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|Zadick brothers, Pritzlaff, Cejudo among top wrestlers in freestyle field for 2007 U.S. World Team Trials|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
LAS VEGAS - The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China are just a little more than a year away and America's top freestyle wrestlers are trying to build momentum for that major event.
The next step in that process is making the 2007 U.S. World Team.
That team will be determined during the U.S. World Team Trials on June 9-10 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nev. The champion in each of the seven men's freestyle classes will qualify for the World Championships on Sept. 17-23 in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Six of the seven champions from April's U.S. Nationals have already clinched berths in the best-of-3 finals for the U.S. World Team Trials by virtue of their past performances in major events.
The six U.S. Nationals champions who have landed spots in the finals of the U.S. World Team Trials are Henry Cejudo at 55 kg/121 lbs., Nate Gallick at 60 kg/132 lbs., Chris Bono at 66 kg/145.5 lbs., Joe Williams at 84 kg/185 lbs., Daniel Cormier at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. and Tommy Rowlands at 120 kg/264.5 lbs.
Cejudo made the finals by virtue of being a past Junior World medalist, Gallick and Rowlands made it by virtue of winning the World University Games while Bono, Williams and Cormier made it because they have made multiple U.S. World Teams.
The seventh U.S. Nationals champion, Joe Heskett, will be the No. 1 seed at 74 kg/163 lbs. Heskett will be the top seed for the Challenge Tournament, and if he reaches the finals he would meet the wrestler from the bottom of the bracket in a best-of-3 series in the finals.
Here is the weight-by-weight breakdown in freestyle for the U.S. World Team Trials:
55 KG/121 LBS.
Sammie Henson is a returning World bronze medalist at this weight class, but he is not expected to compete after being out with an injury. Henson, a past World champion and Olympic silver medalist, may be back for another run at the Olympics next year.
The 20-year-old Cejudo, a 2006 Junior World silver medalist, is primed to make his first U.S. World Team at the Senior level after wrestling well in a number of events overseas. Cejudo was second to Henson at last year's World Team Trials. Cejudo recently won the Pan Am Championships.
Cejudo may be challenged for the top spot by past U.S. National Team member Nick Simmons, who just completed his college career as a four-time All-American at Michigan State. Cejudo pulled out a 4-4, 4-3, 5-0 win over Simmons in the finals of the U.S. Nationals.
Henson's long-time rival, Eric Akin, also may be back on the mat at the Trials. Akin, 36, a 1999 World Team member, has registered for this event. He hasn't competed in a big meet since he placed second behind Henson at the 2005 World Team Trials in Ames, Iowa.
Vic Moreno, who has pieced together a strong season, appears next in line at this weight class after placing third at the U.S. Nationals. Moreno beat veteran Matt Azevedo in the third-place match at U.S. Nationals. Moreno won the Sunkist Kids International Open and the New York AC Holiday International earlier this season.
Former Penn State wrestler Adam Smith also has been in the mix in this class the last two years. Former Iowa State wrestler Grant Nakamura is healthy again and could make some noise in this division.
60 KG/132 LBS.
Mike Zadick is a returning World silver medalist, but Zadick lost to Gallick in the finals of the U.S. Nationals. But keep in mind the fact that Zadick lost to Gallick in the third-place match at the 2006 U.S. Nationals before Zadick came back a couple months later to make his first World Team.
Gallick has the clear edge by already landing a spot in the best-of-3 finals. He has wrestled well overseas this season and gained valuable experience.
The explosive Shawn Bunch also should be in the mix here. Bunch looked very good in placing third at the U.S. Nationals and has moved to Colorado Springs to train full-time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
2006 U.S. Nationals champion Zach Roberson, who trains with Gallick, is another wrestler to keep an eye on. Roberson placed fourth at the 2007 U.S. Nationals.
Chris Fleeger, who won the Sunkist Kids event last fall, is a talented and dangerous wrestler with big-win capability.
1996 Olympic champion Kendall Cross has returned to competition and placed third at the Dave Schultz Memorial International in February. But Cross did not compete at the U.S. Nationals. If Cross is able to get his weight down and compete at the World Team Trials, he could definitely be in the mix to win it.
Another wrestler who may be worth watching in this class is Todd Meneely, a 2002 double Junior Nationals champion who has come back strong in 2007. Meneely won a NCAA Division II title for Nebraska-Omaha and won University Nationals.
Past World Team member Michael Lightner is injured and likely will not compete. Two-time NCAA champion Travis Lee, who won the Dave Schultz Memorial International, also is injured and is not expected to wrestle.
66 KG/145.5 LBS.
One of the big stories of the Trials could be Bono, who is trying to make his fourth World Team but his first since taking over as head coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Bono will have the advantage of not going through what promises to be a tough and highly competitive Challenge Tournament.
Among the wrestlers expected to compete in the Challenge Tournament is 2006 World gold medalist Bill Zadick.
Zadick has been sidelined by a number of injuries and ailments, but returned to competition at the Pan Am Championships in late May and won a bronze medal.
Cary Kolat returned to the mat after a four-year layoff and placed fourth at the U.S. Nationals. But Kolat suffered an injury in that event and may not be able to compete at the Trials.
U.S. Nationals runner-up Jared Frayer has been looking strong and also will be in the mix. Also expected to contend is 2004 Olympic Team Trials runner-up Jared Lawrence, who won the Dave Schultz event earlier this year.
Veteran Eric Larkin and newcomer Brent Metcalf are two other wrestlers who could make an impact at traditionally one of this country's deepest weight classes. Past NCAA champion Doug Schwab also can't be overlooked.
74 KG/163 LBS.
Heskett has the No. 1 seed here, but this weight class is very strong and very deep with 2006 World bronze medalist Donny Pritzlaff looking to bounce back after placing third at the U.S. Nationals.
Pritzlaff fell to past U.S. World Team Trials runner-up Casey Cunningham at the U.S. Nationals. Cunningham, who last competed in 2004, then advanced to the finals before falling to Heskett in the finals.
Heskett is looking to make his first U.S. World Team. He has placed second at both the World Team Trials and U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Veteran Ramico Blackmon is another wrestler with the experience and ability to make an impact here. Blackmon was fourth at the U.S. Nationals.
Two-time Hodge Trophy winner Ben Askren also should be a factor in this division. Askren reached the semifinals of the U.S. Nationals before dropping a close match to Heskett.
Veteran Scott Owen, fifth at the U.S. Nationals, also is a proven wrestler in this division as is Tyrone Lewis, who was second at the 2006 U.S. World Team Trials. Lewis placed seventh at the 2007 U.S. World Team Trials.
84 KG/185 LBS.
Williams has moved up a weight class and looked strong in beating Lee Fullhart in a close match in the finals of the U.S. Nationals.
Williams, a two-time World bronze medalist, is coming back strong after going 0-2 at the 2006 World Team Trials at 163 pounds.
Fullhart is looking to make his first World Team after finishing second on three occasions. Fullhart was fourth at the 2006 Trials.
2006 U.S. World Team member Andy Hrovat placed third at the U.S. Nationals and has gained significant experience competing overseas this season. He is another dangerous wrestler who made his mark at this event last year when he upset No. 1 seed Mo Lawal in the semifinals.
Two-time NCAA champion Chris Pendleton, a past U.S. National Team member, is another contender in this class. He was fourth at the U.S. Nationals.
University of Michigan wrestler Tyrell Todd was one of the big surprises of the U.S. Nationals after he placed fifth. Todd, fifth at the 2007 NCAA Championships, knocked off NCAA champion Jake Herbert at the U.S. Nationals.
Tony Gansen and Bryce Hasseman are two other wrestlers who could have success in this tournament.
96 KG/211.5 LBS.
It was one of the most anticipated matches of the U.S. Nationals with Cormier and Lawal squaring off in the finals.
Cormier, a three-time World Team member and 2004 Olympian, earned the win in a low-scoring battle. Lawal, who has moved up a weight this year, was a 2005 U.S. World Team member.
Expect Cormier and Lawal to meet again in the finals of the World Team Trials. Cormier hasn't wrestled much this season, but looked good in winning the Dave Schultz Memorial International at heavyweight before dropping back down to 211.5 for the U.S. Nationals.
Cormier is looking to make it five straight years of being on top in this weight class at the World or Olympic Trials.
U.S. Olympic Training Center residents Kyle Cerminara and Dawid Rechul finished three-four at the U.S. Nationals. Both have had strong seasons.
Kurt Backes, who just completed his career at Iowa State by placing second at the NCAA meet, placed fifth at the U.S. Nationals. Past NCAA runner-up Sean Stender was sixth at the U.S. Nationals.
Damion Hahn, second to Cormier at the 2006 Trials, also will be in contention. Hahn placed seventh at the U.S. Nationals.
120 KG/264.5 LBS.
Tommy Rowlands and Cole Konrad placed first and second at the U.S. Nationals.
Both are coming off a recent tryout with the New York Jets, but their immediate goals involve making a World Team this year and an Olympic Team next year.
Rowlands is looking tough in returning to the heavyweight class after spending a couple years cutting down to 211.5. Konrad just completed his college career at Minnesota, finishing as a two-time NCAA champion. Konrad upset past World bronze medalist Tolly Thompson in the semifinals of the U.S. Nationals.
Expect Thompson, who has made the past two U.S. World Teams, to come back strong at the World Team Trials.
Past U.S. World Team Trials runner-up Steve Mocco was third at the U.S. Nationals after falling to Rowlands in the semifinals. Mocco, who played football for Oklahoma State last fall, is now at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and focusing full-time on wrestling again.
Nebraska-Kearney's Tervel Dlagnev was one of the big surprises at the U.S. Nationals after he placed fourth. Dlagnev won a NCAA Division II title as a junior this past March. He is an athletic big man with excellent leg attacks who appears to have a bright future in freestyle.
Among the other wrestlers to watch at heavyweight are Michael Irving, Pat Cummins and Les Sigman. Irving placed fifth at the U.S. Nationals and Cummins seventh. Sigman, a four-time NCAA Division II champion for Nebraska-Omaha, reached the Challenge Tournament semifinals at the 2006 World Team Trials.