By Ms. Brittany Nelson (IMCOM)May 2, 2019
FORT SAM HOUSTON (May 3, 2019)--The World Class Athlete Program had 13 of their 14 Soldier-athletes place first, second or third at the 2019 USA Wrestling National Championships. Three All-Army Soldier-athletes walked away with titles as well.
Two months prior to nationals, WCAP and All-Army Soldier-athletes swept the competition at the 2019 Armed Forces Championships where they earned first place for the 18th year in a row.
With the Armed Forces Championship in their back pocket, Army wrestlers hit nationals at full speed.
WCAP gold medalists in men's Greco-Roman include Staff. Sgt. Max Nowry, 55kg division, Sgt. Ellis Coleman, 67kg division, Sgt. Ryan Mango, 63kg division, Spc. Leslie Fuenffinger, 60kg division, and Spc. Jacob Mitchell, 130kg division. Silver medalists for men's Greco-Roman include Sgt. Ildar Hafizov, 60kg division, Sgt. Lucas Sheridan, 97kg division, and Pvt. Hayden Tuma, 67kg. First Lt. Toby Erickson in the 130kg division earned bronze.
WCAP's women's freestyle wrestlers Staff Sgt. Whitney Conder, 50kg, and Spc. Randyll Beltz, 68kg, won gold. Spc. Jenna Burket, 57kg, and Spc. Areana Villaescusa, 55kg, won silver.
All-Army victories include Second Lt. Michael Hooker who finished third in Men's 72kg Greco-Roman, Pvt. Nahiela Magee who finished fourth in women's 76kg freestyle, and Spc. Connor Myers who finished seventh in men's 72kg Greco-Roman.
Soldier-athletes who placed first through seventh qualify for the Final X tournament in June where they compete to earn a spot on the U.S. senior world team. Those who placed first through third earned a spot on U.S.A.'s national team.
Overall, the U.S. Army women's team won first place in division two and the men's team won second place in division one.
"It means everything to see my athletes perform well and go far. They aren't just out there representing themselves they represent the Army and the country," said Staff Sgt. Iris Smith, women's coach.
Bruce Robinson, wrestling head coach and deputy to the chief of WCAP, says that the team performed their best they have ever done at nationals.
"The mentality is always to win, nobody wants to go home without a gold around their neck. Everybody is working hard to win and we feed off each other," said Robinson.
Conder, a four-time world team member, won her sixth U.S. national championship.
"It feels amazing to win first. I couldn't have done it without the Lord and without my team because I train with them every day and without the Army I wouldn't be here," said Conder.
Conder has been with the World Class Athlete Program for six years and says that joining the Army was the best decision she has ever made.
WCAP assistant wrestling coach and USA Wrestling's 2018 Greco-Roman coach of the year Staff Sgt. Spencer Mango, said that the team had a great performance and even won some matches that were toss ups.
"Sheridan beat last year's national champion (Miller) in the semifinals. He has lost to him a few times before and this is his first win over him in Greco. That was a big win for us and we all knew he could do it he just had to step up," said Mango.
"Miller beat me about a month ago in the Armed Forces competition at Fort Bliss Texas. I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder going into our match but I was also really excited to get another opportunity to face him. He's a great opponent and a great officer in the Marine Corps as well. I have a lot of respect for him but it felt really good to get that win," said Sheridan.
Sheridan, grew up watching current coaches Dremiel Byers and Staff Sgt. Mango.
"I idolized those guys growing up and everyone knew what the World Class Athlete Program is when it comes to Greco-Roman wrestling. After college I decided to keep wrestling, WCAP was the go-to decision," said Sheridan.
Sheridan joined WCAP in 2015 and since then has become a national team member and Bill Farrel Open champion.
All-Army wrestler Hooker credits the Army for his victory.
"My training with the Army helped me win third place, most definitely. I wouldn't be here without the coaches and our athletic training staff, they are really important and they encompass everything that it means to be all Army," said Hooker.
Hooker learned about WCAP when Soldier-athletes Philip and William Simpson came to his high school to do a Total Army Involvement Recruiting mission, or TAIR.
"I wanted to wrestle for the Army because I wanted to wrestle on the senior level but I also wanted to serve my country, it was a great opportunity to do both at the same time," said Hooker.
The next competition is in Raleigh, North Carolina, for those who have not yet qualified for Final X, which will take place in June.