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!
It was a month ago when the USA Seniors officially exited the 2019 World Championships without a medalist or an Olympic weight qualified, but that is only part of the story in this latest edition of the Report. US National Team head coach Matt Lindland discusses at length the primary lessons learned from Kazakhstan as well as what he found to be the most encouraging indicators pointing to success this coming season leading up to the next round of Olympic qualification. Lindland also shares his perspective on the tragic passing of longtime Greco coach James Johnson and how that news was received by both himself and the athletes in Nur-Sultan.
In addition, the U23 World Championships are just around the corner and Lindland speaks to why this group of athletes might have something special working in their favor. The conversation then concludes with his recent trip to Northern Michigan University to spend time with Andy Bisek (among others) and a note about Nick Boykin‘s (97 kg, Sunkist) decision to attend the Ohio State University beginning in the winter.
5PM: What was the best thing about Kazakhstan in your view?
Coach Matt Lindland: The best thing was that our athletes worked together as a team. They supported one another and they were all about business. I think the direction in which the team and program are going is super positive. We can keep this trajectory and attitude of caring about one another and sharing with each other, and helping the program and our teammates. Moving forward, I am very confident about getting the weights qualified for Tokyo and earning medals at the Games.
We are finally at a point where athletes understand what is expected of them individually, and that helps build our program and our Teams. We have incredible wrestlers, it’s just understanding what it takes to operate at this level. It takes a lot of teamwork, it takes a lot of help, and the understanding that they are not going to be successful unless they surround themselves with their own teams of coaches, nutritionists, and strength programs. Just understanding I can’t get there by myself and being willing to accept help and support. Because, there are so many people who want to help and support these guys, they just have to be willing to take that advice, grow, and move forward.
As an athlete, you can learn from everybody. You can learn from guys you’ve beat, guys you have lost to, you can learn from coaches from all across the world. Everyone has something to share that you can take away as an individual, and then you can help improve yourself and your team, which makes the team stronger.
5PM: Ellis Coleman basically destroyed a perceived medal/qualifying candidate first round but in his next match was all sorts of confusion. The US guy will always have to score there, but still, Coleman should have received points from at least two of those arm spin counters. Losing a match that way in a tournament as important as this one, I imagine, didn’t go down smoothly. What was your takeaway from that match and the way it was officiated?
ML: I mean, we always have to do more as Americans, so I don’t want to leave room for an excuse, but those were some really brutal calls. I have no idea why we didn’t score takedowns on two of those occasions. A takedown puts us right on top with Ellis’ lock and potential to turn guys, even the highest-level of guys. I was confident if he gets one of those takedowns, then he gets his scores from top and he’s right back in the match, if not winning the match against (Deyvid) Dimitrov.
It was hard to watch. I was sad because Ellis has done a lot of work. He made a lot of adjustments to competing. He is very aggressive now. He isn’t waiting, he is pushing the fight and taking it to guys. He recognized on that first arm spin against this guy, Okay, that’s his go-to. And he found ways to counter it. He absolutely countered them, and on some of those he should have received points. It was sad. It was hard to watch. I don’t know what else to really say about it, because Ellis was wrestling so well in both his matches. Even the match he lost, he was competing really well.
I think it was just really poor officiating, and that’s just sad to see at the World Championships, that these guys weren’t calling the matches right. And I don’t want to say it’s because we’re Americans and that they were out to get us. I just think it was really poor officiating.
5PM: What did you see towards the end of G’Angelo Hancock’s match that led to (Melonin) Noumonvi zipping in for that high dive?
ML: Honestly? He didn’t control the wrist, he didn’t continue to keep pressure on his opponent. That’s what scored Tracy all of his points against Noumonvi. But also, his pressure against Ukraine. He let the pressure off. He had done such an amazing job, you can see it on the film. He got right back up and scored when he needed to. So he was in a situation where he’s winning and he doesn’t need to score — but he does need to keep the pressure on his opponent and keep controlling the wrist. Because really, we have two attacks from there we have to watch out for: a straight high dive and reach-around. So, we knew what he was coming with.
I don’t know if it was lack of mental focus. I think it was more a lack of tactical focus. He wrestled a great match but for one situation and he didn’t get carried to the next round. I think he had a great pathway to the finals if he had won that match. I know he is certainly capable of getting his medal and it’s going to be a Cinderella story when it happens in Tokyo. So I am looking forward to helping Tracy put together a plan so he can reach his goals of winning a medal in 2020.
5PM: Following the tournament or even any of the post-sessions, did you have the chance to speak with the guys in or after Nur-Sultan regarding their own individual performances?
ML: You know, at the tournament we didn’t talk about performances and what we could fix. Adam (Coon) and I had some long conversations. We shared a flight back and had the time in the airport. It wasn’t about what we did wrong or what we need to fix tactically or technically, it was about laying out a plan and getting a full commitment.
But I did talk to all of the guys there and I think everyone saw that we’re on the right track and moving in the right direction. Spirits were still high even though we didn’t get the results we wanted or the medals. I think everybody in our program, including our athletes, can see that it is right there. It is right in front of us.
We are doing the right things. We are focusing on the right areas of concentration. We just have to continue to improve that par terre defense. It is an area that we don’t have enough good guys in the United States who are constantly putting us under threat, so we’re not as proficient defending against the best guys in the world. We defend well; and then you’re getting in there against guys who make their money off of scoring from par terre. We just have to spend more time there.
The plan right now is I have the opportunity to send all of our World Team members over to a two-week training camp with the Georgian National Team. All of those guys have decent par terre skills and we’re going to work with them and continue to improve in that area technically.
But the athletes, I think, did understand that we are really close to breaking through and getting multiple guys on the podium. It was disappointing that it didn’t happen this year, but these things take time. If you’re going to build something that lasts, which is what we’re trying to do, it’s going to take time. You can’t just make these quick fixes and think that everything is going to work out great. You have to build a solid foundation first.
I think the foundation is strong. Now it’s time to put the framing up and get those weights qualified in Canada in March and go get some medals in Tokyo.
5PM: Disappointment aside, is the fact that their spirits were still high after the tournament a result of a better buy-in from the Team throughout the summer?
Coach Matt Lindland: I think there was a great buy-in, but the buy-in happened because a lot of these guys had control of their personal plans. They had a lot of time with their personal coaches. We scheduled camps and they knew what was going to be expected of them during the camps, and they were looking forward to those opportunities to work with each other. The one thing we wanted was more time with European training partners. That was really hard to work out this year between the timing of where our Pan American Games and the European Games were this year. The schedule just wasn’t working out for us and it didn’t link up with a lot of our European counterparts. We brought people in when we could and got the training we needed.
Ultimately, there was a lot of great buy-in, not just from the guys on the World Team, but also from all of our National Team members and the athletes who came out and chose to be part of the camps. No one was forced to be at anything and I made that message very clear back in January at our first National Team camp — This is a volunteer effort and if you guys want to do it, here are the opportunities. And everyone who was there chose to be there because they thought it would benefit them, and I think it did benefit everybody.
5PM: After the Worlds, there were not only some guys who seemed almost emboldened, but it was kind of like they didn’t want this time together to end, which you don’t normally hear about quite the same way. I was wondering if personal relationships factored in, the team chemistry that was built. Is that part of the foundation going forward, that sense of unity?
ML I do think we’ve created a lot more unity. You’re right. Some guys who come from the same programs are going to be a little tighter-knit because they are with each other on a day-to-day basis. But there were guys who wanted to be on this Team together with their teammates. You are either fighting alongside your teammates, or you are fighting for your teammates. I feel like each one of these guys sensed an obligation to fight for his teammates; to make the program better, to do their part to make our program stronger.
There has to be a balance of, Am I giving more back to the program and my teammates than I am taking? There absolutely has to be that balance. If you’re a guy who is constantly expecting more from others and you’re not giving back or contributing, there is a real imbalance. Everyone on this Team was a giver, a servant leader.
5PM: Is that the accountability factor we’ve discussed a lot over the course of the past year?
ML: Yes, I think that’s a great thing and I hope it’s something we continue to work on. Accountability and holding one another accountable isn’t a bad thing. It’s a positive thing. It’s a caring, sharing, loving quality. You’re holding yourself accountable first and you’re holding your teammates accountable. Definitely I think that is a contributing factor.
5PM: Obviously, the US program was forced to deal with the sad and sudden loss of Coach James Johnson right before the World Championships began. How was that news broken to the athletes, and how was it reconciled so close to the event?
Coach Matt Lindland: I can tell you that I got the news right before one of our morning walks. Every morning we were meeting in the hotel lobby and going for a walk just to kind of continue to keep the team together and to wake up. I wanted to know that everyone was waking up. The first day we started a little later, and as the week went on, we started getting up around the time that would be closer to the competition days, and that worked out really well.
I had everyone waiting in the lobby, and unfortunately, someone had gotten a hold of one our athletes upstairs. He was the only guy who came late I was going to share this news with. He was upstairs receiving the same news. I went back down with him and shared the news with the rest of the Team. He was a Sunkist athlete, so he was getting that news at the same time.
It was very somber that morning. I think it was tough for anyone to take. It was the day before we were moving to the host hotel, so we were getting really close to the competition. JJ was a big part of our program. I spent a lot of time with him personally. I had been his roomate on many trips around the world trying to keep getting better and improving our program.
For me personally, I didn’t do a very good job. I just thought it wasn’t real. It can’t be real. I’ll deal with this after the World Championships. And then on the way home after I separated from the Team and took my last leg to Portland, it became more real. It became more emotional and real. I got home to Portland and found out about the services. I just felt like it was really important for me to get out there personally because I didn’t deal with it well. I kind of just, like I said, thought about it as, There’s no way this can be real.
I had just talked to JJ the day before we left for Kazakhstan and he was still planning on joining the Team and coming over. He was like, Don’t worry, I’ll be there. And I literally said to him, “JJ, I would like you around a lot longer. Would you please get healthy and just stay home for me? You know we’d love to have you here, but I need you healthy and I need you around.” I didn’t get that, that wish didn’t come true because of what ultimately happened.
That’s where I was personally, but I think it was definitely something that could have affected our guys emotionally that week. It was just hard news all around. It is a sad loss and we’re not going to get over this quickly.
5PM: There is another memorial in Phoenix for JJ that you’re going to, as well.
ML: Yeah, I think there weren’t a lot of people who were able to make the first one — wrestling people. Certainly, there were a lot of people, they filled up a high school gymnasium in James’ hometown. But yes, for anyone who is where I was and didn’t go through the process of grieving this loss, there is an opportunity on the 24th of this month and they are doing a memorial for James out there in Phoenix. If anyone is still struggling with things, this might be a great opportunity for the all of the other people who cared about James and loved him.
5PM: When you came back from the Worlds, you went to relative sanctuary, Eagle Creek.
ML: (Laughs) Actually, I flew into Portland but then I went down to the coast for the first two days and started ripping carpet out of home and demo’ing a home that needed rehab, and you’re not going to find many contractors down in Astoria. My wife and I along with my daughter and her boyfriend went out there and we put two days of hard labor in. Then we went to Eagle Creek. Probably the best thing I got to do was take a three-hour walk in my favorite place in the world. I spent three hours just walking through the forest and getting in touch with nature and earth. Being in a peaceful place was very important for me. I did have to cut that trip a little short because I wanted to get out to JJ’s memorial. So I cut it short and went out to North Carolina.
5PM: The U23 Worlds is the next UWW event, and once again, the US is bringing a team that boasts several experienced, formidable competitors. We’ve had that the past two years. However, this country hasn’t had a big showing at that event yet, why might this year be different?
ML: We have three guys who have already proven themselves at the Junior level — Taylor LaMont, Andrew Berreyesa, and most recently, Peyton Omania. All three have proven themselves at the Junior level and all three are ready to make that jump at the U23/Senior level. We have a couple of other very talented guys in Brady Koontz and Dalton Roberts. The Team is really loaded with talented young athletes. I can assure you we can’t do any worse than we did last year (laughs). I’m looking forward to us winning some matches just like we did at the Senior Worlds. If we can just keep winning matches one at a time and move our way through the brackets, we’re going to have a lot of success this year.
What a great group of guys to work with this year. Everyone is a quality individual and we have some really great wrestlers. Matt Finesilver is out here training in Colorado Springs. He has been working on his Greco skills. Ironically, he made the Greco team but he’s part of Kevin Jackson’s resident program for freestyle. He has certainly been putting his time in with Greco on our side of the curtain. What a cool kid he is, it has been nice to get to know him and work with him.
All of these other athletes on the Team I know very well. I’ve traveled with them on multiple tours. Lenny (Merkin), I don’t know if we’ve been on a tour together but he has been to a lot of our camps. He showed up to the Senior World Championships. It was nice to see him out there to support the Team and be a part of that.
I think everyone on this Team knows what it’s going to take to win, so I am looking forward to getting out to Budapest and watching what our U23 guys can do this year.
5PM: You recently spent time up at NMU and got a chance to work with some of the U23 athletes. You also spent time with Andy (Bisek). How are things going in Marquette so far with the start of the new season?
ML: The team dynamics and the program dynamics are all interrelated, whether it’s the 2019 Senior World Team, the 2019 Junior World Team, or the 2019 U23 World Team. We’ve got guys mixing and matching and some are taking the Olympic Year to be part of the Senior program’s run. It all runs together with those age groups, and some of our most talented athletes are still in one of the age groups or just matriculated to the age group above them. There is no longer a disconnect between Northern Michigan’s program and the National program, and the Greco program as a whole. We are a lot more on the same page, probably because Andy and I got to work together a lot more frequently. Now that he’s the head coach of the program, we share a lot of the same philosophies but he also knows how to follow. I think that’s the first step of the program — Here’s the vision for the program, Andy, and I want your vision to be same as the program’s. He gets that. He buys in. And not only that, he’s an incredible leader and has incredible character, which he shares with his athletes.
There are just people who want to be around him. Everyone in that town knows who he is. Oh, he’s the Greco coach with the mustache! You go around town and people know who Andy Bisek is. There are not a whole lot of World medalists and guys who have been on Olympic Teams walking around Marquette, Michigan. He’s one of the leaders in the community. He is involved with taking veterans fishing. He and several athletes help out with wounded veterans who have been injured in combat. He is making that connection of, You want to represent this flag? Well, then you earn the opportunity and right to represent this flag because these men served and gave themselves for the freedom you get to enjoy to represent the United States. He is making all of these connections in the community, and he’s building his program to be part of the community.
They are no longer just the “Greco guys doing the Greco thing”. No, they volunteer at the football games, hockey games, volleyball games… They are not only connected to the university, but the community, as well, and it is definitely because of Andy’s leadership. I think he sent a pretty clear message when they got back on campus and one of the coaches was no longer there and eight of their teammates were no longer there. It was like, We’re going to be doing things a little differently now, and you’re either on board or you’re out. And I don’t know if Andy would say that; but his actions and body language would certainly relay the message of, I know what it takes to win at the highest level and I’m going to help you, and I am going to be a servant-leader — but we’re going to do it my way. I think that’s what that program needed most.
Moving forward, I just feel the administration really appreciates the value of what the Greco-Roman program brings to that university and to that community, and they want to help us continue to keep that program up there for another 20 years. I’m just really excited and really impressed with the kind of leader Andy is.
5PM: Finally, Nick Boykin announced last week that he is going to be attending Ohio State. He was one of the flag-bearers for this latest generation of high school athletes who were going to bypass college wrestling for Greco. What are your insights to this decision and how may it potentially benefit him?
Coach Matt Lindland: When we have guys who were full-time Greco-Roman wrestlers out of high school matriculate back into the college system, I think it shows one thing, which is that the college system is important for a lot of American athletes. For whatever reason, it’s important. Now, people could look back at my history and go, Well, you wrestled Division I. But I wasn’t aware there were other options or I wasn’t educated enough to know there were other options at the time.
So I don’t think it’s fair to say that necessarily, because I did almost go out of junior college to wrestle Greco with Dave Miller. He was recruiting me up to be his training partner when he was the #2 guy on the ladder at my weight class when I was a young collegiate athlete. The only thing that kept me from making that move was he still wanted me to wrestle in the college system, in the D2 system. I figured that if I was going to stay in the college system, it would be with a more major university where I could have success as both a college athlete and a Greco athlete, and I think that’s what Nick Boykin is looking at doing at Ohio State. He wants to go to a place where he could have success as a collegiate athlete while also keeping his Greco-Roman training going. There are guys at Ohio State who train. I don’t know how much they’ve invested in the Greco-Roman part of their RTC. Obviously, their freestyle RTC is one of the most successful in the country.
We do have National Team/U23 World Team member Brady Koontz in that program. We have a couple of other talented Greco wrestlers there, like Brady’s brother Dylan and Fritz (Schierl). Tom Ryan has made it clear to me that Greco-Roman is important to Ohio State, and I would like him to continue to show how important it is by pouring more resources into our Greco-Roman athletes who are a part of their regional training center that is now going to include Nick Boykin.