FARGO BLOG: Eight-day competition set for dramatic finish

July 19, 2013, 10:58 a.m. (ET)
FARGO, N.D. - This is it! The final day of the eight-day ASICS/Vaughan Junior and Cadet Nationals.

It was good to walk in here this morning and see the Fargo Dome whittled down from 23 to just 4 mats for the final day of competition, with only the Junior Nationals freestyle finals and placing matches scheduled.

It has been another highly successful event, with more than 4,000 wrestlers entered. The numbers of participants increased in every category, which is a great sign for USA Wrestling and the sport.

The skill level remains very high and I am convinced that there are a few future Olympians competing here in this event.

The Junior Nationals finals are set to start at 10 this morning. It's my favorite session of the tournament, with future top college and international prospects on full display. It's definitely some great wrestling.

It is unfortunate that a few of the tough young high school stars in the U.S. aren't here, but there were still an abundance of great prospects competing here.

New Brown University coach Todd Beckerman stopped by to say hello on Friday. I was very excited to see Todd, who did a great job as an assistant at Maryland, receive his first head-coaching opportunity. He's very deserving.

I covered Todd his senior year at Nebraska when I was a sportswriter in Omaha. He's a very personable, outgoing person who can definitely make an impact at Brown.

July 19

FARGO, N.D. - It definitely takes a special type of athlete to win a USA Wrestling Triple Crown.

Making it through a national tournament undefeated is difficult enough. Doing it in three styles - folkstyle, Greco-Roman and freestyle - is obviously much more challenging.

Especially when you are facing the type of high-level competition you at the Junior and Cadet Nationals.

Six athletes - four in Cadets and two in Juniors - have an opportunity to achieve the rare feat in the next two days.

Winning three national titles in a year obviously requires plenty of skill, strength, stamina and determination, and sometimes a little bit of good fortune.

It is a grind here in Fargo, trying to win the last two legs of the Triple Crown in the same week. Athletes not only have to wrestle an abundance of matches, but they also have to make weight numerous times and stay injury-free through a long event.

USA Wrestling makes a big deal out of its Triple Crown winners, and with good reason. It is a huge accomplishment. It is a very prestigious honor and kudos go to those gifted young men who can get it done.

July 18

FARGO, N.D. - Winning a Junior Nationals title doesn't always translate to success when wrestlers reach the Senior level.

I was chatting with 1996 Olympic gold medalist Kendall Cross in the media area Wednesday and he told me the highest he ever finished at Junior Nationals was fourth.

Cross, who is helping coach with the Texas team here in Fargo, also pointed out to me that two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time World champion John Smith never won Junior Nationals. The highest that Smith, the head coach at Oklahoma State, ever finished was second.

Olympic and World champion Tom Brands and two-time World champion Terry Brands also never won this tournament, but both were All-Americans.

Those wrestlers didn't win Junior titles, but as Cross pointed out, the experience they gained on the national level at that point in their careers was very important. Wrestling at the Junior Nationals allowed them to learn and progress, and it drove them to be the best in their country and eventually the world.

Wrestlers like Cross, Smith and the Brands twins continued to work hard and continued to improve while competing in USA Wrestling events.

Of the 18 wrestlers on the U.S. World Team this year, 13 wrestled at the Junior Nationals. Olympic and World champion Jordan Burroughs never competed in Fargo when he was a high school wrestler in New Jersey.

Among the 2013 World Teamers who won titles in Fargo are Reece Humphrey, Harry Lester and Adeline Gray.

It was great to see Team New York honoring the late Jeff Blatnick with his image on the back of their singlets here in Fargo. The singlets have the words "Dream Big" on the back with a photo of Blatnick raising his arms after winning the 1984 Olympic gold medal. Blatnick passed away last year.

Blatnick was a great supporter of Team New York and this event. He was state chairman for New York and also served as a coach for the teams at Junior and Cadet Nationals. No doubt, he would've been proud when New York won the Junior Women's Duals on Wednesday.

With the Junior Nationals freestyle tournament starting today, a number of top college coaches will be rolling into Fargo for the festivities.

I saw Iowa assistant coach Ryan Morningstar, Iowa State assistant coach Troy Nickerson and Columbia coach Carl Fronhofer on Wednesday. North Dakota State coach Roger Kish has been here all week, helping serve as one of the great hosts of this event.

Photographer John Sachs has been a huge help to us once again at this event, providing photos we run with all of our stories we post on here. John has shot the last two Olympic Games and he also makes big contributions to California USA Wrestling.

Not to be overlooked are John's morning trips to the concession stand to grab coffee for some of the folks on press row.

July 17

FARGO, N.D. - The long grind of 12-hour days at the Junior and Cadet Nationals can take its toll on just about anyone.

Including those of us on the USA Wrestling staff.

There are over a dozen full-time USA Wrestling staff members here in Fargo. Our staff, along with everyone else here, puts in very long hours in trying to put on the biggest wrestling tournament in the world.

As has been the norm in recent years, I received the morning off today after working four straight days of 12 or more hours. It was a good time to take a break after we had back-to-back finals in Junior Greco-Roman and Junior women's freestyle on Tuesday.

It is the halfway point of the eight-day event which brings in over 4,000 wrestlers to Fargo.

There was some outstanding wrestling on Tuesday with amazing performances by top young stars like Becka Leathers, Adam Coon, Hayden Tuma and Teshya Alo. I have a front row seat from press row when those stars put their skills on display. Don't be surprised to see some of those kids representing the USA in the Olympics someday soon.

My morning of recovery worked out great. I slept in, worked out, hit the swimming pool and hot tub, and visited the Chinese buffet across the street from our hotel in Moorhead, Minn. That was a great way to recharge the battery before I return to the Fargo Dome this afternoon.

I've had a chance to hang out with the Illinois coaches in our hotel again during the tournament. They are a great group of guys and obviously great coaches will all the success they've been having here.

If they didn't have to sleep, those guys could probably talk wrestling every minute of the day.

Just ran into Iowa Hawkeye assistant coach Ryan Morningstar, who is serving as one of the coaches for the Team Iowa freestyle team here in Fargo. Morningstar won a Junior Nationals freestyle title here in 2005 before going on to be an All-American for the Hawkeyes.

He's a top young coach and one of the really good guys we have in this sport.

July 16

FARGO, N.D. - The fight to keep wrestling in the Olympic Games includes the folks at the grassroots levels.

That is definitely apparent here at a massive event like the Junior and Cadet Nationals.

The 4,000-plus wrestlers here are the future of the sport. A select few of them will have realistic chances to be on U.S. Olympic teams in 2020, 2024 and possibly beyond.

Talented young wrestlers like Teshya Alo, Aaron Pico, Chandler Rogers and Adam Coon are among the top wrestlers in Fargo who have those Olympic hopes and dreams.

As many of you know, the International Olympic Committee Executive Board voted in February to recommend that wrestling be removed as a core sport from the Olympic program.

And in May, wrestling was included along with baseball/softball and squash by the same IOC board to be considered as an additional sport for the 2020 and 2024 Olympics. Now it comes down to a Sept. 8 vote in Argentina to see if wrestling stays in the Games beyond 2016.

The support shown for this Olympic fight by the folks at the grassroots level has been impressive. They've shown their support through buying and wearing shirts with messages to keep wrestling in the Olympics. They've also pledged financial support. And they've also kept their young kids participating in wrestling and chasing their dreams.

The number of wrestlers in this tournament continues to increase, and that's a testament to what this sport is all about.

Wrestlers are as passionate about their sport as anyone on the planet. And that has been on full display with the great job wrestling has done in battling to stay in the Olympics.

The sport has become even better this year with positive changes made in wrestling. And that has been evident when watching a great tournament with top-quality wrestling like this.

We've made Michigan heavyweight Adam Coon an honorary member of our press area in Fargo. Coon, who is seeking to become the first wrestler to win two Junior Triple Crowns, grabs a seat in the press area between matches. He sits next to his father and coach, Dan Coon, the USA Wrestling state chair for Michigan.

July 15

FARGO, N.D. - Putting on the biggest wrestling tournament in the world obviously takes a huge commitment from a lot of people.

The ASICS/Vaughan Junior and Cadet Nationals require the work of hundreds of volunteers who work to make this tournament a huge success.

Volunteers are needed in an abundance of capacities - from referees to pairings officials to clock operators to security. Many of these people use personal vacation time and spend their own money to be a part of this massive event.

The field in Fargo is massive, with over 4,000 wrestlers competing on 23 mats over eight days in eastern North Dakota.

Michigan star Adam Coon just walked in front of the media area here in the Fargo Dome. Coon is trying to become the first wrestler to win back-to-back Junior Triple Crowns. Juniors have been eligible for the Triple Crown since 2007.

Coon completed the first leg of the Triple Crown when he won a Junior Folkstyle Nationals title in April in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The top heavyweight is a University of Michigan recruit who is an excellent student with a bright future ahead in wrestling and beyond.

G. Wyatt Schultz helps me keep my sanity during the long grind of this event. The multi-talented photographer owns The Predicament, an Iowa-based magazine. He is probably going to get himself into trouble, namely with Iowa City West coach and Iowa state chairman Mark Reiland, for wearing a Southeast Polk wrestling shirt today.

Wyatt is one of the great guys in the sport and he does a great job covering the wrestlers in the Hawkeye state. I asked Wyatt on Monday morning how many years he's been covering the event in Fargo.

"A lot of years - I couldn't even tell you the exact number" Schultz said with a laugh. "This is one of my favorite events. It is fun following these guys here in Fargo and then watching how they do when they go on to college.

Good to see my old buddy Eric Sanders back roaming the Fargo Dome turf as part of the security crew. Sanders, who wrestled for North Dakota State, always has something interesting to say and helps make this event enjoyable.