The just-wrapped Bill Farrell Memorial, which took place this past Friday in Manhattan, saw six Greco-Roman athletes assure themselves spots in the 2024 US Olympic Team Trials. In addition, the United States had four tournament champions and ten total medalists as the home country earned the team title. This year’s Farrell was a surprise in that there were plenty of foreign competitors scattered throughout the brackets. The event’s designation as an “international” tournament has on occasion come under derision in recent years but this year’s running quieted those types of comments.
Team USA’s four gold medalists were all known commodities: Payton Jacobson (77 kg, Sunkist/NTS), Timothy Young (87 kg, Army/WCAP), three-time World Team member Joe Rau (97 kg, TMWC), and ’18 World silver Adam Coon (130 kg, NYAC/Cliff Keen). Thanks to their standout performances, both Jacobson and Young qualified for the aforementioned Olympic Trials as the highest-placing Americans in their respective brackets. Joining them were silver medalists Randon Miranda (60 kg, NYAC), Justus Scott (67 kg, Army/WCAP), and Courtney Freeman (130 kg, Marines); and George Sikes (97 kg, NYAC/NTS), who finished fourth but delivered quite a strong showing.
The work is not done, however. Barring injury, all of the athletes above are expected to appear at the US Nationals next month in Fort Worth, Texas. The National event is serving as the main Olympic Trials selection tournament for the United States but most Senior wrestlers (i.e., including those who are already locked-in for said Trials) are entering for two reasons:
- Winners of each weight category will earn the right to represent the US at the Pan-American Olympic qualifier in February.
- They need competition and/or experience.
2023 Bill Farrell Undercover Stars
The ’23 Bill Farrell Memorial was meaningful for an assortment of competitors. One encouraging item was the presence of many top US prospects — some of whom were able to keep their heads-above-water and some who were not. But their participation alone was the entire point. For the US program to continue building, it is vital for those wrestlers who are young and committed to this discipline to test themselves against the best competition available. The Farrell provided such an opportunity from a domestic perspective.
Along with the involvement from a younger segment of athletes were performances from established competitors, including some who entered the tournament in weight classes other than the ones they occupied a season ago. This topic has been especially spotlighted in recent weeks. Due to the subplots which were evident from the Farrell, this edition of “Undercover Stars” includes more than just those who earned medals other than gold. Instead, acknowledgement is rather widespread compared to most post-tournament versions of this segment.
Dylan Gregerson (Minnesota Storm) — Gregerson was likely unhappy with how his time at the Farrell ended. He took two losses, one to Max Black (NMU/NTS) and another to Yernur Fidakhmetov (KAZ). But he also won three matches (over Munthir Andu, Van Schmidt, and age-group star Otto Black, respectively). He has gone through some change, Gregerson, what with leaving Utah Valley to join the Storm in conjunction with returning to 60 for this Olympic push. Getting this one out of the way was important so that he can now settle back into a groove ahead of the Nationals.
Rhett Peak (Unattached) — First of all, Peak’s size for 60 kg made an impression on a lot of people. Yes, there was a two-kilogram allowance — but even when Peak weighs in scratch it should not make such a drastic difference if his cut goes correctly. More than anything else, the young man was super-competitive. Not an inch did he give, against anyone. In his first bout, Peak nearly completed a comeback opposite eventual champ, and uber-experienced Yernar Fidakhmetov (KAZ); later in the tournament, he downed ’22 US Open runner-up Aidan Nutter (NYAC/NTS). A loss to ’14 Junior World bronze Gizo Meladze (GEO) ended his run, but Peak sent notice loud and clear to everyone in this division stateside.
Hunter Lewis (Wolfpack WC) — 67 kg was an exceedingly-challenging bracket insofar as parity is concerned. There was no escape. One win, and you were virtually guaranteed a barnburner in the second round. Lewis, for all of his talent and experience as an age-grouper, was questionable as a stout contender in New York due to how crowded 67 was. You just hoped that might do well enough to gain some confidence to last him through the rest of the season. He started off hot with two victories, the second of which a nice catch-to-pin over Hayk Asartryan (ARM). But his loss in the bronze round to Robert Perez III (Sunkist) was actually more important. He had to be patient and play it a little snug against Perez, primarily because that’s how Perez likes to work. Lewis adapted to the dynamics and hung in there well, ultimately falling via 4-2 decision.
Duncan Nelson (OTC) — When the paper charts were ripped off the wall in the 6th floor gymnasium late Friday night, and when all of the recaps and photos from the tournament were plastered online over the weekend, Nelson’s day at the office was not mentioned. But it should have been. Nelson was ousted in the very first round of the tournament by former teammate and ’21 U23 World rep David Stepanyan (NYAC/NTS) and bounced back in the repechage bracket where he held on tight for a big win over ’22 U17 World Champion Joel Adams (TBW). One match hence, Perez scored a first-period turn that made the difference. Nevertheless, Friday was a step in the right direction for Nelson and he has needed one.
Ty Cunningham (NYAC/MWC, 4th) — “Turbo” appeared physically unchanged at 77 (or 79, whichever) on Friday. That meant that he looked monstrous compared to most of the bracket. He went 1-1 on the front-side, dropping Rudy James (Minnesota Storm) before getting superior’ed by Minto Maeda (JPN). Next for Cunningham was a 2-1 decision over ’21 World Team member Jesse Porter (NYAC), with a challenge on Porter’s part the reason for the last point scored. Even still, Cunningham was certainly eager to work the former NMU student around the mat, something that doesn’t happen very often. A blitzing VSU over Jonathan Viruet (PUR) capped Cunningham’s win total, as he was defeated in the bronze round by Kazakhstan’s Abunassyr Omirzak 6-3. All told, the Farrell was a very productive day at the office for Cunningham in a new weight class and it might have set him up for even better things to come in December.
Andrew Berreyesa (NYAC, bronze) — The US had ten medalists at the Bill Farrell Memorial and a reasonable case could be made that, if ranked in order, Berreyesa’s bronze was top-3. Consider the allotment of antagonists. He started off by getting past Christan Rouleau (down from 97 kg) but was then edged by ’23 Final X runner-up/’09 World bronze Aliaksandr Kikiniou (Poway). No problem, apparently, because Berreyesa then defeated, in order: ’23 U20/U23 World Team rep “Muscle” Mike Altomer (Curby 3-Style); multi-time Trials finalist Fritz Schierl (Minnesota Storm); National Team member and top seed Rich Carlson (Minnesota Storm); and, last but not least, Kikiniou for bronze, a match which saw Berreyesa float a gutwrench and come away with a pin. That is a murder’s row of opponents for anyone to stare down, particularly in a consolation bracket, and Berreyesa dug deep to take them all out one-by-one.
Ryan Epps (Army/WCAP, silver) — Epps advancing to the final was important because consistency is a true marker for success. We are only three years into Epps’ full-time Greco career and he has now made a final on US soil five times (’21 — US Nationals, World Team Trials; ’22 — Bill Farrell Memorial; ’23 — World Team Trials, Bill Farrell Memorial). Therefore, no one blinks an eye any longer when he contends for gold, yet to take for granted his rapid progression is a mistake. These are hard tournaments, and 87 kg is an especially-hard weight class. Epps actually did have prior experience at 87, for it was in this weight category where he had made the Trials final in ’21. However, 87 that year was limited to only a handful of viable competitors. On Friday, we all caught a glimpse at what the division is going to look like throughout this Olympic season. Even with reigning World Teamer Zac Braunagel (IRTC) and two-time Team USA representative Alan Vera (NYAC) absent in NYC, the bracket was a shark tank. Epps contributed to that fact, and it took a terrific Timothy Young (Army/WCAP) to keep him from gold.
George Sikes (NYAC/NTS, 4th) — Sikes already received a literary standing ovation in the (quite long) Bill Farrell Memorial recap but here is another one. Grit is what tends to win matches. For one reason or another, the US program seems to have lost that message. Technical finer points have their place but they are not a substitute for the will to win. People in the United States seem to have that component of the sport jumbled in their minds, and too many athletes have paid the price for it. Sikes — for whom 87 kg would be a better fit based on his 5’6 stature — is absolutely required to fight his heart out in each and every match. He does not have the luxury of lazily wading into pointless hand-fights and plodding around on his feet, nor can he get away with soup-sandwich gutwrenches and depend on long legs to drive off the mat. Every single action Sikes takes during a bout necessitates extra effort. Well, all that extra effort on Friday, which included a close decision over well-decorated Nick Boykin (Sunkist), translated into him earning a trip to the Olympic Trials.
Courtney Freeman (Marines, silver) — Friday brought to bear the most glaring rendering of Freeman’s steady improvement. Defeating Donny Longendyke (Minnesota Storm) is no small feat, but the manner in which it occurred for the Marine was rather jarring. A man as large as Freeman zipping in on a high-dive and executing a bodylock is one thing; that Freeman in short order unfurled a four-point arm throw is another. Since coming onto the scene in ’21, it was clear that Freeman had some tools that could eventually help him become established in the heavyweight division. Now he is discovering how and when to use said tools. For a big guy, you don’t want to burn him out with too much travel or too many matches — but you also want to see him have a high rate of activity so as to explore his growing skill-set even more.
USA Trip to Kolbotn
This coming Wednesday, a sizable delegation of American athletes are heading to Norway in advance of the Kolbotn Cup, which takes place on Saturday. The US roster is comprised mainly of wrestlers from Northern Michigan University’s National Training Site and the Combat Wrestling Club. NMU assistant coach Parker Betts and Combat founder Lucas Steldt will be leading the contingent.
Age divisions for the Kolbotn Cup include 11-12-years-old, U15, U17, and U20. No USA Greco-Roman athletes are competing beneath U17. At press time, streaming information is unavailable. If or when that changes, we will update accordingly. On a side note, Kolbotn, NOR was the site of the 1985 World Championships, where Greco-Roman legend Mike Houck became the first American in history to win a World gold medal.
Many of the names on the US roster for Kolbotn should be familiar to those who closely follow Greco-Roman wrestling. Among the athletes competing are Aidan Squier (80 kg, Combat WC), Gunnar Hamre (67 kg, Combat WC), Elyle Francisco (55 kg, NMU/NTS), Ashton Miess (82 kg, Combat WC), Will Scherer (65 kg, Combat WC), and Brennan Carey (110 kg, Combat WC). Earlier this month, Squier and Carey earned gold at the Malar Cupen in Sweden. Squier in particular has been on a tear overseas as he had also achieved top honors in Sundsvall (SWE) after placing second at the ’22 running of the Malar Cupen. Miess is likewise seen as a potential big-time prospect for the US program and was a Fargo champ last summer; and over the past two years, Francisco has emerged as a promising lightweight with a wide range of skills as he continues to develop at NMU.
2023 Kolbotn Cup
November 25 — Kolbotn, NOR
TEAM USA ROSTER
Amryn Nutter (Combat WC)
Will Scherer (Combat WC)
Aidan Squier (Combat WC)
Brennan Carey (Combat WC)
Elyle Francisco (NMU/NTS)
Kaden Ercanbrack (NMU/NTS)
Ryder Smith (NMU/NTS)
Maddox Khalimsky (NMU/NTS)
Jaxon Bearden (NMU/NTS)
Gunnar Hamre (Combat WC)
Garren Leffel (NMU/NTS)
Charlie McKune (NMU/NTS)
Hank Baronowski (Combat WC)
Ashton Miess (Combat WC)
Daniel Eubanks (NMU/NTS)
Cameron Groncki (NMU/NTS)
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