2019 Junior World Team coach Nate Engel has always held high expectations. It has been this way since he was a sprite competing under Ivan Ivanov at Northern Michigan, or Shon Lewis with Army/WCAP, and even when he broke into the collegiate coaching ranks at the US Naval Academy five years ago. In this most important of senses, Engel hasn’t changed. While there is little doubt he takes great pains in spotting deficiencies, what has made him such an effective coach thus far is that he chooses to the see the upside in every athlete, and subsequently, every outcome.
So it should come as no surprise that when “Mr. Brightside”, who now is an assistant at Stanford University, was preparing to head off for Finland with members of the Junior World Team this past week, positive thoughts were flowing through his mind. “This is a great chance for them to win some matches and feel better about their training before the Worlds,” Engel said.
The US delegation — consisting of four 2019 Junior World Teamers plus hot prospect Tommy Dantzler (82 kg, Front Range Twisters/OTC) — got started yesterday in Kuortane, Finland at the host nation’s Olympic Training Center Duals, and although there wasn’t an expression of American domination, Engel’s objectives as previously stated are on track to be accomplished.
2017 Cadet World Team member Dylan Ragusin (55 kg, Izzy Style) and Tyler Eischens (72 kg, CARTC) led the pack, putting in identical 4-2 ledgers over the weekend. On the flipside, Jack Ervien (77 kg, Takedown Express) went 2-3 and 2018 Fargo Junior National champ Zach Braunagel (82 kg, IRTC), 1-3, to cap their respective appearances at the duals.
But dual records are and were not the point of this semi-informal competition for the Juniors. It was all about getting that much-talked-about “foreign feel” to set the tone and refresh the wrestlers’ body mechanics leading up to the big show next month. In other words, the dual experience in Kuortane achieved what Engel wanted it to for his guys.
“I’m really proud of this group,” Engel said Sunday morning. “We flew over and got right to work wrestling six duals over two days. The competition was really good, there was a lot of different looks in each each match. They were all excited for the opportunity to get better and evolve as Greco-Roman wrestlers.”
The Kuortane duals were streamed live on the Finnish federation’s Facebook page for those who would like to go back and check out the matches. In the meantime, Engel was kind enough to send overviews of each US athlete’s performance.
*2019 US Junior World Team member
*Dylan Ragusin (55 kg, Izzy Style) Dual record: 4-2
“Dylan Ragusin got us off to a great start against Germany. Dylan is a type of wrestler who you can never count out of a match. He was down by six and battled back and won, Dylan was also up a weight class at 60 kg (smallest weight in the tournament was 60kg). Dylan is a warrior and isn’t afraid to back down from everyone. He had some great matches, and I am excited for him to get to work at the camp and work on his craft.”
*Tyler Eischens (72 kg, CARTC) Dual record: 4-2
“Tyler wrestled pretty well. I know he has been working with both Coach (Dan) Chandler and Coach Brandon Paulson while he was home for a few weeks and got to wrestle with Pat Smith. Over the last few weeks, we worked a lot on not giving up underhooks and getting to his two-on-one. He is a grinder and he is getting a lot better at getting to his tie-ups and getting on top with his “Minnesota gut”. Tyler got better every match, I think if we can fix the little things he is going to have a great World Championships.”
Tommy Dantzler (77/82 kg, Front Range Twisters/OTC) Dual record: 1-3
“Tommy has spent a year at the OTC now and is working really hard. It was really special for me to have Tommy on this trip, because his father TC Dantzler was finishing up his great career when I started wrestling Greco. TC was a big time leader and voice on the team when I was younger, so it was great being able to kind of repay TC and help coach Tommy. Tommy had some good matches as well, he wrestled both 77 and 82 during the duals. He is really excited for the camp and I think he has a really bright future in our sport.”
*Jack Ervien (77 kg, Takedown Express) Dual record: 2-3
“It was my first time working with Jack and he got better every match. You can see that he is learning and is catching on quick. He loves to throw and isn’t afraid to get after it in matches. I know he is looking forward to representing his country. Jack and I had a really good talk after his last match about what he needs to work on, he’s a smart wrestler.”
*Zach Braunagel (82 kg, IRTC) Dual record: 1-3
“Zach is a hard-nosed, stay-in-your-face type of wrestler. His style reminds me a lot of Dennis Hall, and once he sees that he’s going to be really really good at Greco. He obviously has a great coach in Bryan Medlin, one of the best wrestling minds in the world, and he has been putting in a lot of work in the offseason. Zach wasn’t afraid to just slap hands and stand in the middle of the mat and fight. I know he has what it takes to bring home a World medal.”
“Let’s Get to Work”
The Kuortane duals only represented one half of Engel’s reason for putting this trip together. Now comes the training camp that will go on throughout the week. But Engel likes that order, as do most American Greco coaches. Because the US athletes usually require an acclimation period to both the new time zone and the new feel from their European counterparts, getting matches out of the way before joint training sessions lays down a suitable foundation on which to operate. That’s what Engel’s approach for this mini tour is based on, allowing the duals to serve as a baseline dataset of sorts.
“After each dual, I sat back and I was pleased at how we fought, and how each match we got better,” explained Engel. “I wasn’t worried about wins and losses. The reason we came here was to get some international experience and see what we need to work on over the next three weeks (in Finland and then in Colorado at the OTC). I have been in contact with Coach (Gary) Mayabb and sending him my notes on the different things we need to work on, as well as their other coaches, as well. This camp is going to be great for all five of these guys to grow as Greco wrestlers. In the States, it’s such a different feel than it is over here. The more we can send young wrestlers overseas to get this kind of experience it is a really great thing.”
Moving towards a more short-term picture, the focus is, of course, on the Junior World Team that will be taking off for Estonia in less than a month. This is what Engel is most concerned with at the moment, and it is why he is hoping that there are lessons to be parsed from Finland that won’t only apply to the wrestlers who made the trip, but to the entirety of the 2019 squad as a whole. That there is still some time left to made adjustments and participate in the kind of elite-level training necessary for a big US performance underscores Engel’s confidence and enthusiasm.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if the World Team members put the work in and believe in themselves, they can be at the top of the podium in Estonia,” he declared. “I know I am always a very positive person about our athletes and this great country, but I truly believe they can get the job done. So, I want to say thank you to Stanford Wrestling, the California RTC, Coach Matt Lindland, and Coach Mayabb for this opportunity. Now let’s get to work.”
- Ragusin really piled on the offense. In his four wins, the Illinois product scored a combined 49 points.
- Eischens won two of his four matches via tech.
- Dual teams were pieced together with athletes from other nations. For instance, the US was supplemented by Joni Komppa (FIN) at 67 kilograms.
2019 Finland Olympic Training Center Duals
July 13-14 — Kuortane, Finland
TEAM USA DUAL RESULTS
60 kg: Dylan Ragusin (USA) def. Marco Stoll (GER) 13-12
72 kg: Tyler Eischens (USA) def. Alexander Zentgraf (GER) 10-0, TF
77 kg: Erik Löser (GER) def. Jack Ervien (USA) 10-0, TF
82 kg: Lucas Lazogianis (GER) def. Tommy Dantzler (USA) 8-0, TF
87 kg: Nikolaos Papadopolous (GER) def. Zach Braunagel (USA) 4-0
60 kg: Dylan Ragusin (USA) def. Henri Halonen (FIN) 12-10
72 kg: Tyler Eischens (USA) def. Riku Suhonen (FIN) 8-0, TF
77 kg: Jack Ervien (USA) def. Magnus Groenvik (NOR) 5-3
82 kg: Exauce Mukubu (NOR) def. Tommy Dantzler (USA) 9-0, TF
87 kg: Ruben Been (NOR) def. Zach Braunagel (USA) 9-8
60 kg: Niklas Öhlen (SWE) def. Dylan Ragusin (USA) 9-0, TF
72 kg: Rasmus Åström (SWE) def. Tyler Eischens (USA) 8-4
77 kg: Lukas Ahlgren (SWE) def. Jack Ervien (USA) 9-0, TF
82 kg: Zach Braunagel (USA) def. August Erikson (SWE) 6-1
60 kg: Dylan Ragusin (USA) def. Arttu Hakala (FIN) 12-4, TF
72 kg: Akseli Yli-Hannuksela (FIN) def. Tyler Eischens (USA) 6-4
77 kg: Jonni Sarkkinen (FIN) def. Tommy Dantzler (USA) 10-0, TF
82 kg: Otto Ketonen (FIN) def. Zach Braunagel (USA) 11-2, TF
60 kg: Rasul Israpilov (SUI) def. Dylan Ragusin (USA) 9-0, TF
72 kg: Tyler Eischens (USA) def. Michael Portmann (SUI) 6-3
77 kg: Jack Ervien (USA) def. Yanik Bucher (SUI) 8-0, TF
82 kg: Tommy Dantzler (USA) def. Milad Gardniya (FIN) 4-0
60 kg: Dylan Ragusin (USA) def. Eemeli Rautanen (FIN) 12-8
72 kg: Tyler Eischens (USA) def. Edvin Kin (EST) 4-4 (criteria)
77 kg: Ranet Kaljola (EST) def. Tommy Dantzler (USA) 9-0, TF
82 kg: Hans Uku Leitham (EST) def. Jack Ervien (USA) 8-0, TF