Nick Gwiazdowski celebrates his victory over Adam Coon at Final X in Lehigh. Photo by Geoff Riccio.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Six more spots on the U.S. World Team in men’s and women’s freestyle were determined in an exciting night of action at Final X at Lehigh, which was held in Grace Hall on the campus of Lehigh University on Saturday night.
2017 World bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski of the Titan Mercury WC needed just two matches to stop 2018 Greco-Roman World Team member Adam Coon of the New York AC at 125 kg in men’s freestyle.
Gwiazdowski was in control in both matches. In the first match, Gwiazdowski scored three leg attack takedowns, while Coon forced a stepout, on the way to a 6-1 victory. The second match ended with the same score, 6-1, as Coon scored first on a stepout, then Gwiazdowski scored a pair of takedowns and a turn for the victory.
Coon won his Greco-Roman team spot on Friday in Tulsa, Okla., got immediately on a plane, flew to Pennsylvania and weighed in Saturday afternoon to face Gwiazdowski. He was attempting to be the first U.S. athlete to make the Senior World Team in both styles since 1982, when Greg Gibson competed in both styles at the World Championships.
Gwiazdowski was asked about Coon’s Greco-Roman success as well as his size.
“Different style. Different rules. He had an opportunity in both. He is a tough dude. He is going to come at you and turn it into a fight,” said Gwiazdowski.
On Coon’s size
“That is like part of the job description. These guys are going to be big. You have the weight limit and he made the weight limit, and that’s that. I have done it my entire life. Whenever they are that heavy, I know I’ve wrestled guys taller than him and heavier than him,” said Gwiazdowski.
Gwiazdowski was a two-time NCAA champion and three-time finalist for NC State, and also was an NCAA All-American as a freshman for Binghamton. Coon, a three-time All-American for Michigan, was the 2018 U.S. Open champion in freestyle and the runner-up in Greco-Roman. In 2014, Coon won Junior World bronze medals in both styles.
The event determined the 2018 U.S. Senior World Teams in men’s and women’s freestyle wrestling in six weight classes. The winner earned a spot on Team USA at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, October 20-28.
Making her fourth World Team, but needing all three bouts to clinch her spot, was Whitney Conder of the U.S. Army WCAP, who got past two-time World Team member Victoria Anthony of the Sunkist Kids at 50 kg.
Conder won the first match, 10-4. Conder went up 4-0 at the break on a pair of takedowns, but Anthony tied it up at 4-4 early in the second period on a throw. Conder closed it out with a double leg takedown, a gut wrench and another takedown.
Anthony came back strong in the second bout, coming out with a 4-2 win. Anthony got the first takedown, but Conder answered late in the first to tie it at 2-2. In the second period, Anthony converted a front headlock to a spin-behind takedown for the win.
In the deciding third match, Conder scored first with a takedown on the edge early. She added another takedown for a 4-0 lead, then scored a pair of turns on high gut wrenches. Anthony challenged the call and was denied, making the score 9-0. Conder scored a takedown with two seconds left for the 11-0 technical fall.
“There have been a lot of changes in my life since I made my last World Championships. I went down a weight class. I have been changing my lifestyle. I love everything that I am eating. I am doing more cardio. Every day I am working out more. I am fighting more, finding ways to score more points. I have new techniques that my coaches have been on me about. I have been training as hard as possible and finding new partners to get in the room and train as hard as we possibly can,” said Conder.
Both are past Junior World champions, with Conder winning in 2007 and Anthony claiming Junior World titles in both 2009 and 2010. Conder was a 2015 Pan American Games champion. Anthony won four WCWA national titles for Simon Fraser.
2016 Olympic bronze medalist and 2017 World bronze medalist J’den Cox of the Titan Mercury WC made his third straight U.S. World or Olympic team with a two-match sweep over 2018 U.S. Open runner-up Hayden Zillmer of the Minnesota Storm at 92 kg.
Cox won the first match, scoring two takedowns and forcing a stepout, winning 5-1. In the second match, after a quick takedown, Cox secured an ankle lace and hit four straight turns, getting a 10-0 technical fall for the sweep.
“I knew what I was capable of. I knew that I have done the things to commit myself more to the sport. I am making my goals so I know what I want to accomplish. I made the move to Colorado. I knew I paid the price to do what I had to do to get here. I will do whatever it takes to get where I want to be in the future,” said Cox.
Cox won three NCAA titles and was a four-time All-American for Missouri. Zillmer, a North Dakota State All-American, has made the Senior National Team in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.
2016 World Team member Sarah Hildebrandt of the New York AC won a two match sweep over a former teammate, 2016 Olympian and 2017 World Team member Haley Augello of the New York AC at 53 kg.
Hildebrandt shut out Augello in both matches, not giving up a single point. In the first match, Hildebrandt won 6-0, then added to her dominance with an 8-0 win in bout two.
Hildebrandt talked a bit about the 2017 World Team Trials, where she injured her elbow severely and could not complete her matches in the finals.
“It was a matter of putting it behind me and pushing me as well. I did a little bit of both. I couldn’t put it in front of me, where it was crippling me and making me afraid. I put it behind me to where I said, ‘look, it is time for you to get the job done.’ I doesn’t matter what happened before. Right now is your time,” she said.
Hildebrandt won their battle at the 2018 U.S. Open, 6-1. Both were stars for King University, with Augello winning three WCWA titles and Hildebrandt winning two WCWA golds.
Cornell NCAA champion Nahshon Garrett of the Sunkist Kids at 61 kg made his first World Team with a three-match victory over 2018 U.S. Open champion Joe Colon of the Titan Mercury WC.
Colon struck first in bout one, winning a close 7-5 win. Garrett rebounded to win the second bout, 10-5.
The third bout was all Garrett. He scored a takedown and a turn for a 4-0 lead, then did it again with another takedown and turn for an 8-0 lead. He finished it off with a big four-point throw to get a 12-0 technical fall.
“My first match, I came out slow. The thing is, I can’t wrestle slow against him. He is too good in his positions. So, every match, I had to pick it up, a little bit more, a little bit more. That is what I meant to do that first match. I didn’t want to over-wrestle, but I think it was just more that constricted aggressiveness. Just get to him. Clean shots, clean finishes, get to his legs and take him down and finish it,” said Garrett.
Garrett earned four All-American honors for the Big Red and is a past University Nationals freestyle champion. Colon was an All-American for Northern Iowa and NJCAA champion for Iowa Central.
In another battle of past teammates, Forrest Molinari of the Titan Mercury WC avenged a loss in the 2018 U.S. Open finals to Julia Salata of the New York AC and come away with a two-match sweep at 65 kg.
In the first match, Molinari shut down Salata for a 5-0 victory. In the second match, she ran off to an 8-0 lead, getting a four-point takedown and two other takedowns. Salata came from underneath to reverse Molinari to her back to make it 8-2, but Molinari scored a final takedown for a 10-2 win.
“This is very different than the usual Trials process. It was hard, but I am so glad I got to go to all three. I got to experience it all, and know my teammates. It has been an awesome year, going to all of these tournaments, helping my teammates out, and finally making that Senior team,” said Molinari.
Salata won two WCWA titles for King (2014, 2015), while Molinari was a 2016 WCWA champion. Salata won their showdown in the 2018 U.S. Open finals, 5-0.
USA Wrestling also held six National Team True Third Place wrestle-offs, which determined the No. 3 spot on the National Team. A true-third wrestle-off occurs when the overall runner-up and third-place finishers from the Freestyle World Team Trials Challenge Tournament did not meet in the bracket.
Winning their true third bouts for the men were Tony Ramos of the Sunkist Kids at 57 kg, Jaydin Eierman of the Titan Mercury WC at 65 kg and Richard Perry of the New York AC at 86 kg. Also advancing with a forfeit win was Ty Walz of the Titan Mercury WC at 97 kg.
Women winners in the True Third bouts were Cody Pfau of the Titan Mercury WC at 53 kg, Kelsey Campbell of the Sunkist Kids at 59 kg and Alex Glaude of the McKendree Bearcat WC at 68 kg.
FloWrestling provided exclusive live and on-demand coverage of the three-event Final X series. Watch the events across all screens by downloading the FloSports app on iOS, Roku, or Apple TV 4, as well as on desktop or mobile web via FloWrestling.com
FINAL X AT LEHIGH
Saturday, June 23 at Grace Hall, Bethlehem, Pa.
The Main Card
Men’s freestyle 61 kg
Nahshon Garrett, Tempe, Ariz. (Sunkist Kids) dec. Joe Colon, Fresno, Calif. (Titan Mercury WC/Valley RTC), two matches to one
Bout One – Colon dec. Garrett, 7-5
Bout Two – Garrett dec. Colon, 10-5
Bout Three – Garrett tech. fall Colon, 12-0
Women’s freestyle 50 kg
Whitney Conder, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Army WCAP) dec. Victoria Anthony, Tempe, Ariz. (Sunkist Kids), two matches to one
Bout One – Conder dec. Anthony, 10-4
Bout Two – Anthony dec. Conder, 4-2
Bout Three – Conder tech. fall Anthony, 11-0
Men’s freestyle 92 kg
J’den Cox, Columbia, Mo. (Titan Mercury WC) dec. Hayden Zillmer, Crosby, Minn. (Minnesota Storm), two matches to none
Bout One – Cox dec. Zillmer, 5-2
Bout Two – Cox tech. fall Zillmer, 10-0
Women’s freestyle 53 kg
Sarah Hildebrandt, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) dec. Haley Augello, Lockport, Ill. (New York AC), two matches to none
Bout One – Hildebrandt dec. Augello, 6-0
Bout Two – Hildebrandt dec. Augello, 8-0
Women’s freestyle 65 kg
Forrest Molinari, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Titan Mercury WC/OTC) dec. Julia Salata, Bristol, Tenn. (New York AC), two matches to none
Bout One – Molinari dec. Salata, 5-0
Bout Two – Molinari dec. Salata, 10-2
Men’s freestyle 125 kg
Nick Gwiazdowski, Raleigh, N.C. (Titan Mercury WC/Wolfpack RTC) dec. Adam Coon, Fowlerville, Mich. (New York AC/Michigan RTC), two matches to none
Bout One – Gwiazdowski dec. Coon, 6-1
Bout Two – Gwiazdowski dec. Coon, 6-1
NATIONAL TEAM TRUE THIRD PLACE BOUTS
53 kg – Cody Pfau (Titan Mercury) pin Gabrielle Weyhrich (McKendree Bearcat WC), 1:45
59 kg: Kelsey Campbell (Sunkist Kids) dec. Lauren Louive (New York AC/Hawkeye WC), 4-0
68 kg: Alex Glaude (McKendree Bearcat WC) dec. Yvonne Galindo (Aries WC), 2-2
57 kg: Tony Ramos (Sunkist Kids) dec. Zach Sanders (Minnesota Storm), 4-2
65 kg: Jaydin Eierman (Titan Mercury WC) dec. Andy Simmons (New York AC), 9-5
86 kg: Richard Perry (New York AC) dec. Pat Downey (Titan Mercury WC), 7-4
97 kg: Ty Walz (Titan Mercury WC) by forfeit over Austin Schafer (New York AC)
Courtesy of Trackwrestling.com
Gwiazdowski spent the past two weekends watching the first seven world freestyle team spots determined at Final X events in Lincoln and State College.
“We’ve got some really great wrestlers and it was fun to watch,” he said. “It definitely got my competitive juices flowing.”
Now it’s Gwiazdowski’s turn.
The 2017 world bronze medalist will battle long-time rival Adam Coon when the third and final stage of the Final X is contested Saturday night at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
Gwiazdowski and Coon will meet in a best-of-three match series at 125 kilograms. The winner advances to October’s World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
“I’m really excited and motivated to wrestle,” Gwiazdowski said. “I’m healthy and strong — I’m ready to go. I can’t wait to get out there and have my opportunity to compete.”
Gwiazdowski, a two-time NCAA champion, has had a strong season. He placed third at January’s prestigious Ivan Yarygin event in Russia before going 2-1 for the U.S. team that won April’s World Cup.
He dropped a 4-3 decision to 2015 world silver medalist Jamaladdin Magomedov of Azerbaijan in the gold-medal dual at the World Cup.
“I feel like I’ve continued to make progress and I’ve improved a lot over the last 10 months since the World Championships,” he said. “I have tried to build on that performance from last year. A big part of what I’ve worked on is getting stronger and increasing my attack rate with my offense.
“This is the strongest I’ve been in a long time. I have had some really good training and I’ve had really good preparation leading up to this event.”
The 6-foot-1, 258-pound Gwiazdowski will face a familiar foe in the massive 6-foot-5, 285-pound Coon, who is trying to make U.S. world teams in both freestyle and Greco-Roman this year.
Gwiazdowski earned one-point wins over Coon in the 2015 NCAA finals and 2016 NCAA semifinals. He also beat Coon by 12-2 technical superiority in freestyle at the 2015 U.S. World Team Trials.
Coon does have a win over Gwiazdowski, a 3-1 victory in overtime in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
Coon won the U.S. Open and World Team Trials Challenge Tournament this year to earn a shot at Gwiazdowski, who earned a Final X berth by virtue of being a returning world medalist. Coon is a past Cadet world champion and Junior world bronze medalist in freestyle.
“Adam has had a really solid year — he beat a world champion,” Gwiazdowski said. “He is a big, strong guy, but you expect everyone to be strong that you face at this level. I expect guys to be 275 pounds and be physical. I respect Adam and what he does. I’m looking forward to the challenge of facing him. He always brings a fight. He’s in your face and he wrestles hard.”
Gwiazdowski is ready to match Coon’s hard-charging style and approach.
“I’m in great shape,” he said, “and I feel really confident with my conditioning.”
The 25-year-old Gwiazdowski is an athletic heavyweight who has excelled with an array of lethal leg attacks. He’s a tough matchup for most heavyweights who don’t possess his speed and mobility.
“I’m going to be fast and explosive,” he said, “and ready for whatever happens out there.”
Gwiazdowski is looking to join an already loaded 2018 American world team that includes Olympic and world champions Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder, world champion Logan Stieber, world silver medalists Thomas Gilman and James Green, and Hodge Trophy winners Kyle Dake and David Taylor.
Gwiazdowski was a member of the 2017 United States squad that won the world team title in men’s freestyle wrestling last year in Paris. It was the first U.S. team title in that style since 1995.
“This year’s world team is really good already,” he said. “I’ve been around this group the last couple of years and I’ve been able to see what they do. It’s an impressive group of guys who compete and train at a very high level. I’ve learned a lot from being around them.”
Gwiazdowski and coach Pat Popolizio led a resurgence of the wrestling program at North Carolina State. The Wolfpack are coming off their best season in school history after winning a team trophy when they tied for fourth at the 2018 NCAA tournament in Cleveland.
And the best may be yet to come as N.C. State continues to bring in top-level recruits.
“It’s really exciting to see what is going on here,” said Gwiazdowski, who continues to train in Raleigh. “A lot of things have changed since I first got here. The intensity of guys and the skill level they have now is really impressive. Pat’s done a great job and he’s put together a great coaching staff. It’s fun to see them continue to bring in talented wrestlers and see the program having so much success. It’s awesome.”
Popolizio is impressed with what Gwiazdowski has done after a standout collegiate career where he was a three-time NCAA finalist.
“Nick is an extremely motivated individual and he has been working very hard to accomplish his ultimate goal of becoming a world champion,” Popolizio said. “Coach (Obe) Blanc has been leading our RTC’s training and our staff feels very confident about Nick’s preparation heading into this weekend.
“Nick excels on the Senior level because he takes the sport and his training very seriously. He is a true professional, he does everything right and he expects the best.”
So what is the key for Gwiazdowski to achieve his lofty goals?
“Some of it is technical, and some of it is intensity and fight,” he said. “I have to stay focused and believe that I’m good enough to be a world champion. You need to develop that mindset and I feel like I can beat anybody in the world right now.”
Courtesy of Intermatwrestling.com