With the Greco-Roman portion of the first-ever U23 World Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland set to begin just a few days from now, it’s worth taking a step back to reflect on the individuals who comprise Team USA and their respective back stories.
The one point of separation between this particular World Team and the other three (Cadet, Junior, and Senior) would obviously be the compressed time frame. The US Trials were held a mere six weeks ago in Rochester, Minnesota — six weeks. That’s paltry in comparison to the numerous months US squads typically enjoy between the selection process and an actual World event. But unlike the Cadet and Junior age groups that are largely made up of part-time Greco athletes, seven of the eight U23 World Teamers are established year-round competitors, with six of the seven possessing multiple years of full-time training.
And that is why it’s difficult to make too much out of the short turnaround. There really hasn’t been a need to cram a whole lot in and experience against foreign opposition is abundant up and down the lineup, save for Alex Mossing (71 kg, Air Force RTC), who even without a resume filled with international tournaments should still be considered a very legitimate problem for anyone he faces given his penchant for offense. Plus, the brief window between the Trials and the Worlds stood to offer a potential benefit. Less time to prepare may have also meant less time for mental gymnastics. As US U23 World Team head coach Andy Bisek put it, “You obviously don’t have the time to put together a few camps, but they also don’t have as much time to build up a ton of pressure, either.”
This is also a history-making squad. There will never be another first U23 World Team. Regardless of what happens in Poland this coming week or whatever it is these eight wrestlers go on to accomplish throughout the remainder of their careers, it’s all but a guarantee that this experience will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
US U23 Greco-Roman World Team: 59-71 kg
59 kg: Dalton Roberts — NYAC/OTS (Fowler, Michigan)
A Junior World Team member in 2015 and ’16, it was during the past season when Roberts, 21, perhaps blossomed the most. A few strong performances overseas at Senior events served as an indication that he would be able to hang in there with the older, stronger and more experienced athletes at 59 kilograms, a weight class Roberts was originally deemed to be undersized for. By the spring of 2017, that was no longer a concern, primarily because he had begun to out-hustle and out-physical enough capable domestic opponents to wipe away that perception. A good example of this would be his two bouts versus Mike Fuenffinger (Army/WCAP), a very strong, very skilled competitor who had earned a runaway victory over Roberts at the Dave Schultz Memorial in February. The pair met again in the finals of the University Nationals and the result was not just a Roberts win, but a no-doubt-about-it message observers couldn’t help but take notice of.
Following that University Nationals win in June, Roberts spent the summer expanding both his skill-set and his muscle tissue, relegating any talk of a potential move down to 55 kilograms come January irrelevant. Lean and mean, Roberts’s wiry frame is an asset for him, not a hindrance, as he expertly uses his leverage to dig into favorable positions in the tie-ups to compliment his pressure-based style. Another key attribute is his assertiveness. Roberts has always been a “go forward” wrestler, but the manner in which he takes command is unforgiving and ferocious. It’s how he made an impact in 2017 and certainly how he made this team.
“Skills in wrestling have a lot to go with it, but it’s just how you approach things and your mindset plays a huge role, too,” Roberts said last month after winning the World Team Trials. “I’m very focused, I am laser-focused on what I want to do. Not that I wasn’t before, but I’m approaching everything with a different mindset and I think it plays a huge, huge role in how I perform in the future.”
Roberts was dominant throughout his march to the U23 Trials finals and while his two straight wins over Northern teammate Randon Miranda in their best-of-three showdown delivered some sparks, he was clearly a step ahead in virtually every department on that night. The U23’s mark Roberts’s third appearance at a World Championships, so he’ll be familiar with the environment. But it’s not how that experience translates over, it’s about what he does with this opportunity. Don’t expect him to waste it.
66 kg: Alex Sancho — NYAC/OTS (Miami, Florida)
Simply put, Sancho is one of the very best Senior international competitors in the country. It’s just a fact. Some athletes operate with a natural inclination towards how Greco-Roman is contested in other countries and Sancho could be looked at as the flag-waver of that notion. Whether that has to do with his decorated background as a judoka and his desire to throw, or a brand of confidence that seemingly too many US competitors need to learn from, all we know for sure is that if the opponent is wearing another nation’s initials on his singlet, Sancho knows how to perform. At least when he has had the chance to do so.
Sancho, 23, competed overseas three times in 2017. First up was March’s Thor Masters Invitational where he went 71 kilos and was beaten out for bronze by Senior World Team member Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm, world no. 19). The next week in Croatia, Sancho returned to his usual weight of 66 and broke through for gold on the strength of two wins over notable foreign opponents. The World Team Trials six weeks later didn’t pan out for him, as he was on the losing side of a tense three-match series with 2012 Olympian Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP), who has turned into his chief domestic rival. But in early June there he was again, this time at the extra-tough Tbilisi Grand Prix in Georgia. After scoring back-to-back tech falls to reach the finals, Sancho fell to Daniar Kalenov (KAZ) on two dodgy passivity calls, dropping the bout 2-0. However, it was a well-earned silver and also, more evidence that this is a wrestler who understands how to compete internationally.
But it’s Sancho’s entire body of work that demands attention. It’s not as if he has been steeped in anonymity stateside. He was a runner-up at the World Team Trials in 2015, third place at the Olympic Trials in 2016, runner-up at the Non-Olympic World Team Trials last November, and as mentioned, he took second to Coleman back in April. So in other words, as soon as he became a full-time Senior, Sancho has always been right there, on the cusp. Of course, when the U23 Trials were announced, his name immediately popped up as a favorite. If anything, Sancho was without question one of the three biggest favorites in the event altogether. And he made good on it. Aside from a brief threat posed by Lenny Merkin (NYAC) in the semis, it was the coming-out party that he was waiting for. Across five matches on that Sunday afternoon, Sancho amassed 46 points with 18 of them coming from his two straight wins over Sahid Kargbo (Patriot Elite) in the finals.
“I was dreaming about this tournament, dreaming about making this team, and performing overseas finally on the World Championship stage,” Sancho said later. “It’s not like I have a ton of weight on my shoulders, but I’m just going to do me and wrestle how I’ve been wrestling, compete overseas finally, and hopefully, most likely, I’m going to bring back a medal. I’m going in with that mindset.”
It’s a mindset he has not acquired by accident. We’re working on multiple years now with Sancho as a top wrestler in this country and improvement has followed him every step of the way. Just by glancing over the preliminary entry list, 66 kilograms at the U23 World Championships is, as expected, going to be a bracket positively crammed from top to bottom with accomplished wrestlers all with a shot of winning the whole thing. After everything he has gone through to reach this point, Sancho deserves to be seen as one of them.
71 kg: Alex Mossing — Air Force RTC (Toledo, Ohio)
It might be a stretch to say that Mossing came out of nowhere, but it’s not too far off. Mossing does not come from a pronounced age-group background, had never made a team before this one, and leading up to the Senior World Team Trials, most casual fans had no idea who he was.
They would soon learn.
Mossing went 2-2 in Vegas, good for seventh place. For a full-time “Greco guy”, that is an okay finish. Mossing was not then, nor is he now, a full-timer. But it is how he competed that stood out. Mossing was tech’ed twice at the Trials — first by RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC) in the quarterfinals and again in the consolation quarters by Colin Schubert (NMU/OTS). But even in those losses, he was trying to bring the heat. A lack of positional knowledge was his main downfall. Mossing just wanted to get close enough to lock and throw, a stellar approach, but without a refined toolset, ineffective. His two wins on the day included a shootout with Bradley Dolezal (Minnesota Storm) and a tech over Brandon Mueller (505 Wrestling Club).
A little over a month later, Mossing entered the University Nationals and right away opened some eyes when he got past a returning Austin Morrow (NYAC/OTS) in a close bout. From then on, however, it was a laser show. Mossing not only tech’ed out his next three opponents, one of them happened to be emerging Senior contender Anthonie Linares (NYAC/OTS) in the 71 kilo finals. On paper, that should have been a mismatch. Linares is a superb talent with loads of experience and Mossing tossed him four times en-route to ending the bout early. For his spectacular overall performance, Mossing was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler, and rightfully so.
If Mossing wasn’t on everybody’s radar before, he definitely was heading into Rochester for the U23 Trials. After being tested by fellow University National champ Ray Bunker (66 kg, Marines) in the semis, the Air Force Academy student found himself opposite Schubert with the World Team spot on the line. It was a complete 180. Mossing stunningly ran over Schubert in Match 1 of their best-of-three series thanks in large part to an early arm throw in the beginning and a booming bodylock to end it. Match 2 was different. Schubert assumed control to start off and led 8-6 with :20 remaining when Mossing went to work on a front headlock. Schubert defended, but as he did so, went out of bounds and was called for fleeing. The result was a caution-and-two, an 8-8 criteria advantage for Mossing, and a controversial ending to what was one of the more contentious matches of the tournament.
That being said, the premise is still intact. Mossing began his year of Greco competition late and in a very short amount of time, has morphed into an uber-prospect who many now feel will eventually wind up as a mainstay atop the domestic ladder. As for where he falls in terms of his chances at the Worlds this week, he’s a wildcard to the enth degree. Mossing has zero overseas experience to draw from, but maybe don’t put too much stock in that. He has already proven how fast improvements to his game can be made and you’ve got to love the offensive firepower. If he is fortunate enough to find himself standing across from a willing dance partner, don’t be surprised to be wowed by this athlete yet again.
U23 Greco-Roman World Championships
Tuesday, November 21st — 71 kg, 75 kg, 85 kg, 98 kg
Wednesday, November 22nd — 59 kg, 66 kg, 80 kg, 130 kg