The Olympic Training Site at Northern Michigan University closed out the month of April with one its most memorable National performances in program history.
Led by two new Junior World Team members — Mason Hartshorn (60 kg) and Alston Nutter (63 kg) — a Senior National champ (Kendrick Sanders, 82 kg), and 11 All-Americans including runner-ups Dalton Duffield (55 kg), Sammy Jones (63 kg) and Spencer Woods (82 kg), NMU’s success at the US Open two weeks ago in Las Vegas was nothing short of astounding. Naturally, NMU/OTS head coach Rob Hermann is pleased with his team’s performance and discusses a few of the individuals responsible for this record-breaking run, and also lays out the training plan ahead of next week’s Trials. In addition, the 2019 Superior Camp is right around the corner, so Hermann provides some detail on that important event, as well.
5PM: It was a big few days for the NMU crew in Vegas so let’s start with just an overview if you don’t mind.
Coach Rob Hermann: We had our best showing, I think, as a program. We had eight in the semis, could have easily had ten. Barrett Stanghill didn’t get the calls in the quarterfinals against (James) Souza. He had two takedowns but they didn’t use their (challenge) block. But he was winning 1-0 at the time, and if you don’t get the challenge it’s 1-1, so I understand.
But like I tell my guys, and I told this to Sammy (Jones), I said, “Barrett, wouldn’t you rather lose to him at Nationals and then beat him at World Team Trials? I think I would.” That’s where it’s all at. Just do your homework, train, and go there with a good mind that you’re going to win, and good things will happen. Even Sammy Jones. Yeah, he lost in the finals again, he has been like a bridesmaid but not the bride, and last year he was unable to capitalize at the World Team Trials. But now he’s got a second chance — and what you do with that second chance can change your life in some cases.
The guys are training hard. We’re on the mat, we’re going twice a day fixing our mistakes from Nationals, and hopefully we’ll be different than what we showed at the US Open two weeks ago. We’ll see what happens. We had four in the finals, which I think is the most we’ve ever had, certainly since I’ve been here. I think we can do even better at the World Team Trials if the guys show up like I know they are able to do. One good thing is that I know Alston Nutter, Benji Peak, and Britton Holmes are going to wrestle. It’s nice with the Trials procedures being separated now. The Juniors have already had their competition and we’ve got some of these young studs stepping up for the Senior Trials. I like to see that. They’re in college, they are 19-years-old, and they should be wrestling with the big boys at Senior.
From there we go to the U23’s, which is two weeks later, and we’ll see how many we put on the Team there. We’re going to have 30-35 wrestlers there and I think we’ll be well-represented. But, again, it’s not about making Teams, it’s about winning medals. I like to think everyday in our room that we strive to win medals, not just make Teams. But you have to make the Team before you can win a medal.
5PM: Dalton Roberts fell short in the semis to Mike Fuenffinger and now has to go through the challenge tournament if he’s going to have a shot at two World Teams in a row. Coming from where he was last year, how he kind of took the field by surprise at the Open before stamping down his spot on the World Team, does having to go the longer route present any kind of advantage for him?
RH: Hmmm, I don’t know about advantage, but I think he’s up to the task. Dalton is a winner, and he goes into every match to win the match. He doesn’t look past anyone, he takes it one match at a time, and I feel that he’ll have a really good performance knowing that he’s not coming straight from the Pan Ams and has been in our room for a period of time. His body is rested and he’ll be ready for the competition.
5PM: What was of course really unique is that for the first time since 2009, two guys from the OTS program were in a National final, Kendrick and Woods. First we’ll start with Kendrick, who has basically risen like a phoenix here. Did you have a feeling about him leading up to this tournament, did you see this coming?
Coach Rob Hermann: Oh yeah, there’s no way I didn’t believe Kendrick could win the weight class and win the US Open. He won it before trying to make 71 (kilograms) and wound up going all the way up to 80 and beat Aaron Sieracki. Kendrick’s big, you know? He’s also injury prone, so sometimes when cutting weight he opens himself up to more injuries.
Kendrick not only has a unique style, he also has a unique gift. He has one of the best reverse lifts in the world. Having that gift — and I can’t put him in this category yet because he hasn’t done it — but I always preach in the room that every World and Olympic medalist has a move that they’re known for. Now they might not get it the first minute, they might not get it the fourth or fifth minute, but they will get it in that match. That’s what makes them World medalists. And that’s Kenrick. He has that gift of having a unique reverse lift that can lift anybody in the world.
Going into the tournament, he is a leg-up on a lot of the athletes — and I can’t say that for a lot of these guys. Because he has that gift. Kendrick feels comfortable at this weight. They don’t come out and rattle him at this weight class because they are more toe-to-toe, and he likes that. He doesn’t like certain styles.
But no, it doesn’t surprise me he won the weight class. I think it surprised more people that Spencer Woods was in the finals against him.
5PM: That’s exactly where I was going next. If Kendrick was the story of the entire tournament then Woods was not far behind. He starched Vlad Dombrovskiy in the quarters, which caught a lot of people off guard, and then he beat the top seed Cheney Haight in the semis. To me, it was the U23 Trials last year where Woods started to show this different level of fight to him and he has really started to carry that around. He was almost on a different speed than some of these guys.
RH: Well, he showed up. I tell the guys before we go to a competition, You don’t have to beat a World champ everyday, just beat him on the day that it counts. And he beat Cheney on the day that it counts. He showed up to the match and he wrestled within himself. The same stuff he did with Cheney is the same stuff he does in practice. Spencer has certain positions that he likes where he is comfortable but most others aren’t. Every time Cheney double-underhooked Spencer, he felt like, Whoa, I don’t know if I want to be here. He felt something, you know?
But yeah, he showed up, he’s a very good athlete, and he brought the fight. I think going overseas to the Thor tournament and camp and going to the Schultz tournament and camp helped his confidence. When you wrestle with the best guys in the US and the best guys in the world, you become more confident in yourself, and I felt like he did that.
5PM: There were so many guys who had great performances. The athletes now who are coming up, like Spencer Woods, when they have a breakthrough showing at the biggest domestic event, what does that do for them at this stage of their careers?
RH: I told all the guys yesterday in the room, How many guys here thought Spencer Woods was going to make the finals of the US Open? And they all started laughing. So I said, One guy believed it, and there only needs to be one guy — himself. I said, He performed because he believed he could compete with those guys. That’s a huge part of it. If you don’t believe you’re going to beat the guy when you step on the mat, then why step on the mat? The other guy already has an advantage. It’s your head, it’s your mindset. You have to have a mindset that you can beat anyone on any given day. I think that’s part of Spencer’s strength, that he believes in himself and his ability to wrestle at this level.
5PM: The Superior Camp is coming up and the value of this event has played itself out in our country for what it has done for age-group athletes later on as they develop. Are there any changes to the curriculum this year?
Coach Rob Hermann: The format will still be the same. We’re going to get the foreign coaches to run some of the practices so we get a little taste of what they do over in Sweden. The one thing that we did change was the date. We’re going later in June. It’s not the best timing for our program but I think it’ll be better for other states. I would assume that it would be great to learn some great technique before you go into your Fargo camps, because usually those camps are the first or second week of July.