Alex Lloyd (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
The amount of wrestling tournaments keeps growing every year. The big ones like the Ironman, Beast of the East, and The Clash are getting infiltrated by events like Who's Number One, Beat the Streets and Preseason Nationals. The sport is becoming a little watered down and winning a national event doesn't carry the same weight it did a decade ago. It seems like every state has a tournament and it gets harder every year to determine which wrestler is the best in the class. Then, if you throw in the travel restrictions each state has for in-season folkstyle, it becomes almost impossible to really know what athletes are the very best. And then there's Fargo. This event has one year left on its contract, and if it moves, who knows what it will be called. But make no mistake, this is the battle for the national championship and there is no other event that comes close to this meat grinder. Most brackets are full of state champions and those that will be. Winning a title here is, without a doubt, the most prestigious accomplishment in high school wrestling.
Six summers in a row I have looked for a wrestler with a Minnesota connection that has a decent chance of becoming a champion to follow and write about. I've had some great candidates over the years. Brandon Kingsley and Jake Short came within a match of getting on the big stage. Tommy Thorn, Fredy Stroker, and Griffin Parriott each won the title the year after I followed them. I'm still referred to as the jinx and if I choose a wrestler, it's almost a lock they will win it the next year. Still not one of them has made it to the championship match. Maybe this will be the year.
I only have one criteria in my search. The kid has to be likable. I don't really care to spend three days following someone with behavior issues or simply can't hold a conversation. I chose Alex Lloyd from Shakopee, Minnesota. This young man is no longer under the radar. He recently won his first state title in March and was a Cadet National Greco-Roman champion last summer. This year he is moving up to the Junior division where he will face older and much more experienced wrestlers. There will be 99 wrestlers in his Junior freestyle bracket at 145 pounds and it's loaded with superstars. After looking at some of the names, it may be a stretch to make it in the top eight and become an All-American.
Day 1: Thursday
I start with a visit with Alex's dad, Bill. We talk about the road to the championship. If Alex makes it all the way to the quarters, he should run into Anthony Artalona of Florida. If he survives he should get fellow PINnacle club member and future Minnesota Gopher Hunter Marko. If he somehow wins, he faces the world champion Jarod Verkleeren. This looks impossible.
The seeding at 145 pounds looks like this:
1. Jarod Verkleeren
2. Hunter Marko
3. Anthony Artalona
Alex Lloyd is not seeded in the top eight.
Alex Lloyd finishes a shot against Colorado's Gabriel Dinette (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Match 1: Alex Lloyd vs. Gabriel Dinette (Colorado)
This is a good opening match for Lloyd. Dinette is a Colorado state champion as a sophomore finished with a 46-1 record. Alex has great leg attacks and proves it with three straight takedowns in the first minute to jump out to a 6-0 lead. Dinette seems stunned by this and takes a shot of his own. Lloyd uses a nice whizzer and picks up another takedown. The match ends after a pair of pushouts and Lloyd wins a technical fall 10-0. When he comes off the mat he looks tired and more worn than normal. But he's happy to get the win and move on. There's a long road ahead.
An hour later we meet again and I notice Alex's eyebrows look like they have been cut into. I asked what happened and he rolls his eyes. He was playing "what are the odds" with a friend. Here's how it works. Alex said, "What are the odds I would shave my eyebrows?" He and his buddy and he pick a number 1 through 5 and if they match, the eyebrows go. He also is wrestling with one leg completely shaved. I asked if he's still going to play, "Heck yeah, it's a blast!"
Alex Lloyd's eyebrows were shaved in Fargo
Match 2: Alex Lloyd vs. Garrett Model (Wisconsin)
Since Lloyd is only 5 feet 4 inches tall, everyone in this weight class has a longer frame and noticeable reach advantage. It is especially the case with Model. He looks 6 feet tall with Kevin McHale-length arms. He won a state title in Wisconsin last year and was the runner-up earlier in the week in Greco. This match starts out like the last with Lloyd attacking the legs with three straight takedowns for a quick 6-1 lead. He picks up exposure points and in less than a minute it's 8-1. Model picks up a takedown for two points and gets two more for back exposure points. Model gets another takedown and it's now 8-7 Lloyd at the end of the first period. Lloyd is dripping with sweat and looks completely exhausted. Model is dry and suddenly full of confidence. Period 2 starts with a bang. Model gets the first takedown and Lloyd answers with one of his own. It's 10-9. Alex gets a pushout for one point and picks up a sweet four-point move on the next takedown to take a 15-9 lead. Model storms back with a beautiful four-pointer of his own. The score is 15-13 Lloyd with 1:28 to go. Model ties the score with a takedown with 29 seconds to go. In the final few seconds there is a wild scramble and two points are given to Lloyd for a 17-15 win. But just as his arm is about to be raised, Model's coach calls for a recount on the score. The head referee adds it up and shockingly raises Model's arm. He is the winner 17-13. Everyone is stunned. Lloyd looks like he might throw up and his body is covered in sweat. He's obviously not well. I leave him alone. I can't believe he's lost this early in the tournament.
A half hour later I get a text from Bill Lloyd. The match is under protest. 20 minutes later comes the stunning news on the PA. Alex Lloyd has been declared the winner in his bout with Garrett Model. I later learn Alex Lloyd is very sick and has been throwing up in a garbage can. We also learn Hunter Marko lost his second-round match.
Match 3: Alex Lloyd vs. Jake Rando (Louisiana)
This is going to be another tough match. Rando is a two-time state champion from Louisiana. These 2 met up in the finals at Folkstyle Nationals a few months ago with Lloyd winning a thriller, 13-10. The whistle blows and Lloyd looks like he has recovered from the bout of sickness. He gets a quick ankle pick for 2-1 lead and then scores four more with a Greco-type throw. Lloyd picks up another takedown and uses a trap-arm gut for two more. The match is over in a flash, 10-0. He is not sweating and he was able to pick up a short nap and drank enough liquids to rehydrate. He looks great. There will be no more matches today.
Day 2: Friday
Match 4: Alex Lloyd vs. Steven Isaac (New York)
This is a big day. By tonight all placement matches will be decided. Lloyd is feeling a little nervous. "One mistake like yesterday, and I'm in trouble. I have to stay focused. This is it for me," Lloyd says. Isaac wrestles in the Catholic league in New York. He finished third last season and was runner-up the state freestyle and Greco tournament. He is not well known and is a surprise to make this match. The winner should get Artalona. Lloyd gets a quick takedown and puts Isaac on his back. Isaac is fighting to survive and get to his belly. Lloyd squeezes hard and the ref slaps the mat. It's a pin in 22 seconds.
Alex is all business after this match. He is not very talkative and knows he has the toughest challenge in front of him. He's made the quarterfinals and his toughest opponent is waiting.
Alex Lloyd attempts to finish a single leg against Florida's Anthony Artalona (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
Match 5: Alex Lloyd vs. Anthony Artalona (Florida)
Anthony Artalona is ranked No. 17 overall in the junior class by InterMat. He's a two-time state champion and three-time state finalist in Florida. He was a Fargo double champion at the Cadet level in 2015. Alex has faced him, but has never won. This will be great test. Artalona is built like a running back and has the perfect wrestling physique. He looks much bigger and heavier than Lloyd. At the whistle Lloyd uses his signature ankle pick to surprise Artalona and jumps out to a 2-0 lead. It's a wild affair for the next two minutes with both wrestlers taking numerous shots without success. In the last 30 seconds Artalona takes Lloyd down and the first period ends 2-2. The second period begins and Artalona has confidence and scores another takedown. The next minute is all Lloyd trying every weapon in his arsenal, but Artalona has an answer for each attempt. Anthony picks up a takedown followed by a gut wrench for two more. Lloyd finds a way to pick up one more point on a pushout but he will come up short here. Artalona wins 8-3.
Last year I noticed Alex had a large cross tattoo on the side of his rib cage. This year he has added a scripture. He's a spiritual kid and will carry this message the rest of his life. "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13.
Alex Lloyd's tattoo
Match 6: Alex Lloyd vs. Devin Bahr (Wisconsin)
It's always tough coming off a disappointing loss. But there's no time to feel sorrow here. This is the blood round and the winner will make it to the podium. The loser goes home empty. Barr is a well-known commodity. He is a two-time Wisconsin state champion and is committed to the Badgers. Lloyd comes out on fire with three straight takedowns in 90 seconds to take a 6-0 lead. They exchange pushouts and the period ends 7-1 Lloyd. Period 2 begins with a flurry and Lloyd attacks the legs and exposes Bahr's back. It's over. 11-1. Alex Lloyd is guaranteed to be an All-American.
Match 7: Alex Lloyd vs. Jarrett Jacques (Missouri)
This is another really tough-looking opponent for Lloyd. Jacques is a two-time Missouri state champion and has a great profile on Trackwrestling. Jacques is muscular and pushes Alex out of the circle to open a 1-0 lead. He follows with four takedowns against one Lloyd pushout. 9-1. Alex storms back with a pretty four-point move and then another takedown. A wild scramble brings the period to an end. Jacques leads 10-7. The whistle blows and Jacques picks up four more takedowns and wins 18-7. Alex Lloyd will wrestle for seventh place tomorrow.
Day 3: Saturday
There were 1021 wrestlers in the Junior division starting Thursday. There are only 120 left today. By the time today is over, 9,096 matches will be wrestled. This morning's session is loosey-goosey. Everyone wants to win, but it's an honor to be around on Saturday. Alex Lloyd seeks me out and we exchange fist bumps. He's full of smiles and he's extremely happy his week is coming to an end. He cracks a few jokes and we share a good laugh. He's a good kid and is very comfortable around an old guy like me.
Alex Lloyd locks up a gut wrench against Iowa's Zach Barnes (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Match 8: Alex Lloyd vs. Zach Barnes (Iowa)
This bout starts like most others as Lloyd picks up a takedown on a single leg attack to lead 2-0. Barnes returns the favor with one of his own and Alex quickly reverses. The next minute is all Alex Lloyd. He uses his cat-like speed and raw power for a pair of takedowns and gets exposure points. In a flash it's over. Alex Lloyd wins by technical fall, 13-2. He will finish seventh in the nation. We both look over at the championship mat. Anthony Artalona is getting his hand raised. He took out world champion, Jarod Verkleeren, 2-1.
The tournament is over. All 120 placewinners will get their turn up on the big stage with a trophy. Alex Lloyd is here for the sixth time in three years. He has entered both styles all three years and is a six-time All-American and two-time champion. He stands next to the other seven All-Americans in his weight class. None are smiling except Artalona. That's the way it should be. There's only one champion here. But the other seven are winners. They just don't believe it.
Alex Lloyd gets his hand raised after winning his final match in Fargo (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Steve Elwood resides in Rochester, Minnesota. He can be reached at email@example.com. To learn more about Alex Lloyd and his journey from Russian orphan to American wrestling star, read profile story.