One of the toughest midseason NCAA Wrestling tournaments is upon us. More than 100 nationally ranked wrestlers will descend on Las Vegas this weekend to participate in the Cliff Keen Invitational. Forty-two teams will compete in the tournament, including No. 13 Virginia Tech.
The Hokies will send their squad to Sin City for the annual tournament, which will feature Top 25 teams such as Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota and Cornell, among others. The Hokies will get to compete against some ACC foes as well, with Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia all invited to the competition.
Six Virginia Tech wrestlers were featured in the tournament's pre-seeds, which were released Wednesday afternoon. Korbin Myers, Ryan Blees, Mekhi Lewis, David McFadden, Zack Zavatsky and Tom Sleigh all received seeds. McFadden is seeded third in the 174-pound weight class despite not wrestling in the tournament due to injury. Redshirt sophomore Cody Hughes will be wrestling in his place.
The tournament will be a good testing ground for some of the Hokies’ newer wrestlers while also serving as a possible redemption for some on the team.
Korbin Myers has the potential to face off against two opponents that he has already wrestled this season. He has gone 1-1 in the Hokies’ two duals to start the season, losing to Missouri’s John Erneste before defeating Northwestern’s Colin Valdiviez. Both of those teams will be at the Cliff Keen, setting up two possible rematches.
The redshirt junior hopes to reach All-American status this season, and this tournament will be a good way to see what he needs to work on going forward. The 133-pound bracket is stacked with names like Nick Suriano of Rutgers and Stevan Micic of Michigan.
Ryan Blees also has the potential for a rematch this weekend. Blees had a solid start to the season, reaching the finals of the Hokie Open on Nov. 4. He won two matches by major decision on his way to the final match, where he lost 6-1 to Duke’s Mitch Finesilver. Finesilver received the fifth seed in the 149-pound bracket this weekend.
Blees’ season has been a little rough since the Hokie Open, as he dropped both duals he has wrestled in so far. Missouri’s Grant Leeth defeated him 3-1 in a close one on Nov. 16. Leeth received the third seed in the Cliff Keen, giving Blees two familiar opponents in his bracket.
Lewis received the seventh seed in the 165-pound weight class, where he’ll be up against guys like Logan Massa of Michigan and Connor Flynn of Missouri, who defeated him in their dual two weeks ago. Lewis has had a strong start to his career, and a strong performance against some tough competition early in the season could catapult him to the forefront of college wrestling.
Zavatsky will have his work cut out for him in the 184-pound bracket. 2016 national champion Myles Martin of Ohio State will be there, as well as Taylor Venz of Nebraska and Chip Ness of North Carolina. Zavatsky defeated Martin in the 2016 tournament when the Ohio State wrestler was defending his nation title. Zavatsky received the third seed in his bracket and will have a shot to prove that he should be considered a threat in the weight class this season.
Rounding out the Hokies’ pre-seeded wrestlers is Tom Sleigh, who received the sixth seed at the 197-pound weight class. Sleigh has gone undefeated so far in his first two duals with the Hokies, taking down Missouri’s Wyatt Koelling and Northwestern’s Zack Chakonis. Chakonis received the 11th seed in this weekend’s tournament while Kollin Moore will be the man to beat, as the two-time All-American is seeded first in the bracket.
Other Virginia Tech wrestlers competing this weekend include Joey Prata, Mitch Moore, B.C. LaPrade, Cody Hughes and John Borst.
Virginia Tech will hope to have an individual champion for the fourth consecutive season. Joey Dance, Ty Walz and David McFadden have won the tournament each of the past three years.
Wrestling begins today at noon and will conclude Saturday afternoon. Fans can follow along with Virginia Tech Wrestling on Twitter or on FloWrestling.com
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics