For Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer, it was time to take flight.
Trailing by a point with under 15 seconds to go in the NHSCA 138-pound Junior Nationals title bout on Saturday, the Cheektowoga junior knew he’d have to try something different as his previous offensive attempts had been thwarted by his opponent, Maryland’s Alfred Bannister.
“He was pretty low and I couldn’t get to a shot,” Rodriguez-Spencer said. “The obvious option was to go over the top. Once I decided to do it, I knew I had to hit it hard and do it strong.”
That’s what he did, using the “Flying Squirrel” to earn the winning takedown and a 4-3 victory over Bannister, a champion at this event the past two years and Intermat’s #14 ranked recruit in the Class of 2014. See it here.
The triumph made him a national champion at an event he hadn’t attended in the past. In fact, Rodriguez-Spencer, who enjoys wrestling the international styles in the offseason, wasn’t really considering attending the NHSCA event until his high school coaches persuaded him to do so.
“I initially wasn’t planning to go,” he said. “I was going to get ready for the freestyle season, but my coach thought I could be a national champion and talked me into it. I’m glad I went, it was a good tournament overall and a good time.”
He certainly made the most of the trip, even playing some golf at a driving range in Virginia Beach.
But when it came time for competition, Rodriguez-Spencer was all business at 138 pounds (up from 132, where he was the 2013 Division II New York State Champion).
He majored his first two opponents and then doubled up fellow New Yorker Matt Caputo, 6-3. The Section 6 wrestler then showed his offensive explosiveness again in a 11-3 quarterfinal victory and in his 13-8 semis win over Brock Wingbermuehle, leading him to the title bout where he would win in dramatic fashion with the Flying Squirrel.
It wasn’t the first time he used the maneuver famously utilized by Greco star Ellis Coleman.
“I sometimes do it in practice and I think it did it twice during the year,” he said. “I know it’s there if I need it. It’s one of those moves that no one expects and I know it works.”
Those in attendance certainly appreciated it.
“I normally don’t hear much when I wrestle,” he said. “But I heard the crowd a little bit when I hit the move. And then once I got my hand raised, it was pretty loud.”
Beating an accomplished foe like Bannister and adding a new trophy to his collection made it a great weekend for Rodriguez-Spencer, but he said on Sunday that he already moved on.
“It’s nice to beat good opponents, but it doesn’t change much for me,” he said. “I went there to win and now it’s time to get back to practice to win more national tournaments.”
Next on the schedule: the FILA Juniors, a freestyle and Greco event in which Rodriguez-Spencer has been successful in the past.
“My goals now are of course to win FILA Juniors in Las Vegas, make a World Team and finally win a Fargo national championship this summer,” he said.
He has placed at Fargo before, including a bronze showing in Greco in 2012.
But he emphasized that it’s time for him to take gold in North Dakota. Who knows, he could get to the top of the podium by going over the top of his opponents again, Flying Squirrel style.