Earlier this week, John Stefanowicz (Marines) made it a point to intimate just how exciting 80 kilograms at the 2017 US Senior Greco-Roman World Team Trials was going to be. What he might not have known at that time was that he would be the biggest reason for that excitement. The action took place earlier at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Meeting up with weight class favorite Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets, world no. 9), Stefanowicz tried to bring a pressurized yet cautious approach to ward off his opponent’s dynamic offensive skill-set. In the first period of their semifinal bout, Speiller grabbed an early lead on a passivity call. The exchanges were mostly even, though Speiller showed the versatility he is known for, darting in and changing his level to create different looks. But Stefanowicz hung in there every step of the way, though he had difficulty managing to create any offense of his own.
In the second period, Speiller was holding a 2-1 lead and started seeming like he was getting ready to crack through with something big. For his part, Stefanowicz stayed patient and did not over-extend in the tie-ups, which is one area Speiller is an expert at exploiting. With 1:20 left on the clock, Stefanowicz held an overhook and wailed Speiller over for a two-point arm throw to take a 3-2 lead. Speiller wasn’t out of it — there was plenty of time for him to collect two points, which is what it would have taken since Stefanowicz owned criteria. But the Marine stood his ground and stayed engaged till the whistle, earning a trip to the finals along with the biggest win of his career.
Standing across from Stefanowicz this evening will be 2011 World Team member and two-time US Open champ Cheney Haight (NYAC). Haight easily defeated Brandon Johnson (Air Force) via technical fall in his first match of the day. To clinch his spot in the best-of-three final, the Utah native was locked in a fierce battle with Courtney Meyers (Army/WCAP), but escaped with a 2-1 victory.
Haight and Stefanowicz have met twice recently with Haight coming away with wins both times, first at the Open in December and then again at the Dave Schultz Memorial in February.
Rivalries set to renew
At 66 kilograms, both Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP) and Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS) have done their part. Coleman was down 4-0 to Marine Raymond Bunker in the quarterfinals before racing back with a strong second period and an 8-4 win. In the semifinals, a returning Brian Graham (Minnesota Storm) provided a stiff test along with a dicey moment or two. However, Coleman still emerged with a 4-1 win to make the final.
Sancho endured some excitement. 2014 University World Team member Sahid Kargbo (Patriot Elite) got the jump on Sancho with a two-point arm throw, though Sancho answered back right away with four of his own to assume command. Kargbo then snatched a bodylock towards the edge for four and a 6-4 lead. But from that point forward, it was all Sancho. A takedown and lift put him ahead 10-6 and a pair of points in final frame stretched the lead to 12-6, which is how this one ended. In the semis, Sancho was surprisingly dominant against NMU teammate Anthonie Linares and advanced on the strength of an 8-0 tech.
98 kg: Hancock/Zillmer…again
For the fourth consecutive time, G’Angelo Hancock (NYAC) and Hayden Zillmer (Minnesota Storm) will meet in a domestic final. Hancock was a poised machine in taking out NCAA All-American Jacob Kasper (BBWC) 9-1 to kick things off before overcoming Enock Francois (NYAC) in the semifinals 5-0. Zillmer, as could have been expected, has been just a bruising, physical workhorse all day long. A no-doubter tech versus Austin Schaefer (Unattached) was his first go of the day. In his semifinal, James Souza (Army/WCAP), who earlier pulled off a surprise of his own when he tech’ed Daniel Miller (Marines), gave Zillmer problems early and often. Down 3-2 in the second period, Zillmer took Souza to his back for four points and wound up winning the contest 6-4.
130 kg: Smith and Erickson one more time
2016 US Olympian Robby Smith (NYAC) will look to make his fourth World Team tonight when he takes on familiar face Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP). Smith was briefly challenged by Eric Fader (Marines) to begin his day, but used his patented front-headlock to take Fader over for eight points before sealing the deal with a fall from a headlock. Next up, Smith used a beautiful arm throw for four and then another for two to jump out in front of 2016 US National runner-up Jacob Mitchell (Army/WCAP) 6-0 and prevailed 7-0.
While Smith is looking to make his fourth World Team, Erickson is trying to make his first and his opponent is a big reason why — Erickson fell to Smith at both the 2014 and 2015 World Team Trials finals (including both Open finals in those years). But thus far today, Erickson has been positively frightening. Two technical falls in a row are what he’s working with. First was a 9-0 shellacking of WCAP teammate Peter Gounaridis. Next was Malcolm Allen (Minnesota Storm), whom Erickson defeated in the semis of the US Open in December. This one didn’t last long, as Erickson locked up a four point throw and followed up with two gutwrenches. It was a fast 8-0 technical fall, giving Erickson plenty of time to rest before the finals tonight.
Incidentally, Smith and Erickson also met one time recently — at the 2017 Thor Masters Invitational in Denmark where Smith won 3-1.
The finals and medal matches begin at 6:30pm PT/9:30pm EST and can be viewed live on Flowrestling. We will be providing up-to-the-minute results and analysis on Twitter along with recaps following the finals later this evening.
2017 US Senior Greco-Roman World Team Trials Day 1 Finals Pairings
66 kg: Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP) vs Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS)
80 kg: Cheney Haight (NYAC) vs John Stefanowicz (Marines)
98 kg: G’Angelo Hancock (NYAC) vs Hayden Zillmer (Minnesota Storm)
130 kg: Robby Smith vs Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP)