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Bisek finding success in life-changing season

Andy Bisek, at age 23, has established himself as a legitimate contender to earn a spot on the U.S. World Team and the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team in Greco-Roman at 74 kg.

But his wrestling career path nearly took a completely different turn six years ago.

Andy Bisek
Bisek, who placed third at the Minnesota high school state tournament as a senior, committed to wrestle at Minnesota State-Mankato, a Division II program, out of high school in 2004.

The summer after Bisek's senior year, a month before he was to begin classes at Minnesota State-Mankato, he chose to wrestle Greco-Roman at the Junior Nationals in Fargo. That's when he suddenly had a change of heart about his post-college plans.

"Before Fargo, I went through orientation at Mankato and I was actually enrolled in classes," said Bisek, a native of Chaska, Minnesota. "I had talked to my roommate about what we were going to bring."

Bisek went to Minnesota's Greco-Roman training camp before Junior Nationals in July and casually asked longtime friend Chas Betts, who just completed his senior year at St. Michael-Albertville High School, about his post-college plans.

"I asked Chas what he's doing and he said that he's going to Northern Michigan to wrestle Greco," said Bisek, who admits that he knew nothing about the program at the time. "I ended up placing seventh in Fargo. I had a talk in Fargo with the Northern Michigan coach, Ivan Ivanov, and decided that I was going to go there."

With that life-changing decision, Bisek's entire focus shifted from folkstyle wrestling to Greco-Roman wrestling.

In the fall of 2004, Bisek enrolled in the United States Olympic Education Center (USOEC) program on the campus of Northern Michigan in Marquette. The program, which was established in 1999, has more than 100 resident athletes who all share the same dream of winning World and Olympic medals.

It's not uncommon for freshmen to struggle in the wrestling room, especially in the first few months, against more experienced teammates. Even the most talented wrestlers take their lumps. Stephen Abas, for example, who set the national takedown record in high school and would eventually go on to win an Olympic silver medal, admits that he did not get a single takedown in the Fresno State wrestling room during the first two months of his college wrestling career. Bisek was no exception to the rule.

"I definitely got beat up a lot that first year," said Bisek. "I remember trying to think of how many different guys in the room I could hold my own against in my weight class and the weight class below me. I think it was only one or two out of about 15."

But eventually Bisek started finding success in the wrestling room, which translated into success in competition. Just a few months into his Greco-Roman career at Northern Michigan, Bisek won a period over T.C. Dantzler, an Olympian and five-time U.S. World Team member. Later that first season, Bisek won the FILA Junior World Team Trials.

Andy Bisek throws 2008 Olympian Jake Deitchler (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
By his second season he was placing at major international events on the senior level, like the New York Athletic Club Holiday International. He won the FILA Junior World Team Trials again in 2006 and represented the United States at the FILA Junior World Championships, where he went 1-1. Bisek claimed his first University Nationals title in 2007.

In 2008, Bisek repeated as University Nationals champion, but had his first major breakthrough on the senior level by reaching the U.S. Open finals.

Last season, Bisek placed fifth at the U.S. Open, defeating 2008 U.S. Olympian Jake Deitchler in his final match. He was fourth in the Challenge Tournament at the U.S. World Team Trials.

This season has been filled with life-changing events for Bisek.

Last July, Ivan Ivanov resigned as head coach of the USOEC program to start a new Greco-Roman program in Boise, Idaho.

"It was somewhat of a shock," said Bisek of his coach's resignation. "I knew that he was going there to visit. I also knew that the job here isn't necessarily ideal for someone with his coaching ability. It's not just coaching. It's a lot about having to babysit some of the kids at times. When Ivan left, I wondered how things were going to change and who his replacement would be."

Dennis Hall
In late August, Dennis Hall, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest American Greco-Roman wrestlers ever, was hired as head coach of the USOEC program.

"With Dennis, it's definitely different, but still positive," said Bisek. "We're able to make gains. It's just done in a different way.

"Dennis brings a lot more intensity into the room. Ivan would be intense, but Dennis has different ways of firing us up. He tries to create more competition within the room. He's kind of upset that there haven't been any fist fights or anything. He's just trying to provoke us to almost want to kill the other guy."

Hall says Bisek has handled the coaching change well.

"He took to the transition really well," said Hall, a three-time World and Olympic medalist. "He's one of the leaders of our team this year. Every day he works hard and leads by example. He's a great competitor. He's always willing to learn. He has an open mind to new techniques, new ways of doing things. I think he's getting almost to where he wants to be. He's got a little bit of work to do, but I think he'll do well at the Trials."

Jacob Curby
Another major event in Bisek's life occurred on January 22 when longtime friend and USOEC teammate Jacob Curby, who was ranked third in the U.S. at 66 kg, passed away unexpectedly.

"I remember going on the most fun wrestling trip with him, his dad, Chas, and another wrestler," said Bisek. "We went to Spain and Georgia. It's definitely a trip I'll never forget.

"He was just a funny guy. Every day, as soon as I would sign on to instant messenger, he would be telling me about something he ate that he thought I would enjoy. He definitely liked his coffee, muffins, and pastries. There are so many things about him that I'll never forget."

Bisek is engaged with the wedding set to take place in June, a week after he wrestles at the 2010 U.S. World Team Trials in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He also just recently graduated from Northern Michigan with a degree in physical geography and minors in biology and art & design.

Despite all the life changes, Bisek is putting together his strongest season on the mat. He was runner-up at the Sunkist International Open in October. Three weeks later, Bisek won the New York Athletic Club Holiday International. In January, Bisek went 3-1 at the Kit Carson Cup. He was the only U.S. wrestler to win a match at the Hungarian Grand Prix in March. Bisek not only won a match, but he won two matches, which included a victory over Olympic and World champion Farid Mansurov of Azerbaijan. Last month, Bisek won his fourth University Nationals title and finished third at the U.S. Open.

Hall doesn't think there is much separating Bisek from the No. 1 wrestler in the weight class.

"I think the difference is scoring on people on the feet," said Hall, a 1995 World champion. "His defense has gotten a lot better. We're working on little things that can open up people where he's able to score on his feet."

Bisek plans to move out to Colorado Springs this summer to train full-time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. He knows there are other opportunities out there, which he considered, like staying at Northern Michigan or reuniting with his former coach, Ivanov, in Boise, Idaho. But he believes Colorado Spring is where he needs to be. He points to the fact there are more opportunities at the U.S. Olympic Training Center to train with partners from foreign countries.

Andy Bisek (Photo, Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Bisek's wrestling goals are simply stated, but far from simply accomplished.

"My short-term goal is to come out on top at the Trials next month," said Bisek, who served as a training partner for Chas Betts at the 2009 World Championships in Herning, Denmark. "I'm right in there with the two guys ahead of me. I'm looking to make the World Team. My long-term goal is to make the Olympic Team in 2012 and hopefully win a medal."

Bisek is one of many young, rising Greco-Roman stars that have come out of the USOEC program in Northern Michigan. The program has produced several U.S. Open champions, U.S. World Team members, and U.S. Olympians. Bisek is hoping to be the next.

So what would Bisek tell a young wrestler who is considering joining the USOEC program at Northern Michigan?

"The program is going to be unlike any other college program," said Bisek. "A lot of college programs may slightly differ from each other, but they are all somewhat similar. This program is going to be nothing like that. It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of hard work. But you get to go places and train with different people. It's a lot more than about just the NCAAs. It's about being a World and Olympic champ."

This story also appears in the May 14 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering amateur wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote amateur wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.

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