The summer exploits of Delta wrestling phenom Jake Spiess have taken him halfway around the world.
Spiess, who will be a junior this fall, earned a spot at an international tournament in Slovakia last week. Spiess has competed against elite competition at state powerhouse Delta. Spiess captured a state title as a freshman and has helped lead the Panthers to back-to-back team state championships.
But nothing compared to his experience at the FILA Cadet World Championships in Snina, Slovakia.
“It was great knowing that I was one of the best in the country,” Spiess said. “It opened my eyes a ton to see the talent from all the other countries.”
Spiess was just one of 10 young wrestlers to earn the right to represent the United States.
“I wore my U.S.A. jacket everywhere we went,” he said. “Everyone was really cool there, and they were friendly.”
Spiess won the U.S. FILA Cadet Greco-Roman Nationals in Akron in late May. Competing in the 119-pound weight class, Spiess went undefeated while sparring against competitors from across the country.
Delta coach Anthony Carrizales said the Cadet Nationals feature only the best 15 to 17-year-old wrestlers.
“The competition there was just crazy good,” Carrizales said. “That tournament is the real deal.”
Spiess earned an invitation to USA Wrestling’s training facilities in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“It was the toughest kids from every state. It was very brutal,” Spiess said.
He spent a week training with former U.S. Olympians.
“It’s the Olympic training center, and it’s the best coaching in the country,” Carrizales said. “And Jake is like a sponge. He has the ability to be able to soak up technique and good coaching.”
Spiess has focused on honing his skills in the Greco-Roman style this summer. Greco-Roman wrestling emphasizes the upper body with points scored on throws.
“You can’t use anything from your waist down,” Spiess said. “It’s more throwing. You have to be in good position and use your angles.
“It’s a lot different than high school wrestling.”
Spiess took third place at the Division III state meet in March to help Delta win the team title. In high school, such throws are illegal, and the emphasis is on shooting for points.
“This gives me more freedom,” Spiess said. “It’s pretty crazy. You can pick them up and throw them. It’s super difficult. I love throwing, and I’m trying to get really good at it. I like to be a little flashy.”
Trip of a lifetime
The 12-hour flight to Slovakia was split into three trips, Spiess said. After landing in the central European country, it took a six-hour bus ride to get to the venue.
The first order of business was to exchange his U.S. dollars for euros.
“Everything is way cheaper there,” Spiess said. “The clothes were really cheap. I got a few T-shirts and things to remember the trip.”
But Spiess said he had trouble finding his favorite beverage for sale.
“Only one place sold Gatorade,” he said. “And we had to go to one place special for water.”
Almost no one spoke English. “It was crazy. We just used hand gestures,” he said. “If we didn’t understand, we just kept walking.”
The group of young Americans spent five days in Slovakia. Spiess said he had a terrific view of mountains from his hotel room.
“We had some free time,” he said. “We checked out the stores and shops, and they were different.”
Spiess said the food was “not very good” overall.
“But the desserts were really good. I ate a lot,” he said. “I don’t know the names of them. But, man, it was good.”
The cutthroat international event featured a win-or-go-home format.
Spiess drew wrestler Davit Makoidze of the eastern European country of Georgia to begin his tournament in the 54-kilogram weight class (119 pounds).
“I wasn’t very nervous, and I was well-prepared,” Spiess said.
He said his opponent was short, stocky, and was hard to wrestle.
“It was a pretty close match,” Spiess said. “It was a two-point match near the end, and I tried something.”
Spiess lost 4-1.
“They are super crazy about the sport over there,” Spiess said. “There were noisemakers, and people were just screaming the whole time.”
Spiess said he was very down after the match.
“But then I saw all of my teammates fall off,” he said. “Only a few kids won. No one even medaled. It was really difficult. But it set in that it was a great experience, and that it will only help you out in the long run.”
Just days after his return flight, Spiess piled into a car with Delta teammates Drew Mattin and Ross Rayfield to drive 13 hours to a tournament in Fargo, N.D. Spiess, who wrestled up a weight class, finished sixth on Tuesday.
“There are a lot of things a 16-year-old could be doing instead of spending summer indoors in wrestling rooms, cutting weight, and working out,” Carrizales said. “But he’s doing the things he needs to do. It’s a lot of fun for him.”
In the short term, Carrizales said Spiess should earn a scholarship to a Division I college. He also said in the long term, Spiess could be an Olympian.
“He’s just a good wrestler,” Carrizales said. “He’s becoming more well-rounded. This sets him up for the future.”
He wrestles year round.
“I love summer wrestling to just try to get better and better,” Spiess said. “I’ve been wrestling two months straight. I’ve only been home two or three days. But I get to travel and meet new people. And it will help me reach my goal [of being an Olympian].”