Wrestling to compete in 'best' tournament of season at Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas

Senior Colin Heffernan wrestles against Freshman Jake Tucker during match against Michigan State University on Nov. 17 in McGuirk Arena.

Nine of the nation’s top 20 teams will wrestle at the annual Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational this weekend, including No. 19 Central Michigan.

In the 2016 CKI, the Chippewas took sixth of 34 teams, 11 of which were ranked.

The top-ranked team at the meet, a two-day affair beginning ay 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. , is No. 2 Ohio State.

Around 30 teams will take the mat in Las Vegas, including No. 8 Minnesota, No. 9 Michigan, No. 12 Arizona, No. 13 Nebraska, No. 14 Cornell and No. 16 Northern Iowa.

No. 10 Virginia Tech, which handed CMU its first loss of the season on Nov. 19, will also attend. The Chippewas’ 26-6 loss in Blacksburg, Virginia dropped them to 1-1 on the season.

CMU head coach Tom Borrelli is aware of the tight competition his team will face, but sees it as a good opportunity to improve.

“We’d like to come out of (Las Vegas) with some guys that move up in the rankings,” he said. “(We’d like to) have some guys that get noticed for the first time. That’s the purpose of going to this tournament.”

More than 100 wrestlers ranked in their respective weight classes will be competing, including five of whom come from CMU.

Four of CMU’s ranked athletes also placed in the top five at last season’s CKI, with No. 14 senior Colin Heffernan (157) making it the farthest. He fell in the finals, 3-2.

The highest-ranked Chippewa is senior Jordan Ellingwood (184) at No. 8, after junior Justin Oliver (149) fell three spots to No. 9.

Ellingwood finished fifth at last year’s tournament. Oliver lost in the semifinals to the eventual champion Micah Jordan of Ohio State.

Sophomore Mason Smith (141), who rose to No. 15 after not surrendering a point in his previous two meets, also took fifth last year.

Senior C.J. Brucki (174) is the fifth to be currently ranked, sitting at No. 16.

There will only be two athletes at Las Vegas who are currently ranked No. 1 in their class: Zahid Valencia (174) of Arizona State and Kollin Moore (197) of OSU.

“It’s the best tournament we go to all year,” Borrelli said. “There’s certain weight classes where there might be a 32-man bracket and 15 guys who are ranked.

"(Our expectations) are same as always. We want to compete well and represent ourselves the right way.”