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|JUNIOR FREESTYLE NOTES: Zach Sanders, Kellen Russell, Michael Mangrum and the Colorado Kids|
By Matt Russell Special to TheMat,com
Fargo win would be icing on the cake for Sanders
The last 365 days for Zachary Sanders of Minnesota have been pretty impressive to say the least. Sanders won the 2006 Junior Freestyle crown, a record-tying fifth Minnesota state title and the NHSCA Senior Championships at 119 pounds.
Awards were in abundance also as Sanders was named an ASICS First Team All-American for the second consecutive year and the recipient of the 2007 Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award.
So what exactly made Sanders come back to Fargo this year before taking his talents to the University of Minnesota?
"I really don't know what I would be doing otherwise," said Sanders. "I might as well come. I've been here every summer."
The soon-to-be six-time All-American enjoys this tournament and it's obvious to Sanders how much of an accomplishment it would be to win two titles in a row.
"This tournament is the biggest and the most prestigious in the country," said Sanders. "Winning another title would be pretty sweet and a good way to end my high school career."
Champions from last year may battle for 140-pound crown
Like most of the weights in the Junior Freestyle championships, the 140-pound weight class is loaded.
"I was surprised how stacked this weight class is," said Michael Mangrum of Washington, who won the 125-pound Junior Freestyle title last year. "I came into the Greco-Roman division this year thinking it wouldn't be so hard and then I got beat twice in a row."
This class is the only one in the tournament that has two defending champions. Along with Mangrum, Kellen Russell of New Jersey is still alive and on opposite sides of the bracket.
Russell beat Adam Koballa of Ohio in last year's championship at 130 pounds.
Although they haven't wrestled, they have taken notice of each other.
"I watched him last year in Fargo and he's tough," said Russell.
"All those New Jersey kids are good," Mangrum said. "If we meet in the finals, I'll have to wrestle him as tough as I can."
Colorado's best looking to climb the summit, earn respect
Sonny Yohn and Tyler Graff placed runner-up at the Junior Freestyle nationals last year. To say they've been thinking about it doesn't do it justice.
"I can't even explain it," said Yohn, after asking how much it would mean to take the crown back to the Mile High State. "It's been on my mind everyday since last year."
Graff shares the same opinion after losing in the finals last year to Michael Mangrum.
"Coming back here and having the chance to win it has been on my mind since I left last year," said Graff.
Those are just two of the great athletes Colorado has brought to Fargo this week and the state is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Although Colorado usually doesn't come up in the same sentence with the likes of Ohio or Pennsylvania when talking about great wrestling states, guys like Yohn and Graff are paving the way for the state to be well represented for years to come.
"Colorado doesn't get the respect it deserves," said Yohn. "We got the guys to compete with such as Tyler [Graff], Kevin LeValley and Tucker Lane."
Yohn may be on to something. Four Colorado wrestlers were All-Americans in the Junior Greco-Roman division earlier this week, including LeValley, who won the 2007 Junior Greco-Roman championship at 145 pounds. Yohn's younger brother, Cody, defeated defending Junior Freestyle national champion Kirk Smith of Idaho on Thursday morning, 2-1, 1-1.
"It [respect] is finally coming around," said Yohn.