Photo: These are the freestyle winners of the first Junior Nationals that was held in 1971 in Iowa City. Over the past 49 years, the annual summer-time event added Greco-Roman wrestling has moved to as many as seven different locations before finding a home in Fargo, N.D., in 1993. Over the years, USA Wrestling added tournament competition in the U16 (Cadet) level as well as created Junior and U16 championships for women’s wrestling.
By Mike Finn and Rob Sherrill
There have been 49 different Junior National championships over the past 50 years as the current COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 national tournament — as well as the U-16 (formerly Cadet) Nationals in freestyle, Greco-Roman and women’s freestyle — and prevented a golden anniversary of the event that has been held the past 27 years in Fargo, N.D.
But as wrestlers, coaches and fans look to the return of this event in 2021, this is a good time to look backwards at some of the more historic moments of this event that started in Iowa City and eventually made stops at the likes of Cedar Falls, Iowa, Allendale, Mich., and Warrensburg, Mo., before Fargo became the annual host city for the event in 1993.
The following is a chronological order of those moments:
1971 – The first Junior Nationals, organized by the United States Wrestling Federation (the predecessor to USA Wrestling, which was formed in 1983), was held at the University of Iowa Fieldhouse in Iowa City, Iowa. The first tournament was just a freestyle event and the first 10 wrestlers to win Junior National championships were Nathaniel Byrd (105.5, Michigan), Joe Corso (114.5, Iowa), Jimmy Carr (123, Pennsylvania), Kit Shaw (132, Washington), Andre Allen (143, Illinois), Dan Holm (154, Illinois); Chuck Berrier (165, Iowa); Robin Richards (178, Oregon); David Curby (191, Michigan) and Jim Witzleb (heavyweight, Illinois).
1972 – Greco-Roman wrestling was first held in 1972 in Iowa City, where the first champions were Dan Cliffe (105.5, Illinois), Richard Numa (114.5, New York), Vince Tundo (123, New York), Tim Cysewski (132, Illinois), Jack Bryan (143, Oregon), Bob Holland (154, Illinois), Ken Williams (165, Oregon), Dave Spector (178, New York), Mike Bull (191.5, California) and Chuck Coreya (heavyweight, Pennsylvania).
Of these wrestlers, Numa also won a freestyle championship and became the first double winner in Junior National history.
1973 – Rande Stottlemyer of Pennsylvania became the first two-time Junior champ when he defeated a fellow returning champ in Lorenzo Jones of Oregon for the 132-pound championship. Stottlemyer, the future Pitt head coach, won the 123-pound championship in 1973.
1982 – Steve Knight of Iowa (114.5) became the first to win Junior OW in both styles as he defeated Tom Dickman of Wisconsin in freestyle and Bob Parianello of New York in Greco-Roman; Tony Lasalandra of New Jersey (285) wins Junior Gorrarian Trophy in both styles as he won Greco and finished second in freestyle.
1985 – The first Cadet Nationals were held at Grand Valley University in Allendale, Mich., where the first freestyle champs were Kris Hayward (83.5, Indiana), Nick Purler (88, Missouri), Carl Belford (92.5, Oklahoma), Damon Johnson (99, Oklahoma), Sam Geraci (105.5, Illinois), Keith Nix (112, Oklahoma), John Meyers (121, Connecticut), David Marlow (130, Illinois), Mark Deal (138.5, Oklahoma), Dana Wilkes (149.5, Florida), Ricky Gullettte (160.5, Florida), Brad Knouse (171.5, Texas) and Carl Presley (heavyweight).
Knouse also won a Greco-Roman championship at 171.5 pounds, becoming the first double winner. Other first Cadet Greco-Roman champs were Leonard Combs (83.5, New York), Tony Purler (88, Missouri), Howard Bair (92.5, California), Charles Irick (99, California), Greg Jackson (105.5, California), Chuck Brady (112, Illinois), Jeff Nicolella (121, Pennsylvania), Jeff Scounce (130, Oklahoma), Mike Swift (138.5, Pennsylvania), Tom Ornato (149.5, Pennsylvania), Chad Gentzler (160.5, Pennsylvania) and Edward Evans (heavyweight, Illinois).
1988 – Alan Fried of Ohio becomes first four-time Junior freestyle champion. Somehow, he and another defending champion, Tim Anderson of Iowa, wound up in the same pool, but thanks to the rules in effect then, he survived a pool loss to Anderson and won the title.
1994 – Oscar Wood of Oregon becomes the first four-time Junior GR champion with a victory over Biff Walizer of Pennsylvania in the 132-pound bracket. Wood set 16 records and was named OW in both 1993 and 1994.
1995 – Sean Hage of Georgia left the Junior Nationals with championships in both freestyle and Greco-Roman at 191.5 pounds. Those also gave him an event-record total of eight titles in all styles and age groups. (Three Junior titles in freestyle, three Junior tiles in Greco-Roman, one Cadet freestyle, and one Cadet Greco-Roman championship.)
2001 – Double champion Travis Lee of Hawaii denied Nick Simmons of Michigan a fourth Junior freestyle title in a 3-1 finals victory at 123 pounds. Also, Steve Mocco (285) of New Jersey wins third Junior FS title. He was unscored upon all three years.
2002 – Dustin Schlatter of Ohio became the first four-time Cadet National champion; he went 39-0 with only five matches going the distance and nine points allowed.
This also marked the first year a Junior women’s tournament was held. The champs were Rachel Holthaus (95, Minnesota), Gina Heinzelmann (101, Michigan), Malina Ripley (110, California), Amberle Montgomery (119, Washington), Lindsay Owens (128, California), Brandy Rosenbrock (138, Michigan), Heather Martin (150, Ohio), Samantha Lang (165, Oregon) and Alicia Mena (175, Minnesota).
2003 – Ohio had five Junior freestyle champions in Dustin Schlatter (135), C.P. Schlatter (152), Rocco Caponi (171), J.D. Bergman (189) and Matt Koz (215); C.P. Schlatter also won a Greco-Roman title and earned the OW in that style, while Dustin Schlatter won the OW in freestyle.
2004 – Troy Nickerson of New York became the second OW in both styles after going 19-0 with 17 pins or technical falls, allowing just seven points. Meanwhile, a pair of wrestlers with combined career records of 404-0 met in the 145-pound final, where Brent Metcalf of Michigan pulled away in a 6-1 victory over Alex Tsirtsis of Indiana.
Also, Brandon (Fla.) put together a record-breaking week at Fargo. The Eagles set Junior division records for a single school for most finalists in a tournament (5 in Greco), champions in both tournaments (6) and finalists in both tournaments (8), tying records for double champions (2) and champions in one tournament (3). Eric Grajales’ Cadet Greco-Roman title gave coach Russ Cozart’s team seven overall champions for the week.
2008 – In a round-robin match on a floor-level mat with spectators over 10 rows deep, defending Junior freestyle champion Nate Moore of Iowa rallied to beat Eric Grajales in three periods. Moore went on to earn OW honors.
2011 (Cadet) and 2012 (Junior) – World champions and Olympic medalists Kyle Snyder and J’den Cox meet each other in all four tournaments at 220, splitting four matches that saw a grand total of 14 points scored. The two were paired in the same pool three times, including both 2012 events.
The 2011 tournament also marked the first time a Cadet women’s tournament was held. The first champs were Marina Doi (88, California), Regina Doi (95, California), Cody Phau (191, Colorado), Kayla Miracle (108, Indiana), Bree Rapoza (115, Hawaii), Rosemary Flores (124, New York), Jasmine Mendoza (132, California), Virginia Burkett (143, Wyoming), Autumn Rux (154, Michigan), Kierra Boyce (198, Texas)
2013 – Illinois became the first and only state to win all four tournaments in the Wells Fargo team standings. The state won all four tournaments by double digits.
2013, 2014, and 2015 – Oak Park-River Forest established an unprecedented three-year period of dominance by a school across the Cadet and Junior divisions. Without a single wrestler earning a double title, the Huskies took home four Fargo titles in 2013 and 2015 and one in 2014. Over those three seasons, 14 different OPRF wrestlers earned All-America honors — 9 titles, 17 finals appearances and 33 top-eight finishes.
2018 – Sage Mortimer of Utah won a Cadet national championship at 100 pounds, but also became the first woman to earn an All-American honor in Cadet Greco-Roman as she finished seventh at 100 pounds.
2019 – Emily Shilson of Minnesota joined Teshya Alo of Hawaii as the only two women to win six Fargo championships. Alo won four of her titles in Juniors (125, 2013; 130, 2014; 139, 2015; 139, 2016) and two Cadets (124 in both 2012 and ‘13). Shilson earned four of her titles in Juniors (97 in 2016, 100 in 2017, ’18 and 106 pounds in 2019) and two in Cadets (95 in 2016 and 94 in 2017). n