LINCOLN, Neb. — The crowd here inside the Bob Devaney Sports Center was significantly smaller than what Thomas Gilman is accustomed to. An announced 2,916 were on hand for to watch one-third of the United States’ Senior freestyle world team come together.
But for Gilman, the noise sounded a little bit like home.
“You heard those fans out there when I was running out,” the Council Bluffs native said. “It sounded like Carver-Hawkeye Arena — no disrespect to Carver, but it was pretty loud out there.”
Gilman gave the fans plenty to cheer about. He swept Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix, two matches to none, at the inaugural Final X competition to qualify for his second straight men’s freestyle world team. He will represent the United States at 57 kilograms (roughly 125 pounds) at the 2018 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in October.
There, Gilman will look to follow-up his sterling performance last year, where he outscored his opponents 25-7 to reach the world finals. He ended up second, which automatically qualified him for Final X, the third leg of the 2018 world team trials process that USA Wrestling created to help build excitement around the men’s freestyle world team’s 2017 world team title.
As such, Gilman sat and waited while others navigated both the U.S. Open and world team trials challenge tournament in order to get a crack at him. Fix, the Cowboys’ star freshman phenom, emerged to take on Gilman after beating another former Hawkeye, Tony Ramos, at the challenge tournament in Rochester, Minnesota, last month.
The whole thing made Gilman feel a tad anxious.
“I had a little more anxiety,” he said. “I knew I was going to be here, but I had to wait for this event and see who I was going to have. I thought I might feel better once I knew my opponent, but I didn’t. My coaches did. Mark Perry did, because he’s a nut. He studies.
“He said, ‘He’s got this, this and this. Stay out of that, and you’ll win.’ So I did. I didn’t get slid by. I didn’t get inside tripped. I didn’t get into the trap-arm gut. Those were the three things he had. I stayed out of those and I won. Mark Perry is a smart guy.”
Indeed, Fix stormed into Final X with an explosive offensive ability. At the challenge tournament last month, he outscored his five opponents a combined 47-8. He employs a mean inside trip and a trap-arm gut wrench that allows him to score points in bunches.
All of that evaporated once he set foot on the staged mat against Gilman on Saturday night.
Gilman muscled out a 6-3 victory in the opening match. He scored a quick low-angled double-leg takedown, but Fix countered for an exposure to lead 3-2 after the first period. In the second, Gilman scored on a passivity call, a push-out point and another takedown to win.
The second match, Gilman continued to stifle Fix, winning 2-1 thanks to some heavy hits, strong hand-fighting and two push-out points. He clapped his hands and pointed to the Devaney crowd afterward. He had limited Fix to just four points in two matches.
“It was positioning, pressure, pace and just being aware of my opponent,” Gilman said. “He scores in bushels — not twos and threes, but fours and eights. I was aware of the inside trip, slide-by. I felt the trap-arm gut.
“But I’m a strong man. I’m a man. There’s no way he was going to score bushels of points on a man like me. That’s no disrespect to him. He’s a phenomenal athlete and a good wrestler.”
All of it helped Gilman continue the tradition of former Hawkeye wrestlers manning the lightweight spot on the world team — Ramos qualified in both 2014 and 2015, followed by Dan Dennis in 2016, then Gilman a year ago.
Only Gilman found international success, and immediately after sweeping Fix on Saturday, he was ready for more.
“Super-motivated,” Gilman said. “I got things on track. My life is on track. My health is on track. Everything is on track. We have a long time to prepare. I’m ready to go to some of these seeding tournaments and beat some guys I haven’t beaten yet.
“I’m ready to make a run for the world championship — and not just a run, but to win the damn thing.”
HWC’s Ragan makes sixth world team: Gilman wasn’t the only Hawkeye Wrestling Club member to wrestle — and win — on Saturday in Lincoln. Alli Ragan swept her best-of-three final to win the women’s freestyle world team spot at 59 kilograms.
Ragan swept Jenna Burkert, winning by scores of 4-0 and 5-0. In doing so, the Carbondale, Illinois, native made her sixth straight world team, and will look to improve on her back-to-back silver medal performances from 2016 and 2017.
“Getting those two medals lately is just proof that you have to keep building and building until that big one comes,” Ragan said. “Hopefully it’s this year.”
Former Cyclone Gadson falls to Snyder (again): Kyven Gadson was also in action, but fell, two matches to none, to former Ohio State star Kyle Snyder. Snyder, a three-time world and Olympic champion, beat Gadson by scores of 9-0 and 10-2 at 97 kilograms.
“I have to do a better job of moving my hands and moving my feet,” Gadson said. “That’s something I’ve been working on since last time. I think I gave up maybe one push-out. Last year, that was a big part of the matches.
“I felt like I did a better on certain things, but I still need to do a better job on other things.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
Final X Lincoln
Women’s Freestyle, 59 kilograms (130 pounds)
- Round One: Alli Ragan (HWC) over Jenna Burkert (U.S. Army WCAP), 4-0
- Round Two: Ragan over Burkert, 5-0
Men’s Freestyle, 57 kilograms (125 pounds)
- Round One: Thomas Gilman (HWC) over Daton Fix (TMWC), 6-3
- Round Two: Gilman over Fix, 2-1
Men’s Freestyle, 97 kilograms (213 pounds)
- Round One: Kyle Snyder (Ohio RTC) over Kyven Gadson (Cyclone RTC), 9-0
- Round Two: Snyder over Gadson, 10-2
- 55 kilograms (121 pounds): Jacarra Winchester (TMWC)
- 68 kilograms (150 pounds): Tamyra Stock (TMWC)
- 70 kilograms (154 pounds): James Green (Nebraska WTC)
- 74 kilograms (163 pounds): Jordan Burroughs (Sunkist Kids)