FARGO, N.D. — Two Fennimore High School student-athletes represented Team Wisconsin at the USA Wrestling Cadet Greco Roman National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota earlier this month. This was a repeat trip for both Alston Nutter and Justin Tollefson, and both improved upon last year’s finish.
Fargo features two international styles of wrestling that have different rules than high school wrestling. There are higher point values for lifting wrestlers in the air or by using leverage to throw them from their feet to their backs.
Fargo is the featured national tournament for high school-aged wrestlers. Wrestlers must earn a spot on the team. Wrestlers who make the team seek out the coveted All-American status that is awarded with an octagon plaque (known as winning the “stop sign” for obvious reasons). Wrestlers who place in the top eight earn All-American status. This year nearly 1,000 wrestlers competed in the Greco portion.
Tollefson competed at 138 pounds in a bracket that featured 74 wrestlers from 48 states. After receiving a first round bye, he earned his first Fargo win with a 16-8 decision over Dalton Jensen of Illinois.
In the next round, Tollefson lost by pin to Kendall Frame of Kansas. He responded to the loss with a technical fall over Evan Fisler of New Jersey by a score of 19-6. The match featured a flurry of scoring by Tollefson on several high-amplitude throws. He followed the victory with a pin over Missouri’s Bret Heil in 4:26. The victory over Heil put Tollefson closer to the All-American status, but he was cut short, getting caught in a throw and pinned by Kendon Kayser of Louisana.
In Tollefson’s Fargo debut last year he had good showings, but fell short in both matches. This year he wrestled to a 4-2 record and a respectable finish. In his victories, Tollefson had several big throws that drew attention from the 6,000 in attendance. His victories represented a lot of time and training.
“I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, but I improved a lot from last year,” Tollefson said. “Hopefully I’ll do better next year.”
Nutter was impressed with Tollefson’s Fargo performance.
“Justin is a very explosive wrestler,” he said. “He will pick you up and five you, no matter who you are. Justin is a great wrestler.”
Nutter, a returning All-American who earned eigth place in last year’s run, moved up to 120 pounds this year. Nutter, who is currently the Greco USA World Team alternate at 54 KG (119 pounds) was picked by national wrestling publications to finish in the top three of his 83-man bracket.
Nutter proved the journalists correct by finishing runner-up and earning his second straight All-American Award. Nutter began the tournament with 10-0 technical falls over Missouri’s Tanner Pavlica, Washington’s Mason Sabin, and New Jersey’s Charlie Cunningham.
In round four, Nutter found himself in an uncomfortable predicament by getting caught off guard and down by an 8-0 score (matches end if an opponent gets a 10 point lead). He then settled down to come back and win, 25-12, over Idaho’s Braydon Huber.
The victorious rally past Huber pitted Nutter against Jack Davis, who was the Pennsylvania Greco State Champ and most recently awarded to the National All-Tournament Team as an undefeated wrestler in the national duals.
Nutter once again found himself down late in the match, 14-6, and on the verge of defeat. However, he rattled off 10 straight points to take the lead and secure the victory.
In the semifinal match, Nutter would ensure there was no doubt. He took control of the match and launched Missouri’s Colin Valdiviez multiple times to get a quick 12-0 victory to end the match and earn a shot on high school’s biggest stage - USA Wrestling National Finals.
The finals in Fargo are very theatrical. Nutter had his name announced under the lights and he ran through a smoke-filled tunnel to his corner of a mat on a raised platform in the middle of the Fargo Dome. The finals paired Nutter with Nicholas Raimo of New Jersey, who has a contrasting style.
Raimo is shorter than Nutter and compact, and wrestled slow and methodical versus Nutter’s up-tempo, big-move style. Nutter battled for positions, but fell on the wrong side of a couple of scrambles in a 10-0 loss.
“It is obviously a great feeling,” Nutter said of his runner-up finish. “But then again, it was super disappointing because I worked my whole spring and summer to win the Fargo title and came up short.”
What did Nutter learn in the loss?
“I have to own my position,” he said. “Sometimes, if he gets something I can’t always score on his position. It taught me I need to get to my position, my offense and score there.”
Raimo went on to win the Tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler Award.
Both wrestlers have undoubtedly grown from last year, evidenced by their improved performances.
Tollefson finishes his sophomore season with a Wisconsin Wrestling Federation top-three finish in freestyle in addition to being the state runner-up in Greco.
Nutter finishes his freshman post-season with a Greco State Championship, Northern Plains Regional Championship, a World Team Member Alternate as a result of his FILA performance earlier this year in the United Wrestling Federation Championships in Akron, Ohio, and a USA Wrestling All-American with this second place finish.
“It is great to know it doesn’t matter where you are from, but how hard you work,” Nutter said.
Although Nutter and Tollefson will not be wrestling Greco Roman for the Golden Eagles, Nutter feels the experience will pay dividends regardless.
“Wrestling is wrestling,” he said. “Mat time is mat time. I definitely think that it will help. Everything plays in and helps.”
Nutter will depart Fennimore on Aug. 14 for World Team training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“It will be a great opportunity and it will give me some exposure too, for the world team,” Nutter said.