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U.S. Nationals preview at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. in menís freestyle wrestling

Daniel Cormier of the Gator Wrestling Club has become a fixture as the top American freestyle competitor at 96 kg/211.5 pounds.

Cormier placed fourth at the 2004 Olympics and fifth at the 2003 World meet. He did not place at last year's World Championships, but has been the top man in the USA now for three full seasons. Cormier is a dangerous wrestler who can throw opponents for big points from his feet, and he has wins over some of the world's top wrestlers.

Nick Preston of the Sunkist Kids, who lost to Cormier last summer in the finals of the World Team Trials, is ranked second nationally by Preston won the New York AC and Dave Schultz events and recently was fifth at the Poland Open. He comes in as the top challenger to Cormier, but must defeat a number of talented athletes for another chance to wrestle him.

Former NCAA runner-up Sean Stender of Northern Iowa has become a contender in this class. Stender won the Sunkist Kids Open, was third at the NYAC meet and was second at the Dave Schultz Memorial. Stender, who competes for the Panther Wrestling Club, lost a close three-period battle to Preston in the finals of the Schultz.

Nik Fekete of the New York Athletic Club is next in line in this division, followed by former Minnesota NCAA champion Damion Hahn of the Minnesota Storm, Zach Thompson of the Sunkist Kids and Kyle Cerminara of the New York Athletic Club.

Fekete won the Henri Deglane Challenge in France. He placed third at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix in Russia, one of the top U.S. performances in that challenging event. He was fourth at the NYAC meet, falling to Preston and Stender.

Hahn won the Clansmen International in Canada and was second at the NYAC meet. He beat Stender and lost to Preston in New York. He has returned to serious competition this year, after skipping the U.S. Nationals last season.

Thompson is a veteran who has placed on the national level many times. He was a Junior World silver medalist while still a college student at Iowa State.

Cerminara was fifth, Sean Salmon of the Ohio International Wrestling Club placed sixth and Thompson was seventh last year at the U.S. Nationals. B.J. Padden of the Sunkist Kids, third at the 2006 NCAA meet at 197 for Nebraska, placed eighth in this class last year in Vegas.

Among the other contenders are Daniel Pitsch of the Orange Crush, Josh Pearce and Joel Flaggert.

Flaggert, an All-American at Oklahoma, finished third at the Sunkist Kids Open. His only loss was to Stender. Pearce has been training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Another wrestler to watch may be Andrew Adams of the U.S. Navy, who won his first two bouts last year in Vegas. Penn State's Phil Davis, second at the NCAA meet this year at 197, also could be a factor. Sam Wendland of the Cowboy WC has already qualified for the World Team Trials this year by winning the Rocky Mountain Regionals, and could be a factor in the race for All-American honors this year at the U.S. Nationals.

Tommy Rowlands of the Sunkist Kids, who placed second to Cormier last year in Vegas, has moved back up to 264.5 and is ranked fourth in that division. In the World Team Trials last year, Rowlands lost to his regular workout partner Preston in the Challenge Tournament finals.

Cormier has not competed much this season, but he's still the favorite. He's powerful, explosive and dangerous with his quick-striking ability. Preston may be primed to make a run at Cormier and have his best international season yet. Stender is another rising star to watch out for in this class as is Cerminara.

1st - Daniel Cormier, Stillwater, Okla. (Gator WC) dec. Tommy Rowlands, Columbus, Ohio (Sunkist Kids), 1-0, 2-0
3rd - Nik Fekete, Blacksburg, Va. (New York AC) dec. Nick Preston, Columbus, Ohio (Sunkist Kids), 1-0, 1-1
5th - Kyle Cerminara, Buffalo, N.Y. (New York AC) won by injury default over Sean Salmon, Columbus, Ohio (Ohio International)
7th - Zach Thompson, Ames, Iowa (Sunkist Kids) pinned B.J. Padden, Camp Crook, S.D. (Sunkist Kids), 0:33

1. Daniel Cormier, Stillwater, Okla. (Gator WC)
2. Nick Preston, Columbus, Ohio (Sunkist Kids)\
3. Sean Stender, Cedar Falls, Iowa (Panther WC)
4. Nik Fekete, Blacksburg, Va. (New York AC)
5. Damion Hahn, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm)
6. Zach Thompson, Ames, Iowa (Sunkist Kids)
7. Kyle Cerminara, Lewiston, N.Y. (New York AC)
8. Daniel Pitsch, Spanaway, Wash. (Orange Crush)
9. Josh Pearce, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Unattached)
10. Joel Flaggert, Choctaw, Okla. (Underdog)

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