Two of the Minnesota Storm’s most dangerous young athletes, Barrett Stanghill (85 kg) and Hayden Zillmer (98 kg), will be competing this coming weekend at the Ljubomir Ivanovic-Gedza tournament in Kragujevac, Serbia. Zillmer, as many know, has been very busy since turning in a runner-up performance to domestic rival G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist, world no. 17) at the World Team Trials in late April. The thing about that is, it hasn’t been in Greco-Roman, or not just. Following a dominant showing at the freestyle Last Chance Qualifier in May, the North Dakota State alum competed in that style’s World Team Trials a few weeks later and wound up making the National Team, becoming the first wrestler to make both US National teams since Sam Hazewinkel accomplished the feat in 2014.
As for Stanghill, after graduating from Northern Michigan University in 2016 he joined up with the Minnesota Storm and the results speak for themselves. A fourth-place finish at November’s Non-Olympic World Team Trials gave way to a bronze at the US Nationals a month later. A couple of hiccups at the Dave Schultz Memorial and Hungarian Grand Prix gave him time to reset. At the World Team Trials in April, Stanghill wrestled well and found himself in the third-place/National Team match with a resurgent Courtney Myers (Army/WCAP), only to fall in short in controversial fashion. Stanghill had previously lost to Myers that day in the quarterfinals.
Even still, it has been quite the year for Stanghill, as he is now firmly entrenched as one of the premier 80 kilogram wrestlers in the nation. But entering this summer, he was initially unsure of what he was going to do competition-wise, and more importantly, where he was going to go. Some dominoes fell into place and now here he is, grinding it out in camp and prepping for the Ljubomir Ivanovic-Gedza tournament. There is a story to tell regarding how this has all transpired.
“I was back in Montana, it was Mother’s Day, in fact, and Coach (Chandler) sent out a text that practice is at 3:00pm,” Stanghill recalled. “I immediately took off on a 20-hour drive because I wanted to be there for practice. I wanted to be there for Pat (Smith). The ball started rolling from there and I decided to stay in Minnesota to train through the summer. Then Joe (Rau) got his knee surgery and he had a ticket (to go to Hungary), so I kind of just slipped into his spot. This was actually right after Universities — Chandler texted me, “Would you like to go overseas?”, and I said “Absolutely.” The summer kind of unfolded that way, so now I’m here getting some great training here with this camp.”
Both athletes have been across the Atlantic for over a week preparing alongside the US Greco-Roman World Team, though by now, the members of that squad have returned stateside. In a way, it’s the two of them against the world, a somewhat precarious but necessary position to be in if you’re an American trying to up your international game. Naturally, Stanghill is motivated to get going against foreign opponents, so he is embracing the entire scope of the trip in more ways than one. “I am really looking forward to getting this first international medal,” said Stanghill. It’s fun to come out here because these guys are so tough, especially in par terre. I’m kind of getting beat up here (laughs). But I think par terre is one of the weaker parts of my game, so I’m trying to get it a lot stronger. My bottom needs work, too, but this top part needs work at the internationally level.”
Zillmer knows how to switch gears
Dual-National Teamer Zillmer is not just returning to Greco-Roman after a jaunt into the freestyle realm, he’s doing so in an international environment. The incredibly strong and hard-working 24-year-old doesn’t mind in the least. If anything, he has found the recent transition period to be pretty smooth and enjoyed the process heading into the freestyle World Team Trials and back again to Greco.
“I guess it’s been easy,” Zillmer said of going between styles. “I’m fresh out of college only a year, plus, I’ve gotten tougher hand-fighting with these guys for a year. I did train some freestyle the last couple of months twice a week leading up (to the World Team Trials) because Tony Nelson needed a partner, so it wasn’t anything surprising. I was still attacking legs and stuff. It hasn’t really been a challenge. If I take time off from freestyle, I just need a practice or two and then I’m good. With Greco, it kind of took me a second to remember to get my hips in, my elbows back underneath me, and just get back in the swing of things.”
Zillmer has gotten in plenty of international mat time already in 2017. To kick off the year, he nailed down an impressive silver at the Herman Kare International in Finland. Another silver at the domestically-hosted Dave Schultz Memorial followed. After that, it was a 1-2 showing at Thor Masters in Denmark and then a fifth-place finish at the Grand Prix Zagreb Open a week later. To watch him in action, Zillmer appears to have the physical and technical tools to be a fearsome global competitor. No one battles harder for inside control and his relentless approach is designed to flummox the opposition into providing openings. So the question is, what’s holding him back so far? Is it the contrast in styles foreigners offer? Or is it all just a matter of finding his own groove?
“I don’t even know right now,” Zillmer answered with a laugh. “Right now I struggle scoring points against them. They are ready good at pummeling. But it’s making me better, me being here. I’ve been training here with a World champ and a bronze medalist from Rio, and that’s only going to make you better. I am figuring out ways right now to score points, I just need to relax a little going into my style of wrestling so I can get in my positions and brawl.
“They (foreign opponents) slow you down without exerting energy. It makes no sense, I can’t explain it. They’re savvy. Once you get them moving, your opportunity to score is huge. You have to stay patient, I feel like, and good things are going to happen.”
2017 Ljubomir Ivanovic-Gedza Tournament — Kragujevac, Serbia
US Greco-Roman Competitors
Saturday, July 1st — Barrett Stanghill (85 kg, Minnesota Storm)
Sunday, July 2nd — Hayden Zillmer (98 kg, Minnesota Storm)