Taking place today at the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio is the 2017 University Greco-Roman Nationals, which for this year, is much more about about pride than it is anything else. Traditionally, this is a tournament that can provide a springboard effect for the college-aged Greco competitors in the US who are still transitioning from being Junior athletes to Senior. Of course, given that the the qualification standards require credits towards a degree or having attained a degree within the calendar year, some very established wrestlers also usually throw their hats into the ring. That is certainly the case this year.
Right off the bat Friday morning will actually be a wrestle-off between G’Angelo Hancock (NYAC, world no. 18) and Blake Smith (NMU-OTS) for the 96 kilogram spot on the 2017 Junior World Team. Hancock, 19, was a Junior World bronze medalist last year and has emerged as one of the most talked-about US prospects in quite some time. The Olympic Training Center resident athlete Hancock is also in the 98 kilogram bracket for the University Nationals. He is a returning champion.
The tournament begins at 9:00am and can be viewed live on FloWrestling.org.
2017 University Greco-Roman Nationals Preview
To the surprise of no one, 59 kilograms is a stacked weight class this year and perhaps even more so than it was last year, as several of the top names here have acquired another year of solid experience. Dalton Roberts (NYAC-OTS) is back and he won this weight class in 2016 as an undersized scrapper trying to elbow his way into the fold. His semifinal win over former Missouri standout Alan Waters was a nutty affair which saw Waters caution out despite holding a lead. But it was the temerity and aggression of Roberts which played a mighty role in that happening in the first place. Roberts found decidedly less trouble with Trey Andrews in the best-of-three finals.
Roberts is a former two-time Junior World Team member and there is another two-timer here — teammate Randon Miranda. Both are on the smaller side of 59, but Miranda a tick more. It doesn’t make a difference. Miranda has made big strides in his game over the last year and will be increasingly difficult to deal with as the day goes on. Mike Fuenffinger (Army/WCAP) is an all-around beast in every style of wrestling and will without a doubt also be in contention at this weight. He’s a problem for everyone.
2017 Junior World Team Trials runner-up Wesley Dawkins (MWC) is a chain-scorer with a natural feel for where he needs to be. He is sitting on the top part of the bracket, and on the bottom is NMU’s Jordan Auen, the kid from California who won the Klippan Cup in Sweden last November. Auen is a fight-from-the-front type of wrestler who can deftly move into positions he likes without leaving himself vulnerable. It’s one of his best qualities thus far. Dawkins and Auen actually met in the Junior World Team Trials and it was all Dawkins. There are others here who can pose some issues — especially Ty Pelot (X-Factor), who Auen meets first round and has some good experience under his belt.
Northern Michigan holds a lot of ground at the University Nationals in most weights and 66 is one of them, as Jessy Williams, former Junior World Team member Travis Rice, Hunter Kelley, and David Prado are all signed on. Williams remains one of the most capable up-and-comers in the country and has enjoyed good success at this tournament before, including a bronze in 2015 and a silver last year. Rice was forced to take some time off in 2016 before returning to action in Finland in November. He is someone who absolutely requires matches because there is so much ability stirring beneath the surface that hasn’t been fully let out yet. Kelley is a tough, strong kid from Georgia and is still more on the developmental side of things, but there is no reason why he can’t be a handful here. Prado earned a silver medal at the Eduardo Campbell Cup in the fall and competed in Sweden a short time later. He’s another young athlete who can take full advantage of this tournament and find something good to build on.
The United States Marine Corps is also packing some power. Raymond Bunker had some impressive moments throughout the year and at the World Team Trials. You know Bunker. He comes at you with his head up and ready for as much hard contact as possible. With him is Colton Rasche, who has also seen some time at 59. There is little doubt Rasche possesses some of the tools necessary to build his case going forward. Grant LaMont (Wolverines WC) is a technical yet stout competitor who like his brother Junior World bronze medalist Taylor LaMont (Sunkist), is at home on a mat no matter what the rules are. He is definitely going to be someone to look out for.
Just like 66, 71 kilograms flexes Northern Michigan strength. Anthonie Linares (NYAC-OTS) was a runner-up here in ’16 and came close to snagging himself a National Team spot at 66 kilos in Las Vegas. “Twinkie”, as he is known, is starting to take that step up to where he is no longer a “could be”, but an “is.” He’s sound, he’s composed, and positively makes opponents pay for mistakes when he dominates the ties. That could also be said of Austin Morrow (NYAC-OTS). Up a weight here, Morrow is one of the best fighters in the sport. Every little position is contested with ferocity. Morrow also won this event last year. He’s been dealing with shoulder issues and other maladies, but if he is healthy, a showdown between him and workout partner Linares is certainly on the table for later in the day.
As if those two weren’t enough, you also have 2017 Austrian Open champ Logan Kass (NMU-OTS) to deal with. Kass did not have the Junior World Team Trials tournament he wanted to, so he is going to want to take that out on some people in Akron. A bright talent with a whole ton of grit, Kass should make some waves. So could Alex Mossing (Foxfire). Mossing has Morrow first round and that could wind up getting interesting if only because Mossing is a thoroughbred who has shown very little fear of walking into the fire. No matter how that one turns out, Mossing is a very good prospect in this sport should he continue on the path.
Colin Schubert (NMU-OTS) said last week that his presence at the 2017 University Greco-Roman Nationals is as much about letting it loose and having some fun as it is anything else. That might be true, but even if it is, he’s the one here with the most buzz. Schubert was one of the stories coming out of April’s Senior World Team Trials and if he can keep that big old ball rolling, watch out. He took second in Akron last year to Jesse Porter (NYAC-OTS). Then there is JayShon Wilson (Marines), a man who can be turn it on very, very quickly. Wilson sometimes struggles in spots, but he has the skills and matches in his pocket now to where he should be a major player at an event like this one. Wilson was third here last June.
Do not even think about dismissing either Curt Calovecchi (NMU-OTS) or stablemate Corey Fitzgerald. Calovecchi has been on the scene for a number of years now going back to the age-groups and now that he has hardened up on the Senior level, you can sense that there is more coming. When he doesn’t overcommit early and works for good tie-ups that allow for his underhook to sneak in there, he can hurt you. Fitzgerald has some of that going on, too. He’s not going to get the billing the others do yet, but that doesn’t mean he is missing a lot of pieces. Fitzgerald can and will show glimpses of what’s to come and this is just the kind of place where that should be happening.
“The Bad Guy” Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets, world no. 9) still stands as one of the most gifted and skilled Greco-Roman wrestlers in the United States. Obviously, his semifinal loss to John Stefanowicz (Marines) that few saw coming looms in the background, and that could be why he is (apparently) gearing up for this. He is here to clear the mechanism. However, this might not be the brisk stroll in the park people might tend to expect with his participation. 2017 National Team member and former age-group stud Jon Jay Chavez (NYAC) is also in the mix and resides on the bottom half of the bracket. Chavez, an extraordinary talent, lit up the scoreboard in a close loss to Kamal Bey in the 75 kilo semifinals at the World Team Trials, but his day was strong before that. His whole year was strong before that.
Porter is up a weight for this tournament as he prepares for his wrestle-off against rival Bey next weekend in Lincoln. It has been a grind for this guy. He won the Junior World Team Trials tournament to set up the meeting with Bey. They have a bit of a history anyway, you see. To win that tournament, Porter had to bite down against the similarly-scary Jake Allar, who if entrenched in a Greco lifestyle would also be one of the sport’s top prospects. And then Saturday happened. Porter fell to eventual World Team Trials champ Mason Manville (Army/WCAP) and then Chavez before sealing up fifth place. So it has been a ride for Porter with more shakes in the roller coaster cart coming soon. But him just being here is more than enough to make this a can’t-miss weight class. He is that special.
Just when you thought it was safe, Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm) gets ready to throw down. Stanghill, a graduate of Northern Michigan, locked on with the Storm upon graduation and it was a wise move. He was going to stay solid anyway, but there are differences to take note of, such as more patience with less hesitation. Stanghill is a bruiser by nature but is bringing with him a more refined game nowadays. He found a frustrating end to his bid for a National Team spot against Courtney Myers (Army/WCAP) back in April, so he is another one who would likely say he’s here for fun, but also wants to make a statement. Stanghill won this tournament in 2015 and was a runner-up to Speiller last year. Up from 80 on Friday, the jump in weight is probably a non-issue.
Austin Chaon (NMU-OTS) has acquired some miles and very well could find himself in contention here. If you watch him and forget about the fact that he is still a work in progress, you’d think he could be a contender everywhere. That’s because Chaon offers a lot of attributes. He’s long enough, strong enough, and rakes opponents inside with busy ties. Against the top tier, he can be overwhelmed, but that looks to be a temporary thing. He’s very much alive in Akron and probably everywhere else eventually. You also have a kid like Dru Worker (NMU-OTS) who is tough to steer away from. Worker, 19, might not bring with him tons of age-group accolades, but he is working the rawness out and could have some moments at this thing.
Hancock leads what is a tantalizing field of challengers, even if he’s already vanquished several of them at one time or another. For one, there is Jake Kasper (BBWC), the Duke wrestler who is definitely more of a two-style guy but can’t help coming back into the Greco fold. Kasper has some valuable experience in this style, including an appearance at both last year’s Olympic Trials and this year’s World Team Trials. He also took third here in 2016. So yes, Kasper has been busy. He is also a complete wrestler. And although Hancock has had his number (and that is not expected to change anytime soon), he can be expected to advance against others in this bracket. Daniel Miller (Marines) has two overseas medals so far in 2017, which puts him on a very short list. We’ve covered Miller plenty. He is strong in all pertinent areas but for some reason struggles much more domestically than he does internationally. One of these days, maybe it all clicks.
An interesting entrant at 98 is Khymba Johnson (NYAC-OTS). Johnson likely did not feel like cutting to his normal 85, but that’s just fine. The 2016 US Nationals runner-up might actually benefit from being at full-strength and if that is the case, the deepest weight in the tournament is all of the sudden a positively frightening place to hang out.
Austin Schaefer (BWC) brings some good things to the table and got on a nice run at the Senior World Team Trials, pushing almost all the way to the National Team match before being turned back by Enock Francois (NYAC). Titan Mercury’s Zach Merrill took a silver here to Parker Betts (Minnesota Storm) in 2015. In 2016, he moved down to this weight class and it is where he belongs. Dan Olsen (Unattached) has Hancock first round, so that’s a tough draw, but despite that, he is going to be in a match or two that captures your attention.
The aforementioned Betts has both won this tournament and taken silver. In fact, it was his runner-up performance here last year that led to him walking away from the sport temporarily. He came back in April for the Senior Trials and though he didn’t punch it all the way through, he seemed to be picking up some steam. Two of Betts’ losses were to Storm teammate Malcolm Allen. Allen, for his part, has worked himself into being one of the biggest surprises of the year and is now considered a top guy at this weight. Allen bronzed at the Nationals, won the Dave Schultz Memorial, and took fifth in Vegas. One more Storm guy for you — Donny Longendyke — Longendyke won the Last Chance Qualifier in Iowa prior to the 2016 Olympic Trials and is a brute to deal with. Eric Fader (Marines) could be in the hunt, too. Along with Allen, Fader has had himself a busy year. Outside of the Armed Forces Championships, an event he missed due to a skin issue, he has been in just about every other tournament, including a trip to Paris in January.