The calendar is gradually tipping towards the end of March, which also means that the US Open is now right around the corner. We’re creeping up on the busiest time of the year for Greco-Roman wrestling in the United States, making this an opportune time to once again check in with Minnesota Storm head coach Dan Chandler.
Storm athletes were in the news following the Dave Schultz Memorial in late January. That’s when 2017 World Team members Patrick Smith (77 kg) and Mason Manville (Army/WCAP) met in an extraordinarily entertaining final that saw Smith hustle his way to victory. Also at the Schultz, U23 World Teamer Carter Nielsen advanced to the 82-kilogram final opposite Kamal Bey (Sunkist, world no. 7), dropping a hard-fought (and caution-filled) decision.
And if you’ve been paying attention, Smith and Nielsen are back in the headlines. Smith competed at February’s Hungarian Grand Prix and is back in Europe following his performance at this past weekend’s Thor Masters. Nielsen is right there with him. After finishing Thor a 3-0 ledger, the NMU student will remain with Smith and the rest of the US athletes in Denmark throughout the week in effort to participate in a massive training camp.
Coach Chandler spoke to these topics, Smith’s weight class, and his perspective regarding the current US domestic schedule, as well.
5PM: Pat Smith obviously has a great deal of experience overseas, and has gone over a few times just this season. But the timing here, we’re in March and Pat competed in February also. We’re a month away from the Open, so with a guy of Pat’s experience, what do you look for him to gain while on a trip like this with the compressed window leading up to Vegas?
Coach Dan Chandler: Yeah, well, the primary thing for Pat is that he doesn’t have enough training partners here in Minnesota. (Alec) Ortiz blew his knee out at the Schultz, so the only guy he’s really got is Calvin Germinaro, who is Brandon Paulson’s nephew. He doesn’t have enough tough partners here. Pat is over there (in Denmark) at training camp, which is probably a lot more important to him than Thor Masters, but he got some matches in, which is good, and then has that camp. And, once he comes back, he’ll have the Pan Ams training camp for a couple of weeks and then he’ll be back here for the last two weeks just to bear down before the US Open. The primary thing for him is to just get a lot of grinding in, and a lot of good training in over there.
5PM: When it comes to the competitions overseas this time of year, do you mind the result, whatever that is? Do you examine it, or do you just hone in on the actual performance and what you see when you see it?
DC: That’s what is most important to me. It’s not so much results-driven. Did he wrestle well? Was he able to control this? It’s more about that than the result. I just want him to get some good matches in and some good training. I wasn’t happy that he got beat quite badly by RaVaughn Perkins the last tournament before Thor after he had beaten him decisively at the Schultz. I thought, That’s not good (laughs). We talked a little about that, he got caught. But you know, he shouldn’t get caught, he has been around long enough. He got caught in an over/under tie-up position and we work on that enough to where I don’t think he should be getting caught out of position in there. But you know, it is what it is. He’s got a very competitive weight class. He has Perkins, Manville, and Bey in his weight, so it’s a tough category.
5PM: Pat competing at 77, do you notice anything different about him there, his energy or vitality? Is there another benefit aside from it being the Olympic weight class compared to his cutting down to 72?
DC: Well, yeah, the benefit is that he can actually wrestle after he’s done weighing in. When you’re weighing in at 7:30 in the morning and competing at 9:00, for him to go 72 kilos is not an option. He just can’t do it. He can’t compete with an hour-and-a-half recovery. Plus, it’s not an Olympic weight. 77 is the Olympic weight.
5PM: Carter Nielsen has been wrestling well.
Coach Dan Chandler: I was at Schultz and Carter wrestled very well there. The score was 4-2 against Kamal. That’s the way to beat him (Kamal). You don’t try to lock up and throw with a guy like Bey. He’s like a Michial Foy or Garrett Lowney, guys with unbelievable athleticism. You have to beat them up (laughs). Get them tired and keep the match close, because, if you don’t do that you’re too far behind. Then you can’t get them tired because the referees want you to score, and if you can’t score, you get cautioned.
He and Pat Smith both have a style where they can beat someone who is very athletic, but there is no room for error. They’ve got to wrestle a perfect match.
5PM: Carter went 3-0 at Thor. I know he has experience going on years and years, I know his bloodline, but since coming into Greco full-time, Carter has improved on very fast. Have you been at all surprised with how quickly he has progressed?
DC: Yeah, I have been, because we had a little bit of trouble with him in high school. I think he placed in Fargo after his junior year, and then his senior year he went to all of the spring tournaments and did well. But then he went to Fargo and I think he had won by tech fall in his first five matches. He had a weigh-in the next morning and in his first match he was ahead of a guy 6-0 or 7-0 and he was coasting along. But all of the sudden he ran out of gas. Something happened where he had he made weight but didn’t have any energy left. He wound up losing the match and walked out of the tournament without telling anybody. He just left. So we were kind of pissed off at him over that for a few years (laughs), but he has seemed to mature and we’re really happy with his progression. And, he’s got Andy Bisek up at Northern. Andy is doing a great job working with Carter.
5PM: Is the lack of competitive opportunities in the US currently — no Sunkist, no New York this year — a critical problem in need of addressing as soon as possible in your estimation?
Coach Dan Chandler: Absolutely. I know that the New York Athletic Club, they want to go back to their original schedule in November. I mean, that’s huge, to have them in November and the Schultz cup at the end of January. In Europe, it’s nice to have tournaments on two different weekends with a week to train in between, but we need to get more teams coming over here. In 1974 and 1975, Alan Rice brought the Polish team to Minnesota and they were here for two weeks. At that time, behind Russia they were the best team in the world. They had two or three World Champions on their team and a couple of other medalists. We learned so much from the Polish team, and to just have that opportunity in the United States… Now if it ever happens, it’s just in Colorado. But everything is different now. Everything is centered in Colorado. There are just not as many people wrestling on a club level if they are collegiate post-graduates.