Five Point Move is proud to host US Greco Roman National Team Head Coach Matt Lindland every week for “Coach Lindland’s Report.” For fans and wrestlers looking for insights regarding the US Greco National Team, we ask Coach Lindland some questions to get his take on training and upcoming competitions. If you have any questions you’d like us to ask going forward let us know via Facebook, Twitter, or through our Contact page.
This week, we talk to Coach Lindland following the Junior World Championships, which took place in Macon, France August 31st to September 1st. The US performance was highlighted by two bronze medalists (Taylor LaMont, 60 kg and G’Angelo Hancock, 96 kg). Other athletes, such as Randon Miranda (50 kg), Kamal Bey (74 kg), and Nicholas Reenan (74 kg) picked up wins in what was an overall positive step for the program. Team USA finished eighth overall, six places higher than last year and nine higher than the year before that. We also speak to Coach Lindland about the idea of college Greco wrestling clubs becoming a factor and some other Senior stuff, as well.
5PM: The Juniors had a very solid performance overall in France, coming in second after the first day of competition. What was your overall impression?
Coach Matt Lindland: I thought the Juniors all competed well. On the first day, we were winning matches. We won a lot of matches that day and had two guys who came away with bronze medals. So I was very pleased with the way the guys competed, especially on that first day. The second day was a little tougher but for us to come away with two medals, I mean, we haven’t had two medals at the Junior Worlds in a while and it was nice to see our guys believing they were capable of performing at that level.
5PM: Let’s talk about the medal performances first. LaMont lost a match where an offensive point wasn’t scored against him, which brought back memories of his Cadet tournament last year.
ML: Last year Cadets, the year before that. He’s lost a lot of matches at the Cadet level where no offensive point was scored against him. It comes down to judgement at that point — who’s more aggressive, who’s holding the center better, who has the stronger tie-ups, who is going harder. I don’t know, I watch LaMont wrestle, he’s going hard, he is holding the center, he pummels hard, he fights hard… Every match he came back and won, took the guys down and scored the last points. That is how he won his matches and that’s what got him a bronze medal.
5PM: Hancock looked, to me, composed. Like someone who knew what it meant to be in control. He did have a high-scoring match with the Georgian in the semifinal.
ML: That was crazy, 15 points after the first period. That was an awesome match, you know? That is what this sport is supposed to look like, both guys in there attacking. The Georgian attacks from over-hooks, he likes the headlocks and he’s good. Tough guy.
5PM: He was a tough guy and Tracy was right there with him.
ML: Tracy is right there with him.
5PM: Going into the tournament, Melia and all of the Georgians were looked at as assassins.
ML: Last year, this year at the Junior Europeans they were fricking straight killers. They’re tough and their young guys look really good.
5PM: It was also nice to see Hancock have the kind of battle he did to get his bronze, too. His Japanese opponent was good and Hancock wrestled him really smart and didn’t overextend on anything. Is that accurate to say?
Coach Matt Lindland: Yeah, I think that guy was very good. Those Japanese wrestlers always have that Samurai spirit where they don’t stop fighting till the end of the match. They’re going to keep coming and if you make a mistake, they are going to capitalize. Particularly, I felt like there were a couple of opportunities in that match where Tracy could have put that guy away. He could have scored some more points. He got to the body and I think you like you said, he played it safe. He was smart. Okay, but it’s fine to be smart and finish the match and get off the mat, too. Especially when you have gotten to the body. You get to the body, okay, go ahead and take that risk especially when you know you can come back and score more points.
5PM: Watching Hancock compete, he seemed to have a certain level of maturity. At the same time, it appears as though he doesn’t know what his body can actually do. Like, if it were a video game, you wish you could just take over and control him because he’s so much more athletically-capable than just about every opponent I’ve ever seen him against.
ML: Yeah, especially for a young guy, he’s 19 years old. Next year he’ll be a 20-year old Junior. He’ll have matured another year, he’ll have another year of the Olympic strength program under his belt. I think he’s going to be so dominant next year that I think the biggest thing is we have to stay humble, we have to stay grateful for the opportunities to compete at this level. But you have to stay humble, because there are other guys who are going to be hitting the weight room and building skills. They are going to be trying to get better, too. Some of the guys who didn’t get the medals and everybody who is coming back who was a medalist, they want to get the next color up, whatever that is. So yeah, we have to get on the program, get back in the room, and do what got us here. And I think that is what allowed Tracy to do what he was able to do. He put the time in and he put the work in, but he was also afforded a lot of really good opportunities because he was committed full-time to Greco Roman. As an 18, 19-year old athlete, he’s not wrestling in the Big Ten’s, he’s not wrestling in the NCAA’s. He is focused on being the best Greco Roman wrestler in the world right now, so he has been afforded those opportunities. But he has to keep doing the right things to earn those opportunities again and again.
5PM: Does it break your heart knowing a few of these Juniors are moving over to college and going to do that whole thing?
ML: It absolutely does (laughs). It does break my heart because I look at the two guys who are going back to wrestle folkstyle, Nick Reenan and Mike Rogers, both super-talented, athletic guys who love Greco Roman wrestling. Both of them love to be out there to compete, both of them love training Greco Roman wrestling, but the culture we have set up here in this country absolutely pushes these guys towards college. I have heard people say, “Well, you’ve got to wrestle in college.” No you don’t, but that is the assumption.
5PM: Now that you’re home and not in the pressure-cooker of the tournament environment, I would think it feels good looking at it from a distance. It was the strongest performance in years, it is clearly proof that this is all on the upswing. Not just the medal performances, but overall. I mean (Jamal) DeArmond had a good match, he had a good guy, too. (Kamal) Bey had a legitimiate stud (Zotlan Levai).
ML: Yeah, the Hungarian, and Bey had beaten that kid’s brother this year so he was very scouted. Atilla Repka, the Hungarian coach, looked at me after the match and goes, “Your boy can jump.” Because Kamal jumped from the floor onto the mat. He skipped like five steps like without a run, he just jumped. So Repka goes, “But my boy can wrestle.” And I was like, Oh great, because he’s going to pull us into the repechage at least. And then he ended up losing that next match. 74 kilos is just so damn tough. That weight is just so tough to compete in, I don’t care if it’s the Seniors or the Juniors, those guys are strong and they are still quick and athletic. They have speed and strength. That weight class is ridiculous, though not all of them can jump up five steps. But he wanted to let me know his guy could wrestle and our guy could jump. I didn’t know what to say. We just got beat, I didn’t have a comeback (laughs).
To get back to your question, I’ve got a really big prospective donor coming in Tuesday this next week and I think coming home with a couple of medals and how all of our Juniors performed at a high level makes those conversations a lot easier. To say, Hey, now is the time to get on-board, now is the time to invest. We’re still at the bottom but we’re moving. We are moving in the right direction. The plan is laid down and the guys are starting to follow it. I was telling Tracy after the match, “Congratulations, I’m very happy for you and I’m very proud of you, you’re doing the right stuff. But honestly, you have just stepped up on the first rung of the ladder.” I mean, we’re just starting. Stay humble, stay grateful, but we’re on the ladder now. We’re no longer on the ground, but we have a long climb to go right now and we’re moving in the right direction.
5PM: Roberts was a medal contender coming in.
ML: In my opinion, Roberts was definitely a medal contender just because of his work ethic, his attitude and obviously, his abilities. He’s a darn good wrestler. I really like being around him, he’s a good leader for that Junior program. He knows what it takes to compete at the Senior level. He comes to the camps, he keeps a a diary of his training, he keeps a diary of what he eats. There are not a lot of young men who are as disciplined as he is. He’s a very disciplined athlete, so that was hard to watch. I think it had to have been mental, to tell you the truth. He didn’t take a lot of risks, he didn’t make a lot of mistakes out there, either. But at this level, you have to take risks. There’s a point when if you want to score, you have to take risks. His universal wrestling is good, his total wrestling is great, but there is that one piece of risk, and maybe he is just assessing it too much like, Well, I don’t want to get scored on. But there comes a point in that match where you have to take some risks. But he’ll learn, he’ll grow and he’ll adjust. He will get better. I think he can be a contender in the near future at 59 kilos for us as a Senior. I’m hoping Roberts sticks around and keeps training like he is and improving at the rate he has improved at.
5PM: Following this are two more World Championships, the Cadets and Universities. Are there going to be anymore unified camps out in Springs for these guys?
Coach Matt Lindland: No, there aren’t going to be any more camps. We did a lot of combined training this summer between our Cadets and Juniors. Both groups attended the camp in Marquette and both came to Colorado Springs during our Olympic Team’s taper week, you remember when we had that camp out here.
ML: The one added benefit, and I think it may have contributed to their performances, was that the Juniors went over to Germany, got acclimated, and then had a camp over there before they headed to Macon. It was only a three-hour drive. Put them on a bus, it was comfortable. They just got up in the morning, got on a bus, and three hours later they were checking into their rooms. So it was great. The Cadets don’t have that luxury. They are going to fly over like they always have. LaMont is the one who had been on the last three Cadet teams and this was his first year as a Junior. The nice thing is we have him for two more years. He was one of the guys who mentioned that it really changed things. He said the training camp in Germany was a game-changer for him. Hopefully, we’ll be able to facilitate that in the future.
You know, everything really comes down to funding. That is why a lot of my efforts are going to be trying to find some donors and some money so we can do things like that we need to do so these guys can have the best performances possible. I don’t want to leave anything on the table when it comes to performance, so if a week-long acclimation camp is going to be a game-changer like one of my athletes said it is, then we have to make sure we can do those types of things. Even at the Junior level and to me, Juniors and Seniors are the same. You’ve got guys who are Juniors who are on my National Team. And if the plan continues like it is, I think we’re going to see more and more of that.
5PM: This was something Dennis Hall brought up in the first part of his interview here, which is that many colleges have freestyle clubs attached to their wrestling programs, most of them are quite well-known. This kind of thing doesn’t really exist for Greco, so do you think this is an area worth exploring further?
ML: I definitely think that is a great option because first of all, it doesn’t take a lot of direction from the national office. It doesn’t take a lot of my time, energy, and resources. On the same token, maybe we develop some guys there who want to transition full-time into Greco or at least after college they are ready, prepared, and step up to that Senior level. Because there is a huge transition when you leave college. I’m really optimistic we’re going to get someone like Gabe Dean to transition right after this senior year of his. But even someone like him, who is an absolute beast in the NCAA’s, he’s going to have to make some adjustments and put some time in and take some lumps, and be willing to go, There is a learning curve here and I’ve got to put some time in. Because the guys who have already put so much time into that learning curve and now have reached the pinnacle of the sport they are in, they have to start at the bottom. Right back at the bottom, ground zero, they’re not ranked, they are not seeded. There is nothing there for them, so they have to start. So yeah, I think it’s a huge advantage for these guys if they are training while they’re still in college, even if they are wrestling an NCAA season.
I don’t know if they know if the schools and recruits look at, Well, this guy won so many All-American statuses at the freestyle and Greco, and there are a lot less teams doing the Greco. So I think the teams that end up focusing on that actually have a lot of success when they focus their efforts on Greco. I can just tell you the example. I had seven guys from a junior college we trained from the time their seasons ended to the Juniors, and six out of the seven guys were All-Americans and we only had one All-American in freestyle. If you put your time and energy in there, you’re going to have some success. I wasn’t starting out with an elite group of Division I wrestlers, either. I was taking some junior college kids to a Junior tournament and six of them were All-Americans, so I think you can see a lot of success early. And that encouraged the guys to continue, you start seeing a few All-Americans and they are like, This is working.
5PM: Having a club program at the college level doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot of red tape to cut through.
ML: It doesn’t take a whole lot of red tape, like I said. I gave the guys a week off and the next week we started doing some drills, we didn’t go hard or anything. I had six more weeks between the junior college national tournament and the Junior Greco Roman tournament, and those were the only weeks we trained. One of the kids who was pretty good at Greco said, “Coach, you didn’t show us any moves.” (Laughs) And I said, “Don’t you know any moves?” He says, “Yeah, but you didn’t teach us any Greco moves.” I’m like, “No, I just showed you how to put your body in the right positions so you can actually hit the moves you know. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here and start teaching you a whole bunch of moves when you don’t even have your body in the right position, and it took me six weeks to do that.”
We ran a training camp, not a technique camp, so it was kind of funny that a kid recognized that I wasn’t showing moves. That’s not what wrestling is always about. Yeah, there are times and places where you show a move, but most of the time you are trying to develop that balance and sensitivity to get your athletes’ bodies in the right position so they can hit moves. It doesn’t matter how many moves you know if your body is so out of position that you can’t ever hit them and score with them.
5PM: Well that goes with the learning curve you talked about earlier.
5PM: To close with the Seniors, what is going on with them currently?
ML: We start practice on Tuesday at the Olympic Training Center. We’re getting the team back together. We are going to start doing some lifting, some running, some technique. Get back on the mat too, you know.
5PM: Going forward, is the hear-rate monitor training going to be a permanent part of the program?
ML: Oh yeah. I think we are just tapping the surface of what we can use that information for and there is a lot more we can do with it. Every year I’ve added something. The first year, it was putting them on and getting the guys used to them. That’s when we discovered that we should send Andy Bisek out to the mat with his heart rate at 150 because he doesn’t start scoring until it’s at 165. We are just able to accomplish more. I think we are just getting started with some of that stuff. Technology is going to keep improving and getting better. We’re already trying to figure out how we can get some wearable technology. It is kind of hard to wrestle with a heart rate monitor on your chest. I know there is other technology out there right now that is pretty cost-prohibitive for our program, but they can put these on their ankle, pull their sock up over it and it can stay on. But I don’t know if they are as good as the ones on the chest yet. The technology is still evolving. But yeah, we are going to continue to use that stuff and any technology we feel is going to be beneficial.
5PM: Do you have any formal lists of athletes or ideas of who is going to compete at the non-Olympic weight World Team Trials?
Coach Matt Lindland: I’ve got some ideas of who is going to show up, pretty much everybody at 71 kilos who cut down to 66. Guys at 75 might try and make 71 or go up to 80. We just don’t have a lot of 85 kilo guys. I don’t see a whole lot of guys making the move down. But definitely Cheney (Haight), that is probably his best weight, 80 kilos. Now Perkins is lifting and putting some size on, I can even see him sticking around at 71 and liking that so he doesn’t have to cut weight and stuff. Yeah, I have some ideas of guys who are going to come down and go up, but I don’t have a list compiled. A few guys have told me but I didn’t compile that list. Like I said, it’s an open tournament, so whoever shows up, shows up. They are going to seed it, they are going to want to push the best guys with seeds. I’d suggest they only seed the top four but the coaches will want to seed the number-whatever who shows up, to tell you the truth. I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal.