Two weeks from today, the US Open will commence from the familiar South Point Hotel in Las Vegas. An important event it is, for the top-6 athletes in each weight category will qualify for the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament in May. There are numerical matters at play, too. Earlier this month, the Bill Farrell Memorial was held in Cedar Falls, Iowa and barely totaled 80 competitors. At press time, 119 are already registered for Greco in Vegas with six days still remaining until the seeding-eligible deadline.
For the National Training Site athletes from Northern Michigan University, the 2022 US Open stands as an opportunity for re-assertion. On one side of the spectrum resides NMU’s most experienced and accomplished wrestlers who are now accustomed to Senior competition. Athletes such as ’19 Junior World bronze Alston Nutter (67 kg, 5PM #4), National Team member “Mr. Fantastic” Benji Peak (72 kg, 5PM #2), ’18 U23 World Team rep George Sikes (87 kg, 5PM #7), ’21 Junior World Teamer Dominic Damon (72 kg), and ’21 Last Chance WTT Qualifier champ Keaton Fanning (130 kg). Northern expects all of the above to find themselves firmly in contention — at every domestic tournament. The bar has been raised, organically, step-by-step for each athlete on an individual basis. This is how it works — and has worked — for a developmental program that perennially manages to produce top-level Seniors.
On the other side are NMU’s fresher faces who are just beginning to dial in their full-time skill-sets. Two athletes in particular fit this description well: Jonathan Gurule (60 kg) and Aaron Dobbs (77 kg). Gurule might hold a slight edge in overall experience, but both are simultaneously registered for the Open’s accompanying Junior Trials. Wrestlers like Gurule and Dobbs represent the big picture for NMU’s cause, even more so than the bonafide Seniors. Young Greco-Roman wrestlers who “double-up” (enter in two age divisions rather than just one) are equally interested in acquiring relevant match time as they are compiling potential accolades. It is also why the US Open (when it is truly ‘The US Open’) is traditionally a vital component for NMU’ers in setting the foundations of their domestic careers.
Positioned, conceptually, at least, in the middle are Max Black (60 kg, 5PM #8) and Payton Jacobson (77 kg). Though, there is nothing “middle” when it comes to how this pair is perceived. Jacobson, his substantial ability and career prospects have already been well-documented. Most — in the entire US program — feel that he has the makings of a future star; and because the Wisconsin native (who boasts heavy international experience) is early on hanging in with some of the best Seniors in the country, Vegas looks like an excellent chance to present for him a breakthrough type of performance. Jacobson is also registered at Junior, and is thought of as the favorite to rep the US in that age-group’s World tournament later this summer. Black, an accomplished age-grouper in his own right, had several encouraging moments at the Bill Farrell, and is likewise seen to be zooming on an upward trajectory as opportunities to compete are increasingly availed.
NMU/NTS ’22 US Open Roster
April 30-May 1 — Las Vegas, NV
Jacob Cochran (5PM #5)
Max Black (5PM #8)
Aidan Nutter (NYAC, 5PM #9)
Alston Nutter (Sunkist, 5PM #4)
Benji Peak (Sunkist, 5PM #2)
Payton Jacobson (Sunkist)
George Sikes (NYAC, 5PM #7)
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