By Chad Otterness
MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- Hayden Zillmer, a native of Crosby, MN, will travel to Las Vegas this week to compete in the U.S. Greco-Roman World Team Trials at 98 kilograms (215 lbs). This will not be Hayden's first time competing in the U.S. World Team Trials, but this will be his first attempt to make a U.S. World Team after a full season of training Greco as a senior-level athlete.
Last year, shortly after finishing his collegiate career at North Dakota State University, where he was an NCAA Division-I all American, Hayden transitioned into Greco and finished third at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at 85 kilograms (187 lbs). This season, Hayden enters the Trials a more experienced Greco wrestler who is now ranked among the top-20 in the world.
So far this season, Hayden (pictured, right) has earned a string of medals in international competition. He began his season earning a silver medal in the New York AC Bill Farrell International. Next he traveled to Sweden and Finland where he again won silver medals in both events. In December, he finished second in the U.S. Open National Championships, dropping his bout in the finals to the same opponent he faced in the finals in New York, D'Angelo Hancock of the NYAC. This spring Hayden competed in Denmark and Croatia, finishing seventh and fifth, respectively. With a full season under his belt, Hayden hopes to qualify for his first senior-level World Team and to represent the U.S. in the World Championships in Paris in August.
We caught up with Hayden to ask him a few questions before he departs for Las Vegas:
Q. This is your first full season of competition in Greco Roman on the senior-level. How has the overall transition gone for you from folkstyle to Greco?
It has gone pretty well. I do a lot of hand fighting when I wrestle and I still look to utilize body attacks. That works for me. I work to score points and find positions of control. I competed in Greco in high school, so I have a good feel for it.
Q. How has the weight change impacted you?
The weight change has gone pretty well, I am getting bigger. I can train harder with the weight gain. I do not have to worry about my weight and I can focus on getting better every day. I am somewhat tall for my weight class, so that can help with my opponents. I am weighing around 215 pounds.
Q. Who are you training with?
My main partners have been Joe Rau, Donny Longendyke, and Tony Nelson. Dan Chandler and Brandon Paulson run the practices and they'll be in my corner in Vegas. Also, my old high school coach, Champ Hesch, still provides me with feedback at times and we reflect on the progress I've made.
Q. Any challenges or difficulties with getting back into Greco?
Sometimes I will wrestle freestyle and it is harder to score when I switch back to Greco in practice. There are subtle positions and movements I like to do in Greco. When you wrestle freestyle you have different ways to score, Greco has a different focus. However, it makes me have to think and prepare in different scenarios. I feel like it has been very good overall. My coaches and training partners are great. It's a really good environment. I've been putting a lot of energy into my training and just keep focusing on improving.
Q. Where are your positions of strength in Greco?
I like to go hard for the whole six minutes and push the pace. I want to outwork my opponent. I like to hand-fight and create opportunities. My 2-on-1 series has been working for me. I have also been developing more offense from over-under ties. I feel comfortable in that position as well. In general, I just look to create offensive opportunities from these positions.
Q. How has wrestling overseas prepared you for the U.S. Greco Roman World Team Trials?
The international trips were great. I wrestled in Croatia, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. The Europeans seem to have greater diversity in Greco technique and to favor different scoring situations. I have learned some things that I can put into my game plan. For example, I've implemented some different 2-on-1 positions, which have helped me get to more dominant scoring positions. It's been fun adding experiences and techniques like these to my arsenal.
Q. Who are some of the more challenging opponents heading into the Trials?
G'Angelo Hancock of the NYAC is one of the more challenging opponents. I will have to get past him to win the tournament. My goal is to win the World Team Trials in Las Vegas and go to the World Championships in Paris this August.
Q. How long do you plan to compete internationally?
For now, I plan to train through the Olympic Games in 2020. Eventually, I want to earn my Master’s Degree in Administration from NDSU. I want to teach and work in an administrative role.
Q. Do you see yourself coaching in the future?
Yes, for sure! I would like to coach at the Division-I level. I enjoy working with the athletes who are looking to achieve at a high level. Currently, I am working with younger kids and I enjoy that too.
The World Team spot at 98 kg will be determined April 28, along with 66 kg, 80 kg and 130 kg at the 2017 U.S. Greco-Roman World Team Trials in Las Vegas. The event will be broadcast LIVE on Flowrestling.org.
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