The spring semester at Cornell University ended nearly three months ago and Andrew Berreyesa (82 kg, NYAC/FLWC) has been an extremely busy man ever since. The word “final” comes up a lot. Leading up to the final exams that represented the conclusion of his freshman year at the Ivy League school, Berreyesa went ahead and won the Junior Nationals in Las Vegas. Just over a month later, he advanced to the U23 World Team Trials best-of-three final, and then a week after that, sealed up his spot on the 2018 Junior Greco-Roman World Team by defeating fellow young star Tommy Brackett (NMU/OTS) in two consecutive matches.
It’s a considerable amount of competitive activity, to be sure, but Berreyesa just can’t get enough. He’s surrounded by wrestling and possesses a passionate yet analytical mind for the sport. So when 2018 Senior Open runner-up and New York Regional Training Center teammate Jessy Williams (67 kg) asked Berreyesa if he would be interested in taking on an assistant coaching role for that state’s Fargo squad, there was little hesitation.
“He asked if I would be interested in helping he and Joe Uccellini coach Fargo, so I asked, ‘Do I get it paid for?’ He said, ‘Yeah’, and I was like, I’m in,” recalls Berreyesa.
Naturally, Berreyesa coaching at Fargo is noteworthy in and of itself given the Nevadan’s relationship with the tournament. After falling just short years prior, he blitzed and bombed his way to the Junior title in 2017, essentially yanking the monkey off his back in the most emphatic fashion possible. At the time, Berreyesa felt that winning Fargo was a box that needed to be checked, so the triumph was a big deal to him. It still is. But there was just a slight touch of weirdness surrounding his involvement at the grand spectacle this time around being only one year removed from the last time he participated.
“I got asked a lot if I was a Junior or Cadet, that was pretty fun,” says Berreyesa with a laugh. “New York kids, how would they even know who I am? But once Jessy, Yianni (Diakomihalis) or Ben Darmstadt would tell them Hey, he’s a Junior World Team member, they gave me a little more respect. Once they would tell them that and how I also won Fargo just last year, then they were, Okay, maybe we should listen to him (laughs). It’s like, Thanks you guys, glad you had to know all of my accomplishments before you listened to me.”
As a member of the US Team headed to the Junior World Championships next month in Trnava, Slovakia, Berreyesa also needed to make sure he got in his own training sessions. This is where the analytical part of his brain enters the equation. Active wrestlers, whether they are still in college or competing at the Senior level, commonly pick up new wrinkles and stamp down techniques they are already comfortable with by acting as clinicians. In working with Team New York, Berreyesa not only absorbed more technical finer points, he also involved the youth athletes in his preparation, thus embracing the opportunity to coach for all it had to offer.
“I saw it as another way that Joe and Jessy could work with me,” explains Berreyesa. “They had me work with some of the upper-echelon guys for Team New York and that helped me. We helped kids with their pummeling and I worked my lift on them. It was almost like getting to use them as another partner, outside of their own practices, of course, because they had a pretty big tournament themselves. But in the free time time I learned a lot. I also saw things differently looking at them from a coaching perspective. I can kind of see where most athletes make errors and where a lot of people can improve, especially in the US.”
Berreyesa’s summer of coaching didn’t end with Fargo. On Friday, he and Diakomihalis ran a clinic at Uccellini’s Curby 3-Style wrestling club in Troy and it was another chance to share his knowledge — both with the developmental wrestlers in attendance — as well as with the hyper-talented Diakomihalis, who was learning how to do an arm throw for the very first time. To no one’s surprise, the two-time Cadet World freestyle champ picked it up rather easily.
Before and in-between his coaching gigs, Berreyesa has been rounding out his game. He made considerable leaps as a Greco athlete this season in every area discernible, particularly with his positioning and ability to outhustle some of the finest hustlers in the country, including Brackett and 2018 Fargo Junior National champ Zach Braunagel (Ill), two victories that played a major part in his success this past spring. As such, cementing a place on the ’18 Junior Team is not something Berreyesa has taken lightly even a little bit, which is why he has made a concerted effort to sharpen his skills with whomever he happens to be training with.
“I’ve had Ahad (Javansalehi) since he returned with his wife,” Berreyesa begins. “I had mostly been working with Uccellini, especially in Fargo. I’ve been doing a lot of dummy throws and Bulgarian Bag workouts. With Ahad back, he has been putting me through a lot of pummeling drills, throws on a crash pad, really just perfecting my technique. I feel like I have grown so much more over the past two months since I’ve been focusing just on Greco. I’m seeing stuff from a whole new angle working with Uccellini as well as Ahad.”
Starting tomorrow, Berreyesa will be back in his home state grinding it out along with his Junior World teammates. The five-day Las Vegas camp unfolding this week is designed to be a joint training experience featuring the Juniors and the Seniors. When Vegas camp breaks, the Juniors will then occupy the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for a more pronounced, concentrated series of workout sessions. The remainder of the summer for the athletes will be spent putting the finishing touches on their arsenals (and their conditioning) ahead of the flight overseas.
Wrestling-junkie Berreyesa couldn’t be happier. He is invested in the process, and what’s more, people are invested in him. It does not, however, obscure the task at hand and its potential fleetingness. Berreyesa wants to win a Junior World Greco-Roman gold medal for the United States this year, and he wants to do it again and again and again as a Senior in perpetuity throughout his career. As one of this nation’s most prized prospects, there is reason to think he’ll have his fair share of chances to make that happen. But — it doesn’t mean any of this is a given, that Berreyesa, or any other athlete for that matter, can expect to appear at World Championships on an annual basis. Important to note, if only because Berreyesa is the one who points this out.
“Going into the World Championships, I’m about to be 20-years-old, this is my last year as a Junior and my first World Team,” he offers. “You see it — people post on Instagram or wherever, Didn’t do as well at the World Championships, but I’ll be back. You don’t know that. I don’t know if I will ever be back at a World Championships, nothing is ever guaranteed. So I am taking it day-by-day, just trying to get 1% better, or more, everyday. I want to make everyday result in a net positive.”
And how does Berreyesa do that? Simple: he has made it so there is no choice but to be reminded of where the current objective resides on his list of priorities.
“I have a whiteboard in my room. Today it said ’46 days until the World Championships.’ I keep the number of days up there that way when I wake up every morning, it reminds me that I have to do something to get better right away, to become more prepared.”
That’s a great example to set, and if he is coaching again next summer, perhaps Berreyesa will be explaining how that approach worked for him and how it led to a World medal.