By Armed Forces SportsFebruary 26, 2019
FORT BLISS, Texas -- The Army won seven of 10 matches Saturday against the Marine Corps to capture the Greco-Roman title and came back Sunday to beat the Marines in free-style wrestling to win the Armed Forces title in both disciplines for the 18th consecutive year.
Both the Army and Marine Corps began the tournament by winning every single match of their first two dual meets against the Air Force and Navy, setting up a showdown for the title.
Fueled by a strong start in the lightweights, Army won its first four matches against the Marines, all with bonus-point victories.
The Army's Staff Sgt. Max Nowry, a double champion at the 2018 Armed Forces, came out with a strong 8-0 technical fall at 55 kg over Sgt. Jamone Carter. He was followed by 2017 World Team member Ildar Hafizov, who got the Army team fired up with a pin over Lance Cpl. German Diaz in 1:24.
The next bout proved to be huge. The Marine Corps sent out 2018 Armed Forces champion Sgt. Xavier Johnson, a National Team member who is coming off a big second-place finish at the Grand Prix Zagreb Open. The Army sent out Pvt. Hayden Tuma, an athlete with extensive World Championships experience.
Tuma shut the door on the Marines desire to change the momentum, tossing Johnson on the way to an 8-0 technical fall. One of the matches the Marines needed, if they hoped to win this year, went to the Army in a big way.
The Army run continued at 67 kg, as 2008 Olympian and two-time World Team member Ellis Coleman kept up the pressure with a 9-0 technical fall over 2nd Lt. Jamel Johnson. The team score after four matches was 17-0, with only six more bouts for the Marines to change the narrative.
Sgt Raymond Bunker of the Marines, who had been a silver medalist in this event a number of times, scored the first Marine Corps win, stopping Army 2nd Lt. Michael Hooker in a 3-3 criteria decision.
At 77kg/169.7 lbs., Sgt. Vladyslav Dombrovskiy got the Army back on track in an intense battle with 1st Lt. Payton Walsh, who has been a National Team member. Dombrovskiy won some key positions and emerged with a 17-7 technical fall.
At 82kg, in another aggressive match between two warriors, Sgt. John Stefanowicz of the Marines beat. Maj. Jon Anderson of the Army, 4-1, Both were past Armed Forces Greco-Roman champions.
Spc. James Souza, who won an Armed Forces title in 2015 when he competed with the U.S. Navy, claimed his first Armed Forces gold as a member of the Army with a powerful 10-0 technical fall over Sgt Vaughn Monreal Berner.
In a battle of National Team members, Capt. Daniel Miller of the Marines edged SGT Lucas Sheridan, 2-1. Miller is ranked No. 2 in the nation and Sheridan is No. 3 on the ladder.
Army big man 2LT Toby Erickson was dominant on top, turning Sgt Trent Osnes multiple times in an 8-0 technical fall to close out the win.
Although this is a dual meet event, individual medals are also awarded. Since all 20 athletes competing in the final dual were unbeaten, the winner in each of the matches in the Army-Marines dual t won the gold medal, and the loser claimed the silver medal. Therefore, the Army had seven champions and three runners-up.
For the Army to win the free-style competition for the 18th straight year was anything but easy with a talented and motivated Marine Corps team across from them on the mat.
Army started off with confidence, as Staff Sgt. Max Nowry defeated Sgt Christian Martin, 7-4 at 57 kg, and Spc. Leslie Fuenffinger pinned 1stLt Colton Rasche in 4:35 at 61 kg.
The 65 kg match gave the Marines their first victory. Lt. Jamel Johnson defeated Hayden Tuma in an 11-0 technical fall. Tuma suffered an injury in his bout and continued regardless, but could not keep up with Johnson, who secured the bonus-point victory. Army led 8-5 at that point, and the Marines were looking to start a rally of their own.
As has been the case in years past, after the Army suffered a setback, the next Soldiers on the mat raised the stakes even higher to keep the Marines at bay. In this case, the Army response to Tuma's defeat was to reel off a pair of technical fall wins.
At 70 kg, Spc. Isaac Dukes, a Div. III national champion for Case Reserve in Ohio, lit up the scoreboard to beat 2019 Armed Forces Greco-Roman champion Sgt. Raymond Bunker, 10-0. It was Duke's fourth straight Armed Forces freestyle title.
Not to be outdone, 2nd Lt. Michael Hooker added an 11-0 technical fall over Lance Cpl. Ali Marciano at 74 kg. On Saturday, Hooker's streak of four straight Greco-Roman Armed Forces titles got snapped with a loss to Bunker, and he came back with extra fire in the freestyle tournament. This gave the Army a 16-5 lead halfway through the dual meet.
The Marine Corps never quits, and that was the case in this dual meet. In a classic battle which saw the lead change and had some fierce action, 1st Lt .Payton Walsh of the Marines edged Sgt. Vladyslav Dombrovskiy of the Army, 9-8. Walsh was an EIWA champion and three-time NCAA qualifier for the U.S. Naval Academy, and Dombrovskiy has been a multiple All-American at the U.S. Open in freestyle. Walsh's win lifted the spirits of the Marine faithful, which still had hopes for a late rally.
It was not going to happen. Maj. Jon Anderson of the Army avenged a loss in the Greco-Roman finals to Sgt. Jon Stefanowicz on Saturday, with an inspiring 9-1 win over Stefanowicz on Sunday. At 34 years old, Anderson is the grandpa on the Army team, and is a walking definition of the word "grit." Anderson's win made a Marine Corps comeback highly unlikely.
The Army victory was sealed mathematically when powerful Spc. James Souza of the Army pinned 2nd Lt. Terrence Zaleski of the Marines in 1:50 at 92 kg.
The Army, however, was not done showing its skill and character. In a battle of former Div. I talents, Sgt. Lucas Sheridan avenged his loss to Capt. Daniel Miller from Saturday's Greco-Roman finals dual. Sheridan was able to hit one of his patented headlocks in the first period and went on to defeat Miller, 5-0.
With the title already mathematically Army's, the Marines did not send out their heavyweight, and Spc. Jacob Mitchell received a forfeit to end the match.
In the first round, the Army stopped the Air Force, 42-3, winning all 10 bouts. The Marines opened with a 36-4 win over the Navy, claiming nine of the 10 bouts.
The second round had similar results, as Army swept its 10 bouts to beat Navy 42-0, while the Marines took nine of 10 to handle the Air Force, 37-4.
In the third-place match, the Air Force won seven of the nine matches contested, including two technical falls and two pins, to defeat the Navy, 30-15
There were only two double champions this year, with Nowry and Souza the only wrestlers to claim gold medals in both freestyle and Greco-Roman this weekend. Nowry, Fuenffinger, Dukes and Mitchell defended their 2018 freestyle titles.
(Gary Abbott of USA Wrestling contributed heavily to this article.)