The United States Olympic Education Center men’s Greco-Roman wrestling team performed well at the ASICS University Nationals on April 8 in Akron, Ohio, as they had six of the 10 overall individual champions.
“We were competitive at all weight classes,” said USOEC Head Greco-Roman wrestling coach Dennis Hall. “Six champions, I’m satisfied by that.”
The University Nationals is a championship tournament open to any wrestler currently enrolled at a college or university. This includes school-sponsored teams, U.S. Olympic teams and club teams.
The USOEC team was led by senior Spenser Mango who won the 60 kilogram division by pin in the second period. Mango was able to make a move called a gutwrench, where he placed a pin on second place Dmitry Ryabchinskiy of the New York Athletic Club.
“He kind of got lazy,” said Mango. “I got on top and was able to expose his back, so I went for the pin and ended up getting it.”
Mango was also named the Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament, as he was the only champion to win by pin.
Sophomore Max Nowry and senior Andrew Bisek won the 55 kilogram and 79 kilogram weight classes, respectively, by technical fall, a mercy rule based on points given in a match. Senior Ben Sanchez, junior Aaron Briggs and freshman Mark Stenberg also won their weight classes by decision.
“It was good,” Bisek said. “I thought I wrestled well and stayed aggressive in all my matches.”
Something shared by members of the team was their ability to outlast their opponents in these matches.
“It’s not so much as the physical things,” said Bisek. “I think (Hall) is doing a good job on stressing to put everything you got into a match.”
The USOEC team also showed depth to their squad as freshman Ben Provisor, sophomore Alex Fleming and junior Jonathan Drendel took third place in their respective weight classes.
“We had some thirds and fourths,” Hall said. “We had only three guys not place, but I saw good things out of them. It was a good tournament for development.”
The USOEC women’s freestyle team also competed at the University Nationals.
Freshman Carlene Sluberski and Ahnjahlee Akuna placed third in the 48 kilogram and 67 kilogram weight classes respectively and were the only two competitors to medal. Sluberski and Akuna were also a part of the five freestyle athletes to place in a consolation match.
“I think you have to put it in perspective,” said head freestyle wrestling coach Shannyn Gillespie. “We had six or seven members move on to the (U.S. Olympic) team in Colorado Springs and nine new members. It’s a rebuilding process.”
Gillespie also said that age and experience play into the differences.
“We have athletes from ages 16-26 including a couple high schoolers,” he said. “It can be difficult to train when you have four or five different development skill levels trying to improve.”
In addition to the University Nationals Championship title, each winner receives a bye to the World Championships, where they face the winner of the World Team Trials. The losers at this tournament can reenter and will have another tournament to take on University Greco Champions like Mango, Briggs and Bisek in a best of three battle.
“I haven’t been back to the tournament since 2006, when I won the world championship,” said Mango. “Hopefully, I can win it back.”
Up next for the team are the Junior and Senior National Championships in Cleveland on Wednesday April 21. This meet will allow non-university participants, as the participants will try to qualify for the World Team Trials.
Wrestlers 20 years old and younger will be competing in the Junior Championship, while athletes 21 or older will be in the Seniors.
“At the age level we competed at, we did a real good job,” said Hall, “but (National’s) is where they qualify. Hopefully our guys will be real prepared for that tournament.”
For some USOEC wrestlers, the University Championships was a great warm-up for the upcoming tournament, as this was the first opportunity to get competitive on the mats this year.
“Just being able to have myself wrestling aggressively in a match, it means a lot,” Bisek said.
Mango agreed, saying the focus is on the next opportunity to compete.
“I felt like this was a good warm-up. Next weekend will be the big thing,” he said.