Steely resolve, late-match heroics, and stunning dominance stole the show Friday afternoon at the 2018 UWW U23 Greco-Roman World Team Trials with two repeat winners and eight “new guys” who hope to lead the way some five months from now in Romania.
A few of the so-called “new guys” actually aren’t so new. But for all intents and purposes, this year’s U23 Trials was about turnover, especially considering the fact that the event all but replaced the kind-of-now-defunct University age group.
Two-time Junior World Team member Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS) overcame three separate deficits to earn the 60-kilogram spot. Dalton Roberts (NYAC/OTS) took the first bout in the best-of-three series when he stormed back late in the second period down 5-3. Coming off an exchange with little time left, Roberts wrapped around Miranda’s body, sat back, and hipped him over to pick up four. Given the intense nature of this on again/off again rivalry, the ending was actually pretty standard for the type of action these two have a tendency to produce.
But Miranda would be heard from next time around. Behind 2-2 on criteria with under a minute remaining, Miranda double-overhook tossed an oncoming Roberts for two near the edge to emerge victorious 4-2. Two matches, two last-minute lead changes. In the third and decisive battle, it practically came down to the last second.
All match long resided a palpable tension. Odd, if only because the two combatants are also very-legitimate candidates to make the Senior World Team in three weeks — Roberts maybe even more so, if only because he already occupies a place in that tournament’s final. But here they were in Akron, Ohio, not giving one another even the slightest quarter, making each tie-up and scramble appear as if their livelihoods were riding on the outcome. If the U23 Trials are ever perceived to be the Senior event’s second fiddle, you could have never guessed it watching this drama show unfold.
They pecked, they brawled, they plodded. Roberts received the first passivity point, but was unable to do damage from par terre; Miranda was awarded the next passive in the second, but he too failed to capitalize — although he did own criteria stretching into the bout’s final minute. Needing to score, Roberts locked around Miranda as the duo approached the boundary with Miranda cranking tight on an overhook. Roberts stayed with it, and similarly to their opening bout, leveraged his hips and followed through to score a takedown.
:43 is not a lot of time, particularly against a pressure-fighter like Roberts who is always looking to score. Miranda is much more of a counter-wrestler, he intends to punish opponents for offering even the tiniest of opportunities. But they weren’t there initially. The clock was reducing ticks and Roberts kept pushing forward. Soon enough, a 3-1 Roberts triumph and another U23 World Championships appearance checked in as an imminent reality. One last restart with :06 was all Miranda had. That was it. Not nearly enough time, even in a sport where points can fly by like moths in front of a driveway floodlight.
:06. Six seconds. Miranda wore a blank expression on his face as he desperately charged into his opponent. Roberts tried catching him in mid-air, catch and arch. Only Miranda was too high, he bounded up and adjusted as Roberts worked to find a grasp. The sequence yielded four — for Miranda — and another point was added shortly after due to a last-gasp challenge from Roberts. On the heels of a mesmerizing 6-3 win with a chance to make two World Teams this month, Miranda should be recognized as one of the without-a-doubt best Seniors in the country at either 55 or 60 kilograms.
Travis Rice Makes Second US World Team In Equally Dramatic Fashion
Miranda stared defeat in the face more than once on Friday, but he a) had beaten Roberts previously and B) was never down by more than a few points. On the other hand, Travis Rice (NMU/OTS) fell behind big time in both of his finals matches versus 2018 Grand Prix Zagreb Open bronze medalist Xavier Johnson (Marines), and what’s more, he was tech’ed out by Johnson as recently as late March.
And when Johnson raced out to a 6-0 advantage on Rice in Match 1 of their 63-kilogram series, an encore performance of Johnson’s dismantling from the Bill Farrell Memorial seemed close to being a lock. But Rice wasn’t interested in playing along with the script. It all started with a two-point caution on Johnson. That broke the ice. 6-0 is dangerous, 6-2 is manageable. Rice hemmed inside, still bouncing with energy as he engaged the explosive Marine. Johnson responded with a throw attempt and Rice snuffed it out before following the motion deep enough to put Johnson on his back for four huge points. Another caution on Johnson rang in — and the Marines challenged but the whole thing wound up immaterial. The result didn’t change, and Rice, who entered the second period hanging on by a thread, earned a must-have 6-6 criteria decision that should have been seen as a tone-setter for the next match.
If that first win emboldened Rice, it was pretty difficult to discern because Johnson once again piled up points out of the gate. With the first passive/par terre chance, Johnson turned the NMU athlete twice for a 5-0 lead. Rice came close to offering a suitable response late in the first when he crashed inside and coerced Johnson to the mat. Marine Corps head coach Jason Loukides immediately flinged the challenge brick and Rice’s points were knocked off the board. Rice’s corner re-challenged — and lost — giving Johnson a cushy 6-0 margin for error entering the second frame.
Early into the period, Rice broke through. He zoomed in around Johnson’s body and tossed him over at the edge. The call on the mat was two — at first. Rice challenged and they adjusted it to four. Rice struck again with under a minute to go, barrelling into Johnson holding a bodylock that he used to deposit his counterpart onto the surface. 6-6, Rice. Johnson was shaken up from the maneuver and required a medical time-out. When action resumed, Rice opted for another challenge under the impression the officials missed exposure. Not this time. It was a risky decision and one that could have cost him the match, since Johnson received a point on the upheld call.
Now down by a point after briefly leading on criteria, Rice found himself with some work to do and not a lot of time to do it. A mere :15 remained as Rice lasered behind Johnson and threw him for four. Not wasting the chance to impose a further influx of offense, Rice gutted Johnson four times to amass a shocking 18-7 tech fall as time expired.
Following his appearance on the Junior World Team three years ago, Rice struggled to consistently gain his footing on the Senior level. He never stopped being a tough competitor, but he had also experienced difficulty asserting his place among the very best in the nation. So while he describes that first World Team slot in 2015 as “more exciting”, Rice feels this one carries with it a different meaning given the adversity he has endured.
“Before that (2015), I thought I was a good wrestler but I never completely broke through,” Rice said afterwards. “I’d have a good match but I would never place at the big tournaments, so I think that one was more exciting. But this one showed I’m still here, that I didn’t go away. Maybe I wasn’t getting the results, but everything has been building upon it and today it just kind of opened up.”
Baker Goes Bombing
Fans who paid attention to Nolan Baker‘s (67 kg, NIRTC) opening bout should have sensed that something special might be brewing. Facing off against NMU’s Britton Holmes, tabbed in Akron as the #2 seed, Baker sledgehammered a pair of headlocks with the second one presenting the requisite thunder to punch out one of the bracket’s premier favorites, not to mention one of the fiercest competitors in the entire tournament. That he followed up the pin over Holmes with a scary-quick tech of 2017 University National champ Wesley Dawkins (Golden Eagles WC) only served to underscore the amount of firepower Baker was wiedling on Friday.
His opponent in the 67-kilogram finals series, three-time age-group World Teamer Dominick Demas (Oklahoma RTC), is considered by most (or at least most in Greco) to hold virtually limitless potential as a Senior and someone any program would love to have. And it’s all true, Demas is exceptional. The problem for Demas is that on Friday, Baker was undeniable.
In their first match, Baker opened with his trusty headlock and collapsed on a Demas arm throw attempt to go up 6-1 and kept the party going deep into the second ahead of wrapping up a 12-3 tech as time ran out. Demas came back to life in the middle bout, muscling up for an 8-6 decision to even the series.
So you’re thinking, Boy, this third match is going to be one helluva barnburner. Certainly, a reasonable request. Their first 12 minutes together on Friday sure delivered entertainment. But Baker didn’t feel like messing around all that much in the third bout and demonstrated an urgency to seal the deal as soon as possible.
At the whistle, Baker made contact and led with a headlock that Demas covered up. The call was a slip and back up they were. Another exchange and Baker briefly broke free to reset himself. Next, he walked forward right into Demas, locked head-and-arm, and torqued him straight to his back. Demas tried to escape, tried to bridge, but Baker had the position keyed in until there was no other recourse. The signal for the fall arrived — and Nolan Baker — once under the radar but now with his name in lights on the marquee — made his first Greco-Roman World Team.
Porter Superb As One of Only Two Repeaters
Several collegians impressed on Friday and Ohio State redshirt Fritz Schierl (77 kg) was chief among them. Other than various positional miscues and folkish scrambles, Schierl very much looked like he could be a full-timer. His advancement to the final, however, meant having to get past returning U23 World Team member Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS), one of America’s very best Senior athletes.
Despite the perception of being outgunned and overmatched, it was Schierl who very nearly seized command of the 77-kilo final. Match 1 saw Porter lock and load for an early throw that got loose and Schierl land on top. Porter was then banged for (an odd) passivity to dig himself a 3-0 hole that expanded to 5-0 when Schierl collected two more on a lift attempt. But — Porter regrouped, and after a restart, spun behind to net a takedown and followed up with a side lift to race out in front 6-5. This was all in the first period. Later in the second, Schierl benefitted from another passivity call with a chance to do further damage from par terre, but Porter held strong and walked away the winner on criteria.
Schierl hanging in there with Porter in Match 1 was obviously a surprise, maybe to no one more than Porter himself. He must not have liked that too much, because in Match 2, Porter put a bold-type exclamation on the proceedings.
The New York native received the first passivity/par terre chance of the bout and that was all he needed. He lifted for four; re-gathered his lock; and lifted for four more. Schierl’s corner threw the cube, as is custom, but it was to no avail as Porter became a World Team member for the second straight year.
Nielsen Perseveres with two straight over Berreyesa
One of the most highly-anticipated finals of the afternoon arrived at 82 kilograms, where 2018 UWW Junior National champ Andrew Berreyesa (FLWC) and Carter Nielsen (NMU/OTS) determined the bracket. A quick refresher: Nielsen, who competed in college at North Dakota State, left folkstyle for Northern Michigan last year. Following a trio of strong performances to begin his Greco career, he was then forced off the mat in effort to repair a torn ACL and this was his first tournament back. Berreyesa just completed his second semester at Cornell, but he had established himself as a promising Greco competitor well before that, garnering relevant overseas experience along with a Fargo National title.
The pair had also met before: at the 2017 U23 Trials in Rochester, Minnesota, Nielsen decisioned Berreyesa 9-5 in the consolation semifinals.
But both athletes have improved in the time since and promised to deliver a tightly-contested showdown capable of standing apart from the rest.
Match 1 provided just that sort of static. Digging in against each other from the tie-ups, neither athlete was able to bully up some offense. Berreyesa was awarded a passivity point in the first, Nielsen in the second, and the NMU wrestler prevailed via criteria 1-1.
Match 2 went in the complete opposite direction, particularly for Berreyesa. Knocked for passive after the first minute, Berreyesa succumbed to a gutwrench and fell behind 3-0, though he got a point back towards the end of the period on a step-out.
With Nielsen firing away in the exchanges and seemingly dictating the tempo for much of the opening stanza, Berreyesa had to start bringing the heat more in the second, and he began pressuring forward at an increasing pace. Nielsen was not slowing down, breathlessly fighting for position, but Berreyesa’s movement caused his counterpart to re-engage enough to get dinged. 3-2, Nielsen. Berreyesa’s subsequent par terre opportunity became his undoing. He stepped to lift and loaded Nielsen hip-level. As Berreyesa went to arch, Nielsen pivoted into him and astutely overhooked Berreyesa’s right arm and adjusted to collapse on top. Nielsen picked up four — and another point on a lost Berreyesa challenge — to widen the gap 8-2.
Nielsen sewed it up after the restart. They clashed in the pocket with Nielsen wrangling a bodylock. Berreyesa, left with no choice, tried going with the momentum. Nielsen wasn’t having it, and he drove Berreyesa to his back to accumulate the four points required to end the bout early with a 12-2 technical fall.
“I talked to my coaches between matches and it was like, You can’t let the refs decide the match,” Nielsen offered Friday night. “Maybe I lucked out in that first match with how the refs called the passives. But in the second match, I wanted to open up, I wanted to score. I didn’t want it to be 1-1. When I got on top, I knew I could turn him. I was really confident, I’ve been working a lot on my gutwrench, and it worked in the match. When he lifted me up with the side lift, I was like, Okay, I’m just going to wrestle through. Somehow, I was able to land on my feet — I’m not sure how — but I was able to land on my feet and I threw him.”
Hancock Back in Business, Schultz OW
Two of the sport’s brightest young stars rose above their respective fields on Friday in dominating fashion. G’Angelo Hancock (97 kg, Sunkist), competing in his sixth World Team best-of-three final in just over two years (counting the 2016 University event), returned to domestic action for the first time since October of 2017 (the last U23 Trials, as it were) to race past NMU’s Roy Nash on the strength of consecutive tech falls. Over the course of his four bouts in Akron, Hancock amassed three tech falls and a pin, outscoring the opposition by a combined score of 32-1.
2017 Cadet World Champion Cohlton Schultz (NYAC) was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler following yet another extremely impressive overall performance. Taking on a very game challenger in #2 seed David Orndorff, the 17-year-old skated to his first-ever U23 World Team by racking up two straight tech’s, 14-3 and 10-0, respectively. Like Hancock, Schultz’s finals matches were representative of his day as a whole. In five total matches, Schultz outscored his foes by a combined tally of 41-3.
- Two-time Fargo National champ Dalton Duffield (UA) really wowed observers with his two victories over 2018 Senior Open semifinalist Jabari Moody (NYAC). Using blazing fast transitions and a knack for opportunistic scoring, Duffield stamped a 12-3 tech in Match 1 and then closed the show with a first-period pin in Match 2. Duffield originally chose folkstyle as his discipline after high school but has been focusing on Greco-Roman this spring.
- Porter and Hancock are the only two holdovers from the 2017 U23 World Team to repeat. Returning member Alex Mossing (Air Force) never really got the chance. In what should have been a scintillating final series, Mossing locked up with Logan Kass (Minnesota Storm/OTS). He tossed Kass for an quick 4-0 lead. When they restarted, Kass went for an arm throw that Mossing tried to defend. As he attempted to crank Kass backwards, Mossing apparently suffered a rib or intercostal injury that was serious enough to force his withdrawal both from Match 1 and the best-of-three series altogether.
- In other injury news, 2017 U23 World Teamer Blake Smith (OTC) endured an ankle sprain that caused him to default out of his bout with Nash. But Smith was somehow able to resume competing in the consolation bracket and acquitted himself quite well, earning bronze.
- Six of the ten 2018 U23 World Team members come from the Olympic Training Site at Northern Michigan (Miranda, Rice, Kass, Porter, Nielsen, and George Sikes). In 2017, there were eight weight classes with NMU Greco athletes occupying four of them (Roberts, Alex Sancho, Porter, and Smith).
- Speaking of Sikes, his victory on Friday is an example of putting in a lot of work. Relatively new to Greco-Roman, Sikes has competed numerous times overseas this season in effort to fast-forward his progress. It showed in Akron.
- Eight of the 22 best-of-three finals bouts ended via technical fall.
- Only two series went to a third and decisive match (Miranda/Roberts and Baker/Demas).
- The 2018 U23 World Championships are scheduled for November 12th-18th in Bucharest, Romania.
2018 UWW U23 Greco-Roman World Team Trials
55 kg: Jabari Moody (NYAC) vs. Dalton Duffield (Unattached)
Match 1 — Duffield def. Moody 12-4, TF
Match 2 — Duffield def. Moody via fall
Duffield wins series 2-0
60 kg: Dalton Roberts (NYAC/OTS) vs. Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS)
Match 1 — Roberts def. Miranda 7-5
Match 2 — Miranda def. Roberts 4-2
Match 3 — Miranda def. Roberts 6-3
Miranda wins series 2-1
63 kg: Xavier Johnson (Marines) vs. Travis Rice (NMU/OTS)
Match 1 — Rice def. Johnson 6-6 (criteria)
Match 2 — Rice def. Johnson 18-7, TF
Rice wins series 2-0
67 kg: Dominick Demas (Oklahoma RTC) vs. Nolan Baker (NIRTC)
Match 1 — Baker def. Demas 12-3, TF
Match 2 — Demas def. Baker 8-6
Match 3 — Baker def. Demas via fall
Baker wins series 2-1
72 kg: Alex Mossing (Air Force RTC) vs. Logan Kass (Minnesota Storm/OTS)
Match 1 — Kass def. Mossing via injury default (6-3)
Match 2 — Kass def. Mossing via injury default (no match)
Kass wins series 2-0
77 kg: Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS) vs. Fritz Schierl (Ohio State/UA)
Match 1 — Porter def. Schierl 6-6 (criteria)
Match 2 — Porter def. Schierl 10-0, TF
Porter wins series 2-1
82 kg: Carter Nielsen (NMU/OTS) vs. Andrew Berreyesa (NYAC/FLWC)
Match 1 — Nielsen def. Berreyesa 1-1 (criteria)
Match 2 — Nielsen def. Berreyesa 12-2, TF
Nielsen wins series 2-0
87 kg: Jimmy Stillerman (LAW) vs. George Sikes (NMU/OTS)
Match 1 — Sikes def. Stillerman 2-0
Match 2 — Sikes def. Stillerman 5-1
Sikes wins series 2-0
97 kg: G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist) vs. Roy Nash (NMU/OTS)
Match 1 — Hancock def. Nash 8-0, TF
Match 2 — Hancock def. Nash 10-1, TF
Hancock wins series 2-0
130 kg: Cohlton Schultz (NYAC) vs. David Orndorff (Utah Valley RTC)
Match 1 — Schultz def. Orndorff via fall
Match 2 — Schultz def. Orndorff 10-0, TF
Schultz wins series 2-0
55 kg: Sean Sesnan (WBC) def. Jemone Carter (Marines) 9-1, TF
60 kg: Liam Cronin (Indiana) def. Scott Arneson (Southern Exposure) 9-3
63 kg: Ty Pelot (X-Factor Elite) def. Erik Spence (NMU/OTS) via fall
67 kg: Britton Holmes (NMU/OTS) def. Wesley Dawkins (Golden Eagles WC) 14-6, TF
72 kg: Brett Bye (LOG) def. McKoy Tekautz (Minnesota Storm) 9-0, TF
77 kg: Eddie Smith (Beast Mode) def. Ryan Epps (Minnesota) 5-3
82 kg: Chandler Rogers (Cowboy RTC) def. Spencer Woods (NMU/OTS) via fall
87 kg: Kaleb Gaede (Olympia WC) def. Trenton Schultz (UA) 11-9
97 kg: Blake Smith (OTC) def. Devon Amburgy (WBC) 8-0, TF
130 kg: Trent Osnes (Marines) def. Matt Voss (Patriot Elite) 11-2, TF
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