Five Point Move is proud to host US Greco-Roman National Team Head Coach Matt Lindland every week for “Coach Lindland’s Report.” For fans, coaches, and wrestlers seeking news and insights regarding the US Greco program, this is the place to find what you’re looking for. ALSO — if you would like to donate directly to the US Greco-Roman program, just click here. Your support is appreciated!
It has been a couple of weeks since the last report with US National Team head coach Matt Lindland and in that time, the country got itself another World champ. Cohlton Schultz (100 kg, NYAC) won the Cadet World Championships on September 5th in Athens, Greece and by doing so, became the second American to claim victory at a World event this year, joining Kamal Bey (74 kg, Sunkist), who sealed his title last month at the Junior level. Lindland’s perspective on Schultz’s win is of course a highlight this week along with his take on the Cadet team as a whole. In addition, Coach Lindland went out to Ithaca, New York recently to check in with Gabe Dean (85 kg) and the other Greco stars currently populating the New York Regional Training Center at Cornell, so we talk about that, too. Community outreach is also part of the discussion as Lindland and several athletes are heading out to Mexico later next month for a mission trip.
5PM: Obviously, Cohlton Schultz winning the Cadet Worlds is the lead story. When Kamal won, you talked about what that meant for the program both in terms of perception and growth. Let’s go in a different direction a little — what did Schultz’s win mean to you personally?
Coach Matt Lindland: Personally, I am very fond of Cohlton. He’s a very dedicated athlete who made a huge commitment and a ton of sacrifices. You know, he’s 16-years-old and someone who is willing to make that huge of a commitment and fully knows what it takes and what kind of sacrifices he has to make. It’s very impressive to see somebody at that age level not only make that commitment, but also follow through with that commitment. He just got his license so he could drive to practice (laughs). It’s an hour and ten minutes each way. At least. If there is traffic, it could be worse. But he makes it to every training session, whether he is driving or before he was driving. So his family has also made a lot of sacrifices for his career.
It also showed the rest of the team. I talked to you about how I had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with the Cadets this year just because of how the schedule worked out and because the World Championships were taking place late in the year. I really got to know these guys and spend a lot of time with them, and I have to feel like these guys are going to start to make that transition out of a mindset which says, Oh, I’ve got to wrestle at a D1 college, because all of these athletes are capable of competing at a Division I level. But again, that is not the highest level. I think they can see that they are capable of competing at the true highest level and I think they really enjoy Greco-Roman.
We had fun this summer, we enjoyed being around one another, we enjoyed the training process, the learning process, and I really enjoyed the way these guys competed. They fought hard, they trained really hard to get to where they were. But the biggest difference is the experience Cohlton had over these guys. They were all asking, What’s it going to take, Coach? I don’t know, ask Cohlton what it takes (laughs). So Cohlton is like, Well, I had 28 matches international last year. I went to X amount of tournaments, eight weeks overseas at training camps, and 28 international matches, if I remember the conversation correctly. So these guys are like, Well, how do we do that? It started a dialogue to have those conversations and we’re already making plans. As you saw this year, we had our first trip over to Croatia and Serbia for the Cadet age group for two competitions and a training camp. It was a rare one-off to see people go over and get that international tournament. Now, we’re organizing those. We have volunteer coaches like Zac Dominguez, Lucas Steldt, and Mark Halvorson who are doing those types of things and putting on those types of events. Mark continues to have his Concord Cup out in California and he’s been doing that. But it’s been one or two guys, and now these guys are doing it as a team, and that is what it’s going to take. We already know how we can win. You have to be totally committed to the sport like Cohlton, and part of that commitment is finding ways to get to international training camps and competitions so you can get that experience.
The athlete he beat in the finals (Balint Vatzi), he also beat in the finals of the Croatia Open. It was the same wrestler, but it was also a different wrestler, because it was in the finals of the World Championships. He (Cohlton) handled him in Croatia and then he had a really close match (in the World finals) because that athlete was preparing for the World Championships. Cohlton knew that going in. He had that mindset of, This is somebody I am not going to walk over, but I know I can beat him. My favorite thing was after he won, he looked at me and goes, “How did I score that takedown?” He was just so happy. I said, “Oh, you snapped him down and went behind.” He had gotten himself in the flow state and that is a hard thing to do, where you’re not thinking, you’re just competing, reacting, and wrestling. There was no thought in that match. And you saw the match, where he hit the four-point-throw and the referee held up the signal for the four?
ML: And the judge and the chairman gave his opponent one point. I had the cube in my hands at that moment and I looked over. It’s 1-1 and we’re losing with :40 left, and I see the way Cohlton is wrestling. He doesn’t even look over at me to ask for that cube. He’s just thinking about how he is going to score on this guy. I put the cube down and said, I trust this guy. Because everything he’s ever done, he told me he’s going to do. If he says he’s going to be at practice, he shows up. If he says he’s going to be at this or that weight, he’s going to do that. I trusted him 100%, so I just thought it was symbolic, me setting that cube down and just saying, I trust you, Cohlton. You’re going to find a way to get this done and win this match with :40 left. That’s why I didn’t throw the cube out there.
5PM: That sequence was remarkable because it looked like he was just going to go for the step-out point at first, the way he seemed to be moving his forward from the clinch. And then he took it back, snapped and spun. That was an amazing amount of awareness and competitive maturity during such a high stakes moment.
ML: But how do you get that kind of competitive experience and maturity without putting yourself in those environments? And that was really what it took. Absolutely, he was going for the push-out. All he needed was one point. One point would have won the match. He felt the guy pressure back and the timing was impeccable, and he scored a beautiful snap-down and went behind and won the match. But you don’t have that confidence, that experience, that feel — until you go do what it takes to get that. These young athletes, I’m willing to help them in any way I can and organize those trips. But they have to want to do it and want to get that experience. And what a great experience it is for these young men to go and travel the world.
You really have to figure things out when you go to an international tournament. You go out there, your eyes are wide open, and you’re in another country. You’re 15, 16-years-old, and you have to figure out how to get to the bus stop, get a taxi, how to get to your hotel — and you don’t speak the language. You’re building all of these intangible qualities and skills as a person. You start to figure things out well and you start to understand how the world works a lot better. There are so many benefits to traveling the world and I think it’s one of the best educations any young man can get, the experience and knowledge to be able to survive in any environment, wherever it is.
5PM: Cohlton was the only medalist from the Cadets, but there were several other really impressive performances — Dylan Ragusin, Ridge Lovett, Mason Phillips, and Ashton Sharp among them — and because of that, there is more hope coming out of the Worlds than in recent years. Maybe the best way to see it, at least optimistically, is that it’s not over. That this is going to continue. Does that sound accurate?
ML: This can definitely continue and we needed that World title. It had been 20 years since our last Cadet World Champion and now we have a current Cadet World Champion who is probably going to be on our Junior team next year and can get us another Junior medal. The momentum is going forward and like I said, as much as I enjoyed working with these young athletes, I think they really enjoyed the process of preparing and going out there to compete against some of the best guys in the world. I mean, Dylan beat an Iranian first round. I think he tech’ed the kid. And then he came up against a Russian in the second round. There are no easy matches at a World Championships any way you shake it. The Cadet level, the Junior level, the Senior level — it doesn’t matter. These are the best athletes in the world they are competing against, regardless of the age group. These are guys from all over the world gathering for one tournament. How cool was that, the same place where wrestling started in Greece, and it was the same building the Olympics were held in 2004?
It was a really cool experience for these young athletes. We got a photo op in front of the original Olympic stadium, we took one up at the Acropolis, we stayed right on the sea…it was great. We enjoyed our time there, we enjoyed our competition, and these young men impressed me with how they fought. The only thing missing is that experience and that time training and competing internationally.
It breaks my heart that we don’t have a system now where they can just continue where they left off. They are going to wrestle folkstyle and spend their next few months bending over and grabbing legs. And next year, we’re going to have to get them back into the right position. Hopefully, we can get them back sooner and get them traveling overseas on their spring breaks. There are a lot of things we can do, and I think the momentum is rolling to where we can do that. I don’t know if we’re ever going to get away from our best athletes wrestling for their high schools because if you look at the homecoming they had for Cohlton at his high school, that kid is the biggest celebrity (laughs). He is a big man on campus, for sure. They had a huge thing for him. I think it’s on YouTube. Mohamed took a camera with him there, I was out in New York with Gabe Dean. But I can tell you from the pictures that I saw that they had a full-blown parade for him at his school. He might have even gotten a homecoming date out of the whole deal, so good luck to him on that (laughs).
5PM: You mentioned New York. You went out to Ithaca and the New York Regional Training Center. What was the general purpose of your trip and what did you see out there?
ML: Well, the general purpose of the trip is that it is our only training center within the college system. There are many reasons why freestyle is having a lot of success. They have a great coach who has spent nine years in that system and has been a part of building from the ground up, every position from developmental to resident coach to Senior developmental, and now he’s the National Team coach. He has been a part of that process all along and they have had other great leaders during that time.
But a big piece to that is the amount of money freestyle has. When you have success, you get rewarded by the USOC. They want you to continue that success, but on top of that, you’ve got another ten million being pumped into these RTC’s across the country. Greco-Roman has one regional training center, so I feel it’s important to get out there and nurture that. We’re starting to really get some talent out there. Some of our top guys are going out to Ithaca and spend time there. Tracy (G’Angelo) Hancock is out there and will be until the U23 Trials. They’ve got Enock (Francois) out there, Austin Schafer, Gabe Dean, and Zach Merrill, who beat Tracy out at the Universities. He has a lot of great guys out there training in his weight class. Yeah, they might compete against each other, but it made the most sense for Tracy to get out there.
Even with that, we’re not trying to beat the best guys in the country, we’re trying to beat the best guys in the world. We need to get our best athletes in the country training together, and we’re starting to build that depth. Just look at the names I mentioned. That’s in just one program right there. If we want to continue the conversation, we can talk about (Hayden) Zillmer out in Minneapolis. The depth is coming and we’re excited about that. It’s a big deal. Then we have one of the NCAA stars, Gabe Dean, making the full-time commitment to wrestle Greco-Roman and his first tournament is going to be the U23 World Team Trials. So I don’t think it’s bad having Tracy out there as a little more experienced of a Greco-Roman wrestler working with Gabe. Gabe is out of school now, so they have the mornings to do technical work together and in the evenings they have their live training sessions.
Overall, I wanted to see what is going on. I love what I’m seeing out there and I love the support the Cornell University staff is giving the program. I really don’t know if there are any other programs doing what they’re doing. They all have their youth programs in their RTC’s. I can’t remember the NCAA rule, it’s something like where they have to be within 100 or 200 miles and they can train with the RTC’s if they live in the area. A lot of these guys are spending a year out there in what they call their “prep schools”and taking grey shirts because you don’t get a redshirt year in the Ivy League. Once the clock starts, you have four years to get it done. So taking that year off can help set a guy up academically and gain a little more maturity. A lot of those guys in the prep schools are maybe not going to Cornell, they’re just doing that same thing. They are getting their grades up to where they want them, getting their skills up, and spending that year in that training environment. You’ve got youth, you’ve got Senior athletes, and your Junior athletes. It’s a really great environment. You know, you only have ten weight classes in the folkstyle program and they have about 40 guys in their program, so I think we are going to see a lot more guys making the switch like Jon Jay (Chavez) is starting to do and like William Cole is doing now. We’re going to see some depth out of that one program, so I thought it was really important to get out there.
5PM: Finally, pretty soon, you and some people from the OTC are going out to Mexico for what I guess is being called a ‘mission trip.’ What are the details about this?
ML: As committed and focused on the endeavor as these guys are, there has to be a break. Because they are within this world where they only see one thing — How can I get better? How can I close that gap from where I’m at now to where I want to be, which is standing on top of the podium with the national anthem playing? This is an opportunity for our team, our residents, and our Unity Council to go out to Mexico and build a home for people who don’t have a place to live. They don’t have a home. We partnered with a group called Hope Sports, and they have been doing mission trips for athletic teams for years. We’re going to go down on the 20th of October to Mexico. We’ll wake up on Saturday morning, have breakfast, and go build a house. And maybe on Sunday, we’ll get a second house built, but we’re going to dedicate that house at four in the afternoon on Sunday and turn the keys over to the new owners, debrief, and then take off the next morning.
Really, that’s what this is about. The town we’re going to is called Rosarito. If there is anyone else who wants to join us and go over, contact me and let me know you want to be a part of this trip with our resident athletes and our Unity Council members. It’s open to anyone who wants to join us. You can come and be a part of this. I think it’s going to be a really rewarding experience for these guys, to look at themselves not just as athletes, but as humans out there helping other humans. That is a really important piece to this process.
5PM: Community outreach and various other initiatives seem to be a part of the Greco program in particular. Is that something you feel is a high priority? It certainly seems like it is just going by the amount of stuff you guys have done over the last couple of years.
Coach Matt Lindland: It’s not just about developing the athlete. We also want to develop the individual. These guys want to grow and mature as productive members of society and as men. That is what we do, and we have a lot more than they have. If we’re only making $1000 a month from a stipend because we’re number one, we still have $1000 more than these guys have, and I think it’s important to have that perspective on life and to realize that you could be doing something you hate doing and living somewhere you don’t want to be. Our athletes are all in their training environments because that is where they chose to be. They are all doing what they love to do, which is wrestle, and they strive to be the best in their chosen field. To have such an opportunity, I don’t want them to take that for granted. I want them to see it for what it is, an opportunity. And maybe it’ll change their thought process a little bit as to how they approach this and understand that there will come a time when they aren’t able to do this anymore, so don’t waste a minute of your time. Don’t make poor choices. Make the positive choices in your life that are going to move you towards your goals faster.