WIESBADEN, Germany – Friday’s opening four rounds of the 2013 DODDS-Europe wrestling championships served primarily to reaffirm the status quo.
Large-school favorites from Patch, Ramstein, Kaiserslautern and host Wiesbaden swam undisturbed through their respective pools en route to Saturday’s decisive rounds. The Panthers and Royals turned in solid performances that should keep the two huge programs on track for a one-two team finish.
Matches were held rapid-fire across four mats paving Wiesbaden Army Airfield Fitness Center, the bouts rising in ascending order from 106 to 285 pounds. Each wrestler’s future opponents were likely to be found in an adjacent match, making scouting all but impossible.
That’s not an issue for Joey Fortunato, a Ramstein freshman and breakout contender for the 106-pound championship.
“I just try to do my best against whomever steps on the mat,” Fortunato said.
The circumstances – a large and vocal crowd, long waits in between matches and the elevated level of competition – required more physical and mental endurance than the average regular-season meet.
That was true even – or especially - for the host Warriors. Dante Thomas, undefeated at 132 pounds Friday, said there was “a lot more pressure” on his homestanding team.
“Everyone in Europe is coming, and they’re going to come and take it from us if we don’t take it first,” agreed Wiesbaden teammate Andrew Hempstead, also undefeated Friday at 160 pounds.
One of Friday’s few upsets came from the 285-pound ranks when Kaiserslautern’s unheralded Lotoni Afuhaamago scored a grueling 14-10 first-round decision over Vilseck entry Armando Saldana. The Red Raider heavyweight went on to pin AFNORTH’s Tom Hahn in his second and final match of the day.
“I just sort of do what my coach says. This is my first year of wrestling ever,” said Afuhaamago, a powerful sophomore now fully recovered from a knee injury that slowed his regular season. “I still don’t know everything.”
After spending most of the season fighting amongst themselves, many grapplers from DODDS-Europe’s Italian programs were overwhelmed by the higher level of competition awaiting them in Wiesbaden. But Brandon Mowery, a well-regarded 113-pounder from Aviano, fared just fine.
The recent transfer from Virginia went 4-0 in his first taste of European championship wrestling.
Mowery said that the wrestlers he’s encountered in Europe have diverse, unpredictable styles compared to his stateside competition, making each match a new kind of challenge.
“In the States I get a lot of wrestlers the exact same as me,” Mowery said. “I’m just sticking to what I know.”
Kris Rios, meanwhile, is on a mission to bring a European individual title back home to Rota. The 120-pound senior notched four pins in as many opportunities Friday, though he’s scheduled to face what he said is his likely toughest opponent, Ramstein’s Ryan Goins, on Saturday morning.
The fifth and final round of preliminary competition starts Saturday at 9 a.m. The semifinals follow at 11:30 a.m. Matches for third and fifth place in each weight class take up the afternoon, leading to the 14 championship matches starting at about 3:30 p.m.
A team champion will be crowned after Saturday’s championship matches. Ramstein is the field’s best hope to break Patch’s four-year headlock on the event.