Five Point Move is proud to host USA Greco-Roman National Team head coach Matt Lindland each week for Coach Lindland’s Report. Here is where you will find detailed perspectives from Coach Lindland regarding results, training, upcoming events, and other Greco-related news that isn’t available anywhere else. ALSO — if you would like to donate directly to the US Greco-Roman program, just click here. Your support is appreciated!
With what was a wonderfully exciting edition of the US Open now in the rearview mirror, Coach Lindland recalls some of his favorite moments from the tournament and we highlight several performances for further examination. The discussion then moves to this week’s Pan Am Championships in Lima, Peru, where all of Friday’s National champs (minus one) will be competing. We close out with talk about the Junior Nationals, the Pan Ams this week, and why Lindland still finds traveling to different parts of the world invigorating.
5PM: If you had to put a percentage on it, how much of the scoring boom at the US Open would you attribute to the new rule emphasis on penalizing ‘negative wrestling’?
Coach Matt Lindland: I have to put a percentage to it, huh? I don’t know if I can. I think it’s a combination of the rule changes and what we’ve been preaching to our athletes, which is to score points, get your head up and attack. You can’t score when you’re fingers are locked, you can’t be collar-tying and pushing away. Get your body close, take hold, set your legs, and execute. I think that’s a big part of it.
The officials did a very good job. Yes, I would say “very good”, for sure. They definitely got some things wrong, but that happens every year. They were rewarding the guys who were scoring points and I think that is the exact concept we’re trying to get through with the new rule changes. And we penalized the athletes who didn’t want to wrestle. The guys who were avoiding wrestling were severely penalized, a caution and two is a harsh penalty. I saw at least one guy get cautioned out…
5PM: Alex Sancho against Pat Smith.
ML: That’s the one. That one was a little funky. I didn’t see that coming as far as someone getting cautioned out. It was hard to take, but Sancho came back to grab third place and he was very offensive on the backside of the bracket. And I don’t think that precludes him from being a contender at that weight class (72 kilograms) by any means, though he is probably a 67-kilo contender, as well. So we’ll see where he ends up entering the Trials.
So yes, I believe the rules encouraged the action, but it was also the positioning we’re trying to get our athletes into — heads up, chest-to-chest, fighting for locks, and executing their techniques. I don’t know, it’s hard to say what produced all of the action, but it was certainly an exciting tournament from top to bottom. Our Juniors and Seniors were exciting. I find it really funny and hard to believe that when you put freestyle and Greco-Roman side-by-side, they don’t compare if you see the guys wrestle like they were here. We haven’t seen that in recent years.
5PM: Talk to that for a second. It’s not to diss or discount the freestyle program, we all know how strong it is, how excellent they’ve been lately. But yeah, side-by-side, there is no doubt which was the more exciting style at this tournament, and it’s not bias. Greco was (more exciting), it wasn’t really close, and we needed it.
ML: Well yeah, right. And I wasn’t referring to who is better internationally. We have a very strong freestyle team. They just came away with a World Cup title and a World Championship last year. They are one of the best teams on the planet right now, in any sport. But just stylistically, look at the final matches. They had one final that was even worth watching, and that was Joe Colon versus Nashon Garrett. That was a pretty exciting match, but for the most part, they were all one or two-point matches and low-scoring. What was (Hayden) Zillmer and (J’Den) Cox? Speaking of, I would love to see Hayden back on the Greco side scoring big points like he’s capable of doing.
But being head up and chest-to-chest encourages action; bent over and hips back discourages action, just stylistically. You know, maybe people are interested in the tactics and strategies of freestyle. I certainly enjoy that part of the sport. But as far as just entertainment value, the rules in Greco right now definitely encourage action for the enjoyment of the fans and I think that’s really important.
5PM: Last year at the Dave Schultz Memorial when Kamal Bey came back against Jesse Porter, you said that was important for Kamal because he had to realize he was capable of doing that. On Friday night, Ben Provisor came back against Joe Rau with deficits of 6-0 and 10-4. Despite his long career and two Olympic Teams, we’ve really never seen Provisor have to do that before. I guess it’s never too late for an athlete to learn how to fight back in that kind of big match.
ML: I mean, Ben must be in an incredible training environment at Penn State because they completely changed his mentality in the way he competes. This is something we’ve discussed before and I was really happy to talk to him after the tournament just to remind him that he is capable of doing that. We’ve talked about the need to go out there and execute like that, and I think there has just been something in his mind telling him, I don’t know if I can score that many points, whether it has been fear of getting tired, fear of putting himself in a bad positions, or whatever it is. But once he was pushed to that level, he responded very well.
That was a fun match to watch. I haven’t seen Ben score that many points in the last four years. It was great, and now that I know he’s capable of that, we are going to expect a lot more out of him practice-wise and training-wise. You have to train that way to compete that way. I haven’t been with Ben a lot since the camp in Denmark. He’s been training with the Penn State program and I really like what they’re doing out there. We’re going to keep encouraging Ben to move forward. He’ll be traveling with us to the Pan American Championships, so hopefully we’ll see more of that out of him in Peru.
5PM: 72 kilograms was a very deep weight class and led at the top by three guys who have all won World Team Trials tournaments in the past, and not to mention, have also beaten each other on occasion. Going in, you would think all three were neck-in-neck but one guy clearly dominated, and that was RaVaughn Perkins in the most vicious way possible. What was it about RaVaughn going into this tournament with him being dinged up a little bit beforehand and still turning it on in a way that we haven’t seen from him in a few years?
Coach Matt Lindland: I think the biggest thing is that the kid is hungry right now. He’s hungry to compete and be on the mat. He has struggled with a few injuries and that kept him away from training. He’s a gym rat. You can’t keep him out of the gym, even if you tell him he can’t wrestle he’ll still find something else to do, whether it’s cardio, a piece of equipment, or a dummy off to the side of the mat. RaVaughn is always going to be working, doing something.
But RaVaughn loves to be on the mat to train and compete, and he just had this opportunity and he was healthy enough to do that. He was just hungry to have that opportunity. I think that’s a big part of it. He’s healing up and his body is feeling better. And he’s looking at this as his last quad probably, to tell you the truth, so he’s got a sense of urgency. I was happy to see him perform as well as he did. We just came off a big tournament in Denmark where he really had to dig down deep and find some wins, but nothing like he was capable of doing. RaVaughn could do what he did at the US Open internationally. He is that good. He’s that skilled of an athlete, and if he’s healthy, he is one of the best guys in the world. No question about it.
At the US Open, sure, 72 kilos was one of our deepest weights. But what excites me is that we went from eight to ten weights and I thought, Oh boy, this is going to spread our depth out a little bit. And across the board, every weight class felt to me like it had even more depth. Guys are raising their levels. We’re seeing some of these younger guys really stepping up. Northern (Michigan), Williams Baptist, and some of these other programs are really starting to blossom athletes out of them. We’re seeing what Andy (Bisek) is capable of doing with his guys up in Marquette. Randon (Miranda) has been on a tear lately. He had a tough tournament but finished strong and came back, as far as that goes. You might think, Oh, third place, but you’ve got (Max) Nowry and (Sam) Hazewinkel back. (Kyndall) Rutz is in there. How about this new kid Jabari Moody? Another talented kid who is adding depth. Going in it might have been, 55, there aren’t a lot of guys there, but those top-three were all beasts and when you go further down the line there was a lot of other talent there. It’s a brand new weight class and there aren’t a lot of guys in the world there just yet, there aren’t a lot of grown, adult men who are 55 kilos. So that was exciting to see, the fact we’re getting a lot of depth in our programs.
5PM: Dalton Roberts got himself a big win over Taylor LaMont in the semis and then a gripping victory in the finals over Mike Fuenffinger, although it didn’t start off that way. What impressed you the most about Roberts’s performance?
ML: What probably impresses me most about Dalton is that he’s consistent. He consistently raises his level every time I see him step on the mat at another competition. Dalton seems to always improve whether it’s the mental aspect of his game, the physical aspect, his strength — whatever it is — I see improvement from this guy. He is one of the most disciplined guys in our program. You ask him if he can do something, and it’s done, and it is done at a very high level of competency, as well. Whatever he is doing, he puts his full effort into it and that is why he is getting consistent results and improving in every way.
5PM: Kamal winning was not a surprise, but the way he did considering who he went up against, especially in the semifinal, was almost a whole new level for him. Were you at all similarly taken back by how lights-out he was? Confidence is never an issue for him, but this all seemed different.
ML: I think Kamal’s confidence is stemming from him doing the right things in the room and outside of the room. He is becoming a real professional athlete in his approach to this sport. Everything he is doing now is at a higher level than it was a year ago, or two years ago when he started this program. You know, he’s had this thing where he would say, I am just a kid, I’m just a kid. This past weekend, he said to me, “Well, back when I was a kid…” (Laughs) It’s like, Wasn’t that just yesterday that you were just a kid? I literally remember back in Poland at the U23’s and Kamal talking about cutting him some slack because he’s just a kid. And I referenced it to him. I said, “You know, children don’t win World titles and Olympic medals. Time to be a man.” And he has taken that on and he stepped up his game big-time as far as his approach and what he is doing in his career.
Kamal has a rare opportunity. There are not a lot of guys on the planet who have the abilities he does. If he has the confidence, the mental fortitude, and the toughness to along with everything else, there’s nothing that is going to stop this young man from reaching his goals. He has really changed his approached. Plus, he’s an adult now, so there we have it (laughs).
5PM: Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me from Robby Smith’s win over Adam Coon was the power. Watching that, it traced back in my mind to the strength training camp in January that was in place for all US Senior athletes. We saw a lot of power from Smith, he was lifting guys up. Plenty of other guys were, too. Is this what you were envisioning in regards to that directive from January, this kind of power showing up as we start to hit the spring and summer?
Coach Matt Lindland: I’m really glad you asked this question. Just today, after the tournament, we had a little debrief before our workout for the guys who are going to the Pan Ams. We had good conversations about how they feel confident in regards to the planning. And this is completely different than anything we’ve ever done as a program or I’ve ever done in my tenure as coach here. What we did last year in Paris didn’t work, so we had to make some changes. We reevaluated where we need to improve. We need to keep guys healthy, guys like Robby and RaVaughn, we need to keep them healthy. We need to get guys more strength and more explosiveness. I do think a lot of this can be attributed to a good plan, but also, good execution not just by our athletes, but by
our coaching staff, as well. Mohamed (Abdelfatah) and Morgan (Flaherty) are just pouring themselves into that strength and conditioning plan that we designed, and they’re doing an excellent job of getting our athletes prepared. I want to thank those two coaches, specifically.
I was never a strength guy. That wasn’t what I did. I didn’t lift weights. I wanted to get better technically, become more proficient…
5PM: You didn’t lift weights?
ML: No, not really.
5PM: Your back is like a movie screen.
ML: I lifted men off the mat who didn’t want to be picked up. I picked up dummies. I mean, I did strength training, yes, it just wasn’t something I poured my heart into. But the guys who are doing it now are committed to it and they believe in it, and I believe in it. I believe just by watching what’s happening that this is really important. I don’t think I had the science back then. In the 90’s and early-2000’s, there wasn’t data or anything outright suggesting, This is what you need to do. It was all about how hard you could work and how much time you could put in. Mental toughness, too. That was part of our coaches’ philosophies, just be mentally tough and take everybody out. But I think there is a lot to be said for the scientific approach and that is what we’re digging into.
I sent Morgan out to train with Dennis Hall to learn about his training system and he has also trained with Charles Poliquin out here. We have sent Morgan to a lot of places to get more training and instruction, and he is working hand-in-hand with the USOC’s physiologists. We’re meeting with them every month to talk about the upcoming plans we want to put together. So, there is a lot that goes into this program. But it wasn’t just the base camp in January, there were things leading up to the Open. These guys were lifting the Monday before we left for Nationals. They were in the weight room performing explosive movements.
After we select the Team, we will come back in July for a second base camp this year and revisit the strength and explosiveness as part of what we’re trying to do. But I do, I think it is paying off. I am seeing the results and the guys are seeing the results, and they’re very confident about this plan and the coaching they’re receiving. The buying is really important and I think these athletes have bought into the plan.
5PM: The Junior Nationals was a very encouraging tournament in that the participation indicated a higher caliber of athlete through most weights. Right along with that is the fact that it was the qualifying tourney for the Trials. Have you considered the idea that really skilled and talented kids who may not have been completely locked in previously will improve between now and June? These performances can wind up turning light bulbs on and increase long-term participation even more, or at least that’s how I see it.
ML: That is certainly the hope and the numbers were fairly decent for this level of competition. There are a lot of athletes out there who wrestle Greco-Roman but looked at the caliber of athletes present at this tournament and didn’t think they should be here. But I believe you have to test yourself, see where you’re at now, and then understand where you need to get to. You have to have some kind of measuring stick. Whether you’re ready to win this tournament or not, you’ve got to get out there to compete just so you can gauge where you’re at. And then you put a plan together to close that gap.
But, for sure, this is the first year we have a two-stage process like freestyle, and we understand the depth that freestyle has in their programs. I mean, every college coach in the country is telling their athletes, Oh, you can wrestle in this tournament. And they probably can because it’s very similar to what they’re doing in their college programs. But to be able to compete in Greco-Roman, you have to be a pretty special athlete. You have to have a certain skill-set. The body position is different, the tactics, the strategies, and of course, the techniques used to score. You’re scoring behind you in Greco. In folkstyle and freestyle, the attacks are in front of you. You drive through. Well, we all know what happens if you drive through things in Greco-Roman and you leave a guy’s feet on the mat — you’re getting tossed.
Overall, I was really happy. There were some incredible matches. It breaks my heart to see a guy like Peyton Omania, who has so much potential and talent, but is going to a folkstyle system. There are numerous guys like him. We saw Nick Reenan, who has been on our World Team, and he didn’t even compete in Greco, he’s just doing freestyle. And he is doing well there. But there are a lot of those athletes who come out, become a part of our sport, and then we don’t see them anymore. Where was Wyatt Koelling this weekend? I understand that a lot of these athletes are in a college. I don’t necessarily agree that’s the best thing for all of them, but that’s their choice, it’s what they want to do. They’re just missing these opportunities.
The other nice thing about having a two-stage process is that even if these are the only tournaments you’re going to do all year, at least it’s one more tournament than if it were the single format. So yeah, I’m happy that our guys are getting more matches and experience, but we need to get that experience internationally, not just domestically. I’d like to continue to encourage coaches and athletes to get overseas because that is what’s going to matter if you make a Team. The first time you go overseas shouldn’t be the first time you make a World Team.
5PM; Back to the Seniors and now it’s the Pan Ams. With the quick turnaround, do you have to be extra mindful towards the guys who might have a tendency to take longer to recover?
ML: Yes, I was certainly mindful of that, because there are guys who need more recovery time than others. Everybody knew that if they won the tournament (the Open) that they would have the opportunity to compete at the Pan Am Championships. So we talked about this a lot ahead of time, saying, If you want or need more recovery, let’s start thinking about that now so we can prep the #2 guy, or whatever. But everyone who made the team to represent our country at the Pan Ams was honored and excited about it. Unfortunately, Dalton Roberts, it’s his finals this week. He’s in his last year of college, and since he’s pretty dedicated to everything he does, I understand why he has to stay back and take care of his finals. It was hard for me to hear him say that, but we have a really tough competitor in Fuenffinger and I think he’ll do an outstanding job for us in Peru.
It’s a big thing, recovery, and we put a plan together (image below). It is really important. We asked each guy after the tournament if they were healthy, ready to go, and still planned on competing, and everyone was affirmative. I think everyone pretty much came out unscathed, to tell you the truth.
5PM: I understand everyone is going to be game to compete no matter the circumstances, particularly at the Pan Ams, but considering how terrific this Open was, maybe they’ll be coming in on a higher high than they normally would have been in years past.
ML: That is my hope because they all competed very well, the guys going to this tournament. There were outstanding performances over the weekend and they should be on a little bit of a cloud and feeling confident. I’m very optimistic about our performance at the Pan Ams. If we wrestle anywhere close to how we did in Vegas, we’re going to have a really strong tournament.
5PM: Having traveled as much as you have throughout the years as an athlete and coach, do you still get a charge out of crossing new countries off the list to visit?
Coach Matt Lindland: I do. I enjoy getting on a plane, seeing new places, meeting new people. I think that is one of the best educations you can possibly get. You can’t receive this kind of education from textbooks and classrooms. You can only get that by traveling the world and experiencing different cultures outside of our country and our borders.
But for sure, every place has something about it. I don’t know if I have a favorite food, but I know I love Peruvian food and I’ve never had it from the source. I’m looking forward to that opportunity. They have a lot steaks with sauces. Everything has sauce on it and I love sauces. I might need mayonnaise or some sour cream because this stuff has got some heat to it. This is where ceviche was invented, so I am going to definitely dig into some of that. Maybe I’ll have time to see a couple of sights, but not much. We’re in and out pretty quickly. Hopefully, I see a little more than just the inside of a gym and my hotel room. But we are going down there to do a job and that is our #1 priority.