#14 Colby Smith (6-1) OR Cameron Valdiviez (8-3) vs. #15 Louie Hayes (7-2)
Thoughts: Smith may make an appearance here for the first time since the first day of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas tournament at the end of November.
He is a large 125 and managing his weight cuts is likely wise on the part of the coaching staff. Smith is long for the weight and is an excellent scrambler. Smith gets to ankle picks against most 125’s pretty easily and is excellent at finishing tactically and by winning scrambles. Smith like most of the Missouri team is known for being tough on top. Smith broke into the rankings due largely to a 10-4 win over his potential opponent here Louie Hayes. Hayes was an R12 last season at NCAA’s and is quite talented in his own right. Hayes in contrast to Smith’s lanky frame is very short for the weight and stocky. He has an excellent headlock and can be tough to score on and escape from. In the first meeting between the two wrestler’s Smith got to legs pretty easily and scored two nice takedowns on his feet, and a third in a crazy scramble. Smith also rode Hayes for over 4 minutes of riding time. Hayes did manage one big headlock for a 2+2 nearfall, but Smith largely controlled every other facet of the match. I would favor Smith if he goes here, but due to a tough potential first match back after a lot of mat time off I expect to see Valdiviez get the nod and for him to lose by a major to Hayes.
Prediction: Hayes Maj. Valdiviez 12-4 (UVA 4-0)
#9 John Erneste (6-2) vs. Brian Courtney (8-3)
Thoughts: This match is a homecoming for Erneste, as it will be wrestled at Park Hill High School where Erneste attended school. Erneste has a tough match here against an underrated Courtney. Erneste’s strengths are his prolific top game and his unorthodox neutral game. Erneste can score from ankle picks, low doubles, throw bys, slide bys, scrambling, duck-unders, and upperbody throws. He is a plus scrambler as well. Courtney wrestles a lot of low scoring matches. He is a good scrambler and is tough to score on. Erneste’s top game is likely a difference maker in this bout, as is his ability to get reversals even against high level opposition. Erneste has had a few bouts off since a strong CKLV, so it will be interesting to see how his gas tank looks here. Courtney is a goer so Erneste jumping up big early and holding on is certainly possible and is my prediction here. Courtney despite his stamina, has had issues putting up a lot of points against top flight competition.