Thrilling moments weren’t in short supply this Friday evening during the final round of the 2018 US Senior Greco-Roman Nationals at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas. Four first-time champions led the charge, which was a big part of the narrative coming in. But another important component to the story involved the stream of skilled, accomplished veterans including five Olympians (or Olympic Trials winners) who still possess dreams of their own.
The final round of the US Senior Nationals began at 7:00pm PT and was broadcast live on FLOWrestling.
Nowry, Roberts & Mango
Lots of interest surrounded the showdown at 55 kilograms pitting two former University World Champions against one another. Max Nowry (Army/WCAP), widely regarded as the favorite of this weight class entering this week, was called upon to do battle with the returning Sam Hazewinkel (Sunkist). A two-time US Open winner during his heyday on the Greco circuit, Hazewinkel’s decision to jump in this tournament brought with it an air of curiosity. Did he still have it at 35-years-old? The answer to that question is definitively “Yes” — but the night still belonged to Nowry.
Though, it didn’t start off so smoothly. Hazewinkel received the first passive/par terre chance of the contest. Up 1-0, he went to execute a lift and tacked on two more when Nowry was called for a caution and two. Back on the feet and Nowry picked up the pace. Hazewinkel was right there with him to meet the increased intensity. Coming off an exchange, Nowry flashed inside and zipped a beautiful arm throw for four. More points quickly followed on a gut-tilt and a caution on Hazewinkel. The 3-0 deficit was now an 8-3 Nowry lead heading into the break.
The tempo didn’t wane in the second period but a more tactical approach could be detected. Hazewinkel, still as quick as ever, darted inside for openings. But before he could find something to work with, another caution reared its head, this time for grabbing the fingers. 10-3, Nowry. A drag attempt by the WCAP wrestler nearly resulted in another scoring opportunity but Hazewinkel spun out of danger. He kept fighting hard as the pair traded two-on-ones. Hazewinkel, realizing time was not on his side, hipped in on an attempt that Nowry snuffed and covered on only to have it ruled a slip. With the seconds winding down, Nowry shook off a collar-tie to drag around back one more time just as the final whistle blew.
Afterwards, Nowry, one of the evening’s four first-timers, pointed to a change in the wrestling room that helped propel him to victory.
“The coaches have kind of put it into our heads that no one can last with us for six minutes doing what we’re doing,” Nowry said. “If you look at the results, we’re putting points up on the board. Speaking for myself, when I was wrestling at 59, I was ‘defensively active’, in a way. I had to wait for my moments to try to strike and score. Now, I am forcing it and making those things happen myself.”
Roberts Survives Valiant Effort From Fuenffinger to Cap First Senior Title
60 kilograms presented a scinitllating duel between fast-rising two-time Junior World Team member Dalton Roberts (NYAC/OTS) and explosive WCAP rep Mike Fuenffinger. There was not a pronounced history pertaining to these two heading into Friday night: in early-2017, Fuenffinger tech’ed Roberts out at the Dave Schultz Memorial; four months later, Roberts ambushed Fuenffinger around en-route to a 7-0 decision in the University National finals. But given that they were 1-1 against each other — along with how much Roberts has improved and how dynamic Fuenffinger can be, plus his win over teammate Ildar Hafizov in the semis — a little extra tension ushered both athletes to the center circle.
Despite not exactly being bitter rivals, they collided at the whistle like two sticks of dynamite. The early action intimated that this might be personal. A blood feud. Roberts diligently pressured forward as Fuenffinger locked up hard inside. No clear positional advantages were discernible but the official still deemed Fuenffinger to be lagging and the first passivity point entered into the equation before the first minute had passed. A Roberts lift attempt didn’t come through and Fuenffinger ambled back up to the feet.
Later in the first, Roberts looped around Fuenffinger’s head over the top, appearing to be in position for a folkstyle cement mixer. Fuenffinger immediately bridged and bounded to flip Roberts over and onto his back. The fall looked imminent for a moment. But, Roberts recovered, somehow, and fought his way out of further trouble. WCAP challenged the sequence with the end result giving both athletes two points, plus one more for Roberts on the lost challenge for Fuenffinger. 5-2, Roberts. With :20 remaining in the period, Roberts locked high around Fuenffinger from the side and muscled him off the mat for another four to surge ahead 9-2.
Only a single, solitary point away from a tech. Either a passive or a step-out could have wrapped it all up moving into the second period. But this was when Fuenffinger got it together and very nearly completed an incredible comeback. Roberts didn’t lay off the gas — he wanted to hunt down scores, get his hand raised before the clock granted permission to do so. On a couple of occasions, it seemed like that might happen. Fuenffinger, to his credit, never came close to wilting.
The only problem for him was that he got going too late. With just under :40 to go, Fuenffinger dragged behind Roberts for a takedown and wasted no time turning over a gutwrench. As Roberts rolled out he was banged for a caution. Only :10 remained and what was once a seven-point Roberts advantage had been whittled down to one with Fuenffinger getting another chance on top. So he locked and squeezed and tried mustering enough force to deliver a most improbable victory. But Roberts hardly budged. He needed only to stay grounded for a few ticks before he was back on his feet and clapping his hands in celebration. Roberts would later be announced as the tournament’s Oustanding Wrestler.
Sensational Mango Prevails Over An Inspired Jones
Both Ryan Mango (Army/WCAP) and Sammy Jones (NYAC/OTS) stole the show in the 63-kilogram weight class Thursday. For Mango, the wonderfully talented former World Team Trials runner-up, it was one of the best wall-to-wall performances of his career. Three tech falls, with one of them coming at the expense of a resurgent Jesse Thielke (NYAC/LOG), were a testament to what he is capable of provided he’s clicking on all available cylinders. Because most assuredly, when Mango can operate unencumbered, there are few boasting the same level of talent as he.
Jones came at this from a slightly different direction. While it’s true the native Louisianan possesses a breadth of abilities in Greco-Roman which speak for themselves, as well as a bronze medal from the University World Championships, he’s had to wait in line on the domestic circuit the past few years. Jones has improved in all of the areas deemed necessary for someone thinking about one day making an Olympic Team, though the long steps up the ladder have imparted disruptions just when it looked like he was inching closer to each subsequent rung. But a fresh perspective along with a scorching tech fall win over Xavier Johnson (Marines) and another against teammate Travis Rice rightfully escorted Jones into Friday night’s final as an athlete on the brink of breaking through.
At the first contact, Mango urged forward and Jones quickly wrangled a two-on-one to the left side. They reset and it was the same strategy — Jones working on the arm and Mango prodding at the ties. Mango wasn’t hanging back, but even still, it was he who received the first passive knock. Jones circled around the prone Mango’s head to snare a lock. As soon as he moved into position, Mango rocketed to his feet and wrapped Jones in a bodylock. His first attempt at the throw didn’t do the trick. On the second, Mango got more air underneath and trucked Jones over for four. Another reset and Jones went back to securing a two-on-one on Mango’s left arm. He had to control the rhythm in order to gain a sense where Mango wanted to be. Jones got heavier on the two-on-one and appeared to be regaining his form as he moved Mango towards the edge with little time left in the period. At the buzzer, Mango pounced on an opening and walloped a mighty headlock that elicited audible approval from the audience, but the points didn’t count.
To begin the second, both athletes searched for underhooks from the pummel before breaking away to operate from a distance. Mango — it’s not that he plays possum, it’s more that his relaxed posture presents a frightening contrast to the speed he can employ when in attack mode — lasered forward and chased around Jones’s back to hustle a takedown for a 6-1 lead. Jones kept working. Five points, especially considering the firepower present in this affair, was not a safe lead for Mango. The tempo didn’t dissipate. Jones remained stalking and Mango intently scanned for vulnerabilities to exploit. A front-head looked like it might offer some last-second promise for Jones, but Mango stayed on his feet the rest of the way to secure his first Senior title.
Coleman Brilliant; Perkins Dominant
2012 Olympian Ellis Coleman (67 kg, Army/WCAP), competing for just the second time since recovering a from a serious illness last summer, capped his fourth US Open win in grand style. Facing off with NMU alum Jessy Williams (NYAC/FLWC), Coleman snared a two-on-one and looked to score from the tie-up immediately. Williams braced enough to fling it off, but then Coleman raced to the front for a front headlock that he soon converted into a big four-point lift. The two-on-one served as the premier catalyst for Coleman’s offense. He grabbed another and barred Williams’s arm in the process before using the leverage to sweep behind for a takedown. As Coleman secured his lock he was able to collect William’s uncleared limb. A trap-arm gut was the call, and Coleman easily rolled Williams over a few times to end this one in devastatingly quick fashion.
Because RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC) and Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) go back a ways and their bouts have always made for compelling watches, most expected this 72-kilogram contest to deliver the kind of gripping, suspenseful action that a US Senior Greco-Roman National final should have to offer. Alas, that was not the case this time around.
But from the outset you would not have expected anything other than a six-minute war of attrition. Smith came out firing right away, eager to begin the process of wearing his opponent down. Thing was, Perkins demonstrated just as much aggression in the early exchanges and capitalized on an arm throw attempt that he used to get behind Smith for two. Shortly after, Smith was called for passive and this was the beginning of the end. From top, Perkins gutted Smith over three straight times to walk away with a 9-0 tech that few saw coming. The win gives Perkins his second US Senior National championship.
Miller Downs Burak To Earn First Stop Sign
Marine Daniel Miller (97 kg) has put in a lot of time overseas trying to tack on experience in the classical style since he’s climbed on board the Senior level, and it paid off with his joining the other three first-time champs on Friday. Standing across from Miller was former collegiate stud Micah Burak (TMWC), who has improved a great deal these past two years, as well, and offered Miller significant resistance throughout.
Burak presented a limber, fluid style for Miller to deal with and switched from one tie-up to another before settling on a front headlock. It went nowhere, but it did help prompt a passive call on Miller, who defended the proceeding high gut attempt from Burak. Back on the feet and Miller upped the pressure. He stalked. You’d call his method “patiently urgent” — Miller doesn’t like to waste motion, so he depends on his power to crack open opportunities. His first one came as he bored in on Burak to force a step-out. Instead, it was ruled a caution, giving Miller a 2-1 lead. Undaunted, Burak resumed trying to work inside and found another front headlock. Miller hardened his stance so as to avoid being moved. When the athletes re-engaged next, Burak looped an overhook that eventually yielded a step-out at the buzzer.
Another step-out point arrived for Burak soon into the second, though wouldn’t be able to enjoy his lead for too long. A passivity call on Burak wound up entering into the equation and helped decide the outcome. Miller clamped around on a gut and tried to hoist up his lock. Burak, while trying to defend, interfered with his legs, which resulted in a caution and two. Most importantly, it also meant a 5-3 advantage for Miller. One more shot for Miller from top, and again, he wanted Burak penalized for a leg foul, but no call was made. Burak did try making a go of it towards the end with a last-ditch headlock attempt. However, Miller had little trouble maintaining his position the rest of the way to seal the hard-fought 5-3 victory.
Provisor Comes Back Strong; Smith Bullies Coon
Two-time Olympian Ben Provisor (87 kg, NYAC/NLWC) and Joe Rau (Minnesota Storm) provided fans with one of the most entertaining matches of the two-day tournament. Rau jumped out in front 6-0 when he got behind on an arm spin attempt that led to a four-point lift. Provisor answered right back with a four-point arm throw of his own, and we were off to the races. Rau instantly reversed position off of Provisor’s arm throw, scampered behind, and dumped him over for four more. It was 10-4 within the first 90 seconds of the match — with the 14 points scored already eclipsing the total of their two match series a year ago.
Towards the latter stages of the first, Provisor started coming on. They stood parallel to each other at the boundary with Provisor overhooking Rau’s left arm. Rau tried sliding his underhook into a more graspable setting around the hip as he kept his legs. As a means of improvisation, Provisor simply locked his hands underneath his overhook to crank Rau’s shoulder down, the pressure proving suitable enough for the Wisconsinite to leverage a takedown.
Rau was knocked for passivity to begin the second but held strong defensively. They returned standing. Provisor benefitted from a Rau caution to put him within two. For all intents and purposes, this caution changed the complexion of the match. Provisor menacingly seized around Rau’s waist and gutted him over twice to assume a 12-10 lead. Rau still observed a brisk pace and gritted and sneered as he tried bulldogging his way to Provisor’s body. They clashed, repeatedly. Heads, shoulders, chests…there was no escape from the brutal exchanges. Rau stayed heavy up top on Provisor but he was unable to angle into a scoring position. He took one more shot with just a few seconds left only to have Provisor shrug him by for a takedown as a cruel parting gift. For “Big Ben”, the win signifies his third Senior National triumph.
Just about everyone wanted to see if 2014 Junior World bronze medalist and NCAA star Adam Coon (CKWC) could provide longstanding #1 Robby Smith (NYAC) with a sufficient test in their highly-anticipated heavyweight final. As you likely recall, the last time they met was in the 2016 Olympic Trials finals where Smith breezed right through both matches to cement his spot in Rio. Coon did acquit himself well here, but so did Smith, as the latter displayed new power in his game that will eventually mesh well with his considerable offensive arsenal.
Given the height disparity at play, Smith experienced little difficulty wading through the pummel and into double underhooks. He went to this position numerous times during the bout. Smith coaxed Coon off the edge for a point to draw first blood. Following a reset, Smith rammed inside again with double underhooks. He thought about lifting — and almost executed. Coon responded by trying to counter with his own throw, but Smith maintained his stance as Coon fell to the mat. 4-0 in favor of Smith moving into the conclusive frame.
Smith burrowed inside to begin the second. By this juncture, Coon started to get the idea a little more and engaged back in. But the uptick in Smith’s power was evident. He was plowing forward constantly with the larger Coon unable to stay off his heels. The official called passivity on the Michigan wrestler, giving Smith a five-point cushion. Needing only three to end it, Smith circled towards the head from par terre top. He then shifted back to a gutwrench and took one more look at a front head before cutting Coon loose. There was no real space for Coon to navigate. Smith stayed attached and in control for the remainder of the period, ultimately gaining his third Senior Greco-Roman Open championship.
US National Team head coach Matt Lindland liked what he saw on the mat Thursday and Friday, and shared with us these thoughts following the conclusion of the finals.
“My favorite part of the tournament was the scoring,” Lindland said. “We saw a lot of scoring and a lot of action. I really liked the fact that Ben (Provisor) got challenged and came back. I enjoyed seeing Dalton Roberts step up throughout the entire tournament. It was nice to see him get the honor of being named Outstanding Wrestler. Now I am looking forward to taking this team to the Pan American Championships and having a very exciting tournament.”
2018 US Senior National Greco-Roman Notes
- 2017 World Champion Kamal Bey (77 kg, Sunkist) needed only 1:19 and two throws to come away with his second-straight Senior National title. Going up against Peyton Walsh (Marines), Bey scored his first four from an over/under that he tossed over his hip and seconds later, it was a bodylock that he lifted up on and planted forward.
- Also becoming a two-time Open winner on Friday night was Geordan Speiller (82 kg, Florida Jets), who prevailed over U23 World Team member Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm) thanks to a lateral drop and a cascading arm throw.
- How dominating was the quartet of Mango, Coleman, Perkins, and Bey? Check this out: Mango racked up three tech’s in four matches, outscoring his opposition 32-1; Coleman had five matches, all tech’s, outscoring opponents 47-1; Perkins tech’ed all four of his opponents to the tune of a combined 35-0 score; and Bey notched three tech’s and a pin to yield a tally of 31-0. If you add them all together, these four stomped through the Open amassing a combined outscoring value of 145-2.
- In the team race, NYAC ran away from the field with 105 points. Following in order it was: Army/WCAP (79 points), Minnesota Storm (53 points), Sunkist (34 points), and the Marines (32 points).
- As mentioned previously, all of the winners from Friday’s night earn byes to the World Team Trials best-of-three finals series in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
- In addition, those who earned National titles will also be competing at the Pan American Championships in Lima, Peru next week.
2018 US SENIOR GRECO-ROMAN NATIONAL FINALS
55 kg: Max Nowry (Army/WCAP) def. Sam Hazewinkel (Sunkist) 10-3
60 kg: Dalton Roberts (NYAC/OTS) def. Mike Fuenffinger (Army/WCAP) 9-8
63 kg: Ryan Mango (Army/WCAP) def. Sammy Jones (NYAC/OTS) 6-1
67 kg: Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP) def. Jessy Williams (NYAC/FLWC) 10-0, TF
72 kg: RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC) def. Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) 9-0, TF
77 kg: Kamal Bey (Sunkist) def. Peyton Walsh (Marines) 8-0, TF
82 kg: Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets) def. Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm) 8-0, TF
87 kg: Ben Provisor (NYAC/NLWC) def. Joe Rau (Minnesota Storm) 14-10
97 kg: Daniel Miller (Marines) def. Micah Burak (TMWC) 5-3
130 kg: Robby Smith (NYAC) def. Adam Coon (CKWC) 5-0