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Preview of the freestyle competition at the Senior World Team Trials in Cincinnati



The qualifying stage has been completed, and America's best freestyle wrestlers will battle for the right to compete on U.S. soil at the World Championships in New York City in September. The U.S. team will be set at the World Team Trials at the Cintas Center at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 22-24. There has been a reshuffling of the deck among the nation's top freestyle wrestlers, and should be some very compelling battles in Cincinnati. 119 pounds After eight years on the senior circuit, Eric Akin claimed his first Senior National title with a victory in Las Vegas in April. A 1999 World Team member and two-time Olympic Trials runner-up, Akin is still hungry for a World-level medal. His top competition may come from challengers who did not compete in Vegas, including 2000 Olympic silver medalist Sammie Henson, and two-time NCAA champion Stephen Abas. Henson, who was a 1998 World Champion, was a no-show at nationals, but is expected to join the field in the Challenge Tournament. A surprise U.S. Nationals finalist was Tim Dernlan, who had his best-ever national showing by making the finals against Akin. Shane Valdez also had his best national showing, placing third at the U.S. Nationals. Exciting T.J. Hill, a Junior World Champion last year, placed fourth in Las Vegas. Also qualifying at the U.S. Nationals were emerging talents Pat Cassidy and Sean Kim. Jason Powell, a 2000 Junior World medalist who competes at the Univ. of Nebraska, is also eligible to enter. Two wrestlers who competed at 119 pounds last year, Teague Moore and Mike Mena, will become immediate top challengers if they drop for the World Team Trials event. 127.75 pounds Eric Guerrero, seventh in the 1999 World Championships, won his first U.S. Nationals title with a strong performance in Las Vegas. He defeated 2000 U.S. Nationals champion Kerry Boumans in the championship finals. Boumans, who was second in the 2000 Olympic Trials, seeks his first U.S. World team berth. Veteran Army wrestler Jason Kutz placed third, his best performance to date on the national scene. Everybody is wondering if two-time World Champion and 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Terry Brands might return for the World Team Trials. There is no indication that wrestling fans will ever see Brands compete again. Two of the qualifiers at the U.S. Nationals, Teague Moore and Mike Mena, could potentially drop down to 119 pounds. Danny Felix, who was second in the 2000 U.S. Nationals, placed sixth this year, and remains a dangerous competitor, capable of a run at the finals. 138.75 pounds Bill Zadick claimed his first U.S. Nationals title with an impressive and consistent performance at the U.S. Nationals. He defeated rising superstar Dustin DeNunzio in the finals, a battle that might become a rivalry in the future. Both athletes will be training for the return of 2000 Olympian Cary Kolat, who missed the U.S. Nationals due to injury. Kolat, a two-time World medalist, has owned this weight since 1997 and is expected to be in top form in time for the World Team Trials. University Nationals champion Jamill Kelly had a great performance, taking third place in his first major Senior-level test. Cagy veteran John Fisher, a U.S. Nationals champion way back in 1992, placed fourth and remains a threat. Also earning spots in the Challenge Tournament by placing in the top six in Las Vegas were Jeremy Ensrud and Mike Eierman, both stong freestylers. College star Eric Larkin from Arizona State, who is ranked No. 3 on the National Team, did not compete in Las Vegas, but is eligible to compete in Cincinnati. 152 pounds The new U.S. Nationals champion is Ramico Blackmon, a U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete who has quickly risen on the national scene. Blackmon showed great poise in scoring late in the match to defeat veteran Chris Bono in the U.S. Nationals finals. Bono, an Olympic Team Trials runner-up, was seeking his first national title. Both finalists are originally from Florida, an indication of the state's wrestling talent. The man who dominated this weight class since 1997, Olympic bronze medalist Lincoln McIlravy, did not enter in Las Vegas and showed no indication that he is returning to the mats this year. If McIlravy returns, this weight changes dramatically. A big surprise was exciting Jesse Jantzen, a freshman at Harvard, who placed third in Las Vegas. Less than a year ago, Jantzen was a Junior National champion, and has now risen near the top on the Senior level. The next two placewinners at the U.S. Nationals come from the Lehigh program, graduate Chris Ayers and this year's NCAA runner-up Dave Esposito. Adding to the strong Eastern flavor at this weight is Yoshi Nakamura, who competes at the Univ. of Pennsylvania and is a talented freestyler. Also qualifying for the Challenge Tournament as a 2000 Junior World medalist is Jared Lawrence, who stars at the Univ. of Minnesota. 167.5 pounds Joe Williams won his second career U.S. Nationals title with a strong performance in Las Vegas. Williams was fourth in the 1999 World Championships, and is seeking another shot at a medal. He needed a last-second score to defeat talented Byron Tucker in the national finals. Tucker, who claimed a University World title last fall, has quickly emerged as a major force. Veteran Steve Marianetti, member of the 1998 U.S. World Team, has championship abilities, and had some true wars against Williams in the past. College star Joe Heskett placed fourth at the U.S. Nationals and has done well consistently in big freestyle events. Veteran Frank Trigg qualified by placing fifth at the nationals, and has been known to beat some of the top competitors in the past. College star Rick Springman of the Univ. of Pennsylvania made his first major Senior level impact by placing sixth in Las Vegas. Another Challenge Tournament qualifier is 1997 World Team member Dan St. John, who did not wrestle at nationals but is an expected entry. 187.25 pounds College superstar Cael Sanderson has made the big step forward by winning the title and Outstanding Wrestler award at the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas. In the finals, Sanderson defeated Charles Burton, who placed fifth in the 2000 Olympics. Sanderson boasts three NCAA titles, without a loss on the college level, and was a University World Champion last fall. Burton, who beat 1997 World Champion Les Gutches in a Special Wrestle-off last summer, remains a world-class athlete with experience. Gutches has not wrestled since last July and is not expected in Cincinnati. Lee Fullhart, who was upset early at the U.S. Nationals, battled back through the consolations and placed third. He gave Burton a tough series last year in Dallas, and has had good showings on foreign tours. Brandon Eggum, who split a pair of matches with Fullhart in Las Vegas, climbed to fourth place in the weight. Aaron Simpson, who has been very consistent on the freestyle circuit, was fifth at the U.S. Nationals. Markus Mollica has improved in this tough weight class and claimed the final qualifying spot at number six. Dan St. John, a Challenge Tournament qualifier, may move to this weight class rather than 167.5 pounds. 213.75 pounds Dominic Black returned to the top of the weight class, winning the U.S. Nationals with a commanding performance. Black was a member of the 1999 U.S. World Team and was injured in the Olympic Trials finals against veteran Melvin Douglas last year. Douglas did not compete in Las Vegas and is 37 years old, but would not surprise anybody if he showed up in Cincinnati. Chad Lamer placed second behind Black at the U.S. Nationals, and has quickly emerged as a force at this weight. Lamer won a University World title earlier this season. Ryan Tobin trained seriously in freestyle this season, and had his best-ever performance by placing fourth in Las Vegas. Tim Hartung, who has competed at both 187.25 pounds and 213.75 pounds, moved up for the nationals and placed fourth. College star Zach Thompson of Iowa State, a former Junior World medalist, placed fifth at the U.S. Nationals. Veteran Rex Holman, back training in his native Ohio,
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