BUFFALO, NY - A handful of the top wrestling talent in the area will come to Alumni Arena Sunday morning for the opening of the 2012-13 season. The UB Invite will have a different feel to it this season, though, with an overall team title now hanging in the balance. The Buffalo Bulls aim to capture the inaugural "Buffalo Brawl" crown, but some of the very best teams in the nation stand in the way.
Last season, John-Martin Cannon won an individual title and seven wrestlers finished in the top four overall in the tournament. This season, at least eight teams will be knocking heads with the Bulls, including three who enter the year ranked in the NWCA Top 25. Heading up the list in Ohio State, who comes in as the fifth-ranked team in the country.
With almost its entire starting lineup ranked individually in the top 20 nationally, the Buckeyes also welcome back returning national champion Logan Stiebler. The sophomore 133 pounder has paired with his brother Hunter (at 141 pounds) to be a formidible duo at the top of the lineup. After finishing fifth in the national championship last season with four All Americans, the Buckeyes are the early favorite at Sunday's tournament.
Edinboro and Kent State round out the ranked teams taking part in the team competition. As longtime rivals of the Bulls, the Fighting Scots and Golden Flashes are each coming off terrific seasons and come in at number 20 and 22 on the top 25 rankings, respectively. The Scots sent six wrestlers to nationals last season and had a national champion in Chris Honeycutt. Coming back for 2012-13 are five individuals ranked in the top 20, including sixth-ranked A.J. Schopp.
Kent State won the Mid-American Conference regular season title and sent seven individuals to nationals despite missing 2010-11 national champion Dustin Kilgore, who took a redshirt year to wrestle internationally. Now with Kilgore back and expected to win the 197-pound national title, the Flashes are an early favorite in a very competitive MAC. The Bulls squared off with Kent State two times last season, losing 22-12 at the Virginia Duals and losing 26-9 at Kent.
The Army Black Knights will also come to the tournament, and bring back a team that performed well last season with three national qualifiers and an 8-6 overall record. Jordan Thome is the team's top returner, earning a top-20 ranking at 133 pounds. The Boston Terriers also lost a key member of last season's team, but still have standout heavyweight Kevin Innis, who is ranked in the top 20 in the nation at a very competitive weight.
There will also be a trio of non-Division I teams competing in the team event, headed up by Shippensburg. The Raiders sent a pair of wrestlers to the Division-II nationals last season and return both for the 2012-13 season. American International is a D-II school from Springfield, Massachusetts that finished 31st in last season's D-II national tournament. The Yellow Jackets lost its lone national qualifier, who also became an All-American for the team, to graduation. The final team is SUNY Brockport, a Division-III power that has a streak of 50 consecutive winning seasons and is coming off an undefeated season.
The host Bulls are the final squad taking part in the team competition. After relying on a young group of wrestlers last season, the team is confident heading into the new year. Coming back are 21 letterwinners after only six seniors left the team after last season, and national qualifiers Andrew Schutt and John-Martin Cannon also return to the lineup after redshirting to join returning national qualifiers Max Soria and Mark Lewandowski. The team has also added high-profile transfers in Angelo Malvestuto (from Virginia Tech) and Eric Galloway (Pittsburgh), and a true freshman class that features high school national champions like Tony Lock and Chris Nevinger.
The UB Invite is an all-day tournament that kicks off Sunday morning at 10 am.