Last year, the wrestlers representing the United States in the dual meet versus Sweden’s Team Skåne Brottning managed to win just three out of ten matches. The Americans, mere kids most of them, green as grass in May compared to their Swedish counterparts, fought and fought and fought, but fighting doesn’t necessarily mean winning. These competitive jaunts overseas might be more about education and getting that “foreign feel”, but tacking on wins matters, too. Wins represent progress, proof that lessons learned are being applied. Proof that there is growth.
A lot of growth can come in a year, just in case you were unaware.
Behind inspired performances from Austin Almaguer (58 kg, WA), Mason Hartshorn (63 kg, NMU/OTS), a vengeful Peyton Robb (71 kg, Minnesota Storm) and Dominic Damon (63 kg, WA), Team USA was able to overcome a talented Team Skåne Brottning squad to emerge victorious for the first time in the short history of the now-annual dual. Wrestling began at 7:00pm local time (2:00 EST) and streamed live on the Team Skåne Brottning Facebook page.
Erick Spence (63 kg, NMU/OTS) kicked off the proceedings with a controlling 5-0 win over Max Scharfenort (TSB) made possible by some nifty movement on the edge and a pair of takedowns. Spence keyed in on Scharfenort constantly, and his level of aggressiveness helped set the tone for what was to come later. Team Skåne Brottning then took the next four bouts, two of which were via tech. But the momentum of the dual was about to change and that can all be traced back to Almaguer.
Going up against a head-wrapped Albin Borgström (TSB), Almaguer prowled for openings before whipping a headlock for four. It was his balance, his positioning, his approach. Almaguer was wrestling confidently and he began searching for further scoring opportunities. However, Borgström wasn’t going away easily. He stood in there trying to gun for his own attempts but couldn’t grab a hold of anything meaningful. The end arrived shortly after the break between periods. Following a reset, Almaguer instantly dropped for a high dive and planted Borgström on his back for the match-winning points.
Hartshorn put in a 2-2 showing on Saturday at the Klippan Cup — more than solid for an international neophyte — but he’ll probably remember his contribution to Team USA today just as much going forward. He initially appeared to have scored first on Markus Tjörnby (TSB) when Tjörnby missed on a headlock. But no points were dished out and back up they were. Hartshorn regrouped and burrowed in on the (much) taller Tjörnby. Then in one fell swoop, he launched a huge arm throw, covered, and got the fall. Almauger started the engine; Hartshorn pumped the gas.
Team Skåne Brottning got one back when Erik Persson defeated Colby Baker (NMU/OTS), which brought the dual to its intermission. Following the ten-minute break, Britton Holmes (NMU/OTS), who was up a weight class today along with a few others, bit down, brawled, and persevered in a 1-0 decision over Elias Andersson (TSB). Next, two-time Junior World Team member Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS) resumed his friendly rivalry with Anton Rosen (TSB) and prevailed 8-0. Miranda’s victory gave the US its fourth win in five matches, providing an appropriate setting for Robb/Ahlgren Part II.
On Saturday, Robb and Ahlgren went after each other from whistle to whistle. The offensive output was a big part of the story — the two combined for 35 points in what was an 18-17 win for Ahlgren. But their first meeting was about more than what the scoreboard read afterwards. It was also an at-times spirited, if not contentious battle, and given Robb’s obvious, glimmering upside and the experience of Ahlgren, a rematch between these athletes seemed necessary to put together for this dual.
Right away — right away — Robb lunged in for an arm throw attempt. It missed, but the message was clear — this was not going to go down the same way it did on Saturday. He bounded back to his feet, taking a classic over-under clinch. Ahlgren responded with his own arm throw try, and when Robb snuffed it out, the Swedish wrestler looked to recover only to have Robb hip-heist around back. It should have been a takedown, but no points were awarded despite the protests coming from the US side (video review was unavailable for this event). Ahlgren next scored two on a bodylock that went off the edge and he assumed command (temporarily).
A passive point went Robb’s way towards the end of the first period, giving him plenty of time to pile it on the second. First, it was Robb going heavy on an Ahlgren attempt at the boundary. Next was a virtual repeat of the previous sequence, except Robb landed on top in-bounds. He collected two, and then two more on a gutwrench. Robb exposed Ahlgren one more time with a gut to make it 9-2 and he cruised the rest of the way from there.
Team Skåne Brottning picked up two wins in a row to edge ahead in the team race 29-25, but the US would have the final say. George Sikes (76 kg, NMU/OTS), the Florida native and neuroscience major, notched an opportunistically-driven tech fall over Algot Källman (TSB) to put Team USA within a point. Everything now hinged on the final bout of the night with Dominic Damon (63 kg, WA) holding all of the cards.
He didn’t need to hold them very long.
Facing off with Zackarias Gustavsson (TSB), Damon intently hand-fought his way inside, though a warning for finger-grabbing momentarily disrupted the flow. There was a noticeable buzz in the air, the “friendly” dual now hitting all sorts of dramatic levels that maybe, it wasn’t expected to. When the action resumed, Damon jousted into double underhooks and wasted no time. He locked, arched, and threw, landing a resounding four. But he wasn’t done yet. Instead of moving onto something else as Gustavsson went belly-down, Damon kept his lock before loading and lifting again for another four. And that was that. Dominic Damon, the winner via 9-0 tech, had also clinched the dual for the US.
“The guys wrestled tough,” NMU/OTS head coach Rob Hermann said afterwards. “We are learning from the wins and losses and we’re very proud of the way our guys competed. These competitions are priceless.”
With Hermann on this tour is Lucas Steldt, the owner of Wisconsin’s Combat Wrestling Club. Steldt has been a part of various other US tours in recent years and knows first-hand how tough it can be for American Greco wrestlers to make up ground against international opposition, especially at the age-group level. To him, this was a unifying experience and also, one that shows the strides being made at home.
“The athletes all came together as a team and what a terrific atmosphere it was to be in,” Steldt said. “Everyone was engaged, every US athlete was cheering and fighting for calls.”
Following the dual, the Americans are heading to Västerås for the Malar Cupen this weekend, which is the last event scheduled on this tour. They will take a minute to enjoy tonight’s groundbreaking team performance, but according to Steldt, everyone will be back to work bright and early tomorrow.
“We train Thursday morning and then it’s off to the Malar Cupen to throw our shoulders back into it,” Steldt explained. “We’re going to keep growing our athletes and growing our sport of Greco-Roman wrestling.”
TEAM USA — 8 (33) TEAM SKÅNE BROTTNING (SWE) — 7 (30)
63 kg: Eric Spence (NMU/OTS) def. Max Scharfenort (TSB) 5-0
58 kg: Samuel Trellid (TSB) def. Hunter Lewis (WI) 5-4
63 kg: Armando Molin (TSB) def. Logan Hatch (WI) 9-0, TF
75 kg: August Eriksson (TSB) def. Corey Fitzgerald (NMU/OTS) 3-3 (criteria)
82 kg: Andreija Maletin (TSB) def. Jacob Olson (NMU/OTS) 10-0, TF
58 kg: Austin Almaguer (WA) def. Albin Borgström (TSB) 8-0, TF
63 kg: Mason Hartshorn (NMU/OTS) def. Markus Tjörnby (TSB) via fall (1:55)
71 kg: Erik Persson (TSB) def. Colby Baker (NMU/OTS) 8-0, TF
71 kg: Britton Holmes (NMU/OTS) def. Elias Andersson (TSB) 1-0
60 kg: Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS) vs. Anton Rosen (TSB) 8-0, TF
71 kg: Peyton Robb (Minnesota Storm) def. Lukas Ahlgren (TSB) 9-2
80 kg: Anton Olsson (TSB) def. Tommy Brackett (TN) 10-0, TF
85 kg: Aleksander Stjepanetic (TSB) def. Keaton Fanning (NMU/OTS) 8-0, TF
76 kg: George Sikes (NMU/OTS) def. Algot Källman (TSB) 8-0, TF
63 kg: Dominic Damon (WA) def. Zackarias Gustavsson (TSB) 9-0, TF