There was a long break, a tease, and now Alex Sancho (67 kg, Army/WCAP) is back at full speed.
In the fall of 2018, Sancho went to basic training for the US Army as a newly-minted member of that service branch’s well-known World Class Athletes Program. A multi-time Trials finalist and one of the nation’s best overall wrestlers, Sancho was out of the picture for most of last season due to his commitment. He did return in time for the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament in May, and despite the rust, put in a sparkling performance that ended with a third-place finish at 72 kilos. But all in all, it wasn’t the fairest representation of his capabilities.
When this season began, Sancho found himself in New York, where he collected his third Bill Farrell Memorial gold. That win clinched him a spot in the Olympic Trials, though it was just the start of what has already been a very active campaign. After the Farrell, Sancho was off to Georgia for training camp; he then competed in Sweden’s Haparanda Cup; and right before Christmas, locked down his first Senior National title. And he really hasn’t stopped moving ever since.
Where is Sancho now? In Nykobing Falster, Denmark ahead of this weekend’s Thor Masters Invitational. It isn’t that there is some need to make up for lost time. On the heels of last year’s prolonged hiatus in conjunction with the implications of an Olympic season, Sancho is merely doing what he and his coaches feel he needs to if April in State College is to yield the result he seeks. So, there is that to talk about. Also on the docket is Sancho’s relationship with the top guy at 67 kilos in the nation and a competitor with whom he has banged heads repeatedly, Ellis Coleman. Coleman and Sancho, seemingly perennial rivals have been friends but are now training partners, and it’s a situation that Sancho says works out well for both of them.
As always with this athlete, you get straight answers delivered casually and with surprising introspection. This was going to be an interesting season, anyway. Now that Sancho is, in fact, Sancho again, it is only going to grow more intense as the months roll along (which they will quickly).
Alex Sancho — 67 kg, Army/WCAP
5PM: What was your gameplan for the Nationals once you saw who was in the bracket?
Alex Sancho: I pretty much knew how everybody wrestled so I just wanted to play it smart, get my takedown, and score from par terre. I wasn’t trying to do anything crazy. I just wanted to win tournament and play it smart, and have a high seed coming up at the Olympic Trials. That was pretty much my game plan.
5PM: Was your principal motivation to enter the Nationals seeding-related?
Sancho: No, in my mind I was just calculating everybody who always going to be there and I wanted to make sure I wrestled smart, made the finals, and win. That was more on my mind than just seeding. The seeding never really bothers me. I was just focused on capitalizing and doing what we need to do to win the matches I was in. It shouldn’t matter if you’re the #1 ranked guy or the #6 or #7 ranked guy, like me in 2015 when I made the finals (at the World Team Trials). Seeding should never be on any wrestler’s mind, just knowing you want to win and become #1 should be.
5PM: Last year, you came back from basic training and then just swooped into the World Team Trials. You still had a very good tournament despite the layoff, but how long did it take you after the tournament until you felt like you again?
Sancho: That wasn’t until after a couple months of training and wrestling, and then being a training partner for Ellis at the World Championships. That was when I started feeling like myself again, because you know, not wrestling for six months, or 20 weeks, I really didn’t have my footing. My technique was my technique not on par, I guess you could say. It’s like, I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t do it, you know what I’m saying? My muscle memory was there. I know how to wrestle Greco. But my footing wasn’t there. I didn’t have the right positioning, I didn’t have my timing right.
5PM: I asked Jamel Johnson this question, how before the season if someone looked at 67 kilos, they knew who the main guys were — Ellis, Jamel, you, (Ray) Bunker, Austin (Morrow)… You could throw (Hayden) Tuma in there although his weight class is up in the air and he might be thinking 60 kilos. But now you look at 67 and there are a lot more guys than originally anticipated making names for themselves. Did you see this coming, this infusion of youth?
Sancho: It happens every quad. You know, there’s always going to be new guys coming in making their mark. I did the same thing in ’15 and ’16. I made my mark then, and I’m sure anticipating that there are other young guys who are going to rise up to the ranks, and you’re seeing it now. There are younger guys now who are coming up. It’s actually happening at a faster rate than a couple of years ago and I’m happy they are doing that for Greco in America right now.
5PM: After you won New York, and before the Nationals, you went over to Georgia for that camp training with National Team-quality athletes from that country. Did that camp, which led right into Haparanda in Sweden, do what it was supposed to do?
Alex Sancho: Yeah, it was a solid solid training camp, just really, really long, you know? The schedule was a little wonky, I don’t know if you heard about that. Sometimes we’d have practice in the mornings and then the afternoons would be lifting; and then I think twice a week, we wouldn’t have practice at all. It was pretty much a strength and conditioning camp. That was the Georgians’ mindset. And the Americans’ mindset was like, Oh, we’re going to be training every single day, but it wasn’t really like that. It was more like you’d get a 45-minute practice and the rest of the day you were off.
It was a really long camp, though, and then once the the Sweden tournament came around, a lot of people were over it. A lot of people just wanted to get out. I wanted to win the tournament, obviously. I had a pretty good draw. It’s just you know, I lost to that Romanian dude (Mihai Mihut).
5PM: I wanted to ask you about that. You had beaten him in the Zagreb finals (in ’17) and then you go ahead and catch him in the first round of the Haparanda Cup. If you know who Alex Sancho is, you’re looking forward to it because it’s a high quality opponent. There were a couple of weird passive calls in there, but what did you feel with him in that match?
Sancho: I made a lot of mistakes in that match. I was pushing the pace a lot and pushing him around. I thought I felt a lot stronger. He actually came up to me after the match and he was going, “1-1, 1-1.” He told me, “You’re really really strong, you’re one of the strongest guys I’ve ever wrestled.” He told me that and I’m like, Alright, whatever, man. Just keep winning so I can get back in. And then he walked away smiling that he got that win, but it won’t happen again.
I made a lot of mistakes. I was trying to push the pace a lot more instead of getting to my positions. I wasn’t tired at all, was I was pushing the pace the whole entire time. They (the officials) thought I was being a little bit rough, like roughhousing with him. That’s why they kept on giving me the finger a lot and telling me not to do certain things. He capitalized on that and that’s how he got that win, but it won’t happen again next time we wrestle.
5PM: Now you’re off to Denmark for Thor Masters, a tournament you have competed at previously. What was your decision-making process for this time around?
Sancho: So, I had no idea about Rome (Matteo Pellicone Memorial) being a ranking tournament and that Denmark wasn’t until a couple weeks ago, a week ago. Yeah, I had no idea about that. I talked to the coaches and they want me to be active, to get matches in. They want me fresh coming up for the Trials, so that’s what played a role in my traveling to Denmark. I didn’t really have a decision at all to go to Rome or anything like that, they just gave me the heads up and they wanted that one.
5PM: Are you happy to be going since you’ve been there before?
Sancho: Yeah, of course. I’m happy to be back. Last time I think I took fourth or something like that. I had a lot of crazy matches, the most I’ve ever wrestled in an international tournament. I think I wrestled, what, six matches I believe? Something like that? It was a lot of good matches and I performed very well. I’m going in with that same mindset for the this tournament. Just wrestling really good people and trying to win the tournament while keeping my body fresh.
5PM: I don’t necessarily want to ask this question but I feel like I probably should now that you have crossed over to WCAP and are a member of the “Ninja Squad”. The #1 guy in the country, Ellis, is a guy in your room and you have competed against each other about a million times in important matches. I know that you and Ellis liked each other before you came over, but what’s it like now being in the room with him and a training partner of his considering the circumstances?
Alex Sancho: Man, we’re really good friends on and off the mat. Obviously, when a tournament comes it’s a whole different ballgame. We’re in a different mindset, we’re enemies. But during practices we’re always going together, we’re always making each other better, and I think that’s going to be really good for us because we’re the two top guys in our weight class. We’re making sure we are getting better and improving each other. That’s why they had me go as a training partner for the World Championships. We have a great rapport, he got a talented warmer partner, and I could kind of coach him around a little bit so his body was was prepared for the World Championships. It ended the way it did, but having he and I in the room together is only going to make both of us better.