The Midlands Championship was once the marque in-season tournament of college wrestling. Almost all the top teams would be in attendance as well as up and coming stud high schoolers and post-graduate Olympic hopefuls. But the tournament has been languishing in recent years. Many traditional teams, including Iowa State, have been electing to attend the Southern Scuffle instead, transforming the Scuffle into the premier in-season tournament of the year and leaving Midlands to slowly waste away.
But this year Iowa State, and many other teams, have changed their plans and will be closing out the year in Evanston instead of ringing in a new one in Chattanooga, leading to what should be a very large and very talented field.
Where: Evanston, Ill
When: December 29th & 30th, All day
Livestream: BTN2Go (no subscription required except for finals)
Iowa State Lineup (scorers in bold)
|133||#5/#6 Earl Hall||13-3|
|149||#16/UR Gabe Moreno||5-2|
|165||#15/#13 Tanner Weatherman||13-4|
|174||#15/#12 Lelund Weatherspoon||10-4|
Midlands uses a unique scoring system. Schools are given a number of entries (Iowa State has fifteen this year) but are not limited to just one wrestler per weight. Coaches bring whatever combination of athletes they choose and designate ten wrestlers as "scorers" for the tournament with no requirement for them all to be different weights. This allows teams with quality backups at some weights, but holes at others, to place higher at Midlands than they would at a more traditional tournament. In Iowa State's case, Jackson has chosen to count both Meeks and Rodriguez as scorers at 141 rather than have Pestano's results count towards the team score.
Weight by Weight Breakdown:
Kyle Larson's 12-6 overall record hides results of 1-5 against D-1 competition. Last year Larson was generally able to get wins over unranked guys while struggling against ranked ones, and while some of those 5 losses are to highly ranked opponents, there are also matches in there he should have been able to win. Prior to the season Larson was pegged as a "fringe NCAA qualifier" but he hasn't wrestled up to that so far. If he's going to move back up into that tier he doesn't need to place, but he does need to pick up at least 1-2 wins against fellow unranked wrestlers in Evanston.
Nathan Boston should be back down to weight and on the mat this week. He's 0-1 on the year but that one loss was 2-3 to #3 ranked Joey Dance of Virginia Tech, so hardly anything to be ashamed of. Hopes were high for Boston on the year but weight (and possibly other) issues have kept him off the mat. With luck this tournament can be his coming out party and he can finish with a spot in the top six. That would provide a big boost for ISU both for expected tournament points and dual strength.
Earl Hall gets another tough, deep bracket at Midlands. With over half the top ten expected to be in attendance his performance will have a major impact on his seed at NCAAs. A spot in the finals would require an upset. A top three or top four performance would meet expectations and keep Hall in position for a top eight seed in New York. Fifth or six would be a bit concerning but not cause for panic. Anything lower than that would be a disappointing performance. Despite the toughness of this bracket, Hall is ISU's best chance for a Midlands champion this week.
Dante Rodriguez and John Meeks will both be at 141 in Evanson, once again with the hope that one of them distances themselves from the other and takes a firm hold on the starting spot at this weight. Like at the Cliff Keen tournament in Vegas, 141 will be one of the weaker brackets. So both of the two should be in a position to make a run at placing.
Gabe Moreno has only had a handful of matches so far as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery. But he has generally performed well in the matches he's had. With both losses coming against opponents ranked in the top ten and a 4-2 win over #17 Geo Martinez of Boise State under his belt. Assuming his shoulder stays healthy, we should finally get the chance to get a good read on where Gabe sits this year. With as deep a bracket as is expected at 149, a finish anywhere on the podium would be good and a place in the top 5 would move Moreno into the All American conversation.
Blayne Briceno will also be taking the mat for the Cyclones at Midlands. With Moreno still favoring his shoulder, this is a chance for Briceno to get some experience in case he ends up having to step in later in the season. There aren't any expectations for Briceno here. Any win is a good one.
Logan Breitenbach and Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer are in a similar situation to Meeks and Rodriguez at 141. They have not separated themselves so far this season and a strong showing at Midlands would help one or the other lay claim to 157 for the rest of the season. Given results so far, anything more than 1-2 wins would be a good outing for either of these two and making it into the second day would be a huge resume boost.
Tanner Weatherman continues to struggle in half his matches. Sometimes he looks like the guy he was expected to be when he reached the R12 as a freshman. And other times he looks like he's ready to pack it in. He seems to have inherited the "mind-boggling senior" role from Luke Goettl this year. In his most recent outing, against Wyoming, he managed to go from almost having a major decision with 50 seconds left on the clock to needing a takedown in overtime to walk away with the win. The 165 bracket at Midlands should be fairly deep so a top four showing would provide a lot of confidence that Weatherman can get on track in the second half of the season and live up to preseason expectations. A short of the podium performance would indicate that something, be it burnout or injury, will likely hold Weatherman back through the entire season.
Colston DiBlasi will also be wrestling unattached at this weight. DiBlasi is a true freshman who is expected to take over the 165 pound spot after Weatherman graduates. A couple of wins would be a great indication that he will be able to hit the ground running next season.
Lelund Weatherspoon has been one of the more consistent guys in the lineup this season. He's taken care of business against unranked opponents and three of his four losses are to wrestlers currently ranked in the top seven. But he lacks any marquee wins to hang his hat on come seeding time in March. The 174 bracket at Midlands looks to be top heavy but not terribly deep. So placing should be expected out of Weatherspoon with his ranking (and eventual NCAA seed) climbing the higher he ends up on the podium.
Dane Pestano continues to be a nice surprise so far this season and will likely be looking to go out with a bang before presumed second semester starter Pat Downey takes the mat in the coming weeks. Like at the Cliff Keen tournament in Las Vegas, there aren't really any expectations on Pestano in Evanston. Anything from going 0-2 to making a low podium run wouldn't be surprising.
Marcus Harrington will finally be making his debut in a Cyclone singlet. Expectations were very high for Harrington going into the season and though Dane Pestano and Duke Egli have done a respectable job holding down the weight for duals Marcus should provide a big boost for tournament scoring. With luck, Harrington will get a match or two against the several wrestlers in the bracket who are ranked in the mid teens and end up somewhere on the podium.
Quean Smith has yet to show any of the hoped for improvement from last season to this one and while he has shown more consistency against mediocre to bad wrestlers, he still has not picked up any ranked wins or shown himself to be a serious contender for NCAA qualification, much less wins in New York. Will this tournament be when he finally breaks through and wrestles up to the potential he occasionally flashes? Or will he pin himself? Tune in to find out!
Given the number of quality teams in Evanston this year and how uneven the Cyclones have been in competition it is tough to make a prediction with any confidence. Hall making it to the top half of the podium and one or two other guys making it in to the 7th place match seems to be the most likely outcome based on what we've seen so far.
The Cyclones will have a week off before heading to Hampton, VA for the Virginia Duals on January 8th and 9th. The twelve team dual tournament will feature Arizona State, Bucknell, Campbell, Chattanooga, George Mason, Grand Canyon, Kent State, Old Dominion, Rider, The Citadel, and Virginia Tech.