After a three-year hiatus, the US Armed Forces Championships for Greco-Roman wrestling finally returned on Saturday with the All-Army Team racing to the title behind a potent lineup that included a few familiar faces as well as several who were brand new to what the proceedings had to offer.
Saturday also ushered in the reemergence of two-time US National champ Mike Fuenffinger (60 kg, Army/WCAP), who was victorious in his pair of bouts, both times via technical superiority.
Fuenffinger had competed previously for Army in the event, as had ’20 Olympian Alex Sancho (who on this day went 72 kilograms) and multi-time Armed Forces champ Michael Hooker (77 kg). For everyone else on the Army squad, it was a first-time experience — even though the majority of those involved had long ago forged their ongoing stellar careers.
The 2023 US Armed Forces Championships began at 11:00am local time at Naval Base Kitsap (2:00pm ET) and streamed live on YouTube.
Roster shifting was the order of the day for Army, whose team was mainly comprised of top competitors from the service branch’s World Class Athletes Program. Most had bumped up to weight categories higher than where they are normally witnessed, and a difference it did not make. Aside from two forfeits for Jacob Cochran (55 kg) and Spencer Woods‘ (87 kg) decision over Austin Craig (Navy), the rest of Army’s individual wins were stoppages (14 superiors, three pins).
Two-time World Team member Dalton Roberts (63 kg) and ’16 Olympian Jesse Thielke (67 kg) followed Fuenffinger in the lineup and dazzled in their respective appearances. In the clinching dual against Navy, Thielke roped an explosive headlock at the expense of Leandro Rodriguez-Rodriguez (Navy) that delivered a highlight-worthy ending along with the fall. Roberts, for his part, was equally effective as he battered newcomers Sydey Flores (Air Force) and Sheldon Ealy (Navy).
This was the story for Army throughout both of their duals. Sancho was briefly tested by Marine Colton Rasche (Navy), but still managed to engineer an 11-2 technical fall. Rasche, who had participated in Armed Forces under the All-Marine banner prior to this year’s running, originally established his presence on the domestic scene at 63 kilos.
Reigning US Open champ and U23 World Team rep Britton Holmes had dropped to 72 kilograms (74 with the two-kilogram allowance) earlier this month in Zagreb — but was up at 82 kg on Saturday. No problem. Holmes collected two VSU’s to help Army widen their substantial leads against Air Force in Session 2, and Navy in Session 3.
Consternation only arose for Army in the battle between Woods and the hardened Craig. It was the only bout for Army that lasted the distance, and Craig emptied the reserves in order to push Woods in what were a few adrenalizing exchanges.
In the first period, Craig found a bodylock that he finished to garner takedown points. Back standing, and Woods had a line on a throw that wrung loose and was ruled a slip. They jostled in the ties from then on until the latter stages of the opening frame. That’s when Woods wrapped Craig’s body towards the line and nearly came up a with a fall. Not wanting to let the opportunity go to waste, “The Alaskan Assassin” locked for a reverse lift whilst occupying par terre top and, just as he hoisted the maneuver, Craig reverse locked around Woods. But before damage could be done, Woods deftly stepped over to snare exposure points.
Down 6-2, Craig was searching for open windows but quickly gave up a step-out early in the second period. Just as it had begun to appear that Woods might pile on the points, the complexion of the match changed.
Woods, clearly in hunting mode, dipped towards the body, only to have Craig, in an instant, counter for a takedown. He was not given much time to work from top by the official and a stand-up was hastily ordered. Woods re-focused on his positional discipline to knock Craig off the line for a point, plus another due to a fleeing caution. The scoreboard read 9-4 for Army. After a reset, Craig answered back with a four-pointer at the edge to climb within a point. Another restart — and although the team victory for Army had already been assured, the level of suspense was appropriately elevated. Craig required one more solid action to set the table for an impressive comeback, as well as what would have been considered a sizable upset. But once the whistle blew following the last reset, Woods was back with the leg drive and clutched inside on Craig to score a step-out point that, for the second straight time, was accompanied by a fleeing caution. The final sequence made the margin 11-8 for Woods, who finished his inaugural Armed Forces with a 2-0 record.
2023 Armed Forces Notes
- Rasche was the only holdover from the All-Marine Team to have competed in the ’20 Armed Forces Championships. That year, he wrestled at 60 kilograms.
- Rasche, who represented Navy on Saturday, is still a Marine. So too is Courtney Freeman (130 kg). Freeman had not yet embarked on a Senior career in ’20, though he would just over a year later at the Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier.
- In place of National Team member Lucas Sheridan at 97 for Army was Samson Imonode. Imonode first jumped onto the Senior circuit several years ago as a member of West Point. Imonode was spotless on Saturday with two VSU’s.
- At heavyweight for All-Army was Jimmy Hustoles, who was eligible to wear the black-and-gold despite being a student (and top upper-weight prospect) for Northern Michigan University’s National Training Site. Hustoles went 1-1, with his loss coming to Freeman.
2023 US Armed Forces Championships
February 25 — NB Kitsap
NAVY — 22 AIR FORCE — 17
60 kg: Mitch Brown (Air Force) def. Colton Davis (Navy) 10-0, TF
63 kg: Sydney Flores (Air Force) def. Sheldon Ealy (Navy) 9-0, TF
67 kg: Leandro Rodriguez-Rodriguez (Navy) def. Evan Rudisill (Air Force) 8-0, TF
72 kg: Brenner Vogan (Air Force) def. Colton Rasche (Navy) 8-0, TF
77 kg: Timothy Worthen (Navy) def. Alex Saylor (Air Force) 5-5 (criteria)
82 kg: Sam Adams (Air Force) def. Anthony Edson (Navy) 13-5, TF
87 kg: Austin Craig (Navy) def. Angel Romo (Air Force) 9-0, TF
97 kg: Shaun Heist (Navy) def. Eric Santos (Air Force) 14-4, TF
130 kg: Courtney Freeman (Navy) def. Donald Degarmo (Air Force) 8-0, TF
ARMY — 44 AIR FORCE — 1
55 kg: Jacob Cochran (Army) won via forfeit
60 kg: Mike Fuenffinger (Army) def. Mitch Brown (Air Force) 9-0, TF
63 kg: Dalton Roberts (Army) def. Sydney Flores (Air Force) 10-1, TF
67 kg: Jesse Thielke (Army) def. Evan Rudisill (Air Force) 9-0, TF
72 kg: Alex Sancho (Army) def. Brenner Vogan (Air Force) 10-0, TF
77 kg: Michael Hooker (Army) def. Alex Saylor (Air Force) 8-0, TF
82 kg: Britton Holmes (Army) def. Sam Adams (Air Force) 9-0, TF
87 kg: Spencer Woods (Army) def. Angel Romo (Air Force) 10-0, TF
97 kg: Samson Imonode (Army) def. Eric Santos (Air Force) 11-0, TF
130 kg: Jimmy Hustoles (Army) def. Donald Degarmo (Air Force) via fall
ARMY — 37 NAVY — 7
55 kg: Jacob Cochran (Army) won via forfeit
60 kg: Mike Fuenffinger (Army) def. Colton Davis (Navy) 9-0, TF
63 kg: Dalton Roberts (Army) def. Sheldon Ealy (Navy) 8-0, TF
67 kg: Jessie Thielke (Army) def. Leandro Rodriguez-Rodriguez (Navy) via fall
72 kg: Alex Sancho (Army) def. Colton Rasche (Navy) 11-2, TF
77 kg: Michael Hooker (Army) def. Timothy Worthen (Navy) 8-0, TF
82 kg: Britton Holmes (Army) def. Anthony Edson (Navy) 9-0, TF
87 kg: Spencer Woods (Army) def. Austin Craig (Navy) 11-8
97 kg: Samson Imonode (Army) def. Shaun Heist (Navy) 9-0, TF
130 kg: Courtney Freeman (Navy) def. Jimmy Hustoles (Army) via fall
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