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Sanderson, Fraser excited about U.S. World Team Trials



SIOUX CITY, Iowa - The World Championships are still four months and one day away.

But Cael Sanderson said the major international wrestling event might as well be starting this weekend.

Sanderson knows how important this weekend's U.S. World Team Trials are. Winning this event in 2003 set the stage for him to win a silver medal at the World Championships that year.

One year later, the experience at the Worlds paid off for Sanderson when he stood atop the podium in Athens, Greece, and listened to the Star Spangled Banner being played after he won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics.

Now retired from wrestling, the recently named head coach at Iowa State emphasized the importance of the U.S. World Team Trials during a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Tyson Events Center. The World Team Trials are set for Saturday, May 27, and Sunday, May 28, in Sioux City's sparkling new downtown arena.

"The World Team Trials obviously are a huge part of becoming a World champion," said Sanderson, who won the World Team Trials three times and the Olympic Trials once. "This is a very competitive event, where you've got to be ready to go and be at your best just like at the World Championships. The first three rounds of the World Championships are right here in Sioux City."

The nation's best men's freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers will compete this weekend. The 14 champions at each weight class - seven in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman - will earn spots on the U.S. team that will compete in the World Championships on Sept. 26-Oct. 2 in Guangzhou, China.

Steve Fraser, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist who is USA Wrestling's National Greco-Roman Coach, said fans can expect a crowd-pleasing style from his athletes. A new rule that was implemented last year has emphasized the use of the reverse lift maneuver in Greco-Roman matches.

"The new rules have led to a lot of spectacular throws where guys are flying through the air," Fraser said. "It has added a lot of excitement to the matches."

Sanderson, who was a perfect 159-0 and won four NCAA titles at Iowa State, said he's impressed with the top two guys at his old weight class. Mo Lawal made the 2005 World Team at 84 kg/185 lbs. in freestyle and beat Sanderson's former rival, Lee Fullhart, in the finals of the U.S. Nationals last month.

"Mo Lawal and Lee Fullhart both are very tough," Sanderson said. "Whoever makes the team at 84 kilos will be in the hunt to win a World title. The United States is always very competitive in that weight class. NCAA champions step into that class and get beat up on. This is a whole new level. It's very tough.

The Trials have a new format where all the matches in a weight class are contested in the same day. The two finalists will meet in the best-of-3 finals. The one-day format is similar to what FILA, the international governing body for wrestling, now uses at the World Championships.

On Saturday, freestyle will be contested at 55 kg/121 lbs., 60 kg/132 lbs. and 96 kg/211.5 lbs. with Greco-Roman being wrestled at 66 kg/145.5 lbs., 74 kg/163 lbs., 96 kg/211.5 lbs. and 120 kg/264.5 lbs.

On Sunday, freestyle will be contested at 66 kg/145.5 lbs., 74 kg/163 lbs., 84 kg/185 lbs. and 120 kg/264.5 lbs. with Greco-Roman being wrestled at 55 kg/121 lbs., 60 kg/132 lbs. and 84 kg/185 lbs.

Fraser said 2002 World champion Dremiel Byers (120 kg/264.5 lbs.) and 2005 World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz (96 kg/211.5 lbs.) are two top wrestlers to watch in Greco-Roman wrestling.

"Byers is a real good lifter and a very exciting heavyweight to watch," Fraser said. "Justin is looking very good."

Fraser said local favorite Brad Vering, a 2000 NCAA champion for Nebraska who is from nearby Howells, Neb., has a chance to win a World-level medal this year. Vering has made the last three World teams, twice placing fifth. He also made the 2004 Olympic team.

Vering was upset by Jake Clark in the finals at the U.S. Nationals and will be the No. 2 seed.

"Brad's one of the most dedicated, toughest wrestlers I've been fortunate enough to coach," Fraser said. "He has a great attitude and I love the guy to death. He's a very hard worker. He's been knocking on the door at the World level. The new rules didn't necessarily help him and he's kind of had to reinvent himself and focus on some things with his style of wrestling. I think you will see some great stuff from Brad Vering this weekend."

Among the athletes Sanderson will be coaching this weekend are two-time Cyclone All-Americans Trent and Travis Paulson, who grew up an hour south of Sioux City in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Paulsons are expected to compete in freestyle at 163.

"The Paulson twins are local heroes that fans will enjoy watching," Sanderson said.

Sanderson said this promises to be an entertaining weekend of wrestling.

"This is competition at its best right here," Sanderson said. "This is the best wrestling in the United States and if you're the best wrestler in the United States you have a real good chance to be the best wrestler in the World. If you're a sports fan, the competition doesn't get any better or more intense than this. It will be fun to watch."
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