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Chris Fleeger storms to title, OW award in freestyle wrestling at Sunkist Kids/ASU International Open

TEMPE, Ariz. - When the men's freestyle brackets came out for the Sunkist Kids/ASU International Open late Friday night, the 60 kg/132-pound division looked as loaded as any weight class in the tournament.

You had reigning U.S. Nationals champion Zach Roberson and 2005 U.S. World Team Trials runner-up Nate Gallick. Both were NCAA champions at Iowa State.

NCAA champions Teyon Ware and Matt Valenti also were entered at 60 kilos, as was promising freestyle prospect Shawn Bunch.

But when the awards were handed out early Saturday night at Wells Fargo Arena, none of those guys were standing on top of the championship podium.

It was former Purdue standout Chris Fleeger. The two-time NCAA runner-up, who just completed his collegiate career this past March, made a huge splash in his first big freestyle meet after college.

Fleeger knocked off Gallick, Bunch and Roberson en route to the title and the Outstanding Wrestler award. He also pocketed $1,000 for winning the title. Fleeger displayed his full arsenal of moves, including a lethal low single, during his impressive run Saturday.

"I really wasn't sure what to expect coming into this," Fleeger said. "I've wrestled Roberson in the past and I know he is really tough. This weight was just so stacked. I was just coming out here to get some experience and I didn't know if I would have this good of a tournament. But I'm happy, I'm really happy, and hopefully I'll keep it going."

The balance of the freestyle champions include Vic Moreno (55 kg/ 121 pounds), Jared Frayer (66 kg/145.5 pounds) of the Gator Wrestling Club, Scott Owen (74 kg/163 pounds) of the New York AC, Chris Pendleton (84 kg/185 pounds) of the Gator Wrestling Club, Nik Fekete (96 kg/211.5 pounds) of the New York AC and Tommy Rowlands (120 kg/264.5 pounds) of the Sunkist Kids.

The Sunkist Kids won the men's team title with 38 points, one better than the New York AC. The Gator Wrestling Club was third with 19 points.

Women's freestyle champions crowned Saturday included Clarissa Chun (48 kg/105.5 pounds) of the Sunkist Kids, Erica Sharp (51 kg/112 pounds) of Canada, Marcie Van Dusen (55 kg/121 pounds) of the Sunkist Kids, Katie Patroch (59 kg/130 pounds) of Canada, Alaina Berbube (63 kg/138.5 pounds) of the New York AC, Elena Pirozhkova (67 kg/147.5 pounds) of Northern Elite and Iris Smith (72 kg/158.5 pounds) of the U.S. Army. Van Dusen was named Outstanding Wrestler.

Canada edged the Sunkist Kids 27-22 for the women's team title. The New York AC was third with 20 points.

Fleeger, competing for the New York Athletic Club, downed Roberson 6-0, 0-1, 3-0 for the title. He fired in on a couple of leg attacks to take control in the final period. Fleeger rallied to beat Gallick in the second round. After dropping the first period 3-0, Fleeger came back strong to win the final two periods 4-0, 3-2 with a pressuring, aggressive style.

"I love this style of wrestling," Fleeger said. "The training is a lot different for freestyle than it is for folkstyle. You're doing two-minute bursts instead of seven minutes all-out - that's a little more my style. I can slow the match down a lot more in freestyle. Wrestling freestyle is a whole different ballgame. It takes someone really dedicated and focused to excel at this level. It takes a smart wrestler because there is a lot more strategy in freestyle."

Twice coming close to winning an NCAA title is something that drives Fleeger, who trained at Cornell with past NCAA champion Travis Lee prior to this event. Fleeger said he plans to move out East and train full-time at Cornell.

"If I would have won NCAAs maybe I would have hung it up, I don't know," Fleeger said. "I still have that fire. I haven't won a tournament since Big Tens three or four years ago. I want to win something meaningful. This gives me a huge boost. I drew a tough guy right off the bat in Gallick and was able to get past him. It's exciting to win again. It's a great feeling."

Moreno put a halt to a strong run by Erkin Tadzhimetov of the Cyclone Wrestling Club in the 121 finals. Fifth at Junior Worlds in 1996, 1997 and 1998 while competing for Uzbekistan, Tadzhimetov knocked off past NCAA champion Jason Powell in the second round before pulling off the upset of the tournament when he swept U.S. Nationals champion Henry Cejudo 4-1, 1-0 in the quarterfinals.

Moreno beat Tadzhimetov 1-0, 7-0 in the finals.

The 26-year-old Tadzhimetov placed second at junior college nationals for Colby (Kan.) Community College in 2003 before finishing his career competing for Coach Cody Sanderson at Utah Valley State.

Cejudo took an early 1-0 first-period lead with just under a minute left by driving in and finishing an inside trip. But Tadzhimetov countered a shot attempt and caught Cejudo on his back late in the period en route to a 4-1 win.

Neither wrestler scored a takedown in the second period and the period came down to a leg clinch. Tadzhimetov won the flip, grabbed Cejudo's leg in the clinch and eventually drove him out of bounds for the winning point.

Cejudo was a no-show for his next match and failed to place.

Owen pulled off an upset in the semifinals when he downed U.S. World Team Trials runner-up Tyrone Lewis 1-1, 2-0. He followed by beating past National Team member Kirk White 1-1, 0-1, 4-0 in the gold-medal match.

Chun, a 2006 U.S. Nationals champion, looks to be returning to form after beating Sara Fulp-Allen of Menlo College 2-0, 5-3 in the finals. Chun competed for the first time since falling to Mary Kelly in a Special Wrestle-Off for a spot on the World Team. Chun served as Kelly's training partner at the World Championships late last month in Guangzhou, China.

"It's always good to get the season started off like that," Chun said. "I was pretty motivated after watching the World Championships. I want to be there and I can be there. That's what I'm working for."

A mild early upset in the women's bracket saw Dany Hedin of the New York Athletic Club headlock and pin Sharon Jacobson of the Gator Wrestling Club in the second round at 55 kg/121 pounds. Jacobson later pinned Hedin in a wrestleback en route to finishing third. Hedin placed fifth.

Jacobson won the U.S. Nationals last year and placed second at the U.S. World Team Trials. Hedin, a member of the U.S. Olympic Education Center program at Northern Michigan, has been a silver and a bronze medalist at the Junior World Championships.
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