| 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials champion Frank Molinaro.
Photo: Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
IOWA CITY, Iowa – You probably could have gotten pretty good odds that Frank Molinaro (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC) would not come out on top of the men’s freestyle 65 kg/143 lbs. bracket on Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. But Molinaro, a former NCAA champion for Penn State, did not pay much attention to the pre-tournament hype.
After opening the day with victories over Kellen Russell (Ann Arbor, Mich./New York AC) and hometown favorite Brent Metcalf (Iowa City, Iowa/New York AC), Molinaro sent Logan Stieber (Columbus, Ohio/Titan Mercury WC) packing in the semifinals.
The number nine seed then dropped the opener of the best-of-three championship series Saturday night against 19-year-old superstar Aaron Pico. But the New Jersey native battled back to take bout number two, 4-3, then earn his first World Team spot with another gritty 4-3 decision.
“It was a battle out there. Aaron (Pico) is an animal,” said Molinaro, who split a pair of tough, physical matches with Pico at the Bill Farrell International in November. “I knew it was going to be a dogfight and it hasn’t really set in yet. I was frustrated (after the first match) because I made errors, did things I don’t usually do with the match on the line.
“I have a tremendous coaching staff; they have a tremendous pedigree. They tell me what I need to hear and I listen. They really built me back up and got me in the right mindset. I was just really focused on what I’ve been doing the last six months to prepare for this. And smile when you walk out on the mat … I get to do this for a living. You can’t beat this.”
Although Molinaro is an Olympic Trials champion, he is not yet an Olympian. Like six of the champions on Saturday, the USA has not yet qualified the weight class for the Olympics. They will need to compete in an Olympic Games Qualifier in Mongolia in two weeks, where a top three finish is required to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Those who do not qualify in Mongolia get another shot in Turkey in May.
There were three weight classes which the USA qualified for the Rio Olympics, and all three were won by 2012 Olympics. Earning a second trip to the Olympic Games were women’s freestyle star Elena Pirozhkova (Colorado Springs, Colo./Titan Mercury WC) at 63 kg/138.75 lbs., Greco-Roman wrestler Ben Provisor (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) at 85 kg/187.5 lbs. and men’s freestyle star Tervel Dlagnev (Columbus, Ohio/Sunkist Kids) at 125 kg/275 lbs.
Pirozkhova, a 2012 World champion and three-time World medalist, made yet another U.S. women’s freestyle team. The veteran star controlled Erin Clodgo (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) in both matches Saturday night, winning 3-1 and scoring a fall in the second bout to make her ninth straight U.S. squad and qualify for her second straight Olympic meet.
It will be a second straight trip to the Olympics for Ben Provisor, who finished off 36-year-old Jacob Clark (Honolulu, Hawaii/Minnesota Storm) with a pin in 2:30 of the second bout of the best-of-three. A second-period gut wrench was the difference in a 2-0 win in the first bout at 85 kg.
Dlagnev continued his stay atop the 125 kg ladder in men’s freestyle, beating Zach Rey (Bethlehem, Pa./Lehigh Valley WC) in two-straight bouts. The Texas native, now a six-time World Team member, will compete in his second Olympics.
“Physically, not great. Emotionally, on a little bit of a high,” said a weary Dlagnev. “It’s cool to go on the first day and you get to watch it as an Olympian on that second day.”
There was a strange pain in Dlagnev’s back on Thursday that led to plenty of contemplation. After winning a World Team Trials title in 2015, the former two-time Division II national champion was unable to compete due to injury.
“The last two weeks have been really, really hard,” he added.
2012 Olympian Kelsey Campbell (Tempe, Ariz./Sunkist Kids) won her second straight U.S. Olympic Team Trials, winning two tight 2-1 bouts with Alli Ragan (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) at 58 kg/128.75 lbs.. In the deciding second bout, Campbell, while on the shot clock, scored with a pushout in the final 20 seconds to win her second Olympic Trials inside Carver-Hawkeye. It also marks the Oregon native’s fourth U.S. Senior team berth. Campbell will still need to go to Mongolia to qualify her weight class.
The first session drew 10,855 fans and saw plenty of surprises. The 11,066 who gathered Saturday night got a mixed bag of newbies and veterans.
| 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials champion Jesse Thielke.
Photo: Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
Wisconsin native Jesse Thielke (Germantown, Wis./New York AC) sent two-time Olympian Spenser Mango (Colorado Springs, Colo./Army WCAP) into retirement earlier in the day, then finished off Ildar Hafizov (Colorado Springs, Army WCAP) with a high-amplitude throw and a 10-0 technical fall to open their best-of-three finals series at 59 kg. An hour later, a 9-3 victory gave Thielke a strong finish to an impressive day. A 2013 U.S. World Team member, Thielke’s weight is not yet qualified for Rio.
“It feels good. Making weight is usually the hardest part, but this was the easiest cut of my life,” said Thielke, eighth at the 2013 World Championships. “I’m so dedicated, determined, obsessed every day. I don’t think I’ve slept in a month and a half because it’s all I think about. I know it’s my time. I’ve put in the work, put in the time, doing things different than I had done before and it all came together. Greco is my passion. I live for this. It’s my favorite thing to do in the whole, wide world.”
Thielke must prepare for a trip to Mongolia.
“The hardest part was getting through these guys (in Iowa City),” Thielke said of what lies ahead. “Some of them don’t have the mindset of dominating the world, they just want to be here. That’s not me, I’m trying to take over the world. I’m trying to be the best for the next 10 or 15 years or until my body gives out.”
RaVaughan Perkins (Omaha, Neb./New York AC), a 24-year-old from Omaha, Neb., beat Patrick Smith (Minneapolis, Minn./Minnesota Storm) in the best-of-three final at 66 kg. After dropping the opener, Perkins won a tight 2-2 bout, then used a big 4-point toss in a 9-2 victory to clinch his first berth on a U.S. Senior-level team. He must also head to Mongolia in two weeks
Caylor Williams (Colorado Springs, Colo./Army WCAP) and Josef Rau (Minneapolis, Minn./Minnesota Storm) had a tightly-contested series at 98 kg. A monster lift, toss, and throw led to a pin for Williams at 1:36 in the opener. A second-period gut wrench led to 3-2 victory for Rau, a former Division III national champion for Elmhurst College in Illinois. The deciding bout saw a wild final three minutes with Rau edging Williams, 6-5, and denying the WCAP member a fourth straight U.S. Team. Rau was a 2014 U.S. World Team member at 80 kg.
Texan Tamyra Mensah (Katy, Texas/Titan Mercury WC) beat Brittney Roberts (Colorado Springs,Colo./Sunkist Kids) by identical 8-1 scores to claim top honors at 69 kg in women’s freestyle. It is Mensah’s first U.S. Senior Team. She will also need to head to Mongolia to qualify her weight class.
“I couldn’t even put it into words. It’s amazing, I want to cry but I’m trying not to,” Mensah said. “I was surprised by how well I did, how aggressive I was, how many shots I was able to get to.
“I watched a video last night that one of my coaches sent me; it was (Olympic champion swimmer) Michael Phelps’s coach talking about the mentality. My confidence came from that, it helped me a lot.”
In order to quality for Rio, Mensah admits she has to “wrestle the way I did (in Iowa City) and not like the Pan Ams (Qualifier in Frisco, Texas).”
The remaining nine weight classes hit the mats at 9 a.m. Sunday. 2012 Olympic champion and three-time World champion Jordan Burroughs at 74 kg in men’s freestyle, three-time World champion Adeline Gray at 75 kg in women’s freestyle, 2015 World champion Kyle Snyder at 97 kg in men’s freestyle and two-time World bronze medalist Andy Bisek at 75 kg in Greco-Roman have already qualified for the best-of-three finals in their respective weights and are also waiting on Challenge Tournament winners.
2016 U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM TRIALS
April 9-10 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa
Best-of-three championship finals
Aaron Pico (Titan Mercury WC) dec Frank Molinaro (New York AC), 4-2
Molinaro dec Pico, 4-3
Molinaro dec Pico, 4-3
Molinaro wins best-of-three series, 2-1. This weight is not yet qualified for the Olympics.
Tervel Dlagnev (Sunkist Kids) dec Zach Rey (Lehigh Valley AC), 3-1
Dlagnev dec Rey, 5-3
Dlagnev wins best-of-three series, 2-0 and qualifies for 2016 U.S. Olympic Team.
Kelsey Campbell (Sunkist Kids) dec Alli Ragan (New York AC), 2-1
Campbell dec Ragan, 2-1
Campbell wins best-of-three series, 2-0. This weight is not yet qualified for the Olympics.
Elena Pirozkhova (Titan Mercury WC) dec Erin Clodgo (Sunkist Kids), 3-1
Pirozkhova pin Clodgo, 4:00
Pirozkhova wins best-of-three series, 2-0 and qualifies for 2016 U.S. Olympic Team.
Tamyra Mensah (Titan Mercury WC) dec Brittney Roberts (Sunkist Kids), 8-1
Mensah dec Roberts, 8-1
Mensah wins best-of-three series, 2-0. This weight is not yet qualified for the Olympics.
Jesse Thielke (New York AC) technical fall Ildar Hafizov (Army WCAP), 10-0
Thielke dec Hafizov, 9-3
Thielke wins best-of-three series, 2-0. This weight is not yet qualified for the Olympics.
Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) dec RaVaughan Perkins (New York AC), 2-0
Perkins dec Smith, 2-2
Perkins dec Smith, 9-3
Perkins wins best-of-three series, 2-1. This weight is not yet qualified for the Olympics.
Ben Provisor (New York AC) dec Jacob Clark (Minnesota Storm), 2-0
Provisor pin Clark, 2:30
Provisor wins best-of-three series, 2-0 and qualifies for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team.
Caylor Williams (Army WCAP) pin Josef Rau (Minnesota Storm), 1:36
Rau dec Williams, 3-2
Rau dec Williams, 6-5
Rau wins best-of-three series, 2-1. This weight is not yet qualified for the Olympics.
59 kg – Ryan Mango (Army WCAP) technical fall Nikko Triggas(NYAC), 16-7
66 kg – Alejandro Sancho (NYAC) dec. Ellis Coleman (Army WCAP), 6-4
85 kg – Hayden Zillmer (Crosby Hay) dec. Patrick Martinez (Army WCAP), 2-1
98 kg – G’Angelo Hancock (NYAC) technical fall Orry Elor (NYAC), 9-0
65 kg – Zain Retherford (Nittany Lion WC) dec. Jimmy Kennedy (NYAC), 2-2
125 kg – Dom Bradley (Sunkist Kids) dec. Nick Gwiazdowski (NYAC), 2-2
58 kg – Randi Beltz (Titan Mercury WC) dec. Kayla Miracle (Sunkist Kids), 12-4
63 kg – Mallory Velte (Titan Mercury WC) technical fall Amanda Hendey (TWMC), 13-2
69 kg – Randi Miller (Army WCAP) dec. Julia Salata (NYAC), 7-0