As the holiday season winds down, the sports world is full of big-time events — bowl games, NBA Christmas games, and playoff-defining NFL games. College wrestling is no exception to the hype of December, with arguably the biggest regular-season tournaments in the country — the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships — being held December 29 and 30.
The annual invitational, hosted by Northwestern, regularly features the biggest names in college wrestling and often provides previews to what the NCAA Championships in March will look like.
Being the host of the event, the Wildcats will obviously post a team, and will be looking to have multiple big-time performances to cap off a month that started very well for the squad in Las Vegas.
Three weeks ago at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas, the ‘Cats saw impressive outings across the board, finishing 9th as a team in a loaded field — doing so without one of their top two wrestlers.
At 157, stud Ryan Deakin notched his second straight CKLV championship, knocking off then top-ranked Hayden Hidlay, who had defeated Deakin at the NCAA championships a season ago, in the championship match with a 6-2 decision.
DOWN GOES #1! Ryan Deakin takes out Hayden Hidlay, 6-2. pic.twitter.com/pvcX6bpM5s— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) December 8, 2019
While Deakin was NU’s lone champion, he was for from the only impressive performer for the ‘Cats. At 125, Michael DeAugustino, who entered the weekend without being given a pre-seed, managed to knock off multiple ranked opponents on his way to a third place finish.
Yahya Thomas finished third as well at 149, finishing behind two top-6 wrestlers in their class and nearly knocking off another highly-ranked wrestler in UNI’s Max Thomsen, falling 5-4.
Northwestern’s final wrestler to place at the event was Shayne Oster at 165, who notched a 6th place finish in a field full of top-10 wrestlers.
One notable absence from NU’s group at Las Vegas was 133 pound wrestler Sebastian Rivera, who had foregone the event in order to compete at Puerto Rico’s 2020 Olympic Trials, where, according to his Instagram account, he qualified to represent them at 57 kg.
Following the CKLV invitational, Northwestern saw considerable jumps in both their team and individual rankings, and are now looking to compete as one of the top units in the country. Going into this weekend, the NWCA coaches poll has NU ranked #13, while Intermat has them at #10 and #15 in their tournament- and dual-meet rankings, respectively.
Individually, Intermat has five NU wrestlers ranked heading into Midlands: DeAugustino at #10, Rivera at #3, Thomas at #8, Deakin at #1, and Oster at #18. Lucas Davison has flirted with cracking the top-20 as well, with The Open Mat having him at #20 in the December 17 poll.
Going into Midlands, NU has four guys that should be able to compete for high placement. Top-ranked Deakin will look to defend his Midlands championship from last year, with Princeton’s Quincy Monday and Iowa’s Kaleb Young being his biggest competition at the event.
Rivera, who defeated eventual 125 NCAA champion Spencer Lee at Midlands a season ago, will now compete against Lee’s teammate and top-ranked 133 wrestler Austin DeSanto and Wisconsin’s Seth Gross, in what looks to be one of the most exciting classes at the event.
Northwestern’s new 125 star Michael DeAugustino will definitely have his work cut out for him as well, with Lee, Virginia’s Jack Mueller, Princeton’s Pat Glory, and Purdue’s Devin Schroder all vying for high finishes at the event. If there’s a time for DeAugustino to prove himself as a top wrestler at 125, this weekend will be it.
Finally, Yahya Thomas could certainly find himself placing in the top three at 149, with Iowa’s Pat Lugo and Northern Iowa’s Max Thomsen being his biggest competition at the event.
While the field is definitely tough as always, Northwestern has a team full of guys that have shown that they can compete among the best at their weight classes, and the team as a whole can definitely place within the top three for the second year in a row.
The Midlands Championships will be held on Dec 29 and 30 at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, IL. Live coverage can be found here.