News: All Marine Wrestlers take on world-class competition in the frozen tundra of Finland
Story by Sgt. Rocco Defilippis
By Rocco Defillipis
U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe
VANTAA, Finland - Marine wrestlers from the All Marine Wrestling Team traveled to the heart of the international, Greco-Roman wrestling world to go head-to-head with world-class athletes during the Vantaa Cup Wrestling Tournament here on Nov. 22-23.
During the event, the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Marines hit the mats with more than 50 other wrestlers from eight European countries, including champions and medalists from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
"This is the heart of the Greco-Roman [wrestling] world," said Maj. Dan Hicks, head coach of the All Marine Wrestling Team and Vinita, Okla., native. "You have to compete against the best in order to get better. That's why we come out here: to give our Marines the chance to wrestle world-class competition, and to get the experience they need to succeed on an international level."
Hicks said the Marines have been competing in the annual Vantaa Cup Wrestling Tournament for more than 10 years, adding that the timing of the tournament provides a good chance for his team to prepare for the busy part of the year-round wrestling season.
"The experience you get at a tournament like Vantaa is experience that's really hard to find back in the States," said Sgt. David Arendt Jr., All Marine Wrestler at 265-pounds and Port Washington, Wis., native. "Some of these guys are the best in the world, and the only way to improve is to come to places like this and test yourself."
During the tournament, Arendt was able to defeat his first opponent, an Estonian wrestler, in two rounds. He lost a close fight to a high-ranking Russian wrestler after three rounds in his second match. But by defeating a Finnish wrestler in his fourth match, Arendt made it to the finals round to wrestle for third place in the 265-pound weight class. In his last match, Arendt gave it his all, but came up short of time and points, loosing to a Ukrainian, but walking away with fifth place overall.
"[Wrestling for the All Marine Team] is always a challenge," Arendt said. "But when you know that you are not just wrestling for yourself, but also representing America and the Corps, it really reinforces what an honor and privilege I have with these opportunities."
The other All Marine Wrestler who competed, Sgt. Donovan DePatto, drew a tough opponent in the first round of the 132-pound weight class. However, due to the international format of the tournament, he wasn't able to wrestle again after losing to a Ukrainian in his first match.
The tournament utilized the pull-through bracket format, where wrestlers only advance through the bracket if they win or if the opponent they first lose to ends up winning the rest of his matches. Depending on how many individuals are competing, this means some wrestlers only compete once and others may have up to five matches in a single tournament.
Although DePatto wasn't able to advance to the medal round, he said competitive wrestling takes mental toughness to push through disappointments and the exacting, physical toll wrestling takes on the body.
After this, his 11th major tournament this year, he said good wrestlers need to be able to roll with the punches in this demanding sport.
"The physical aspect of it is brutal," DePatto said. "Your body is never fully rested, you have to train through injuries and, of course, there's cutting weight to deal with. It's definitely not for everybody."
From here, the All Marine wrestlers will travel 450 miles north into Sweden to compete at the Haparanda Cup where, again, they will test their skills against some of the world's best Greco-Roman grapplers.
After that, Hicks said he will set off on a mini-recruiting tour, traveling to Marine bases and stations in Japan and Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii to speak to Marines interested in trying out for the team during the trials in February.
Hicks will be at Camp Kinser, Marine Corps Base S.D. Butler on Dec. 12-15, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan on Dec. 16-17, and in Hawaii on Dec. 18-20. He said the team is looking for Marines with wrestling experience in any sanctioned style and who have the commitment and dedication needed to earn the All Marine title.
"There are opportunities available for Marines who have what it takes to advance in this sport," Hicks said. "Right now our roster is at nine Marines, but we are looking to increase that number and fill up the team."
Hicks said while wrestling skill and experience is important, he encourages Marines, who are willing to make the commitments and sacrifices necessary, to tryout for the team.
"We are trying to get our team back to the glory days of the '80s," Hicks said referring to the period when the All Marine Wrestling Team won seven national championship tournaments in a row and placed three Marines on America's World Cup Team. "That's our goal, and to do that we need every Marine who's a good wrestler to get in our system."
Hicks said that Marines interested in trying out should start the process by talking to the athletic director at their base or station, and file the application paperwork through their unit. Chapter three of Marine Corps Order P1700.29 has more information about the All Marine Sports Program.
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