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FEATURE: Loaded 55 kg weight class in women’s division shows quality of New York AC Holiday International

In every tournament, there is always one weight class which stands out on its own as the most competitive of them all, a division that is "loaded." At the 2006 American Airlines/New York AC Holiday International, that division is 55 kg/112.25 lbs. in the women's division.

Up and down the weight class, the quality and experience of the wrestlers is amazing. Consider these contestants:
- World champion Hitomi Sakamato of Japan, up from 51 kg/112.25 lbs.
- Olympic bronze medalist and three-time World medalist Patricia Miranda of the Sunkist Kids, up from 51 kg/112.25 lbs.
- Two-time World silver medalist Tina George of the U.S. Army
- World University champion Marcie Van Dusen of the Sunkist Kids
- Two-time Junior World medalist Danielle Hedin of the USOEC

Add to that a number of other veteran wrestlers, all with national or international achievements, like Brandy Rosenbrock of Central Michigan, Amy Borgnini of the USOEC, Andrea Ross of Canada, Chelynne Pringle of the Minnesota Storm, Sara Peasley of Team Intensity and LeAnn Barney of the Univ. of the Cumberlands. This division is stacked.

"I think that this can continue to grow," said National Women's Coach Terry Steiner about the New York AC Holiday International. "If everybody supports it, we can get even more foreign teams. People like to come to New York City. This can be a premier event on the women's schedule. The 55 kg division shows that. Everybody is here. All of the top contenders in our country have entered, and we have top foreigners with Sakamoto and with the Canadians."

Right from the opening whistle, the action was intense and interesting. One of the early matches in the preliminary rounds was a pin by Miranda over Hedin in the first period, a reminder that experience holds an advantage against potential in this sport.

The quarterfinals round featured one of the bigger upsets of the day, when Rosenbrock stunned Van Dusen in two periods, 4-2, 2-1. Van Dusen scored the first points of the match, but Rosenbrock was able to turn Van Dusen with some strong counter wrestling in the first period. In the second, Rosenbrock scored a counter takedown late in the period for the margin of victory.

There was an explosion of joy from Rosenbrock, who has struggled with injuries. Earlier in her career, she had risen to a No. 2 national ranking but had been out of the picture for a few seasons. She is now attending Central Michigan Univ., working out with the men's team. Her body is healthy, she has dropped down in weight and she is enjoying the sport once again.

"I am training with the guy's team, and they are super," said Rosenbrock. "They stay after practice and work with me on my freestyle. I don't think I have wrestled this good since I was a junior in high school. It is so much fun again. Before my matches with Marcie, and later with Tina, I said to myself to just have fun. That is what wrestling is all about, to have fun and enjoy the sport. I think I lost that a little out there."

The semifinals featured a rematch of the 2006 World Championships semifinals, as Sakamoto and Miranda squared off once again. Sakamoto opened the scoring with a takedown, but Miranda came back with an armspin for a point. On the scramble after Miranda's score, Sakamoto emerged with a reversal to win the period, 2-1.

In the second period, Sakamoto was able to open up the offense a bit more, scoring on a leg attack, a spin behind and a step out, finishing with a 4-0 decision in the period.

Although she lost the match, both Miranda and National Women's Coach Terry Steiner were pleased with the progress that had been made since her loss to Sakamoto at the World Championships in China in September.

"From what I saw, we are closing the gap," said Steiner. "We have to keep it going. One of these times, we will come out on the right end. She is keeping a good attitude and working hard."

Miranda had not even planned on entering the tournament. She needed to concentrate on her law school studies at Yale, and was also working on specific technical training for the season ahead. She has been working out with a 16-year-old New York state high school champion, Chris Conte, who had been coming from upstate New York to New Haven to help her train. However, when one of her other training partners, Belinda Chow of Canada, sent her an email, all things changed.

"She e-mailed me Friday morning and asked, 'Does this change your mind?' Belinda found this obscure Japanese webpage that said the Sakamoto sisters were coming to compete in New York. It seemed like a godsend. We now had a chance to wrestle. Since we may not be able to attend the World Cup this year, this could be the only chance I have to face her prior to the World Championships."

Miranda seemed satisfied with her effort, in spite of losing the bout. She scored her first clean takedown on Sakamoto, and realized that her quest to beat the Japanese star had progressed.

"I am so fortunate. I can't get rid of the emotion of the defeat. But, that is the first point I have scored on her. She is mortal. I worked on head battling and my defense. The match I win against her won't be pretty. Those two things I have worked on since October, they transferred. They worked in my match here. I now have nine more months to work hard before the next World Championships. I am so grateful to wrestle her here," said Miranda.

Miranda chose to withdraw from the tournament after the match with Sakamoto. Her sole reason for entering was to compete against her archrival. After that bout, she felt that she had achieved what she came to New York to do. There would be no more matches for Miranda the rest of this day.

The other semifinal was a close battle between George and Rosenbrock. George scored one point in each of the two periods on defensive takedowns for a close 1-0, 1-0 victory. The final pairing would be Sakamoto against George, which was to be the first meeting between these veteran stars who usually compete at different weight classes.

The third place match ended up being a rematch between Van Dusen and Rosenbrock, a second chance for Van Dusen to turn her day around. Van Dusen scored a pair of takedowns in the first period to win it, 2-0. In the second period, a three-point throw by Van Dusen was the only score, for a 3-0 win and the bronze medal.

"I feel better now," said Van Dusen after the win. "This is a good weight class. I like being at 55 kg. The last three tournaments I have been in have had more than 20 wrestlers."

"I moved her more this time," she said about the second battle with Rosenbrock. "The first time I didn't move her enough. Brandy is a good competitor. You have to always be on your toes against her."

Van Dusen did not reach her goals for the day, but was able to take something from the experience.

"I learned how to regroup after a loss I wasn't expecting," she said. "I came in wanting to wrestle the Japanese girl and Tina George. I didn't wrestle either of them. It burns my fire more inside."

The gold medal match between Sakamoto and George was wide open, with Sakamoto winning the first period, 8-0, and, in a closer second period, 4-0. George was upbeat after the match, even though the score might have appeared a bit lopsided.

"I think there were some technical things in the match," said George. "I didn't move my feet in the first period, and set myself up as an open target. I was moving more in the second period. I got in some good shots but didn't finish them. I wrestled hard. I had fun. I am really close. I am happy with this tournament. I came back to my original wrestling, which is more active. I am enjoying the competition."

"I am happy with the way I wrestled. I wrestled tough," said George. "This gives me my spirit back. I came here and wanted to wrestle. I am excited to wrestle now."

As expected, the champion at 55 kg/121 lbs. was named Outstanding Wrestler in the women's division. Sakamoto posed with tournament officials with the silver plate given to the best wrestler in the competition.
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