Seth Gross was a Big 12 runner-up and went 3-2 at the NCAAs as a redshirt freshman (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)Seth Gross, a graduate of Apple Valley (Minn.) High School, earned a spot on the Junior World Team in freestyle at 60 kilos by defeating Mitchell McKee in the finals of the UWW Junior World Team Trials on May 22 in Irving, Texas. He will compete in the UWW Junior World Championships on Sept. 3 in Macon, France.
Gross found a new home at South Dakota State last summer after spending his first year of college at Iowa. As a redshirt freshman at SDSU, Gross compiled a record of 26-14 and finished as a Big 12 runner-up. He posted a 3-2 record at the 2016 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in New York City, finishing one win away from earning All-American honors at 141 pounds.
InterMat recently caught up with Gross.
You finished second to Mitchell McKee at the UWW Junior Nationals in late April, and then less than a month later came back to defeat McKee in a best-of-three finals to make the Junior World Team. What adjustments did you make between those events?
Gross: I did pretty well against everyone else in Vegas besides McKee, so going into Trials I really just focused on training in the positions where he's good and being able to do well in those positions. I knew he was good at that front head roll. He's good with his hips. If I shoot in and don't have my head in the right position, he's going to hip in. He's good at digging underhooks. So I really worked on those areas. He beat me up a little bit in Vegas, but I trained hard in those areas and was a little more ready at the Trials. I felt more prepared going into the tournament.
Seth Gross was a three-time state champion for Apple Valley High School (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)You and McKee are both Minnesota natives. Did you have any history with McKee before this spring? And how familiar were you with his style?
Gross: I've never actually wrestled him before this year. Apple Valley and St. Michael-Albertville have a huge rivalry, so our teams have always wrestled each other. He's always wrestled guys a little lighter than me. I've watched him quite a bit, but never really felt how he actually wrestles. But I know him pretty well just throughout the years in Minnesota.
Your high school teammate Mark Hall is on the Junior World Team with you. What does that mean to you?
Gross: That's awesome. A few years ago I made the [Cadet] team, and he fell a little short after losing to Bo Nickal, and we were kind of bummed about that. So I think it's cool that we're now both on the team and we'll get to spend some time together this summer. We were really good friends in high school. I haven't seen him too much since, so it will be cool to hang out with him this summer and train together. I'm excited.
You have had your most success nationally in freestyle. You were a multiple-time Fargo freestyle champion in high school, made a Cadet team and now a Junior team. Do you enjoy wrestling freestyle more than folkstyle?
Gross: Yeah, freestyle has always been my favorite style. Obviously, it's a little bit more fun when you do better in it. I've always enjoyed freestyle. It's a lot more on your feet wrestling. There's a lot more action. Folkstyle is a lot more strategic and a lot of riding. One of my strengths is conditioning. In freestyle when you wrestle on your feet the whole time that comes into play a little more.
Seth Gross picked up three wins at the NCAAs, including one over Jimmy Gulibon (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)You were a Big 12 runner-up and reached the round of 12 at the NCAAs as a redshirt freshman. How would you characterize your performance in your first season at South Dakota State?
Gross: I probably fell short of a few of my goals. The biggest one is I wanted to be on the podium in March. I think just going through what happened to me last year, I was still proud of my performance, just to make it to nationals and get that close was good. But it also sucked. It really motivated me a ton for freestyle this year. I really wanted to go out and make this World team. Losing at those events really got a fire going in me. Overall, it was all right. Obviously, not what I wanted but I think it helped me in the long run.
At the Big 12s you defeated Wyoming's Bryce Meredith. Two weeks later he reached the NCAA finals. Did his run to the NCAA finals give you reassurance that you're right there with the nation's best?
Gross: Yeah, I knew I was right there with them. I wrestled a close one with [Dean] Heil at the Big 12s and he won it, and Meredith was second. It was rough watching him in the finals after I beat him. But it shows that I'm right up there with those guys. I know that I can beat any of them if I'm on and wrestling my best. It was good knowing that.
You're competing in freestyle at 60 kilos, which is 132 pounds. Is there a chance you could move down to 133 pounds for the next college wrestling season?
Gross: Yeah, I'm planning on going down to 133 pounds now. The coaches and I talked before the freestyle season and if I felt pretty good after making weight I would decide to move down. It was a little tougher in Vegas the first time getting down, but I made it pretty easily for the Trials. My natural weight walking around is about 142 or 143. So I don't think it will be too bad. I think the main reason I was up at 141 this year was just because I came into the season out of shape and real heavy, and it just took me so long to get my weight down that I don't think I could have made 133.
What was attractive to you about South Dakota State?
Gross: When I came to the campus I really liked it, and [Chris] Bono was awesome. I just clicked with him right away. Then I saw their schedule and it was a tough schedule. It's always awesome wrestling tough competition. I got to go to Midlands and wrestle all the top teams in the country. It seemed like a lot of the guys really wanted to do well there, and it was really like a family. So all that stuff came into play.
South Dakota State coach Chris Bono coaching against Minnesota this past season (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)Was South Dakota State even on your radar when you were going through the recruiting process in high school? Did you ever consider it?
Gross: No, it wasn't, so I think it's crazy that I ended up where I am. I couldn't be more happy. I think God really had a plan for me to be here. I'm glad I ended up here.
What do you like about Bono as a coach?
Gross: I like that he doesn't take it easy on you no matter what. If you're slacking, he'll call you out for it. If you're doing something wrong, he'll tell you. He's straightforward about everything. No taking it easy on guys. He holds everyone accountable in everything, not just wrestling, but also in school and social life.
This past season South Dakota State cracked the top 25. What are your expectations for the program next season and in the coming seasons?
Gross: I think we're going to do really well. I hope that we'll be top 15 at least this year. I'm expecting that. There are a lot of young guys that are really going to have step up this year. But I think we're going to be ready. A lot of guys are sticking around this summer and working their butts off. Obviously, we fell short of getting any All-Americans this year, so I'm hoping we get at least two or three on the podium next year. We could get more. We have the talent to get more, but it's just who is training hard this summer and who is going to be ready to go. I think we'll do well.
What was the biggest thing you learned from your experience at Iowa?
Gross: From a wrestling standpoint, I really learned how to work hard on my own. The coaches showed me the path to what you need to do to succeed in wrestling. What I learned from the whole situation is just hanging around the right people and taking responsibility for what I did, manning up to what I did and moving forward.
Where did your motivation come from after the incident at Iowa?
Gross: I think after that a lot of people looked down on me. It was really an opportunity to give the praise to God. That really motivated me, just to show people how good He is if you follow Him and stick on the right path. That just really pushed me this past year. He gave me a second chance, so I'm going to do everything I can to make the best of it.
What's your training situation look like this summer leading up to the Junior World Championships?
Gross: I'll be at South Dakota State most of the time. There are a few other guys around my weight that will be around all summer. I have a few training camps out in Colorado, but most of my training I'll just do with Bono, [A.J.] Schopp, Henry Pohlmeyer and a couple other guys around my weight, so that will be good.
Seth Gross gets his hand raised after picking up a victory at the NCAAs in New York City (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)What aspect of your freestyle wrestling do you need to improve upon the most before the Junior World Championships?
Gross: I think I need to keep working on getting my offense going a little more. I probably sit around too much waiting to force guys into my shots. I think if I can develop one really good attack that I can get on most guys that will help me a ton going overseas. Also, I need to work on controlling ties. When I wrestled McKee, he probably got that underhook and controlled the ties a little bit more than I should have let him. I feel like my defense is pretty good. I let guys get to the legs a little bit too easily. I've always let guys in a little bit too much. Those are the main things, getting my offense going and controlling ties.
What are your thoughts about the Junior World Championships being held in France?
Gross: I haven't though too much about it. I'm not sure what it's going to be like. I went overseas to Azerbaijan, and that was a cool experience. I don't know what to expect at all or what it's going to be like.
This story also appears in the June 3 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.