Five days of training are now in the books at the final USA Senior Greco-Roman camp of the year. Unfolding simultaneously in two locations, a whopping 40 athletes across the six Olympic weight categories are participating. Lightweights (60-67 kg) are at Legends of Gold in Beresford, South Dakota — while middle to upper-weights (77-130 kg) are punching their cards at MWC in Papillion, Nebraska.
Similar to all training training opportunities within the US that combine wrestlers of varying ages and career statuses, what this particular camp represents differs on a case-by-case basis.
The lightweights in South Dakota skew younger, providing a chance for the likes of 2019 Fargo champ Billy Sullivan (60 kg, LOG) and David Stepanian (60 kg, NYAC/NTS) to work in with athletes in and around their weights and age ranges they might otherwise not encounter except during competition. Their motivations for this camp share another wrinkle, as well. Both Sullivan and Stepanian finished second at the Junior Nationals last month and were unable to fully prepare for that event. A full week-and-change to learn from top-level National Team coaches and receive live looks from fellow young firebringers provides the pair with a sense of relief for the moment.
The upper-weights, by and large, don’t have the same issue. Most among the group are exceedingly familiar with one another and accustomed to the parameters which define the purpose of their gathering. In addition, most of the attendees in Nebraska have competed in recent months. Those who haven’t, a short list, are simply interested in regaining an appropriate baseline — like Brandon Mueller (77 kg, Air Force/WCAP). Mueller just recently began his own re-assimilation process following an injury that sidelined him through much of the summer. Therefore, he is depending on MWC to get him back on track for the final push to April.
It’s not an identical set of circumstances for ’18 World silver Adam Coon (130 kg, NYAC/Cliff Keen, world #6, 5PM #1) but he too is in need of a little refresher. He had been preparing for a potential appearance in FLOWrestling’s RTC Cup. Though he did not compete in the event this past weekend, dormancy prior to the event wasn’t a severe issue, since Coon had helped prepare teammates Mason Parris and Youssif Hemida. As one might suspect, Greco-Roman wasn’t a feature during that lead-up. Given Coon’s work ethic, glittering resume, and position as a top seed in the 2020ne Olympic Trials, he is hoping to use this week’s camp to forcefully rekindle a “Greco mindset”.
The most important factor is that there is enthusiastic involvement amid ongoing uncertainty. More than a few Seniors, both in attendance at this current camp and those stuck at home, have expressed hope that a tournament or two will become available prior to the early-spring — but they also aren’t holding their collective breath regarding the prospect of such a situation availing itself. Which is precisely why this camp is vital. Until the lenses clear pertaining to their respective pre-Olympic Trials training blocks, they must do whatever is necessary to make the most of what they have. And right now, that would appear to be the goings-on in SD and NE.
Lightweights in South Dakota
Billy Sullivan — 55 kg, LOG
5PM: How is it being in a training environment with a lot of Senior types for the first time in a while?
Billy Sullivan: It’s definitely different. It feels really good to be around wrestlers who are of a higher caliber than me, or within the same area, because then it helps me see where I need to be and gives me a feel for the guys who I will be wrestling eventually. It gives me a gauge to see what I need to work on.
5PM: Are you gauging yourself against these guys during practice, or are you going live just to go live?
Sullivan: Yeah, I wouldn’t say I gauge myself super-hard. It’s more that I know that they are a lot bigger, so I’m seeing what I need work on, what I would need to do in matches against guys who are a lot bigger than me and what I would need to adjust. But other than that, I know I just need to get in the gym and put some size on.
5PM: Does it make a difference entering a camp like this three weeks after a pretty big tournament?
Sullivan: Not necessarily, I would say, because even though I did have a big tournament, I wasn’t able to train properly for this tournament. It is kind of just going into this, I wouldn’t say “blindsided”, but I wasn’t prepping for this camp. But I feel like I’m not sure if I would have been able to get through the camp if it weren’t for having another big tournament like this.
5PM: Are there any specific goals you have had in mind for camp?
Sullivan: I’d say that a lot, or all, of these guys are bigger and stronger than me, so I knew that I would have to, with the help of the coaches, work on my position and stay in close combat with them. Staying in the locks with them while making myself move.
David Stepanian — 60 kg, NYAC/NTS
5PM: How is it coming into a camp after the up-and-down situation in Marquette when it comes to restrictions and practices being shelved? At least you know that here, you have a week to work out with a lot of partners in a room.
David Stepanian: Yeah, to be honest with you, it has been kind of frustrating in Marquette with all of the shutdowns. We couldn’t get a consistent training schedule going. Every time we would get going it would shut down, and it was just very frustrating — especially going into the tournament (Junior Nationals) with no wrestling was just kind of crazy.
I was still pretty diligent with my training. Even though we couldn’t get mat time, I was still running five miles a day. I had (resistance) bands and Bulgarian Bags. I felt pretty good, but wrestling training is different than running and all of that stuff. You know, “wrestling shape” is different. It was a struggle.
5PM: Well, in this room with you over the next week are a lot of really good young lightweight guys. Even when NMU is at its peak, you wouldn’t have this many from which to choose. How are you looking to take advantage of that the most while in South Dakota?
Stepanian: Well, obviously, I want to get different looks all the time, and now that we are able train consistently twice a day, it’s great. There are a bunch of young kids who are here and you get different looks from everyone. It’s great. It’s a great opportunity. You don’t usually get this deep of a pool of lightweights so it is really fun. You can try out different styles and scrap.
5PM: Since you say that you weren’t in fantastic “wrestling shape” for Juniors, has it taken you a minute to get your bearings at this camp? Or did you come in feeling ready to go?
Stepanian: I didn’t take a break after Juniors because I didn’t feel that I deserved one. I didn’t go to Marquette, I went back home. I have a little mat in my basement, so I didn’t really take a break. I didn’t feel like I deserved one so I went right back to it.
5PM: Since competitions are on hold for a while longer it seems like, and that you’ll have to piece together the next month or two, how do you use a camp like this to build a bridge into the next training block that leads to the spring?
Stepanian: What I’m hoping is that we can start doing more of these and just start going around and training, even if that means going all over the country. I’m willing to sacrifice that. I’m willing to do anything to train right now. I am just thankful that I am able to train at this point. Hopefully, they see how successful our bubble camp is and it can become a platform that we can use for the future.
Middle/Upper-Weights in Nebraska
Brandon Mueller — 77 kg, Air Force/WCAP
5PM: You’re not one of the guys who has been able to consistently train since March. You had an injury, recovered, and have just started getting back into it. Coming into a full-fledged camp that has a lot of great partners in your weight, how have you managed to keep your head above water for the first few days?
Brandon Mueller: It was nice that Coach (Zac) Dominguez shifted the schedule a little with more technique stuff instead of just jumping right into matches, like the little guys did. He was looking at it and made that coaching decision, and I was really happy about it. Just because, everyone was traveling in. I don’t know how everyone else was training, but I certainly wasn’t feeling mentally or physically ready to go straight into live matches. So, that was nice.
I felt like my timing was a little bit slow; and I’m struggling to adjust to wrestling the right pace, the right intensity. I feel like I am wrestling at like, a “jogging” pace and “play wrestling”, and not going full bore 100% in little instances when I need to be. Other than that, my positioning is still good. I just need to get my timing and those things back together.
5PM: Even though it hasn’t been as match-heavy from the beginning, how has your endurance, your stamina, held up so far?
Mueller: Actually, I was able to stay in pretty good shape. There is always that discussion about how it is hard to stay in “wrestling shape” without wrestling but I have been able to do enough stuff — between circuit training and the weight room — to where I feel good, but during the groups of three’s and :30 go’s, I did feel it there pretty hard. So it was, Okay, I haven’t been going this intense in wrestling in a pretty long time. That was a little adjustment but it was fun to feel that grind.
5PM: Do you feel a difference already since being there?
Mueller: Oh yeah, for sure. It must have been a month ago, but I had wrestled RaVaughn (Perkins) for the first time in ages. This was back in Colorado Springs and that was a bigger shock to my system than this camp has been. But I do definitely feel way better than since when I got here on Thursday.
5PM: If there is one thing you want to walk away from this camp with in your pocket, or just a general feeling about yourself, what is your underlying goal for this camp?
Mueller: Okay, well, that is probably something I should have thought more about before I came into this camp so I have a goal to work towards (laughs). In hindsight, that would have been a good question to ask me before I got here (laughs). But looking back at it now that we’re halfway through, I would say that I want to find areas where I am weak and see what works.
There are certain positions where if I am only working with two partners in the Springs, I’m not getting the answers. Like, Is this lift working for me or not? Just finding where there are weaknesses in my offense and getting back to that wrestling mindset that says, I’m going to go hard. Every time I get on top in par terre I have to be thinking, Okay, I’m going to score here.
Getting some of those mental things back, getting the timing back and going on more scoring attacks — things like that. I don’t know if I am getting those same live experiences back in the Springs, especially since I was injured and was mostly drilling back there. So it’s not just about new technique. It is also, Is this technique working during live go’s? and Where am I seeing challenges?
Adam Coon — 130 kg, NYAC/Cliff Keen
5PM: How’d you like the layout and format of the RTC Cup?
Adam Coon: I really enjoyed the aspect of bringing the team element to it. We wrestle so many tournaments throughout the year that are on an individual basis. I grew up wrestling in high school with duals, and then in college where most of our competitions were duals, so it was really nice to have that dual format back where guys got to wrestle in front of a bench full of their teammates. That part was amazing, super-fun. I liked the way that was put together. We had the pool play as well as the brackets. We got a lot of matches in, so it wasn’t just a quick tournament where you got two duals and then you’re out. It was nice to have that aspect to it.
The one thing that I wasn’t really fond of was that each team had to submit their lineups a half-hour prior to them wrestling a dual. That keeps a nice solidified form of who can send whom, which is really good for the media so they can prep and talk about who is wrestling, yada, yada, yada. But it really ruins the fun of dual meets where you can move people around, send a backup in and then bump your starter up. You can change your lineups around to win these duals and there is a lot of strategy involved in doing that. I think that is one of the really fun parts about duals, moving guys around on the spot so you can catch the other team off-guard. That was one element I felt was missing.
But other than that, it was a great weekend and I’m super-happy with how the guys wrestled. It was just super-fun to be in a dual format again.
5PM: Before arriving in Nebraska, and obviously before making your way to the RTC Cup, how have you been able to piece together your own training between restrictions, weird schedules, and staggered practice times?
Coon: Just doing the best with what we’ve got. We found a club that was welcoming to us. They basically said, We’re going to disinfect everything. You guys are allowed in the building, just clean everything before you leave, that way they could also have their kids club — which that of course got shut down after the governor’s orders. So, it’s just playing around the governor’s orders and everything that is going with that.
We are finding time on the mat to train and do the best we can with what we’ve got. Occasionally, we have to take some time off or find alternatives to that, but we’re doing the best with what we’ve got. We are training a lot of Greco/freestyle with whoever we can get in the room. Sometimes, people might not be in the room, so you are working with different weights. It is a struggle but we’re all figuring it out and doing the best we can. There’s not much there (laughs).
5PM: I included you in the original athlete piece to discuss the announcement of the plans for a Senior Worlds. Now we know that isn’t happening. Are you surprised that the event changed, the name changed, and several countries have declined to participate? You seemed to see it coming all the way in the summer, which is why I ask.
Coon: Yeah, I saw it coming. Again, I try to take on the format of “control what I can control”. When we were told that there might be a World Championships this year, I was doing whatever I could and was in my power to make sure that I was ready to compete if there was going to be a competition. Am I surprised that they shut it down? No, considering the cases and numbers, as well as what was going on at the site. There were a lot of things that just kept adding up to, in my mind, a very smart decision to change the format of it and not call it World Championship, but instead calling it a “Cup”.
I think USA Wrestling made a smart decision in protecting the athletes themselves. I know that we all want to compete. I know that we all have the juices flowing and want to grab hold of someone and throw and do the things we normally do; but for the safety of the athletes along with the unknown situations of which we are unaware, it was the smart move for us to not take part as well as for UWW to change it to an Individual World Cup for those countries that are able to make it out. So, I am not surprised, and I do think it was the smart move.
5PM: Unless you can isolate one or two things without totally giving something away, what is it in general that you are looking to get out of this next week here in Nebraska?
Coon: I am looking to get back into the “Greco mindset” again. Obviously, with the RTC Cup going on I had to train back in freestyle ways a little bit. Re-learn how to sprawl in case I was given the go-ahead to wrestle. Try to figure out the leg attacks again… You know, the “cheating stuff” that us Greco guys don’t ever do (laughs). I had to figure all of that stuff again and train freestyle for the last month or two to make sure that I’m ready to go if I get the call — but just as importantly, making sure that both Youssif (Hemida) and Mason Parris were ready to go, and I wanted to give them the best looks they can possibly get.
I’m excited to get back into a scene where everyone wrestles Greco, and we don’t cheat and grab legs. I’m just excited to back to that and work the stuff I want to work. I want to work on arm drags, underhooks, positioning… The stuff that I need to work to make sure that I am able to pummel and take advantage of positions. Getting back to Greco. That’s the main thing I’m excited about.