Following an exciting afternoon of Cadet action yesterday, the Junior Greco National finals lived up to its own billing and then some. Four wrestlers captured gold for a second straight year, including a few who positively dominated throughout their entire brackets. There was plenty of skill on display from other competitors, as well. Talent was certainly not a rare commodity inside of the Fargodome, which is usually the case.
Illinois put six wrestlers in the finals. Colorado had three (though Kamal Bey was unable to compete). Minnesota, Utah, Florida, Oregon, and Washington each sent two wrestlers into the gold medal matches.
Better Lane than never
Jaret Lane (PA) wasn’t exactly taking his time in the 106 lbs final. It’s more that Elijah Varona (FL) kept employing a kinetically-charged pace, using a multitude of quick ducks to try and get inside. Lane decided to give the duck-under a whirl for himself, but came up empty. Varona then lasered in for an arm-spin and whoosh, a 2-0 lead.
The second frame saw Lane attempt to close the distance with some more duck-unders, but he wasn’t penetrating deep enough. Varona would simply hip out just enough to stay safe. There was no clear advantage for either wrestler whenever they were locked up, although Varona had already demonstrated the ability to go for the arm. And that he did, as Varona once again caught an arm spin on the edge for another point. It was 2-1 and things were getting tense for Lane.
With under 10 seconds to go, Varona seemed to be out of danger and on his way to a celebration. Lane, who never over-extended himself in the bout despite having a considerable size/reach advantage, ambled in, got a lock, and then threw Varona for four gigantic points with seven seconds remaining. It was a stunning sequence, one in which didn’t leave Varona any time to recover from. Thanks to a breathtaking finish, Lane escaped with a 5-2 national title-clinching victory and becomes a two-time winner in the process.
You couldn’t blame Dack Punke (Ill, 113 lbs) for wanting to set fire to this thing. It’s his nature to hit overdrive and stay there. Punke’s dynamic, frenzied approach kept Nebraska’s Joseph Harrison on his heels from the whistle and it was a downhill trip from there. Punke swept through with a sick arm-drag and then gutted it for two. Re-set. Another drag to two guts closed this one out quickly to the tune of a scintillating 10-0 tech for the aggressively-confident Punke, who takes his second Fargo nationals title in a row.
It’s not an indictment on other wrestlers when there is clearly one in the bracket who is a level above everyone else. That’s how it was for the competitors at 120 lbs, because this was Dalton Duffield’s (OK) from the beginning. Like Punke, Duffield was also a returning champ coming in, and didn’t feel the need to waste any time versus Austin Macias (Ill). First it was an arch for four off the edge. Then it was a throw-by to a gutwrench for four more. Macias, to his credit, wasn’t going to take all this sitting down. He fought back and cut in on a throw of his own, but only netted two. Macias then locked around Duffield’s waist and tried to find leverage to hoist him up.
That’s when Duffield countered by locking around Macias’s waist at the same time, and he used his better placement to hurl a bone-rattling reverse lift to not only end the match and seal the championship, but also stamp his entire two-day journey. Duffield, who picked up two pins and four tech’s in Fargo, was also named the Outstanding Wrestler for the tournament.
LaMont in cruise control
2016 Junior World Team member Taylor LaMont (UT, 132 lbs) isn’t about the flash. He’s more the results-oriented type. But when he gets going, there is plenty of sizzle to take notice of. Dalton Young (WA) wasn’t here to be a role-player. Unfortunately for him, however, he’d have little choice. LaMont smoothly executed a modified hip toss to open up the scoring and jumped ahead 4-0. Young has some dog in him, so he burrowed in with his head to own the space. That was maybe not the right call. LaMont, clearly agitated, locked around for another toss, only this time forcefully putting Young down to the mat and on his back. The fall came at 1:33 to wrap it all up.
The elegant dominance of Mitchell McKee
Some dudes just move differently. Mitchell McKee (MN, 138 lbs) is one of them.
McKee put together a fantastic effort leading up the the Junior Greco National finals, going unscored-upon through each of his matches and coming away with a pin and five tech’s. He moves in, he moves to the side, he reacts quickly and naturally. McKee is a serious obstacle for anyone he faces.
Jarrett Degen (MT) found that out pretty quickly. McKee stalked Degen from the outset, working inside and around to find something to grab onto. It would lead to a step-out point and a 1-0 lead. More was to follow. A deep bodylock presented itself when McKee darted in, dropping Degen to the mat. McKee gutted it twice to go up 8-0. Degen wasn’t on the defensive. He was still trying to engage. But McKee wouldn’t allow the chance for a slip-up. He nailed another bodylock, this time with some air. The match-ending five points was awarded, making McKee a champion in Fargo yet again.
Mantanona comes back
Max Wohlabaugh (FL, 160 lbs) looked like he was in control. That’s not an easy thing to do against Anthony Mantanona (CA). Mantanona, a polished, technically-sound grappler, had his moments where it appeared he was done for. Wohlabaugh was just too tough. Too strong, too motivated for Mantanona to impose his will. Wohlabaugh moved his opponent constantly with underhooks and shucks. He just didn’t pile up the points.
The score was 3-2 when Wohlabaugh got behind to pad the lead. The Florida wrestler had to feel confident. Time was becoming a factor for Mantanona and Wohlabaugh didn’t look like he was slowing down anytime soon. But with around 30 seconds left, Mantanona turned it on. An underhook led to a slide-by and the Californian raced behind to secure the takedown. Mantanona then used his long arms (and legs) to roll a gutwrench not once, but twice for six quick points. It was quite a comeback and a nice feather in the cap for Mantanona.
Not Metz’ing around
Hometown hero Brandon Metz (ND, 285 lbs) spent more time walking onto Mat 1 then he did actually wrestling on it in the final. Tough Illinois heavyweight Thomas Helton locked up with Metz before the North Dakotan backed away to figure out another entry. Once he got comfortable, it was as good as over. Metz took an over-under and turned it into a splendid (somewhat arching) lateral drop, subsequently planting Helton on his back. There would be no escape. Metz corrected his positioning and boom, just like that, in 28 seconds Metz had his pin and a “stop sign” to hang on his wall.
2016 Junior Greco National Finals Results
Brendon Garcia (CO) def. Brenden Chaowanapibool (WA) 11-0, TF
Jaret Lane (PA) def. Elijah Varona (FL) 5-2
Dack Punke (Ill) def. Joseph Harrison (NE) 10-0, TF
Dalton Duffield (OK) def. Austin Macias (Ill) 14-2, TF
Duffield was also named Outstanding Wrestler
Matthew Schmitt (MO) def. Gabriel Townsell (Ill) 6-1
Taylor LaMont (UT) def Dalton Young (WA) fall, 1:33
Mitchell McKee (MN) def. Jarrett Degen (MT) 13-0, TF
Ryan Deakin (CO) def. Jaron Jensen (UT) 2-1
Griffin Parriott (MN) def. Lenny Merkin (NY) 9-2
Anthony Mantanona (CA) def. Max Wohlabaugh (FL) 8-5
Thomas Brackett (TN) forfeit Kamal Bey (CO)
Logan Gruszka (Ill) def. Tony Vezzetti (Ill) 9-2
Haydn Maley (OR) def. Isaac Bartel (IA) 14-2, TF
Sam Shields-Colbray (OR) def. Jeffrey Allen (VA) 13-2, TF
Brandon Metz (ND) def. Thomas Helton (Ill) fall, :28