Led by 2017 World Team Trials runner-up and National Team member John Stefanowicz (80 kg), the United States Marine Corps Greco-Roman team is showing off a lot of muscle over at the Olympic Training Center the next two weeks. World Team Camp kicked off Monday in Colorado Springs with the nation’s top Senior competitors all coming together to assist those headed to the Senior World Championships in Paris, scheduled for August 21st-22nd. Head coach Jason Loukides’ squad has taken notable steps up under his charge and there are skilled, capable competitors up and down the lineup. From lighter weight talents like Colton Rasche, Xavier Johnson, and 2017 University National champ Raymond Bunker to upper-weight studs Daniel Miller, Trent Osnes and Eric Fader, the Marines are rounding into a full-scale unit that could potentially lead to numerous World and National team success stories.
Loukides is focusing on a step-by-step method of progression. While there is a lot of ability on his team to work with, continued development plays a crucial role for some of his newer guys and that end of the equation has to come from enhanced training opportunities. A change of pace and a different environment are often considered vital catalysts for improvement, which is why Loukides is thankful he was able to bring most of his squad out to Colorado Springs for this camp. It’s more than just wrestling for him. The way the coach sees it, roughing it up with the country’s best for a couple of weeks will also aid in building a heightened sense of confidence.
“The biggest thing that I hope they take away from this is that they belong in this world,” Loukides says. “They’re not fans from the outside looking in. They are wrestlers who either now or eventually later on will be competing with these types of professional athletes. For the younger guys or the guys who are new to Greco, it’s helping them transition into believing they can win.”
That’s another point of emphasis for Loukides — getting the results to match the attitude. Greco-Roman wrestling, for all competitors, offers an ongoing education. Though he has witnessed the fresher faces on the team improve, Loukides doesn’t want it to just end there. Upgraded skill-sets are nice and learning is part of the program for everyone. But after awhile, the objective is to translate improvement into wins at the highest level, which is another reason why he’s glad his men are with him at the OTC.
“Obviously, you’ve got to learn, even the best guys continue to learn but at some point, you have to decide it’s time to win,” asserts Loukides, who is also on the year’s Senior World Team coaching staff. “As you get better, you can start winning now. Even if that means building confidence off of a World Team member because he’s in a grinder and has four guys rotating in. That little bit of confidence from scoring on him for the first time hopefully gets carried over and puts one of our wrestlers in the mindset that they belong here, that they can compete and hopefully contribute to our effort, and become a World medalist down the road.”
There is also the matter of influence. For sure, there are several Marine wrestlers fans of the Senior National circuit are familiar with — Stefanowicz is the hot name currently, but Miller, JayShon Wilson, Rasche, Bunker, and Fader all own solid experience both domestically and internationally. They’ve already had the chance to get a feel for what other elite training camps are about, and they know what it is like to lock horns with successful foreign competitors. But it isn’t that way for everyone on the All-Marine Team. For some Marines, the 2017 US Greco-Roman World Team camp is a catch-all deal providing everything they need right now in their careers — high-intensity training, the top Greco athletes in the nation to bang heads with, and an important departure from what a typical practice is like at Camp Lejeune.
“It’s great for them to see the World Team members, how they prepare and how professional they are,” observes Loukides. “It’s also good to get outside of the room and do your special moves against people who don’t necessarily know they’re coming, as opposed to being in the room where you do the exact same thing every day and your partner knows it’s going to happen before you get there. So having the chance to wrestle a lot of different guys is really good for them.”
Loukides, meanwhile, is working with a lot of positive energy himself. In just a few short years, he has been an important factor in the reemergence of the Marines as a consistent National threat and his roster not only boasts a substantial amount of talent, but is also full of athletes who are motivated to grab as much meaningful experience as they can in order to compete on the biggest stage in the sport. As such, Loukides has been recognized for the impact he’s made, though don’t expect him to take a bow anytime soon. He’s far too humble for that and plus, there is still work to do. Currently for Loukides, that work includes elevating his Marines along with supporting the United States’ objective in making some big noise in Paris next month. He is grateful for both responsibilities.
“I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to be on this staff, to be around Matt (Lindland) and Momir (Petković). I competed when Matt was still wrestling, but he was always such a superstar and you looked up to him. So it’s been great to help contribute to what we’re all trying to do here, and we all have the same goal. Hopefully, we get a little advantage with it being the first year in the quad and maybe we can sneak in there while other countries are transitioning and we can get it all rolling in the right direction. Because they’re so close (in skill level) and so much of it is just believing in yourself. Hopefully they buy into what Matt is putting out there, everybody is healthy at the right time, and can compete to give us a chance to win some medals.”