America's Best Cadet Freestyle Team Ever

Gerhard Remus David Carr

We just wrapped up the 2016 UWW Cadet World Championships, and the men's freestyle team that competed in Tbilisi, Georgia, is the best we've ever seen.

Every bit of hype piled on this squad before they left was well deserved. People will be looking back on this team for years to come as either the standard-bearer, or the team that pushed the U.S. toward a run of international dominance. Let's take a look at what made this particular group so special, starting with a bit of history to put things into context.

The first cadet world championships were held in 1975 in Santo Domingo, Mexico. It was nothing like we know it today as only 13 nations -- mostly Pan-Am countries, plus a few Euros and Japan -- competed.

Gable Steveson bullies the bully to go back-to-back 


They were held sporadically until 1989, when FILA began an uninterrupted, 11-year run of cadet world championships. The event was discontinued after 1999, though that was the first time we saw the current 10 weights still in use today.

Given the difference in both the number of weights, the weights themselves, and power countries missing and wonky double-entry rules, we are throwing out the pre-2011 reinstatement Cadet Worlds for this review.

To start, Team USA scored the most team points ever in the nation's history in the new era. Their 67-point total this year is more than the combined total of the 2012 and 2013 teams, as well as 12 more than last year's 55 in Sarajevo. That means this year's team was more than one whole person better, as a wrestler can only max out at 10 team points scored.

As for team finish, it is also the highest since Cadet Worlds was re-instated. Both the 2014 and 2015 teams ended up third, while this year was second. Additionally, Team USA was only two points behind champions Russia -- the closest the U.S. has ever come to winning the title since 1989 in Warrensburg, Missouri. That was the last time Team USA won the team trophy, but neither Iran nor the USSR were there, and we double-entered in many weights.

Yianni becomes the first two-time Cadet world champ for America


Let's take a look at medals now. The boys in red, white and blue have had at least one world champion every year since 2011, with three champions apiece the past three years. That 2014 team in Slovakia had four medalists and five guys wrestled for medals. In Sarajevo a year ago, we put six in medal matches, with five medals. This year's medal haul was seven, which tied them with Russia for first in total medals. Never before have we tied the team that led in total medals.

In terms of matches won and guys who scored points, this team is tied with 2011's. That first year, nine of our 10 wrestlers won matches, and those same guys all scored team points. The same happened this year, but the difference is Team USA won seven medals this year, as opposed to the five they wrestled for in Hungary.

That number has increased every year since 2013, when we five guys won matches and four scored team points. Those numbers went up to seven won with six scored in 2014, and eight won to seven scoring last year. When your whole team is contributing, that means the team title is in sight.

It shouldn't be a surprise that this year's team won more medals than we even had wrestling for medals last time around. There has been a marked increase in the importance of Akron over the past few years in terms of increased media attention, FloWrestling streaming the event and college coaches valuing it for recruiting purposes, not to mention the emphasis USA Wrestling has put on building its age-level pipeline and the importance they put on not only making the cadet world team, but winning world medals. 

After Junior Worlds ended two weeks ago, the case was made that it was the best contingent of athletes that Team USA ever assembled for that event. We are in the midst of a shift toward freestyle success in America, starting at the developmental level. America is building a pipeline of athletes who are used to competing overseas, wrestling foreigners, and being away from home.

Kurt McHenry refuses to lose against Azerbaijan:


The hope is this will ultimately lead to long-term success at the senior level, a sustainable train of team titles and world medalists. We've already seen Kyle Snyder graduate from junior world medalist to Olympic champion. This year, we saw 2012 cadet world-teamer Zain Retherford make the senior world team ladder after getting third at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

The future is now for America. We are witnessing a transformation of how international wrestling is perceived in America, and it's only going to get better. Watch out, Russia. Team USA is coming for that No. 1 spot.

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