The upcoming 2022 World Junior Wrestling Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria will have a Maryland tinge.
Jaxon Smith, who spent his first season last winter at Maryland, and Richard Fedalen, who finished his senior year in June at McDonogh, will represent the United States at the world championships from August 15-21, albeit in different disciplines. Smith is a member of the freestyle team, while Fedalen will compete for the Greco-Roman team.
Even though the pair don’t know each other, each wrestler expressed pride in being able to bring a touch of Maryland to a destination nearly 5,000 miles away on another continent.
“It’s kind of cool because Maryland isn’t necessarily known as a great wrestling state,” Fedalen said. “Last year we had a cadet world champion from Maryland [Woodbine’s Meyer Shapiro] and then we had two Olympic champions from Maryland [Woodbine’s Kyle Snyder and Rockville’s Helen Maroulis]. We may not have a ton of depth as a state, but we certainly have the talent that brings back gold medals.
Smith added: “We’re on the rise, that’s for sure. In previous years, we were kind of in a slump, but you can see the new kids coming to Maryland, and we’re starting to see a little bit more success, and I feel like that’s just start it.
Here’s a look at each wrestler and their journey to that position.
The Scaggsville resident is no stranger to Greco-Roman discipline, a form of wrestling that forbids below-the-waist holds and therefore promotes the ability to throw an opponent. Fedalen finished second at 63 kilograms in Greco-Roman wrestling at the World Team Trials and Pan Am Championships last summer.
“I feel like I have a natural constitution for Greco-Roman wrestling,” said Fedalen, who wrestled at 152 pounds through the winter and was named All-Metro Wrestler of the Year by The Sun. . “My freestyle and folk wrestling is upper body focused. So I decided to pursue this.
In a move illustrating his commitment to the style, Fedalen – who will wrestle at Columbia – hired private trainer Jay LaValley, founder of JOWrestling and former president of the Maryland State Wrestling Association, in early April. Three weeks later, Fedalen won the 72 kilogram title at the US Open, then followed that up with similar victories at the World Team Trials and Pan Am Championships.
“I always visualized myself winning this,” he said of his US Open victory, which included winning his first three matches by a combined score of 26-0 and then his decisive victory in the final. “But how it went, I was pretty dominant. I had a technical crash in the final, and I didn’t really expect that to happen. I expected it to be a very close match war. After that, it gave me a lot of confidence going into practice.
LaValley said he sought to improve Fedalen’s ability to fight on the inside, grabbing wrists and elbows on contact to gain control in certain positions and move the opponent into more advantageous positions. .
“It’s one of the few styles of wrestling where you get better as you get older, and that’s kind of what I see in Richard,” LaValley said. “He’s been so focused and focused on Greco-Roman wrestling since April, and he’s getting better every day. … He’s very strong and determined obviously, and he’s learning fast. But he didn’t have a lot of the finer details. , and that’s what we really worked on.
Because European and Asian wrestlers have been wrestling in the Greco-Roman style since they were children, Fedalen and LaValley have spent a lot of time studying potential opponents on film. Fedalen said his biggest opponent could be European champion Robert Attila Fritsch of Hungary.
Still, Fedalen said he wasn’t lowering the bar.
“I go to every tournament I go to with the hope of winning,” he said. ” It’s going to be hard. Virtually all Europeans have done Greco. This is the only style they have struggled with. It’s a bit like the cards were against me, but I always had the hope of winning.
The Cartersville, Georgia resident’s talent isn’t exactly a secret. Despite being redshirts last winter, he won 23 to just six losses in open tournaments and won the Edinboro Open title at 197 pounds.
Smith said he found his groove after taking the 92-kilogram crown at the U.S. Marine Corps Open in Las Vegas on April 30, which kicked off a run that included victories at the World Team Trials in Geneva, Ohio on June 4 and the Under -20 Pan American Championships in Oaxtepec, Mexico on July 10.
“After winning the US Open, it definitely put me in a good position to make the national team,” he said. “After winning the Open, I had enough confidence in myself. I thought this was the year I was going to do it and make the team and win a world championship. After that, I felt like the ball was rolling.
If Smith needed motivation, all he had to do was remember how he finished fourth at 86 kilograms in the World Team Trials last summer and stayed in the United States.
“I learned that you get what you put in,” he said. “I knew I had to work harder. I knew I had to sacrifice a few more things and work harder. So that’s what I did. »
Since June, Terps trainer Alex Clemsen said he and his team have been working with Smith to become more assertive in his hand fights and strengthen his leg defense. Clemsen said he noticed a change in Smith’s body language.
“He really learned not to give way to anyone,” he said. “He’s very talented, and I think he’s come to realize that he’s able to work with consistent effort at an extremely high level, and he’s put a lot of deposits in the bank. His bank account is really big, and because of that he shouldn’t fear anyone or get behind anyone. He shouldn’t think anyone is better than him. He’s really starting to believe in himself because of his God-given talents and because of his ability to really work.
Smith said he expects a number of opponents who are just as eager as he is to win a world championship. But he said he might have an advantage they don’t have.
“That’s what I always wanted to do,” he said. “I’ve wanted to win a world gold medal since I was 5 years old and I always thought I could do it. So I am able to do it now.