Kirtland wrestler qualifies for World Team Trials

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Thanks to an excellent showing at the Armed Forces Wrestling Championship, a Kirtland officer qualified to compete in the World Team Trials.

1st Lt. Brandon Mueller, a physicist with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, captured two second place medals representing the Air Force in the Armed Forces tournament, earning him an invite to the WTT tournament. 

“I’m really excited for the opportunity,” Mueller said. “I never expected to be back wrestling competitively at this level.”

Mueller, who wrestled for four years at the Air Force Academy, was out of competitive wrestling for two years following his graduation in 2013. But he didn’t abandon the sport entirely. In his spare time, he’s a volunteer coach at Albuquerque’s 505 Wrestling Club. It was there he decided he wasn’t done competing in the sport he loved.

“The head coach thought I could still be competitive, so I thought I’d give it a shot,” he said. 

The 505 Wrestling Club, as well as Air Force Sports, gave him the training opportunities he needed to once again be able to contend in high-level competitions.

He found success wrestling at Greco-Roman, a style different from the traditional folkstyle, or collegiate style, he’d been wrestling at since he was in third grade. The major difference with Greco-Roman is that you can’t touch legs, which played to his strengths as a wrestler.  

Mueller was a surprise WTT qualifier. He entered the Armed Forces tournament unranked, as he hadn’t trained for much of 2016 due to a torn labrum in his hip that required surgery to repair. He only started training again in January. At the Armed Forces tournament, he upset the nationally-ranked Marine Sgt. JayShon Wilson en route to his second place finish. 

“It was a shock that I was able to recover from the injury to win two silver medals at the Armed Forces Championships,” he said.

Next up, Mueller will compete at the Kristjan Palusalu Memorial Wrestling Tournament in Estonia. He hopes to win enough matches to place, but said establishing goals is difficult because he’s not sure what to expect.

“Finishing in the top three would be really exciting, but it’s hard to judge that tournament,” he said. “I’m going in blind as to what the competition will be like.”

With a smile, he added, “I’d like to pin a Russian, I guess.”  

Following that tournament, he will join other WTT qualifiers for training at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.  Then it’s off to Las Vegas April 25-29 for the World Team Trials, where winners qualify to represent Team USA in August in Paris, France, at the World Championships. 

“Making the national team might be a little too lofty of a goal at this point, but I definitely want to win some matches to show that I belong there and I’m competitive at that level,” Mueller said.

Mueller said his leadership and co-workers at AFRL have been extremely supportive of him taking time off to participate in the Air Force Sports program.

“My unit and commanders have been very supportive of my turbulent training and competition schedule,” he said. “They’ve been very flexible, and my co-workers have really pitched in on the programs I manage.”