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Notes from the Challenge Tournament at the U.S. World Team Trials on Saturday, May 27

SIOUX CITY, IOWA - The U.S. World Team Trials at the Tyson Events Center featured seven weight classes, four in Greco-Roman and three in freestyle on Saturday, May 27. The morning session determined which athletes will compete in Saturday's Championship Series, a best-of-three finals to be held at 4:00 p.m. Among the highlights of the session are the following notes:

The quarterfinals at 60 kg/132 lbs. featured three matchups of athletes who attended the same university. Zach Roberson of the Sunkist Kids stopped Nick Gallick of the Sunkist Kids, both from Iowa State, 6-0, 2-1. Mike Zadick of the Hawkeye WC defeated Cliff Moore of the Hawkeye WC, both from the Univ. of Iowa, 1-0, 4-0. Michael Lightner of the Sunkist Kids stopped Teyon Ware of the New York AC, 2-0, 3-1, both from the Univ. of Oklahoma.

Only one athlete in Saturday competition did not have to compete in the morning session, 2005 World bronze medal Justin Ruiz of the New York AC. Ruiz was the only athlete in today's competition who met the criteria to advance directly to the Championship Series, by winning a World medal last year, then capturing a U.S. Nationals titles this year. That means that 96 kg/211.5 was the only division where the challenge tournament was wrestled completely to a finals match. U.S. National runner-up Adam Wheeler of the USOEC/Gator WC faced Phil Johnston of the U.S. Army, who was third in the nationals, in the deciding match to earn the right to face Ruiz. In a mild upset, Johnston defeated Wheeler, 2-1, 1-1.

There were a number of matches in Greco-Roman featuring U.S. Army teammates.
In the quarterfinals, 2004 Olympian Oscar Wood against Glenn Garrison at 66 kg/145.5 lbs..In the same round, 2002 World champion Dremiel Byers beat Everette McDaniel at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. Byers lifted and threw his teammate, giving him a hug after the victory. One of the semifinals featured Brandon McNab, who upset past World Team member Keith Sieracki, 3-0, 1-1. When the Army athletes wrestle each other, head coach Shon Lewis and the other coaches do not mentor the athletes from the corner. Often, the other teammates go to the corner to towel off the athletes, but the coaches stand back and just let things happen. "This is very difficult," said Lewis, as he watched the McNab/Sieracki battle from a distance from the mat.

The quarterfinals at 55 kg/121 lbs. featured high school senior Henry Cejudo of the Sunkist Kids against college freshman Franklin Gomez of the Michigan WC. Gomez, who attends Michigan State, was a Junior National double champion last summer, representing Puerto Rico. Cejudo, a U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete, won the match in very competitive three periods, 0-1, 2-1, 3-1. Cejudo was able to win the rest of his bouts in the session, to qualify for the championship series this evening.

The U.S. Nationals finals at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. featured 35 year old Marcel Cooper of the U.S. Army against 34 year old Mike Ellsworth of the New York AC, a bout won by Cooper for his second career U.S. Nationals title. The showdown of these two athletes, among the oldest in the field, did not occur this time. Ellsworth lost in the quarterfinals to USOEC athlete Jacob Curby of the Gator WC, 3-1, 3-0. Cooper, however, was able to advance to the finals series, defeating Army teammate Glenn Garrison in the semifinals, 2-0, 1-2, 1-1.

The first semifinal match of the session, which determined who would compete in the Championship Series, occurred at 74 kg/163 lbs. in Greco-Roman, when national champion T.C. Dantzler of the Gator WC defeated Jess Hargrave of the U.S. Army. "I am feeling good enough. I will be feeling different tonight. The first two are always challenges. I am a momentum kind of guy. I am getting rolling now," said Dantzler. Dantzler, who won his first U.S. Nationals title ever, did not get to sit out until the championship series because he did not win a World medal also last year. That didn't bother him at all, because he has never sat out in his previous three times making a World Team. "This is all I know," he said. "I might mess up if I sit out. I am happy though. I am one of the 14 in the finals tonight."

Last year's finals of this event at 60 kg/132 lbs. was wrestled in the corner of the arena on Mat 3 when Michael Lightner of the Sunkist Kids faced Nate Gallick of the Sunkist Kids in the Championship Series semifinals. Last year, Lightner won the series to make his first World Team. This year, it was Lightner again, winning in two periods, 2-0, 1-0. He will face Mike Zadick of the Hawkeye WC in the championship series on Saturday night.

There were two members of the 2005 U.S. World Team who entered the tournament with No. 3 seeds, Sammie Henson of the Sunkist Kids at 55 kg/121 lbs. in freestyle and Harry Lester of the USOEC/Gator WC at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. in Greco-Roman. This was because both of these athletes did not participate in the U.S. Nationals, and the rules this year give the top two seeds at the World Team Trials the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds automatically. Both Henson and Lester were able to win their semifinal matches to qualify for the Championship Series today.

Henson beat No. 2 Matt Azevedo of the Sunkist Kids, 6-2, 3-1. "It doesn't bother me," said Henson of being seeded third. "Anything can happen here. I feel good, feel strong, feel my position is really well. I wrestled 25 times this year. I am ready now. Before nationals, I was sick a little and my mindset was not where I wanted it to be."

Lester beat his USOEC teammate No. 7 Jacob Curby of the Gator WC, 5-0, 5-0.
Lester hit a five-point arm throw in the first period in a few seconds to end it, then cruised in the second period.

There were two past World champions in competition on Saturday, and both advanced, Henson, a 1998 World champion in freestyle, and Byers, a 2002 World Champion in Greco-Roman. Byers cruised through two dominant wins where he did not allow a point. He will face No. 2 Russ Davie of the New York AC, who Byers has wrestled in the U.S. Nationals and World Team Trials finals the last few seasons. "I feel real good, real strong. My training has been good. I feel my lungs are there. I am trying to wrestle with more technique. I am not looking past anybody, but I am going to face (World Champion Mijian) Lopez of Cuba next week at the Pan Ams."

The semifinals at 96 kg/211.5 pounds in men's freestyle featured a pair of New Jersey natives, No. 2 Nik Fekete of the New York AC against No. 3 Damion Hahn of the Minnesota Storm. Hahn was a three-time state champion from Lakewood High School before going to the Univ. of Minnesota. Fekete was from Cranford High School, where he was second in the state championships, before going to Michigan State. The match was very competitive, going all three periods, with Hahn winning the showdown by coming on strong at the end, 1-0, 0-3, 3-1.

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