When G’Angelo Hancock (NYAC, world no. 18) defeated Orry Elor (NYAC) for third place at the 2016 US Olympic Trials, he did more than just make the National Team at 18 years of age. He also played a mighty role in creating what is today, one of the deepest weight classes in United States Greco-Roman wrestling. Part of that is, of course, his own doing. Hancock, you see, is no longer a “prospect.” A Junior World bronze along with a few Senior tournament wins and a victory over an Olympic bronze medalist helped shed that prospect label pretty quickly. Yes, he has still participated in Junior action occasionally, but has been far too dominant there as of late to even bother mentioning.
Just when the leaves began changing colors around these parts, Hancock was joined at 98 kilos by fellow National Team member Hayden Zillmer (Minnesota Storm, world no. 19). Like Hancock, Zillmer earned his spot at last year’s Olympic Trials, but that was at 85. Entering the new quad, it was presumed that the former South Dakota State wrestler would be staying at 85, but there he was in New York City last November, giving Hancock a very real, a very combative run for his money. The pair have met two more times since — in the National final and the Schultz final — and both bouts resulted in close victories for Hancock.
The key player in this triangle of madness is none other than Joe Rau (Minnesota Storm). Following his win at the Olympic Trials last April, Rau endured two heartbreaking (and knee-tearing) qualifiers and missed out on making it to Rio. It still eats at him. Of the three, Rau is without a doubt the most experienced and has faced an overall higher caliber of competition throughout his career. He is also a devastatingly fierce competitor who has done most of his best work when his back has been against the wall. Depending on what your training philosophy is, Rau’s lack of recent competition could either hurt him or help him. The only variable known for sure right now is that none of it will matter by the end of the month.
US Greco-Roman World Team Trials Preview – 98 kg
Depth means more than three
Hancock hasn’t won them all, but he hasn’t been far off, either. Narrowing it down to just 2017, Hancock has collected golds from the aforementioned Schultz and the Austrian Open (Junior tournament) before going 1-1 at the Grand Prix of Zagreb Open in March. If you’d like to rewind it back to the fall, after the Junior Worlds but before January, Hancock has been nearly lights out — gold at the Klippan Cup in Sweden, a 3-1 ledger at the World Wrestling Clubs Cup (including the upset over Cenk Ildem), gold at the Bill Farrell Memorial, and gold at the US Nationals in December. A Junior Greco-Roman wrestler who loves par terre, Hancock was originally miffed at its exclusion on the Senior level but his attitude turned around, and why not? He manages to find scoring chances constantly on the feet and stays active in each and every position.
Thus far as a 98, Zillmer has not demonstrated the same penchant for aerial assault as Hancock, but he is certainly adept at grinding opponents into exhaustion. You watch Zillmer and it is one systematic breaking after another. He is long, strong, and seriously, never ever looks tired. It is a style that suits both his body type and approach — he’s a worker. A lunch pail guy. Zillmer is far less interested in flash than he is results and the results have been worth noting. Outside of the runner-up finishes to Hancock at three events, Zillmer has performed very well. A silver at the Herman Kare International in January along with a 1-2 finish at Thor Masters and a 2-2 mantle at Zagreb represent his most recent activity.
Really, there is no up-to-date book on Rau. He came back for the Hungarian Grand Prix, lost to an Olympic bronze medalist, lost to someone else, and that was a wrap. But as many know, Hungary was much more about him getting back into “game shape.” To his credit, Rau appeared fresh in both matches and outside of maybe not capitalizing on a scoring chance or two, it was encouraging. You have to remember — Hungary wasn’t just Rau’s first foray back into competition since last Spring, it was also his first pair of matches without ordered par terre. Practice is practice, but some things require live adjustments. Expect the best version of Rau in Vegas.
We call this a triangle, but that is a misnomer. This party actually includes a fourth, and that guy is Daniel Miller (Marines). Miller, as has been said on this platform ad nauseum, is perhaps the most intriguing athlete not only at this weight, but maybe in the entire tournament. Why? Because he wins more on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean than he does on home soil. Miller loses to wrestlers in domestic events conventional wisdom says he should beat, and the ways in which he has lost some of these matches are head-scratching. But, you put him somewhere in Europe, where Greco-Roman wrestlers are (seemingly) hungrier to score, and things wind up differently. Case in point, Miller already has two Senior overseas medals in 2017, which ties him with Geordan Speiller (80 kg, Florida Jets, world no. 9) for the most on the US squad.
Miller captured bronze at the Paris International in January and then grabbed another three weeks ago in Hungary in clutch fashion. Domestic opponents have been a problem because of stylistic issues. Miller is bunched up more inside here and passivity tends to rule the day. Literally. In order for him to challenge the top names at the World Team Trials, Miller is going to have to hope that the new UWW rule modifications are actively enforced and windows to score are more available. There’s no question Miller is a threat to most others in this bracket, but to climb up the mountain, some tweaks in his approach may be necessary.
Also in the running
Enock Francois (NYAC) Absolutely should be considered a verifiable sleeper here. Francois is not being mentioned with the above four simply due to lack of a large enough Greco-Roman sample size. A talented freestyler, he knows enough about Senior-level Greco-Roman to know where his hips need to be and since he keeps a brisk pace, can pick up passive points.
Jacob Kasper (Roughhouse) Fresh off a successful run up at heavyweight for the Duke Blue Devils, Kasper is going both styles in Las Vegas. Greco is an interest of his and he has some semi-recent action to draw on from last year, such as a 1-2 showing at the Olympic Trials and a third-place finish at the University Nationals two months later. So athletic he’s just naturally good at all styles, Kasper has enough to go with here to be an interesting watch.
Micah Burak (Titan Mercury) Impressive at the US Nationals in December, former UPenn All-American Burak put together some entertaining exchanges in his matches. Sometimes, it is the guys who either aren’t full-timers or just dabbling who provide excitement because they have no other choice but to operate primarily on instinct. Well, Burak has those instincts and some innate technical prowess to deliver problems for anyone looking past him.
Zach Merrill (Titan Mercury) A complete, all-around Greco-Roman wrestler. Was originally a 130 kilo guy and made the move down last year. It suits him better. Merrill might not be there just yet, some areas in need a little refinement. What you like out of Merrill is that he sticks to his strengths, like pounding tie-ups that crack open the defenses of his opposition. He also does not make too many mistakes. If you beat Merrill, you earn it.
James Souza (Army/WCAP) This is one guy who has some punch. If Souza was more accomplished he’d probably be a star. He has the look, he wrestles like a monster, hits or tries to hit exciting moves, and fights for each position. He’s short in stature for this weight class, but that is not necessarily a deal-breaker. Is Souza a potential 2017 US World Team member? Very likely not. But if you want to watch an exciting upper-weight wrestler try to throw some bombs, win or lose, you’ll be into him.