Multi-time Junior World Team member Dalton Roberts (59 kg, NYAC-OTS) isn’t a kid anymore. Or at least not really. He turns 21 in a little under a month and recently completed his first full year as a Senior-level competitor, finishing fifth at the 2017 US World Team Trials. Following that tournament, he then went on to dominate the field at the University Nationals in Akron, Ohio, his second straight title at that event. Roberts started coming into his own leading up to the Trials in April. A gold at the Eduardo Campbell Cup in the fall gave way to a silver medal performance at Finland’s Haavisto Cup during the Thanksgiving break. He was off his game a touch at the Open, but rebounded with a strong showing at the Dave Schultz Memorial, where he scored a win over one of his primary contemporaries, 2016 Junior World bronze medalist Taylor LaMont (Sunkist).
Originally seen as an undersized 59 kilogram competitor, Roberts switched on the gears in his training regiment and is no longer just some spritely scrapper trying to make waves. He’s noticeably bigger, for one thing. He expressed a much sturdier level of positioning in the grinding battles for tie-ups and held his ground well against most of the top-flight beasts we see around these parts. There’s still room for growth (he’s working on it) both on and off the mat. It is part of the process he readily embraces.
The summer might be a time for relaxing, a little fishing (which is what Roberts was doing when this call took place), and generally, a chance to breathe out and take stock — but the work never ends. Roberts is currently preparing for the U23 World Team Trials in October in addition to making further strides in his emerging Greco-Roman career. We talked to the Northern Michigan to get his take on the upcoming weight class realignment, a few of his recent highlights, and why Northern is once again a powerhouse program.
Dalton Roberts — 59 kg, NYAC-OTS
5PM: How would you grade your 2016-17 season overall?
Dalton Roberts: It was a learning curve, I’d say, just going 59 (kilos) and wrestling bigger, stronger guys. It wasn’t as much of a weight cut.
5PM: What were the differences you noticed right off the bat and also, what were the adjustments you had to make tactically, technically, or what have you?
DR: First off, I’d just say “man strength.” You’ll probably find some guys who have that strength at the Junior level, but wrestling these bigger guys at 59, they just have that strength, which is why I’ve been lifting a lot. I’m getting a little bigger, but it’s just that man strength, you know? Earlier in the season I tried to compensate with quickness or by trying to break them. To a certain level, that worked. So the goal now is just to get stronger because I know my endurance is always going to be there.
5PM: You say getting you’re getting bigger and stronger. Does this mean you are going 60 kilos next year and not anywhere near 55?
DR: Good question (laughs). I don’t know. I don’t know yet. I don’t know where I’ll be at the end of the summer. I do want to try and make 55 at least once and see how that tournament goes, maybe overseas or something. But right now, that would be an 11 or 12 kilo cut and that’s a lot. So I don’t know, I think I am just going to play it by ear. But I have been feeling really good lately, though.
5PM: Interesting, because when it was announced they were going to bring back 55, you were one of the first names myself and other people thought of, that you would slip right in there once that weight was back for Seniors. What a difference the better part of a year makes.
DR: Oh, for sure. I’m just going to play it by ear and see where I’m at by the end of the summer and probably by the fall I’ll make that decision. It’s definitely weird, though. Do I want I to go back down to that weight and get small again but be big for that weight class? Or do I want to not worry about weight-cutting as much, and just worry about getting better with my wrestling? It’s definitely a tough decision.
5PM: You know what else, the decision might be taken out of your hands anyway a little bit with the impending two-hour window for weigh-ins.
Dalton Roberts: Yeah, exactly. I’d have to cut over a long period of time if I weigh where I am now. Between weigh-ins and wrestling, that two-hour window is not very long at all.
5PM: It’s going to change a lot of athletes’ lives probably.
DR: Yes. It hurts the wrestlers. I don’t know why they think it’s a great idea because it hurts everyone.
5PM: One of the reasons they think it’s a great idea is because it is likely going to stop a lot of the drastic weight cuts that have become problematic.
DR: They think that, but I don’t think so. I mean, we’re talking right now, I’d have 12 kilos to do it and I’m sure there are others out there just like me saying, Do I want to go down? Maybe I’ll try it out. The weight cuts are going to be the same, but they might be even worse.
5PM: After the Bill Farrell, you went over to Finland. You performed very well over there, it was a good trip. Getting that kind of trip out of the way at that time of the year, over Thanksgiving break, did that kind of set you in motion for the rest of year in so far as seeing where you were at?
DR: Definitely. It was a good training camp, a good tournament…the Russian beat the shit out of me twice, so it definitely gave me something to learn. The whole trip kind of set up the year because it was getting in a tournament when most people aren’t getting the matches in. Over Thanksgiving break, most people are at home and having Thanksgiving dinner. Family time is important, too, but if I can get those matches in during a break like that? That’s something I will try to do and take that opportunity nine times out of ten, or even ten times out of ten, just to get those extra matches in.
5PM: You finished fifth at the Schultz in February and that is always an intriguing event because it serves as a bridge for many wrestlers between the Open and the Trials. You had a solid win over Taylor LaMont mixed in there with a loss to Sammy Jones. Do you take stock immediately after and sort of say, “This is what I have to do and these are the kinds of adjustments I need to make before April”?
Dalton Roberts: Kind of, yeah. You said it perfectly, it’s a bridge, it fits in between, so definitely see where you’re at. As far as the timing goes, it’s great so you can focus on some things. There’s not a whole lot of guys at the Dave Schultz International who are actually international. It should probably be called the “Dave Schultz National Tournament” because of the lack of turnout. But you do wrestle a lot of guys you see at the Open or the World Team Trials, so it is definitely good for that reason, I guess. I wish there were more international matches, but you do get to see the guys you had at the Open and who you will probably wind up wrestling at the World Team Trials, so that’s good.
5PM: Despite the Trials not having gone the way you might have hoped, what was your initial impression of how the day went, how the day finished, and what you planned on taking from it going forward?
DR: As far as seeing who I had first round, I was pretty happy. I knew it was going to be a battle with (Taylor) LaMont and it didn’t turn out my way. After that, I tried to come back. I had Andrew Ibarra the second match. He’s tough, too, and it’s never easy to come back, but I thought I could come back good with Andrew. Then I had Nowry. We wrestled at the Open and had a good match. So feeling good, but definitely disappointed in my losses. Like I said earlier, it’s a learning curve. The more I wrestle these guys, the more I am figuring them out. I wrestled Nowry twice, I’ve wrestled LaMont three or four times. There are a few guys I haven’t gotten to (wrestle), like Ildar (Hafizov) or (Hayden) Tuma.
I’m learning. After practice, I have a little notebook with things I need to work on and things I would like to. As far as that tournament goes, it was a disappointment. I didn’t feel like I wrestled to my potential at all. But it gave me something to train for over the summer with the U23’s. I have more time between that and the next tournament, so it’s a bigger window to work. There is still work. It’s not like, Oh, there aren’t practices twice a day. We’re lifting every day. I’m still running every day. After the Universities, I’ve been treating the summer as if I am training for the World Championships because the next competition is the U23’s, and I’m preparing for that right now.
5PM: For the second year in a row, you won the University Nationals and a highlight from that tournament was you defeating (Mike) Fuenffinger from the Army in the finals. He beat you pretty decisively at Schultz and in Akron, you shut him down completely. He’s a for-real talent as an overall wrestler. That must have felt like a really satisfying win.
DR: Yeah, it was great. It felt like revenge, like “sweet revenge.” I’ll say it, I got my ass whupped by him in February. Going in this time, I knew he had an arm drag, so I tried to stay away from that and then just pressure. I know that is how a lot of my matches are, but that is how I feel like I can score. If I can take a guy to hell and back and into deep water, if he’s still hanging in there with me then more power to him. A lot of guys break down when their conditioning is pushed and that is where I find my openings. That definitely played a huge role (against Fuenffinger). I didn’t know how my lungs were going to be because up until then, I hadn’t really been pushed. My matches up to that point were all very quick. But it definitely felt good. I was feeling really good that day.
5PM: The perception surrounding Northern is that it is beginning to hold the type of rep it did for most of the early to mid-2000’s. The room is full of top contenders again, there is a lot of optimism, and just incredible potential everywhere. What is it like to be part of the program during what could be defined as a full-swing resurgence?
Dalton Roberts: It feels great, honestly. I think Rob (Hermann) said we have 18 new kids coming in. Just different feels, which is huge, huge, huge. I don’t even know how many guys I’ll have at or near my weight class, probably 15 different guys. It’s huge. I’m excited just because people are noticing too, like, I could go to Colorado, or I could get my degree in a huge room full of potential in the middle of nowhere. It’s huge. I’m very excited.