Just because you’re over 30 doesn’t necessarily mean you’re over the hill.
Two of the country’s elder statesmen, two-time US National Champion Cheney Haight (80 kg, NYAC) and 2016 Olympian Robby Smith (130 kg, NYAC) looked as potent as ever earlier tonight as they each locked up titles at the 2017 US Greco-Roman World Team Trials, held inside of the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. For Haight, 32, the victory over John Stefanowicz (Marines) propelled him to his second World Team and first in six years. Smith, 30, has made every World-level team since 2013 and delivered a statement with his two-match sweep over Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP) — that for however much longer he’s going to be around, he will remain the man to beat at 130 kilograms.
Superstar Ellis Coleman (66 kg, Army/WCAP) was forced to endure a three-round battle of wills with recent rival Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS) to come out on top. There were not a lot of points scored between these two athletes, but what their matches lacked in offense was made up for with anticipation. Last but certainly not least was the power duo at 98 kilograms. 19-year-old G’Angelo Hancock (NYAC), a Junior World Team member in 2016, defeated the unrelenting monster that is Hayden Zillmer (Minnesota Storm) to put a temporary cap on their saga, which began over six months ago at the Bill Farrell Memorial in New York City.
Here are round-by-round recaps of the finals for Day 1 of the 2017 US Greco-Roman World Team Trials.
66 kg: Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP) vs. Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS)
Their previous meeting in the finals of the Nationals was a tight, passivity-driven battle, and that is exactly how each of these three bouts unfolded. It’s a natural byproduct of the circumstances, one could argue. Between the rules and premium placed on defense, some styles just don’t gel, though the intensity between these two is more than enough to compensate.
Both wrestlers collided in to open up the contest with Sancho working a mid-level stance before getting upright in the ties. A passivity point went to Coleman and Sancho tried increasing his output and became noticably more intent on mowing down Coleman’s ties. While the contact was heavy, no offensive maneuvers were available for either wrestler and the first period ended with Coleman holding the 1-0 advantage.
In the second stanza, Coleman would receive another passivity point before Sancho would be awarded one himself not too long after. Later on in the period, Coleman got called for finger-grabbing, the first such offense in the finals up to this point, and he was banged for a caution and two, but he already had a cushion he didn’t let slip away.
It wasn’t an exact replica of the first bout, primarily because Sancho won. But it wasn’t much different, either. Coleman picked up where he left off last time, busily chopping at Sancho’s arms and peering for ways to attack. Sancho kept a more active profile and adjusted his level to meet the grinding inside work he knew was going to be required. Coleman got the first passivity point — it almost felt like a given for some reason. At certain moments, Sancho seemed close to getting to the body, but Coleman deftly pivoted off to an angle shortly before the first period wound down.
Sancho got on the board via a passive call on Coleman and that seemed to spark more of a sense of urgency in him. With athletes who are at as high of a level as these two, it’s rare for wide openings to present themselves. That means activity counts more and for a good portion of the second frame, that was how Sancho was able to get into a groove. He’d receive another passive point to take the lead, though was warned by the official for grabbing the fingers. Coleman, reignited at the sudden deficit, got on his horse a little more but by then it was too late, allowing Sancho to survive with a 2-1 win and another shot in round 3.
Back at it a third and conclusive time, neither wrestler really changed their approach. Coleman tried to retake the center of the mat while Sancho clawed inside. Neither wrestler was the worse for wear, as both seemed plenty energetic and eager to do this all night long if they had to. Keeping with the pattern, Coleman was the recipient of the first passive point, this despite Sancho coming closer to wrangling his way to the body. Meaningful attempts were scarce and that would play a role later on in the bout. For now, it was Coleman holding the carrot with Sancho giving chase.
A passivity point for Sancho arrived with a little over a minute left and judging by the exchanges (and prior history), it was easy to see that the 1-1 criteria lead was likely fleeting. Sure enough, it was. Coleman retook a one-point advantage shortly thereafter, meaning if Sancho was to somehow come back, it was going to have to be soon. As precious seconds ticked away, Sancho lept up to snag a front head, an arm, a reverse lift…anything. He eventually coerced Coleman’s back to the edge and appeared to have forced him out as time expired. His corner challenged, but it was to no avail. With the point from the rejected challenge, Ellis Coleman, an Olympian in 2012, makes the 2017 US Senior World Team, his first.
80 kg: Cheney Haight (NYAC) vs. John Stefanowicz (Marines)
Whether or not you’re someone who thinks recent history means something, the fact that Haight owns two recent wins over Stefanowicz had to play a factor on the Marines side. A World Team spot is more important than vengeance, but adjustments are always necessary. If you remember, Haight defeated Stefanowicz both at the Open in December and then once more in the Dave Schultz Memorial quarterfinals. Those matches saw a lot of offense, whereas this one did not. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of anticipation, particularly because Stefanowicz knocked off the presumed favorite in this weight class, Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets, world no. 9) in the semifinals.
To begin this one, Haight patiently worked Stefanowicz in the tie-up and sneaked in underhooks. Stefanowicz would respond in kind, though Haight was controlling the center. This led to a passivity point. Another brief exchange found Stefanowicz with his back to the edge and from there, Haight easily coerced him out for a step-out to go up 2-0. A short time later, it happened again.
In the second period, Stefanowicz got busier and the pressure he has become known for started to make an appearance. Haight wasn’t all of the sudden docile by any means; he still prodded in and tried to loop underneath and get to the body. But the Marine began asserting himself enough to earn a passivity point, cutting the lead to 3-1. A late Stefanowicz throw attempt nearly netted two for a correct throw, but it was not to be, allowing Haight to emerge as the winner in round number one.
Stefanowicz came out with more assertiveness than he did in the first match, leading to a warning on Haight. He responded immediately with a two point arm throw. Stefanowicz, once again, upped the ante, even lowering in for a high dive. But Haight controlled the center just a little more and was able to snag a left lead underhook to leave the first period unscathed. 2-0 Haight after one.
The second period opened with Stefanowicz bringing the heat yet again. It was the best he looked thus far in these two bouts and was rewarded with a passivity point for the effort. He was coming at Haight so hard that he momentarily lost his balance, though the NYAC wrestler couldn’t capitalize. Even still, Haight’s experience and adherence to solid positioning along with his ability to continuously force underhooks in stopped Stefanowicz from finding more agreeable opportunities. It also wouldn’t be the end of the points. Despite Stefanowicz’s relentlessness, Haight stayed engaged and another point via passivity came his way to increase the margin to 3-1, which is where this one would be wrapped up. Cheney Haight, who made his first World Team in 2011, is now a two-timer.
98 kg: G’Angelo Hancock (NYAC) vs. Hayden Zillmer (Minnesota Storm)
Just like how the first three of their bouts have gone, match 1 of this World Team Trials final between G’Angelo Hancock and Hayden Zillmer began with a struggle for control. Neither wrestler offering any quarter, the first crack in the wall was going to come via passivity, which went to Zillmer, giving Hancock a 1-0 lead. This seemed like how it was going to go, another tight, close bout without much in the way of actual offensive points. But that would not be the case.
In the second, the sequence of the bout took place as Zillmer was awarded two and Hancock got deep on a bodylock he threw it over for five to bring the score to 6-2. A step-out and passivity call on Hancock closed the gap to 6-4. No further scoring came about the rest of the way, though Zillmer did start coming on at the end. The second (and last) bout in this series was going to come down to inches, and at this level, that’s all it takes.
Zillmer knew he had to show more chutzpah to begin this one and he did, extending his arms and nearly collapsing them around Hancock’s waist. A prolonged clinch in the center did not yield any openings at first. Zillmer then got a big chance when brought his arms and in and wrapped around. He lifted Hancock up with a bodylock and seemed to get four, but it was challenged and following the review, the sequence was called back due to legs. The score returned to 0-0 before Hancock got the first passive point of the contest.
This was shaping up to be another tactical but passivity-laden bout and when Hancock was awarded the second passive point, it confirmed that suspicion. Zillmer was tireless, but just could not find a way to get inside often enough or long enough. Hancock, who stays in position perhaps better than any other US upper-weight, had no problem working his ties under pressure, which is something he has seen a lot of from Zillmer, who regardless of this result, is still a coveted prospect. But the night belonged to the guy on the other side of the mat. At 19 years of age, Hancock makes his first Senior World Team with a 2-0 victory.
130 kg: Robby Smith (NYAC) vs. Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP)
Maybe it was the new rules. Maybe it was the fact that Erickson is now a different, more assured Senior competitor, but one thing was clear in this first bout of the series — Smith was going to have to work. They know each other so well and despite Smith’s previous dominance over Erickson, this one played out with the same kind of closeness their match at Thor Masters in March did.
Smith went right at it and tried to weave his way inside to find an arm or an underhook. Erickson met the energy head on and stood his ground. However, he would be the one warned first and by extension, the one who was knocked for passivity first. Smith grabbed a 1-0 lead on the call and resumed digging in as Erickson did his best to find openings of his own.
When the second period got underway, Erickson came out with some gusto and clashed in on Smith, who responded in kind. It was telling, if only because the WCAP wrestler needed to assert himself. Erickson’s activity resulted in him receiving a passivity point and a criteria advantage, but there was way too much time left for that to appear trepidatious for Smith, who resumed bearing in on Erickson once again. Eventually, he would reclaim the lead on the heels of another passivity point, sealing match 1 up 2-1 in his favor.
Erickson knew he was going to have to take the initiative in this second World Team Trials match, but before he even could, it was all over. Smith used one of his patented arm spins to take Erickson over to his back. It happened in a flash. From there, he held onto a front headlock, circled towards the head, held Erickson in place, and that was it. At 1:56 of the first period, Smith punched his way to Paris and his fourth US World Team appearance.
2017 US Senior Greco-Roman World Team Trials Day 1 Finals & 3rd Place Results
66 kg: Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP) over Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS) two matches to one
Match 1: Coleman def. Sancho 4-1
Match 2: Sancho def. Coleman 2-1
Match 3: Coleman def. Sancho 3-1
80 kg: Cheney Haight (NYAC) over John Stefanowicz (Marines) two matches to none
Match 1: Haight def. Stefanowicz 3-1
Match 2: Haight def. Stefanowicz 3-1
98 kg: G’Angelo Hancock (NYAC) over Hayden Zillmer (Minnesota Storm) two matches to none
Match 1: Hancock def. Zillmer 6-4
Match 2: Hancock def. Zillmer 2-0
130 kg: Robby Smith (NYAC) over Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP) two matches to none
Match 1: Smith def. Erickson 2-1
Match 2: Smith def. Erickson via fall, 1:56 (4-0)
Consolation finals (National Team spots)
66 kg: Brian Graham (Minnesota Storm) def. Anthonie Linares (NYAC-OTS)
80 kg: Courtney Meyers (Army/WCAP) def. Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm) 6-1
98 kg: Enock Francois (NYAC) def. James Souza (Army/WCAP) 9-6
130 kg: Jacob Mitchell (Army/WCAP) def. Matt Voss (Patriot Elite) 10-0, TF
We will be providing live coverage for Day 2 of the 2017 US Senior World Team Trials beginning at 9:00am PT/12:00pm EST. Follow along on Twitter and Facebook, and look forward to post-round recaps right here.