Top Five Performances from California Wrestlers at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational

Photos Chris Mora

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The Cliff Keen, Las Vegas Invitational, is one of the early season tournaments where All-Americans and NCAA qualifiers go down in the early rounds. This event can make or break any athlete not mentally ready for collegiate wrestling. The California Wrestler takes a look at the top five performances of day one at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
Matt Williams, Sr. (CSU Bakersfield) 197lbs
Still undefeated in college wrestling, Williams (10-0) entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed. The committee made the right decision as Williams has been dominating the competition at 197-pounds. He advanced to the semifinals of the tournament with two tech falls, a fall, and an 8-1 decision over his Northern Colorado opponent. He will take on Kollin Moore (Ohio State), the third-place finisher at last year’s NCAA Division I Nationals tomorrow morning. Moore and Williams are unfamiliar with each other as they have never faced each other in college.
Nolan Kistler, Sr. (Cal Baptist) 174lbs
Two-time NCAA Division II All-American Nolan Kistler is making a strong case for himself that he can indeed compete with the best in Division I. Unfortunately, he wasn’t seeded in the event and had to face Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) in the first round. After a 13-3 match with Valencia, Kistler was sent to the consolation bracket where he won two matches. One by major decision and the other one via a 15-0 tech fall. In the third round of consolation, he took on All-American Brandon Womack (Cornell University). While competing with Womack, Kistler and Womack traded points to end the match 6-6. However, Kistler had earned riding time and was awarded an additional point to win the match 7-5. Kistler went on to lose to his next opponent in the following match and was eliminated from the tournament.
Zahid Valencia, So. (Arizona State) 174lbs
What can we say about Zahid? Zahid is a man amongst boys! He is on course of winning his second consecutive Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational title; Two more matches and is his. He is 4-0 with two tech falls and two major decisions and has outscored the competition 65-12. His opponent on Saturday will be against Mid-American Conference Champion Tyler Lujan of Northern Iowa. It will be the first ever match between the two in college. If Zahid gets the victory, he will take on the winner of Myles Amine (Michigan) or Bo Jordan of Wisconsin in the finals. Zahid already owns wins over Amine and Jordan this season.
Justin Thomas, Fr. (Oklahoma) 157lbs
Justin entered the tournament unseeded despite having beaten 2014 NCAA Champion Justin Tsirtis (Arizona State) 3-1 at the Michigan State Open during November. In the first day of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Justin came out victorious over Greg Gaxiola (Fresno State) 5-2, before taking on All-American Tyler Berger of Nebraska in the second round. Against Berger, Thomas was a man on a mission as he took down Berger twice during the first period to take a four to two lead at the end of the period. Both wrestlers traded escapes during the second and third period with Thomas still in control of the match 5-3. Most fans in attendance were excited and ready to see a No. 1 go down. However, Berger used his experience to get the takedown with literally two seconds left on the match to go to extra periods. In overtime, Berger got another takedown to win the match 7-5. Thomas won two more matches in the consolation bracket to advance to the second day of the tournament. He will take on fellow Big 12 foe Archie Colgan of Wyoming.
Evan Wick, Fr. (Wisconsin) 165lbs
Fans in California knew Evan Wick was going to be something special in collegiate wrestling in the future. That future, came today, as he shocked fans in attendance by defeating No. 1 seed and All-American Logan Massa of Michigan, 8-4. At the end of the second period, the match was close with Evan being up by one. However, in the third period, Evan controlled the pace as he outwrestled Massa by earning an escape and a takedown with 10 seconds left on the match to get his hand raised at the end of regulation. Evan will kick things off tomorrow morning by taking on No. 5 seed Nick Wanzek (Minnesota). Wanzek prevented an all California meeting in the semifinals as he defeated No. 4 Anthony Valencia (Arizona State) 2-1.