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Homecoming King! Harry Lester returns to his hometown in style by scoring pin to win University Nationals in Akron, Ohio



AKRON, Ohio - When USA Wrestling decided to move the University Nationals to Akron this year, nobody was happier than Harry Lester.

That provided Lester with an opportunity to return to his hometown of Akron and showcase the skills he used to a win a bronze medal at the 2006 World Championships.

Lester was all smiles after putting on a show for family, friends, old teammates and former coaches as he blitzed to the University Nationals Greco-Roman title at 70 kg/154.25 pounds on Friday at the University of Akron's Athletics Field House.

Lester turned in a dazzling display of power, speed, explosiveness and flawless technique that was evident when he body-locked, lifted and planted U.S. Olympic Education Center teammate Timothy Bleau on his back for a pin just 48 seconds into the final-round match.

"It's great to be back home," said Lester, who was named Outstanding Wrestler. "A lot of my family hasn't seen me wrestle since high school so it's really exciting to get to wrestle in front of them again. To give back to all the people who support me is just great. When I found out about six months ago that they were going to have this event here in Akron I was so pumped. I probably wouldn't have wrestled in this if it would've been back in Chicago still - but I had to wrestle because it was back home."

Lester moved up in weight for this tournament. He normally competes at the international weight class of 66 kg/145.5 lbs. Lester's weekend of competing in Akron is far from over. He also has entered the freestyle competition and plans to compete at 74 kg/163 lbs. He said he hasn't competed in freestyle in more than five years. The freestyle competition is set for Saturday and Sunday.

"Getting more mat time never hurts - wrestling is wrestling and matches are matches," Lester said. "I'm going to go out and compete the best I can. If I win, I win. I'm not going to say if I lose, because I don't plan on it."

The 23-year-old Lester, who has made the last two U.S. World Teams in Greco-Roman, did not compete at the U.S. Nationals on April 7 in Las Vegas. He likely will be the No. 3 seed for the U.S. World Team Trials on June 9-10 in Las Vegas. That's the highest a wrestler can be seeded if he misses the U.S. Nationals. Lester also missed the U.S. Nationals in 2006 before winning the World Team Trials after being seeded third.

"We had some family issues and a lot of things have happened with my family. I had some things I needed to take care of at home," Lester said of missing the U.S. Nationals. "I missed the U.S. Nationals last year and it was no big deal for me missing it again this year. You have to wrestle all the top guys no matter what. I will wrestle whoever whenever, it doesn't matter to me."

Lester's buddy and teammate at the USOEC at Northern Michigan University, Spenser Mango, moved up a class and won the University Nationals title at 60 kg/132 lbs. Mango, a 2006 World University champion, downed Donavan DePatto of the U.S. Marines 4-3, 4-0 in the finals. DePatto had placed fourth at the U.S. Nationals two weeks ago.

"I knew it was going to be a tough match," said Mango, who repeated as champion. "I knew if I kept it close and used the moves that work for me I would be all right."

Mango also plans to wrestle freestyle. He hasn't wrestled that style since 2004.

"I miss freestyle a little bit every now and then, but I love Greco," Mango said. "Harry and I just decided we would give freestyle a try this weekend and have a little fun with it."

The top two finishers in each weight class at University Nationals qualify for the U.S. World Team Trials on June 9-10 in Las Vegas.

Another USOEC standout, Chas Betts, won the title at 84 kg/185 lbs. Betts won a silver medal at the 2006 World University event. Robbie Smith of the New York Athletic Club repeated as champion at 96 kg/211.5 lbs.

The USOEC had a banner day. Also winning titles in Greco-Roman for the USOEC were Nate Engel at 55 kg/121 lbs., Kerry Regner at 63 kg/138.75 lbs., Marco Lara at 66 kg/145.5 lbs., Andrew Bisek at 74 kg/163 lbs. and Jacob Fisher at 79 kg/174 lbs.

Arizona State wrestler Kenny Lester of the Sunkist Kids captured the title at 120 kg/264.5 lbs.
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