Earlier this week, Northern Michigan Greco-Roman head coach Rob Hermann reiterated one of the hallmark points he tends to make prior to a USA tour overseas. “To me, it’s not about the tournament, it’s about the training camp,” Hermann said. “You get more matches during that training camp, you wrestle more bodies, different styles.” The coach wants to win — make no mistake about it. But since foreign tournaments are unpredictable — especially for lesser-experienced Americans — Hermann wants his charges to temper their expectations and instead, focus on the lessons available in training simply because that is one area within everyone’s control.
But even Hermann would have to admit: eight medals is quite the way to set the tone ahead of a week’s worth of education.
For the second year in a row it was a show of dominance for the Team USA Juniors at the Austrian Open on Saturday. Paced by four individual champs — Camden Russell (55 kg, MWC), Benji Peak (60 kg, NMU/OTS), Riley Briggs (67 kg, NMU/OTS), and Cohlton Schultz (130 kg, NYAC), the US also received medal-winning performances from a collection of promising age groupers, providing further evidence of a program continuously on the rise.
Russell, 17, earned his first international medal last year when he made the finals at the Croatia Open as part of the Go Greco USA Developmental tour. He tacked on more experience throughout the summer but that was just the beginning. In October, the high schooler got the chance to get some matches in against a smattering of Seniors at the Midland Exhibition Series and then a couple of weeks later, he entered into the Dave Schultz Memorial. By the time this tour presented itself, Russell was more than ready to meet the challenge, something his club coach Zac Dominguez noticed before his wrestler left for the airport.
“I felt that Camden was really excited to get out of folkstyle and get into Greco,” Dominguez said. “He made runner-up at the state tournament and he was already on his way out headed towards Greco. He didn’t look good at first. He was rusty, he hadn’t wrestled a lot of Greco, so he wasn’t primed in all of his positions. But it was the first time I saw Camden really happy because he was about to go do what he loves to do, which is wrestle Greco-Roman.”
Peak’s story has been well-chronicled. An injury forced him off the mat for most of the spring leading into the summer. Shortly after resuming full-time training, Peak flew over to Denmark with teammate Alston Nutter (63 kg) in advance of the Bear Cup. That event represented the kickoff to an impressive run that saw the Wisconsinite score back-to-back bronze medals before adding a gold at Sweden’s vaunted Malar Cupen where he racked up 81 points across eight bouts.
Today, Peak was similarly on his game en-route to the Austrian Open title, notching a trio of tech fall wins in his five matches. In addition, the gold happens to be his fourth consecutive overseas medal.
While you cannot call Briggs’ win a total surprise, his stepping up to the top of the podium shouldn’t be seen as anything other than an extremely encouraging sign of improvement. The native Californian was a near-miss for a medal at the Klippan Cup and two tough losses greeted him the next weekend in Västerås. Adjustments have been made. At the 2018 Austrian Open, Briggs was an offensive dynamo with three lopsided tech’s to his ledger.
Schultz returned to Greco competition for the first time since making history at the 2017 Cadet World Championships and went 3-0 to lock down his first Austrian Open gold after taking silver last year. Included among the wunderkind’s wins was an 8-2 decision over fellow US prospect Nick Boykin (Sunkist), who won this event last year. With the high school folkstyle season now in the rearview mirror, Schultz will now begin preparing to make his second straight Junior World Team in April.
Hartshorn, Nutter, Hernandez & Massey
Mason Hartshorn (NMU/OTS), Luis Hernandez (63 kg, OTC), and John Massey (55 kg, NMU/OTS) all picked up their first international placings. It was mostly a US on US competition for Hartshorn’s journey to silver, as he earned one-sided victories over Delon Kanari (LCWC, in his first overseas event) and Erik Spence (NMU/OTS), lost to Peak, and then took out France’s Ishkhanyan Arman 9-0.
Nutter’s run through the tournament was just as dynamic. His only loss was a 6-2 decision at the hands of Andrej Ginc (GER), who Dalton Roberts (60 kg, NYAC/OTS) defeated a few weeks ago for bronze at the Granma Cup. Every other match for Nutter was a tech win.
Hernandez grabbed himself a bronze in Nutter’s weight and muscled up with victories over Benserradj Hocine (FRA) and Daniel Caldas (POR). Now with some hardware under his belt, Hernandez can focus solely on adding to his arsenal throughout the remainder of his stay.
Afterwards, Hermann was pleased with what he saw, as well as the team victory. But once again, it’s the overall experience he was most concerned with when asked, which is why he is looking forward to using this coming week’s training camp to fix mistakes.
“Ours guys performed, but there’s room for improvement,” observed Hermann. “That’s why we are here, to find out where we need to improve. Now the camp starts and that’s the most important piece to this puzzle. World Teams and World medals are the end game that’s why we do these tours, to be at a world level.”
Lucas Steldt, the Cadet World Team coach who is also in Austria this week, sees events like the Austrian Open as a measuring stick for development — just like Hermann does. He recognizes the steps taken coming out of a tournament of this magnitude but is also mindful that more work needs to get done if progress is going to continue.
“It is so apparent the need for the foreign ingredient in the training plan,” Steldt offered after the event wrapped up. “We had some young guys create success even though they’re still green in Greco. But the focus point is to win medals at the Worlds. So congratulations are in order but satisfaction can’t be granted. Some other guys who are just coming to the Junior age group showed we are poised to keep producing World-level athletes. I feel a steady reload is being created. The next step to that I feel is depth. But all in all, this is another great tour, soaking in the culture, seeing old friends, and creating life long relationships.”
2018 Austrian Open — Götzis, Austria
TEAM USA RESULTS
Camden Russell (MWC) — gold
John Massey (NMU/OTS) — bronze
Benji Peak (NMU/OTS) — gold
Mason Hartshorn (NMU/OTS) — silver
Erik Spence (NMU/OTS) — 4th
Delon Kanari (LCWC) — 5th
Alston Nutter (NMU/OTS) — silver
Luis Hernandez (NMU/OTS) — bronze
Reese Dalton (NMU/OTS) — 6th
Riley Briggs (NMU/OTS) — gold
Britton Holmes (NMU/OTS) — 6th
Justin Lien (NMU/OTS) — 8th
Calvin Germinaro (NMU/OTS) — 4th
Spencer Woods (MD) — 4th
George Sikes (NMU/OTS) — 5th
Faustin Tino Lopez (CO) — 6th
Dane Harter — LA — 7th
Kaleb Gaede (CO) — 4th
Cohlton Schultz (NYAC) — gold
Nick Boykin (Sunkist) — 4th