USA Greco

Coach Lindland’s Weekly Report: Now It Gets Interesting

Five Point Move is proud to host USA Greco-Roman National Team head coach Matt Lindland each week for Coach Lindland’s Report. Here is where you will find detailed perspectives from Coach Lindland pertaining to recent results, upcoming events, training plans, and other Greco-related news that isn’t available anywhere else. ALSO — if you would like to donate directly to the US Greco-Roman program, just click here. Your support is appreciated!

The 2020 United States Olympic Team Trials, finally held 53 weeks later than originally scheduled, did what it is indeed designed to accomplish: unveil the actual Olympic Team. Those two days inside of Dickies Arena were filled with drama and intense action from the opening session all the way to the six best-of-three series. But once the matches had ended, and all of the athletes and coaches and fans left the arena, everything else instantly became about the squad going to Tokyo. And that is exactly what US National Team head coach Matt Lindland is consumed with at the moment. That, and hopefully coming up with two more Olympians in just over a week from now.

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Yet, none of this is to suggest that the Trials is firmly in the rearview mirror. It isn’t. There were items still in need of further exploration, with spotlights given to only a few weight categories and select individuals. The rest of the roster fleshes itself out through the material in organic fashion, as Lindland can’t help but mention — more than once — how much he is looking forward to leading this particular Team. To wrap up is the matter-at-hand, which for this week is the oddly-timed US Nationals in Coralville, Iowa.

5PM: The one thing I wanted to ask everyone about is the general logistical handling of the event and how the tournament was portrayed inside of the arena as far as the setup. 

Coach Matt Lindland: My initial thought was that Texas was a great place to host the Trials for us. We kind of got locked out of holding the Trials at Penn State, which we had scheduled for well over two years. Last minute, their state restrictions as far as how many people were allowed in the arena wouldn’t have allowed us to even put all of our participants and staff in there. It was unfortunate that it got moved, but Texas did an outstanding job as a host state. They promoted the event. You saw signs on the street, there were flags up. You knew there was an Olympic Trials taking place as soon as you got out of the airport.

Our event staff did an outstanding job of making this a World class event. It was short notice with a change of venue and all of the add-ons and work they had to deal with regarding COVID testing… Just the logistics of putting that event together were astronomically huge, and then you throw in all of the COVID protocols. I can’t say enough about what our staff at USA Wrestling did in putting that together. It was great.

I loved the venue. They had a great warm-up area and the athletes came out of the tunnel onto the four raised mats. It was beautiful. I’ve actually gone back and watched a few of the matches on NBC. The broadcasting seemed like they did pretty well. I did hear that we didn’t get as much Greco on the televised mats as we would have liked. But from what I witnessed — and I watched a lot of the tournament from the warm-up area near the athletes — overall, the Trials were an outstanding event.

5PM: The Last Chance Qualifier had a lot of athletes who didn’t have much in the way of match time this season prior to that tournament. The Olympic Trials actually had more athletes who hadn’t wrestled in quite a long time, especially given the Army and Marine programs were held back for so long. What did you think about the level of sharpness you saw when comparing and contrasting in your own mind?

ML: It has definitely been an interesting and challenging year. As you know from previous Reports, we’ve talked about all of the training opportunities we made available. But — limited competition. We went to Rome and you could tell our athletes were a little rusty. But everyone who went to Rome felt like it helped them prepare for the Trials, and those guys were definitely sharper.

The guys coming out of Last Chance, you saw some of them come out and make it into the Trials, and they deserved to be there. That was a big deal. You want the right guys at that event. I thought the competitiveness was great. I really focused in on the semis and the finals because you could focus on those. There was a lot going on in the earlier rounds. I was sitting in the back just trying to take it all in on the monitors. But overall, I think we got the right guys on the Team after the Trials and it was a super-competitive event.

5PM: Your impression of Tracy (G’Angelo Hancock) and Braxton Amos. Amos came in hot and stayed that way. But Tracy still handled his business in two straight after not having a sanctioned competitive match in over a year. 

ML: Well, Braxton in general wrestled both styles and, to be completely honest, I didn’t watch any of his freestyle matches. I didn’t even care to watch those, I was just excited he was competing in Greco. We had been bringing him into camps for a number of years and we tried to recruit him into our EAP (Elite Accelerator Program). Besides just his ability as a wrestler, and his skills and his talent, he is an incredible human being. Braxton is someone we want to be a part of our program. I was really thrilled to see him come out of that Last Chance Qualifier in such a dominant fashion and fight his way to the Challenge Tournament finals. He really had some huge obstacles and he stepped up to Senior National Team members and competed very well.

And Tracy, he is a World-ranked athlete. He is one of the top guys in the world at 97 kilos, and Braxton stepped up to him and gave him a very competitive match. Tracy did an outstanding job of not rushing and being patient. There was a real fine line between aggression and patience. I think that is what will propel Hancock to that next level. I think we have seen him lose matches because he is too patient and not aggressive enough; we’ve also seen him be really aggressive and it work out some times, while other times it hadn’t.

That balance, that maturity Hancock has shown in his wrestling ability is important. I think he knew that he should go out there and dominate those matches (against Amos). At the same time, he didn’t go out there and rush things. He controlled it, got on top, and took care of business. He had a couple of exciting catches on arm throws and put on a great show for our fans, too. It was encouraging to see on both parts of that: we have an incredible up-and-comer; and we have a guy who is right now probably wrestling the best he has ever wrestled, and is already one of the top guys in the world. We are really excited about that.

5PM: Do you think that Tracy being unable to spend so much time overseas and travel, and everything else, was good for him? 

ML: I certainly hope so. I hope he realizes that he’s right there and that this is the time to make a big push, between now and the time we leave for Japan. I’ve done this with every one of my athletes: we’ve gotten on the phone, sat down with the calendars, and talked about how much we need to focus on this sense of urgency, which is one of the five areas we focus on. Right now, it is really important to map out what you’re going to do, where you’re going to be. You have to have it where it’s, Okay, I’m only home for this amount of time. What am I going to do during these breaks at home? Right now, Tracy is in Bulgaria. He has been out there for about a week-and-a-half. I’m flying out to join him for the last part of that camp. I’ve been getting texts. He sounds like he’s doing great with partners. I’m looking forward to getting out and working with him.

I think we all know this and we’ve talked about it before, which is how important it is for Tracy to get that international feel overseas. It’s great that we’re getting some depth at 97 because it has been a little shallow compared to some of our other weights, like 77 or 87. We are starting to get some depth at 97, but Tracy is still the guy who is head and shoulders above the field in the United States. So, it is critical for him to get overseas.

And, I like it. You know, maybe a little break helped him become hungry again and to want to do this. What better time is there to be hungry than when you’re preparing for the Olympics?

g'angelo hancock, braxton amos

Amos (blue) put forth one of the most impressive performances of any athlete at the 2020 US Olympic Trials. In just his third Senior event, the 19-year-old advanced to the best-of-three final at 97 kilograms. Once there, he ran into G’Angelo Hancock, a three-time US World Team member who is widely seen as a medal candidate in Tokyo. Hancock defeated Amos via tech in two consecutive matches to make the Olympic Team, but Lindland liked what he saw from both athletes. “It was encouraging to see on both parts of that: we have an incredible up-and-comer; and we have a guy who is right now probably wrestling the best he has ever wrestled, and is already one of the top guys in the world,” Lindland said. (Photo: Richard Immel)

5PM: 77 had no choice but to self-destruct. Seeding wouldn’t have mattered. It didn’t matter. I’m not asking if you were surprised about whom comprised the final, but were you surprised at all in just the general way that bracket unfolded on the Friday?

Coach Matt Lindland: It was interesting (laughs). It was definitely interesting. I would say that I was a little bit surprised. I don’t think Peyton (Walsh) or Jesse (Porter) making it into the finals was a shocker. We’ve seen those guys compete for a number of years now. They are both skilled and talented athletes. We have all seen what Jesse is capable of, and he really brought it. He brought it all weekend. And we’re looking forward to him bringing it at the qualifier in Bulgaria. This is the guy who took out (Davor) Stefanek at the Bill Farrell Memorial and everyone was like, Wow! Okay, Jesse is good. Well, we’ve always known that.

He has done a great job this year with the COVID distraction and getting back up to New York to put together his own training. But he did not miss a single training opportunity that we had on our calendar. Last summer, the fall, and the winter, he was focused and driven. At the Trials, he wrestled up to his abilities — and I think he has even more inside of him. We are looking forward to getting him qualified in Bulgaria.

5PM: 67 kilos was a big part of the story. You had a changing of the guard at the top. Alex Sancho had been the bridesmaid four times at Senior Trials, two of those times to Ellis (Coleman). How does a wrestler like Sancho continue that high of getting over the hump and using it towards this training block before Tokyo?

ML: Well, wait a second, let’s not forget that he’s the guy who qualified that weight in Ottawa. He went out there to qualify that weight and showed that he could get the job done. And then at the Trials in Texas, he took out one of the best guys Team USA has put on the mat for a long time. I mean, Ellis Coleman is an incredible wrestler. And, they’re teammates. They know what each other is going to do. They train together everyday, especially since COVID started. They haven’t had a lot of training partners from outside of their own team. What a tough situation, but either way you were getting a quality athlete out of those two guys.

We are really excited to have Alex on our Olympic Team. He has been an excellent international competitor for a long time. He does not lack experience. He has beaten a lot of really good guys overseas, and now is his time to shine. Right now, it is about keeping him healthy, keeping him fresh, and getting him the competition he is looking for. Alex wants a little more competition aside from the Pan-Am Championships. He has a plan to go over to Pytlasinski in June. I think the biggest thing for Alex is to keep him sharp, keep him healthy, and keep him excited. Alex is an incredible wrestler. We’re thrilled to have him and I’m looking forward to working with him throughout the training plan this summer.

5PM: 67 also saw Benji Peak emerge as a sort of cultural icon. You know Benji really well. 

ML: That I do (laughs).

5PM: Aside from his charismatic persona, this was a kid who got shook up nicely at Last Chance, and then the next weekend goes out and battering-rams a bunch of people. He’s clapping his hands together before matches and screaming, psyching himself up. You’ve been a believer in Benji’s potential since he declared as a full-timer in high school. I’d have to imagine there is something satisfying about watching a young wrestler who took the leap go out and make a big splash at his first Olympic Trials and becoming a National Teamer.

ML: I think it’s the fact that he chose Greco. He chose to follow a full-time Greco-Roman path. He put himself in an elite training environment and got himself with a club. He has had enough success as a developmental athlete to receive club funding that has helped him get overseas, and he takes on every opportunity and challenge in front of him. That is always exciting.

This is why I’ve talked about getting athletes younger. Because, if we can get younger athletes in the Greco-Roman system, we will see what guys like Benji are doing. And we have more coming, more guys coming straight out of high school to do this full-time, or have left high school early to do so. They want to focus on the pinnacle of our sport, which is the Olympic Games. I think Benji truly believed he had a chance of winning that, and that’s why he performed up to the best of his abilities.

He had a great tournament, and the fans absolutely loved Benj. Greco-Roman needs a character like that. And he is a character (laughs). He is a wonderful character. He is fun to watch. He is exciting, he is emotional… Sometimes, he is even difficult to deal with because his emotions get the best of him. But, I couldn’t have performed that hyped up. I needed to be calmed down, and everyone is a little different. I learned something about Benji — he is a guy who you want fired up. You want him ready to take someone’s throat out when he steps out onto the mat. He is an incredible competitor. It was exciting to see him have a great performance, and it shows that this model will work for athletes if they should choose to do Greco-Roman full-time.

Athletes like Benji and Alston Nutter, and Robert Perez — they can all go and wrestle Division I. But so can hundreds of other athletes. Only a few guys have the opportunity to wrestle Greco-Roman and travel the world as they try to make Olympic Teams and win World medals. Those are still the guys we’re looking for. We’re looking for guys who want to do that. So it was really satisfying to see Benji wrestle up to his abilities and have a great tournament. Plus, he’s disappointed. He wanted to win that tournament and have the opportunity to represent the United States in Tokyo, and now he is not going to have that opportunity. But you know what? When I was asking Olympic Team guys who they wanted as training partners, he was at the top of the list for a few different weight classes. I think that says a lot about his abilities and him as a person. He had multiple Olympians asking for him to be their training partners for camps.

5PM: Ellis brought a lot of things to the table other than just his wrestling ability. He really turned into a lead-by-example kind of guy. He was, is, a unifier, always trying to bring people together. What are we losing with Ellis stepping away?

ML: With Ellis stepping away from the sport, we’re losing an incredible competitor. Hopefully, we are going to gain a coach. There is another guy who people asked if he could be their training partner at camp, even if it’s in a coaching role. He is someone people want to be around. People love to be around Ellis. He is. He is a unifier, a leader, a great husband and father. He is someone people can look up to because of how he lives his life and treats others. One thing about Ellis in particular is that he treats everyone lovingly. He is a very loving man, and I appreciate that about him. He is genuine and sincere. He’s just someone people want to be around.

I don’t think we’re losing Ellis. I think he is someone who will be around the program for a long time and involved with Greco-Roman wrestling. But we are losing an incredible competitor.

alex sancho, ellis coleman, olympic trials

“We are really excited to have Alex on our Olympic Team,” Lindland said. “He has been an excellent international competitor for a long time. He does not lack experience. He has beaten a lot of really good guys overseas, and now is his time to shine.” (Photo: Richard Immel)

5PM: What did you see between Adam (Coon) and Cohlton (Schultz)? They’ve competed against each other a lot now, and have also trained together a lot. Anything significant stand out to you about that series?

Coach Matt Lindland: Well, I think it’s that they know each other really well. Like you said, they have competed against each other multiple times, including recently in Rome. They have also trained together at multiple camps. What I would say about those two guys is that they are great teammates. They are great for each other. They have made one another better. The Adam Coon who beat Cohlton in 2019 is a better Adam Coon, but so is Cohlton. He is also a lot better than he was during that time.

It shows that our program is getting better, and that weight class is getting better. We know whoever comes out of that weight class has a chance of medaling as soon as we get that weight qualified in Bulgaria. And that is not going to be an easy task for Adam. He is a terrific competitor, so we are confident that he is going to get that done. But I think the fact that Cohlton made Adam better also made Adam compete better. He was a good training partner. It says a lot about both of them and the direction in which the program is going.

I mean, it’s wrestling. It is so tough. You care about all of these guys. You’d love to see all of these guys on the Team. Particularly Cohlton, I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to work with him since he was a 15-year-old freshman at Ponderosa High School. I’d love to see him on the Team, and he’s going to have his chance and he’s going to get on Teams. He will have chances to get on podiums like he has in the past, with three World medals at age-group. The same with Adam. He has medals at age-group, as well, and he has a Senior World medal. So we are really confident about Adam, but whoever came out of that weight class we felt really good about.

It’s hard. It’s hard to see all of these guys lose. It’s sad to see Ellis Coleman lose, but at the same time I am really excited for Alex Sancho. It’s the same with Cohlton Schultz. It is hard to see him lose. He has put a lot of time and effort into this. And so has Adam Coon (laughs). I’m really thrilled for him. I am really excited. I was out in Michigan with him all last week preparing for Bulgaria.

What it really is, is that I’ve got a great Team. The men who are on this Team, every one of them is an incredible person. Ildar (Hafizov), I just love looking at his Instagram where he has pictures playing with his girls, taking them hiking, fishing, building them a playground in the backyard. Alex, he is a guy who was there for his mom just as he was transitioning into the Army and she needed him. They have great hearts. (John) Stefanowicz, what an amazing leader for our program. Adam, Hancock… They are great men and I am just honored to be associated with these guys. It is going to be a real privilege to coach them in Tokyo and help them prepare.

5PM: You mentioned Ildar. He was one of the guys who went to Rome and he thought Rome was really important. He only had a two-match series…

ML: And he wrestled well in Rome. He lost a couple of matches but he got some stuff going. He was scoring points, he was aggressive, and then he wrestled really smart in the Trial finals. I think he kind of knew the match he had to wrestle, and he wrestled that match to beat his teammate. And beating Ryan Mango is no easy task. Ryan is just an incredible athlete and so explosive.

Like I said, we’ve got the right guys on this Team. My heart goes out to the rest of the athletes who fell short. I’ve been on both sides of that coin and I know what both feels like. Now it’s time to put that aside and focus on beating the rest of the guys in the World and bringing home some medals to the United States.

5PM: At 87 kilograms, we have a situation we won’t delve too far into. People on both sides are emotionally invested. In this digital climate, stuff like that has a tendency to create the wrong kinds of conversations. With the scenario between Stefanowicz and Joe Rau, what do you think are the key mechanisms to ward off negativity and division while we have a Team preparing for the Olympics?

ML: It’s a difficult situation, and wrestling is so personal and such an emotional sport. Your heart and soul goes into every single match that you wrestle. Especially when the stakes are high like this with putting yourself on an Olympic Team. There is a big difference between being an Olympian and not being an Olympian. One of those two athletes isn’t an Olympian right now, and it isn’t easy for him. My heart goes out to Joe. It’s a situation where you just have to let the process work itself out.

Certainly, we are a Team. We are one Team, Team USA. And whoever is on this Team representing us, we have to support them 100%. There can’t be these lines drawn where it is, I’m on one side or the other. We have a Team, and we will support those Team members in each and every way we possibly can. Or at least I will (laughs). Whoever is on our Team, I am going to help them to the best of my abilities get what they need to prepare for the Olympic Games. Whether it is training opportunities, camps, or just helping them mentally get in the right space — whatever it is, I will be there to help our guys. Right now they are all National Team members and we have four Olympians. We’re hoping to get two more and then solidify this Team going into Tokyo.

5PM: You got to work pretty closely with Adam as he prepares for Bulgaria. Porter is all the way across the country. How is this process approached in terms of discussing the major candidates who are still out there in both brackets? And how is this process different — aside from the number of World qualifying tournaments — with regard to 2016 when the US was searching for three weights instead of two?

ML: If I remember correctly, we had multiple different opportunities to qualify. This is one, one chance, Last Chance. In 2016, there was Mongolia and Turkey. It’s a little bit of a different situation. Jesse (Thielke) wound up getting it done in Turkey and had a great tournament. But as far as focusing on the other athletes who are still out there, I want our guys to focus more on what they are going to do. I want them to focus on what they are going to bring, how they are going to compete.

That is really all we focused on with Adam in film sessions everyday. We talked and went over things we discussed the day before so we could make those adjustments. For Jesse (Porter), it was just talking to him about what he needed and then providing that. Part of his success he felt was having his father there, so he continued with that training. He is also going to bring his dad to Bulgaria as one of his cornermen.

I asked Jesse Porter, What training partner do you want? And he said, “Andy Bisek.” I was like,  Okay, I think he’s the best training partner you could find. But let me call Coach Bisek and see if he is available. And then Andy cleared his schedule and made that work for Jesse, because it’s what Jesse wanted and said he needed. Andy is Team USA 100% of the way.

I’ve said this in a couple of other conversations, but it really comes down to just helping the athletes get what they need to feel comfortable. And I hate to use that word. You never want to be too comfortable, but there is a certain comfort level you want. If your dad was in your corner all the way through to the Trials, and then you won the Trials and made the Team? And now you have the opportunity to qualify the weight? Well, then let’s figure out a way to get him over there. The same thing with his training partner.

We haven’t talked a whole lot about who is still out there (in the qualifier). We all know who is still out there. It’s a deep weight class. 77 kilos isn’t just deep in the United States, it is one of the deepest weights worldwide. Fortunately, some of the best guys are already qualified, but we still have to beat some other top guys to get the job done. If Jesse wrestles like he did in the Trials, he is going to get it done.

5PM: We have a Senior Nationals. Although a lot of athletes who are already qualified for the World Team Trials are not going to wrestle, plenty of others will still be there. It is weird scheduling this year, too. I can’t remember a time when there was Nationals after a Trials, not in the same month. As the US National Team head coach, what is something that you key in on for this tournament, considering the timing?

Coach Matt Lindland: I keep thinking that we have some great Juniors. So first of all, I hope that our Juniors are focused on Juniors, because guys like Braxton Amos are #2 on the Senior ladder now but I think he is well-aware that he needs to go and win a Junior World medal now. I think the guys who are Junior-eligible should focus on putting themselves on Teams and getting overseas to represent the USA on the Junior level.

For the other athletes, the Seniors, unless you’re injured I want to see you get out there and compete. Get some more matches in. No matter how many matches you’ve had this year, they weren’t enough because of all the restrictions on training and competing. Things have really opened up a lot. We’ve had tournaments. Now here is another opportunity to go compete and I want to see you out there on the mat. I want to see what you’re capable of and see you improve your skills. If you fall short, fix those things. If you win, then it is, What can you do to get yourself to the next level?

I want to see guys go overseas, as well. I think there are going to be opportunities for athletes this summer if their clubs can help them get overseas for some training and competition. Just keep getting better and improving. The only way you can get better is by getting out on the mat. Even for those guys who are already qualified, I hope they choose to compete and get some more matches in. I want to see competition. I want to see guys constantly improving.

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