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FEATURE: Top ranked Hrovat, Ruiz enter NYAC Holiday International for fresh start to new season

The American Airlines/New York Athletic Club Holiday International is a quality competition for wrestlers to get experience against foreign athletes and prepare for the season ahead. But for a pair of No. 1 ranked U.S. wrestlers, the event provides a chance for a fresh start to a new season after a disappointing World Championships in Guangzhou, China in September.

The 2006 U.S. World Team members in the tournament this weekend are Andy Hrovat (Ann Arbor, Mich./New York AC) at 84 kg/185 lbs. in men's freestyle and Justin Ruiz (Colorado Springs, Colo/New York AC) at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. in men's Greco-Roman.

"It is really important to get an early start, and to re-establish your goals," said National Freestyle Developmental Coach Dave Bennett about why Hrovat and Ruiz are here. "This is a good tournament to prepare mentally and physically for the international competition to come. There are enough foreign competitors to get a feel of the European wrestling style. It is important to get your mind on the future, not the past. Nothing is better for that than a competition."

Hrovat was a surprise member of the 2006 U.S. World Team, with a spectacular effort at the World Team Trials in Sioux City, Iowa. He pinned 2005 World Team member Mo Lawal in the semifinals there, then qualified for his first World Team with a victory over friend and training partner Clint Wattenburg.

At the 2006 World meet, Hrovat had one match, losing his preliminary bout to Vadim Laliev of Armenia, 2-2, 3-5. When Laliev was beaten in a following round, Hrovat was not eligible to enter the wrestlebacks.

"The Worlds were good for me," said Hrovat. "I lost to one of the top guys in the world. It showed me that I am right there, that anytime I step on the mat, I can beat them. I learned that I can become a World champion. That is all I want, to be the World champion."

He has entered the New York AC Holiday International with a plan to get some mat time, and establish himself once again, not only in the United States but around the world.

"I was told by (National Coach) Kevin Jackson that I should wrestle here or in France, in order to get some matches in. This is a nice way to train and get competition. We won't go again until January," said Hrovat.

"I still have to prove I am No. 1 in the United States. I want to prove that here, at the Dave Schultz Memorial and at the Trials. This winter, at Krasnoyarsk and Kiev, those events will put me on the top of the world, by going there and beating them."

Hrovat has an upbeat attitude about this competition and the year ahead.

"I picked up a lot at the training camps and at the World Championships," he said. "The World Championships ingrained in my head that what the coaches were teaching me I needed to do in order to win. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I am always trying to get better. I put in more time than anybody, to practice and work on my mistakes."

Hrovat will face Tony Gansen of the Sunkist Kids in the semifinals, and if he wins, he would draw the winner of the match between Clint Wattenberg of the New York AC and Evguni Kolomets of Russia.

"I would like to wrestle Clint again. I want him to beat the Russian. But, I would like to wrestle that Russian guy again. He beat me at the Dave Schultz last year on my mistakes. I'd like to wrestle either of them, to show me where I am at this time," he said.

Hrovat's coach Sean Bormet is here to coach him and evaluate how things are going with his progress.

"I think in 2006, Andy made some good advances. He fell short of his goals at the World Championships and had only the one match. He has to get back in, get refreshed and needs competition to do that. It is important he gets this competition in. He has to get back in the game," said Bormet.

Bormet says Hrovat has a lot of things he needs to improve on in order to stay on top in the USA and to make progress overseas.

"He has to continue to build his offense. He still needs to keep adjusting his body composition. Eliminating mistakes is the focus here. I want to see that this weekend. He will put points on the board. But he has to eliminate giving up some points here and there in his matches. This is a good weight class here, so he will be tested," said Bormet.

For Ruiz, the New York AC Holiday International is the beginning of his season, and a chance to put some recent adjustments to his wrestling to a test.

The 2005 season was a big step forward for Ruiz, who won a bronze medal at the World Championships held in Budapest, Hungary. He was the only U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win a medal that season.

In 2006, the fortunes changed for the U.S. team, as four athletes won medals, including individual champion Joe Warren of the New York AC at 60 kg/132 lbs. However, Ruiz was defeated in his second match at the World Championships and did not qualify for the wrestlebacks.

"I think after last year's World, he did not enjoy the game the same way," said USA Wrestling Assistant National Greco-Roman Coach Momir Petkovic. "The pressure got to him. He couldn't play his game. After the World Tournament this year, we talked a lot about it. He changed his mind about practice and his matches."

"To be your best, you can't worry out there. You have to wrestle your best at that moment. If you hold back at all, you can't achieve your potential. He has to let it go 100 percent. It is better it happened this year than next year or in 2008. I hope he has a different mindset and approach to his game," said Petkovic.

Ruiz agrees with Petkovic's assessment of the past year, and is working to change things.

"I think after I got the medal, I was thinking I have to win now. I put a lot of pressure on myself. It didn't help out," said Ruiz. "I am now taking them one match at a time. I will enjoy it, win or lose. I am learning to have fun again, instead of feeling like I have to win because I won in the past. At practice, it has made a big difference. I am training to do my best and to enjoy the sport."

Ruiz decided to compete at the New York AC Holiday International, before going overseas for some competitions in Finland and Sweden. He did not wrestle in this tournament last year.

"Last season, I took time off to get married," said Ruiz. "This year, it is the only tournament before February, unless you go overseas. USA Wrestling had some funds, so I can also go to Finland and Sweden. I came here to wrestle, have some fun and then go overseas. There are some good matches here. This tournament is just practice. It doesn't mean anything, except to get experience and have a good time."

Ruiz is testing how his new approach to the sport will work in competition.

"I re-evaluated what I am doing with the sport. I have some gaps, in mental strategy and in my game plan. I also need to pick up my tempo on my feet, and score more points. I am getting stronger. I am working with the USOC strength coach, the sport psychologist, the nutritionist to work on those gaps. It could be the difference between a medal and no medal, a championship or no championship," he said.

Ruiz wrestled one match on Saturday, a quick technical fall over Stash Shamota of the New York AC, where he scored two five-point throws from the reverse lift position.

Ruiz is using the example set by his teammate Joe Warren at the World Championships as inspiration to score more points on his feet and to wrestle with more abandon.

"Watching Joe, how well he did, has helped me," said Ruiz. "He has been there a long time. He took his lumps, but now he finished on top. It was motivating and inspiring. I see him, and I think if he can do it, I can do it. In every match, he scored points on his feet, although most wrestlers don't do that with the new style. He found a way everytime to get it done."

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