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2001 U.S. Freestyle National Wrestling Championships preview



In the year after the Olympic Games, the U.S. Nationals becomes an intriguing and unexpected event. A number of athletes from the previous Olympic cycle have to make a difficult decision whether or not to continue their careers. In addition, some young stars from the college and age-group ranks often decide to step up and begin their run for the next Olympic team. This year, the choice may be easier for the veterans, as the 2001 World Championships will be held in New York City. The opportunity to compete in the World meet on U.S. soil may encourage a number of experienced stars to continue, at least for one more year. The U.S. won four medals at the 2000 Olympic Games, and has been a top World power for many years. A weight-by weight preview of the U.S. Freestyle Nationals follows. 119 pounds Olympic silver medalist Sammie Henson has indicated that he wants to compete at the 2004 Olympics, and has continued to excel on the national levels, winning a pair of golds on foreign tours this year. Two-time Olympic Trials runner-up Eric Akin is also still on the mats, and looking for another shot at Henson. Teague Moore, third in the Olympic Trials, is improving as he gains experience including a University World title. Two-time NCAA champion Stephen Abas, although still in college, is already a world-class competitor and can already challenge the top three. Veterans Mike Mena, Eric Albarracin and Tim Dernlan can be a factor, based on their experience at this level. Some young athletes should be watched, including Patrick Cassidy, Chris Fleeger and Junior World champion T.J. Hill. Whether college stars like Jody Strittmatter or Leroy Vega decide to test the next level remains to be seen. 127.75 pounds Olympic bronze medalist Terry Brands, a two-time World champion, has yet to announce if he will continue wrestling, but showed interest in competing in New York. Olympic Trials runner-up Kerry Boumans was spectacular last season, and is training for shot at the World team. Eric Guerrero, World team member in 1999, continues to expand his international skills. Danny Felix, second in the 2000 U.S. Nationals, has shown the ability to beat top challengers. Military star Jason Kutz has shown skill and potential, as well. Young talents Cody Sanderson and Jeremy Hunter have their sights on the next Olympic team. Veterans Don Reyes and Dwight Hinson could remain a factor. Juan Venturi is among the promising freestylers from the college ranks. NCAA champion Eric Juergens may not continue competing, but All-Americans like Todd Beckerman and Witt Durden have shown freestyle skills. 138.75 pounds Olympian and two-time World medalist Cary Kolat continues to be one of the world's best wrestlers, and is expected to remain a top World gold-medal hopeful. Olympic Trials runner-up Bill Zadick keeps improving, and will give Kolat another strong run. College star Eric Larkin placed third in the Olympic Trials and shows great freestyle skills. Veterans Troy Steiner and John Fisher have experience and talent, and will be dangerous if they compete. Young Dustin Denunzio, just out of college, has been outstanding this winter. Others who have done well on the freestyle circuit include Mike Eierman, Joe Calavitta, Jeff Bedard and C.C. Fisher. NCAA champion Michael Lightner plans to challenge for the next Olympic team, and past NCAA champion Doug Schwab could develop into a strong freestyler. 152 pounds Olympic bronze medalist Lincoln McIlravy, also a two-time World medalist, has yet to indicate his future plans, but is a strong favorite if he continues to compete. Chris Bono, the Olympic Trials runner-up, has much international experience and success. Ramico Blackmon, third in the Olympic Trials, has become a strong challenger. Veterans Pat Santoro, Terry Steiner and John Giura will make an impact if they stay on the mats. The newest NCAA champion, Adam Tirapelle, plus recent NCAA champions Casey Cunningham and Kirk White, have all shown strong freestyle skills. Chris Ayers has had a strong winter season. College All-Americans Dave Esposito, Jared Lawrence and Jared Frayer have done well in age-group freestyle events. 167.5 pounds Olympic champion Brandon Slay is not expected to compete this year, after his dramatic run through the U.S. ranks, then the international field in Sydney. Olympic Trials runner-up Brian Dolph, who helped coach Slay in college, has also not indicated if he will compete again. A certain challenger will be Joe Williams, who was fourth in the 1999 Worlds and won the U.S. Nationals that season. Byron Tucker has shown tremendous freestyle skills, winning a World University title. Donny Pritzlaff and Joe Heskett, who have met in the last two NCAA finals, have been strong freestylers. Heskett won the Sunkist Open this year, and Pritzlaff is a former Junior World champion. 1997 World Team member Dan St. John is a factor if he competes at this weight. Glenn Pritzlaff and Sam Kline have had recent success on the freestyle circuit. Veteran Frank Trigg is always dangerous, and Mark Smith has emerged as a possible threat. College All-American Yoshi Nakamura has done well in recent freestyle events, and Steve Blackford has also been strong in age-group events. 187.25 pounds Charles Burton, fifth at the 2000 Olympics, is aiming for another shot at a World-level medal. Burton looks to win his first U.S. Nationals this season. World Champion and 1996 Olympian Les Gutches has not competed since his Olympic Trials wrestle-off. Lee Fullhart, who was a strong third in the Olympic Trials process, continues to impress on foreign tours. Three-time NCAA champion Cael Sanderson won a World University title in the fall, and gave Gutches a great match at last year's U.S. Nationals. This class has a number of talented challengers, including Aaron Simpson and John Kading, plus former college teammates Brandon Eggum and Tim Hartung. Each of these wrestlers could battle for a spot in the national finals with a good performance. Collegian Victor Sveda placed at last year's U.S. Nationals, and 2001 NCAA champion Josh Koscheck has also been a freestyle All-American. Young Damion Hahn has success in both age-group and Senior freestyle events. Expect some new names from the college ranks very soon. 213.75 pounds Two-time Olympian Melvin Douglas, a former World champ, has yet to announce his retirement and can still compete at the highest level. Dominic Black, second in the Olympic Trials and a 1999 World Team member, has world-class experience and skill. Chad Lamer has made rapid progress, including a University World title. Veteran Rex Holman was third in the Olympic Trials, and Johnny Curtis is a former Team USA member. Among the young challengers are Raphael Davis, Ryan Tobin and Orville Palmer. 2001 NCAA champion Mark Munoz was a Junior World silver medalist, and former NCAA champion Mitch Clark has shown promise. Zach Thompson has been a Senior All-American and Junior World finalist, and Rusty Cook has shown good freestyle skills. 286 pounds The highly anticipated rivalry between 2000 Olympian Kerry McCoy and 1999 World Champion Stephen Neal should be rekindled this year. McCoy placed fifth in the Sydney Games, and beat Neal three times in 2000. Neal has competed this winter, and is aiming for another shot at the World Championships. Airron Richardson, third in the Olympic Trials, has not yet returned to the mats, but former Team USA member Tolly Thompson is actively seeking a World Team spot. Angelo Borzio is a consistent challenger, and J.R. Plienis is expected to be in the mix. NCAA runner-up Tommy Rowlands has won Junior World medals and may have outgrown the 213.75 division. Billy Blunt and Tim Courtad have been active on the freestyle circuit, and new NCAA champion John Lockhart has had age-level freestyle success. High school star Steven Mocco has the skill to compete on this level.
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