After wrestling up a weight class for the entirety of his freshman high school season, Seaforth’s Gabe Rogers only needed to travel 4,500 miles to finally find some even competition.
Last week, Rogers traveled with USA Wrestling to compete in the Tallinn Open — the largest wrestling competition annually held in Europe — in Talinn, Estonia. Competing against some of the top youth grapplers from around the world, the Seaforth freshman captured a silver medal in the U15 Greco-Roman competition at 44kg (97 lbs) and a third-place finish in the freestyle event. All told, USA wrestlers took home 54 total medals, including 20 golds, at the Tallinn Open.
Making his first-ever trip abroad, Rogers said it took him some time to adjust in Europe.
“It was a lot different over there. There were different building structures, people weren’t the same ...” he said. “They wrestle a little bit differently, too. In America, we’re more focused on having good conditioning. In Europe, they’re slower, but more technical. And if they get a lead, they’re probably going to stall it out. They don’t care how much they win by. They just want to win.”
Rogers was able to enjoy some familiar comforts while competing, though. In a region where the main cuisine is considered “substantial, rich and robust,” Rogers and many of his American teammates found comfort wolfing down burgers and fries at Hesburger, a fast food chain which originated in Finland and has restaurants in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Germany.
After the initial adjustment period, Rogers found his rhythm on the mat, too. During his time in Estonia, the freshman competed and trained with wrestlers from all over Northern Europe. The clash of styles allowed Rogers to pick up new tricks and try out new strategies he hopes will help him in the future.
“I definitely learned some new things,” Rogers said. “I was able to be more patient with my setups and shots, so I’m able to get to better shots and finish quicker. The guys over there are very good, if you don’t finish quick enough, at exposing your back for two points. I had to learn how to finish quicker but also be patient.”
Rogers’ performance at the Tallinn Open last week was the continuation of a wildly successful few months for the Seaforth freshman. In his first season of high school wrestling this winter, he made it all the way to the finals of the 2A individual championships at 106 pounds and ultimately captured a silver medal.
Hawks’ head coach Ryan Armstrong said it took a lot of physical and mental strength for Rogers to compete at a heavier weight.
“He was wrestling kids six or seven pounds heavier at some points, and to watch him adjust his wrestling style to counteract the weight advantage these other kids had was significant,” Armstrong said. “It was huge for us to watch him compete at that high level to make it all the way to the state finals and still compete and do well.”
Rogers said he was admittedly unhappy after his runner-up finish at the state championships. But this most recent opportunity in Estonia offered him a renewed sense of confidence as he continues his amateur career.
“I felt a little disappointed after my performance at states, so going to this tournament and performing well against some of the best kids in the world was a lot better,” Rogers said. “I think it made a big difference, just being able to wrestle in the right weight class.”
NCHSAA-sanctioned wrestling events do not feature a weight class smaller than 106 pounds, meaning Rogers will continue to wrestle up as long as he remains his current size.
Regardless of where Rogers lines up or who he faces, though, Armstrong has the utmost confidence the freshman will be one of the top grapplers in the state by the time his high school career comes to a close.
“I think Gabe is going to be a three-time state champion,” Armstrong said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. He’s a unique kid. He sets his goals and he’s passionate about his goals. Every day, he’s constantly reevaluating what he can do differently to get the most impact out of what he’s looking to get after.”
Sports Editor Jeremy Vernon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jbo_vernon.