You would think that with no World Team spots on the line that the 2017 US Greco-Roman University Nationals would have been somewhat of a downer. Several athletes downplayed the tournament leading up, nearly likening the proceedings to an exhibition meet. But when singlet straps are pulled up and scoreboards become involved, any perceived informalities have a tendency to dissipate. If nothing else, Greco-Roman competition in the United States is about fighting out of the shadows. Every opportunity to don the gear of battle becomes its own personal proving ground for the athletes. Sure, sometimes the stakes are higher than others. But if pride is on the line, that is more than enough to turn an oft underappreciated tournament into that beacon for intensity every wrestler in the US embraces.
The University Nationals went down earlier today inside of the Louis and Frida Stile Field House on the campus of the University of Akron and streamed live on FloWrestling.
Roberts two in a row
At 59 kilograms, Dalton Roberts (NYAC-OTS) came through with his second consecutive University National title by doing what he does best — offering no quarter. A first round win over Lawson Ludwin (Tiger Wrestling) that came when Roberts was up 6-0 and Ludwin cautioned for two set the tone for what was to come. Two straight technical falls later and Roberts found himself in the finals against WCAP stud Mike Fuenffinger. On paper, this looked to be the kind of match Roberts would struggle in. Fuenffinger is a two-style wrestler whose abilities in one helps him in the other. On top of that, he dominated Roberts back in February at the Dave Schultz Memorial, cruising to an 8-0 tech. History did not repeat itself today.
Roberts jumped out to a 1-0 passivity lead in the first period before Fuenffinger locked on a front headlock that Roberts countered. The sequence saw the Northern Michigan wrestler take Fuenffinger to his back for two and a 3-0 cushion. After the break, Roberts turned over a four-point bodylock to increase the margin to 7-0. Fuenffinger didn’t mount any offense after that, giving Roberts a no-doubt-about-it win over a very capable opponent.
“Dawk” and Bunker
If Wesley Dawkins (63 kg, MWC) is going to keep this up, the talk about his potential is going to become way too loud to ignore. Outside of a challenging semifinal bout against spritely Taylor Zippe (Marines), Dawkins was in control throughout on Friday thanks to his opportunistic scoring and an undeniable gift for using his body to his advantage. Case in point was his final match versus the very skilled Ty Pelot (X-Factor). Dawkins picked up his first four of by streaming out his long arms in a clinch. He thought for a second about wringing it in for a bodylock but instead cascaded his hips, changed his grip to go up high, and corkscrewed a headlock. Transition moves anyone? Pelot didn’t lay down after that, though. He tried to stay in it and the two jousted with two-on-ones. Eventually, Dawkins spun around for two before taking Pelot over for the match-ending exposure.
Raymond Bunker (Marines) found himself in an interesting position heading into this tournament. Throughout the past year, Bunker has progressed on the Senior level rather nicely, going from eager brawler who might not always win but will at least make things entertaining, to a threat for virtually everyone he faces. But with that jump in stock value comes a gamble. Bunker was putting himself out there a little for this event if only because a down performance might have swayed that perception a tad. Bunker knows that if he to be viewed as a legitimate danger at 66 kilograms, he needs to send a message each and every time out. So he doubled-down and took home the pot.
A grinding 6-4 triumph over Grant LaMont (Wolverine WC) in the semifinals ushered Bunker into a meeting with Dante Rodriguez (CRTC), who defeated 2016 University World Team Trials runner-up Jessy Williams (NYRTC) in a shootout of epic proportions in their quarterfinal contest. In the 66 kilogram final, Bunker led 3-0 in the second when he was called for a caution-and-two for finger-grabbing. That was as close as this one got. Rodriguez, a terrific talent, had trouble keeping up with the peppering tie-ups Bunker prefers. That has been one turning point for Bunker, his ability to adopt a more nuanced approach inside while still remaining a physical force. The other improvement Bunker should be credited for is not letting scoring chances go to waste. Following a takedown, Bunker immediately snagged a lock to roll a gutwrench, widening his advantage to 8-2. Another Bunker takedown with a little over a minute left wrapped this one up.
Mossing surprises Linares
He might not have been seen as a favorite for the 71 kilogram crown, but most in the know recognized the fact that Alex Mossing (Foxfire) was going to make an impact in Akron. He is too athletic, too many moving parts, too much stamina not to be worried about. Plus, he has deftly been able to translate his folkstyle background into meaningful scoring chances, which is obviously something that is of great significance to American Greco-Roman combatants. His day began with what would turn out to be his second biggest win of the day — a white-knuckle dust-up against 2016 University National champ Austin Morrow (NYAC-OTS), who was up a weight class. Mossing prevailed in that match 4-1 and then scored two consecutive technical fall wins over Sidney Logan (Marines) and Isaac Dukes (Army/WCAP), respectively.
Against Anthonie Linares (NYAC-OTS), who was a runner-up here last year to Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS), Mossing was going to have to hit all of his marks. The only reason why a margin for error even existed could be assigned to Mossing’s overall wrestling instincts as well as his willingness to give up some points and be okay with that. Otherwise, the slightest tentativeness might have led to an unraveling, something Linares is a specialist at. Mossing drew first blood with a four-point dump at the edge. Following the reset, Linares blitzed in and violently whipped Mossing over with a lateral to immediately knot the score and take the criteria. This would not last too long, if only because Mossing kept his foot planted firmly on the gas pedal.
Nestling a low tie-up, Mossing locked around for what looked to be a four-pointer followed by another throw off the boundary. After the officials conferred, the scoring was adjusted to two and two, making it 8-4 in Mossing’s favor. Linares forced a step-out to slim things down to 8-5, but that was all for him. A step-out for Mossing in the second juiced the numbers to 9-5 and although only a four-point deficit for Linares, the way Mossing was attacking it was just too difficult to imagine the tide changing direction. And it didn’t. Because just before time became a factor, Mossing laced around for another throw, his fourth of the bout, in the process securing his first University National title in extremely impressive fashion.
Calovecchi, Speiller, and Stanghill
Gameness just doesn’t get enough play sometimes. Curt Calovecchi (NMU-OTS) was on it today in Akron, collecting two tech’s and two grinding wins en-route to snaring his National tournament plaque. In order to emerge as the victor of the 75 kilogram bracket, Calovecchi had to get past teammate Colin Schubert, who climbed up to this weight class from 71. A step-out point in the first period for Calovecchi broke the ice, though later on Schubert netted his own point via passivity. Much of the opening frame was just how you’d expect it to be — a fight in a phone booth. The second was just as tight — all it took was a passivity on Schubert and that was the score, 2-1 for Calovecchi. Nevertheless, it’s a win over a very tough opponent with the day as a whole being an encouraging sign for the 22-year-old Calovecchi.
Geordan Speiller (80 kg, Florida Jets, world no. 9) and 2017 US National Team member Jon Jay Chavez (NYAC) represent two of the very best and brightest Greco athletes in the country. Therefore, going into the 80 kilo final, the idea of fireworks screeching across the sky and air horns blaring throughout the gymnasium seemed pretty natural. However, with two wrestlers as evenly-matched as Speiller and Chavez are, most of the work is done by making adjustments and maintaining position. That is what happened here. Both wrestlers presented challenges to each other and certainly, both also offered quickness in close. Chavez got on the board first with a step-out while Speiller nabbed his two points on passivities. No, this bout didn’t deliver the light show most would associate with their names, but a marquee match-up on this day it certainly was.
Marching through the 85 kilogram bracket was Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm), who reached the finals on the heels of two technical fall victories. Waiting for him at the end was stablemate and former Junior World Team member Rich Carlson, one of those wrestlers you wish you saw more of due to his obvious gifts in this style. Stanghill popped the cork on this one with a step-out, a takedown, and a gutwrench. It was 5-0 fairly soon into the first period, leading you to perhaps believe the train was leaving the station. The thing is, Carlson would not wilt. He stayed engaged and picked up a pair of points when he deflected a Stanghill attempt to come around the back. The conclusive period did not yield any further scoring, giving Stanghill the gold by virtue of a 5-2 decision.
Hancock falls to Merrill
G’Angelo Hancock (98 kg, NYAC, world no. 18) had a busy day. He started it off by defeating Blake Smith (NMU-OTS) two matches to none in their best-of-three wrestle-off for the 96 kilo spot on the 2017 Junior World Team. Hancock won both bouts 10-0. The 19-year-old then entered the fray at 98 kilos on the University side and a repeat of his win here in 2016 was expected by anyone who has been paying attention to what Hancock has accomplished inside of 12 months. In fact, you would have to go all the way back to last year’s Olympic Trials semifinals to find the last time Hancock lost to a domestic opponent.
In a bout marred by a questionable call by the officials, Zach Merrill (NYRTC) can now lay claim to being the first American wrestler in 14 months to accomplish what Caylor Williams (Army/WCAP) is the last person to have done — beat G’Angelo Hancock. Predictably, Hancock was the picture of confidence as he went to spiral down on an arm throw, but Merrill sniffed it out and clambered around to grab two and the lead. The proceeding lift attempt didn’t net any points but it did result a curious leg foul call on Hancock that resulted in a caution-and-two. Out of nowhere, it was 4-0 for Merrill and the bout had barely begun. Down in par terre each wrestler jumped the gun, but Hancock did one time too many and just like that, another caution-and-two rang out. Merrill was out in front 6-0 with four points coming via the officials.
However, he’d go ahead and get himself some offensive points soon enough. Once business resumed, Merrill caught Hancock with his own arm throw. At first glance it appeared to be of the two-point variety, but either way, it wouldn’t have mattered. The sequence scored four and the match was over. All Hancock could do was laugh. Merrill leaves Akron with both a shocking win over one of the best wrestlers in the US and his first University National plaque.
Longendyke comes back to put away Allen
At 130 kilograms, it was two Minnesota Storm competitors vying for the championship as 2017 Dave Schultz Memorial winner Malcolm Allen and Donny Longendyke locked horns in what wound up ending as dramatically as it began. Allen thumped Longendyke for a five-point cushion practically right after the whistle. Longendyke regrouped and once back on the feet, momentarily slowed the action down by cradling a two-on-one. The wrestlers circled one another in the ties but it felt very much like Allen was the one setting up a trap. It’s never wise to leap to conclusions so abruptly, because in a flash, Longendyke swiveled Allen over with a lateral and stuck him there for the fall. It was all over in 1:47 of the first period. Longendyke last made waves when he qualified for the Olympic Trials in 2016. With a win as emphatic as this one, he is leaving people wanting to see much more of what he’s capable of.
- Two-time Junior World Team member Randon Miranda (59 kg, NYAC-OTS) lost to Fueffinger via tech in the semifinals but came away with third place.
- One of the most exciting matches of the day took place at the lowest weight class when Nelson Baker (59 kg, LAW) and Kyndall Rutz (NMU-OTS) put up a combined 36 points in their quarterfinal throwdown. Rutz was a whirlwind racing out to a 6-1 lead when Baker nailed a headlock for four. Baker next hit a slick duck to take Rutz over for four more. They were throwing and scrambling like madmen. Rutz would pop out and catch Baker, Baker would counter into a toss, vice versa and back again. In the end, it was Baker who moved on with a 19-17 decision, but you really need to check this one out to get the full effect.
- As usual, Northern Michigan wrestlers put on a show. Two champions came out of Marquette, Roberts and Calovecchi. Linares and Schubert both took silver. Third place spots went to the aforementioned Miranda, Sammy Jones at 66 kilos, and Jesse Porter at 80.
- All told, five Marines picked up medals. Bunker won at 66 with four bronze performances — Zippe at 63, Wilson at 75, and Daniel Miller and Eric Fader at 98 and 130 kilos, respectively.
- Mossing received the Outstand Wrestler award following the tournament.
2017 US Greco-Roman University Nationals — Finals
59 kg: Dalton Roberts (NYAC-OTS) def. Mike Fuenffinger (Army/WCAP) 7-0
63 kg: Wesley Dawkins (MWC) def. Ty Pelot (X-Factor Elite) 10-0, TF
66 kg: Raymond Bunker (Marines) def. Dante Rodriguez (CRTC) 10-2, TF
71 kg: Alex Mossing (Foxfire) def. Anthonie Linares (NYAC-OTS) 13-5, TF
75 kg: Curt Calovecchi (NMU-OTS) def. Colin Schubert (NYAC-OTS) 2-1
80 kg: Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets) def. Jon Jay Chavez (NYAC) 2-1
85 kg: Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm) def. Rich Carlson (Minnesota Storm) 5-2
98 kg: Zach Merrill (NYRTC) def. G’Angelo Hancock (NYAC) 10-0, TF
130 kg: Donny Longendyke (Minnesota Storm) def. Malcolm Allen (Minnesota Storm) via fall (1:47)