Greco wrestlers grapple at U.S. Open

Laura Conway

The USOEC men’s Greco-Roman wrestling team came back from the 2011 ASICS U.S. Open & FILA Junior National Championships with athletes taking championships as well as qualifying for bigger tournaments.

The FILA Junior national tournament is a national tournament for Junior aged wrestlers who were born between 1991 and 1993.  The brackets are usually filled with half high school and half college wrestlers.  Winning this tournament not only qualifies athletes to compete at the Junior World Team Trials, but in that tournament athletes get a bye straight to the finals.

At the Senior level, the only requirement to compete is that athletes are born before 1991 (or with a medical certificate of approval to compete if born between 1992 and 1993).  The U.S. Open is very important for the athletes; if they place top seven, they qualify to compete in the Senior World Team Trials later this summer for a spot on the U.S. World Team.

Marcus Finau, an NMU freshman from Honolulu, was one of the USOEC wrestlers who was able to compete in both the Junior and Senior level tournaments. This was his first time at both events and he was really looking forward to the competition.

“The tournament was really exciting and nerve-racking at the same time,” Finau said.

Finau had a set game plan to follow all the way to his first Junior National Championship at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. He said part of his plan was keeping himself fully concentrated.

“I knew I had standards for myself I needed to fulfill. I was coming from a small place in Hawaii and wanted to make my family and state proud,” Finau said. “Championship match came around and it was just like any other match, wasn’t trying to be fancy.”

Finau was injured going into the finals match with a split eyebrow but was determined to win, even knowing he’d have to sit out of the Senior competition.

“I told myself there are always hardships and tough stuff, but I told myself I had to fight through it,” Finau said. “It felt pretty amazing to get that title.”

Another medalist at the Junior level was freshman Joseph DeNova from Columbus, Georgia at who took the bronze at 60 kg/132.25 lbs.

“It was just a fun tournament for me, an all around good experience,” DeNova said. “I felt being up here [at the USOEC] really gave me that extra edge I needed to go out there and win.”

DeNova said he is especially grateful to his two new coaches this year for training him as hard as they have and still allowing him to taper off enough to be successful in competition on a physical and mental level.

“Coach Willie and coach Rob helped me peak at the right time,” DeNova said. “I found out I can do better than being content with just doing so-so.”

Junior Zac Nielsen, who has seen three different coaches at the USOEC, agreed with DeNova that the coaches are doing a great job getting them prepared for competition.

“One thing I do know is that I don’t think I’ve felt better going into competition, the way we tapered, the way Coach Rob did things had a lot to do with it,” Nielsen said. “Other coaches have pushed a little too hard going into tournaments.”

Nielsen placed fourth at Senior Nationals and is now qualified to compete at the Senior World Team Trials.

Sophomore wrestler Mark Stenberg from Lockport, Ill. could have competed at both the Junior and Senior championships last weekend, but this returning 2010 Junior National Champion at 85 kg/185 lbs has his heart set on bigger goals.

“I’m still a Junior, but I didn’t want to wrestle at Juniors because that’s a day earlier, so that would have been a day more of school missed,” Stenberg said. “I wanted to roll the dice and save my swagger for wrestling at Senior Nationals to make sure I qualified for World Team Trials.”

This strategy ended up paying off, with Stenberg placing fourth and qualifying for World Team Trials just like he wanted to, but not without facing some adversity from a familiar face to the     USOEC practice room.

“In the quarterfinals I wrestled against Don Simmons, a Marine who has trained with us before. It was nerve-racking because I needed that to make the semis,” Stenberg said. “Luckily I pulled it off in three rounds and used all my strength to get a tight trapped arm gut him for the win.”

USOEC wrestlers that placed at the junior level were Dillon Cowan, Alan  Alvarez, Josh Castellano (Champion) and Scott Helton.

World Team Trials qualifiers at the Senior level were Paul Tellgren, Dmitry Ryabchinsky, Max Nowry, Ben Sanchez, Tanner Andrews, Bo Beckman, Aaron Briggs, Kendrick Saunders, Chad Hemerson and Ethan Dondlinger.

Second year assistant coach Willie Madison said the team as a whole did a good job though he feels there is still room for work.

“We wrestled very hard and against very good competitors,” Madison said. “Didn’t do as well as I would have liked them to do, but we did see a lot of improvements; there are always room for improvements.”

He said he can’t wait to get back in the training room to work on making those improvements.

“We can’t be satisfied with our performance, but only try to build on what we accomplished there and go into World Team Trials with a different game plan and hopefully have a better finish than we did at nationals.”