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U.S. Nationals preview at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. in women’s freestyle wrestling

The dominant wrestler in the United States for many years at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. has been Sara McMann of the Sunkist Kids. McMann has won three World-level medals for the United States, a 2003 World silver medal, a 2004 Olympic silver medal and a 2005 World bronze medal. McMann is continuing her career in quest of her first gold medal at the World or Olympic level.

Her biggest challenge has been Japan's superstar Kaori Icho, who has beaten McMann in the last three World or Olympic events, including the finals in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, McMann drew Icho in the first round, then came through the wrestlebacks for a bronze medal. As far as her domestic challenges, she has been able to keep an edge over the U.S. opponents. Based upon her this dominance, she will be an overwhelming favorite if she enters in Las Vegas this year.

McMann was defeated in the 2004 U.S. Nationals finals by two-time World champion Kristie Marano of the New York AC, who was in this division for a few seasons. Marano seems to have settled at the next weight class up, at least for the time being.

McMann did not wrestle at the U.S. Nationals last year, choosing to compete only at the World Team Trials. The returning U.S. Nationals champion is Alaina Berube of the New York AC, who competes at the Univ. of Cumberlands and is the best wrestler on the women's college scene in the United States. Berube has lost to McMann at the last two Trials events, including the 2004 Olympic Trials. She has considerable international experience, competing on age-group World teams as well as on international tours. This year has been successful already, winning golds at the Dave Schultz Memorial and the Henri Deglane Challenge, as well as a pair of silver medals at other international meets.

One of the veteran stars in women's wrestling who might be at this weight class is Erin Tomeo of the Sunkist Kids, a two-time U.S. Nationals runner-up and past World Team member. Tomeo has been wrestling at both 130 pounds and 138.75 pounds this year. She has won three bronze medals this year in international events at 138.75 pounds and a silver medal down at 130 pounds. If Tomeo stays up at 138.75 pounds, she will still be among the top contenders to make the finals.

A newcomer who is just getting established in the division is Elena Pirozhkov of NE Elite, in her first year out of high school. Pirozhkov is training fulltime at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and has already had a very strong performance, a silver medal at the Dave Schultz Memorial International. She is still gaining experience, so it will be interesting to see how she handles the special pressure of the U.S. Nationals event.

The rest of the field at this division is a mix of veterans and young talents, some who may not even compete at this division. A number of the ranked wrestlers here could be dropping down a weight class, or have done that in the past. Those who may compete at this division, but might also go down, include past U.S. Nationals champion Na'Tasha Umemoto of the Sunkist Kids as well as past World Team Trials runner-up Brandy Rosenbrock of the USOEC. Both should be a factor at either weight class. Rachel Billerback of Missouri Valley College, who was fourth in the World Team Trials at this division last year, also dropped down to 130 pounds during the college season, and may not be in the field in Las Vegas at the weight class.

Among the young talents are Stefenie Shaw of the USOEC and Jackie Cataline of Cataline's Wildcats, both who wrestled very well at last year's U.S. Nationals. Cataline beat Shaw in the bronze-medal match last year in Las Vegas. Cataline made the 2005 U.S. FILA Junior World Team as a high school athlete, and showed great potential during the season. Shaw also made news in high school when she placed fourth at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

Veteran Kaci Lyle of the Sunkist Kids, a former U.S. Nationals runner-up, has had physical challenges that kept her off the mat over the last year. If Lyle is healthy and able to compete, she has both the experience and talent to be a major factor in this division. Another former Women's Team USA member, Tori Adams of the Sunkist Kids, also has tremendous experience and will be a tough draw for anybody who wrestles her at the national level.

Another wrestler who could be in the field here is Ashley Sword, a University Nationals champion, who sometimes competes up at 147.5 pounds. Laurin Daniels of Menlo College placed seventh at the U.S. Nationals last year and Megan Nevill of the Univ. of Cumberlands was eighth, both who could be challenging for medals again this season. From the college ranks are young wrestlers Maria Dunn of Missouri Valley and Titilope Lawani of Pacific, who add some depth to the division.

Olympic medalist Sara McMann is the overwhelming favorite at this weight class if she enters this year. Returning champion Alaina Berube has also made herself a favorite to be in the gold-medal finals once again. The rest of the field is a bit uncertain, because of weight class changes and other factors. It will be interesting to see who steps up and has a strong performance in the tournament this year.

1st - Alaina Berube, Escanaba,Mich. (New York AC) pin Kaci Lyle, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids), 1-0, 1:36
3rd - Jackie Cataline, Corona, Calif. (Cataline's Wildcats) dec. Stefenie Shaw, Waterford, Conn. (KT Kidz), 3-0, 2-0
5th -Rachel Billerbeck, Pflugerville, Texas (Missouri Valley College) pin Na'Tasha Umemoto, Portland, Ore. (Sunkist Kids), 1:38
7th - Laurin Daniels, Vashon Island, Wash. (Menlo College) dec. Megan Nevill , Claire, Mich. (Cumberland College), 6-0, 4-1

1. Sara McMann, Iowa City, Iowa (Sunkist Kids)
2. Alaina Berube, Escanaba,Mich. (New York AC)
3. Erin Tomeo, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
4. Elena Pirozhkov, Colorado Springs, Colo. (NE Elite)
5. Rachel Billerbeck, Plugerville, Texas (Missouri Valley)
6. Brandy Rosenbrock, Harrison, Mich. (USOEC)
7. Kaci Lyle, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
8. Stefenie Shaw, Waterford, Conn. (USOEC)
9. Jackie Cataline, Corona, Calif. (Cataline's Wildcats)
10. Tori Adams, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
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