By Steve Elwood
Recently I was at a charity golf event for the Minnesota Gopher wrestling team. One of my co-hackers asked who gets the hex put on them as my choice to follow through Fargo? It brought plenty of laughs and a few groans as we rattled through the names that have been hit by the Elwood curse.
Here’s the list: Brandon Kingsley, Jake Short, Tommy Thorn, Fredy Stroker, Griffin Parriott, Alex Lloyd.
Not once did any of these guys make it to the big stage (the finals) during the week I was with them. All but one either wrestled for the championship or won it in other years. But never under my watch. When I told the foursome Peyton Robb was willing to give it a shot, one member replied: “If Seth Gross isn’t the first NCAA champion from SDSU, I think it will be Robb.”
Peyton Robb has been talked about in Minnesota wrestling for a long time. I heard about him long before he joined the Owatonna Huskies. He made plenty of noise with his success as a schoolboy. He was picked as the next big thing before he hit middle school. I first came across him at the prestigious Super 32 Tournament in North Carolina. He finished second in the middle school division but wasn’t able to place later in the high school division. When he cracked the lineup in high school, he has qualified for the state tournament four straight years. He’s a two-time champion and only his best friend and future Roommate, Alex Lloyd has stopped him from his third. Those two battled twice last season splitting the results. Robb took the first match at the prestigious Minnesota Holiday Tournament (4-3). Lloyd got revenge and captured the state title a few months later. These were the two best matches of the high school season in Minnesota.
The Fargo tournament directors made the peculiar decision to change the format and have the Freestyle event lead off the week. Greco would follow. The Minnesota Storm team arrived with plenty to brag about. They recently won the national freestyle dual tournament. They were well balanced through the lineup but only received one #1 seed (Jake Allar-160) in this individual tournament. Peyton Robb has had a great run this Summer winning both styles at Northern Plains and recently was the Pan American Champion. He hadn’t been scored on in six straight matches (59-0). In spite of this, he was given the #5 seed at 152 pounds.
Peyton Robb (Minnesota) v Jon McGowan (Oklahoma). McGowan is not nationality ranked but comes in as a fourth place finisher in the Oklahoma state tournament. Both wrestlers shake hands, and within seconds Robb is in on a single leg and gets a quick takedown. He reached his arms around McGowan’s waist and while trapping one arm, twirls to his side once, twice, three times, and a fourth. Each of these turns is worth two points, and the match is over (10-0 tech fall) in 43 seconds. The point streak continues to 69-0
Meanwhile, we learn Alex Lloyd somehow wasn’t awarded a top-8 seed at 145 pounds. That’s crazy considering his credentials and overall national ranking. It’s hard to completely capture the friendship between the Lloyds and Robbs. The families have traveled all over the country together competing at all levels. Both dads are the other’s biggest cheerleader. When Peyton won in the last 30 seconds of the Christmas Tournament, the first person to congratulate and hug Tracey Robb was Bill Lloyd.
Peyton Robb (Minnesota) v David Landenburg (Washington) – ROUND OF 64. This opponent finished sixth in his region in the state of Washington. Again, at the whistle, Robb dives at Landenburg’s legs and quickly secures a takedown (2-0). Within a few seconds, Robb has the arm trapped again and rolls his opponent four quick and easy times. The final score is 10-0. It was over in 41 seconds. The point streak has reached 79-0.
The Robb family lives in the small town of Medford. Tracey and Carrie have a simple approach to raising their five kids. Work hard, study hard, play hard, pray, be respectful, and love one another. The oldest Hannah is 19 and competes on the women’s volleyball team at River Falls, WI. Then come the four boys: Peyton, Kade, Cael, and Gabe. Between all the kids competing in sports, Tracey and Carrie are often going in different directions. This week in Fargo they had a rare week together watching Peyton. Many people have teased Tracey over the years. And this week he heard this: “Oh, so you really have a wife!” The Robb’s are a little unusual in that they don’t believe in having all the latest and greatest electronics. They don’t own an Xbox, and there is only one TV in the house. The kids are expected to play outside. Peyton carries a 3.78 GPA.
Peyton Robb (Minnesota) v Alexander Carida (New Jersey) – ROUND OF 32. Carida comes in as a two-time state qualifier in the famous single class system of New Jersey. He has yet to place. Robb again explodes off the whistle and has Carida hugged tight and puts him to his back on the descent to the mat. It’s 4-0 and Robb gets on his offense right away. He tilts Carida three times and the match is over (10-0). The match lasted a ridiculous 16 seconds. The point streak is now 89-0
I wondered what would possess someone to WANT to wrestle all year. If an athlete is this serious about the sport, they never stop. To wrestle in the summer means a kid like Peyton is going to watch his weight every day. He takes the two-hour round trip to PINnacle Wrestling School several times a week and has been on that schedule since fourth grade. He’s your classic mat-rat. He simply isn’t himself unless he is doing something to improve. When I asked what other hobbies he has, he only had one answer. “I have a girlfriend.” He smiled big when talking about Taylor. Of course, Taylor is also an athlete. She’s a state placer in Track and Field and competes in Cross Country for Anoka High School.
Peyton Robb (Minnesota) v Austin Murphy (Ohio) ROUND OF 16. Murphy is a big and strapping wrestler. He looks six inches taller than Robb. He’s a three-time Ohio state qualifier and finished sixth in 2016. Again Peyton has no trouble getting ready for this match. He gets the first takedown in less than 10 seconds. He picks up another quick two points with that same arm trap roll. They go out of bounds and back to the center. Peyton gets in low for another takedown and keeps a hold of Murphy’s legs. He twists them like two drinking straws and forces Murphy to his back once, twice, and a third time. The match is over (10-0) in 1:04. The point streak is now 99-0
This is the round where things start to get intense. On the floor of the FargoDome, it’s impossible to take a few steps without running into college coaches from all divisions. Within a few minutes, I brush shoulders with John Smith (Oklahoma State), Brandon Eggum (Minnesota), Chris Bono (South Dakota State), and Roger Kish (North Dakota State). Every coaching staff is well aware this is the day to be in Fargo. The best of the very best are here. And those that aren’t wished they were. There is no other high school tournament with this level of talent. Winning a national title in Fargo is elusive and extremely valuable. It can make the difference in paying for college and hardly paying at all. By this time everyone knows the stakes and every championship mat is surrounded by coaches and officials. A win in the next round guarantees All-American status. A loss means one heck of a climb to make the podium.
Peyton Robb (Minnesota) v Justin Ruffin (Georgia) – QUARTERFINALS. Ruffin is a three-time Georgia state champion and the overall #45 ranked senior (Intermat). He recently went undefeated at the Junior Duals. Ruffin is long and lean and must be six feet tall. Robb looks to be 5’8″. As soon as the whistle blows, Peyton attacks Ruffin’s legs and scores a quick takedown. He reaches for the arm trap, secures it, and arches his back for the tilt. He does it once, again, again, and again. There is nothing Ruffin can do to stop this. The match ends in 40 seconds, (10-0). The point streak is now 109-0.
Meanwhile, Alex Lloyd is wrestling Lloyd Brock (UT). Brock is one of the nation’s top 145 pounders. He is a three-time state champion and won a Cadet National Folkstyle Championship in 2016. Two years ago these two hooked up in the Greco finals here in Fargo. Lloyd took that match and was crowned the national champion. This time Lloyd would prevail again 10-2. Lloyd has looked very strong this week. He and his best friend Peyton Robb will be wrestling in the national semifinals tonight and both are guaranteed to be All-Americans (top-8). I see them embrace after their matches. They have a genuine love for one another and SDSU has to be thrilled to sign up both of these two wrestlers. Head coach Chris Bono was running between the two matches and was able to see both from start to finish. He had a smile as big as The Mississippi River.
Peyton Robb (Minnesota) v Will Lewan (Illinois) – SEMIFINALS. Lewan is the overall #1 seed at 152 and the favorite to win. He was a Cadet World member in both styles. He is the nation’s #19 senior recruit. He is also the reigning Fargo Greco champion. On the whistle, Robb gets in on Lewan’s legs and works his most difficult takedown of the week (2-0). They get back to their feet and as the clock hits 1:30, it occurs to me this is already the longest match Robb has had all tournament. Lewan tries several nice attempts that get blocked. Robb is also unable to score. After the first period (3 minutes), the score is 2-0 Robb. The point streak is alive 111-0. The second period would last twice as long as the time on the clock. There were four long blood stops for Lewan. Will has a large chest and is easily the strongest opponent Peyton has faced. Early in the second, he uses that strength to push Robb out of bounds and scores a point (2-1). They get back to the center. Lewan gets in on a single and secures a takedown (2-3). After another blood timeout, Robb scores a nice-looking takedown to retake the lead (4-3). Back to the center they go and Lewan again uses his brute strength for another push out. It’s all tied at 4. Again there’s a timeout. Lewan keeps the pressure on and manages another push out (4-5). There is now less than a minute to go and both wrestlers know Robb needs to score. Instead of playing defense, Lewan shoots in on a double leg and gets another takedown. It’s now 7-4 Lewan. With under 20 seconds, Peyton tries a few desperate and long-shot moves. No chance. The winner is Will Lewan. He will wrestle for the championship. Alex Lloyd took a tough match as well. He was leading 4-0 and after a challenge brick was thrown, lost a takedown. This gave his opponent an extra point and it swung the momentum. Alex suffered his first loss 4-15.
Peyton Robb (Minnesota) v Joshua Kim (California) – CONSOLATION SEMIFINALS. Kim is the runner up in the one-class California state championship (2017). He took third the year before. In his last match, he defeated Robb’s teammate and Minnesota State Champion Tyler Eischens, 15-8. This match starts out like the earlier bouts with Robb getting an early takedown and quickly builds it to 6-0 with his famous arm trap turns. Kim steps it up a gear and picks up a nice takedown. They exchange several scoring moves and the match goes a full six minutes. Robb wins 10-6. He will wrestle for third place.
Losing is an awful thing. The best wrestlers can neither conceive nor picture themselves losing. Some go into shock after a loss and plenty go on to lose their next matches. Peyton took his loss to Lewan with grace and dignity. “I used to go into a funk after losing. Two years ago up here I lost in the semi’s. I went on to lose the next two bouts. No way am I going to feel sorry for myself again. I wrestled well against Lewan. It just didn’t go my way. I’ll get him next time!”
Both Alex and Peyton will be wrestling for third place, back-to-back. The Minnesota Storm will end with one Junior champion, (Patrick McKee – St. Michael Albertville) and a pair of Cadet champions, (Carson Manville – Shakopee and Ryan Sokol – Simley). There will be a total of 12 all Americans in Freestyle representing Minnesota in Freestyle.
Peyton Robb (Minnesota) v Justin Ruffin (Georgia) – THIRD PLACE. This is a rematch from yesterday’s quarterfinal round. These bouts can be dangerous against a good wrestler like Ruffin. He will know what to look for against Robb and should give him a much tighter match. In spite of that, Peyton took control of this match early and fast winning by the same score of 10-0. He would take third place in a bracket of over 85 wrestlers. His buddy Alex would finish fourth.
I left Fargo after this round. I knew Robb was staying to compete in the Greco-Roman tournament. I followed from Minnesota. He had a relatively easy path to the championship where he ran into three-time Fargo champion Anthony Artalona from Florida. Peyton wrestled a perfect match and defeated Artalona 8-3. Robb won every match but one during the long week. He finished a very respectable third place in Freestyle and was the National Champion in Greco.