The 2018 UWW Junior Greco-Roman World Team Trials begins Thursday morning at the South Point Hotel Arena in Las Vegas. It goes without saying that a major age-group Trials tournament is a big deal in the US — obviously — but this year’s running is particularly important due to recent history. In 2016, the United States pulled through with a pair of bronze medalists — Taylor LaMont (60 kg, Sunkist) and G’Angelo Hancock (96 kg, Sunkist). Both returned to the Junior World Championships in 2017, and while neither of them advanced to the medal rounds, two others did. Kamal Bey (75 kg, Sunkist) won the first Junior World title for America in a shade under two decades and Cevion Severado (50 kg, NYAC) shocked everyone with an inspirational performance that led to a silver medal.
LaMont and Bey are already in the finals for the third and final time, but Severado is in Vegas attempting to make his second-straight team. With these three athletes is a huge number of other talented participants who will all be vying for spots at the World Championships in Slovakia this coming fall.
This is what the US program has been aiming at. The Junior Trials is no longer about simply running through brackets in effort to select a team and hoping that a handful of the athletes who make it wind up choosing Greco once their scholastic careers are through. The American program, thanks to its stream of strong performances at the age-group level, is now confidently playing for keeps. Every Greco wrestler who acquits himself decently well Thursday and Friday is now going to be looked at as a potential full-time Senior capable of bigger and better things not far down the road.
2018 Junior Greco-Roman World Team Trials Watchlist
*returning WT member
*Cevion Severado (NYAC) — While it feels like it’s ancient history now, the fact that Severado did not actually win the Trials last year is probably something that is weighing on his mind. It would make sense. But still, with the levelheaded yet opportunistic manner in which he performed at the World Championships, there has to be a generous amount of confidence he’s working with. You just don’t forget about performances like that. Assuming his Greco game is polished enough for this event, Severado very well may be in position for World Championship appearance number two.
Elijah Varona (Garage Boys) — Since Varona is the one who beat Severado in the best-of-three finals in 2017 — and because he entered into a full-time career afterwards — he is looked at as the favorite. Deservedly so. Varona has what could now be defined as the “Florida Feel”: he plays an open game, is an aggressive stalker, and is well-rounded in all phases. Juniors is crazy; guys who aren’t full-timers upset folks all the time at this level. But if that were to happen to Varona, it’d be one heckuva surprise.
Camden Russell (MWC) — A win at the very tough Austrian Open in March along with solid overseas experience last summer followed by an appearance at the Dave Schultz Memorial make Russell the most undercover dangerous dude in this entire bracket. There is nothing about this tournament or the guys in it that will bother him. However, he is still a just a first-year Junior, which could make for some heavy sledding in spots. Russell is going to contend here one way or the other, but if it doesn’t happen for him in ’18, it very likely will in the future.
Patrick McKee (Minnesota Storm) — Sporting a superb resume and relevant Greco youth experience, McKee is expected to throw around some bodies and look good doing it. There is no doubt his is a name that commands respect from any and all of his would-be opponents.
Hunter Lewis (WI) — Tons of Greco experience both domestically and abroad are what Lewis brings to the table. He’s won most everywhere he has been, including Fargo, but a World Team spot still eludes him. If he gets on a roll in Vegas it wouldn’t be a shocker, though it still might be early for him in this age bracket.
Benji Peak (NMU/OTS) — As it will be for 77 kilograms and Bey, everyone here is fighting for the right to face LaMont in the best-of-three finals. Peak is the clear frontrunner at this weight to do that. Not one, not two, not three…but four international medals in his first four tries, including two golds, automatically elevate him to the top of this field. He’s extremely long, making it incredibly difficult to get away from his grasp without being knocked for passive. Once Peak is in a workable position to score, he does. Tough, tough customer.
Malik Johnson (MO) — Two-time Cadet World Teamer Johnson is a foot-in-foot-out competitor in that he is also primed for a successful folkstyle career. You don’t want to say “that’s a shame” because if you do, you get accused of having an agenda. But it kind of is. Johnson could be a fantastic Greco-Roman athlete if he should choose to head down that path. His natural instincts are uncanny and the kinetic energy he employs when on the attack is on par with some of the young stars we’ve seen lately.
Braeden Dickinson (DTA) — Coached by Ivan Delchev out in Idaho, Dickinson is an up-and-coming type who is probably not yet ripe enough to pick off the more seasoned studs at 60, but is still skilled and viable enough to have a moment or two elsewhere. In other words, you can’t dismiss him, because if we’ve learned anything from this tournament over eleventy-hundred years, unlikely gems have a tendency to be uncovered.
Delon Kanari (NMU/OTS) — Kanari has made it very clear that all he is looking for out of life right now is the opportunity to train and compete in Greco except for when school gets in the way. He does have some international experience to lean on, although that is not necessarily what wins at a US-hosted Greco-Roman event. On top of that, this isn’t his real weight class and he’s also new to the Junior level. The deck is stacked against him, absolutely. But that’s what is going to make it all the more impressive when he collects a few highlight-worthy finishes.
Alston Nutter (NMU/OTS) — It has been another strong season for Nutter. Activity is primarily why. The U23 Trials in October preceded a win at Denmark’s Bear Cup, an extended stay in Scandinavia, and then a silver in Austria. A crushing offensive machine, Nutter competes with a mean streak that belies his otherwise gentlemanly traits. He’s also wanted this badly for quite a while. For all of his overseas adventures, Nutter is still waiting to make a World Team. 2018 could be the first of many.
Tyler Cunningham (MWC) — Cunningham doesn’t have the same full-time background to draw from as Nutter but there are other reasons to pay attention to his candidacy. Clean technical acuity is the order of the day with the Nebraskan. He can transition to scoring positions without betraying his posture and there is good quickness available in his footwork when he needs it. Cunningham is just not going to make the big mistake if he can help it, although that doesn’t mean he will lay back in the ties and not take chances. You’re going to want to watch him.
Mason Hartshorn (NMU/OTS) — The deal on Hartshorn is that there is still some important learning going on, but that’s how it is for about 99.5% of everyone at Junior. The difference is that Hartshorn, unlike his folkstyle brethren, does nothing other than train in this discipline every day of the week. He has also gotten himself in a lot of matches this season, which is where you have seen flashes of a future brilliance. Hartshorn’s style is still developing and it could very well be a better fit for the Senior level than the decidedly more unpredictable Juniors.
Luis Hernandez (Garage Boys) — Like Varona, Hernandez is a Florida kid who is devoting his wrestling ambitions to Greco-Roman and previously resided at the Olympic Training Center. Coupled with that little bit of information is also Hernandez’s international ledger, which is already quite considerable. The only thing you want to see out of him is to let it fly. Granted it was against souped-up foreigners, but in Sweden it seemed like there were times Hernandez wasn’t showing all of his cards. He needs to unleash.
Mosha Schwartz (X-Calibur) — A Cadet World Teamer two years ago, Schwartz is a prodigious all-around wrestling talent who is quite comfortable with every aspect of Greco-Roman competition. The complete package in many respects. But since this isn’t his sole focus, it’s a little difficult to say one way or the other how locked in he is with the classical style. That being said, Schwartz could jump in, pound out some heads, make it to the finals, and no one would really bat an eye.
*Dominick Demas (Oklahoma RTC) — Demas is going to a popular pick for many and it’s not just because he has already been on three World Teams (Cadet, twice; Junior, once). Watch how he operates. Demas is a coach’s dream. He has a wide array of weapons and can pick his spots; he almost never backs up, certainly not willingly; and he always tries to empty the tank, which is saying something given the kind of condition he keeps himself in. Are there worthy challengers here for him? You bet. Is he a lock to wind up in Slovakia? No one is. But along with LaMont, Bey, and Cohlton Schultz (130 kg, NYAC), Demas is one of the heaviest favorites of any weight class in the entire tournament.
Britton Holmes (NMU/OTS) — Fans who have been following Holmes may be wondering where the hardware is. After all, the splash Holmes made by winning the Malar Cupen in 2016 left quite a wake. He’s done well since then, however, and collected a few wins against Seniors, spent a lot more time overseas, what have you. But in a medal-crazed culture, that’s not what gets news. All you need to know about Holmes is this — he is the most brutal, punishing competitor in the Junior age-group, and that might not be just in America. There are very few humans on Earth who look forward to wrestling this kid and they all are probably residents of Marquette, Michigan. So is Holmes a serious contender? Unquestionably.
Peyton Omania (CYC) — It is a little tough to accept that Omania, one of the country’s true “Greco guys” from an early age, is going to take his talents to Michigan State. Athletes like him don’t grow on trees, as they say. Omania has been competing against foreign opponents before he was ever a hotly-recruited California state champ. But it’s not just his experience. Even if Omania was completely raw, you would still be able to tell how gifted he is. He’s not the body-puncher Holmes might be, few can say they are. But if we’re talking about flowery lifts, sick high dives, and nifty transitions, you’ve got your guy.
Alex Lloyd (Minnesota Storm) — Lloyd needs no introduction. He is well-known for tearing it up at age-group and possesses skills that require years of fine-tuning. Similar to most Minnesota Storm competitors, Lloyd is extremely adept everywhere it matters and will almost certainly make all who lazily lock up with him pay immediately. The only question surrounding his chances involves the lions he’ll have to slay. Lloyd is going to have to match up with one or more of the other perceived “top guys” here early on in the bracket. For any wrestler, a win over a potential finalist in the quarters will boost confidence, but for Lloyd that kind of thing very well may be a catalyst that leads to taking podium steps — in late-September.
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