Jake Woodley’s Rollercoaster Freestyle Season Lands Him a Match-up With Bo Nickal

It’s been a wild ride for Pennsylvania wrestler Jake Woodley over the last four months. Photo by Sam Janicki.

The 2-time Pennsylvania State Champion from North Allegheny has certainly faced his share of ups and downs but, as of late, his momentum is swinging in a positive direction.

His rollercoaster started in PPG Paints Arena as the redshirt freshman and Oklahoma Sooner qualified for his first NCAA Tournament with the 18th seed at 197 pounds. Competing in his hometown, Woodley upset 15th seed Randall Diabe of Appalachian State in the first round via tiebreaker two 4-3. He was defeated in the Round of 16 by 2nd seed Kollin Moore of Ohio State by major decision 14-4. In his first match of the consolation round Woodley took on fellow Pennsylvania native and Rider wrestler Ethan Laird (General McLane) – the 32nd seed at 197 pounds. These two faced off in the 2017 PIAA State Finals at 195 pounds with Woodley winning it 3-1 to claim his second straight State Title. Laird got revenge on Woodley this time around winning 4-0 and knocking him out of the tournament.

Next up came Freestyle season for Woodley who has excelled in the style being a 4-time Fargo All-American. At the end of April he travelled to Akron, OH to compete in the 2019 Junior Freestyle U.S. Open. Winners there would receive an automatic spot in the Junior World Team Trials best-of-three finals. Jake was the top seed at 92 kilograms (202 pounds) and advanced into the Championship finals with four straight wins by technical superiority.

In the finals he took on Northwestern freshman Lucas Davison and, on several occasions in the first period, got deep on takedown attempts. In one of those attempts Davison was able to down-block and wrap Woodley up, sending him airborne for a four pointer. Woodley didn’t stop attacking – collecting a takedown as the first period came to a close. He came within one point of Davison scoring a push-out in the second period, but Davison, the 2nd seed, responded with a takedown to win the title 6-3.

The defeat meant Woodley would now have to battle through the Junior World Team Trials Challenge Tournament to get another shot at Davison in the best-of-three finals. He wouldn’t get the chance when, less than a month later, Woodley travelled to Raleigh, N.C., to compete at 92 kilograms. Once again he earned the top seed, got a bye in the quarterfinals, and rolled to an 11-1 win in the semifinals. In the Challenge Tournament finals he faced North Carolina freshman Brandon Whitman – who was third at the U.S. Open a month earlier. Whitman came out on top picking up two takedowns and a push-out to win it 5-3 over Woodley.

With his hopes of representing the United States at the Junior World Championships in Estonia gone – Woodley could have packed it in to prepare for his sophomore season at Oklahoma. Instead, he jumped up a division and competed in the U23 World Team Trials, with a chance at representing the United States still hanging in the balance.

Again competing at 92 kilograms, Woodley entered the U23 World Team Trials as the 2nd seed. He cruised into the semifinals with three victories by technical superiority to meet fellow Pennsylvania wrestler Drew Phipps (Norwin) of Bucknell. Going up 4-0 in the first period Jake advanced into the finals with a 10-3 win over Phipps and another shot at a World Team. In the best-of-three finals the last wrestler in his way was Purdue junior Christian Brunner. The Illinois native has qualified three times for the NCAA Tournament and in 2019 he went 2-2 at 197 pounds including a win over sixth seed Willie Miklus (Iowa State). He and Woodley didn’t meet last season.

Not only was Brunner the top seed at the U23 World Team Trials – he was the reigning World Team member at 92 kilograms. At the 2018 U23 World Championships, held in Bucharest, Romania, he went 1-1 against foreign opponents and finished ranked 10th.

In the first match with Brunner, Woodley seemed unfazed by his opponent’s size and maturity, pushing the pace early and earning a takedown with a head-inside single leg. After going back to their feet Woodley connected on a blast double for another two point score – but he didn’t stop there. Jake went right to work underneath Brunner locking up a gut-wrench and taking him over three times for a 10-0 technical superiority win.

Sitting one win away from a World Team berth, Woodley took on Brunner again, this time in a much closer bout. In period one Woodley quickly got in on Brunner’s leg but was unable to finish. With a minute left in the period Woodley earned a push-out to go ahead 1-0. In the second period Woodley, this time, finished a single leg to go up 3-0 but Brunner responded with a single leg takedown of his own making it 3-2. With a little over 60 seconds left in the match Jake connected on a single leg, brought it up, and finished the takedown as they fell out of bounds. Brunner, down 5-2, kept pushing Woodley hard and with less than 10 seconds left on the clock the two were tangled up as both gave up two exposure points. When the dust settled Woodley came out on top 7-3, winning the series in two straight matches. For the first time in his career Jake Woodley has made a United States World Team – kind of.

Thy only glitch in his plan is a wrestler by the name of Bo Nickal. Because Nickal qualified for Final X, but lost to J’den Cox, he is eligible to challenge Woodley to a wrestle-off for the U23 World Team spot and, according to USA Wrestling, that is what Nickal did on Thursday June 20th.

According to the USAW…if a U23 age eligible athlete qualifies for Final X at the senior level, they do not have to participate in the U23 World Team Trials and can request a wrestle-off against the U23 World Team Trials champion at a date after Final X. The request for a wrestle-off must be made by end of day June 22, 2019.

Since Bo Nickal was born on January 14, 1996 – he is eligible by fourteen days for the U23 Championship. On his weekly podcast show Ben Askern suggested that Bo should try to make the U23 team. It appears Nickal agrees with Askern as he will now wrestle in a special best-of-three match with Woodley on a to be determined date and location.

Less than a week after competing in Akron, Jake Woodley hoped on a plane to Guatemala City, Guatemala where he represented Team USA at the Junior Freestyle Pan American Championships. It was the first time Woodley competed Internationally and he made the most of it.

In the 92 kilogram round robin he went 3-1 against four opponents and took home a Pan Am Silver medal as the United States dominated the event. In his first match against Josuee Campos Arizpe of Mexico Jake scored a 10-0 technical superiority victory recoding five takedowns for the win.

In his second match Woodley had his toughest opponent in Cuba’s Yonger Bastida Pomares. The two went at it hard for the entire match with Woodley scoring first on a head-outside single to go up 2-0. Pomares earned a push-out to end the first period down 2-1. With under 30 seconds left in the match Woodley tried to fight off a push-out but Pomares was able to come out on top near the edge for a takedown and his first lead of the match 3-2. Team USA’s corner threw in the challenge brick but lost giving Pomares one more point up 4-2 with 23 seconds left. In a last ditch effort Woodley attempted a cement mixer but Pomares put him on his back for the pin with one second left on the clock.

His final two matches were less eventful as he won by technical superiority over Canada’s Julian Choquette in under two minutes and pinned Guatemala’s Auner Rossell Suyan in 0:33 seconds to close out his first ever Pan-Am Championships.

Time will tell where his rollercoaster goes next. Whether that it’s back to the station or a corkscrew into a dive drop – remains to be seen. Regardless of the ending – Jake Woodley has proven he is hungry for a better sophomore season at Oklahoma in 2020.

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