The last time college wrestling fans saw Princeton’s Patrick Glory in action, he was holding down Purdue’s Matt Ramos as seconds ticked by in the national finals match. When the clock hit zero, with Glory taking the win 4-1, the Tiger senior laid down on the mat, his hands in his face, soaking in the moment he became Princeton’s first national champion in 72 years.
This weekend, Glory returns to competition for the first time since that historic title. He, along with dozens of other elite 2023 national champions, All-Americans and NCAA qualifiers, is set to compete at the 2023 U.S. Open freestyle tournament in Las Vegas, the first step toward making a world team.
The winner of the 2023 U.S. Open advances to Final X, the last stop in the world team trials process. Awaiting those winners in Final X will be last year’s senior world medalists.
The winner of 57kg, Glory’s weight, will meet Thomas Gilman, the 2021 Olympic bronze medalist. The winner of 65kg and 70kg will face world silver medalists Yianni Diakomihalis and Zain Retherford. At 74 kg, the winner of the U.S. Open will meet Olympic bronze medalist Kyle Dake, while the winner at 79kg will meet seven-time world and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs. Olympic gold medalists David Taylor and Kyle Snyder will be waiting for the winners of the U.S. Open at 86kg and 97kg for their Final X bouts. The winner of Final X will make the World Team.
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On the women’s side, Olympic bronze medalist Sarah Hildebrandt awaits the winner of 50kg, while world champion Dominique Parris and Olympic champion Helen Maroulis are set to compete against the U.S. Open champs at 53 and 57kg. Olympian Kayla Miracle accepted her Final X spot as well, so she’ll meet the winner of 62kg. World bronze and gold medalists Mallory Velte and Amit Elor are the Final X reps at 65kg and 72kg.
If the stakes weren’t high enough, the results from this year’s world championships could have major implications for the Olympic Trials. In 2021, any medalist from the senior world team the previous year at an Olympic weight automatically advanced to the finals of the 2024 Olympic Trials next April. The senior world medalists at a non-Olympic weight advanced to the semifinals. Regardless of the format of the 2024 Trials, the road to a world medal, and a potentially a bye in the Olympic Trials for most athletes, starts in the U.S. Open.
Here are nine of the biggest potential names and matches for college wrestling fans to look for this weekend at this major qualifying event across men’s freestyle, women’s freestyle and men’s Greco events this weekend:
57kg: Patrick Glory vs. Spencer Lee
Patrick Glory versus Spencer Lee was the match most wrestling media members picked as the likely NCAA finals bout. Princeton’s decorated senior vs. Iowa’s three-time champion — it looked to be a major showdown. But Purdue’s Matt Ramos had something to say about that. After pinning Lee in the semifinals, Ramos earned his shot against Glory while Lee medically forfeited out of his two consolation matches on the backside of the bracket.
Glory had been public about the fact that he was training to take on Lee, and while he pivoted Friday night after learning he’d be facing Ramos, we could see a Lee vs. Glory matchup at the U.S. Open depending on how the brackets play out. The biggest question heading into this match is simply: how healthy is Lee? In an interview after the tournament, Lee noted that he did not lose his match against Ramos because of an injury but that he was battling health issues and needed to heal. If he’s not healthy, this will be a tough field for him. But if he is back at least mostly to full strength, get ready.
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Lee could face Glory in what would be an epic match, but he could also face two-time NCAA champion Nick Suriano in a rematch of their 2018 NCAA finals. Surino has performed well at the senior level over the last year, and he's one of the favorites at this weight coming into the tournament. Spencer Lee is always a name to watch, and he’s particularly a name to watch when he has the potential to take on 2023 NCAA champion Patrick Glory and/or 2019 and 2022 NCAA champion Nick Surinao.
61kg: Seth Gross vs. Vito Arujau
61kg is undoubtedly one of the deepest weights in the tournament, with 2022 world team member Seth Gross leading a pack that includes 2023 NCAA champion Vito Arujau, 2015 NCAA champions Nathan Tomasello and Cody Brewer, 2016 NCAA champion Nahshon Garrett, 2018 world bronze medalist Joe Colon and three-time NCAA podium finisher Austin DeSanto. Add in a number of other NCAA qualifiers, and this weight is action-packed from top to bottom. Any number of these matches could be electric, but pay special attention if the bracket works out in a way that puts Seth Gross and Vito Arujau together in the finals. Gross, the most recent world team rep at this weight, is funky and fun, known for scoring a ton of points and letting matches get wild. Gross earned his spot on the world team after beating world silver medalist Daton Fix in a best two-out-of-three battle last year, and while Gross came up just short of a medal last year, he’s dangerous.
Arujau, however, is coming off his best NCAA championship to date where he notched wins over Fix and two-time NCAA champion Roman Bravo-Young to earn his first title. A 2021 Olympic Trials finalist, Arujau is beyond skilled in freestyle, and he could absolutely pose a threat to Gross. If these two match up, look for this bout to be fast-paced and high-scoring.
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Similarly, any match with Hawkeye Wrestling Club’s Austin DeSanto will be can’t-miss wrestling. The Iowa All-American was a showstopper in college, and now, as he continues to train freestyle full time, his conditioning and intensity could be a problem for any of the guys in this weight.
65kg: Joey McKenna vs. Nick Lee
The 65kg weight class has historically been one of the United States’ most competitive weight classes domestically but one of the most challenging internationally. Prior to Yianni Diakomihalis winning silver at this weight in the 2022 senior world championships, the United States had not won an international medal at 65kg in 16 years, despite having the likes of Diakomihalis, three-time NCAA champion Zain Retherford and two-time NCAA champion Jordan Oliver moving through the weight. Now, with Diakomihalis’ snapping the streak and ending the 65kg curse, he earned a bye to Final X and will await the winner of yet another deep 65kg bracket.
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One of the biggest potential matches to look forward to is the possibility of NCAA finalist Joey McKenna meeting longtime college foe and two-time NCAA champion Nick Lee. McKenna finished second in the 2021 Olympic Trials to Oliver but has racked up a number of accolades since including golds in the 2021 and 2022 Pan American Championships and silver medals at the Zagreb and Alexandria Grand Prix in 2023. A member of the highly-regarded Penn Regional Training Center, McKenna has looked sharp and ready. He’s someone who has pushed Diakomihalis before, and he could do it again, if he runs through this bracket and earns that opportunity at Final X.
A number of wrestlers, however, will be looking to stop McKenna, starting with Nick Lee of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. Lee and McKenna battled four times in college, and all four of those bouts were decided by one point. McKenna beat Lee in three of the four bouts, but Lee jumped levels in the three years since McKenna graduated, and a rematch between the two in freestyle would highlight just how far these two have come since their college days. There’s no guarantee, of course, that we’ll see this match, given the nature of the seeding process, and the fact that there are a number of other guys, including 2019 NCAA champion Anthony Ashnault, 2022 NCAA finalist Ridge Lovett and All-Americans Matthew Kolodzik, Evan Henderson, CJ Composto, Luke Pletcher (McKenna’s former Buckeye teammate and another rival of Lee’s) Ian Parker, Cole Matthews, Pat Lugo and Beau Bartlett who will want to put themselves in position to earn a match against Diakomihalis in Final X.
74kg: Jason Nolf and Keegan O'Toole
Nick Lee is just one of many Nittany Lion Wrestling Club athletes registered for the Open and one of several who have a legitimate chance to win it all. At 74kg, Jason Nolf is Penn State’s best shot for a U.S. Open champ, but, to earn that title, he might have to go through his former teammate and current Sunkist Kids wrestling's Vincenzo Joseph. That match has intrigue because Nolf and Joseph wrestled back-to-back for several years in college while Nolf won his three titles and Joseph won two, so there’s familiarity there and some personal history. But perhaps even more intriguing than Joseph vs. Nolf is the possibility of three-time champ Nolf vs. two-time NCAA champion Keegan O’Toole.
Missouri’s O’Toole enters this tournament fresh off his second NCAA title, and while he’s known for his stellar mat wrestling, O’Toole is freestyle savvy as well. He won a junior world title in 2021 and has been unstoppable in just about every match since. O’Toole's only collegiate losses have come against NCAA champion David Carr and NCAA finalist Jake Wentzel. Nolf will be a serious test for the young star.
A three-time national champion for the Nittany Lions, Nolf finished third in the Olympic Trials at 74kg behind Dake and Burroughs and fourth at the World Team Trials at 79kg behind Burroughs, Carter Starocci and Alex Dieringer. Nolf is fast, technical and smart on the mat, skills that similarly serve as strengths for O’Toole. This could be a fun, funky match that will be a good indication of where both of these guys are at and how likely they are to challenge for an Olympic spot in 2021.
86kg: Mark Hall vs. Zahid Valencia
Much like the potential McKenna vs. Lee match at 65kg, the possibility of a Zahid Valencia vs. Mark Hall matchup at 86kg is a college wrestling fan’s dream. These two NCAA champions wrestled each other four times in their NCAA careers and split their bouts 2-2. Valencia has the last win over Hall in folkstyle, but he’s also 2-0 against the Penn State legend in freestyle, winning those bouts by a combined score of 16-0. Since graduating from Arizona State, Valencia has been making a major name for himself on the senior circuit, and he’ll be a favorite against Hall and the field at this weight. A potential matchup against Hall though, would be fun for the nostalgia and because Hall has been training at the Penn Regional Training Center with seven-time World and Olympic champion Burroughs, so he’s likely only made gains since the last time he met Valencia.
N.C. State’s Trent Hidlay is also in the mix at this weight, as is three-time NCAA champion Aaron Brooks, neither of whom can be overlooked. A Brooks vs. Hall match could be fun too, given that they overlapped in the Nittany Lion lineup one year during Brooks’ true freshman year. The winner of this weight will meet Olympic champion David Taylor, another Penn State alum. Will Taylor meet a fellow Nittany Lion, or will Valencia, Hidlay or another member of the field ruin that reunion?
125kg: Gable Stevenson vs. Mason Parris
The biggest storyline in the 2023 U.S. Open is the return of 2021 Olympic champion and two-time NCAA champion Gable Steveson. After leaving his shoes on the mat at the 2022 national tournament and announcing his retirement from the sport with the goal of pursuing WWE, Steveson is back and looking to make another senior level team.
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The 2022 World team rep at 125kg, Hayden Zillmer, did not medal at the 2023 senior world championships, so the winner of this weight will advance to Final X and await the winner of a world team trials mini-tournament, which could include many of the same participants as the U.S. Open. If Steveson’s been training wrestling, as he says he has, he’ll come in as the favorite in stacked weight. The list of registered participants, though, is an all-star cast of big men including two-time U.S. Open champ Dom Bradley, two-time World Bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski, 2023 Hodge Trophy winner Mason Parris as well as a number of notable NCAA All-Americans. Much like Spencer Lee, Steveson will be someone you will want to watch every time he takes the mat, and any one of his bouts will likely be wild. But the most interesting match could be a potential bout against Parris.
Parris and Steveson have met five times in their college careers with Steveson winning each and every time and majoring Parris in their last two meetings. Parris’ closest match came in their first match, when the Wolverine lost 8-6 to Steveson in the 2020 Big Ten championships. Who has made the most gains since their last bout? Parris dominated just about everyone in the 2023 national championships, suggesting he’s jumped levels, but his opponent is one of the best heavyweights of all time. Can Parris keep it close or upset the champ?
50kg: Sage Mortimer vs. Emily Shilson
While the U.S. men’s freestyle matches feature a number of top Division I NCAA names, the women’s field is also loaded with experienced veterans with international accolades as well looking for their chance to earn a World Team spot.
National team members Alyssa Lampe and Erin Golston lead the field at 50kg, but the most interesting matchup, if it happens, could actually be between two athletes just outside of the national team. A King University All-American, Mortimer wrestled Shilson just a week ago, but was disqualified for a move that left Emily Shilson unconscious. Both Shilson and Mortimer, though, are registered for the U.S. Open. Could we see this match again?
Shilson’s record is stellar, as she’s earned gold at the 2021 U23 World Championships, 2021 junior world championships and 2018 Cadet World Championships. Mortimer also has international medals, as she won gold at the 2022 U20 Pan American games. With a number of elite women at this weight, any of the matches will be worth watching at 50kg, but this potential matchup between Mortimer and Shilson could hold particular intrigue.
76kg: Kennedy Blades vs. Adeline Gray
The Mortimer vs. Shilson match is interesting because of the sequence of events that unfolded in their last match, but the most notable potential match, perhaps in the entire U.S. Open regardless of weight, style or gender, is this ideal bout between Olympic silver medalist Adeline Gray and up-and-coming star Kennedy Blades. A Sunkist Kids wrestler, Blades advanced to the Olympic Trials finals in 2021 down two weight classes, at 68kg, and lost both of her bouts to Tamyra Mensah-Stock, who would go on to win gold in Tokyo. Since the Trials though, Blades won a U20 World title and just qualified for the 2023 U20 World team with a win over Kylie Welker of the University of Iowa. The question now is: can she make a senior world team as well? Or will Adeline Gray, a six-time World champion, stop the young star?
Gray returns to the mat for the U.S. Open for the first time since winning gold in the 2021 World Championships and just nine months after giving birth to her twins. She’s one of the winningest wrestlers in U.S. history and never an easy matchup for anyone. Between Blades’ technique and strength and Gray’s focus and experience, this is a matchup you won’t want to miss if it happens.
130kg: Cohlton Schultz vs. Rulon Gardner
Greco doesn’t get a ton of love and attention in the United States, but this storyline here at 130kg is too juicy to ignore. 2022 NCAA finalist and 2023 All-American Cohlton Schultz from Arizona State is a two-time senior world team member and a potential favorite to make the team this year, but one of his most interesting competitors could be about 30 years his senior. Rulon Gardner, an Olympic gold medalist in 2000, has entered the U.S. Open at 130kg.
Gardner graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1993 after earning All-American honors, and he competed through the 2004 Games finishing third. He then attempted to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials but did not make weight. Two years prior, in 2010, Gardner was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a distinguished member in 2010. That same year, Schultz was finishing up fourth grade.
Can Gardner compete with a young star like Schultz? Who knows? But the possibility is fascinating.
Gardner, though, isn’t the only one with a great story in this weight class. Michigan’s NCAA finalist Adam Coon is back on the wrestling mat after being signed in the NFL and then playing in the XFL. He absolutely can compete with Schultz, and if those two meet up, look for big throws from two strong men. Don’t ignore Greco. The storylines are writing themselves at this weight.