One down, one to go.
The first tournament on the mini-European tour for the Team USA Cadets is out of the way with two athletes coming away with medals — Cohlton Schultz (100 kg, NYAC/CO) picked up gold in a hard-fought final at the 2017 Croatia Open in Zagreb, Croatia while Camden Russell (54 kg, MWC/NE) just missed on one for himself, earning a silver following a contentious bout with Germany’s Deni Nakaev. Rising young stars Conor Knopick (MWC/NE) and Raiden Johnson (SWAT/FL) both enjoyed strong showings at 54 kilograms, as well, but ultimately fell in their respective bronze medal matches. Hard-charger Austin Almaguer (Tri-Cities/WA) too had himself a good day at 58 kilos and like Knopick and Johnson, advanced to a third-place bout and was forced to settle for fifth.
The Croatia Open represented the first of two events for the US Cadet squad, which is led by 2017 Cadet World Team coach Lucas Steldt and two-time Olympian Shawn Sheldon. Coming up right away will be a week-long camp in Croatia followed by next weekend’s Refik Memišević–Brale Tournament in Serbia. It is all part of a new initiative championed by Steldt known as the “Go Greco Developmental Program” and out of the gate it has produced some encouraging results. Schultz was a Cadet World Team member in 2016 and this year finds himself on both the Cadet and Junior World teams, and is one of this country’s most high-profile prospects. So his doing well yesterday in Croatia is not exactly a surprise. But Russell, who although has previously competed well nationally but is new to international competition, was a revelation for Steldt.
“Russell could be a great Greco competitor if he continues down this road,” said Steldt. “He’s just an incredible wrestler and (fellow 2017 Cadet World Team coach) Zac Dominguez has these awesome athletes in Nebraska. Russell needs to be on a watch-list for both Gary (Mayabb) and Matt (Lindland).”
Schultz’s participation in these events overseas are largely seen as preparation for the pair of World Championships he will be competing in later this summer. Still only 16 years of age, Schultz is a major talent in both international styles and has a litany of options at his disposal. His focus over the last year has been in Greco-Roman as a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center and it shows — outside of a silver medal performance at the Austrian Open in March, Schultz has won everything else in front of him. What Steldt saw on Saturday only reinforced the chatter surrounding the high schooler. “Cohlton is becoming a true Greco guy,” declared Steldt. “He put on a very dominating performance and along with his athletic abilities, he is also showing true leadership.”
As we touched on last month, the Go Greco USA Developmental Program is designed as a mechanism to foster increased opportunities for both training and competition overseas. The 2017 Croatia Open could be looked at as the beta test. With two medals and a few near misses, the test seems successful. A key ingredient thus far according to Steldt has been the roster. Although there might be a lack of international experience present with the exception of Schultz, all of the wrestlers are extremely familiar with what Greco-Roman has to offer.
“We bought athletes from Nebraska, Washington, Wisconsin, and Florida, and all of them are trained by Greco-minded coaches,” said Steldt. “Zac (Dominguez) is a terrific coach and you can see his influence in how capable and talented his guys are. Andy Cook has done an amazing job with his kids, they are well-trained, disciplined, and aggressive. And what else can you say about Shawn Sheldon as a coach? He’s one of the very best in the country and his kids who are on the roster are incredibly smart and athletic.” Timing plays a role, too. This first tour arrived during a period when most Cadet-aged athletes (and younger) do not have to worry about homework. That’s not a coincidence. “It also comes in between continental events of meaning,” added Steldt.
There is more work to be done. Following the 2017 Croatia Open on Saturday, camp begins in the same location where the US boys will be further indoctrinated into the ways of foreign training. That’s a big part of the overall vision and plenty more trips just like this are to come.
“The Go Greco USA Developmental Program will hopefully be the basis of growing developmental age-level Greco with the key factor being that what we are doing here (in Croatia) is par for the course,” said Steldt. “We have tours and training available for Greco-minded coaches and athletes, and we’ll travel to wherever is necessary. We have options available for athletes who want to strictly focus on the Greco-Roman discipline in the United States. This is not an idea any longer, athletes are making the choice.”
2017 Croatia Open — Zagreb, Croatia, June 17th, 2017
USA Cadet Results
Nate Rubino (MWC/NE) — fourth
Camden Russell (MWC/NE) — silver
Raiden Johnson (SWAT/FL) — fifth
Conor Knopick (MWC/NE) — fifth
Austin Almaguer (Tri-Cities/WA) — fifth
Cohlton Schultz (NYAC/CO) — gold