As is almost always the case, there is a lot going on at Northern Michigan University’s Olympic Training Site, and as such, there is a lot to get to with NMU head coach Rob Hermann.
Late last month, Coach Hermann led what has become an annually large delegation of USA Greco athletes over to Sweden for two events, a dual meet, and a training camp sandwiched in the middle. First came the Klippan Cup where Benji Peak (67 kg) earned gold and six other Americans scored medals; then for the second-straight year, the US defeated Team Skåne Brottning in a special dual; and finally, it was Tyler Curd (130 kg) along with a vast collection of age-groupers lighting up the medal stand at the Malar Cupen.
There have been World implications involving NMU wrestlers, as well. Most recently, it was the U23 World Championships in Bucharest, Romania that saw seven athletes who call the OTS home jump into the fray. Hermann shares how he felt about that event, and also, what can be learned from it. To close things out, the conversation is capped with a discussion about the training opportunity coming up in December inside the Superior Dome and why the Coach feels it is necessary at this time of the season.
5PM: How did the 2018 trip to Sweden, just overall and counting new young guys who participated, differ from previous years?
Coach Rob Hermann: The biggest thing this year for me was having Belarus in our camp. They were so good. There was a Junior team, but they were so good, they came to every practice, worked with our guys, they were great workout partners. This was the Klippan camp, after the Klippan tournament. It was nice having them there. We had a third Sweden, a third Belarus, and a third USA (at the camp). It wasn’t too crowded and it just brought another flavor to the camp. They were very good, World medalists.
But we had some good guys, too. We helped them out, they helped us out. It wasn’t like they were better than us in terms of attitude. They went along with the plan and it was really nice to have them in camp. It was one of the best camps I’ve ever been a part of.
5PM: I don’t want to leave anyone out, but Tyler Curd…
5PM: At Klippan, he had the Belarusian. It was only one match and it didn’t go his way. Then Curd had a week of camp and the next weekend was the Malar Cupen, and there he was, winning the tournament. What exactly was the difference for him after that week of training?
RH: He was just a different wrestler. The more time he spent on the mat training with Belarus and the Swedes in the camp, the more confidence he had going into the next tournament. And I kind of preached that. I said, Hey, whatever happened at the Klippan Cup can be turned around at the Malar Cupen. I really believe in these camps, and these camps can turn your career around. They can jumpstart you.
With Tyler, he wrestled with a lot of confidence. He had five in his weight class (at the Malar Cupen), one was his own teammate (Trace Schirmers) and three top foreign heavyweights. He had three tough foreign athletes, but he went up there and he wrestled. And he had fun doing it. Tyler didn’t hang onto a two-on-one or cling to a position, he went out there and wrestled. Whatever came to him, came to him. He pulled the plug and just wrestled, scored some points.
I’m happy for him because he needed that. He needed that confidence and I think he believes he can compete with anyone in the world, or anyone in the US, at least.
5PM: Last year was that breakthrough dual meet victory over your friends, host club, Team Skåne Brottning. This year was another team win, a bigger one, in fact. With new athletes you bring on this tour, does the dual format help them since it’s a format they are familiar with and does it do anything in terms of team bonding?
RH: Well, let me back up for a minute and tell you how I picked the team. I want to win, I don’t like losing, I’m competitive, too. The guys who came in late with Lucas (Steldt), I tried to get them in the dual meet so they could have matches before the Malar Cupen. I gave everyone a match and I didn’t care if they were good, experienced, or otherwise. I wanted them to have a match underneath their belt since they didn’t wrestle at the Klippan. So, those guys were on the team.
I also picked the guys who I felt it would benefit them in order to make the 2019 Junior World Team. And I told the guys, my main focus is to get them ready to win medals at the Junior World level. I threw Lucas’ group in there, but I didn’t throw anyone else in there who I didn’t feel would benefit. For instance, maybe Nick Boykin could take it or leave it, wrestling in the dual meet. But I feel like he has a chance to make the next Junior World Team if Curd doesn’t beat him. They (Team Skåne Brottning) did have a heavyweight, but he was small.
That’s how I picked the teams, and then I was glad that the guys who didn’t wrestle were able to watch and learn from it. Because, some of the guys who weren’t a part of it, this was their first time overseas. So they got to see a dual meet and the Sweden coaches do a good job.
Now, the Sweden coaches are so funny. They said, Okay, this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to have a scoring system… All of the sudden, we’re up 28-0 and I’m looking over in their corner, you know? The following day they said, Whose idiotic idea was it to have a scoring system? Who would expect you guys to have that many points that early? They wished they would have just done it where if you won a match, you get one point, if you lose a match, you don’t get any points. You just count the matches you win, and if that was the case, I think the score would have been 12-7 or something, I don’t know (laughs).
5PM: How do athletes assimilate what they learned overseas into their training in the room once they’re back home?
Coach Rob Hermann: We all come from different parts of the country and it’s up to them to pick something up and bring it back. I emphasized that this morning in our meeting, I asked Alston (Nutter), Alston, how much did it help you to be overseas prior to the Junior Worlds? He says, I was a lot more relaxed, I had already been over there and wrestled foreigners. Whereas, if they haven’t wrestled foreigners before, they could be pissing down their legs, they could be a lot more nervous. It’s just not a good recipe to win a World medal, especially if you’ve never been overseas before.
I emphasized that this morning with our team because I’m trying to get the numbers going for our Austria trip. I believe going overseas is a good recipe for success. These guys (from other states/clubs), what they bring back is what they bring back. I don’t follow up that much after the trip, but I’m hoping if they got five to six matches at the Malar Cupen — or seven, eight matches between both tournaments combined — that has got to help them down the road.
5PM: NMU was well-represented on the U23 World Team and it was a rough tournament for everyone, pretty much. You had a couple of high-profile guys and a few more who are starting to assert themselves. Virtually every US guy opened with a very tough draw, but with that, were you surprised about the results?
RH: Yeah, I was totally surprised. I will tell you that we were banged up. Carter Nielsen had a fractured hand, George Sikes had the same thing, Jesse Porter had an injured foot. Every country has their injuries, so I don’t want to use that as an excuse, but yeah, I was totally surprised we were 0-12, but all we can do is learn from it and try to get better, which is what everyone is tired of hearing, you know?
5PM: The way Nielsen competed in his second match was pretty special. I know the points didn’t happen for him, but he broke a very good Armenian in half practically, that guy couldn’t even stand up after the match. It was one of the gutsiest performances I’ve seen from any US athlete this year. That was at least a positive takeaway.
RH: Yeah, but he also said that was his negative. The reason he was down on points is because he went out really fast and the guy caught him with an arm throw when he could have maybe slowed it down a little bit. He still wrestled hard, but not as aggressive in terms of getting your underhook. It hurt him a little but he’s going to learn from it. With it being at the Worlds, you’re from the United States, it’s your first time there and you want to get back to it.
The part that I think hurt everybody, especially on the U23 Team, is that they didn’t have a competition prior to going over there. Everything was around their competition. They couldn’t go to Sweden, it was almost six months since they wrestled their Trials. They wrestled the Trials June 1st and five, six months later they’re at the Worlds. It’s a long process and I think we need to re-think that. Yeah, it can be a long process, but you need to get a tournament in prior so you’re not just training for the U23’s, you’re out of the room doing something else, too.
5PM: You’re going to have another camp coming up at NMU, just like the one last December where Seniors from all over the country are invited to come and get an intense camp with matches. Is this a mechanism to kind of close the gap in what is a domestic schedule with a lot of gaps, as well as a way to close out this early phase of the season strong?
Coach Rob Hermann: Yes, there are a couple of phases here. I would kind of like to have a tournament called Winter Take All, and the winner of each weight class gets all of the prize money, the entry fee money. Maybe that’ll be next year and it can coincide with the camp. We’ll have the camp and then the actual tournament. I want to do that. Last year, we asked Momir (Petkovic) about it, and he said to stick with the camp, that the camp is good. So, we’re having the camp but we’ll see how many bodies we get.
We don’t have a tournament this time of year so we’re trying to keep our guys busy. We don’t want them going home for five weeks, we have them staying a week longer and coming back a week earlier. Coming back a week earlier, Ivan (Ivanov) will be in our room beginning January 6th, he’ll be here from the 6th to the 13th and he will be working with the guys in our room during that time.
Our main focus is to get some extra bodies in here, some different looks, and get some matches in before the guys get a break for the holidays.