Unexpected Results Highlight U.S. National Wrestling Championships, the Major Qualifier for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials

01/05/2008

LAS VEGAS, NV – The U.S. National Wrestling Championships has special significance during an Olympic year. A victory at the U.S. Nationals provides momentum, and in some cases an automatic spot in the final series, at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Winning the U.S. Nationals puts an athlete that much closer to their Olympic dream.

The consistent theme at the 2008 U.S. Nationals during all three days of competition was to expect the unexpected. It was a great year for first-time national champions, many who had their best performance ever on the center mat.

The top seven athletes in the men’s freestyle and Greco-Roman divisions qualified to compete in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling in Las Vegas, Nev., June 13-15. The top seven athletes in the four women’s Olympic weight classes, and the top four in the three non-Olympic weight classes, also qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

MEN’S FREESTYLE
Four of the seven winners captured a Senior national title for the first time at the 2008 Las Vegas/ASICS U.S. National Freestyle Championships on April 26.

The first four weight classes were captured by first-time winners: Matt Azevedo of the Sunkist Kids at 55 kg/121 lbs., Shawn Bunch of the New York AC at 60 kg/132 lbs., Doug Schwab of the Gator WC at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. and Ben Askren of the Sunkist Kids at 74 kg/163 lbs.

Azevedo shocked two-time U.S. Nationals champion and top-seed Henry Cejudo of Sunkist Kids with a second period pin, 1-0, 0:18. Azevedo won the first period, scoring a takedown from the clinch. Early in the second period, Azevedo blocked a front headlock attempt by Cejudo and caught him on his back, securing the pin. Azevedo was named Outstanding Wrestler based upon his performance.

“I expected to win. I knew I could win a National title and obviously this is just a stepping stone to get to the Olympic team. This is a big goal. This is a big deal for me to be a National champion,” said Azevedo.

Bunch defeated Oklahoma State NCAA champion Coleman Scott of the Gator WC in two straight periods, 4-0, 1-0. Bunch scored a three-point front headlock in the first period along with another takedown, and scored the only takedown in the second period.

Schwab, who was fifth in the 2007 World Championships, scored a two-period victory over 2006 World Champion Bill Zadick of the Gator WC, 1-0, 3-0. Schwab won both periods by scoring takedowns from the clinch. In the first period, Zadick received one point for the takedown, and in the second period, he received three points for the exposure.

“Everybody knows each other so well. I’ve wrestled him. Everybody has wrestled everybody in our weight so many times. It just comes down to the fact that you do it so well it doesn’t even matter,” said Schwab.

Askren won in two straight periods, defeating 2006 World Team Trials runner-up Tyrone Lewis of the Gator WC, 3-0, 3-2. Askren won the first period with a three-point double leg takedown. In the second period, trailing 2-0, Askren scored a two-point exposure and a takedown for the victory.

“You know I had a lot of things I wanted to do this year. I said this year I wanted to be tough. This year is for the Olympics. That’s all I do everyday, my life’s boring, but it paid off,” said Askren.

Previous champions won the next three matches, with Mo Lawal of the Gator WC capturing his third U.S. Nationals title at 84 kg/185 lbs. and 2004 Olympian Daniel Cormier of the Gator WC winning his sixth career nationals title with a win at 96 kg/211.5 pounds and Tommy Rowlands of the Sunkist Kids winning his second straight national gold at 120 kg/264.5 pounds.

Lawal defeated 2006 World Team member Andy Hrovat of the New York AC, 1-1, 1-0. In the first period, Hrovat scored the first takedown, with Lawal taking the second takedown, winning the period on the tiebreaker of last point scored. In the second period, Lawal had the only takedown.

Cormier was dominant in his 7-0, 2-0 victory over Nik Fekete of the /New York AC. In the first period technical fall, Cormier scored two takedowns for one point, a two-point gutwrench and a three-point front headlock. In the second period, Cormier added two more takedowns.

In a hotly contested heavyweight finals, Rowlands defeated Steve Mocco of the New York AC , 3-0, 0-2, 1-0. The action was so intense that the wrestlers traded blows at the end of the second period. Rowlands won the first period with a takedown with exposure from the clinch. Mocco had a takedown and a stepout for points in the second period. The only point in the final round was when Rowlands forced Mocco to step out on a hip toss during a scramble.

By winning the U.S. Nationals, three wrestlers qualified to advance directly to the best-of-three series at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. There are four criteria that a 2008 National champion must meet in order to skip straight into the final series. They are:

Top 10 finish at the 2005, 2006 or 2007 Senior World Championships
2005 University World Games medalist
2005, 2006 or 2007 Junior World medalist
Multiple-time U.S. World Team member

Based upon these criteria, advancing into the finals series are Schwab, Lawal, Cormier and Rowlands. The other three champions will enter the Challenge Tournament portion of the tournament.

GRECO-ROMAN
Three of the seven champions at the 2008 Las Vegas/ASICS U.S. National Greco-Roman Championships won national titles for the first time in their careers with outstanding performances on April 25.

The first-time national champions included Spenser Mango of the Gator WC/USOEC at 55 kg/121 lbs., Mark Rial of the Gator WC at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. and Brad Ahearn of the U.S. Army at 84 kg/185 lbs.

The finals began with an upset, as 2006 World University champion Mango defeated 2006 World bronze medalist Lindsey Durlacher of the New York AC, 1-3, 3-0, 7-0. It was Mango’s first U.S. Nationals title, and he was named Outstanding Wrestler for his effort.

Durlacher scored a two-point reversal to win the first period. In the second period, with Durlacher only seconds away from victory, Mango scored a two-point gut wrench to take the period. Mango scored early in the third on a stepout, then received a key two-point penalty and caution when Durlacher jumped from the starting position. Two more Mango gut wrenches ended the period as a technical fall, 7-0.

Mango was unaware of how much time remained when he scored the key gut wrench turn in the second period.

“I didn’t know. I didn’t want to take the time to look at the clock. If there was a couple extra seconds I would have I guess had everything against me. I just tried to get my hands locked first and once I had my hands locked just get enough momentum to turn him over,” he said.

Winning his first U.S. Nationals title was Mark Rial of the Gator WC who defeated high school sensation Jake Deitchler of the Minnesota Storm in two straight periods, 5-4, 1-1 at 66 kg/145.5 lbs.

Rial opened the first period quickly with a takedown and a gut wrench, but Deitchler was able to score late in the period to lose by just a point. In the second period, neither wrestler could score from the clinch position, and Rial won by scoring the final point defending from the bottom.

“To tell you the truth there haven’t been any changes in my training, it’s just the mental aspect. I’ve been more positive, more confident in my ability. I’m not worried about going out there and winning or losing, but going out there and having fun,” said Rial about his preparation for the event.

Ahearn upset 2007 World silver medalist Brad Vering of the New York AC in the finals, 2-1, 1-1. Ahearn’s top previous finish at the U.S. Nationals was fourth in 2006.

Ahearn won the first period, 2-1, scoring the only takedown of the period. In the second period, both wrestlers were unable to score from their feet. Vering defended from the clinch position to score the first point, then Ahearn was able to defend for a point and won the period by scoring the final point. An attempt for a turn by Vering on the edge of the mat late in the final period was reviewed by officials and no points were awarded.

“Last year I was at 96 kg. I did that to work on my technique and I heal my body. I had a few surgeries that I had. I knew I was coming back down to 84 kg for the Olympic year. I changed my training up, started doing a whole lot of extra work, just something extra everyday. I believed in my coaches and had a few overseas tournaments which was just a big experience for me. It just paid off,” said Ahearn.

Winning his seventh career U.S. Nationals title was 2002 World champion Dremiel Byers of the U.S. Army who stopped Russ Davie of the New York AC at 120 kg/264.5 lbs., 2-1, 4-0. Byers scored the only takedown in the first period for the edge. In the second period, a gut wrench turn by Byers was the key to his win.

Winning his fifth career U.S. Nationals title was 2005 World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz of the New York AC who stopped R.C. Johnson of the Sunkist Kids, 4-1, 1-1. Ruiz had a three-point body lock in the first period, and scored the final point in the second period for the victory.

Capturing his third career title was T.C. Dantzler of the Gator WC, who defeated Andrew Bisek of the Minnesota Storm/USOEC, 2-2, 3-2 at 74 kg/163 lbs. Both Bisek and Dantzler scored two-point turns from the clinch position in the first period, but Dantzler won by scoring the last point. In the second period, Dantzler defended from the clinch position for one point. Each wrestler scored two points on a scramble at the end for the second clinch, giving Dantzler the win.

At 60 kg/132 lbs., two-time Olympian Jim Gruenwald of the Sunkist Kids defeated 2007 U.S. World Team member Joe Betterman of the New York AC,

Gruenwald was able to get throws with exposure in both periods to win the match. Gruenwald, 37, made a comeback earlier in the year after retiring after the 2004 Olympic Games.

Gruenwald is the assistant coach at the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan Univ., where Betterman has been a student-athlete. Betterman beat Gruenwald in the finals of the Sunkist Kids International in October, in their only meeting since Gruenwald came out of retirement. It was Gruenwald’s third career U.S. Nationals title, with his last national crown in 2004.

Of the champions, only Dantzler, Ruiz and Byers will advance directly to the best-of-three championship series at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Las Vegas, Nev., June 13-15. Only athletes who have placed fifth or higher at the 2005-07 World Championships and also won the U.S. Nationals will go directly to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials finals series in Greco-Roman. The other four champions will be included in the Challenge Tournament portion of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

Prior to the championship finals, the members of the 2007 U.S. Greco-Roman World Team delegation, along with key leaders in the American Greco-Roman community, received World Championship rings honoring their achievement.

The top seven placewinners at each weight class qualified to compete at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Las Vegas, Nev., June 13-15.

WOMEN
With the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling just weeks away, the 2008 U.S. Women’s National Championships had special significance on April 24.

The champions in the four Olympic weight classes earned a spot in the best-of-three championship series at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev., June 13-15.

Claiming a national title at an Olympic division was 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Patricia Miranda of the Sunkist Kids at 55 kg/105.5 lbs. Miranda defeated 2001 World silver medalist Stephanie Murata of the Sunkist Kids in the championship finals, 6-0, 1-0.

In the first period, Miranda threw Murata for a three-point takedown, turned her and pressed her towards the mat, just missing a fall as time ran out. In the second period, Miranda scored the only takedown for the win. It was Miranda’s seventh career U.S. Nationals title.

“I guess the sentiment is I dare to dream but you always sort of catch yourself when your mind gets too far ahead of where you are in the season,” said Miranda about her victory. “But I have dared to pick up my head and look to Beijing, dream that I can be there, and dream that I can better my bronze medal finish into gold. It’s such a blessing and I really appreciate all the help that’s gone into it.”

Miranda is competing at 48 kg for the first time at the U.S. Nationals since 2004. In 2005, she took a year off to concentrate on her first year at Yale Law School. In 2006 and 2007, she competed up at 51 kg. Miranda dropped down to 48 kg earlier this winter.

The top seven placewinners in the four Olympic weight classes (48 kg, 55 kg, 63 kg, 72 kg) and the top four placewinners in the three non-Olympic weight classes (51 kg, 59 kg, 67 kg) qualify to compete at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. This is the major qualifying event for the Trials.

In an upset, Randi Miller of the Gator WC defeated 2004 Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann of the Sunkist Kids, 2-1, 4-0. It was Miller’s first U.S. Nationals title. Miller was named Outstanding Wrestler for her victory.

In the first period, Miller broke a 1-1 tie with a takedown late in the period to win. In the second period, Miller controlled the action, with two takedowns and two stepouts to score all four points. Miller had beaten McMann two previous times, but not at an event of this significance.

“Winning and losing, I try to keep that out of my head. I’m going to go out there, I’m fight hard as I can, and I’m going to have fun. That’s just what goes through my head before matches,” said Miller. “To have a win against someone like Sara (McMann) is always going to help. Reminding yourself you can do it will always help you.”

The champions in the two other Olympic weight classes were Marcie Van Dusen of the Sunkist Kids at 55 kg/121 lbs. and Ali Bernard of the Gator WC at 72 kg/158.5 lbs.

Van Dusen defeated 2003 World bronze medalist Jenny Wong of the Sunkist Kids in the finals. It was her second U.S. Nationals title in a row.

Wong won the first period, scoring a takedown from the clinch. In the second period, Van Dusen scored a pair of takedowns in the second period to knot up the match. In the deciding third period, Van Dusen scored four takedowns and a two-point exposure for the technical fall.

Bernard defeated two-time World bronze medalist Katie Downing of the Sunkist Kids, 0-1, 2-2, 1-0. It was Bernard’s second career national title. Downing won the first period, defending against the leg clinch. The second period went to Bernard on a two-point takedown. The deciding third period was won on the leg clinch, with Bernard scoring the takedown.

Both finalists defeated past World champions in the semifinals. Downing defeated two-time World champion Kristie Marano of the New York AC and Bernard stopped 2005 World champion Iris Smith of the U.S. Army. Smith defeated Marano in the bronze medal match.

None of the champions at the non-Olympic weight classes have previously won a U.S. Senior Nationals title. Capturing their first national crowns were Jessica Medina of the New York AC at 51 kg/112.25 pounds, Erin Tomeo of the Sunkist Kids at 59 kg/130 lbs. and Stefenie Shaw of the New York AC at 67 kg/147.5 lbs.

U.S. NATIONAL WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Las Vegas, Nev., April 24-26

Men’s freestyle finals
55 kg/121 lbs. – Matt Azevedo, Pismo Beach, Calif. (Sunkist Kids) pin Henry Cejudo, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids), 1-0, 0:18
60 kg/132 lbs. – Shawn Bunch, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC) dec. Coleman Scott, Waynesburg, Pa. (Gator WC), 4-0, 1-0
66 kg/145.5 lbs. – Doug Schwab, Iowa City, Iowa (Gator WC) dec. Bill Zadick, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC), 1-0, 3-0
74 kg/163 lbs. – Ben Askren, Columbia, Mo. (Sunkist Kids) dec. Tyrone Lewis, Stillwater, Okla. (Gator WC), 3-0, 3-2
84 kg/185 lbs. – Mo Lawal, Temecula, Calif. (Sunkist Kids) dec. Andy Hrovat, Ann Arbor Mich. (New York AC), 1-1, 1-0
96 kg/211.5 lbs. – Daniel Cormier, Stillwater, Okla. (Gator Wrestling Club) dec. Nik Fekete, Iowa City Iowa (New York AC), 7-0,2-0
120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Tommy Rowlands, Columbus, Ohio (Sunkist Kids) dec. Steve Mocco, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC), 3-0, 0-2, 1-0

Greco-Roman finals
55 kg/121 lbs. – Spenser Mango, St. Louis, Mo. (Gator/USOEC) dec. Lindsey Durlacher, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC), 1-3, 3-0, 7-0
60 kg/132 lbs. – Jim Gruenwald, Marquette, Mich. (Sunkist Kids) dec. Joe Betterman, Chicago, Ill. (New York AC), 5-0, 6-3
66 kg/145.5 lbs.– Mark Rial, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC) dec. Jake Deitchler, Rumsey, Minn. (Minnesota Storm), 5-4, 1-1
74 kg/163 lbs. - T.C. Dantzler, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC) dec. Andrew Bisek, Chaska, Minn. (Minnesota Storm), 2-2, 3-2
84 kg/185 lbs. - Brad Ahearn, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army) dec. Brad Vering, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC), 2-1,1-1 96 kg/211.5 lbs. - Justin Ruiz, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) dec. R.C. Johnson, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids), 4-1, 1-1
120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Dremiel Byers, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army) dec. Russ Davie, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC), 2-1, 4-0

Women’s finals
48 kg/105.5 lbs. - Patricia Miranda, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids) dec. Stephanie Murata, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids), 6-0, 1-0
51 kg/112.25 lbs. - Jessica Medina, Pomona, Calif. (New York AC) dec. Helen Maroulis, Rockville, Md. (New York AC), 3-0, 3-0
55 kg/121 lbs. - Marcie Van Dusen, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids) dec. Jenny Wong, Gaffney, S.C. (Sunkist Kids), 0-1, 2-0, 6-0
59 kg/130 lbs. - Erin Tomeo, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids) pin Othella Lucas, San Diego, Calif. (New York AC), 2-0, 1:54
63 kg/138.75 lbs. - Randi Miller, Colorado Springs, Colo (Gator WC) dec. Sara McMann, Gaffney, S.C. (Sunkist Kids), 2-1,4-0
67 kg/147.5 lbs. - Stefanie Shaw, Waterford, Conn. (New York AC) dec. Sara Hillard, Lawrence, Kan. (OCU Stars), 2-0, 6-0
72 kg/158.5 lbs. - Ali Bernard, New Ulm, Minn. (Gator WC) dec. Katie Downing, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids), 0-1, 2-2, 1-0