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U.S. OPEN PREVIEW: Three-time World medalist and Olympian Byers headlines Greco-Roman field



The U.S. Open Wrestling Championships will be held at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio, April 23-24. Previews of all three styles will be posted on TheMat.com this week.

The leading star heading into the 2010 U.S. Open in Greco-Roman is three-time World medalist and 2008 Olympian Dremiel Byers of the U.S. Army. Byers has won a World medal of each kind, a gold in 2002, a bronze in 2007 and a silver in 2009. He was the only U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to capture a medal at the 2009 World Championships in Denmark.

Byers represents the “old guard” in Greco-Roman wrestling, one of the leaders who helped build the program into international prominence. He was a member of that famous 2007 U.S. Greco-Roman team which made history by winning its first-ever World Team Title at the World meet in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The current Greco-Roman field is a mix of the veteran stars and some talented younger competitors who are making a name for themselves.

Among the veterans expected to compete is 2005 World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. Ruiz retired after the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, but is back on the mats this year. Another past World champion, Joe Warren at 60 kg/132 lbs., entered one tournament this year. He is competing in Mixed Martial Arts, but could make an appearance in Cleveland this year.

The fun part of the U.S. Open this year will be the emergence of some of the younger competitors who are starting to come into their own.

55 KG/121 LBS.

The top star at this division has been Spenser Mango, the exciting young talent who competed at the 2008 Olympic Games and 2009 World Championships. Mango has yet to win his first World-level medal, a big motivation for him. Last year, Mango wrestled up at 60 kg for the U.S. Open, where he finished second.

The returning U.S. Open champion is Jermaine Hodge, who beat Sam Hazewinkel in the finals last year. Hodge had a disappointing finish at the World Team Trials, but has returned to competition with an Armed Forces title in March. Hazewinkel, a two-time U.S. Open champion, has switched to freestyle and won’t be in the Greco field.

Lindsey Durlacher, who was a 2006 World bronze medalist and made three U.S. World Teams, is among the veteran challengers in the weight. A young athlete making progress is Nate Engel, who won the Sunkist International this fall. Spenser Mango’s younger brother Ryan Mango is nationally ranked, and comes off his freshman year at Stanford.

Paul Tellgren and Max Nowry from the USOEC program at Northern Michigan have gained experience. Others to watch are Kevin Hunter, William Spackman and Anthony Hayes.

60 KG/132 LBS.

Jeremiah Davis had his best season in 2009, winning the World Team Trials and competing in his first World Championships. Davis has gained some international experience this winter and hopes to hold onto his No. 1 spot. He most recently won the Armed Forces title.

The top challenger in this weight class may be 2007 U.S. World Team member Joe Betterman, who was injured in the finals of the rugged Poddubny Tournament in Russia in January. Betterman is expected to miss the U.S. Open but has an outside chance of returning for the World Team Trials.

2006 World Champion Joe Warren entered the Kit Carson Cup this year, his first competition since 2007. Warren says he plans to wrestle this year, but it is not know if he will show up at the U.S. Open.

This weight class has developed some depth, with U.S. Army athletes Marco Lara and Nathan Piasecki capable of a strong finish at the U.S. Open. Young stars Ellis Coleman and Jimmy Chase look to climb the ladder now that they are training full-time in Greco-Roman. Others to watch include Chad Vandiver, Donovan DePatto and Casey Lawson.

66 KG/145.5 LBS.

Veteran Faruk Sahin finally reached his goal of representing the USA at the World Championships, winning both the U.S. Open and the World Team Trials last season. A naturalized citizen born in Turkey, Sahin has been close for many years, including a runner-up finish at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He won the Armed Forces title this spring, as well as medals in two international tournaments.

Another experienced star, Glenn Garrison, a past U.S. Open champion, moved back up from 60 kg this year and has had a strong season. He was second at the Dave Schultz Memorial, third at the Sunkist International and fourth at the NYAC International.

This weight class will be without one of its bright young stars, with the unexpected and tragic passing of Jacob Curby this winter at age 25. Curby had reached as high as No. 2 on the national team ladder and was showing improvement each season. He had many friends across the nation and world, and he will be missed by many attending the U.S. Open this year.

Bo Beckman, who has paid his dues in recent seasons, has shown progress in the early season. Veteran Kerry Regner is capable of reaching the medal rounds. 2004 Olympian Oscar Wood has not competed yet this year, but would be a high seed if he enters the Open. Young Josh Castellano has stepped up to the Senior level this year and shown promise. Others to watch are Ben Sanchez, Zach Lamano, Alex Fleming and Tanner Andrews.

74 KG/163 LBS.

Two-time World medalist Harry Lester has competed only once this year, and was up at 84 kg at the time. Lester has indicated that he is taking time off from competing. Filling in the void is one of Lester’s best friends, longtime training partner Jake Fisher, who has won gold medals at the Sunkist Kids International and the Dave Schultz Memorial. Fisher aims to win his first U.S. Open title as a springboard to a shot at a U.S. World Team.

One of Fisher’s teammates when he was at the USOEC program was Andrew Bisek, who has had a strong winter season. Bisek won the New York AC International and placed second at the Sunkist Kids International. He boasts a win over Olympic and World champion Farid Mansurov of Azerbaijan this winter.

Jess Hargrave, who placed second at the 2009 World Team Trials, has not competed this season but is expected to enter the U.S. Open. Young Ben Provisor, who has made a number of U.S. age group World Teams, is making a name for himself on the Senior level. Jake Deitchler, who made the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team as a teenager, returned to compete at the Univ. of Minnesota, but still has high goals in Greco-Roman. He is growing into the 74 kg division in his second season at this division.

Steve Forrest placed second at the New York AC International this fall. James Johnson won the 2010 Armed Forces title. Young wrestlers Aaron Briggs, Jonathan Drendel, Anton Gottfredson and George Bancroft have been gaining experience and skills, and hope to move up in the standings in Cleveland.

84 KG/185 LBS.

Chas Betts had his best season on the Senior level last year, capturing a spot on the 2009 U.S. World Team. Betts has won four medals at international events so far this season, including the New York AC International gold medal. He has also beaten a number of his top American opponents already this season.

Veteran T.C. Dantzler, a 2008 Olympian and five-time World Team member, was second to Betts in last year’s World Team Trials. Dantzler has not competed this year, but is expected at the U.S. Open. Aaron Sieracki, who has been ranked as high as No. 2 on Greco-Roman Team USA, returns for another shot at winning his first U.S. Open title. He missed a few weeks of training from injury this winter, but is looking to be in top shape for the Open.

Talan Knox has had a strong season, placing second behind Betts at the Sunkist Kids International. He boasts a win over Sieracki this year. Cheney Haight, who was second behind Dantzler at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, was the Sunkist Kids International champion and won a silver medal at the Granma Cup in Cuba.

Veteran Nate Patrick has shown an ability to compete well in this weight class. Armed Forces champion Peter Hicks is showing progress. Chad Hemerson and Jeremy Pederson hope to make an impact. If he is down to 84 kg, David Walker is also somebody to watch.

,b>96 KG/211.5 LBS.

2009 U.S. World Team member R.C. Johnson has missed this season due to injury, but is aiming to return, even if it is at the World Team Trials in June. Johnson showed he can win big matches under pressure while claiming the No. 1 spot last year.

2005 World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz has returned after retiring after placing second at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He has already established himself again, with gold medals at the New York AC International and the Dave Schultz Memorial. Ruiz has beaten some talented international opponents also this season.

Brad Ahearn, who won the U.S. Open last year at this weight, has not been competing and is reportedly retiring. Robbie Smith is having his best Senior-level season to date, placing second to Ruiz at the Dave Schultz Memorial and winning a bronze medal on a tour to Cuba. Peter Gounaridis, who was second at the World Team Trials last year, remains a strong threat to reach the finals at the Open.

Zac Nielsen, the Sunkist Kids International champion this year, is a young talent who continues to improve. The U.S. Army has two tough competitors at this division, Justin Millard and John Lorenz. Millard, a past U.S. Open runner-up, recently won the Armed Forces Championships. Moises Hernandez, Robert Barbour, Joseph Sheffield and Kenyon Walsh are others who could make an impact.

,b>120 KG/264.5 LBS.

Dremiel Byers continues to dominate his U.S. opponents, while putting together one of the top international careers in American Greco-Roman history. Byers placed second at the World Championships in Denmark last year, giving him three total World medals. He has already won a World title, back in 2002.

Byers has won five gold medals since the Worlds last year, winning the New York AC International, the Vaanta Cup in Finland, the Dave Schultz Memorial, the Granma Cup in Cuba and the Armed Forces Championships. He also won a silver medal at the Ivan Poddubny Grand Prix in Russia, one of the toughest events in the world.

Pushing Byers in many of these events has been Brandon Rupp, who was second in last year’s World Team Trials. Rupp won the Sunkist Kids International, and has added other medals on the international circuit this season. His skill and confidence continues to improve.

Pete Kowalczuk, a past University World medalist, and Eric Nye, a Greco-Roman specialist who competes at Arizona State, add considerable depth to the field. Tim Taylor, who was second behind Army teammate Byers at the 2008 Olympic Team Trials, remains a strong threat to reach the finals. Akil Patterson has shown improvement on the national scene this year. If he enters the U.S. Open, young Tyrell Fortune is expected to be a medal contender. Others to watch are Kenny Lester and Chris Pierce.

2009 U.S. Open Greco-Roman Gold Medal Finals

55 kg/121 lbs. " Jermaine Hodge (U.S. Army) dec. Sam Hazewinkel (Sunkist Kids), 1-0, 0-3, 4-4

60 kg/132 lbs. " Joe Betterman (New York AC) dec. Spenser Mango (New York AC), 3-0, 2-0

66 kg/145.5 lbs. " Faruk Sahin (U.S. Army) dec. Mark Rial (Gator WC), 3-0, 1-0

74 kg/163 lbs. "Harry Lester (New York AC) dec. Jake Fisher (New York AC), 2-0, 1-0

84 kg/185 lbs. " T.C. Dantzler (New York AC) dec. Aaron Sieracki (U.S. Army), 1-0, 3-0

96 kg/211.5 lbs. " Brad Ahearn (U.S. Army) dec. R.C. Johnson (Sunkist Kids), 2-0, 1-0

120 kg/264.5 lbs. " Dremiel Byers (U.S. Army) dec. Brandon Rupp (New York AC), 5-0, 1-0

ASICS U.S. Open Wrestling Championships website

TheMat.com U.S. Senior Greco-Roman Rankings, April 2010

2009 U.S. Open Greco-Roman Championships results

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