USA Greco

’20 Olympic Trials: “Undercover Stars”; Military Athlete Notes

olympic trials undercover stars
Austin Morrow -- Photo: John Sachs

It is not a long list of “Undercover Stars” from the 2020 US Olympic Trials last week in Fort Worth, Texas, but the tournament itself is the reason why. How “undercover” or “under the radar” is an athlete if they had qualified to appear in the Olympic Trials?

Only the best of the domestic best earn the right to compete for a spot on the United States Olympic Team, which in turn raises the bar pertaining to both performance and expectations. It is the one, true elite tournament on the American calendar every four years, with the World Trials and the US Open coming in second and third, respectively.

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Easy rule: if Olympic is in the name of the event, the perception is different, as is the level of competition when  compared to annual domestic tournaments. Such an explanation is likely unnecessary but discerning standards is always an important practice.

OTT Undercover Stars

Only four are presented, and only one among the group checked in for Iowa City ’16, making the event this past weekend their second Trials showing. The one item all four have in common? They will not be going to Tokyo or receive a National Team stipend. That hardly takes away from their efforts in Fort Worth or what any of it might mean with regard to their careers.

Travis Rice (60 kg, NYAC/IRTC) — Rice, who had earned his Trials spot by emerging atop a very crowded field at Last Chance, finished 1-2 in Fort Worth but that isn’t what is important days later. After falling to Ryan Mango (Army/WCAP), Rice engineered a ferocious comeback against Joey Palmer (Bear Claw) that mesmerized the crowd. The points late in the second period piled up so quickly that folks watching in the stands were confused, yet cheering. It was an encouraging moment. ’19 World Team member and Illinois stablemate Max Nowry (Army/WCAP) was next on the docket, a bout in which Nowry prevailed 9-6. But even in that match, Rice was very much in the thick of it throughout. No, it’s not the performance he wanted, but it was one that showed Rice is in position to step into an even more prominent role leading to Paris 2024.

Austin Morrow (77 kg, NYAC/NTS) — Like the athlete above, Morrow had to go through the wringer just make it to April 2. He was also in a new weight category, so there’s that, too. And in his first bout of the Trials, Morrow edged Brandon Mueller (Space Force) 3-2. That one was a tough, very physical match-up; but then a little while later, Morrow was back at it against (reluctant) top seed and two-time World Team member Jake Fisher (Curby 3-Style), whom he pushed to the brink in a 6-5 decision loss. A shocking tech of Corey Hope (NYAC) followed before Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) ended Morrow’s bid for potential National Team honors. Either way, considering the climb in weight and that it was his Olympic Trials debut — and that it occurred in such a deep bracket — it’s hard to walk away from Fort Worth without appropriately recognizing Morrow’s time inside of Dickie’s Arena.

Mason Manville (77 kg, TMWC/NLWC) — At the Bill Farrell Memorial in November ’19, Manville basically sheared his groin in half during a match with newly-crowned Olympic Team member Jesse Porter (NYAC/NTS). It was a gruesome injury and everyone inside of the gymnasium heard it happen. Hard to miss, something like that. Manville, a Penn Stater, eventually required a lot of time off the mat, and the only silver lining involved is that it allowed him the opportunity to even compete in the the Olympic Trials given the event’s postponement. Seeded sixth, for whatever reason, Manville started off with Smith, who got the nod 2-1, and in his first match on the backside was ousted by RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC). 0-2 is not a record anyone would expect from ’17 World Team member Manville, whose competitiveness is legendary. But it was so good to have him back that how he finished is secondary to his being able to wrestle in the first place.

Nick Boykin (97 kg, Sunkist/Ohio RTC) — There is no way Boykin is sitting somewhere pleased with having just missed out on making the best-of-three, especially after earning an enormous win over two-time National Champion Daniel Miller (Marines) that meant advancement into the Challenge Tournament final. Again, no way. And Boykin is likely even less-thrilled with dropping said final to somewhat-recent rival Braxton Amos (Wisconsin RTC), or getting tech’ed by Luke Sheridan (Army/WCAP) for “true second”. But — the Olympic Trials is the best Boykin has ever looked, and the best he has ever wrestled. At least with people watching, and a lot of them were. He had fire in his eyes going into every round, making sound positional decisions that also demonstrated his previously underrated total athletic ability. This weight category absolutely needs Boykin heading into the next quad, and he provided proof that he’s ready to make an even larger impact going forward. What an impressive tournament if you look closely enough.

nick boykin, olympic trials

Boykin (blue) defeated two-time National Champion Daniel Miller (red) in the Challenge Tournament semifinal 7-5 in what was the biggest Senior win of his career thus far. (Photo: Richard Immel)

Military In Fort Worth

Back in the summer, this platform released an exploration into how members of the nation’s two most prolific military programs were coping with their inability to train and compete during the pandemic. The month was August, and wrestlers from both the Army and Marines participated in the piece. USA Wrestling had recently announced that the ’20 US Nationals were to take place in October, and the “Summer Series” camps for Seniors were also by then in full-bloom.

No one knew what would happen through the following months. Service-member athletes were forced to observe multiple sets of restrictions beginning with the Department of Defense and trickling down to their state and local governments. It wouldn’t be until January when Marines were finally greenlighted for competition, which transpired in France; and ’20 Olympian Ildar Hafizov (60 kg, Army/WCAP) was the only Army rep to take the mat in Rome this past March.

22 Greco-Roman athletes donning singlets from one of three (technically four) military branches were in Fort Worth; and by “Fort Worth”, that does not mean only the Olympic Trials since the Last Chance Qualifier should be included, as well, for it served as the first domestic open tournament of the year and was subject to the same year-long postponement.

Below is a list of each military Greco-Roman athlete, their result in Fort Worth from either tournament (via record or placement, when available), and their most recent event appearance prior to March 26, ’21.

Last Chance Qualifier

Vaughn Monreal-Berner (87 kg, Marines) 3-2
Prior event: ’20 Armed Forces C’Ships, 2/22/20

JD Souza (97 kg, Army/WCAP) 4-1, 3rd
Prior event: World Team Trials, 5/17/19

US Olympic Trials

Mike Fuenffinger (60 kg, Army/WCAP) 3-1, 3rd, Nat’l Team
Prior event: Pan-Am C’Ships, 3/6/20

Ildar Hafizov (60 kg, Army/WCAP) 2-0 (bye to best-of-three final), ’20 US Olympian
Prior event: Matteo Pellicone Memorial, 3/4/21

Ryan Mango (60 kg, Army/WCAP) 3-2, runner-up
Prior event: US Nationals, 12/20/19

Max Nowry (60 kg, Army/WCAP) 2-2
Prior event: Pan-Am C’Ships, 3/6/20

Dalton Roberts (60 kg, Army/WCAP) 1-2
Prior event: US Nationals,12/20/19

Ray Bunker (67 kg, Marines) 1-1
Prior event: Matteo Pellicone Memorial, 3/4/21

Ellis Coleman – 3-2
Prior event: Military World Games, 10/23/19

Michael Hooker (67 kg, Army/WCAP) 1-2
Prior event: Armed Forces C’Ships, 2/22/20

Jamel Johnson (67 kg, Marines) 2-1
Prior event: Matteo Pellicone Memorial, 3/4/21

Xavier Johnson (67 kg, Marines) 2-2, 4th
Prior event: Armed Forces C’Ships, 2/22/20

Colton Rasche (67 kg, Marines) 0-2
Prior event: Henri Deglane Grand Prix, 1/17/20

Alex Sancho (67 kg, Army/WCAP) 2-0 (bye to best-of-three final), ’20 US Olympian
Prior event: Pan-Am Qualifier, 3/13/20

Brandon Mueller (77 kg, Space Force) 0-2
Prior event: Armed Forces C’Ships, 2/22/20

Peyton Walsh (77 kg, Marines) 2-2, runner-up
Prior event: Matteo Pellicone Memorial, 3/4/21

Jon Anderson – 1-2
Prior event: US Nationals, 12/20/19

John Stefanowicz (87 kg, Marines) 5-0, ’20 US Olympian
Prior event: Matteo Pellicone Memorial, 3/4/21

Spencer Woods (87 kg, Army/WCAP) 2-2, 4th
Prior event: Thor Masters, 1/17/20

Terrence Zaleski (87 kg, Army/WCAP) 0-2
Prior event: Matteo Pellicone Memorial, 3/4/21

Diante Cooper (97 kg, Air Force) 0-2
Prior event: Armed Forces C’Ships, 2/22/20

Daniel Miller (97 kg, Marines) 2-2
Prior event: Matteo Pellicone Memorial, 3/4/21

Luke Sheridan (97 kg, Marines) 4-1, 3rd, National Team
Prior event: Armed Forces C’Ships, 2/22/20

Toby Erickson (130 kg, Army/WCAP) 1-2
Prior event: Armed Forces C’Ships, 2/22/20

Jacob Mitchell (130 kg, Army/WCAP) 3-1, 3rd, National Team
Prior event: US Nationals, 12/20/19

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