USA Greco

World Team Trials: The Two Can’t-Miss Quarterfinals

alec ortiz, britton holmes
Britton Holmes vs. Alec Ortiz -- Photo: Larry Slater

The 2022 USA Greco-Roman World Team Trials Challenge Tournament is more than a precursor to the Final X Series. It is also an event format that, for this year at least, points a spotlight on the semifinal round more than any other.

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A multi-tier Team selection process allows for a certain degree of flexibility, though in  ’22 one must familiarize themselves with the virtual ribbons of red tape and disjointed language US procedural documents tend to include.

To simplify matters, fans and observers needn’t focus on but a single item: only one weight category in Coralville this weekend will offer a best-of-three final, which is 97 kilograms. The nine other Senior Greco-Roman weight classes will conclude after the semifinal round, as all of the victors from those semifinals will meet in the Final X Series.

During a conventionally formatted tournament, often it is the semifinal round that invites significant anticipation. The finals for each weight class act as a natural, built-in headliner, which in turn shepherds attention to the round-of-four. Interested parties enjoy bearing witness to the battles responsible for narrowing brackets down to two competitors. This is why in a sport like basketball, the NCAA Division I “Final Four” takes on a life of its own. A similar case could also be made for “Conference Championship Sunday” in the NFL.

This is essentially how Senior wrestling in the United States is being presented at the 2022 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament — save for 97 kilograms. Because the semifinals for 90% of the available brackets will serve as the qualifying round for Final X, the byproduct is that engaged fans have no choice but to watch the quarterfinal round with a thicker lens than is the norm.

’22 Greco World Team Trials Top-2 Quarterfinals

63 kg: David Stepanyan (NYAC/NTS, 5PM #3) vs. Corbin Nirschl (MWC, 5PM #7)

Their only previous Senior bout, which came in the semis of the ’20 Coralville Nationals, consisted of Stepanyan quickly executing what could be described as a modified “Hermann” before gutting Nirschl three times for a 7-2 lead (two points were awarded to Nirschl for briefly exposing Stepanyan during the action). The final score wound up 8-4 in Stepanyan’s favor, so not much of note transpired past the first period.

Why to Watch:

For one thing, ’21 U23 World Team member Stepanyan (also both a Nationals and Trials runner-up last year) has not competed since the fall, whereas Nirschl (“The Quiet Man”) is now two tournaments deep into the season. Does that matter? Only if one supposes that Stepanyan’s developmental surge has been hindered by sitting on the sidelines for seven months, which was due mainly to academic pursuits. When an athlete has not competed in a while, that first match back can prove difficult, particularly when the opposition has remained active and is sufficiently skilled. That’s Nirschl.

Stylistically, they veer towards 180-city. Stepanyan is an aggressor; choppy, angular, and opportunistic. But part of that opportunism is attributed to his penchant for generating counter-scores. Nirschl is decidedly more linear. Not a prototypical lunchpail-carrying bruiser, for he is technically shrewd; but it is with a steady, methodical pace along with insistent underhooks how he does the majority of his bidding.

The dynamism Stepanyan often expresses should be tempered by Nirschl’s solid positioning, and hopefully give way to a very tense, tight struggle through most of their time together on Saturday. At least until par terre factors into the equation, if it even does.

77 kg: Britton Holmes (Army/WCAP, 5PM #4) vs. Alec Ortiz (Minnesota Storm, 5PM #5)

Perhaps there doth exist a rather brisk, efficient manner in which to explain the four-match history shared between Holmes and Ortiz. Perhaps. Just not on this platform, is all.

Their first clash occurred in the quarterfinals of ’20ne Last Chance OTT Qualifier. Holmes countered an Ortiz front headlock that was overreached by bombing for five and gaining a follow-up score. One reset later, Ortiz went back to his go-to, the front headlock, and cranked Holmes to his back for the pin. He was down 7-0 prior to the sequence, and the match concluded with just over one minute left in the first period.

Short, but violent. 

Match 2 took place in the quarters of the ’21 WTT. This time, Ortiz was the one with an early lead, courtesy of a step-out and four-pointer. Facing a 5-0 deficit to start the second, Holmes struck back with a lateral — but shortly thereafter, Ortiz found his front headlock and cruised to victory 9-4.

The third bout in this series unfolded in early-April. Ortiz and Holmes met in the consolation round of the ’22 Farrell. Unlike their first two matches, it was one-sided. Holmes executed a lift and an actionable off-balance with a land-on-top to walk away victorious 9-0. Good for Holmes, bad for those who wanted to see more.

Which is what they got just three weeks ago.

Back-and-forth it was in the US Open final, with Holmes racing ahead early after a takedown. The subsequent par terre saw Ortiz the victim of Holmes’ gutwrench; but then he stepped over, exposed Holmes, and finished with — yes, you guessed it — a front headlock that resulted in his taking the lead 6-5. In the second period, and whilst holding onto the same margin, Ortiz wanted to attack the midsection and was countered by Holmes, who landed on top and in the process collected what became the match-clinching points.

Why to Watch:

The only way tomorrow’s quarterfinal fails to deliver meaningful moments of action is if both wrestlers all of the sudden abandon every discernible quality that makes them who they are as competitors. Holmes would have to walk onto the mat in zombie-mode and decide to start finger-grabbing and moonwalking. Ortiz would have to shave his face, wear short socks, and try to hold onto an underhook/wrist tie for dear life. Barring any of that happening, this is your marquee quarterfinal of the weekend.

The 2022 US Greco-Roman World Team Trials Qualifier begins Saturday, May 21 at 10:00am CT on FLOWrestling

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