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Pittsburgh RTC Looks to Expand

Pittsburgh RTC Looks to Expand

The Pittsburgh Regional Training Center is up and running and looking to expand. Designated by USA Wrestling as an RTC in 2016, it is just that: a center where World and Olympic hopeful athletes can train to meet their extra-curricular wrestling goals, assuming they meet the requirements. Meant to be an elite level practice, there are certain qualifications an athlete must meet in order to participate in any RTC.

As the funding of many collegiate wrestling programs increases, the popularity of RTCs is exploding across the country. Many even have a “Head Coach” designated solely to the training center. For instance, Eric Guerrero leads the one at Oklahoma, Andy Hrovat at Michigan, Kenny Monday at North Carolina. While Pitt has not been able to hire a full time RTC coach yet, they do have an outstanding freestyle coach on staff.

Keith Gavin competing at the US Open in 2014. Courtesy of PA Power Wrestling

“Keith [Gavin] is so knowledgeable about all aspects of wrestling,” Conor Youtsey explained. “The better the RTC, the better the [college] program.” Youtsey, a two time All American for the Michigan Wolverines is the volunteer assistant coach at Pitt and leads the Pittsburgh Wrestling Club (PWC). Not to be confused with the RTC, the PWC is a place where all youth and high school wrestlers can get extra work during the off season and on the weekends, without having to meet the RTC requirements. The PWC was founded in 1996, while the RTC is in just its second year.

In addition to Head coach Gavin’s experience on the international stage, assistant coach Drew Headlee has some notable accomplishments of his own. Having competed in eight countries around the world, Headlee has notched four top 7 finishes at the US Open, a silver at the Pan American Games and 2009 NYAC International, as well as winning the Olympic Trials Qualifying Tournament in 2012, taking out three All Americans in the process.

One of the biggest benefits an RTC has to a collegiate program is providing senior level practice partners for the NCAA athletes. There are ten weight classes in senior level competition, relatively similar to the ten in college wrestling. As the Pittsburgh RTC looks to expand, having a “resident athlete” at each weight class is the goal. So far they have two, and are close to getting a third.

From One Side of the World to the Other

How many people in Pittsburgh can point to Kyrgyzstan on a map? How many people in Kyrgyzstan can do the same for Pittsburgh? One man has found his way from the farthest corner of the earth, and he trains at the Pittsburgh RTC.

Samat Nadyrbek Uulu is a 57 kilogram freestyle wrestler who trains in the same room as the University of Pittsburgh Wrestling team. But he does not partake in NCAA competitions. Rather, Samat competes in senior level international freestyle wrestling, the most common path taken by successful collegiate wrestlers post-grad. So far this season he has won the Dave Schultz Memorial Open and the Bill Farrell Memorial Open. He is 7-0 and has outscored his opponents 76-15. Ranked as high as 5th in the world in 2013, he is an incredible asset for Pitt’s lightweights.

Samat first came to the United States in 2015 for the World Championships which were held in Las Vegas. He competed for his home country and went 0-1, losing to Cuban Yowyls Bonne Rodriguez. Up until last year, all international tournaments were randomly drawn, and drawing “YBR” in the first round was unlucky to say the least for Samat. The Cuban is incredibly explosive and athletic, often wowing fans while hitting the ‘big move’.

Now training in the US on a five year sport visa, Samat will be representing KGZ in both the Asian Championships and World Championships later this year.

“Samat is world class with a ton of experience. He has been runner up in the Asian championships twice, dominated the Schultz and Bill Farrell tournaments this year, and will wrestle in the Asian games this summer,” praised Gavin. “He’s committed to mastering his craft and has a deep passion for this sport. We are grateful to have him here as an example for our athletes.”

Jon Gingrich is the other full time resident athlete at the Pittsburgh RTC. He placed second at Dave Schultz defeating a Russian in the first round and a Korean in the semis before succumbing to freestyle stalwart Dom Bradley in the finals.

Jon wrestled collegiately for Penn State. Though never earning All American status, Jon was a two time NCAA qualifier, and notched many high level wins for the Nittany Lions. Primarily working with the 197 pounders and heavyweights, Jon is another significant addition to the Pitt room, albeit with the other side of the lineup.

“Jon is just starting his freestyle career and got off to a fast start with a silver medal at the Schultz. He is a big athletic heavyweight with a great work ethic. Finding heavyweight training partners can be difficult so we are very fortunate to have a guy like Jon with us.” Needless to say, Gavin is pleased with the positive attributes these two competitors bring to the fold.

While the potential third athlete remains anonymous for the time being, one can be assured he is an extremely talented and accomplished wrestler with strong connections to the area. His addition to the Pittsburgh RTC will be invaluable.

Recruiting Tool

Many of the top high school wrestlers are now selecting their college with at least paying some respect to that program’s RTC. With their eyes on Olympic medals, the nation’s top prospects are asking questions about their potential training partners and the coaches’ freestyle accolades.

“Big time,” Youtsey responded when asked if any of Pitt’s recruits were inquiring about the RTC. They want to stay at the same school after their college career is over, and be assured, Pitt is touting Gavin’s prowess in this area of wrestling, as well as the opportunity to train with someone as good as Samat and Jon.

Jon (L) and Samat (R) after an RTC practice.

Not only does physically working out with the “next level” guys help a college wrestler, but seeing their mental preparation and discipline can have positive carryover as well. Conor had nothing but glowing remarks regarding Samat and Jon’s attitude and dedication. He mentioned their overall “lifestyle” and “mental toughness” as something any NCAA athlete could benefit from being around. Especially Samat, who came from a very poor country, the word most commonly used to describe how he carries himself was, “gratitude.”

Freestyle Training = Folkstyle Training

One of the biggest positives for the Pitt program so far this summer has been the “buy in” from the team. As Youtsey described, every member of the roster that is eligible to train at the RTC has been there every single day.

A traditional fan may question how training freestyle can improve one’s folkstyle wrestling. The answer is simple: “wrestling is wrestling.” Specifically, it helps with “better positioning” and “clean finishes.” This is due to the exposure rule in freestyle which prevents wrestlers from scrambling to prevent a takedown. It forces the offensive wrestler to finish as quickly and as efficiently as possible. In folkstyle, where a wrestler can dive to a leg or roll under, getting your opponent to the mat as fast as possible is paramount. Additionally, training freestyle provides more “time on the mat.” And after all, that is the most important thing.

Future Efforts

In order for the Pittsburgh RTC to have a resident athlete at all ten weight classes and a full time coach on staff, the ultimate goal, they are going to need money. A lot of money. The approximate cost to add another athlete is $25,000 per year, but that can vary significantly based on health insurance and whether another club sponsors him. For example, Titan Mercury Wrestling Club and the New York Athletic Club, among others, can co-sponsor senior athletes to reduce the burden on the RTC. Furthermore, a more accomplished athlete will demand higher compensation.

The biggest fundraising events right now are the golf outing, casino night, and the summer camps. The golf outing and casino night are uniquely important as they allow donors, fans, and alumni the opportunity to meet and talk with the coaching staff, building a strong support group. While all three of these have been highly successful in the past, more funds need to be raised to support the costs of the RTC.

The summer camps are one area that may prove lucrative in this venture. Schools like Edinboro, Ohio State, and Minnesota have extensive camps throughout the summer, delivering vast sums of money. Not only could this be an area Pitt can capitalize on, but it also gives a chance for potential recruits to work with the resident athletes. Camps often feature “guest” or “special” clinicians. Who better than the best in the world?

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