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Pritzlaff poised to make run at earning spot on World Team

Donny Pritzlaff met his wife Robin after he had captured back-to-back NCAA Championships in 2000 and 2001 for the Wisconsin Badgers.

So when Pritzlaff was unable to break through in freestyle and win a big tournament on the international level, his wife started thinking she was bringing him bad luck.

The young couple's luck changed last month in Las Vegas. Pritzlaff became the first American to knock off Joe Williams in six years when he outlasted the two-time World bronze medalist in the 163-pound finals at the U.S. Nationals.

"I think my wife was more excited than I was after I won," Pritzlaff said with a laugh. "She yelled out 'finally' after I won. She thought maybe she was the jinx that held me back, but that's not true at all. I've sacrificed a lot of time with my family to train and compete, but she's real supportive of what I do."

The 27-year-old Pritzlaff's victory provided him with the No. 1 seed for the World Team Trials on May 27-28 in Sioux City, Iowa. Pritzlaff was named Outstanding Wrestler in Vegas. His win also prevented Williams from gaining an automatic berth into the best-of-3 finals at the Trials.

As a returning World medalist, a win in Vegas would have given Williams a spot in the finals. Now he will be the No. 2 seed at 74 kg for the Challenge Tournament on May 28. The two finalists in the Challenge Tournament will meet later in the day in a best-of-3 series to determine who represents the U.S. at the World Championships on Sept. 26-Oct. 2 in Guangzhou, China.

Pritzlaff, a 1998 Junior World Champion, has consistently been in the mix on the Senior level since he finished his career at Wisconsin as a four-time All-American. He was third at the 2002 and 2005 World Team Trials, and third in the 2005 U.S. Nationals.

Pritzlaff, who competes for the New York Athletic Club, had already put together a strong season entering the U.S. Nationals. He placed second in the New York Athletic Club Holiday Championships and finished fifth in the Ivan Yarygin Memorial International in Russia.

Pritzlaff has been traveling around the country to train with some of the nation's best freestylers in preparation for the World Team Trials.

Pritzlaff was in Minneapolis recently to train with Jared Lawrence and members of the Minnesota Storm. He was in Chicago this week to train with Clint Wattenburg, Andy Hrovat and Jake Herbert. Lawrence is ranked fifth by at 145.5 pounds. Wattenburg is ranked third and Hrovat fifth at 185. Herbert recently won University Nationals at 185.

"I really put in a lot of time before the U.S. Nationals in Vegas," Pritzlaff said. "I came out to Colorado Springs to train at the Olympic Training Center and made a big commitment. Now I'm doing the same thing before the Trials. Seeing all that hard work pay off when you have success can't help but give you a huge boost."

As Pritzlaff said after his win in Vegas, winning there was nice but it obviously doesn't mean as much if you don't win at the World Team Trials. He knows Williams will be difficult to beat again, if they match up in the finals in Sioux City.

"I'm really excited about the Trials - I can't wait," Pritzlaff said. "I'm looking forward to seeing (Williams) again. He's a great competitor who obviously has proven himself as one of the best in the World. If you make the World team, you want to beat the best guys to get there."

Knocking off Williams in Vegas was a major hurdle for Pritzlaff to clear. It was Williams' first setback to an American since the 2000 Olympic Trials.

"That was a real big win, just from a confidence standpoint and knowing he can be beat," Pritzlaff said. "It's important that he has to wrestle through the whole competition now instead of having a bye to the finals. It's tough coming through the tournament and facing a guy in the finals who has that bye."

Pritzlaff, a three-time state champion at Lyndhurst (N.J.) High School, admits making the transition from folkstyle to freestyle took some time after his college days in Madison.

"The style is totally different, going from college to international," he said. "You can't make mistakes at this level. The periods are shorter and everything you do has to be real precise. Your defense has to be very good and your attacks have to be perfect."

Pritzlaff said he does like the new freestyle rules that were implemented after the 2004 Olympics.

"The new rules are a lot better for me," he said. "The clinch is an area where I'm real comfortable being in on the leg. But they may tweak the rules again before the next Olympics. You have to be ready to adapt."

So what is the difference this year for Pritzlaff?

"I think what got me over the hump was I wrestled a couple pretty decent Russians at the New York AC tournament," he said. "And plus I went over to Russia and gained some real good international experience. The more competitions I can get into the more it will help me."

A few days after the World Team Trials, Pritzlaff will board a plane for Brazil. He will respresent the U.S. at 163 in freestyle at the Pan Am Championships on June 1-4 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Pritzlaff is currently on the staff at Hofstra University as an assistant coach. Tom Shifflet was named late Wednesday to take over as head coach at Hofstra after Tom Ryan left the program there for Ohio State.

"I really enjoy coaching and we'll see what happens," Pritzlaff said the day before Shifflet was named head coach. "I definitely want to be a Division I head coach someday."

Pritzlaff said he plans to compete through 2008 and hopes to earn a trip to Beijing, China, for the Olympics.

"My long-term goal is to make the Olympics, but all I'm focused on right now is making the World Team in 2006," he said. "My training feels great and my timing feels good. I feel real confident right now and I feel like my mind is in the right place. I'm ready to go."
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