Five talented and accomplished wrestlers will attempt to break a 76 year drought this weekend at the Olympic Team Trials in Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. The drought is, simply put—no wrestler who competed in high school in Indiana has made a United States Olympic freestyle wrestling team since 1936. Four men and one woman will seek to join the exclusive list of Indiana wrestlers who competed in an Olympics, a list that currently stands at two: Bloomington High School wrestlers Richard Voliva and Charles McDaniel. Voliva and McDaniel were members of a southern Indiana high school team that dominated the Indiana high school wrestling landscape for decades. Voliva was a silver medalist at 72 kg and McDaniel, who was later a long time coach at Indiana University, participated at heavyweight. However, as that obscure English writer William Shakespeare said, “what’s past is prologue”.
Truthfully, Indiana wrestling has really risen in the past decade. Until Angel Escobedo (and later Andrew Howe) won an NCAA D1 title, the only Indiana wrestler in the modern era to win one was Michigan State wrestler Kelvin Jackson in 1995. The past decade has brought Indiana wrestlers who were NCAA champions, NCAA All-Americans, US Senior level contenders, Fargo champs, NHSCA champs, NJCAA champs, a Super 32 champ, NWCA Scholastic Duals team champions and, quite frankly, wrestlers who are respected nationally and not just locally.
The following five wrestlers are tremendous representatives of Hoosier wrestling who will be competing for a spot on the 2012 Olympic freestyle team. Each has a nemesis of sorts; a Brian Shute of Vision Quest fame, if you will:
Sarah Hildebrandt (55 kg/121 lbs) currently carries the torch for Indiana women’s wrestling at the senior level. The former Penn High School wrestler had an outstanding high school career for the Kingsmen. Many Indiana wrestling fans thought Hildebrandt would become the first girl to qualify for the Indiana state finals, despite competing in tough weight classes and a formidable semistate. While she fell just short of that accomplishment, she competed well for Penn in the Team State series and blazed a trail for Culver Military Academy’s Kayla Miracle, who finally broke through at this year’s state finals.
The King College standout will be participating in her first Olympic Team Trials. The Granger, Indiana wrestler was a WCWA runner-up this past season and 2011 Fargo Junior freestyle national champion and finds herself in a stacked weight class, led by veterans Helen Maroulis and Leigh Jaynes. Hildebrandt has faced many of the competitors in her weight class and, so far, has fallen a bit short. To be fair, she is the youngest participant in her weight class and has far less international experience than most of her upcoming opponents. That said, Hildebrandt is undoubtedly an up and coming figure on the women’s scene and, even if this year’s results don’t pan out as she hopes, the experience she gains will certainly help her accomplish bigger and better things in the next few years. It’s not a flight of fancy to say that Hildebrandt and her friend Miracle could be wearing United States singlets in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
The Big Question: Will Hildebrandt rise to the massive step up in competition or will she be overwhelmed by the bracket loaded with much more physically mature and experienced opponents?
Hildebrandt’s Brian Shute: Inexperience
Angel Escobedo (55 kg/121 lbs) is a four-time NCAA All-American and one-time NCAA champion from Indiana University. The Griffith High School was incredibly dominant in high school, finishing with one loss and four state titles in his career, as well as the Indiana prep record for most career pins. The understated Escobedo was one of the most dominant competitors to ever step on an Indiana high school wrestling mat and kept it going when he journeyed down to Bloomington to compete for the Hoosiers.
Following a redshirt campaign, Angel reeled off four straight All-American finishes and three Big 10 titles, highlighted by a national championship in 2008. Escobedo followed up his fantastic folkstyle career by quickly competing at a high level on the national freestyle circuit. He won gold at Ziolkowski International 2010, bronze at Heydar Aliyev Golden Grand Prix, won the 2010 University World Team Trials and the 2011 NYAC Holiday International Open. Perhaps of most relevance, he finished 2nd at the World Team Trials in 2010 and 4th in 2011. The past few years has seen Escobedo earn wins over top contenders including Nick Simmons, Brandon Precin, Zach Sanders, Mark McKnight and Sam Hazewinkel. At the London test event in December of 2011, he earned an impressive second place finish. Clearly, he is in the discussion for contenders among the 55 kg weight class. Personally, I feel he matches up pretty well with most of his fellow top contenders, with perhaps the worst matchups for him coming from Obe Blanc and Henry Cejudo. The record-setting competitor from northwest Indiana has a very realistic shot at obtaining a spot on this year’s Olympic squad.
The Big Question: Is Angel completely healthy and peaking?
Escobedo’s Brian Shute: Obe Blanc
Reece Humphrey (60 kg/132 lbs), the Lawrence North High School alum, is a three-time state champion and member of two Team State champions. Reece’s only loss during his four years at the State Finals was to Angel Escobedo when both were freshmen. Humphrey, or Hump as he’s commonly called by the wrestling community, famously executed a picture-perfect windmill breakdance move immediately after winning his last state title. It’s this kind of exuberance and athleticism that is the trademark of Hump’s wrestling. Tutored by his legendary father, multiple time National Team member and former Olympic coach Jim Humphrey, as well as older brother Jordin Humphrey, Hump followed in his father’s and brother’s footsteps and made the journey to Columbus, Ohio to become a Buckeye.
Following a challenging freshman campaign and a solid sophomore season, Reece finished his Ohio State career with a bang, finishing 2nd as a junior and 3rd as a senior. The two-time All-American consistently competed and excelled in freestyle and Greco during the offseason, showing from an early age that his skills translated especially well in the international styles. He was almost a double champion at Fargo juniors in 2005, winning Greco and finishing 2nd in freestyle. He continued his success in 2008 at University Nationals, finishing 3rd in Greco and winning the freestyle competition. Hump one-upped himself the following year, winning both disciplines at University Nationals in 2009. He also won Fila Jrs in 2008 and 2010 in freestyle. He was fourth at the 2010 NYAC International Open, 5th at 2011 Dave Schultz Memorial International, 9th at 2011 Worlds and, most importantly, won the 2011 US Open and 2011 World Team Trials. Essentially, most of Humphrey’s losses in the past year and a half or so have come to opponents outside the US. He’s a solid favorite at 132, with recent wins over Bunch, Zadick, Headlee, Valenti and Scott. Hump has a broken hand and will miss this weekend’s action, but a critical issue is lurking—the United States is not yet qualified at the weight for the Olympics yet. There are two more qualifying matches left for Hump and the United States and he will be given an opportunity to wrestle off the winner of this weekend’s competition. Based on recent results, Reece has Indiana’s best shot at making the freestyle team this year.
The Big Question: Even if Reece wins the wrestle-off, will he be the wrestling equivalent of a man without a country if the US cannot qualify at the weight?
Humphrey’s Brian Shute: Franklin Gomez, but he competes for Puerto Rico
Andrew Howe (74 kg/163 lbs), the Juggernaut, from Hanover Central High School, is a three-time state champion whose only loss in Indiana was to Reece Humphrey in the state finals, when Howe was a freshman and Hump was a senior. Few fans who saw it can forget how dominant Howe was in-state. His opponents often capitulated before the opening whistle, or at least that’s how Andrew made it look. The Juggernaut was lured north to Madison, Wisconsin to wrestle for Barry Davis’s (or more accurately, Donny Pritzlaff’s and Jared Frayer’s) Badgers.
Right out of the gate, Howe showed that he was a pretty unique competitor. He won the first of his three straight Big 10 titles en route to nabbing three high All-American finishes. Howe sandwiched a national title in his sophomore season around a runner-up finish as a freshman and third place finish as a junior. With one year of NCAA eligibility remaining, Howe will be a strong favorite to win another title, wherever he competes next season. Like Humphrey and Escobedo, Howe showed early on in his prep career that he had the skill set to compete at a high level in freestyle. Like both of his predecessors, Howe was a Fargo Jr champion. The Juggernaut was a 2009 Junior World Freestyle 3rd place finisher, a 2009 Fila Jr. freestyle champion, a 2010 US Open champion, a 2010 Sunkist Kids International Open champion, 2011 University Nationals champion and runner-up in 2010 and 2011 for the World Team. He’s easily the favorite at the weight outside of current world champion Jordan Burroughs. Howe has recent wins over Fay, Marable, Dake, Sponseller, Paulson and Rogers. Howe has monstrously stout defense and is able to grind out most close matches. Only Burroughs presents a challenge that Howe hasn’t been able to overcome to this point.
The Big Question: Is this a case of wrong weight, wrong time for Howe, or will he pull off what would likely be the upset of the weekend by beating the man considered to be the United States’ best wrestler?
Howe’s Brian Shute: Jordan Burroughs
Bryce Hasseman (84 kg/185 lbs), from Franklin High School and the son of legendary Griizzly Cub coach Bob Hasseman, was a state champion at 160 in 2000. Following his state championship, Hasseman packed up and headed to Pennsylvania to compete for Bloomsburg.
An NCAA qualifier in 2005 for Bloomsburg, Hasseman really hit his stride when he began competing on the freestyle circuit. While not as accomplished in folkstyle as his fellow male Indiana natives competing this weekend, Bryce is by far the most experienced in international freestyle competition. Hasseman has an extensive and impressive record in international competition: 3rd at 2005 Canada Cup, 2nd at 2006 Sunkist Kids/ASU International Open, 2nd at 2006 Clansman International , 2006 Canada Cup champion, 3rd in 2008 New York AC Holiday International, 2008 Guelph Open champion, 3rd in 2008 Dave Schultz Memorial International, 3rd in 2008 Dimitri Korkin International, 3rd in 2008 Hargobind International, 2009 Dave Schultz Memorial International champion and 2009 Dan Kolov International champion. Perhaps even more impressively, he’s had topnotch results competing for US team spots: 2nd at 2004 University Nationals, 3rd at 2005 University Nationals, 8th at 2006 U.S. Nationals, 7th at 2007 U.S. Nationals, 3rd at 2008 U.S. Nationals, 4th at 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, 2nd in 2009 U.S. World Team Trials, 2nd in 2009 U.S. World Team Trials, 2nd in 2009 U.S. World Team Trials and third at 2011 Men`s FS Olympic Trials Qualifier. Hasseman is obviously battle-tested and his biggest obstacle appears to be Jake Herbert, as he’s defeated most of the other entrants at one time or another.
The Big Question: Does Hasseman have a final, best performance left in the tank?
Hasseman’s Brian Shute: Jake Herbert