JOINT-BASE-MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST — Going into the 2017 Armed Forces Wrestling Championships, it’s not as if there was a lot of doubt as to how things would end up. Certainly, the up-and-coming US Marines, led by Coach Jason Loukides, are a team on the upswing. Because of that perception, there was talk this could be the year that maybe, maybe, the Marines would be able to stay in a head-to-head dual with big, bad Army long enough to send a message, just like they did in 2013.
Not so fast.
An incredibly deep US Army/WCAP squad proved too much for the Air Force and Navy earlier in the day and during the afternoon main event dual versus the Marine Corps, it was more of the same.
2016 Olympic Trials runner-up Ildar Hafizov (59 kg, Army/WCAP), back for the first time since last April, was on fire throughout the day. He continued his run against Colton Rasche (Marines). Rasche came out to fight, make no mistake about it. But Hafizov was too clean, too in control, and too on top of his game for Rasche to pose a sustained threat. The first two points came to Rasche as he held onto Hafizov after an attempted arm spin. Hafizov, from bottom, held onto the arm and followed through to collect two of his own. From there, control was never an issue for the native Uzbeki. Another arm spin try for Hafizov allowed him to come around the back for another two. Hafizov rolled Rasche for more points. After the reset, a takedown followed by a turn signaled the end, a 10-2 technical fall victory for Hafizov, who like the rest of his Army teammates, took individual gold on the afternoon.
Coleman stays sharp against Bunker
Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP) is one of the best 66 kilogram competitors in the country and has a real case to be considered a favorite to make the 2017 World Team. Raymond Bunker (Marines) is a young, hungry scrapper looking to make a name for himself on the national level. When you combine these two divergent forces in the same bout, you’re bound to get some action. Coleman started off by controlling Bunker with a high bodylock towards the boundary. Bunker wasn’t complicit in the action, but he did display a touch more eagerness to avoid trouble as he was going out, which led to a caution and two for fleeing. Coleman was able to coerce Bunker down for a takedown and a subsequent elbow-to-elbow gutwrench, resulting in a 6-0 cushion.
Bunker dug in and tried to create enough counter-pressure on the angular Coleman to disrupt the WCAP wrestler’s charge. The problem with that was Coleman’s unanswerable advantage when it came to his underhooks, a serious weapon for him he can get them in. To his credit, Bunker wasn’t going down without a fight. As the two once again neared the edge, Bunker unfurled a double overhook throw. Coleman, keeping his balance, stayed heavy and landed on top of Bunker near the scorer’s table. Bunker didn’t give up, although it was now too late. He tried popping up and over just the same. Coleman didn’t seem to appreciate this so much — he posted on Bunker’s head an extra second as he was getting up. But despite the last-second heat, the two hugged it out after Coleman’s arm was raised in what was an 8-0 tech.
Hooker’s first time back was a good one
The second WCAP member to make a triumphant return to the mat in almost a year was Michael Hooker. Back up at 71 kilograms, Hooker was forced to reach down into the reserves to hold off a motivated JayShon Wilson (Marines). It was in the ties where this match enjoyed some of its most intense moments. Hooker plays a balanced game. He can rely on his technical skills to get him out of trouble and still get up for a dogfight is it’s necessary. It was necessary here. Wilson came out with gusto and looked to assert control inside. The two Greco Roman athletes jousted for position inside, trading underhooks and clawing back at one another during hand-fighting exchanges. Hooker took the first point via passivity. A flurry following a lateral twist attempt by Wilson didn’t yield points as the Marine grappler slipped to the mat while Hooker covered. The first period hadn’t even ended yet and it was easy to see this one was going to be tense all the way through.
In the conclusive period, Hooker doggedly got back to work wanting to ignite pockets of offense. Wilson stayed committed, however. He wasn’t about to give ground and most of all, he wasn’t out of this thing. Hooker received another passive point to extend his lead to 2-0. The action intensified as the period dwindled. Coming off a 50-50 position, Hooker clamped down for one of his headlocks; Wilson blocked; and then Hooker converted it over to a lateral attempt, throwing Wilson without exposure. The sequence was good for a two point correct hold, making the score 4-0, which is how this one would end. In his first three matches since the spring of last year, Hooker acquitted himself well.
Cowan and Stefanowicz put together a classic
Perhaps the most hotly-contested bout of the dual took place at 75 kilograms, where concerted technician Dillon Cowan (Army/WCAP) took on rising Marine powerhouse John Stefanowicz. One of the biggest differences in this match was Cowan’s ability to direct two-on-one’s. The position is a strength of his and provides opportunities for arm throws and slide-by’s that can leave opponents grasping at straws. A two-on-one effort on Stefanowicz’s arm at the edge resulted in a 1-0 step-out lead early on. Stefanowicz answered right back with his own step-out point on a nifty arm attempt. The tightness of the match was interrupted at the end of the first period. Cowan lowered in on a high-dive attempt and as he was coming in, Stefanowicz tried to take the momentum the other way with a lateral. It didn’t work. Cowan landed on top for four points and a breathing-room-friendly 5-1 lead.
About that breathing room — it didn’t last all that long. With a minute left in the final stanza, Cowan missed on a duck and Stefanowicz snagged full advantage, spinning behind for two. The deficit now just a pair of points, Stefanowicz locked on a high gutwrench. By the time he could negotiate a lock he could do something with, Cowan’s prone defensive measures proved too significant to overcome and the wrestlers were stood up. This might have been the missed opportunity that decided the match.
With the seriousness of the dual and the general energy surrounding this bout, the natural elements of combat assumed command. Stefanowicz knew he had to find a way to break through Cowan. And with time on his side, Cowan knew he’d have to fend off feverish, unrelenting last-second skirmishes. That’s exactly what happened. Stefanowicz collided in every way he could and Cowan was right there with him, meeting the aggression. There was no other choice in the matter. Clubs, head clashes, daggered elbows ramming their way into the tie-ups — this wasn’t the time for resignation. Both athletes, unyielding on the proving ground that is what the Armed Forces Championships represents, slugged it out to the whistle. Cowan walks away the winner 5-3, but this was a collective effort that gave the fans in attendance everything they could have asked for.
Myers is starting to click
When he wasn’t running roughshod over the competition earlier in the morning, Courtney Myers (80 kg, Army/WCAP) spent the rest of his time either cheering on the rest of his team or pacing back and forth like a caged tiger — quiet, calm, and fearsomely menacing. There was business to attend to, of course. Myers, who had endured a string of injuries dating back to last year, is now healthy. The best way for him to celebrate that fact was to punctuate his Armed Forces Championships appearance with a third no-doubt-about-it victory. Facing upstart Michael Brant (Marines), Myers needed but 26 seconds to finish the job. Following the whistle, it was a vice-grip front headlock he torqued over three times, the first for four, and that was it. With three technical falls for the day, Myers will now refocus on training for the US World Team Trials in April.
A poised Sheridan cruises past Monreal-Berner
One of Lucas Sheridan‘s (85 kg, Army/WCAP) biggest attributes is his ability to take what his opponent is giving and not overextend himself. Because of his keenness for relying on both fundamentals and his considerable power, there is rarely the need for Sheridan to follow opponents into their gameplans. This type of approach requires patience, talent, and an understanding of how to maximize scoring chances. This was all on display in Sheridan’s impressive, albeit short victory over Marine Vaughan Monreal-Berner. Displaying a measured preference for hard contact, Sheridan latched onto a head pinch and slid it by for his first two points of the proceedings. He then smoothly followed that up with a gutwrench — 4-0, Sheridan.
Sheridan used another head pinch to move Monreal-Berner out for another point. At this stage, Sheridan was merely walking him down, forcing another step-out to increase the margin to 6-0. It’s not as if Monreal-Berner was simply along for the ride. He was trying to make this competitive. But there was little he could do. Sheridan had an answer for every position and controlled the ties with authority. Moving in off of an underhook, Sheridan pivoted around, leaving his foe with no other option other than to hit the deck. A breezy 8-0 technical fall caps a 3-0 day for Sheridan.
Meza shocks Miller
Sometimes, big things come in big packages.
The most surprising result of the day came from Endhyr Meza (98 kg, Army/WCAP). In opponent Daniel Miller (Marines), he was facing a guy with noticeable talent, credible overseas experience, including a recent bronze medal in Paris, and also, someone he had lost to before. If you were to write this all out on paper, the edge clearly favored Miller. So much for paper. Meza kept a bouncy pace inside, which allowed him to remain loose enough to stifle Miller’s efforts in the ties. After jutting in double overhooks, Meza back-stepped and arched it over at the edge and through for a resounding four-point throw. A lot of the hand-fighting favored Meza, which is why he’d go ahead and get another one. Meza would snatch onto an arm or wrist, causing Miller to reach; Meza would then make up that distance with his hips and footwork, creating the chance to come with double-overs. Miller reached again a short time later and there it was, another toss, only this time for two instead of four.
Meza carried a 6-0 advantage into the second and Miller wasn’t biting any longer. The Marine negotiated a tighter approach and started working for his own offense. There was nothing doing, but it did net him a passivity point. With a little under a minute and a half left, Miller got inside on Meza, who briefly retreated, resulting in a caution and two, as he had stepped out. Down only 6-3, there was still time for Miller to put something together. The thing is, Meza got back on his horse. He went in on Miller towards the edge of the mat, earning a step-out to Miller’s protest. 7-3, Meza.
One option could have been to try and ride the time out a bit. There wasn’t a lot of time left and despite the prospect of a dangerous Miller locking onto a meaningful scoring chance, chances are Meza could have danced this one away. He chose a different course of action. In the last :30, Meza wrapped around Miller with a bodylock, hoisted it up and threw it down for four points to end this statement-making affair and also, elevate his profile in a major way. The 11-3 technical fall potentially stands as the biggest win in Meza’s career.
Erickson just too tough to stop
With regular Marine heavyweight Eric Fader out of the Armed Forces Wrestling Championships due to a skin infection, “catchweight” Trent Osnes was called upon to step in and give the Corps a viable 130 kilogram rep. Since Osnes has the size and strength to be able to go up and down between the two highest weight classes, the Marines were not losing a lot here. But with 2016 US National champ and human locomotive Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP) standing across, the assignment was a mighty one.
Erickson is at his best when he gets started fast. All throughout the morning, that was precisely the case and the script was not re-written in the third and final act. Erickson authoritatively crunched in a left side underhook and came around back on Stefanowicz, who had no recourse other than to concede the position. Erickson then brought this one to a quick and tidy end thanks to three consecutive gutwrenches, sealing Erickson’s first Armed Forces gold. Along with Hayden Tuma, Hafizov, Coleman, and Mason Manville, Erickson will next be going overseas to compete in the Thor Masters and the Grand Prix of Zagreb before zeroing in on the World Team Trials.
- The United States Air Force, led by longtime American Greco-Roman coach Floyd Winter, took third place in the team standings and qualified five wrestlers for the World Team Trials.
- Army/WCAP went undefeated (24-0) in its three dual meets, meaning not only did every WCAP wrestler individually take first but also, the entire squad will be competing in the World Military Championships.
- Navy might have had a rough go of it today, but there was some good news. Three athletes (Michael Hollingsworth, Antonio Harris, and Zacharia Manning) all punched tickets to Vegas.
- 1991 Pan Am Games gold medalist and former World Team member Randy Couture was on hand throughout the sessions signing autographs.
- Army outscored the Navy, Air Force, and Marines by a combined total of 93-6.
2017 Armed Forces Greco-Roman Championships Round 3
Army — 30 Marines — 3
59 kg: Ildar Hafizov (Army) def. Colton Rasche (Marines) 10-2, TF
66 kg: Ellis Coleman (Army) def. Raymond Bunker (Marines) 8-0, TF
71 kg: Michael Hooker (Army) def. JayShon Wilson (Marines) 4-0
75 kg: Dillon Cowan (Army) def. John Stefanowicz (Marines) 5-3
80 kg: Courtney Myers (Army) def. Michael Brant (Marines) 8-0, TF
85 kg: Lucas Sheridan (Army) def. Vaughan Monreal-Berner (Marines) 8-0, TF
98 kg: Endhyr Meza (Army) def. Daniel Miller (Marines) 11-3, TF
130 kg: Toby Erickson (Army) def. Trent Osnes (Marines) 8-0, TF
Air Force — 21 Navy — 14
59 kg: Michael Hollingsworth (Navy) def. Randy Duncan (USAF) 8-3
66 kg: Nate Higgins (USAF) def. Randy Bucsok (Navy) 10-2, TF
71 kg: Brandon Mueller (USAF) def. Bobby Yamashita (Navy) 5-2
75 kg: Tyler Westlund (USAF) def. Austin Craig (Navy) 17-16
80 kg: Brandon Johnson (USAF) def. Joseph Marques (Navy) fall, 2:23
85 kg: Sherwin Severin (USAF) def. Daniel Mazzie (Navy) 8-0, TF
98 kg: Antonio Harris (Navy) def. Raul Velez (USAF) fall, 1:00
130 kg: Zacharia Manning (Navy) def. Francisco Mata (USAF) 5-1