photo courtesy of Jim Thrall; MatFocus.com
They say the only certainty in life is death and taxes. Well, Illinois’ dominance over the Junior National Greco-Roman Championships is pretty darn certain, as well. Two individual champions helped lead Illinois to their 12th straight team championship. Since scoring was officially kept beginning in 2006, only two other teams have come away with the Junior Greco title. One of the stars for the Land of Lincoln was Luke Luffman, who needed just over a period to claim his first Junior Greco crown, 10-0. A year ago fell in these finals. Earlier this week he claimed a title in Junior freestyle and ended his high school career as a double champion. The other winner for Illinois came in the match directly before Luffman’s when Jace Punke had his hand raised as the result of an injury default. Punke’s opponent Braxton Amos (West Virginia) was walking with a noticeable limp and was unable to compete. That gave Jace his second Junior Greco in as many years.
Joining Punke as repeat champions from 2018 were Chayse La Joie of Michigan and Idaho’s Ridge Lovett. The only match that went the distance for La Joie was his first of the tournament. He went on to rack up five techs and a fall. Not only did Lovett win his second consecutive title, but he also etched his name into the Fargo record books by earning All-American honors for the tenth time in his career. In the 49 years of this tournament, only nine other wrestlers have been able to get to that threshold.
Coming in second 15 points behind Illinois was Team Iowa. Two Iowa wrestlers, Brandon O’Brien (100 lbs) and Cade DeVos (160 lbs) left with stop signs. O’Brien got some semblance of revenge on his finals opponent Daniel Sheen (Illinois). In the Junior freestyle finals, it was Sheen who captured the championship, at the expense of O’Brien. Down 5-4 with under 20 seconds left in the match, O’Brien scored twice to get the 8-5 win. The second Iowa native to win was DeVos who had needed to turn in a hard-fought 5-1 effort to get the championship at 160.
Outstanding Wrestler honors went to Nevada’s Billy Sullivan at 113 lbs. Sullivan did not surrender a single point throughout the tournament, outscoring the competition 70-0. He needed only 122 seconds to roll up 10 points, which was aided by a pair of four-point throws.
Aside from Luffman, two others were able to double-up and win their second title of the week. The first came at 106 lbs when Andre Gonzales (California) was able to nullify Ryan Rowland’s offense, which led to a 5-2 win for Gonzales. Anthony Echemendia (Arizona) continued to amaze as he was not seriously tested during the Greco tournament either. In his seven matches, Anthony did not give up a single point and tallied five falls and two techs. Since his freestyle win, we’ve learned a little more about Echemendia. He plans to enter the Army WCAP while training at Penn State. He is undoubtedly an exciting addition to our Senior level competitors in the international styles.
Coming into Friday, Nebraska had not crowned a Junior Greco-Roman champion since RaVaughn Perkins did so in 2010. Camden Russell put a stop to that streak at 126 lbs. Trailing 3-0 after the first period, Russell came back in a big way during the second period and outscored his opponent, Cael Swenson (Minnesota) 8-1. Just four matches later, a second Nebraska native earned his stop sign when James Burks teched another Minnesota foe, Cael Carlson, 11-0. Burks version of the worm was perhaps the most memorable celebration of the afternoon.
In the upperweights, a pair of graduated seniors needed little time in the finals to earn an elusive national title. Chris Foca (New Jersey), a freestyle seventh-place finisher earlier this week, took just 42 seconds to record a 10-0 tech fall at 182 and close out his high school career with a stop sign. Foca did not allow a point in his final three matches of the tournament. Up a weight at 195 lbs, Vincent Baker needed just over four minutes to record a 13-2 tech fall. Before the finals, Baker did not allow any of his four opponents to score and won all of those matches via tech, as well.
The remaining two champions are both rising high school seniors in Haiden Drury (Washington) and Angel Garcia (Pennsylvania). The difference-maker for Drury was a two-pointer scored with just over 30 seconds left in the match which put him up on criteria. A point for a lost challenge made the final margin over victory 4-3. Garcia shut out his opponent Lance Runyon (Iowa) 7-0 and was never in any danger during the finals.
Junior Greco-Roman Final Results
100 lbs – Brandon O’Brien (IA) over Daniel Sheen (IL) 8-5
106 lbs – Andre Gonzales (CA) over Ryan Rowland (FL) 5-2
113 lbs – Billy Sullivan (NV) over Sheldon Seymour (PA) 12-0
120 lbs – Chayse La Joie (MI) over Anthony Molton (IL) 12-2
126 lbs – Camden Russell (NE) over Cael Swensen (MN) 8-4
132 lbs – Haiden Drury (WA) over Mosha Schwartz (CO) 4-3
138 lbs – Ridge Lovett (ID) over Cade Lucio (CA) 10-0
145 lbs – Anthony Echemendia (AZ) over Edward Scott (PA) 10-0
152 lbs – James Burks (NE) over Cael Carlson (MN) 11-0
160 lbs – Cade DeVos (IA) over Ryan Cody (FL) 5-1
170 lbs – Angel Garcia (PA) over Lance Runyon (IA) 7-0
182 lbs – Chris Foca (NJ) over Jacob Armstrong (AK) 10-0
195 lbs – Vincent Baker (GA) over Artem Loginov (CA) 15-2
220 lbs – Jace Punke (IL) over Braxton Amos (WV) InjDef
285 lbs – Luke Luffman (IL) over Spencer Trenary (IA) 10-0