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U.S. Nationals preview at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. in men's freestyle wrestling



Years of persistence finally paid off for Tolly Thompson as the veteran made his first World freestyle team last year at 120 kg/264.5 pounds and cashed in by claiming a bronze medal at the World Championships.

Thompson, 32, who competes for the Sunkist Kids, is in arguably the best shape of his career and is taking aim at a yellow medal this year in China. The former NCAA champion from Nebraska won the Dave Schultz Memorial, placing second at the Super Cup in Russia and took third this year at both the Yasar Dogu in Turkey and the Uzbekistan Cup.

Thompson will have to overcome collegiate standouts Steve Mocco of Oklahoma State and Cole Konrad of Minnesota to keep his spot on the World team. Thompson pinned Mocco in the finals at Vegas last year before sweeping him in two straight matches in the finals of the World Team Trials.

Mocco is ranked second nationally in this class by TheMat.com and Konrad third, but Konrad beat Mocco four times during the 2005-06 college season. The most recent match came when Konrad edged Mocco in a marathon, double-overtime match in the NCAA finals last month in Oklahoma City. Konrad competes internationally for the Minnesota Storm and Mocco for the New York Athletic Club.

Konrad overcame a major mental hurdle by finally beating Mocco in folkstyle. It will be interesting to see if it carries over into the freestyle season. Last year, Konrad showed his potential in international freestyle, when he beat 1998 World Champion Alexis Rodriguez of Cuba at the Pan American Championships.

Former Ohio State NCAA champion Tommy Rowlands of the Sunkist Kids is back at heavyweight now after previously dropping down to 211. Rowlands is ranked fourth at 264.5 pounds and has excelled as a heavyweight in the past. He has experience at this weight class, placing second behind Olympian Kerry McCoy in the World Team Trials in 2002.

Rowlands won the NYAC meet at 120 kg and took third at the Ivan Yarygin Memorial in Russia. Last summer, he showed his ability to win on the World level, capturing a gold medal at the World University Games at 96 kg.

Among the other top competitors at 264.5 pounds are Michael Irving, Pat Cummins of the New York Athletic Club, Kellan Fluckiger of the Sunkist Kids, Ryan Fuller of the Hawkeye Training Club, Cain Velasquez of the Sunkist Kids and Trey McLean.

Fuller, fourth at the 2005 World Team Trials, was injured during the college season while competing for Iowa and is not expected to compete in Las Vegas.

Irving placed second at the Schultz, falling to Thompson in the final round. It was the top performance of his career, part of the improvement he has made since becoming a U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete. Irving was not well known when he entered the Senior freestyle scene, after a career at the NAIA level at Cumberland College.

Cummins also will be in the mix after he won the Sunkist Kids Open, was second at the NYAC meet and third at the Schultz. He was seventh at the 2005 U.S. Nationals. A NCAA runner-up at Penn State, Cummins could be a factor for a long time.

Fluckiger was second at the Sunkist Kids Open, falling to Cummins in the final round. He was fourth at the NYAC meet. McLean was second to Irving at the Rocky Mountain Regionals. Among the other placewinners back from the U.S. Nationals are Billy Blunt (third), Ty Watterson (fourth), Mike Faust (fifth) and Greg Wagner (eighth).

Wagner placed third for Michigan and Velasquez fourth for Arizona State at this year's NCAA tournament. Faust, also a NCAA All-American at Virginia Tech, spent a redshirt year at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, where his freestyle skills improved.

Another wrestler who could be a factor here is four-time Division II national champion Les Sigman of Nebraska-Omaha. Sigman beat Konrad in college, but it's been more than two years since they have met.

This could be the most exciting weight class to watch in Vegas with Konrad making major strides this year during the college season. Can Thompson hold off these young bucks and make his straight World team? How will Mocco respond to a disappointing senior season? Will Rowlands jump right into the mix here and move to the top? It should be fun to watch.

2005 U.S. NATIONALS RESULTS
1st - Tolly Thompson, Cedar Falls, Iowa (Sunkist Kids) pinned Steve Mocco, N. Bergen, N.J. (New York AC), 1-0, 2:00.
3rd - Billy Blunt, Fresno, Calif. (Sunkist Kids) dec. Ty Watterson, Enumclaw, Wash. (Orange Crush), 2-0, 2-1
5th - Mike Faust, Baltimore, Md. (Sunkist Kids) dec. Pat Cummins, State College, Pa. (New York AC), 1-0, 2-1
7th - Michael Irving, Clewiston, Fla. (Calvary Chapel) dec. Greg Wagner, Fort Wayne, Ind. (Cliff Keen), 0-6, 4-2, 7-0

THEMAT.COM RANKINGS FOR MARCH 2006
1. Tolly Thompson, Cedar Falls, Iowa (Sunkist Kids)
2. Steve Mocco, N. Bergen, N.J. (New York AC)
3. Cole Konrad, Kewaunee, Wis. (Minnesota Storm)
4. Tommy Rowlands, Columbus, Ohio (Sunkist Kids)
5. Michael Irving, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Unattached)
6. Pat Cummins, Evanston, Ill. (New York AC)
7. Kellan Fluckiger, Morgantown, W.Va. (Sunkist Kids)
8. Ryan Fuller, Lisbon, Iowa (Hawkeye TC)
9. Cain Velasquez, Tempe, Ariz. (Sunkist Kids)
10. Trey McLean, Colorado Springs, Colo. (USOTC)
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