A hint of crispness can be detected in the air. You look around and the leaves, once emerald but now slowly turning amber, are just beginning to descend from the highest branches. The rake won’t touch the pavement for a little while longer, but either way, you understand what all of this represents:
Northern Michigan’s annual trip to Sweden must be right around the corner.
Later on this month a large delegation of NMU Greco-Roman athletes will be heading to Sweden for a pair of very familiar events — the Klippan Cup and Malar Cupen. The Northern wrestlers won’t be alone — as is usually the case, a handful of others outside of the Olympic Training Site in Marquette are also tagging along.
The Klippan Cup, which comes first on the docket, arrives on October 27th — the penultimate day of Greco at the 2018 Senior World Championships in Budapest. Following the tournament, US athletes will participate in a training camp as well as a special dual meet opposite Swedish club Team Skåne Brottning (details are not yet confirmed at this time — Ed.). The tour then wraps up November 3rd-4th with the massive Malar Cupen in Västerås.
There are plenty of recognizable names involved for the US in ’18. Key among them is Jesse Porter (77 kg, NYAC/OTS). Porter, who took a bronze in Sweden back in 2016, will not be staying for the entire trip. Instead, he will be meeting up with the U23 World Team after Klippan as he prepares for that World Championships on November 12 in Bucharest, Romania.
Britton Holmes (67 kg, NMU/OTS) just began his second full year at Northern Michigan and is looking to use his time in Europe as the catalyst for another strong campaign. US fans may recall that Holmes won the Malar Cupen in the fall of 2016 — just as his high school wrestling season was about to kick off. With Porter and Holmes is “Big” Nick Boykin (Sunkist), the Tennessee wunderkind who joined up at the Olympic Training Center after his high school career came to a close. Boykin moved down to 97 kilograms in advance of the Junior World Team Trials this past spring and could use some more time adjusting to the new weight class. At heavyweight in 2017, Boykin earned back-to-back silvers at the Klippan Cup and Malar Cupen, respectively.
One particularly interesting tandem of athletes comes in the form of Benji Peak (72 kg, NMU/OTS) and 2018 Cadet World Teamer Dominic Damon (67 kg, WA). Everyone remembers Peak’s story by now. It was about this time a year ago when “Mr. Fantastic” returned to active competition with an impressive bronze in Denmark. Two weeks later, Peak grabbed another bronze at the Klippan Cup before sealing his tour with a dominating run to gold in Västerås.
As for Damon, he netted himself a bronze at the Malar Cupen. But it was what he did a few days prior that is still difficult to forget. In the dual versus Team Skåne Brottning with the team score tied 7-7, Damon pounded out the clinching win with a bone-rattling tech. It marked the first time in the short history of the dual that a US squad had emerged victorious on Swedish soil.
Spencer Woods (82 kg, NMU/OTS) has become a wrestler to watch out for. Unlike some of his teammates who tend to receive higher billing, Woods is still waiting on that breakthrough performance. But it’s coming. After a sluggish start to the season in 2017, Woods came on awfully strong at the U23 World Team Trials in June, demonstrating an increase in competitive confidence that others couldn’t help but notice. He just took second to Colin Schubert (NYAC/OTS) in Panama, so carrying that momentum over to Scandinavia where he’ll receive a healthy dose of foreign training could yield even more results as the season starts to unfold.
“He’s a fighter,” NMU/OTS head coach Rob Hermann says of Woods. “You either have it or you don’t. Once he gets the technique down he’ll be contending. Spencer doesn’t back down to anyone, which is really nice. He goes after it and he wrestles hard. Plus, he has the lungs of an elephant.”
2016 Fargo Cadet National champ Tyler Curd (130 kg) stands as one of Northern’s biggest acquisitions entering this season and will be making his international debut in Sweden. It might take a little time with the jump in levels, so an adjustment period should be forthcoming. Even with that, Curd is a young, talented monster who will gain a lot out of this trip. The same can be said of Tommy Dantzler (82 kg, Front Range Twisters). Son of US legend TC, Dantzler declined to pursue a promising college football career in effort to “go Greco” full-time at the OTC.
When Sean Sesnan (55 kg) takes the mat in Klippan, he will be doing so as the first Williams Baptist College Greco wrestler to ever compete in an overseas tournament. Pretty big news. Sesnan more than acquitted himself well through the second half of last season, earning big wins over King Sandoval (Banditos) and Jabari Moody (NYAC). Illinois native Delon Kanari (60 kg, NMU/OTS) has competed in Europe before, but the Sweden tour will offer new experiences for him, as well. Third at the Junior Trials in June, Kanari is expected to contend for that age-group’s World Team spot in 2019.
The main purpose of the Sweden tour, however, is not the tournaments. Or at least not alone. Hermann schedules the trip each year because he feels its biggest value lies in the training that takes place in between events, especially for younger athletes who have designs on making upcoming World Teams.
“I wouldn’t even go overseas if there wasn’t a camp involved,” he notes. “Panama, we get a lot of matches in, so that’s one reason I kind of don’t follow that rule for Panama. But for any other tournament where you’re spending that type of money you want to get a camp in because now you’re wrestling multiple matches inside the camp.
“When these guys make Junior World Teams I don’t want them to be peeing down their legs if they’re wrestling a Russian or something. I want them to have gotten the matches in. We have some guys who make World Teams and have never been overseas. To me, that’s not a good formula to win a medal. I think it’s imperative to go overseas before making a World Team because that is part of the process of being on a World Team. When you wrestle the best, you get better. Iron sharpens iron.”
One other point Hermann was quick to mention had to do with the Swedish coaches and athletes. Due to the relative frequency in which the US and Sweden developmental programs train together, a closeness now exists between the two nations that makes this yearly venture all the more attractive.
“Sweden isn’t hiding things, they seem to be pretty open with their technique,” says Hermann. “They are very hospitable and we have a very good working relationship with them. They have become our friends off the mat. It’s a win-win situation for Sweden and the USA.”
- All told, 30 US Greco-Roman athletes Senior and below are traveling to Sweden.
- As of now, Porter and Peak are only scheduled to compete at the Klippan Cup.
- Damon isn’t the only US Greco athlete to have delivered a clutch win in a dual against Sweden. Ryan Cummings (77 kg, NMU/OTS) gritted out a tough match in the ’17 Superior Camp US/Sweden dual to sew up that team victory.
- The coaches for the 2018 Sweden tour are well-known — NMU head coach Rob Hermann and Combat’s Lucas Steldt.
2018 USA Greco-Roman Sweden Tour
Klippan Cup (SR)
October 27th — Klippan
Malar Cupen (CADET-SR)
November 3rd-4th — Västerås
TEAM USA ROSTER
Jacob Cochran (NMU/OTS
Sean Sesnan (WBC)
David Stepanian (NMU/OTS)
Carter Stephenson (CO)
Delon Kanari (NMU/OTS)
Jon Massey (NMU/OTS)
Aaron Dobbs (WI)
Erik Spence (NMU/OTS)
Dominic Damon (WA)
Logan Hatch (WI)
Britton Holmes (NMU/OTS)
Cole Stephenson (CO)
Timmy Thompson (NMU/OTS)
Benji Peak (NMU/OTS)
Noah Wachsmuth (OR)
Finley Allen (NMU/OTS)
Ryan Cummings (NMU/OTS)
Zach Grimes (NMU/OTS)
Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS)
Zach Tolver (NMU/OTS)
Tommy Dantzler (CO)
Corey Fitzgerald (NMU/OTS)
Kaleb Gaede (NMU/OTS)
DM Hallett (NMU/OTS)
Spencer Woods (NMU/OTS)
Keaton Fanning (NMU/OTS)
Nick Boykin (Sunkist)
Trace Schirmers (NMU/OTS)
Tyler Curd (NMU/OTS)