By: Alex Steen, www.theopenmat.com
he 2016 Reno Tournament of Champions College Invitational began the day haunted by who was not in attendance. By the end of the day, those who were there had stolen the show. Oklahoma State’s team of back-ups hoisted the championship trophy, besting Michigan State, Wyoming, Cal Poly, and Oregon State, who rounded out the top five, while wrestlers from six different schools walked away as champions. When Oklahoma State announced they would not be sending any of their starters to Reno and Penn State’s team was unable to make it due to travel issues, the overall strength of this tournament took a huge hit. As the day began, it was fair to say that finding intriguing story lines was proving difficult with many unknown or unproven wrestlers battling across the floor of the Reno Events Center. However, it didn’t take long for a few competitors to put their stamp on the day. No one did so in a more impressive fashion than redshirt freshman Boo Lewallen (Oklahoma State). Lewallen, who was wrestling in his first college event after missing all of last year with two injuries, got right to work, knocking off #17 Joey Palmer (Oregon State), 9-4, in his first college bout. He produced back-to-back major decisions to move into the semi-finals where he promptly pulled another upset, this time victimizing Javier Gasca (Michigan State), 7-5. It seemed likely that Lewallen’s run would end up in second place as he matched-up with ninth-ranked Bryce Meredith (Wyoming), last year’s national runner-up, in the finals. Instead, Boo put on his most impressive performance of the day, scoring a final takedown with 20 seconds remaining to clinch the title by a final score of 7-3. He was voted Outstanding Wrestler.
Another freshman impressed on his way to the 165-pound championship. Drew Hughes (Michigan State) is a true freshman with just two losses on the year. He bullied his way through the bracket, using a punishing top game to score three straight tech-fall shutouts to reach the finals. There he would face #10 Branson Ashworth (Wyoming). While Hughes was unable to turn Ashworth over, he spent the bulk of the third period cranking on the Cowboy’s shoulder after the Wyoming sophomore had ridden Hughes out in the second period. With the match still scoreless, the two headed to overtime where Hughes scored a takedown to notch the only points of the match.
Connor Schram (Stanford) was undefeated in his first action back up at 133. The 2016 All-American at 125 pounds started the season at the lower weight, but the cut became a bit too much to handle. Looking to still have plenty of size relative to his competition, Schram scored a pair of falls, then conjured a pair of overtime takedowns, first in the semi-finals and then in the finals against Drew Templeman (Wyoming), to take the crown.
It wasn’t all bad news for Wyoming in the finals, however. Ninth-ranked Cole Mendenhall had just one close match all day, a 4-0 decision over Christian Pagdilao (Arizona State) in the semi-finals. Otherwise, Mendenhall was dominant as he won at 149. Pagdilao was making his season debut and looked good before defaulting out following the loss to Mendenhall. Wyoming’s 157, #13 Archie Colgan, also claimed a gold medal Sunday controlling his matches throughout. He topped #19 Colt Shorts (Cal Poly), 3-1, in the final.
A former Wyoming wrestler, Ben Stroh who transferred to Montana State-Northern over the summer, was the champion at 184 pounds. A two-time NCAA qualifier for the Cowboys, Stroh showed that type of competitive fire, winning four close matches to go along with a fall in the round of 16.
Other champions included Ronnie Bresser (Oregon State) who won the 125-pound bracket. Bresser is redshirting this season after a round of 12 finish last March. Jordan Rogers (Oklahoma State) and Derek White (Oklahoma State) helped the Stillwater crew lift the team trophy by winning at 174 and 197 respectively. Cody Crawford (Oregon State) survived three close matches in a row, including an overtime battle with teammate David Henry in the finals, to earn the 285-pound championship.