Army’s World Class Athletes Program is set to add another rising young athlete to their roster. On Friday, Spencer Woods (77 kg) announced that he had been sworn into the Colorado National Guard and will be joining the crowded room on Fort Carson following basic training sometime in the late fall.
Woods is the latest Greco-Roman athlete from Northern Michigan’s National Training Site to make the switch. Earlier this spring, 2018 Senior/multi-time age-group World Team member Dalton Roberts (60 kg) shared that he, too, was coming over to WCAP; prior to Roberts’ declaration, ’18 U23 World Teamer Dalton Duffield (60 kg) had already left for basic. These three wrestlers may not represent the last of the defectors. There are reportedly more wrestlers from Marquette who are waiting to find out if and/or when they will be able to sign on and receive the same orders.
Army assistant Spenser Mango is happy with the addition. Mango is well-acquainted with Woods as both an athlete and individual, and feels that Woods will fit right in due to his willingness to put in the necessary workload.
“Spencer is a great athlete, and he is a great person, too,” Mango confirmed on Friday evening. “I got to know him on a trip last year. We are looking forward to having him and his awesome work ethic in the room. He is a very hard worker and is always willing to go the extra mile and stay after practice to get better.”
Woods, who turns 22 later this month, surged towards the top of the US Senior ladder last season. At the ’19 US Open, he stunned many around the sport by advancing to the final opposite then-NTS stablemate Kendrick Sanders, a match that Sanders won. It was just the beginning. This past November saw Woods garner his first Senior overseas gold in Sweden, and he followed that up with a strong second-place showing at the Bill Farrell Memorial — where he qualified for the Olympic Trials by becoming the highest-placing US athlete in his weight category.
Timing is everything. With the Olympic Year put on pause due to the pandemic, an unexpected amount of space opened up on the calendar. Woods had pegged Army/WCAP as a potential destination before the season was shut down and he did not want to wait, lest risk losing valuable time during an important phase of his career. “The way I thought about it was, We have this extra year, so I’m going to get the most out of this extra year,” he says. “I was going to WCAP regardless of COVID-19, but because of COVID, I decided to go to WCAP now and finish my degree once I’m in.”
Turnover often accompanies the conclusion of each Olympic cycle. This year, it’s a little different. The Olympic Year hasn’t actually ended — but wrestling’s forced hiatus has nevertheless coincided with athletes (and coaches) changing their training environments or coming to decisions regarding their futures ahead of schedule.
This has been especially evident at Northern Michigan, where several of that program’s more notable competitors have graduated. In “normal” circumstances — which is to say an Olympic season without a viral outbreak — these wrestlers might have chosen to stay put in Marquette until after the Trials or the end of the summer. Since the Trials were pushed back an entire year, some have latched onto opportunities they were originally considering for later down the road.
As Woods pointed out, he had identified WCAP as a possibility prior to COVID. But the way everything unraveled so quickly in March, combined with a few of his NMU brethren moving on, led him to accelerate his plans despite a clear appreciation for the influence Marquette has had on his still-young career.
“I loved Northern’s room. I loved Rob (Hermann) and Andy (Bisek). They were both awesome coaches and I owe a lot of my success to them,” Woods says. “It’s the same with a lot of my teammates. A lot of my friends at Northern had a lot to do with my improvement and success in tournaments. But with this next year coming on, a lot of guys are graduating and leaving. Carter Nielsen is leaving, Khymba Johnson is leaving. Dalton is leaving. Even though we don’t train together he is one of my better friends.
“Army has a lot more resources than Northern does and they are arguably the best team in the United States right now. I had an opportunity to become a part of that, and, I want to become a part of that.”
For now, Woods is still back home in Alaska (where there are currently no sundowns) and feeling very relaxed. He is enjoying the relative comfort of a rustic lifestyle that he has missed during college semesters. Eventually he will be gone again, faced with the challenge of basic training and the uncertainty that comes with having his workout schedule and diet completely disrupted.
But to him, none of that is a big deal. He is excited about his future, and exudes all the confidence one might expect from a high-level athlete boasting a healthy proportion of Eskimo blood. “Nothing makes me nervous,” he laughs. “You don’t know what it’s like up here, man. I go face-to-face with grizzly bears. Cafeteria food doesn’t scare me.”