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Olympic champion Cael Sanderson makes triumphant return by winning U.S. World Team Trials



Cael Sanderson battles Jake Herbert in the finals. John Sachs photo.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Can you win a World title after a seven-year layoff?

We are about to find out after Cael Sanderson capped an amazing run by winning a U.S. World Team Trials freestyle wrestling title on Saturday night at the Cox Convention Center.

The 2004 Olympic gold medalist and Penn State head coach looked like the Sanderson of old after sweeping two straight matches from 2009 World silver medalist Jake Herbert in the finals at 84 kg/185 lbs.

Sanderson won the first match of the best-of-3 finals series 4-1, 2-0 before winning the second match 5-2, 2-0 against one of the best wrestlers in the World in the talented Herbert.

Sanderson was one of nine champions crowned in three styles on Saturday. Those champions advance to September’s World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. Sanderson won a silver medal at his only World Championships in 2003.

“I haven’t been in competitive matches in an atmosphere like this in a long time,” Sanderson said. “Early on, I think I was forcing things and maybe trying a little too hard. I felt a lot more comfortable as the day went on.”

Sanderson had a busy week. He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Thursday night, made 84 kilos for the first time in seven years on Friday and wrestled five matches on Saturday.

He won three matches earlier in the day in the Challenge Tournament to earn a shot at Herbert in the finals series. Herbert advanced to the finals by virtue of winning April’s U.S. Open.

Sanderson, nine days shy of his 32nd birthday, becomes the third active Division I head coach to make a U.S. World or Olympic Team. Oklahoma State coach John Smith and former Edinboro coach Bruce Baumgartner were the others.

Sanderson returned to competition in March, winning the Northeast Regional in Brockport, N.Y. at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. It was his first tournament since he won the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Sanderson proved he is still lethal on his feet in downing the 26-year-old Herbert, who has made the last two World Teams at 84 kilos. The freestyle rules have changed significantly since Sanderson last competed full-time in 2004.

“It’s a little weird, a little different,” Sanderson said. “It’s something you can’t prepare for until you get out there to compete. You go win a period and then you have to start all over again. You have to get out there and experience it. That’s the only way to prepare for it.”

One of the wrestlers Sanderson coaches at the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, Teyon Ware, made a triumphant return home by winning the freestyle title at 66 kg/145.5 lbs.

Ware, an Edmond, Okla., native who won two NCAA titles for Oklahoma, provided his boisterous cheering section with something to remember as he beat 2010 World Team member Brent Metcalf in the finals. Ware executed a celebratory backflip after his win.

Ware won the first and third matches to make his first World Team. Ware beat Metcalf in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open en route to the title. Ware was the No. 8 seed at the U.S. Open.

“Metcalf is a very tough wrestler and he brings it every time he steps out there,” Ware said. “This is a big step for me, but this isn’t my No. 1 goal. I’m on the World Team now and I want to bring home a medal. I want to win a World title. I still have a lot of work to do before I get to that point.”

An emotional Nick Simmons pulled out a tough three-match series over past Oklahoma All-American Sam Hazewinkel to win the freestyle finals series at 55 kg/121 lbs. Simmons made his first World Team. He placed second in the 2009 Trials.

2009 World bronze medalist Tervel Dlagnev outlasted 2008 Olympian Steve Mocco to win the freestyle title at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. Dlagnev came back strong after finishing second in this event last year. Dlagnev made his second World Team.

2008 World champion Clarissa Chun looked dominant in sweeping Alyssa Lampe in the women’s freestyle finals at 48 kg/105.5 lbs. Lampe beat Chun in the finals of the 2010 Trials.

“I’m just so focused right now,” said Chun, who missed most of last season after suffering a shoulder injury just before the 2009 Worlds. “Every day in practice, I made promises to myself. I am just making each practice mine. I am getting my confidence, timing and technique back together. I’m so happy to represent the U.S. again. I want to win the Worlds again.”

2010 World silver medalist Elena Pirozhkova took two straight matches from Adeline Gray to win the women’s freestyle title at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. Gray, fifth in the World in 2009, dropped down a weight class for this event.

Veteran Justin Ruiz made his sixth World Team after sweeping John Lorenz in the Greco-Roman finals at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. Ruiz won a World bronze medal in 2005 and placed fifth in the World last year.

“This gives me another shot to wrestle the World’s best and this gives me a shot to qualify the weight class for the Olympics,” Ruiz said. “It’s real big for me to make this team. We have four guys on this team who were on the World Championship team in 2007. We have some guys who are real hungry to get after it.”

Jake Fisher made his second straight World Team after beating Ben Provisor in the Greco-Roman finals at 74 kg/163 lbs. Fisher came back after falling to Provisor in the U.S. Open finals.

Joe Betterman made his second World Team after sweeping Jeremiah Davis in the Greco finals at 60 kg/132 lbs.

Four members of the U.S. World championship team from 2007 – Ruiz, Betterman, Justin Lester and Dremiel Byers – will compete in this year’s Worlds. Lester and Byers won World Team Trials titles on Friday night.

SATURDAY NIGHT’S FINALS RESULTS

FREESTYLE

55 kg/121 lbs.
Nick Simmons (Corvallis, Ore./Sunkist Kids) def. Sam Hazewinkel (Norman, Okla./Sunkist Kids), 2 matches to 1
Hazewinkel dec. Simmons, 0-1, 3-1, 1-0
Simmons dec. Hazewinkel, 0-4, 3-3, 5-3
Simmons dec. Hazewinkel, 2-6, 8-1, 6-1

66 kg/145.5 lbs.
Teyon Ware (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC) def. Brent Metcalf (Iowa City, Iowa/New York AC), 2 matches to 1
Ware dec. Metcalf, 1-0, 0-1, 1-1
Metcalf dec. Ware, 2-1, 0-6, 2-0
Ware dec. Metcalf, 2-0, 7-1

84 kg/185 lbs.
Cael Sanderson (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC) def. Jake Herbert (Evanston, Ill./New York AC), 2 matches to 0
Sanderson dec. Herbert, 4-1, 2-0
Sanderson dec. Herbert, 5-2, 2-0

120 kg/264.5 lbs.
Tervel Dlagnev (Columbus, Ohio/Sunkist Kids) def. Steve Mocco (Bethlehem, Pa./New York AC), 2 matches to 1
Mocco dec. Dlagnev, 1-0, 0-1, 1-0
Dlagnev dec. Mocco, 1-0, 3-0
Dlagnev dec. Mocco, 1-0, 1-0

WOMEN’S FREESTYLE

48 kg/105.5 lbs.
Clarissa Chun (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) def. Alyssa Lampe (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids), 2 matches to 0
Chun dec. Lampe, 6-0, 4-1
Chun dec. Lampe, 7-0, 7-1

63 kg/138.75 lbs.
Elena Pirozhkova (Colorado Springs, Colo./Gator WC) def. Adeline Gray (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC), 2 matches to 0
Pirozhkova dec. Gray, 2-0, 1-0
Pirozhkova dec. Gray, 2-0, 1-0

GRECO-ROMAN

60 kg/132 lbs.
Joe Betterman (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) def. Jeremiah Davis (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army), 2 matches to 0
Betterman dec. Davis, 2-0, 0-6, 4-0
Betterman dec. Davis, 0-2, 3-0, 1-0

74 kg/163 lbs.
Jake Fisher (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) def. Ben Provisor (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids), 2 matches to 1
Fisher dec. Provisor, 1-0, 0-1, 1-0
Provisor dec. Fisher, 1-0, 3-0
Fisher dec. Provisor, 1-0, 0-1, 1-0

96 kg/211.5 lbs.
Justin Ruiz (Meridian, Idaho/New York AC) def. John Lorenz (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army), 2 matches to 0
Ruiz dec. Lorenz, 2-0, 1-0
Ruiz dec. Lorenz, 1-0, 2-0
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