted to wrestle at the Midlands and figured as long as he was in the area for the holidays why not wrestle. The four time All-American and two time NCAA champion for Penn State is coming off a runner-up finish at the US Open two weeks ago. This weight class is pretty deep, and we should expect plenty of fireworks at 184.

Iowa’s Nathan Burak (No. 4) will be the favorite at 197 pounds, as he looks for his second Midlands Championship. Only CSU-Bakersfield Reuben Franklin (No. 6) joins Burak as a top-10 wrestler at this weight class. Several guys are ranked in the top-20 so maybe a dark horse looms.

Two-time NCAA Champion Nick Gwiazdowski, of North Carolina State, may go down as one of the best heavyweights of all time. Like Martinez of Illinois at 157, “Gwiz” is a guy that will be talked about for decades to come. Do yourself a favor and take advantage of the opportunity to see him. This is a pretty deep weight class with four more guys ranked in the top-10. There should be some nice matchups, but in the end I fully expect Gwiazdowski to be king of the mountain. With that being said, nothing is won on paper and that is why they wrestle the matches. Clear the mats! Let’s wrestle!

***

Here’s are the links to various mat cameras for both Tuesday and Wednesday without having a BTN2Go account.

Then Wednesday night’s championship round is available on BTN TV live. To be clear: To watch those Wednesday night finals live on BTN2Go, you must have a BTN2Go login. If you receive the Big Ten Network through a participating TV provider, you have access to this live event at no additional cost. You just have to authenticate through your TV system. More on that here on our BTN2Go FAQ page. Also, here are the links to download the free BTN2Go app for iPhone/iPad, as well as for the free BTN2Go app on any Android device.

TUESDAY

SESSION 1 (10:30 a.m. ET)
MAT 1 (Watch here!)
MAT 2 (Watch here!)
MAT 3 (Watch here!)
MAT 4 (Watch here!)
MAT 5 (Watch here!)
MAT 6 (Watch here!)
MAT 7 (Watch here!)
MAT 8 (Watch here!)
MAT 9 (Watch here!)
MAT 10 (Watch here!)

SESSION 2 (8 p.m. ET)
MAT 1 (Watch here!)
MAT 2 (Watch here!)
MAT 3 (Watch here!)
MAT 4 (Watch here!)
MAT 5 (Watch here!)
MAT 6 (Watch here!)
MAT 7 (Watch here!)
MAT 8 (Watch here!)
MAT 9 (Watch here!)
MAT 10 (Watch here!)

***

WEDNESDAY

SESSION 3 (1 p.m. ET)
MAT 1 (Watch here!)
MAT 2 (Watch here!)
MAT 3 (Watch here!)
MAT 4 (Watch here!)

SESSION 4 (9 p.m. ET)
CONSOLATION MAT 1 (Watch here!)
CONSOLATION MAT 2 (Watch here!)
FINALS LIVE ON BTN TV & BTN2GO (Watch here!)

Shane Sparks, BTN wrestling analyst

About Shane Sparks: Shane Sparks is a wrestling analyst for the Big Ten Network and writes a weekly look at Big Ten wrestling for BTN.com during the season. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneSparksBTN and find more live wrestling events on BTN2Go.com.

Advertisement

BTN Plus on BTN2Go

BTN Plus on BTN2Go

all times ET
Today
7:00 PMIllinois at Ohio St.Watch
8:00 PMRutgers at WisconsinWatch
8:00 PMMercyhurst at WisconsinWatch
8:30 PMPenn St. at MinnesotaWatch
Tomorrow
10:00 AMIndiana DualsWatch
Thursday Nov 30
7:00 PMWake Forest at Penn St.Watch
8:00 PMVirginia Tech at IllinoisWatch
8:00 PMClemson at NebraskaWatch

Watch hundreds of live non-televised Big Ten events via BTN Plus on BTN2Go.