If you have been keeping tabs on the USA Greco-Roman program over the past month, chances are you already know what this edition of Northern News is going to cover.
Towards the end of October and stretching into the first weekend of this month saw perhaps the most successful developmental tour of Sweden in this nation’s history with the US coming away with three team titles, a dual meet win over Team Skåne Brottning, and a whole lot of hardware. Two-time Junior World Team member Randon Miranda (59 kg, NYAC/OTS) led the way with two tournament wins and American wrestlers accounted for an astounding 12 medals altogether when it was all said and done. Obviously, this is something NMU head coach Rob Hermann is happy to discuss.
Also on the docket is what took place last week in Bydgoszcz, Poland. At the inaugural U23 World Championships, four Olympic Training Site athletes — Dalton Roberts (59 kg), Alex Sancho (66 kg), Jesse Porter (75 kg), and Blake Smith (98 kg) — competed and although there were some bright spots, all four left without advancing to the medal rounds. We’ll get Hermann’s reaction and perspective on how his guys performed. In addition, we check in regarding the current overseas tour for his guys that include stops in both Russia and Finland.
5PM: Let’s count it up from the Sweden tour: technically three team titles, a dual meet win, and 12 medals. You probably expect improvement in results from year to year, but did you see this coming before you left to go over there?
Coach Rob Hermann: Not really. When you’ve never done it before, it’s hard to think you’re going to do it now. But guys just came together and improved from the camp to the dual meet to the tournament. In one week’s time, they learned from their mistakes from the previous tournament in Klippan, and they learned from the dual meet. It just shows that when you’re there for the right reasons and you do the right things throughout that week of training, good things can happen.
And nothing was given to us. Randon Miranda is the first Senior, 23 and under — I mean, it was a Senior tournament, there were guys competing who were 27, 28 years-old — but Randon is the first Senior during the time that I’ve been going over there who won that tournament (the Malar Cupen). I can’t remember another Senior who did that.
5PM: And Miranda performed with a lot of confidence in those three events.
RH: Yeah, he was a natural out there. What makes him so fun to watch is that he is so loose. He doesn’t get too wound up, he’s just even-keel in how he approaches every match, you know? He just wrestles every match the same. He’s having fun.
5PM: Good call, he looks like someone who even when he’s having a grueling, intense match — and he had a couple of those — like he’s always enjoying what he’s doing.
RH: He does. He’s a natural out there. You know, he’s a tough 55-kilo guy. In any weight class, there’s no given in our country, so you’ve got to wrestle your best, but he’s in the conversation.
5PM: The timing of this tour and its success seemed to almost pick up where things left off with the US performances from the Cadet and Junior Worlds. The significance of these results are far-reaching in that it shows the athletes from your program and the other developmental age-group wrestlers in this country are making tangible progress overall, right?
RH: Yeah, our Juniors are starting to be real Juniors, they’re wrestling more on the Senior level. They are making Junior World Teams and you have guys who are wrestling at that next level even while they’re still Juniors. And I think we need that. We need these guys to get more experience and they’re getting it as Juniors so that when they get to the Senior circuit, it becomes second-nature and they’re not overwhelmed. I always look back on the days of Andy Seras, Shawn Sheldon and the Joe DiMeo group, they were wrestling on the Senior level and they were always at the US Opens, but they were 17-year-old kids, and then they went onto big things in their Greco careers.
As long as we keep getting a chance with putting competitions in front of these guys, they’re going to get better. Some guys will get better quicker, some guys may take a little longer and have different things that they go towards. Not everyone is Randon Miranda, who has shown it now. Even Dalton Roberts is still getting better. I like to think that we get our guys the right kind of competitions and the right camps. It’s not all done in our room, we like to get these guys other there as much as possible so they can experience other cultures and other ways of getting better.
5PM: There were other wrestlers who performed brilliantly. Benji Peak was three-for-three in terms of medals. He took bronze in Denmark, bronze at Klippan, and then gold at Malar Cupen. Peyton Robb was extremely impressive, of course. But what about Carter Nielsen? He brings a lot of toughness and solid experience to the table and is probably someone you have very high hopes for.
RH: Yes, and he’s in a weight class we actually need in our room. Iron sharpens iron and as an 80 kilo guy, he can go with guys at 75 and then up from there. It’s just nice to have his presence in the room. But he’s just scratching the surface. He took a year off from Greco, he went to North Dakota State, and you just don’t pick up right where you left off. He’s still learning, but he rolls around with these guys and they have Andy (Bisek) on the mat with them, so they’re going to get better that much quicker.
5PM: Four of your wrestlers competed last week at the U23 World Championships. Alex Sancho, who is one the best international competitors for our country in recent years, surprisingly had trouble getting it going. What did you see in his match that got your attention?
Coach Rob Hermann: I talked to Alex about it, you learn from your losses, but unfortunately, that came at the World Championships. He tried to force things a little too much, he didn’t let the match come to him. You don’t want to make the first mistake out there, especially at the Senior level. He felt bad about it, it was his first match (at the tournament). You know, unless you’re wrestling the best guy at your weight, you don’t have another chance, so you can’t make any mistakes and come back from it. You’re at a World Championships, you’re not supposed to make any mistakes.
But he’s still a young guy. Believe it or not, he’s only 23-years-old. I think he’s going to learn from his approach going into that match and be better because of it at the next Worlds.
5PM: Jesse Porter might have went 0-2, but the way he wrestled Turkey (eventual champ Fatih Cengiz), who is probably going to be an Olympic medal contender if he stays atop that depth chart, was practically inspirational. Porter had him backing up and guessing most of the bout, but he was hit with two passivities. Either way, his first Worlds had to provide some encouragement.
RH: Jesse, he’s one of the hardest workers in our room, he’s very athletic, he has the strength to go along with the weight class. He’s fast, he has everything going for him, and one of the things we’ve been working on before he went over there is finding that one go-to takedown he can hit on anyone in the world. It’s coming.
He’s getting better, the medal is going to come, but we’re trying to get him to be more aggressive in offensive positions so he can score at any time. We don’t want the match to be 2-1 or 1-0 all the time. He’s always one takedown away from winning the match, but we’re trying to get him to be a little bit more offensive out there.
5PM: Dalton Roberts had been there before with two Junior World Teams. Although he didn’t advance to a medal round, his second bout demonstrated why so many coaches and even other athletes in this country admire him. He completely fought his heart out. You see him all the time, you know what kind of progress he has made the last few years, what did you like in particular about the way he wrestled?
RH: Well, Dalton brings the same fight every day in practice, and that is hard to do. I wish I could put his heart, his mind, and his mindset in a lot of the guys in our room. We have other Dalton Roberts’ in our room, don’t get me wrong. But that’s how he is, he manages it like a business, like it’s his job. That’s how he handles wrestling, his schoolwork, all the way through training, he’s just very professional. And when he’s out there wrestling (in a match), he doesn’t do anything differently than he does in practice. I preach to these guys every day, If you don’t do it in practice, don’t do it in a match.
But he does that. He brings the fight every day in practice, no matter who he’s wrestling. He is wrestling with the 66 kilo guys and I think that helps him when he steps out onto the mat. So, it doesn’t surprise me. The results could have been totally different. He could have won that match. But he does keep it close because he never backs up. He is always going forward. Nobody wants to wrestle him, because mentally, he always knows what he’s trying to get out of a match.
5PM: Finally in Poland, you had Blake Smith. He was kind of up against it coming just because of his rawness and lack of experience, but even with that, he still managed to have a moment or two and is another wrestler with a very promising future it would seem.
RH: Blake, he’s another guy who when he steps out on the mat, he’s ready to go. He is still young in the sport, but he came with us to Austria last year and he did a great job and improved during camp. The more technique he learns along the way…I mean, he already has the body, the frame, and the size. He looks like a Greco-Roman wrestler. He’s also not easy to wrestle, which is a good advantage.
So the more technique he can get out of camps and training every day will help him keep improving. The latest news, and I had Blake in my office the other day, is that I think he’s going to Colorado Springs. He wants to go train in Colorado Springs and thinks he can go to school a little cheaper out there. That’s his decision, but no matter what he does in the room, he brings that into the match. He’s going to be a good guy down the road, I think he is going to make another World Team eventually and he’ll be a lot better with some more experience under his belt.
5PM: There are eight NMU wrestlers competing this weekend in Russia and then again next week in Finland, as well. The Lavrikov Memorial, from what I gather, is practically a domestic tournament in that country, which likely means there are going to be a lot of tough, experienced Russians to compete against. All of your wrestlers overseas currently already have foreign experience, so what is it you hope they take away from this event that has a certain element of uniqueness?
Coach Rob Hermann: What I told my guys when I had them lined up at 6:30 this morning, is that there are guys over there who need some more mat time. It’s like going over to a tournament with three tires when you need four. My point is, we have a guy like George Sikes over there, who has been doing a lot of tournaments, but needs more experience. We have Colby Baker over there at a Russian tournament, and he’s been to Sweden also, and he needs more training in the room. I don’t discourage competition because the more competition you get and the more situations you get into, the better you become.
Some of those guys have been working a lot in the room, so they are going to be able to see where they’re at in the tournament. But for some of the others, if they are constantly entering tournaments, they’re not in the room that long. I hate to see these guys just go to tournaments and not get enough training in, you know what I’m saying? George Sikes, I’m glad that he’s going to tournaments, but he went to Panama, he went to Sweden, now he’s in Russia, and I don’t think he has trained a full month straight. I don’t think he has had two weeks straight to just train, so he hasn’t been able to fix things that I feel need to be fixed.
I’m glad we have eight guys over there but I’m hoping they get a lot out of the camp, because to me, that’s what it is really all about. The competition is great, but to me, if they don’t reap all of the benefits from the camp — different partners, working on their technique, maintaining their strength, and coming home with things they can use once they leave there — then it’s not worth the trip. I want them to get their money’s worth and the only way you get your money’s worth is really, really getting as much out of that camp as possible.
We don’t schedule trips unless there is a camp involved. I said the same thing on the Sweden trip. I said, Okay guys, the first tournament is over. We did fairly good. We can do better. But the main reason we’re over here is for the camp. We’ve got to get as much as we can out of the camp because here is where you’re going to wrestle ten, twelve, thirteen matches. You’re going to get in a lot of situations, you’re going to learn from different coaches, you’re going to learn from different athletes, so let’s learn as much as we can from the camp. And it worked, because when we went to the Malar Cupen the following week, they were better wrestlers.
So I’m hoping our wrestlers who are there will really benefit from the camp. We’ll see what the results are after the tournament. But I’m more interested in how they do with the camp than how they do at the actual tournament.