Illinois broke out the heavy guns at the Junior Greco National Duals but in the end, just didn’t have enough firepower to overcome the confidently skilled squad that made up Minnesota Blue. In a championship final pitting two of the country’s top age-group Greco teams, Minnesota showed exactly why it deserved to be seen as the favorite entering competition. They won every which way against Illinois. Lopsided tech’s, close nail-biters, breezy decisions, and a (somewhat) surprising pin. It wasn’t because Illinois didn’t field a talented bunch in its own right. Far from it. Rather, Minnesota simply showcased too many wrestlers who have been in the trenches enough times to overcome practically any setting.
Venz opens the show in grand style; Moore runs wild
You couldn’t blame Taylor Venz (Minnesota, 195 lbs) for wanting to get going quickly against Zack Crosby (Illinois). Crosby, a skilled wrestler in any style he competes at, had all of the promise to make this one a barnburner. Venz just didn’t give him the chance. Crosby engaged with a two-on-one but Venz broke free of the tie. Both combatants seemed content to feel each other out for a few. But just when things seemed like they would develop in a more organic fashion, Venz locked around Crosby and swept behind him for a takedown, trapping Crosby’s arm in the process. He rolled it around for a gut but because he had such good position, held it there instead of re-rolling. Crosby was stuck. There wasn’t a lot of waiting around and sure enough, the signal for a fall came at just :53 into the first period. Minnesota had the spark it wanted and got it in a big way.
Sergio Villalobos (Illinois, 220 lbs) is going to win a lot at the Junior level once he’s actually a full-fledged Junior. For now, he is just one of many who are almost too good for Cadet and on the cusp of breaking through in the older division. Keegan Moore (Minnesota) doesn’t discriminate so much. Villalobos started with an underhook but didn’t have anything to work with. The two broke apart. Villalobos then went to nail a headlock, but Moore calmly settled his feet before the action was fully initiated and drove them both down from the position, keeping the momentum and rolling through off the mat. That was four points and there were more coming. A step-out point made it 5-0. A takedown shortly after increased Moore’s lead to 7-0. Following another reset, Moore got behind Villalobos once more for two and swiftly gutted his opponent over to end the match, giving him a quick 11-0 tech fall and Minnesota an early 9-0 advantage over Illinois.
McKee and Melendez break the scoreboard
35 points were put up between Patrick McKee (Minnesota, 113 lbs) and Joey Melendez (Illinois) in the meet’s most entertaining bout. Melendez wailed a headlock to put this bout in gear, coming away with four points. His problem? McKee held on for dear life instantaneously and rolled through for his own four. The entire opening sequence acted as a microcosm of the entire match. Melendez, for all of his fast-twitch greatness, gets a little “headlock happy” at times. So when he tried another one, McKee was waiting this time and drove forward to net four more. 8-4, McKee. Between the talent level of the wrestlers and the hyperactivity on display, you just knew there was going to be more to follow. Sure enough, there was. Melendez finally got a handle on one of his headlocks to knot the score at eight. Melendez locked around McKee to create some space off the mat and McKee was knocked for a caution and two for a leg foul. Melendez had picked up six consecutive points and figured to be starting a serious run.
Melendez zipped in off his tie and ducked down for an arm throw. He got the points, but McKee scrambled through to take back two of his own. It was time for McKee to pick up the pace. First, he took an arm and blitzed it around, driving Melendez down for an apparent four, but Illinois challenged and won. 14-12. McKee then reached in for a headlock going off the line to tie the bout. It was like a video game. The action slowed down for a brief respite. Melendez dug inside and McKee tried to snatch a limb he could do something with. Melendez looked like he was onto something for a second there but before he could engage, McKee burst forward and lunged across, taking Melendez with him and picked up two for the effort. 16-14. No one could keep still, not the Storm wrestlers, not Team Illinois, not the crowd sitting in the bleachers. Time was tick-tick-ticking away and Melendez needed points. He had his back to the boundary, McKee rushed in and Melendez hipped over to the side just in time as McKee went out to put him within a point. With under 10 seconds remaining, the situation was in doubt for both. Melendez had to strike. He locked onto McKee again trying for something big. As he took an overhook and grabbed around for a throw, McKee landed right on top of him. Four was confirmed and time ran out. McKee escaped 20-15 in a high-scoring contest everyone will be talking about.
Helton bullies his way past Erckenbrack; Clark perseveres against Milton
Thomas Helton (Illinois, 285 lbs) didn’t have a lot of theatrics up his sleeve facing off with Sam Erckenbrack (Minnesota). Rather, he plugged along, kept to his strategy, and continuously frustrated Erckenbrack to come away the victor. Erckenbrack drew first blood by forcing Helton out for a point. The two spent a lot of time jostling for control. Helton, as he would do throughout most of the match, held fast onto a high over-under clinch, moving his feet and stopping any of Erckenbrack’s advances. The protocol would end up working. Helton capitalized on an attempt by the Minnesota wrestler to tally his own step-out point. It was 3-2 in favor of Erckenbrack in the second period when Helton went for a throw at the boundary. It was confirmed for four, but not before a challenge was placed from the Illinois side. That made it 6-3. A late shrug in the center of the mat extended it to 8-3, making Helton the winner.
At 106 lbs, Anthony Molton (Illinois) was keeping a sprinter’s pace and stifling Ashton Clark (Minnesota) at every turn. Neither wrestler could seize a clear advantage over the other, although Molton’s work rate was tough not to notice. Down by one in the second frame, Clark snagged a headlock but Molton scampered right out and took top position. 4-2, Illinois. With Molton flying in and out and appearing to have enough energy for both athletes, it was going to take a whole lot of patience for Clark to find his chance. A step-out point tightened things up to 4-3 with 30 seconds left. If something works the first time, why not try it a second? Not ten seconds later, Clark tangled up with Molton again at the line and forced him out to make it 4-4, thus giving him criteria. Molton tried to make something happen as the precious seconds ticked away, only there wouldn’t be another opportunity. To the delight of his Minnesota teammates, Ashton Clark held on in a gritty performance that neither wrestler will soon forget, each for different reasons.
Baker scares McKee…sort of
Nolan Baker (Illinois, 138 lbs) is too good of a wrestler not to make an impression. And while Mitch McKee brings a dose of star power to any event nowadays, he’s not above getting taken for a ride. Which is precisely what happened to the Storm standout early on against Baker. The Illinois wrestler did not feel like posturing in the ties very long and as soon as McKee’s upper half was in his wheelhouse, Baker lassoed a headlock, taking McKee right down and into immediate danger. While a fall was not imminent, the sequence certainly woke everyone up, including McKee. Because after that, he calculatedly took Baker apart at the seams. He reversed the headlock at the first available opportunity and latched onto a high gutwrench, which he rolled twice for four. Just like that, Baker’s early heroics were all but forgotten. On the feet, Baker fiercely battled for position while McKee maintained his posture. Another shot at a headlock by Baker resulted in McKee sliding right through for another two.
More infighting began following the restart. McKee briefly broke away and then stepped right in for a straight bodylock, drilling Baker to his back for a four-point play. The end was fast approaching. Shortly into the second period, McKee in a flash ran an arm drag, got behind and gutted Baker over. It was another four points and also, the end of the bout. McKee wrapped up his two days at the Junior Greco National Duals with a 4-0 record including 3 technical falls (with one being over the highly-talented Peyton Omania of California) and a pin.
Junior Greco National Duals Championship
Minnesota Blue- 42 Illinois- 21
195 lbs Taylor Venz (Minn. Blue) def. Zack Crosby (Illinois) Fall, 0:53
220 lbs Keegan Moore (Minn. Blue) def. Sergio Villalobos (Illinois) TF, 11-0
285 lbs Thomas Helton (Illinois) def. Sam Erckenbrack (Minn. Blue) 6-3
100 lbs Matt Peterson (Minn. Blue) def. Anthony King (Illinois) 6-1
106 lbs Ashton Clark (Minn. Blue) def. Anthony Molton (Illinois) 4-4
113 lbs Patrick Mckee (Minn. Blue) def. Joey Melendez (Illinois) 20-15
120 lbs Louis Hayes (Illinois) def. Victor Gliva (Minn. Blue) TF, 11-0
126 lbs Peyton Robb (Minn. Blue) def. Anthony Madrigal (Illinois) 7-6
132 lbs Brent Jones (Minn. Blue) def. Gabe Townsell (Illinois) TF, 10-0
138 lbs Mitchell Mckee (Minn. Blue) def. Nolan Baker (Illinois) TF, 15-4
145 lbs Will Lewan (Illinois) def. Calvin Germinaro (Minn. Blue) 16-11
152 lbs Austin O`Connor (Illinois) def. Ryan Epps (Minn. Blue) TF, 11-0
160 lbs Jake Allar (Minn. Blue) def. Emille Shannon (Illinois) 5-1
170 lbs Lucas Jeske (Minn. Blue) def. Drew Matticks (Illinois) TF, 11-0
182 lbs Owen Webster (Minn. Blue) def. Logan Gruszka (Illinois) TF, 12-2