Welcome to the first edition of Northern News with Northern Michigan-Olympic Training Site head coach Rob Hermann, which from now on will be a regular feature covering all of the goings-on surrounding the nation’s premier collegiate Greco-Roman team. The format is simple: we ask Coach Hermann about upcoming events, recent performances, and other topics relevant to Northern Michigan that way you, the reader, can stay in the loop as well as hopefully gain important insights directly from the man who presides over the program.
For this maiden voyage, we will be discussing two of the NMU wrestlers who made impacts at the U23 World Team Trials, the impending trip over to Sweden, the camp being held next month in Marquette, and why things are busier than ever at the Olympic Training Site.
5PM: At the U23 Trials, Dalton (Roberts) and Randon (Miranda) wrestled two of the most exciting matches of the tournament in their finals series, and Alex Sancho looked great throughout his day. But to me, the stories were Jesse Porter and Blake Smith, so let’s do Porter first. He won by piling up all of those points against (Jon Jay) Chavez in the last minute of both of his finals matches. A performance like this is typically defined as a breakthrough even though everyone already knows how gifted he is. But was this that defining kind of tournament for him in making his first team?
Coach Rob Hermann: Yeah, definitely. Jesse, he’s been second quite a bit the last year and a half, almost like Sancho. But to win a tournament, especially a tournament to make a team, has to work wonders for his confidence. On paper, well, maybe not on paper, but going into it, I knew that was going to be a match we needed to put at least three guys on the team, and he came through. You know, he’s a hard guy to wrestle because he’s so unorthodox. He doesn’t really wrestle too many positions. When an opening is there, he takes it. When an opening is not there, he keeps the guy pretty much in a position where the other guy can’t dominate. He’s a hard guy to wrestle because he doesn’t wrestle like a true Greco-Roman wrestler, in a sense, where he is just a pummeling machine. He stays out in the center and he knows what he’s doing when he’s out there.
5PM: For Blake, this was two consecutive Trials wins for him, although he didn’t make the Junior Team. But he did win Junior Trials and he performed very impressively a few weeks ago in Minnesota. At only 19, what has been his secret thus far so early in his career? Is it a combination of the training environment, his size, and his attitude? What is it that makes him such a great prospect?
RH: Well, he’s a different story because he’s in our room, but he’s not here full-time in a sense because he’s working out in town to pay for his school. But his greatest assets would be that he loves to compete and he is big for his size. He really carries the weight well, and he’s strong, you know? You have to have strength at that weight class and he’s strong for his weight. Last year, he was kind of banged up, he had a bad ankle and he wasn’t 100% going into the Trials. He’s not as banged up so far early in the season.
5PM: Roberts, Sancho, and Porter are not going to be a part of the training camp in Belarus that leaves in early November. Since they aren’t going, do they have a separate training plan compared to everyone else in the room at Northern?
RH: Yes, we are training them differently than everyone else in the room. We are treating them differently and we are training them differently. They are still going through what we’re going through, but we’re putting extra things in there. They are riding the bike for six minutes before they go out and wrestle, they are doing the Bulgarian Bags before they go out and wrestle, they are doing separate matches, and we are picking their matches. We’re training them like they are on the World Team.
5PM: There is a really big group going to Sweden and it’s not just Northern guys, there are more and more age-groupers from elsewhere around the US coming along, too. People in this country know how important these trips are and the tours are increasingly picking up steam. That has to help the narrative I would imagine.
Coach Rob Hermann: Yeah, and I had to cut it off. I would have more but I can’t take 40 people over there, Sweden can’t handle it. We take a commercial bus from Kilppan to Västerås for the Malar Cupen and they would have had to take another bus, and we were capped out last year. So I actually had to cut it off, I had to turn some people away, which I don’t like to do. But first, I am going to cater to the guys in my room, because it is a Northern Michigan tour, and Sweden takes care of the top 18. So 18 of my guys are getting free room and board in Klippan. The other guys will be staying at the training center at no cost. The food is on their own, but the bed is free. So it is a very affordable trip because we make it that way and Sweden works with us.
It’s almost 50-50, 50% from Northern and maybe another 13 are from outside of our room. A lot of the guys who have went on the Sweden tour in the past come to wrestle for Northern in the future, and I build that relationship with the athletes who are on the tour. They said, Hey, I really like your guys and I like being around them, and I want to come to school at Northern.
So it’s a great recruiting trip, but also, having the two tournaments is really a plus. We get a lot of matches, we leave Wednesday, and we’ll probably have a dual meet on the following Wednesday. The way they bracket it (the tournament), we get a lot of matches. It’s just a great trip to have a tournament, a camp, and another tournament. Last year was the first year we did that. In the past, we only had the Västerås tournament. We had the camp, we left and drove six hours from Västerås to Klippan, but in the last couple of years they moved the Klippan tournament closer to the Västerås trip, and so we’re able to get two tournaments on this tour.
5PM: That is a great point, because these tours give athletes their money’s worth. Not only do they get the training camp, but they also get plenty of matches in at those events. So no matter what, these wrestlers are coming back with practically twice the amount of experience compared to what most tours tend to offer.
RH: Austin Morrow said he wrestled ten matches last year. What else is different than in the past is that it used to just be a Junior tour. Now it is a Junior-Senior tour. It gives our Seniors another trip to go on rather than sitting in the room.
We’ve got a lot going on. We have 14 guys going to the Schultz tournament. Normally, we have over 20, but we have about ten guys going over to Russia, so they are picking the Russia trip over the Schultz tournament. They are saving their money for Russia. We’ve got guys leaving our room all the time. We have about 20 from Northern going to Sweden. We have 14 going to Schultz, and we’ll have close to ten going to St. Petersburg. Our guys know, and we encourage them, to get out of the room.
5PM: Also coming up before the end of the year is the major camp NMU is hosting. That looks to be a terrific opportunity for a lot of wrestlers in this country. What was the genesis behind this camp?
RH: My main brainstorm was that we had such a space in between tournaments. Let’s take the Schultz tournament, well, we had nothing leading up to our Christmas break. Normally, the last two years, we had the US Open in Vegas. We didn’t want the guys to go home for five weeks. We want to keep them a week later and for them to come back a week early. Our main thing was, it’s not just for our program, but for other people, like the Joe Rau’s, the Minnesota Storm, the Ahad (Javansalehi) group at Cornell, and I think Gary Mayabb has nine people coming. We wanted to get different bodies in our room and it’s more of a Senior event. We have Juniors who want to be in it, but we’re trying to limit it to Senior athletes because we want our guys to get better. It’s not a time for a lot of instruction, it’s about wrestling different bodies and wrestling more matches throughout the week. Staying in-tune, keeping it an iron-sharpens-iron type deal. We wanted our guys to compete better before they go away on Christmas break. That is too long of a break between Schultz till, I don’t know…
5PM: New York?
RH: Yeah, and that’s at the end of March (laughs). We’re trying to keep our guys actively busy with camps and tournaments. We already have over 50 guys in our room. What a way to start camp, right? And really, all I am looking for is maybe another 15. We might have 20 or 25, so let’s say we have 20. That’s 75 guys in one room. You can do some good things with 75 wrestlers.
5PM: You look at this current era at Northern and it seems like it’s just incredibly busy, there is so much activity going on. There is a lot of attention, it’s a hot training environment to be at. Do you sense the same buzz surrounding Northern’s place in the sport right now?
Coach Rob Hermann: Well, we’re not keeping it the status quo, we’re thinking outside the box. We brought Ivan (Ivanov) up for a whole week. We had Dave Curby come up and test all of our athletes. We never had Ivan up here, we never had Dave Curby up here. We are always trying to improve these guys one way or another, either through wrestling, or through training, or through testing, or through Ivan training… I mean, what a partnership we have with Ivan. We need to utilize these guys. They’re out there, they want to help us. Our guys are young, they’re like a sponge, they want to learn. Now when these guys come in the room, they know what the bungee cords are for, they know what the Bulgarian Bags are for, they know how to throw the dummies. We had half a dummy here sitting by our wooden gladiator wall and half the people didn’t even know what it was here for and then Ivan came up and gave us a whole week on Suples training.
So yeah, we’re trying to think outside the box how to make our guys better. We didn’t have to have a Christmas camp. It’s a pain to host something! To put an invitation out, to reserve a hotel, to make sure our trainers are on call. But — we know that’s what we need to get our guys better. And we’re not going to stop. We are staying busy. Andy (Bisek) brings a different dynamic to the room, too. He does a lot of things differently, even on Saturday workouts. He thinks like I do, it’s not only done in our room, we’ve got to get outside of it, too.