By Josef Rau, MTC Storm, Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America
"Wrestling is Wrestling." Something often said, especially amongst wrestlers in the Minnesota wrestling community. Growing up in Minnesota, it is common for the top middle school and high school wrestlers to wrestle all styles.
The success of the Minnesota Storm senior level program is an extension of the opportunities that exist for youth wrestlers to compete in freestyle and Greco Roman wrestling throughout the state. Years of instruction have led to a tradition of excellence in international competition for Minnesota's best wrestlers. Many of whom continue to give back to the younger generations, providing them with high-level instruction and training.
The "Minnesota gut" has become synonymous with the Minnesota Storm. It has become a trademark of Minnesota, being implemented not only as a fun chant, but also a technically sound maneuver that's taught at all levels. A driving force behind this success and tradition comes from none other than head Minnesota Storm coach, Dan Chandler.
The Minnesota Gut is something that I cannot go public with. There is too much at stake. These guys were all really good and came up through MN/USAW.
With that being said, it is only natural that products of Minnesota, Jayson Ness, Zach Sanders and Tony Nelson would enter to compete in the Greco-Roman US OPEN National Championships this December. In this day and age, there is a trend of specialization, with wrestlers picking a style. So seeing these high-level freestyle wrestlers trying Greco-Roman out might seem bizarre to others in the wrestling world, but in Minnesota it's not. It's in their blood. The discovery of their registration for the tournament has already roused the wrestling sector of the Twitter universe. However, for these guys it is just another tournament and not much will change.
"I'm going to go out and get a competition in. We don't have a freestyle tournament this month so we wanted to get a something in. Wrestling is wrestling. It is going to be fun and it's going to be hard, but my goal is to win. I believe I can compete with anybody, any style." Jayson Ness, National Team Member at 61kg
Ness was actually a Greco-Roman Junior National Champion in high school. He will be competing for a Greco-Roman national title at the 66 kg (145.5 lbs.) weight class.
"I wrestled Greco from when I was a kid all the way through high school. I also did a year or two in college. When these rules changed back I thought it'd be fun to work with the Greco guys. The University of Minnesota has prepared me to win at any level and any style."
Ness just came off an impressive performance in freestyle at the NYAC Bill Farrell International tournament, which served as a World Team Trials at his respective weight class, 61 kg/134 lbs. Ness finished third, earning him National Team honors at a weight class where the United States just crowned a World Champion in Logan Stieber. Racking up four technical falls over top opponents, including over 2013 NCAA National Champion, Nahshon Garrett. Ness' only loss of the tournament came to the eventual World Champion, Logan Steiber. They met in the semi-finals. In a close and gutsy match, it was tied 4 points a piece going into the second period. A big 4 point move early in the second period gave Stieber the momentum in the match. Ness would score one more 2-point turn, but it was not enough to match the tenacious offense of Stieber who won 13 to 6.
Other top performances at the recent NYAC Bill Farrell International were produced by Zach Sanders (57 kg) and Tony Nelson (125 kg). Each of whom will compete for Greco-Roman National titles this weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tony Nelson, who earned the gold medal in freestyle at heavyweight in New York, has not wrestled Greco-Roman since he was in middle school when he weighed only 130 pounds. Well now he will be competing at 130 kg in Greco-Roman this week, which is 286 lbs. Despite his long sabbatical from this style of wrestling, head coach Dan Chandler has no doubts about the potential of Nelson.
Despite his lack of competition in Greco, Tony has very good tendencies. Physically, he is as good as anyone he will wrestle. He is bringing his collegiate skills to Greco.
Tony Nelson is a very humble individual, yet monstrous in stature and ability. Comparable to a modern day and real life Paul Bunyan, the Minnesota wrestling community is used to seeing Tony win. With two NCAA Titles under his belt, he's more than just a role model to most Minnesotans. So why undertake competing in a different style when a breakthrough has just been made in freestyle at the senior level? It is simple.
"We do Freestyle all the time. This is Greco. I'm learning new positions that will help me in my freestyle. I'm going to go out there and have fun. There is no pressure. Just going out and competing."
Without much pressure, this provides a fun and new way for Nelson to compete this month. However, learning and competing in Greco will definitely pay dividends in Nelson's freestyle wrestling. Head coach of Augsburg college and Director of Cadet Greco at Minnesota/USA Wrestling, Jim Moulsoff, broke it down like this.
Learning Greco can only help your freestyle and folkstyle wrestling. There is a tradition of that in Minnesota in every program. We (Augsburg College) had a Greco-Roman Olympian in 1976, Pat Marcy, and then another wrestler became an Olympic Alternate. These kids are encouraged to wrestle all styles from a young age and they believe that they can compete at the senior and world level. -Jim Moulsoff
Zach Sanders, coming off of a bronze medal at the Bill Farrell in freestyle will also compete for a national title in Greco this week. In high school, Sanders was a Cadet National Champion and a Junior National Runner-up in Greco-Roman. Despite his recent focus on Freestyle, Zach is hopeful about the upcoming tournament, focusing on his advantages.
There are advantages and disadvantages to being a freestyler wrestling Greco. Good wrestlers find ways to use their skills to their advantage. And the guys that don't do as well don't utilize their unique strengths.
In folkstyle, Sanders was a five-time Minnesota high school state champion and then was a four-time NCAA All-American for the Gophers. He also was a Junior National Champion and a University World Silver Medalist in freestyle. This puts him in rare prestige. He credits a lot of his success in folkstyle and freestyle to his background of wrestling Greco in his younger years.
"In freestyle, you can use the skills you learn in Greco. Greco helped me a ton growing up. In my college and freestyle career I used a lot of 2-on-1s and underhooks. I developed that in Greco and it has helped me a ton in the other styles."
A former Golden Gopher himself, Coach Dan Chandler seems confident in these freestyler's abilities going into the Greco-Roman Nationals. "Ness and Sanders were both very good at Greco in high school, but haven't competed much since they started college. They are both picking it up again pretty quick."
It takes a certain respect and appreciation for the sport across all styles to do what they are doing. It is not normal for top freestyle wrestlers at this level to want to get out of their comfort zone to re-learn and compete in another style. Then again they are not normal wrestlers; they are Minnesotans.
Follow Jayson, Zach, Tony and the rest of the Minnesota Storm as they compete at the US Open this weekend.
Wrestling will take place this Saturday and Sunday, December 18th and 19th, with wrestling starting at 11 am CT on both days.
Minnesota Storm Lineup
Justin LaValle 59 kg /130.1 lbs.
Zach Sanders 59 kg /130.1 lbs.
Jayson Ness 66 kg/145.5 lbs.
Pat Smith 71 kg/156.5 lbs.
Logan Kass 71 kb/ 156.5 lbs.
Brad Dolezal 71 kg/156.5 lbs.
Alec Ortiz 75 kg/165.4 lbs.
Barrett Stanghill 80 kg/176.4 lbs.
Hayden Zillmer 98 kg/216.1 lbs.
Tony Nelson 130 kg/286.6 lbs.