USA Wrestling World champs Burroug...

World champs Burroughs, Snyder and Gray among six earning berths for Olympic Games

By Roger Moore, | April 10, 2016, 11:49 p.m. (ET)

 Jordan Burroughs and son (Beacon) traverse the Carver-Hawkeye crowd
after he won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at 74 kg Sunday night.
Photo: John Sachs,
VIDEO: U.S. Olympic Team Trials Champion Interviews

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The United States’ elite wrestlers shined Sunday on the second day of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. The 11,162 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena saw Jordan Burroughs’s legendary status continue to grow, J’Den Cox add his name to rising freestyle-star status, two elite women’s freestylers dominate, and Kyle Snyder knock off Jake Varner in the final bout of a big two days of wrestling.

Three of the nine weight classes went the distance, including a historic clash at 97 kg in men’s freestyle.

John Smith was the World champion in 1987, claiming the first of his four World Championships in Clermont-Ferrand, France, at 62 kg. The Olympic gold medalist in 1984 was Randy Lewis, who bested the field in Los Angeles. In 1988 the two squared off for the U.S. Olympic Team spot in Pensacola, Fla., with Smith sweeping the Hawkeye legend and eventually winning the first of his two Olympic gold medals.

On Sunday night, two current superstars of American freestyle, Snyder and Varner, squared off in a best-of-three series for the right to go to Rio. Varner won Olympic gold in 2012 in London. Snyder made history in 2015 by winning a World Championship as a 19-year-old, the youngest American to ever accomplish that feat. He beat Varner in the 2015 U.S. Trials finals.

 Andy Bisek finishes off Geordan Speiller in the 75 kg
Greco-Roman Olympic Trials finals.
Photo: Tony Rotundo,
The deciding third bout was all Snyder, who dropped the first match 4-4 on criteria but won back-to-back matches with better attacks from the neutral position. Match number two was 4-0 with the decider a 6-1 conquest.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” admitted Snyder, a native of Maryland. “I had all intentions of winning the first match and winning two in a row. But that is why the sport of wrestling is great because you never know what is going to happen. You never know if you are going to win or lose, all you can do is just prepare.

“I was definitely nervous. (Varner) put a lot of pressure on me. Thankfully Coach (Lou) Roselli lost his first match in the 1996 Trials and came back so he had some good things to say to me after the first match tonight. It kind of calmed me down a little bit.”

The last eight months for Snyder have included a World Championship, an NCAA title, and now an Olympic Trials championship.

“It’s pretty hard to describe,” Snyder said. “It started off making it to the NCAA finals as a true freshman then losing that. After that I kind of fell into a lot of success, not really fall into it but through a lot of hard work and self-belief. I really haven’t had a chance to look back on it yet, honestly.

Burroughs remains the poster child for wrestling in the United States. A three-time World champion, an Olympic gold medalist in 2012, and Wheaties box material if there ever was one. As top dog of what has possibly been the deepest weight class in the U.S., Burroughs has held off Kyle Dake, David Taylor, and now Andrew Howe, twice.

Sunday night, it was Howe again who fell victim to the New Jersey native in the 74 kg best-of-three. Burroughs countered a poor shot in the opener and two ankle-laces made it 6-0. Burroughs’ cat-quick reflexes led to a 9-2 lead early and he cruised to a 9-3 victory. The second match saw a takedown and four ankle-laces for a quick 10-0 technical fall.

“It’s changed everything, but it’s changed nothing and so the approach has always been to be the best in the world, one of the best ever,” said Burroughs when asked how he’s changed over the last four years. “That has always been my ultimate goal as an athlete. My wife (Lauren) understands that and she knew that when we were courting each other, engaged and then married. She understands the sport and she knew what she was getting into.

“She is awesome. She actually wrote me a letter before this match tonight telling me I was destined for great things. At the same time, it’s been difficult. It’s difficult being a dad, being a husband and trying to be the best wrestler in the world, all three at the same time, but I understand how awesome it is when you can do all three of them.”

 J'den Cox celebrates winning the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at 86 kg
after a wild three match series against Kyle Dake.
Photo: Johns Sachs,
Dake, after falling to Burroughs in two U.S. World Team Trials finals since 2013, decided against hanging out in 74 kg territory any longer, moving up to 86 kg. The Cornell star who started his collegiate career at 141 pounds and finished as a 165-pounder, took on Cox, the 197-pound NCAA champion in March and in 2014. The Missourian rolled in the opener, 8-1. An aggressive Dake, while on the shot clock, scored a slick takedown for a 4-3 lead in the final 40 seconds of the second bout to set up a winner-take-all rubber match.

An early Cox takedown held up for a 2-0 lead after three minutes. Dake scored with a nice counter ankle-pick but the Missourian reversed to lead to 3-2, then led 4-2 after a pushout initiated by a single-leg attack. The closing seconds saw Cox dance along the edge of the circle and hold on for a 4-3 victory. It’s on to Mongolia for the 21-year-old.

“I’m just excited right now,” Cox said. “I’m blessed. I’m loving it. My grandmother is here, my mother is here, old coach from high school. I just think of all the people that have been a part of this journey. God works in mysterious ways.

“(Dake) is such a great competitor, he’s one of my favorite wrestlers and it was an honor to get a chance to wrestle him. We are going to have a lot of battles, going to make each other better.”

Daniel Dennis’s road to Rio has been a bit un-pathed. None of that mattered Sunday as the former Iowa Hawkeye won two straight to beat friend, former workout partner, and fellow Hawkeye alum Tony Ramos for the top spot at 57 kg in men’s freestyle. After a 2-1 hand-fighting, six-minute contest, Dennis went gut-wrench wild in the second match. With a python-like lock, the former NCAA runner-up rolled Ramos four times within 25 seconds for a 10-0 technical fall that brought the hometown fans to their feet.

“Ramos clubbed the hell out of me that first match and it rattled me a little bit,” said Dennis, who did not compete from 2012 to 2014 while living a nomadic existence in California. “The second match the pace was a little bit higher and I’m confident if I get on top because I can do some damage. I’ve known that and that is what the coaches have been telling me for a while. As soon as I got on top I was like ‘give me my gut, give me my gut.’

“I don’t really plan too far down the road, it’s not my personality. I got a lot of support from people in California, a whole lot of people helped me get here.”

 Adeline Gray moments after making her first Olympic
Team. Photo: John Sachs,
Two women’s freestyle World champions looked the part in their best-of-three finals.
Three-time World champion Adeline Gray (New York AC) dominated two matches with Victoria Francis (Titan Mercury WC), picking up back-to-back technical falls the second one coming in 1:06.

Helen Maroulis (Sunkist Kids), a World champion in 2015, cruised through Whitney Conder (Army WCAP) in consecutive matches. While much of the focus was on the Dennis-Ramos match in men’s freestyle, Maroulis quietly rolled through Conder for a second straight technical fall. In four bouts on Sunday, she outscored her opponents, 55-2. She now prepares for a trip to Mongolia to qualify the weight class for Rio.

No American woman has won Olympic gold.

“Since 2012 I can’t tell you how physically, mentally, and emotionally heartbreaking that it was,” said Maroulis, who lost in the 2012 Olympic Team Trials finals. “The only memory I had of Iowa was tears; I didn’t want to come back here.

“But it’s kind of like win a battle, take a bite, win a battle and have a little piece of dessert, just stop and change your perspective and just appreciate where you are and how far you’ve come on the route you want to go.”

A third women’s freestyle weight went the distance as 2011 Cadet World champion Haley Augello (New York AC) beat 2009 Junior World champion Victoria Anthony (Titan Mercury WC) for the 48 kg title. The 21-year-old Augello, originally from Lockport, Ill., used a slick throw for four to win the opener 6-4. Anthony stormed back with an 11-6 victory in round two, but it was all Augello in the finale. Two pushouts and a turn made it 4-0 at the break. Another crotch lift and it was 6-2; one final takedown sends Augello to Mongolia in search of an Olympic spot.
Two Greco-Roman spots were determined Sunday night.

Robby Smith (New York AC) made his first Olympic Team, sweeping Adam Coon (Cliff Keen WC) in the best-of-three at 130 kg in Greco-Roman. The Californian, fifth at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships dominated his first two matches Sunday, then toughed it out against Coon, a 21-year-old who won a Cadet World title in 2011 and who will be a senior at Michigan this fall.

Smith pushed and shoved Coon around in the opener, winning 4-1. In the deciding bout, a 5-point move in opening moments led to a 7-2 victory.

Robby Smith hits Adam Coon in an arm throw during the second
130 kg Greco-Roman finals match on Sunday night.
Photo: Tony Rotundo,
There will be no trip to Mongolia for Smith, who won the Pan American Olympic Qualifier in March.

“I have to thank my family,” said the bearded Smith, quickly becoming a favorite of the Iowa partisans. “My mom, my dad, my sisters, my girlfriend Kelli. If it wasn’t for all my support, I wouldn’t be here today. I love this sport so much, I give it every bit of me.

“I wasn’t going to let this one go. (Not medaling last year) pushes me; it gave me fire. I want to be on top of that podium now.”

Likewise, for Andy Bisek (Minnesota Storm), whose bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships qualified the 75 kg for the U.S. On Sunday, the Chaska, Minn., product used a trifecta of gut wrenches to beat Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets) 6-2 in the first bout of the series. An hour later, the man of the famous mustache controlled things in a 4-0 decision to punch his first Olympic ticket.

“It’s incredibly special because it’s just once every four years,” said Bisek, who also won a bronze medal at the 2014 World Championships.
April 9-10 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa
Best-of-three championship finals
Men’s freestyle

57 kg
Daniel Dennis (Titan Mercury WC) dec Tony Ramos (Titan Mercury WC), 2-1
Dennis technical fall Ramos, 10-0
Dennis wins best-of-three series, 2-0
74 kg
Jordan Burroughs (Sunkist Kids) dec Andrew Howe (New York AC), 9-3
Burroughs technical fall Howe, 10-0
Burroughs wins best-of-three series, 2-0
86 kg
J’Den Cox (Missouri Wrestling Foundation) dec Kyle Dake (Titan Mercury WC), 8-1
Dake dec Cox, 5-3
Cox dec Dake, 4-3
Cox wins best-of-three series, 2-1
97 kg
Jake Varner (Nittany Lion WC) dec Kyle Snyder (Titan Mercury WC), 4-4
Snyder dec Varner, 4-0
Snyder dec Varner, 6-1
Snyder wins best-of-three series, 2-1
Women’s freestyle
48 kg
Haley Augello (New York AC) dec Victoria Anthony (Titan Mercury WC), 6-4
Anthony dec Augello, 11-6
Augello dec Anthony, 8-2
Augello wins best-of-three series, 2-1
53 kg
Helen Maroulis (Sunkist Kids) technical fall Whitney Conder (Army WCAP), 10-0
Maroulis technical fall Conder, 11-0
Maroulis wins best-of-three series, 2-0
75 kg
Adeline Gray (New York AC) technical fall Victoria Francis (Titan Mercury WC), 11-0
Gray technical fall Francis, 10-0
Gray wins best-of-three series, 2-0
75 kg
Andy Bisek (Minnesota Storm) dec Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets), 6-2
Bisek dec Speiller, 4-0
Bisek wins best-of-three series, 2-0
130 kg
Robby Smith (New York AC) dec Adam Coon (Cliff Keen WC), 4-1
Smith dec Coon, 7-2
Smith wins best-of-three series, 2-0
True third place matches
Men’s freestyle

74 kg
Alex Dieringer (Cowboy WC) dec Nick Marable (Sunkist Kids), 2-1
97 kg
Dustin Kilgore (Sunkist Kids) dec Micah Burak (Titan Mercury WC), 3-2
75 kg
Cheney Haight (New York AC) technical fall Corey Hope (New York AC), 10-0