By Arman Kassam
Stanford wrestling (2-0, 0-0 Pac-12) hits the road today for the famed Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, a two-day event that draws hundreds of wrestlers from some of the best teams in the nation. The Cardinal have taken a break after their dual-meet victories over SF State (1-2) and Fresno State (3-4, 1-2 Big-12), as well as individual victories at the Roadrunner and Princeton Opens earlier in the season. Expect to see shows of grit, glory and good-old takedowns as the team gets back into the swing of things and gears up for one of the toughest tournaments of the season.
At last season’s invitational, the Cardinal took 10th place overall and had four wrestlers break into the rankings. Nathan Butler and Connor Schram, now both graduated, were able to secure fourth and sixth place in the heavyweight and 125-pound classes, respectively. The only current wrestler from the Cardinal squad to place at last year’s tournament was redshirt sophomore Nathan Traxler, who took seventh place in the 197-pound class with a solid 4-2 record. Traxler, who currently leads as Team Captain, managed to put up a close fight in his losses against No. 3 Jared Haught of Virginia Tech (0-2, 0-0 ACC) and No. 14 Jeric Kasunic of American (0-0, 0-0 EIWA). The eighth-ranked captain is no doubt looking to propel even further at this year’s tournament, and considering his recent 7-0 domination over SF State’s Danny Salas, prospects are looking good.
Traxler was not the only Cardinal to triumph in the bout against the Bulldogs; Stanford was put in a precarious position after losses that let SF State take a 15-12 lead, but in a legendary upset over No. 20 Khristian Olivas in the 149-pound division, redshirt sophomore Requir van der Merwe – dubbed the “South African Tornado” – took the competition by storm. Merwe’s 9-6 victory over Olivas turned the tide of the battle, and after a subsequent 3-2 win by redshirt senior Paul Fox at 157 pounds, the Cardinal were in the clear. Junior Gabriel Townsell was the only Stanford wrestler to win a match by takedown, pinning opponent Robert Garcia IV in less than a minute. Townsell, currently ranked 20th in the nation for the 125-pound class, also triumphed at the Princeton Open with a stellar 4-1 record. Additionally, the overall 22-15 victory against Fresno State was secured through a 9-5 win for fifth-year Rico Stormer (174 pounds) and a dominant 12-1 performance by sophomore Dominick Mandarino.
Over 30 teams will be represented at the invitational today and Saturday, including some of the top teams in the nation: No. 2 Ohio State (3-0, 0-0 Big-10), No. 5 Michigan (2-0, 0-0 Big-10), and No. 6 Cornell (2-0, 1-0 EIWA). According to InterMat, more than half of the 200 ranked wrestlers in the country are headed to the Sin City for a veritable Clash of Titans. Last year, the Buckeyes took the top spot at the tournament for the second year in a row with three individual champions – Luke Pletcher (133 pounds), Myles Martin (184 pounds), and Kollin Moore (197 pounds). The Buckeyes will be bringing a storm of their own with wrestlers like No. 2 Micah Jordan (149 pounds), who recently took down No. 11 Josh Maruca from Arizona State (1-2, 0-0 Pac-12) in a 12-5 major decision victory. Stanford is no doubt looking to break into the top-10, and maybe even the top-five this year, but it is indisputable that the competition will be ready and ruthless. The hegemonic Cardinal, which currently boasts a spotless record, will likely face some of their toughest opponents of the season.
The Cliff Keen Invitational will take place in Las Vegas, starting at 10 a.m. today and Saturday.
Contact Arman Kassam at armank ‘at’ stanford.edu.