Bono and Gruenwald finally stand atop the podium at the 2003 U S National Championships

By John Fuller | May 11, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)
Las Vegas, Nev. - It was a historic day at the 2003 U.S. National Championships as 12 wrestlers repeated as national champions and three of last year's finalists captured their first national crown. None of those finalists from last year was more notable than Jim Gruenwald (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids), who won his first national title after seven previous trips to the national finals with a dominating 6-0 win over defending champion Glenn Nieradka (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army) at 60 kg/132 lbs. in Greco-Roman action. "This is my eighth trip to the finals. I have seven seconds. I just put everything into the hands of God and let Him take care of everything," Gruenwald said after his win. Gruenwald felt that injuries may have set Nieradka back somewhat in the match. "(Nieradka) has had some injuries and hasn't been able to get the training he needed for this tournament. He definitely did not seem like the same wrestler as he has in the past. I am sure he will be back at the World Team Trials." Also winning his first title was 2002 U.S. World Team member Chris Bono (Gilbert, Iowa/Sunkist Kids) at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. in men's freestyle competition. But Bono's win did not come without controversy. Bono took a 1-0 lead in the second period when defending champion Bill Zadick (Coralville, Iowa/Hawkeye WC) broke his lock in the clinch. Zadick tied the match at 1-1 with a single-leg midway through the second period. The score remained the same at the end of regulation. In the overtime, Zadick did not correctly lock in the clinch, resulting in a caution and two points being awarded to Bono, giving him the 3-1 win. "You take a win any way you can get them at this level. I didn't score the points, but I'll take them. If the officials want to give me two points in any match, I'm not going to complain," Bono said after the win. In women's competition, Tela O'Donnell (Colorado Springs, Colo./Dave Schultz WC) shocked most observers with her finals win at 55 kg/121 lbs. O'Donnell, who placed fifth last year, defeated 2002 World silver medalist Tina George (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army) 6-4 in the finals. This after she defeated seven-time national champion Stephanie Murata (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) in the semifinals. Trailing 4-3 late in the match, O'Donnell was able to use a half-nelson to roll George to her back, and holding it for an extra point, taking a 6-3 lead. "When I had the half-nelson, I just knew I had to keep working to get her turned. It took a while for me to turn her," O'Donnell said. Four champions were repeat champions in men's freestyle action. Eric Guerrero (Stillwater, Okla./Gator WC) defeated Jesus Wilson (Fayette, Iowa/Minnesota Storm) by a 4-2 score in a hotly-contested 60 kg/132 lbs. final. The scoring began in the first period when Wilson rolled Guerrero off his shot to take a 2-0 lead, but Guerrero quickly scored a reversal and an exposure point to tie the match at 2-2. In the second period, Guerrero scored two more exposure points on a tilt for the final points of the match. 2002 U.S. World Team member Stephen Abas (Fresno, Calif./Sunkist Kids) won his first national title with a 3-1 win over Eric Akin (Lincoln, Neb./Dave Schultz WC) at 55 kg/121 lbs. At 74 kg/163 lbs., 2001 World bronze medalist Joe Williams (Coralville, Iowa/Sunkist Kids) won his third consecutive national title with a 5-2 win over Joe Heskett (Grover Beach, Calif./Gator WC). Daniel Cormier (Stillwater, Okla./Gator WC) excited the full crowd at the Las Vegas Convention Center with a three-point lift and throw to defeat Dean Morrison (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) 3-0 at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. It is the first national title for Cormier. Kerry McCoy (Bethlehem, Pa./New York AC) won his fourth national title with a 5-0 win over Tolly Thompson (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Sunkist Kids) at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. In Greco-Roman competition, five wrestlers repeated as champions. At 84 kg/185 lbs., Brad Vering (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) defeated longtime friend and former coach Matt Lindland (Eagle Creek, Ore./Sunkist Kids) in the first-ever match between the two. Vering won the match 3-0 in overtime. "One of my coaches Mark Cody once said that you know you're a great coach when your student starts beating you. I pay that as the ultimate compliment to Matt Lindland. Without him, I wouldn't be where I am today. He has meant everything to my career," Vering said following the emotional win. "I felt pretty good, pretty relaxed. Even though I was the top seed, I didn't feel like the pressure was on me. He was the Olympic and World silver medalist. I thought the pressure was on him." 2002 World Champion Dremiel Byers (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army) kept his title of best super-heavyweight in the world with a 3-0 win over Corey Farkas (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Air Force) at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. Byers used a lift and throw in the first period to score all of his points. It was a lift he was not sure he could complete. "It was slower than I thought it was going to be. Farkas is big. He's probably about 290 lbs. right now," Byers said. "Winning these tournaments just confirms the things that people have been telling me for years. They tell me I have it in me to be an Olympic champion. I am believing it too." At 55 kg/121 lbs., 2001 World silver medalist and 1996 Olympic silver medalist Brandon Paulson (Anoka, Minn./Minnesota Storm) defended his national title with a 6-0 win over Lindsey Durlacher (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC). Paulson broke a scoreless tie in the second period with a three-point throw from the clinch. Also defending their Greco-Roman titles were Kevin Bracken (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC), who defeated Mike Ellsworth (Colorado Springs, Colo./Michigan WC) 6-1 at 66 kg/145.5 lbs., Keith Sieracki (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army), who beat college freshman Kenneth Cook (Ames, Iowa/Cyclone WC) 6-1 at 74 kg/163 lbs. and Olympic bronze medalist Garrett Lowney (Minneapolis, Minn./Minnesota Storm) after his 4-0 win over Philip Johnston (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Air Force) at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. In women's freestyle action, Sara McMann (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) continued her recent domination over 2002 World bronze medalist Kristie Marano (Albany, N.Y./ATWA) with a 7-1 win at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. 2001 World silver medalist Toccara Montgomery (Cleveland, Ohio/Cumberland College) evened her season record against high school phenom Samantha Lang (Tualatin, Ore./Sunkist Kids) with a 10-0 technical superiority at 72 kg/158.5 lbs. Montgomery, who is now 2-2 this season against Lang, won a national title last year at 67 kg/147.5 lbs. She feels that she is finally getting used to the higher weight class. "At first, I was feeling a little slow. Now, I'm starting to move more. My style has changed. Before, I was so aggressive. Now, I am learning to relax and wear the bigger girls down," Montgomery said. "It generally takes me a while to get used to different people. She is a talented wrestler and is definitely a force. She is forcing me to get better." Patricia Miranda (Colorado Springs, Colo./Dave Schultz WC) continued her domination over U.S. opponents after she pinned Clarissa Chun (Colorado Springs, Colo./Gator WC) in the first period at 48 kg/105.5 lbs. Miranda feels her success this season is owed directly to the new U.S. Olympic Training Center Women's Resident Program. "I owe a lot to Terry Steiner, the national women's coach. Losing is a wrestler's responsibility, but he made it his responsibility too. He has started working with me on the mental aspect of the sport," she said. At 51 kg/112 lbs., Malinda Ripley (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) defeated returning champion Jenny Wong (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) by a 5-2 score. Ripley took a 3-1 lead off a takedown and a gut wrench in the first period, and put the match away in the second period with a crotch lift. Wong was given one more chance to score from par terre with one minute left in the match, but she was unable to e