I remember being thrashed my freshman year. Outmatched in every possible way. By the time I wrestled again in an official wrestle-off it was in just that type of breakout situation. I'll save you the dramatic blow-by-blow, but I recall feeling that the opportunity was one I might not be granted again. I understood that beating out the starter -- to become the starter -- was an opportunity at the first dual meet, first tournament, and first crack at ranked competition. That led to anxiety, but in the way that drove me to, frankly, outperform when it mattered most.
There is of course the added issue of competing against teammates, which lends to tension and social awkwardness. If you're a wrestler reading this, I promise you that it won't last that long. Your teammates all want the best wrestler and if that's you, great. If it's not, then work harder, wait for your opportunity, and support that starting guy. Hurt feelings don't win championships.
The wrestle-offs are a special time of year. I wish the best to all those high school and college athletes competing!
To your questions …
Luke Pletcher gets his hand raised after winning his wrestle-off match against Quinn Kinner (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
Q: How do you think Luke Pletcher will do moving up from 133 pounds to 141 pounds? He's pretty short. Do you see that being an issue against longer, taller wrestlers?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Remember, Pletcher wrestled at 141 pounds as a true freshman (when Nathan Tomasello was at 133 pounds) and did well, reaching the round of 16 at the NCAAs. Length can give plenty of wrestlers cause for concern if they aren't prepared to combat those advantages. Pletcher has plenty of coaching to help direct his techniques and preparation when facing off against any extra-lengthy opponents. That's mostly the key: game planning and drilling the positions where you understand you'll be vulnerable.
Similarly, I think Pletcher will probably find some advantages in having a more direct line of attack on the legs of a taller opponent. The issues he'll face is how he finishes. If he lifts the leg, steps outside and keeps distance from his opponent there is a good chance he can avoid any funk attacks. The ranginess of tall opponents is usually best seen when they defend singles by sitting on the head and wrapping through the crotch. Stay out of those danger zones and Pletcher will be just fine.
Q: Of the No. 1 ranked wrestlers, how would you rank them from most likely champ to least likely champ?
-- Mike C.
125: Spencer Lee (Iowa)
174: Mark Hall (Penn State)
184: Zahid Valencia (Arizona State)
165: Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State)
285: Anthony Cassar (Penn State)
157: Hayden Hidlay (NC State)
133: Seth Gross (Wisconsin)
197: Kollin Moore (Ohio State)
149: Austin O'Connor (North Carolina)
141: Dom Demas (Oklahoma)
Q: Will be there be any medalists from this year's Senior World Championships competing at the U23 World Championships? If so, who?
-- Mike C.
Nugzari Tsurtsumia of Georgia celebrates after winning a world title at 55 kilograms (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Foley: Yes! Georgia's Nugzari Tsurtsumia, a 2019 world champion in Greco-Roman at 55 kilograms, is scheduled to wrestle, which is awesome. He's very fun to watch compete. His teammate Zviadi Pataridze didn't compete at Worlds but has won every age level tournament, every year. Total monster.
Slavik Galstyan who finished bronze at 63 kilograms will be in Budapest as will Ali Nejati who took bronze at 60 kilograms. Paliha Paliha of China earned bronze at 72 kilograms in Nur-Sultan and will be wrestling 76 kilograms for the Chinese women in Budapest.
There might be a few more, because after looking at 750 names I feel confident one or two slipped past my eyes!
By the way, Haruna Okuno of Japan is a 2017 world champion and though she didn't compete at the 2019 World Championships might be on the move. Rumor has it she'll be making the cut to 50 kilograms for the Japanese national team tournament in late December in the hopes of winning there and qualifying the spot at the Asian Qualifier and thus earning an Olympic spot.
In her way are Olympic champion Eri Tosaka, two-time world champion Yui Susaki, and 2019 world team member Yuki Irie.
Here is the freestyle team for the United States heading into Budapest:
57: Richard Townsell
61: Charles Tucker
65: Jaydin Eierman
70: Alec Pantaleo
74: Brady Berge
79: Muhamed McBryde
86: Maxwell Dean
92: Bo Nickal
97: Chase Singletary
125: Greg Kerkvliet
Q: What kind of salaries do top guys/gals get for RTC membership?
Foley: The variety in payment is sure to be dramatic. From Snyder to a long shot All-American chasing down a dream, the payment schedules for the athletes will be notably different. On the lower end a resident athlete might be gifted $1K per month. More likely the lower-level RTC's and RTC athletes pin the income to coaching the local club, and then supplement with summer camps and some modest monies from the school to be a manager of operations.
The above is the most common, with there being a range of salaries dependent on the benefactors and what other hard costs are covered. Many schools have apartments and homes they've purchased or leased, which allows the RTC athletes a free or discounted place to live. Then there are meal plan options and a number of other workarounds. Between the money and the cost elimination most seem to be doing well enough to get by.
The second tier are the athletes being paid in the $2K-4K per month range who have fewer responsibilities, but still enjoy a lot of those same cost savings. Bigger names will also pull bigger money in the summer and if they are on the ladder they can receive payments from USA Wrestling. It's not life-changing, but it can be a career stabilizer. Also, the longer you're on the team, the more you wrestle, and the more you win -- the more you make. That dosh is well earned.
Finally, there is Jordan Burroughs, David Taylor, Kyle Dake, and Kyle Snyder sitting atop the heap. What they get paid I don't know. Their RTCs could be any number of arrangements and the soft and hard cost coverage could range from use of a vehicle to a house, to jewelry. Anything is possible for the top-level guys, so much so that I can't even determine a salary range. Certainly, more than $3K per month, but the top range is so affected by those other inputs that it could be anywhere, even as much as $10K in some circumstances. Suffice to say, they're doing just fine.
Q: Is the RTC model sustainable? Or are we on a path of geographic unofficial/official OTC's, here we have a few major sites with maybe some affiliated satellites? Interested to hear your opinion and recommendation.
Foley: You hit the RTC nail on the head with a Cowboy hammer!
The first issue is that RTC programs aim to capture the same 30 athletes on the freestyle national team. Expand that a bit to 50 and you're still playing with a small pool of athletes and a lot of interested money prodding them to come to their schools.
The current model won't be the model in five years. As you noted the rich are getting richer and the smaller schools just can't convert their investments in RTC infrastructure into more wins. Even if their international guys do well in tournaments there is just not enough trickle-down support in terms of raw dollars to justify those expenses at every school. What they are really doing is adding technically proficient athletes and coaches to their training environment. They don't want to let that go, but inevitably when a recession hits and generosity isn't as prevalent the belt tightening will hit the smaller RTCs first.
My recommendation is to let it all play out at the RTC level. There isn't much need for USA Wrestling or the NCAA to intercede just yet. We have yet to see the full potential and there is always someone in the community with a good adaptation.
And hey, if the NCAA folds under the financial pressure of athlete image rights, those RTCs might prove to be powerful assets in the creation of a European-style club and league system!
Q: Do you think any freshman has a chance to win an NCAA title this season? Who is the most likely to win?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Sammy Sasso of Ohio State has the best chance at 149 pounds. However, I mostly subscribe to the idea of waiting to see how they compete in their first few starts in order to judge their ability to win an NCAA title in their first season as the starter. Maybe Tanner Sloan from South Dakota State at 197 pounds, David Carr of Iowa State at 157 pounds or Anthony Cassioppi of Iowa at heavyweight.