Peyton Robb (152 lbs, Minn) brought the heat when it mattered most while Jacob Warner (195 lbs, Ill) and Haydn Maley (220 lbs, OR) showed why they are two of the most talented upper-weight prospects to come along in quite some time by putting on dominating performances. The 2017 US Junior Greco-Roman Nationals, held at the Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota, offered both tantalizing peeks at the future as well as some solid evidence that the youthful talent the country is currently stocked with is already worth the price of admission.
Anthony Artalona (FL) entered the 152 lbs final as a two-time Fargo bronze medalist and there are reasons for that. He is a disciplined worker, does his best to maintain good position, and by the looks of things, is as strong as an ox. In 2017 Cadet Pan American Championships winner and former Cadet Fargo runner-up Robb, Artalona was doing his bidding against someone with similar attributes, but with perhaps just a bit more technical know-how. That would be the defining factor in this affair.
Both began the bout by engaging in a physical feeling-out process. Robb would attempt to jut in underhooks, pounding them in on Artalona, who played back and tried to hold the center. The exchanges were chippy but tactical — this wasn’t brawling. Each wrestler seemed to approach their respective tie-ups with a purpose. Robb benefitted from the passivity fairy first and held a 1-0 lead when Artalona made a blitzing go of it inside that wound up resulting in a scramble that saw no points. It was a furious little flurry but ultimately, one that didn’t yield a score. Just before the break, Artalona got his own passivity point to knot the score, though a fleeting criteria advantage also arrived with the call.
When action resumed in the second, Artalona tried corkscrewing an arm spin only to have Robb peel it off and clamber behind. No takedown points were initially rewarded, but a challenge by the Minnesota side rectified the oversight, putting Robb out in front 3-1 with a par terre chance coming up. It proved fruitless for the Minnesota wrestler, but a caution-and-two on Artalona rang in — add in a challenge by Florida, and the score was all of the sudden 6-1. In the ensuing par terre, Robb cinched a brutally tight gutwrench and turned Artalona for another pair of points. The maneuver might have inflicted some damage on Artalona’s midsection because following the sequence, he required a minute with the training staff.
Still, he gallantly gathered himself for a last push. Down by seven, Artalona brushed in with a few high-dive attacks and then eventually got heavy on Robb using a front headlock. From there, he quickly scooted behind for two. He then went for a dose of payback, locking around Robb with his own gutwrench. Artalona needed at least two rotations to remain in the hunt, three to snatch the lead. Neither happened. After one more reset, Artalona, breathless and determined, attacked again, this time with an arm throw attempt. Robb deftly defended once more, staying upright and in command all the way to the whistle. The 8-3 victory for Robb represents his first Fargo National championship.
Warner lights out
Illinois star Warner will be going off to college in the fall, Iowa University, the kind of place where wrestlers like him have a habit of becoming cult heroes due to their intensity and love for sanctioned violence. Greco-Roman will miss him while he’s away — Warner possesses abilities in virtually every facet of the sport which suggest he could be a successful international competitor as soon as he decides to go that route. Thankfully, he provided one more glimpse at his uniqueness before his impending scholastic hiatus.
Warner cruised through the stacked 195 lbs bracket to greet Wisconsin’s Dalton Hahn, another stud by all measurable (and immeasurable) parameters. Hahn is a two-time Fargo placer who holds several valuable Greco-Roman skills himself, including a developing knack for finishing opponents once those opportunities avail themselves. He also had to fight like mad to advance to the finals, scoring a big win over top seed Miles Lee (PA) in the semifinals along the way. Lee, a terrific talent in his own right, had defeated Hahn last year via tech in the consolation semifinals of this very tournament. Hahn repaid the favor and then some, coming away with a controlling technical fall that included a reverse gut to seal the deal.
Against Warner, Hahn was simply running into a wrestler who at this stage, is a step ahead in every department. Warner asserted himself immediately and stalked Hahn around the mat. Rather than be complicit to any bullying tactics, Hahn briefly tried going with the oncoming pressure and flicked his hips for a lateral attempt. Warner kept his stance and pushed forward at the edge for a takedown to grab an early lead, but he would tack on more soon enough.
The reset offered some in-fighting from both athletes. Warner prowled, Hahn diligently worked to get inside. An angle for Warner presented itself when he slid Hahn’s arm for a drag that caused the Wisconsinite to lose his balance. Warner pounced and clamped on a gutwrench, rolling it over twice to surge ahead 8-0. To his credit, Hahn didn’t fold. There was still a chance to peck his way back into the argument. He wrested a two-on-one, extended Warner’s arm, or tried to weave in underhooks. Warner’s positioning and keen instincts didn’t allow for any missteps. As the first period wound down, Warner walked into a bodylock towards the edge and drove Hahn down and out to wrap it all up. The win gives Warner his second Fargo Greco-Roman National title and his second tournament victory of the week, as he also prevailed in the freestyle portion of the event.
Thomsen breaks through
Alex Thomsen (126 lbs, IA) was on a mission at the 2017 US Junior Greco-Roman National Championships. A brisk worker with an ever-building skill-set, Thomsen has impressed before on the age-group level as a two-time placewinner in Fargo to go with numerous strong performances at the National Duals. But a win at this tournament was missing from what is an overall sparkling resume. After yesterday, that is no longer an issue.
Like Warner, Thomsen found little trouble marching his way into the finals, racking up tech’s left and right. He was challenged in the semis by Jet Taylor (OK) in a fun, scrappy contest, but that bout provided the requisite fuel Thomsen needed for the fire awaiting him in the finals. There, he was welcomed by 2016 Fargo Junior runner-up Austin Macias (Ill), who stands as one of the most well-rounded and consistently-aggressive competitors in the country. Macias has few holes in his Greco game, as can be attested to by anyone who has followed his progress. The differences between the two are slight, at best, and both possess offensive arsenals that have proven to be big problems for everyone else.
Macias looked to have the first advantageous position of the bout when he hovered over Thomsen with a front headlock, but it was Thomsen who scored as he ducked right under the clasp to snag a bodylock for two. Macias grabbed a point back on a step-out and seemed to be warming up. Proceeding tie-ups saw Macias holding his ground while he prodded in with underhooks and the occasional snap. The two wrestlers were as evenly-matched as advertised. Thomsen’s balance and patience were offering a direct contrast to Macias’ physicality. And since both athletes knew what the other was capable of, a pensive rhythm ruled most of the first stanza and ended with Thomsen on top 2-1.
Similar to the opening period, Thomsen was able to snare the initiative. A short drag led to a deep left-side underhook and hips-out clinch. Thomsen angled the position and soon forced Macias to concede to his stomach, resulting in a two-point takedown. A lift attempt by Thomsen didn’t go anywhere, but Macias was nailed for legs, giving the Iowan an additional two on the caution and a 6-1 lead. An unfortunate occurrence, if only because it took away the suspenseful tactical battle that up until then had defined this match. One thing it did mean was that Macias now had to get on his horse in a hurry, a difficult chore under any circumstances and even more so against someone like Thomsen. Macias clashed in repeatedly, hawking forward and grasping at any tie-up to find a glimmer of hope. Thomsen remained composed, and still appeared ready for any further chances that might pop up. Alas, there was no further scoring, and Thomsen — the all-styles competitor with a workmanlike disposition, finally got his hand raised at the summer’s most prestigious domestic event.
Three Junior Pan Am Champs Rise to the Top
Early last month, Brandon Kaylor (113 lbs, WA), Maley, and Anthony Cassioppi (285 lbs, Ill) all earned gold medals at the 2017 Junior Pan Am Championships in Lima, Peru. Once the dust settled, they returned home for the summer and prepared for this event, which offered its share of challenges. The competition is significantly deeper, there is a heightened sense of familiarity, and expectations were now different, especially for defending Fargo champ Maley. In the end, the three wrestlers acquitted themselves well and one of them provided a heart-pounding performance that may live on for however long this event continues to hold the cache it currently does.
Cassioppi locked horns with big bruiser and returning champ Brandon Metz (ND), who won his championship last year by defeating Illinois standout Tommy Helton. Metz battled hard throughout the tournament — nearly each match was a grinding tussle, which is fine because those are the kinds of instances where Metz flourishes. He’s someone who enjoys the fight. By comparison, Cassioppi easily sailed through the bottom half of the bracket, notching four tech’s and a pin.
An early throw attempt by Metz came loose right before the impact. Cassioppi landed on top for two though Metz received a point himself following the outburst. What unfolded next is what makes Greco-Roman special. Two wrestlers, both with immense talent and completely committed to the task at hand, pummeling and pounding for even the slightest hint of an opening to score. The pair set up shop in the pocket, jockeying for wrist control and tie-ups, with the slightest off-balance possibly meaning devastation or glory. Metz offered pressure inside and when Cassioppi came forward, Metz tried to unfurl an arm throw. It didn’t net him the full sum, but two was awarded as a correct hold and he assumed a 3-2 lead.
The second period is when the drama level rose. With neither wrestler able to chisel their way into a meaningful scoring position, they had no choice but to meet one another’s intent. You could see fatigue entering in as a factor, but there was no quarter asked for or given. Cassioppi doggedly kept coming forward trying to rifle his arms inside and get to the body. Metz wasn’t backing away necessarily, but there is no doubt he understood the stakes. He was in control up by a point, and time wasn’t on Cassioppi’s side. A warning on Metz came in with just over :20 left, giving Cassioppi a moment to pull his bootstraps up for one last shot, if such a fortuitous opportunity would even be around.
There were not ten seconds left. Or seven. Or even three. With :01 on the scoreboard, Cassioppi, somehow, got in on Metz with two loose underhooks and managed to hip him to the surface. Just as Metz landed a correct throw in the first period, so too did Cassioppi, his arriving in the actual very last second of the bout. An incredible ending to a final filled with tension from the outset and a win Cassioppi will be associated with for quite awhile.
These matches, this sport, they come with a pulse. A frustrating, gutting way to drop a match in the finals of any tournament for one is often a shocking, if not downright delightful triumph for the other. Both wrestlers are the custodians of likely incredible futures in this or any other style. But it’s a good bet that for at least for now, they will be remembered for what transpired yesterday afternoon.
Kaylor and Molton score like crazy; Maley dominates
Illinois’ Anthony Molton may hold unlimited potential, but what he is already capable of is pretty stunning. Third last year at the Fargo Nationals, Molton took second to Lucas Byrd (OH) at this year’s United World Wrestling Cadet World Team Trials in June and then went on a terrific run at the 2017 Junior Duals, helping Illinois to yet another title. In Kaylor, Molton found himself with a willing partner, someone who would be more than agreeable to put points on the board and reciprocate at a pace reserved for only the sport’s most fearless ninjas.
Kaylor got this party started with a whopping four-point headlock that Molton didn’t see coming, though Molton did net a point for ambling out. There wasn’t going to be a lot of breathing room in this match, for following a brief series of exchanges, Molton got around on a takedown and secured a trap-arm gut he rolled Kaylor with to the tune of six more points and just like that, the score was 9-4 in his favor. Molton tried for one more turn and when he did, Kaylor reversed for a point. 9-5, Molton, but it didn’t last. Following the reset, Kaylor scored on two straight correct holds to tie the score and take criteria.
Shortly into the second, Molton got in and around on Kaylor for a takedown to reclaim the lead 11-9. Once again, things were moving fast. Kaylor answered back with an arm throw and a subsequent gutwrench. The six-point swing launched Kaylor back ahead 15-11, but they weren’t done yet. With a little over a minute remaining, Kaylor forced a step-out to go up by a full five. A Molton takedown a few seconds later closed the gap to 16-13. Time was too big of a factor by then. Molton blitzed in and made several dashing attempts in the waning seconds, but Kaylor managed to ward off the onslaught, walking away with his first Fargo championship.
Darrell Mason (Ill) broke the ice against Maley by jetting into the body and turning it into a takedown early on in their 220 lbs final. Maley evened the score with a correct hold. Mason, realizing he was going to have to generate consistent offense to stay in this one, went for a bodylock. It was a good idea. The problem for him was that as he tried to arch, Maley collapsed in and landed on top for two. The Oregon wrestler capitalized further by rolling Mason over twice with a gutwrench, and then re-rolled one more time just as Mason escaped and reversed position. 8-4, Maley. With under a minute left in the first, Maley added two more with a bodylock.
The points were zipping in quickly now. Another deuce came in a similar fashion, with Maley holding a bodylock at the line and driving Mason out. For a moment it looked as if Mason would live to see the second period. But just as soon as that seemed like a probability, Maley got underneath Mason one more time with a bodylock. Wasting no time, he hoisted Mason up just a tad and deposited him down onto the mat for four to sew up his second straight Fargo Junior National title.
Fargo Junior Finals Notes
- Maley wasn’t the only defending champion to repeat. Brendan Garcia (CO) also grabbed his second stop sign in a row with a resounding 11-0 victory over 2016 Cadet National champ Sam Latona (AL).
- Illinois was responsible for eight finalists and four winners, though that number is slightly misleading since the final at 182 lbs featured two athletes from the Land of Lincoln — Jack Jessen and Cameron Caffey (incidentally, that was also the only 2017 US Junior Greco-Roman National Championships final to host two wrestlers from the same state and also, two wrestlers with the same first and last initials).
- NMU-OTS wrestler Alston Nutter (WI) was defeated in the 138 lbs final by Mason Phillips (WA). Nutter was leading 11-7 in the second period when he went back for a front headlock throw. Phillips defended, locked around Nutter’s waist, and pressured Nutter to his back, holding him there for the fall.
- Metz challenged the correct throw call at the end of the bout with Cassioppi. The challenge was (obviously) denied, giving Cassioppi an additional point and an official 5-3 win.
- There were three technical falls and two pins in the finals.
- Illinois also dominated in the team standings, scoring an astounding 106 points. The next closest state was Wisconsin with 42 points followed by Washington, which checked in with 40.
2017 US Greco-Roman Junior National Championships — Finals
100 lbs Anthony King (Ill) def. Parker Decker (TX) 6-4
106 lbs Brendon Garcia (COL) def. Samuel Latona (AL) 11-0, TF
113 lbs Brandon Kaylor (WA) def. Anthony Molton (Ill) 16-13
120 lbs Rayvon Foley (MI) def. Brady Koontz (WI) 6-1
126 lbs Alex Thomsen (IA) def. Austin Macias (Ill) 6-1
132 lbs Dalton Young (WA) def. Jason Shaner (OR) 3-1
138 lbs Mason Phillips (WA) def. Alston Nutter (WI) via fall (4:07)
145 lbs Jaden Enriquez (CA) def. Peyton Omania (CA) 11-9
152 lbs Peyton Robb (Miss) def. Anthony Artalona (FL) 8-3
160 lbs Jaron Chavez (ID) def. Tyler Dow (WI) 8-7
170 lbs Andrew Berreyesa (NV) def. Trent Hidlay (PA) 7-2
182 lbs Jack Jessen (Ill) def. Cameron Caffey (Ill) via fall (0:32)
195 lbs Jacob Warner (Ill) def. Dalton Hahn (WI) 12-0, TF
220 lbs Haydn Maley (OR) def. Darrell Mason (Ill) 16-4, TF
285 lbs Anthony Cassioppi (Ill) def. Brandon Metz (ND) 5-3
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