Five Point Move is proud to host USA Greco-Roman National Team head coach Matt Lindland each week for Coach Lindland’s Report. Here is where you will find detailed perspectives from Coach Lindland pertaining to recent results, upcoming events, training plans, and other Greco-related news that isn’t available anywhere else. ALSO — if you would like to donate directly to the US Greco-Roman program, just click here. Your support is appreciated!
In just a couple of days’ time, the United States is heading north of the border to Ottawa, Canada for the Pan American Championships. The tournament, which runs Friday and Saturday (March 6-7) carries potential significance in numerous ways for several athletes; however, at the moment, the Pan Am Championships is seen as a mere prelude to the most important day of the season thus far for US Greco athletes. That’s because immediately on the heels of the Championships is the Pan Am Olympic Qualifier, where the United States is hoping to have all six competitors qualify their respective weight categories by virtue of placing in the top-2.
These parameters are likely well-known by now. What is also common knowledge around these parts is the preparation. US National Team head coach Matt Lindland has been presiding over the special training camp in Colorado Springs over the past week and provides a detailed assessment of how the athletes have been progressing. In addition, Lindland also shares his thoughts regarding the differences between this Pan Am Olympic qualifying opportunity compared to 2016, and comments on the recent news that Williams Baptist University is removing Greco-Roman wrestling beginning next season.
5PM: Camp is just about finished. You had a lot of South Americans who are competing in Ottawa also in the room, you had Adam Coon leave a little early to go get married, and you’re preparing to hop on a flight that has been circled on the calendar since the fall. What’s your mindset like now that camp is over and this is all starting to materialize?
Coach Matt Lindland: It’s not about what my mindset is, it’s about the athletes’ mindsets. But as for my mindset, I feel really confident in these guys. They were focused and disciplined. They had a lot of time to recover during the camp. There was a lot of built-in recovery because we want to go in feeling fresh. We want to peak on the 13th, and that includes the competition we have this weekend, which is the Championships.
I’m really excited about just getting the guys who are competing at the Championships on the mat. I think it’s a chance to really see what we accomplished in the camps and training process leading up to this. Any last-minute adjustments we have to make, well, this is why I like that we have a competition the week before. The guys who are not competing the week before (the Qualifier), like Ildar (Hafizov) — which there are good reasons why he’s not — I feel confident in him, as well.
But it really comes down to how the guys feel. Are they recovered? We’re traveling. Most of us are leaving at 4:30am tomorrow. I want them to get up there, get a little sweat going, and then rest, because the weekend is going to be upon us in no time. From the minute we get up there it’s going to be all about focusing on the competition.
On a personal level, I feel like the guys had a great camp. They asked a lot of questions, watched film. Having 12 more athletes in the room who are all competing in the same tournaments was exciting. It was nice. I think we need to build a cooperation group with the South American countries as they continue to raise their levels. They look at us like we’re the big leaders in this continent. We were at a meal last night and I remember thinking, Man, the only guys we used to have to beat were Cubans, and now there are so many excellent coaches in other countries… I mean, one of the coaches from Honduras, we wrestled against each other back in ’96. He was coming off of a Junior World Championship and here he was stepping up to Senior. I had to compete hard just to beat a Junior (laughs). It was funny, because he said, “Ah, I was just a Junior.” And I’m like, You were a Junior World champ, you were pretty damn good.
But they look at us, the United States, as the leaders. The tradition in our continent has been Cuba, and maybe we are catching up to Cuba a little bit. But I think we need to raise everyone’s level on this continent and maybe doing some cooperation training again by making this a yearly thing. Maybe every year after the Worlds we’ll get together, after a Pan American Championships — during years where we don’t have a qualifying tournament a week later. We had some good conversations about that, raising the level of the North American continent. It was great to have all of these extra athletes in the room pushing each other. We all have the same goals in mind and it was a very positive camp throughout its entirety.
5PM: One thing that popped into my head recently, and I’m sure I’m not alone, is that two athletes who attempted to qualify at the 2016 Pan Am tournament — Ildar Hafizov and Joe Rau — are also on the Team this time around. Neither got it done at that tournament, though 59 kilos wound up being qualified eventually by Jesse Thielke. But 98 never was and Rau has seemed to carry that around with him ever since, and I’m sure Frisco wasn’t a pleasant memory for Ildar, either. Has any of this stuff occurred to you, as well? And also, did this topic make its way into conversation at any point during camp?
ML: Well, it certainly dawned on me, for sure. Sitting down with both of these athletes… I mean, this never came up in conversation. It’s not like we’d sit down and I would say, Boy, we took you guys last quad and you didn’t get it done. We didn’t have those conversations at all. But they are different guys. Ildar and Joe Rau are four years better than they were in ’16. Those are two guys I am very confident in. I know that Ildar is in a tough weight and with Ecuador (Andres Montano Arroyo) wrestling 63 kilos (at the Pan Am Championships), he’s going to be drawn in either way. So whether we end up with him on our side of the bracket, or the other side, we just have to go out there and compete. Ildar has a great plan in place that he has been developing since he got back from Rome. He has a strategy and has been executing that plan, so I feel very confident in him.
Same thing with Rau. He came to that camp in Denmark very motivated to make a statement here coming up, and to put the training in. Then he went home and came to this camp very serious about being as prepared as he can possibly be.
Honestly, and as I said earlier, I feel very confident about all of our athletes. We are taking the right Team. That means we might be wrestling (Alex) Sancho even in the qualifier because Ellis (Coleman) is still recovering from a surgery he had. We are still evaluating that situation. As of right now, we still have Ellis listed and Sancho is wrestling in the Championships. I think Sancho would do a great job, but either one of those guys can get this job done.
5PM: Denmark we have talked about quite a bit because it was an impactful training camp. That combined with the camps, especially this freshly-wrapped Pan Am camp, what have you enjoyed the most about this training process for the Team so far?
ML: The athletes. They are a lot of the same athletes we’ve been working with, but that trust and communication piece has really been paying off. I think we all believe in each other. They believe in our training plan, and us as a coaching staff, and that training plan is collaborative with all of our coaches. It’s not just the National staff or the coaches assigned to these tours. It is the entire Greco-Roman program. Whether they are from (Minnesota) Storm, the New York Athletic Club, or Army WCAP, they are all contributors and feel like they have a say in what’s going on. I think that makes a big difference. Also, the athletes know that they have a say. That has really come down to just us communicating so much better.
We limited our meetings this camp. We had a morning briefing on the second day of camp, when the WCAP athletes returned from Armed Forces just to break down what was going to happen. We recapped it this morning before our last mat practice. We talked about what the travel schedule was going to look like and what was going to happen up in Canada. We gave everyone a general outline. It even had a lot of times and schedules on there. But ultimately, we’re going to be at the mercy of the mat times in Ottawa, so we still have to be flexible knowing that nothing on paper is rigid. We are all going to have to be flexible. We have to go in hoping that everything is going to work out perfectly and that we’ll get the mat times we want — while knowing that we may have to make adjustments and roll with things as they come sometimes.
5PM: Williams Baptist University officially announced last week that they are discontinuing Greco after only what has really been three years. It is disappointing on several levels. What were your own thoughts upon hearing this news?
Coach Matt Lindland: Well, it’s certainly disappointing. I don’t think they really gave the program a chance because after (Kerry) Regner founded that program he took another opportunity and handed it off to Jonathan (Drendel) who was doing a wonderful job.
But Jonathan felt like he had a calling in the ministry, and he followed his calling. Instead of Williams Baptist hiring another coach — or even searching for another coach — they plugged in Coach (Todd) Allen, who already had a full-time job. I cannot imagine doing what I’m doing and then having to coach a college program on top of it. Whether it’s an NAIA or Division I program, it is the same amount of time, energy, and effort that you have to put into it. There is no difference at any level. So, I think it was set up to fail and that is really unfortunate because I think the model is there and can work.
We’re seeing all kinds of schools add men and women’s wrestling programs. Now unfortunately, it is in folkstyle, but they are adding programs to grow numbers in their schools to add more revenue to the bottom line for the institutions. I understand that model. That model works great up in Northern Michigan, but Northern Michigan is fully committed to their Greco program. They’ve committed even more here recently by extending our contract for another four years. These programs that are out there are self-funded. There is enough revenue coming in from tuition, books, campus fees, and housing to not only support these programs, but for them to become profitable. We are talking about enough revenue that the school sees as a very positive thing for the institution.
Unfortunately, when you don’t give a program a chance and you don’t hire a coach to fully lead it… I mean, you put Coach Allen in a really tough situation where he’s trying to wear two hats and do two jobs, and that’s not fair to him. I know he is a big supporter of what we’re doing and he tried to keep the program going, but honestly, I am not sure how you can do that unless someone was hired full-time.
Williams was a good experiment. We learned a lot of lessons and more opportunities for more programs across the country could be the result. Maybe the coasts, east or west. We’ve always known that a lot of our Greco guys are attracted to different coasts, and there are a lot of great things going on in California. It’s the same on the east coast. The only downside to Northern Michigan is that it’s a little hard to get to. It’s a little far away and maybe a little uncomfortable for guys who, you know, aren’t willing to spend three or four months out of the year in the snow.
But I really believe this model can work. We just need someone willing to take on the challenge and create that opportunity for more athletes to have access to go to college. We have a very small-scale program here with athletes going to the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. Tommy Dantzler, Nolan Baker, and Logan Hatch, it’s a pretty good group of guys — and I think we’re going to add more next year. But we’re not the school part of the equation. What we’re doing is with the National program and the athletes are students at the college while training here at the Olympic (& Paralympic) Training Center.
I think we can do this in multiple locations, but we definitely have to find the right partners to do it with.