Some champs brought their World experience to Fargo

Updated: August 4, 2023

Photo: Nebraska’s Joel Adams, a 2022 U17 World champ in Greco-Roman, collected another Fargo trophy before heading to the U20 World Championships. (Photo by Tony Rotundo)

By Rob Sherrill

The Fargo experience appears to be back in vogue for the nation’s top age-group wrestlers.

The 7,134 competitors the Fargodome attracted across six tournaments in men’s and women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman on both the 16U and Junior level, the week of July 15-22 was a record turnout for the event. This despite a place on the world’s wrestling calendar that keeps virtually all age-group wrestlers who have qualified for World teams out of the competition, primarily due to the desire to avoid injury.

But Fargo attracted more World Team members this year than any year in the recent past.

Idaho’s standout heavyweight, Aden Attao, deserves a huge share of the credit for that trend. In 2022, Attao showed up at the Fargodome and competed in both styles, even though he had earned a berth on the 2022 U20 Greco-Roman team at 130 kilograms and the World Championships were just a month later.

Attao won both styles, closing the book on a 2022 Junior Triple Crown performance that included five Greco wins by technical fall, allowing just one point. That proved to be the perfect competitive tune-up for a 2022 World Championships run that saw Attao bring home a bronze medal from Sofia, Bulgaria.

Second verse in 2023, same as the first in 2022. Attao is back for another run at a U20 Greco gold medal, and again took advantage of the opportunity to use Fargo as a training ground. He repeated as Greco champion, going 6-0 with a pin, three technical falls and an 8-1 decision, allowing just three points. Earlier in the week, Attao battled U-20 World champion Koy Hopke of Wisconsin, who rallied to score a pin for Wisconsin’s fifth Junior freestyle title.

And Attao has company this year.

All four Junior-eligible members of the U20 Greco World Team also competed at Fargo. That group includes Joel Adams (152) of Nebraska, who dominated the U17 Greco field in 2022 en route to the World gold medal. Adams, a Michigan recruit, and rising seniors Landon Drury (138) of Colorado and Sawyer Bartelt (220) of Florida, also flashed the form inside the Fargodome that powered them to World Team berths.

Adams went 6-0 at Fargo, a log that included a pin, four technical falls and a 4-2 final decision over Jadon Skellenger of Idaho. The final was a rematch of their World Team Trials best-of-three final, which Adams won in two matches. The five points Adams allowed in Fargo were five more than he allowed in the World Championships, where he outscored five opponents by a 30-0 margin. Meanwhile, Drury (7-0) and Bartelt (6-0) allowed only two points each in their runs to their first Fargo titles.

It will be interesting to see whether the extra work at the Fargodome gives any of the four an edge when the World Championships convene later this month in Warsaw, Poland. Particularly since the four Junior-eligible members of the U20 Freestyle Team all opted to skip the Junior freestyle competition.

We’re also about to find out whether total immersion works. Another Greco World Team member, Adam Waters of Pennsylvania, is about to compete in the U17 World Championships. The rising sophomore competed in the tougher Junior division, finishing third in both styles at 170. With an 8-1 record in each style, Waters headed to Istanbul, Turkey with 18 tough matches under his belt. Seven came against opponents who, like him, are ranked in WIN’s Top 25.

Waters had to compete in the Junior division as he missed the 16U age cutoff by 12 days. That makes Istanbul his only shot at U17 World glory. Next year, the wrestler who helped lead Faith Christian Academy to a Class AA double team title in the Keystone State will be thrown into the U-20 pool with the big boys.

At least he’s battle-tested.

Big first for little Idaho

Why is it a big deal that Idaho won the Junior Greco title?

Because Idaho is, by far, the smallest state to win a Fargo team title. With a population of just over 1.9 million based on 2022 census estimates, Idaho ranks 38th among U.S. states based on population. That puts the state in the bottom quarter.

Yet the state now boasts over 4,000 registered USA Wrestling members, and according to Idaho wrestling ambassador Al Fontes, 32 current Idaho wrestlers have signed with, or verbally committed to college programs at the various levels, a dozen of them in Division I. They’re coming off their best three seasons ever at Fargo, with 64 All-Americans over that span, including 19 this year.

Mack Mauger (top), one of two Junior champs from Idaho, now has five all-time Fargo stop-sign plaques. (Tony Rotundo photo)

As the only state to post double figures in All-Americans in Junior Greco — the state had 10 — Idaho also dethroned the 15-time reigning kings of Greco, Illinois. For the first time since 2007, a state other than Illinois put its name on the Wells Fargo trophy in that style, in that age group. Idaho’s four finalists also led all states, and Mack Mauger (113) joined Oregon State-recruit Attao as a repeat Greco champion, making the Gem State one of five with a pair of champions.

The week’s final match showcased what might have been Idaho’s best individual rivalry, as Attao and Shilo Jones met in an all-Idaho heavyweight final. The two attended schools that are only seven miles apart — Attao graduated from Boise Borah, and Jones will be a senior next year at Meridian Mountain View. They trained together this summer, and Fontes talked about watching them in training camp.

“They really went at it,” Fontes said. “We were talking about how special it would be if both of them could get to the finals.”

Attao and Jones met five times during the 2022-23 scholastic season, all in tournament finals. The first, in December, was in the Reno Tournament of Champions, where Attao won 5-2. In January, Attao won 6-1 in the Rollie Lane Tournament at Nampa and 10-4 in the Weiser Tournament. Then came a pair of major decisions in February, 14-0 in the district final and 10-2 in the state championship match. Only one other match Attao (36-0) wrestled as a senior went six minutes, a 12-1 major decision. As for Jones, those were his only five losses in a 43-5 junior season. His closest match against any other opponent was a 7-2 win, and he racked up 34 pins. Expect him to contend for a spot in next year’s Top 25.

The Fargo final ended quickly, Attao needing just 17 seconds to record a technical fall. We’ll see whether he’s just getting warmed up for Warsaw.

What about Illinois? Will they bounce back? The state won the U-16 Greco title at Fargo, split the U-16 and Junior National Duals titles with Iowa and stands No. 6 nationally in population. So don’t bet against it.

How Fargo predictions fared

Except for Attao, who set this precedent a year ago, we did not include World Team members in our predictions of who would make the 16U and Junior finals in the previous issue of WIN. Nevertheless, with the results of both the U-16 and Junior National Duals available, we still had plenty of candidates to choose from that were available at the time these predictions were made. They weren’t quite as successful as either 2017 or 2018, when we had 25 of the 68 available finals spots selected correctly, but they came close.

In 2023, we correctly picked 24 of the 68 wrestlers who wound up in the 16U finals. That’s three more than last year, and just one off the record 25 finalists we picked back in 2017 and 2018. Of those 24, 17 reached the finals in the style we predicted. The wrestler who went on to earn Outstanding Wrestler honors in Greco, Saxton Scott of Idaho, was a wrestler we projected as a Junior finalist. 

We predicted two freestyle finals correctly, one with an asterisk. We were spot on with the final at 120. We also had both the finalists at 160, picking Aaron Stewart of Illinois at that weight and Maximus Norman of Tennessee up a weight at 170.

With the Junior Duals results available, our predictions increased in accuracy by 50 percent over 2022, with 20 of the 60 finalists correct. Of those 20, 17 reached the finals in the style we predicted. 

The wrestler who won Junior Greco honors at 100, Caden Correll of Illinois, was a wrestler we projected as 16U freestyle finalist. We predicted one final correctly, our Greco final at 113.

In the 16U age group, if you include Scott, we correctly predicted 10 champions, five in each style — seven in the style we predicted. We also correctly predicted 12 Junior champions, eight in freestyle, including four straight from 145 through 170, and four in Greco-Roman. All but one won in the style we predicted.

It made for another interesting week under the Fargodome.

(A native of Chicago’s south suburbs, Rob Sherrill has been covering high school wrestling on the national level since 1978 and has served as WIN’s high school columnist since 1997.)