Every four years, athletes come out of the shadows to give it one last go in order to try to make an Olympic team. For members of the Minnesota Storm, there are no shadows. Storm athletes have been busy throughout the Olympic cycle preparing for this very moment.
The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, set for April 9-10 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa will feature 18 athletes representing the Minnesota Training Center and the Minnesota Storm. This is the most qualifiers of any privately-operated training location in the United States. Of those 18, 15 are in the “classic style” of Greco-Roman, while three Storm freestylers also qualified.
Two of the three Storm freestylers competing are past NCAA champions as 2010 Dan Hodge Trophy winner Jayson Ness will take the mat at 65kg, Tony Nelson will go to the mat at 125kg and three-time collegiate All-American Scott Schiller will compete at 97kg.
USA Wrestling released a set of pre-Trials rankings on April 1. These rankings will essentially serve as pre-seeds for the freestyle portion of the event. Ness isn’t ranked in the top eight, but Schiller checks in at No. 8 and Nelson at No. 7.
All three freestylers are former Minnesota Golden Gopher wrestlers while Ness and Nelson are also Minnesota natives. Schiller hails from West Fargo, N.D., just across the border. Iowa alum Brent Metcalf is the top seed at 65kg, while World champion Kyle Snyder is the top seed at 97kg. Two-time World bronze medalist Tervel Dlagnev is the No. 1 at 125kg.
In Greco-Roman, the Storm looks to continue its streak of putting at least one wrestler on an Olympic team. The streak began back in 1968.
At 57kg, Justin LaValle punched his ticket to the Trials after winning the Last Chance Qualifier in Cedar Falls last weekend. LaValle, a graduate of Apple Valley High School, finished his collegiate career at North Dakota State. He was a 2012 NCAA qualifier while wrestling at Old Dominion University in Virginia. LaValle finished fourth at the 2016 Dave Schultz Memorial International back in January. He’s also a past Pan Am Junior freestyle champion.
Three Storm athletes will take to the mat at 66kg. University World silver medalist Pat Smith leads the contingent. A Chaska native, Smith is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and won the Pan Am gold medal earlier this year up at the 71kg non-Olympic weight. Missouri native Brian Graham will also check in at the weight, qualifying with a bronze medal finish at the Vantaa Cup earlier this year. Devin Scott also qualified. Scott attended North Dakota State after his high school career ended with a state championship at Apple Valley. Scott qualified after finishing sixth at the U.S. Nationals in December.
At 75kg, two-time World bronze medalist Andy Bisek leads the field of Storm competitors. A Chaska native currently living in Colorado Springs, Bisek’s 2015 World Championship performance saw him beat three past World champions en route to the bronze. He’s one of the top hopes to bring the U.S. its first Greco-Roman Olympic medal since Adam Wheeler earned a bronze in Beijing in 2008. Bisek and his mustache both graduated from the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan. Also in the mix is past U.S. World Team member Jake Fisher and Minnesota alum Alec Ortiz. Fisher qualified after finishing sixth at U.S. Nationals while Ortiz punched his ticket after winning the Last Chance Qualifier last weekend in Cedar Falls.
Another stout weight for the Storm is at 85kg, where three-time U.S. World Team member Jordan Holm holds the top spot in the weight class. Holm qualified the weight for the Olympic Games with a championship at the recent Pan Am Olympic Qualifier in Frisco, Texas. Hom will be pushed by veteran Jake Clark, a two-time World Team member. Clark is probably the lone wrestler who fits the profile of emerging from the shadows. Prior to this fall, Clark was off the mats after sustaining an injury at the 2012 Olympic Trials. Clark brought Holm to the 2010 World Championships in Moscow as a training partner and the two know each other very well. This could be an all-Storm final. Crosby native Hayden Zillmer qualified for the Trials after winning the Last Chance Qualifier. An All-American on the college mats in 2015 at North Dakota State, Zillmer has a long history in Greco-Roman, but most of it was at the age-group level. Zillmer is competing at 85kg, but he won his first Cadet Greco-Roman title in 2007 at 84 … pounds!
Dr. John Wechter, Joe Rau, and Patrick Carey will come to the mats at 98kg. Wechter, a Michigan State alum and native of Saginaw, Mich., is a past U.S. National champion and qualified for the Olympic Trials with a sixth-place finish at this past year’s U.S. Nationals. Rau, an Illinois native and NCAA Division III champion at Elmhurst College, is a past U.S. World Team member and won the U.S. Nationals in December, beating three-time World Teamer Caylor Williams in the process. Rau represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan at the 80kg non-Olympic weight. Carey qualified by earning a bronze medal at the 2016 Dave Schultz Memorial International. Carey is an Arizona native and wrestled for Division II Colorado State-Pueblo.
Young heavyweights Parker Betts and Donny Longendyke are set to compete at 130kg. University of Iowa heavyweight and Kasson native Sam Stoll qualified, but will be unable to compete after a knee injury put him out of action during the collegiate season. Betts was the U.S. Nationals runner-up, while Longendyke, a 2015 NCAA Division III champion at Augsburg, earned his spot after winning the Last Chance Qualifier in Cedar Falls.
U.S. Olympic Team Trials Qualifiers for the Storm