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|U.S. Nationals preview at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. in men's Greco-Roman wrestling|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
Justin Ruiz of the New York Athletic Club has made an immediate impact at 96 kg/211.5 pounds after starting to wrestle Greco-Roman full-time a couple of years ago.
Ruiz had a breakthrough performance with his bronze-medal effort at the World Championships last year in Budapest. He was the only American to win a medal in Greco-Roman and he hopes to build on that performance this year.
Ruiz will enter the U.S. Nationals ranked second behind Adam Wheeler of the Gator Wrestling Club after Ruiz fell to Wheeler in the Dave Schultz Memorial International. Ruiz placed third at the Dave Schultz Memorial, falling to Wheeler. Ruiz won the first period 6-0, but dropped the next two 3-0 and 5-0.
Ruiz defeated Wheeler in the finals of the both the U.S. Nationals and World Team Trials last year. Ruiz, a two-time All-American at Nebraska, also competed in the World Championships in 2003. He is seeking his third straight U.S. Nationals title.
Wheeler's career has blossomed since he left the military and joined the USOEC program at Northern Michigan. Wheeler won the New York AC tournament, placed third at the Sunkist Kids Open and fourth at the Dave Schultz Memorial. He has established himself as the top challenger for Ruiz on the national level.
Phil Johnston of the U.S. Army placed fourth last year at the World Team Trials and has made progress while climbing to third nationally in TheMat.com rankings at 211.5. Johnston was second at the New York AC meet, losing to Wheeler in the finals. Johnston also lost to Wheeler at the Sunkist Kids Open, but beat Wheeler 3-3, 3-1 in their most recent meeting in February at the USOEC Olympic Challenge.
R.C. Johnson of the Sunkist Kids has continued to improve. He competed at the USOEC program at Northern Michigan before moving to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Johnson won the Sunkist Kids Open in October.
USOEC college freshman Robert Smith won Junior Nationals last year both styles and could make an impact on the Senior level this season. Smith placed fourth at the Sunkist Kids Open.
Other top contenders in this class are Al Sankey of the U.S. Army, J.D. Bergman of the Ohio International Wrestling Club, Jeff Courtney of the USOEC and Mark Knauer of the Cyclone Wrestling Club. Bergman was an All-American at Ohio State and Knauer wrestled heavyweight for Iowa State. Knauer was seventh at Vegas last year.
Bergman placed third at the World Team Trials last year, but he has not competed nationally this season. Sankey was second at the Sunkist Kids Open, scoring a fall over Wheeler in that event.
Two athletes who were placewinners at the U.S. Nationals last year, Frank Workman of the U.S. Marines and Brandon Ruiz of the Sunkist Kids, have moved up to 286 pounds this year. If either chooses to return to the 211.5 pound division, they would be included among the serious challengers.
Ruiz is still the favorite and is a proven commodity, but his loss to Wheeler makes this one of the more intriguing divisions heading into Vegas. Ruiz has proven his mettle in the big matches and his experience may be the deciding factor here. It will be interesting to see if any new young athletes make a mark on this division this year.
2005 U.S. NATIONALS RESULTS
1st - Justin Ruiz, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) dec. Adam Wheeler, San Diego, Calif. (Gator WC), 1-0, 1-0
3rd - Phil Johnston, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force) dec. J.D. Bergman, Oak Harbor, Ohio (Ohio International WC), 5-0, 8-0
5th - Frank Workman, Spotsylvania, Va. (U.S. Marines) dec. R.C. Johnson, Plymouth, Minn. (New York AC), 2-2, 0-2, 3-1
7th - Mark Knauer, Ames, Iowa (Sunkist Kids) dec. Brandon Ruiz, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids), 2-0, 2-0
THEMAT.COM RANKINGS FOR MARCH 2006
1. Adam Wheeler, Lancaster, Calif. (USOEC/Gator WC)
2. Justin Ruiz, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)
3. Phil Johnston, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army)
4. R.C. Johnson, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
5. Robert Smith, San Ramon, Calif. (USOEC)
6. Al Sankey, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army)
7. J.D. Bergman, Oak Harbor, Ohio (Ohio International WC)
8. Jeff Courtney, Fairmont, W.Va. (USOEC)
9. Mark Knauer, Ames, Iowa (Cyclone WC)