There were two targets to hit for the United States Greco-Roman program at the first-ever U23 World Team Trials, which took place over the weekend in Rochester, Minnesota. The first and most obvious objective was finding out who would wind up surviving to make the team itself. For the most part, that part of the deal went pretty much to script. There was not a bevy of huge upsets and the wrestlers fans expected to still be standing at the end, for the most part, were. To go a little further in that direction, of the eight 2017 US U23 World Team members, three have been on other World Teams, Junior or Senior, and seven possess relevant international experience, with Alex Mossing (71 kg, Air Force RTC) being the only outlier.
That last nugget of information is the most important, for it is indicative of the developmental strides Greco has made in recent years. Yes — it is the 23-and-under team — but only two of the athletes (Alex Sancho, 66 kg and Barrett Stanghill, 85 kg) are at the age limit and both of those guys have been around for a few years. The average age of the other six wrestlers is 20 (although Blake Smith turns 20 at the end of the month, which would increase the average age to 20.16 — big deal).
What does this all mean? For starters, it shows the unrivaled value that acquiring overseas experience offers. Dalton Roberts (59 kg), Jesse Porter (75 kg), and Smith, three of Northern Michigan’s four World Team members, are very familiar with how foreign opponents operate due to having been able to travel across the Atlantic, even if Smith is the greenest of the bunch in that regard. The exploits of 2017 Junior World Champion Kamal Bey (Sunkist, world no. 18) and 2016 Junior World bronze medalist G’Angelo Hancock (130 kg, Sunkist, world no. 16) shouldn’t require any further explanation.
Wrestlers who attend Northern Michigan aren’t just getting a leg up in Greco because that is all they train up there, it is also those tours overseas which made a huge difference. As for Bey and Hancock, they, too, took advantage of opportunities to travel and look how quickly they established themselves. The collective ability and success of this lot is not the result of some monumental, mysterious coincidence.
The second bullseye the US program nailed dead-on was offense. Excitement. Intensity. There were gripping matches throughout both days, and out of the 16 finals bouts, how many of them could be construed as boring? Admittedly, the second periods of two conclusive finals matches, namely Sancho/Sahid Kargbo (Patriot Elite) and Stanghill/Rich Carlson (Minnesota Storm), delivered the type of action only hardened fans likely appreciate, and that’s okay. But what about the rest of the weight classes? Let’s cover this quickly for those who didn’t pay close attention:
59 kg — Roberts and Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS) — Probably because they a) know each other well and b) wrestle like they want to bash each other’s brains in, provided what was perhaps the most suspenseful 12 minutes out of the entire tournament. Their two finals matches had everything: numerous four-pointers, hard infighting, reversals, scrambles…you name it. They brought out the best in one another and that’s really all you can ask for.
66 kg — A tip of the cap goes to 2014 University World Teamer Kargbo, who at this juncture only shows up for Trials events and somehow still performs well. He belongs in this sport full-time, but that isn’t the case. Nevertheless, Sancho is too good to slip on a banana peel against someone like Kargbo but there was still electricity in their exchanges, even when the outcome was no longer in doubt during the last 180 seconds of their time together on Saturday.
71 kg — Mossing is like a walking stick of dynamite and his throw-first approach is as crowd-pleasing as it gets. The caution-and-two on Colin Schubert (NYAC/OTS) at the end of their second bout briefly overshadowed the actual work Mossing put in to even make that call as impactful as it was. Schubert appeared to be in control as time wound down, but Mossing kept coming. When you take into account how the Air Force wrestler wrapped up their first match of the series, it is very difficult not to walk away impressed.
75 kg — Here is all you need to know about Porter’s finals performance versus Jon Jay Chavez (NYAC): 12. That is the number of combined offensive points Porter scored in the last minute of both matches, which included two gigantic, replay-them-again-over-and-over-again correct throws towards the end of Match 2. See for yourself:
— Trackwrestling (@trackwrestling) October 7, 2017
80 kg — Tommy Brackett (TN) is already a stout competitor despite still being a high schooler and he’ll have his time in the sun eventually. But right now, there is no other wrestler like Bey, regardless of weight or style, in the country. His come-from-behind semifinal win over Alex Meyer (Hawkeye WC) in the semis along with his two consecutive tech’s against Brackett in the finals serve as further proof of that fact.
85 kg — As mentioned above, the fickle, casual American wrestling fan is not going to watch the second finals match between Stanghill and Carlson and be wowed by what he/she sees. It is what it is and you just hope education changes perception. But if you are a hardcore Greco-Roman devotee, it was wonderful. Carlson’s relentlessness as he tried to chip away at Stanghill in the ties and the smooth yet brutal manner in which Stanghill worked to retain command are why only the strong survive in this sport.
98 kg — Smith collected a tech and a pin in the 98 kilo finals against NMU teammate Anthony Riopelle, who deserves credit for the competitive gusto he showed heading into the series. He even wailed a pretty headlock to set the tone in Match 2 before it all got away from him. But Smith, originally from Arizona, has a little more working in his favor right now. He’s a specimen, for one thing. Smith also knows what works for him and while that skill-set of his needs to expand, it has proven quite effective thus far.
130 kg — Hancock gave the people what they came for — dominance. Alton Meeks (Florida Jets) clearly demonstrated earlier in the day that with a full-time training environment, he could become a viable contender down the road. He’s just a terrific athlete. However, Hancock’s job is to get guys like Meeks out of there as quickly as possible and he did just that. 130 is such an interesting place for him at this still-early stage of his career, but it already looks like it suits him well.
We will have more on the U23 World Team as well as some insights from a few of the athletes coming up later in the week, so stay tuned!
Wrestlers On Social Media
After important US domestic events, we like to sift through social media to dig up posts from the athletes and elsewhere in effort to raise awareness of the sport.
You can’t see it, but there’s a stache on my lip if you look hard enough! Excited for another shot at a world medal as I will represent the US in Poland for the U23 World Championships.Thanks to everyone that supports me and made all of this possible. I’ve got some unfinished business to settle in Poland!
Alex Mossing competed in the U23 Greco World Team Trials this past wknd! He went 5-0 to win the Gold! Alex will be competing in Poland next pic.twitter.com/hyPwMhzsrK
— Toledo CC Wrestling (@CCHS_wrestling) October 9, 2017
Finally made my first World team. I’ll be competing in Poland Novemeber for team USA. Thanks for all the support and love along the way!!!
— Barrett Stanghill (@BearStanghill) October 8, 2017
U23 World Team Trials Champion. Will be going to Poland next month to represent The USA at the world championships pic.twitter.com/k8xalQqQU2
— Blake Smith (@blakesmith1027) October 8, 2017
— G’angelo Hancock (@OlympicKidd) October 9, 2017
2012 Olympian/two-time Junior World bronze medalist Ellis Coleman (66 kg, Army/WCAP) will be the guest for our next episode of the podcast. If you remember, Coleman was forced to bow out of the Military Worlds a few weeks ago due to symptoms stemming from Celiac Disease. This obviously began becoming a problem for Coleman long before the aforementioned incident in Lithuania. That aside, the WCAP star had a great 2016-17 campaign and he seemed to rediscover some of the flair that helped him make an immediate impression on the national scene nearly a decade ago. He is also an unflinchingly honest, articulate, and passionate individual who is devoted to growing the sport. If you have any questions you’d like us to ask Ellis on the show, please get them in ASAP via Twitter or Facebook!