“I don’t want to talk about that.”
Jesse Thielke (Army/WCAP, 5PM #2) had just shut down Sammy Jones (NYAC, 5PM #1) to claim the 2022 US World Team spot at 63 kilograms and was answering questions for the press pool in the “mixed zone”, or whatever they’re calling that area to which wrestlers must report mere moments after exhausting themselves in competition. Thielke had a tiny stream of blood flowing from his right nostril, and was still feeling the effects of a lingering cold, or flu, or something. Though, the raspy nature of his voice did little to conceal the secondary goal he must have had in mind upon dealing with the media.
He wanted to make sure everyone who had contributed to his re-ascension atop the domestic field were thanked and acknowledged appropriately. That was job #1. Just as importantly, the 29-year-old desired to emphasize another directive:
Yes, he’s back on a World Team after coming back from the type of injury that either diminishes or ends careers; but now that’s out of the way with a fourth trip to the sport’s premier event on the horizon, it is time to move forward and return to business as usual.
And “business as usual” for the man they call the “Honey Badger” means coming up clutch during big-time matches under big spotlights, regardless of the adversity thrown his way.
Final X: Stillwater began at 3:00pm ET on Friday live from the Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, OK and aired live on FLOWrestling.
The assignment was a tough one for Thielke in the form of Jones. Known as “Wildman Sam” due primarily to his offensive style, Jones’ career has reached new heights over the past several years. Plus in April, he had defeated Thielke in the Bill Farrell Memorial final, rendering their series on Friday a must-watch proposition.
It was Jones who took the lead in Match 1 after securing a takedown. Follow-up was coming, with Jones immediately opting for a side lift. Thielke adjusted accordingly, but there was still an aerial execution. The mat referee quickly held up five fingers until the call was downgraded to four points. But Army/WCAP did not see it that way. They surmised that Thielke had not exposed, and their inclination was deemed correct. Still, Jones did sport a 4-0 advantage heading into the second period.
Thielke would erase his 4-0 deficit in an efficient manner. In a flash, he zipped an arm drag that resulted in a body attack that forced Jones to concede the takedown. Next came a gutwrench. From top, Thielke achieved his familiar elbow-to-elbow lock and, with not a lot of real estate with which to work, rolled Jones once to commandeer the advantage via criteria.
The second match of their series, which ultimately served as Thielke’s clincher, involved less dynamism. They were navigating the feeling-out process, as both appeared intent on exploiting angles for attacks. But before an earned score could be had, passivity was called on Thielke. As had been the case in Match 1, Jones looked to lift, only this time Thielke could not be elevated.
A dent was made later in the period when Jones clamped a front headlock and tried to find clearance for a finish. Except, he had backed himself to the edge whilst doing so, which made accessible an easy decision for Thielke to make. Rather than go haywire fighting the lock or finding his footing, the Wisconsin native simply retained forward movement to knock Jones out of bounds for one point.
Jones was heard from again in the final period after notching his own step-out. That put the score at 2-2. However, the match changed shortly thereafter. Jones had gone back up top and around Thielke’s head. The official took notice, indicating that Jones did not have a proper lock and would instead receive a two-point caution penalty. Those two points made for a 3-2 Thielke lead — and while Jones did press on in search of workable attempts, he was unable to disrupt Thielke’s flow through the remainder of the contest.
“I defended in the first period, that’s what won me the match,” Thielke explained to the media following Match 2. When asked if aiming for a return to competition was always the objective during his time away spent doing all he could to heal from injury, the newly-crowned World Team member was forthright in his response. “That was definitely the hope,” he said. “That was up in the air for a really long time. Without my leadership, without my coaches — the biggest one being my medical staff, my trainers, and my doctor — without them, I wouldn’t be here. The same with my wife supporting me at home.”
In the end, Thielke intimated that the main key for him was “the motivation to grow up, to enlist, and become the man I’m supposed to be.” What he was referencing in particular had to do with his joining Army’s World Class Athletes Program. “It’s the accountability,” began Thielke. “People like Alejandro Sancho, who is competing next week. People like Ellis Coleman, people like Michael Hooker, who is here and have been with me through every step of the way. When I say that I want to do stuff, they hold me to it, and that’s the top-down. That’s a top-down mentality. It starts with our leadership, way at the tippy-top, all the way down to our Commander First Sergeant, to our coaches, to us.”
Max Survives Koontz
A tight series between Max Nowry (55 kg, Army/WCAP, world #11, 5PM #1) and Brady Koontz (TMWC/Ohio RTC, 5PM #2) entering Final X: Stillwater was as predictable as the sunrise. Their matches, most figured, would be close because all of them are. That’s how it goes when two athletes have competed and trained with one another over the course of three full years.
On Friday, the only way their matches could have been any closer is if the series at 55 kilograms required a third round. Alas, it did not.
A high tempo it was from the outset with Nowry angling into what were mostly fleeting tie-ups. He had grabbed a two-on-one, though Koontz was prepared and diligently worked to fight out of the position and move onto something else. A level change on Nowry’s part looked good for as fast as it occurred, but back to the hand-fight they were until Koontz was rewarded with a passive/par terre opportunity. Nowry defended the lock with nary an issue, and strolled back to his corner during the break down 1-0.
The playback had intent in the first period, and even more in the second. Again, both intuitively chipped into the hand-fighting, only Nowry carried more purpose in the exchanges. The next shot from top was his — but like Koontz in the first period, additional points were not forthcoming.
Nowry now owned criteria, so they had no choice but to fight it out to the finish with Koontz hoping to stumble into a score. That, too, didn’t happen. However, he was the recipient of the rare third par terre option. As :43 remained on the clock, Nowry went prone and Koontz once again could not yield a turn. The 1-1 decision went to Army’s guy, and the pair recouped for Round 2.
The two-on-one, a Nowry specialization, factored heavily into the early-goings of the second match. Try as he might to weave out or through the position, Koontz found it difficult to avoid having his arms entangled. That is because he had to contend with Nowry’s constant motion, which kept the position fluid yet still under his own control. But, passivity. For the second straight match, Koontz benefited from the initial call. Unlike Match 1, he was able to test Nowry with his lock…but even then, the gut try was defended.
Koontz would have to gain an offensive score. Nothing else would suffice. The odds were slim that he would bypass a passivity call given the tenor of the bout. Sure enough, as soon as it became clear position was not being advanced, the ding arrived. Nowry, now holding the edge via criteria, locked midrange and hopped to both sides in an effort to compel a rotation. Koontz defended quite nicely, and the reset was ordered.
More prodding, pushing and pulling. They were operating quickly, and Koontz fought in the pocket fully engaged. But so was Nowry, who by then had to recognize that, in spite of his razor-thin lead, the onus to score was on both parties — lest he risk another forced par terre. Surprisingly, the officials thought along those same lines.
Koontz had his second par terre of the bout, and his fourth of the series. He is such a potent athlete from top PT that any time he can achieve a lock it instantly spells trouble. To his credit, Nowry understood that, as well, and moved with the lock by swimming towards the center. Koontz struggled to acquire a lane from which to drive, rendering his last par terre a missed opportunity. Nowry, the victor, survived the sport’s most precarious position once more, and against an adversary whose skill in that area is otherwise beyond reproach.
It all added up to his third consecutive appearance on a US World Team that began with his fifth-place showing in ’19. But rather than feeling in the mood to celebrate, Nowry expressed remorse afterwards, even if doing so was entirely unwarranted considering the level of competition.
“I apologize to everyone who watched those two matches, it wasn’t eventful,” he said. “I wanted to have a lot more scoring attempts, and I did have fast attempts. I thought I was controlling the first match a little more. I went back and watched it, and it looked like just what people were telling me, that I was complacent, just holding position. That’s not me, so I’ve got a lot of work to do before Worlds. I’m thankful that I have a lot more time in between Trials and Worlds.”
Schultz Makes Another World Team
Cohlton Schultz (130 kg, Sunkist, 5PM #1) is already well-accustomed to intense competitive environments. From a Cadet World title and a pair of Junior medals, to wrestling in the finals of the NCAA tournament, the 21-year-old has seen a lot and done a lot. Think of it this way: the only major event Schultz has yet to make an entrance is the Olympic Games, and there is still plenty of time for him to make that happen.
Standing in the opposing corner on Friday in Stillwater was Tanner Farmer (NYAC/IRTC, 5PM #3), who might not have the wrestling credentials of someone like Schultz, but is nevertheless an extremely accomplished athlete in his own right. Once an excellent high school wrestler, Farmer went on to play football at Division I Nebraska; he then returned to wrestling for one season at Concordia, advanced to the NAIA finals, and hurriedly pursued Greco as soon as his collegiate career was finished.
It was not hard to sell this match-up to the masses. Two huge men… Both strong, agile, and smart… Big bodies with big possibilities… There was no doubt that Schultz was seen as the clear favorite, but at the least Farmer had enough on his side to where picturing their series as a potentially suspenseful affair was not far-reaching.
And though it did, actually, wind up devoid of suspense by ending in two bouts, their time together at Final X had its moments.
One such moment occurred during Match 1, after Schultz had taken a 5-0 lead. Farmer had been gutwrenched once, but his deft movement resulted in a scrambly reversal point. Not many US heavyweights would dare challenge Schultz coming off of a turn. Farmer did, and for a brief few seconds found himself with an opportunity to play catch-up from par terre. Schultz, of course, too experienced and skilled to willingly wade through quicksand, did not allow any follow-up and eventually cruised to the decision win.
And it was Farmer who inched ahead in Match 2. Schultz — whose feel for positions most heavyweights take for granted is nearly unnerving — gripped a front headlock and was attempting to negotiate the proper lane to execute. But — he had run out of room stepping backwards, and Farmer shrewdly stayed committed to chugging forward, which netted him a step-out point.
Following the reset, they plodded a bit in the hand-fight. Schultz was gaining the upper-hand across a variety of exchanges, and that prompted the match’s first passivity call. Farmer was the penalized party, and Schultz capitalized by running a gutwrench twice to accumulate a 5-1 margin.
The last three minutes unfolded with the faintest sense of uneasiness. While Schultz seemed very much in command, there was still the threat Farmer offered from top if there would be a passivity call. True to form, the refs picked Schultz to hit the deck, in the process giving Farmer the chance to take over the match. The lock did not materialize in the fashion he would have preferred as Schultz postured and moved more than adequately to defend the attempt. He wasn’t going anywhere after that, save for Belgrade, Serbia in three-and-a-half months. A 5-2 triumph it was, with Schultz having earned the right to represent the US at yet another World-level event.
“This was the first step in trying to become a World Champion, I had to make the Team,” Schultz said to reporters following his second win on Friday. Of Farmer, Schultz added, “He was a football lineman. He’s really good at not letting people get around him. That was his job. It’s hard to go through him, hard to get around him. So I had to keep on making sure that I was pulling him down. Make sure that he was stepping a whole lot, and it paid off. It felt like he gassed out a little bit. But he’s a competitor, and he definitely came prepared.”
Although Schultz’s prior success at age-group is substantial, his career is in its infancy, with ’21 having offered his first time at the Senior Worlds Championships. He noted that the experience last year was indeed valuable, and that he is confident in his ability to contend for a spot on the podium.
“I know I’m right there,” said Schultz. “It didn’t go the way I wanted it to (in ’21), of course. Going 0-1, especially. But you know, I’ve done that before, and I’ve returned and medaled before. So I’m excited. I’m looking forward to the whole process.”
FINAL X: STILLWATER
June 3 — Stillwater, OK
Max Nowry (Army/WCAP) def. Brady Koontz (TMWC/Ohio RTC) 2 matches to 0
Match 1: Nowry def. Koontz 1-1 (criteria)
Match 2: Nowry def. Koontz 1-1 (criteria)
Jesse Thielke (Army/WCAP) def. Sammy Jones (NYAC) 2 matches to 0
Match 1: Thielke def. Jones 4-4 (criteria)
Match 2: Thielke def. Jones 3-2
Benji Peak (Sunkist/NTS) def. Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) 2 matches to 1
Match 1: Smith def. Peak 5-3
Match 2: Peak def. Smith 3-2
Match 3: Peak def. Smith 6-2
Ben Provisor (NYAC) def. Spencer Woods (Army/WCAP) 2 matches to 0
Match 1: Provisor def. Woods 8-0, TF
Match 2: Provisor def. Wodds 5-3
Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist) def. Tanner Farmer (NYAC/IRTC) 2 matches to 0
Match 1: Schultz def. Farmer 5-1
Match 2: Schultz def. Farmer 5-2
- Nowry, Thielke, and Schultz all have prior Senior World experience. Nowry was on the roster in ’19, ’21, and ’22 (placing 5th in his first SR WC appearance); Thielke made World Teams in ’13 and ’18, and was on the ’16 Rio Olympic squad; Schultz’s first SR World appearance came last year.
- The possibility exists for Army/WCAP athletes to comprise precisely half of the ’22 US World Team. Nowry and Thielke are already headed to Serbia; Army is guaranteed WT members at 60 kg (either Dalton Roberts or Ildar Hafizov) and 77 (Kamal Bey or Britton Holmes); and at 67 kg, Alex Sancho is in the mix as he takes on Alston Nutter. Along with 97 kg, 60, 67, and 77 will be contested Wednesday at Final X: New York.
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