2016 is now old news, like a crumpled red Solo cup in the corner of a living room on New Year’s morning.
That doesn’t mean what happened in the previous calendar year is irrelevant. Quite the contrary. The recent past has provided us with the workable information and data necessary to forge ahead. 2017, make no mistake about it, is going to be awfully important to a whole lot of US Greco Roman wrestlers and where they are in their careers and overall development. Coming off of the conclusion of a quadrennial, a new tide is beginning to introduce itself to the coastline. Though, the sands are still occupied by more than a few warhorses awaiting its arrival, confidently anticipating the direction of the current.
Coming up this winter, a group of Juniors is heading over to Austria, some will be going with Seniors to Denmark, and then in March Seniors will have the Grand Prix of Zagreb in Croatia. We don’t know who is going where yet, as rosters haven’t been released. What we do know, is that the measuring sticks for success at the Schultz and the overseas events will likely be longer after all is said and done. All roads lead to the World Championships in Paris towards the end of the summer, but there will be plenty before and after that affects the future of the US.
Everybody knows who the top dogs are at each weight around these parts. However, there are other names out there that could also be attached to some big moments from now until December. Let’s take a look at some of them. You won’t need binoculars.
US Greco Wrestlers to Watch in 2017
59 kg — The sport’s lowest weight is top-heavy stateside, but there are enough question marks to offer some potential disruptions.
Leading up to April’s World Team Trials, the talk is going to be about Hayden Tuma (Army/WCAP) continuing his rise and how Jesse Thielke (NYAC) responds to the recovery of his surgically-repaired labrum. Ryan Mango (Army/WCAP) is getting over a significant ankle sprain but he looked healthier and sharper and Vegas. This will all likely unfold slowly, especially since Thielke could be up at 66 for Schultz.
Sammy Jones (NYAC-OTS) This is a guy who gets it and the more he keeps “getting it”, the more he is going to realize his potential. Jones has logged enough miles against the bigger names in this division and there is a decent enough sample size of what he is capable of against overseas foes. 2017 isn’t “make or break” for him, but it could be “make.” Look for a signature performance out of Jones before the year is out.
Also worth a look…
Taylor LaMont (CWC) His ongoing redshirt freshman year allows LaMont to keep his foot wedged in the door. Followed up his Junior World bronze with a fourth-place finish in Vegas and he’ll be at Schultz as well as the Trials, contending at both for a medal.
Lillishawn Coleman (Army/WCAP) Shows an eagerness to win those hard exchanges that can be the crucial difference between getting called for passive and actually scoring. Has some pop, still needs refinement. But the pieces are there, they just have to be put together.
Xavier Johnson (Marines) Came on like a ball of fire last month which was a surprise to many. Tough to say what he figured out going into the event because up until then Johnson didn’t seem like he was a major problem for the better guys here. That might be changing.
Max Nowry (Army/WCAP) An excellent technician and still in his best years. He might not be coming off of a string of stellar performances but you have to think that Nowry is going to figure it out again and round back into being the force he was not too long ago.
Dalton Roberts (NYAC-OTS) Shouldn’t be in a rush, considering he is still a) very young and b) slightly undersized still. Doesn’t get rattled and commits to his game. The finished product will present a daunting proposition eventually.
66 kg — It’s beginning to look more and more like this could be the year Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS) smashes the glass ceiling. That won’t come easily. 66 kilos might not have the depth it did through most of ’16, but it is still a dangerous place to be.
Sancho and Coleman are 1 and 1a at this weight until further notice. The best part is their whole thing has turned into a full-fledged rivalry and the National finals brought it up to a fever-pitch. The drop-off between the top two guys at 66 and everyone else isn’t out-of-this-world huge, but it is noticeable. That is why it is vital the rest of these athletes step it up in a major way because whoever represents this weight in Paris is going to need to be pressed domestically.
Jessy Williams (NYAC-OTS) Everything you need to see out of an emerging athlete physically is here. Williams is 23 and beginning to settle into a style that is reflective of his abilities. Has gotten caught in quicksand on occasion and while some of that is part of the lump-taking process at the Senior level, he is going to need to stay more consistent. Williams is poised to make a big splash at an event sooner or later and the bet is that happens before you know it.
Also worth a look…
Austin Morrow (NYAC-OTS) Currently nursing a dislocated shoulder, Morrow was building on a bit of a hot streak from Sweden. He followed that up with a silver in New York before hopping over to Budapest for the Clubs Cup, which is where he got injured. Morrow keeps taking the right steps and the smart money says more impressive days are coming soon.
Michael Hooker (Army/WCAP) Another athlete recovering from surgery, Hooker should be back soon enough to capitalize on his impressive Trials performance where he upset Bryce Saddoris in the quarterfinals. It’s been a waiting game ever since. Hooker wins matches on toughness more than technique, making the impact of his impending return all the more questionable.
Jamal DeArmond (NYAC-OTS) The reason to be encouraged by DeArmond is that he went ahead and put together solid back-to-back showings at the NYAC and Nationals. Perhaps he is onto something here and if so, that’s a good thing, because he is going to be beating a lot of these guys down the road.
Raymond Bunker (Marines) Although he had his moments in the previous rule-set, few wrestlers will benefit as much as Bunker from the removal of ordered par terre. That’s because he welcomes the constant inside-fighting being on the feet demands.
Travis Rice (NMU-OTS) Once on the fast-track, Rice’s progress was disrupted temporarily. Now he’s back in the fire and the results have not come around just yet. You keep waiting for “the click”, for everything to catch back up. There is just too much good here to stay in the shadows.
71 kg — It’s time to call for reinforcements.
2016 World Team member Chris Gonzalez (Army/WCAP) shocked Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) before surviving three grueling battles with Sancho to earn his spot. And then he went ahead and won his first match at the Worlds. But Smith will be back. So will RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC), who is waving goodbye to 66. You’d think this is a definitive three-horse race, but maybe not, primarily because of this guy…
Anthonie Linares (NYAC-OTS) Linares isn’t a threat because he took a silver to Smith in Vegas, he is a threat because his style plays well to the rules. If he begins converting advantageous positions to actual point-scoring moves, then it is easy to see him throwing a big ol’ monkey wrench into everyone else’s plans. Just how it goes. It’s clear there is a lot to look forward to with Linares and if he can carry his momentum from the latter part of the year over, things might get very interesting.
Also worth a look…
Chase Nelson (BWC) There are some deficiencies in Nelson’s game that would be a bigger problem if he wasn’t such a confident competitor. Nelson is very good; he is going to get even better. The keyword here is “upside.” He might need another year of competitive opportunities to really stand out, though.
Brad Dolezal (Minnesota Storm) Strong, wiry, quick, aggressive — the building blocks of a successful US Greco Roman wrestler are all here. Dolezal gets to the body and there is a decided lack of pretense in his approach which has made him incredibly enjoyable to watch.
Logan Kass (NMU-OTS) Kass is still just a little short in the tooth competitively to expect a whole lot out of right now, but that could also be misleading because he profiles just like the kind of guy who out of nowhere storms through an event. If he gets on the mat enough there could be a major step forward in ’17.
Cody Pack (Legends of Gold) A solid year for Pack means he can go back and appraise what he did well, and where he faltered. A great scorer. A chain scorer. Offensively, Pack brings a lot to the table and guys who go after points usually end up being rewarded for it.
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