Las Vegas, Nevada – When it comes to Greco-Roman wrestling and the Minnesota Storm, it’s not always strength in numbers.
One of the nation’s premier international clubs, the Storm relies on its quality to bring home hardware and at the U.S. Open Championships on December 17-18 at the Westgate Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Storm did just that.
Pat Smith claimed his first U.S. Open championship after finishing second on four different occasions, while Hayden Zillmer finished with a silver medal. Jayson Ness, Barrett Stanghill and Malcolm Allen finished with bronze medals to lead the Storm to the Division II national team championship.
Smith’s championship came at 71kg where he defeated Anthonie Linares of the New York Athletic Club 8-0. Smith built a 5-0 lead and cruised to the gold medal.
“Smith just owned it,” said Minnesota Storm coach Dan Chandler.
“He moved up another level after the Clubs Cup in Hungary. He’s going to Stockholm for about two months to get some of his MBA credits out of the way and training with some clubs in Stockholm.”
Zillmer, who recently moved to the Twin Cities and will commence training with the Minnesota Regional Training Center, fell in a tight 2-0 loss to G’Angelo “Tracy” Hancock of the New York Athletic at 98kg. Club. Zillmer, a college All-American at North Dakota State, has been training with Chase Nelson, who is an assistant coach at NDSU.
Zillmer, like Smith, will also be spending some time in the near future training in Sweden.
“He’s going to go to Goteburg with the Ogryte Club in January,” said Chandler. “They’re having a four country training camp before going back to (Colorado Springs) before the Schultz.”
Malcom Allen, a 2016 NCAA Division II runner-up for Minnesota State, also made waves with a third-place finish.
“He’s stocky and always smiling,” said Chandler. “In the third place match, he went out and got launched for four and he ran back to the middle with a big smile on his face. He came back and won the match,”
Allen was the only Storm heavyweight competing as Tony Nelson suffered an injury to his eardrum prior to the event. Allen defeated Eric Fader of the United States Marine Corps 7-5 at 130kg.
Ness was one of a number of athletes who typically favor freestyle, but he joined Zach Sanders in giving it a run. He fell in the quarterfinals to 2012 Olympian Ellis Coleman of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program before battling back to finish third at 66kg. Ness won three matches in consolation competition to reach the bronze-medal bout, where he topped Jessy Williams of the New York Athletic Club by fall.
“It’s another door,” said Chandler. “If he put all his energy into Greco, he could be the top guy there, too.”
Sanders lost to eventual champion Hayden Tuma of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program in the quarterfinals. Sanders then picked up a consolation win over Mike Fuenffinger, a former Storm wrestler now wrestling for the Army, before falling to Sam Jones of the New York Athletic Club. Sanders finished seventh, defeating Lilashawn Coleman of the Army 11-3.
“He was a real good Greco wrestler in high school,” said Chandler. “He’s a real fighter and that’s good and he really enjoyed it. He said thanks for inviting me, so in that respect, it was all good.”
Even with the Greco-Roman World Team Trials set for Las Vegas at the same time men’s freestyle is holding its national championships, Chandler is still going to try to recruit.
“I’m going to try to talk those guys into wrestling Greco at the Schultz,” said Chandler. “At some point in time, they might see Greco as a valid option. I know for (Jayson) Ness, he might beat Logan Stieber the next time they wrestle – he might lose to him two-three times, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Barrett Stanghill, a Montana native and relatively new addition to the Storm, finished third at 80kg. Stanghill fell to runner-up Jon Jay Chavez of the New York Athletic Club in a tight 2-1 bout in the quarterfinals. He then reeled off three straight technical falls to reach the bronze medal bout where he defeated 2015 Pan Am Games gold medalist Jonathan Anderson of the U.S. Army 3-0.
“In the middle of the night, he tries to come in my room because the front desk gave him the wrong key, so we got (Stanghill) into another room and he slept in the chair,” joked Chandler. “We’re going to make sure he sleeps a chair now every day before he wrestles.”
Brad Dolezal finished seventh at 71kg, while Alec Ortiz finished fourth at 75kg. Other wrestlers representing the Storm were Justin LaValle at 59kg, Dylan Reel at 71kg and Romero Cotton at 85kg. Cotton, a two-time NCAA Division II champion for Nebraska-Kearney, was joined by former college teammate Chase Nelson, who wrestled with the Storm and the North Dakota State-based Bison Wrestling Club. Nelson finished third at 71kg.