After taking fifth place at the FILA Junior World Championships in 2011 at 55 kg/121 pounds, Mark Grey wasn’t able to vie for a spot on the United States squad a year ago. His graduation from Blair Academy fell on the same weekend as the World Team Trials.
However, at the end of June, the Cornell freshman had another opportunity to make his way back to the World Championships — and he took full advantage. A month after placing fourth in a loaded 60 kg/132 pound field at the FILA Juniors, Grey navigated a similarly brutal bracket to earn his second appearance on the World Team. Along the way, he topped a former World Team member, defeated a wrestler he considers to be family and avenged a loss from earlier in the spring. He will compete for the Red, White and Blue in Sofia, Bulgaria on August 17.
New York Wrestling News caught up with Grey as he prepared for the trip abroad.
New York Wrestling News (NYWN): What was the experience like in 2011 when you wrestled in the World Championships in Romania?
Mark Grey (MG): It was an awesome experience. It didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to because I didn’t go there to get fifth place. But I learned a lot from that one.
NYWN: What were some of the things you took away?
MG: The experience from being there at the Worlds was huge. I remember before my first match, how super nervous I was. Now, I’ve been there. I know what to expect. The Europeans go out and wrestle really loose. That’s what I plan to do. Just go out there relaxed. Keep moving my feet, get to my inside ties, start taking those shots.
NYWN: What’s next in your preparation?
MG: We have training camp in Cleveland. Then we fly to Sofia the 15th, I weigh in on the 16th and wrestle the 17th. So it’s right into wrestling. Last time, we went to Romania a week before and trained for four or five days and got acclimated to everything. This time, we get there and I get going right away.
NYWN: In order to make the World Team, you had to go through a difficult draw. What was your preparation like?
MG: It was a lot different from last time. I trained at Cornell, for about four weeks, mostly with my brother [Mike Grey, Cornell assistant coach]. We worked on getting technique down and getting my body where it needed be. I also spent time wrestling with Frankie Perrelli a couple times a week and got my cardio workouts in and wrestled live. I was really ready for the [Junior World Team Trials]. I was pretty confident coming in and I was actually happy that I didn’t get a bye to the finals because when that happens, you’re not ready to go right away and you sometimes get off to a slow start.
NYWN: At the Junior World Team Trials you started with 2012 World Team member Earl Hall [an 8-3 win], then beat your former Blair teammate Joey McKenna (who took third). Talk a little bit about those matches.
MG: I never wrestled Hall before. Last year he won the Trials. The match against [McKenna] was a little weird for me because he’s like my little brother and we know each other really well. I was really cautious. It was different than my other matches because I didn’t open up and I wasn’t dominant as I should have been. It was tough.
NYWN: In the finals, you faced Illinois redshirt freshman Zane Richards, who defeated you in straight periods at the FILA Juniors in the bronze medal match. What was different this time?
MG: The week or two before the tournament, Mike [Grey] really worked with me on beating him to the inside tie. At FILA Juniors, he completely killed me by beating me to the inside tie, pulling and wearing me down. This time, I got there and by the end of the periods, I was able to get my shots off. I was able to score late in both matches to win. It was a great game plan by my brother. On my feet, I kept focusing on moving, going for the full six minutes and leaving it all on the mat.
NYWN: You mentioned going the full six minutes. Do you like the new freestyle rules? Do you feel like they benefit you?
MG: I love the new rules. Conditioning is a factor now. And I like the cumulative scoring. In the past, you basically had a two-minute sprint. Now, you can slowly wear guys down. Even if you give up some takedowns, if you keep going after guys, wearing them down, shots start to open up.
NYWN: After you get back from Romania, it will be back to folkstyle. You spent the last year training with the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club (FLWC) and competing in open tournaments. What did you get out of the experience?
MG: It was a really good year. I grew a lot as a wrestler and I also was able to learn a lot about Cornell and the team so I’ll be ready for this year as a freshman. I think the things I most improved on were the mental aspects and definitely bottom. Bottom wrestling was a really hard transition at first, but I learned a lot and got a lot better there throughout the year. Wrestling with Frankie Perrelli helped me a lot too.
NYWN: You won titles at the National Collegiate Open, Mat Town Open and Edinboro Open and also placed at the Southern Scuffle, Binghamton Open and Buffalo Invitational. What would you consider to be your biggest win?
MG: I would say beating [All-American] Ryan Mango in the finals of the National Collegiate Open (NCO). I went in with some good momentum, right after beating [Lehigh’s Mason] Beckman in the semis. That win lit a fire under me and I just had a lot of fun against Mango, winning in overtime. I had some good matches with Beckman too. We wrestled three times. He won the first time at the Binghamton Open but then I beat him at Edinboro and the NCO. He also beat me in high school. It’s a good rivalry.
NYWN: You weren’t the only incoming freshman to have a successful year with the FLWC. Do you expect the incoming freshmen to be big contributors for the Big Red this year? What are your expectations for the team?
MG: I think we’ll surprise people this year. People may think we’re pretty young and inexperienced, but it’s going to be good from the start. I expect us to wrestle like we’ve been there before. We have a good mix of freshmen coming in and veteran guys. I’m excited to have great wrestlers like Nahshon [Garrett] and [Mike] Nevinger around me in the lineup. I think we’ll get some huge points rolling right off the bat. The future is very bright. I think the sky’s the limit and I believe we will win a team national title in the next few years.
NYWN: Anything else?
MG: I’m ready to go get that gold. That’s what I’m going to Bulgaria for – gold and nothing else.