2014 Al Smith Preview
By Chad Hollenbaugh
IndianaMat Senior Writer
The Al Smith Invite is considered the toughest regular season tournament in the state of Indiana and the 2014 edition should continue that tradition. Last year, the Penn Kingsmen were clicking on all cylinders and ran away with the crown by nearly 90 points. Penn placed in 13 of the 14 weight classes and were never seriously challenged. Five other programs in the IndianaMat Power Poll will be among those trying to topple the Kingsmen.
This year the Kingsmen are still considered the favorite but sickness and injuries have plagued Brad Harperâ€™s squad and this fact might open the door to contenders like Merrillville, Warren Central, Lawrence North, and Bellmont.
Six champs from last years meet return this year and seven of the states top ranked wrestlers will be in action on the 30th and 31st. Number 1 headliners include Colton Cummings of Lowell at 106, Merrillvilleâ€™s Jacob Covaciu at 145, hometown boy Tommy Forte at 152, Lowellâ€™s Drew Hughes at 160, Pennâ€™s Chase Osborn and Kobe Woods at 182 and 220 respectively, and finally Merrillville big man Shawn Streck at 285. This tournament is so nasty that a state champ is neither top ranked nor a defending champion. (Tommy Cash)
Top ranked Colton Cummings of Lowell appears to be on a collision course with #3 Tylor Triana of Hobart. Graham Rooks of Columbus East and Keyuan Murphy of Warren Central bring strength from the south. Tanner Demein of Northwood and Kyle Mockenstrum of Prairie Heights are potential dark horses.
Drew Hildebrandt of Penn is the likely number one see here. He has the resume to be considered the clear favorite. Keep an eye on Michael DeLaPena of Merrillville, he is possibly flying under the states radar but is no doubt improving daily in the Pirate room.
The states seventh ranked 120 pounder, Brenden Black of Hobart, returns to the same weight class after finishing fourth last year. He will be the likely number 1 seed. State placer, Kyle Hatch of Warsaw, will probably be on the other side of the bracket. Chestertonâ€™s Jack Tolin, Pennâ€™s Austin Slates, and Elkhart Memorialâ€™s Marcus Meija add depth to this class. A possible spoiler might be junior Issac Castro of Lawrence North.
Munsterâ€™s third ranked Jason Crary is, in my mind, the clear favorite at 126. He was the champion last year at 113, appears to be healthy and has yet to be tested. A host of contenders will attempt to prove me wrong. #4 Elliot Malloy of Danville, #8 Branden Truver, and #10 Joel McGhee return as place winners in the same weight class. Bellmont mat men always seem to perform at Mishawaka and #11 Jon Becker is dangerous here.
A two-man race appears to be brewing at 132. Merrillvilleâ€™s Clarence Johnson and Warren Centralâ€™s Matthew McKinney have nearly identical resumes and seeding them might come down to a flip of the coin. A second tier of contenders includes Daniel Gunsett of Bellmont and NIC rivals Daniel Olsen (SB Adams), Austen Laughlin (SB Riley) and Jarrett Selis (Penn). Those looking for a spoiler might keep an eye on Fernando Luevano of West Noble.
Defending state champion Tommy Cash of Lawrence North is the lead dog here. He should cruise to an Al Smith Title unless promising frosh Zach Fattore of Hobart shows he is ready for the big time. Jimtown senior Jay Franko wrestled in the finals last year at 126 and is the probable #2 seed.
Another top ranked wrestler, Merrillvilleâ€™s Jacob Covaciu, headlines the 145 pound class. He is not, however, the clear favorite here. Fellow junior, Trent Pruitt of Warren Central defeated the purple Pirate at last yearâ€™s event. Pruitt enters with a state ranking of fifth. Elkhart Memorialâ€™s dangerous Tony Vaughn adds depth to this class.
152 and 160
Both of these weight classes should be dominated by top ranked Tommy Forte at 152 and Drew Hughes at 160. Forte is a former state champ and Hughes has wrestled under the lights at Bankers Life. Both of these studs have an extensive national resume to back up their state credentials. At 152, Lake Centralâ€™s Kody Christenson and Pennâ€™s Jarod Swank will try to find a chink in the Forte armor. Forte will be attempting to make history by becoming only the second wrestler to be a four time champ. (Bellmontâ€™s Randy Baker) At 160, Bellmontâ€™s Bryce Baumgartner appears to have the best shot a meeting Hughes in the finals.
If everything goes according to Hoyle, the 170 class might have the best finals match of the entire day. Scottie Sopko of Hobart and Joey Mammolenti of Penn have both been on the stateâ€™s radar for a number of years but neither has achieved their ultimate goals. These two warriors met three weeks ago and Sopko came away with a narrow 3-1 victory at the Harvest Classic. Whomever is the #2 seed had better not look too far ahead because Lawrence North junior Cameron Jones has the tools to knock of either of the two big dogs.
Pennâ€™s top ranked Chase Osborn seems like he has been around for the past decade. That is a testament to the impact he has had on the Kingsmen program since his freshman year. He is a clear favorite here if he is healthy. Chesterton super sophomore Andrew Davison could make a huge splash with an upset here. He already has a convincing win over last yearâ€™s fifth place finisher at this weight, Jonathan Morales of Western Boone.
Five state ranked wrestlers will sprinkle the bracket at 195 but none of the five has separated themselves from the crowd. This might me the most wide open and unpredictable weight class in the meet. Sixth ranked Nick Fowler of Calumet is unbeaten on the season and eighth ranked Bo Davis of Garrett was a state qualifier last year. Three sport stud Tanner Bradley of Mishawaka will look to give the hometown fans something to cheer about.
Pennâ€™s second top ranked wrestler, Kobe Woods, will likely earn the top seen at 220. He will be challenged by fourth ranked Courvoiser Morrow of Warren Central and Northern Lakes Conference rivals Kaleb Summers of Elkhart Memorial and Derek Paz of Goshen. Woods is the man to beat here.
Merrillville junior Shawn Streck has wrestled in the finals both years he has competed in the Al Smith. He was runner-up during his freshman campaign but dominated the field last year. Look for more of the same out of the big Pirate. Eighth ranked Cory Christman of Penn probably has the best chance of slowing down the Purple Hulk.