News and Notes from U S Nationals

By Ted Witulski | May 15, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)
For those that have never seen U.S. Nationals, you're missing out. Year in and year out the excitement of the Freestyle and Greco-Roman Championship is unparalleled. This year was no different, as we belabor the decline in International weight classes the only upswing it seems is for the fans. This was apparent right from the start as the Freestyle seeding meeting stretched well past two hours as weight classes were jammed from top to bottom with NCAA Champions and All-Americans. Check that name: The first weight class seeded from the Freestyle ranks was not the 55 kg division, instead 60 kg was hashed out first. The delay at the lightweights came as Teague Moore's bout card was not readily apparent as the names were read off. Eventually, the wayward card was found---for those that don't know Teague's real first name is not "Teague"---something to remember next year as the cards are read off. Titles for one and all: The top seeded wrestlers shared a total of 18 NCAA Division I Championships with Chris Bono being the only single-time Champion. Stephen Abas (3), Eric Guerrero (3), Chris Bono (1), Joe Williams (3), Cael Sanderson (4), Tim Hartung (2), and Kerry McCoy (2). Incumbency stays strong: All number one seeded wrestlers won their weight class except at the 96 kg weight. Third-seeded Daniel Cormier wrestled the shutout against former West Virginia NCAA Champion (1994), Dean Morrison. Land, Air, and Sea: The Greco-Roman side was ready for any invasion with 25 of 55 seeded wrestlers representing a Division of the Armed Forces, nearly 46 percent. Last year's Champions earn respect: In cases where returning wrestlers with strong pedigrees were back in the mix returning members of the National Team were recognized with higher seeds. Cases in point include Bono's number one seed over Olympic Bronze Medallist Lincoln McIlravy, Tim Hartung's number one seed over former World Team Member Dominic Black who settled in as the fifth seed, and the highly anticipated match-up of the massive World Champions Dremiel Byers and Rulon Gardner. Byers, last year's World Champion was voted in as the top seed as Rulon Gardner who owns the 2001 World Title as well as the 2000 Olympic Gold garnered the second seed. Collision Courses on hold till Indy: Two weight classes were being closely watched for collision course match-ups. Byers and Gardner would have been a rarity with two World Champions battling it out for a National Title and of course the high anticipated next installment between long-time foes Chris Bono and Lincoln McIlravy. Neither materialized as Gardner fell in the clinch to the Air Force's Corey Farkas, as Farkas scored four points off of the Champions attempts to throw the hefty 6'4" California native. McIlravy, perhaps in adjustment to the new weight that is nearly five pounds lower than his collegiate days, failed to defeat fellow former Hawkeye Bill Zadick. Locks must be legal: In the finals the fans were noticeably unhappy with the clinch call that awarded Chris Bono his first U.S. Nationals Title. After receiving his first attention call from the referee for locking down Bono's elbow, Zadick then attempted to lock to the opposite side. Bono moved out of the one meter circle and the referee separated the two, as the officials moved to look at the mat side review video. In the video Zadick's lock was determined to be palm to wrist instead of the required knuckle-to-knuckle clasp required by FILA rules. One other wrestler had similar difficulties in the clinch. Olympic Silver Medallist, Matt Lindland, faced off of against a former student and long-time training partner Brad Vering. As the two jockeyed for position in the clinch, the referee determined that Lindland's knuckle lock had turned into a palm-to-palm clasp. The match was stopped and Brad Vering earned his first U.S. Nationals Title. Seven Seconds and a First: Momentarily, it looked like the U.S. Army's Glen Nieradka was ready to take out his frustration on fellow Olympic Training Center Resident Jim Gruenwald as the match closed out with Gruenwald leading 6-0. Nieradka in an aggressive posture lunged at Gruenwald, making the soon to be champion jump from the startle. Nieradka quickly smiled and hugged Gruenwald congratulating him on his first U.S. Nationals Championship. A year earlier Nieradka made Gruenwald wait another year for the elusive title as he earned the victory before faltering at the World Team Trials in St. Paul. Ready to Brawl: While Nieradka and Gruenwald were laughing off the brawl that wasn't, fans in the stands began to zero in on the battle between Eric Guerrero of the Gator Club and Jesus Wilson of the Minnesota Storm. Last June in St. Paul Guerrero suffered a startling gash over his eyes after being on the receiving end of an illegal head-butt. The gash took 17 stitches to close, seven internal 10 external. This year's match in the finals looked to be on the same type of physical pace before the two settled down and wrestled out their differences with Guerrero earning his third U.S. Nationals Title in a row with a 4-2 victory. Technically They are Foes: Stephen Abas and Eric Akin sat at a restaurant in Cincinnati in 2001 sharing some dinner and war stories. Earlier in the day Abas had bested Akin in a dramatic three-match series for the honor of representing the United States in the World Championships scheduled for New York. As the two talked, the phrase "whatever happens on the mat stay on the mat" was passed between the two. Last year, Eric Akin moved up a weight and lost in the finals of Vegas to Eric Guerrero. This year Akin returned to the 55 kg class for another installment of whatever happens on the mat stays on the mat. In a technical bout of America's 55 kg finalists Abas earned a 3-1 victory and his first National Title. Akin settled for second place with his fifth consecutive finals appearance and his tenth top-eight placement in a row. (Akin did earn his first U.S. Nationals Title in 2001 when he defeated Ohio native Tim Dernlan.) Age It Means Nothing: Akin continues his impressive string of success in the sport now at the age of 32. Dean Morrison runner-up at 96 kg keeps moving forward at age 32. John Fisher of Ann Arbor Michigan failed to place this year at 66 kg, but still received the respect of the coaches when he captured the 14th seed at age 37. In December Fisher managed a second place finish at the Midlands Tournament for collegiate wrestling. Cael Sanderson was the youngest Freestyle Champion at age 23, while Chris Bono was the oldest at age 29. In Greco-Roman, Olympic Bronze Medallist, Garett Lowney was the youngest champ at age 23, while Jim Gruenwald took home the Title at age 32. Patricia Miranda was the elder among the women's champ approaching her 24th birthday and the lone teenager of the bunch was Malinda Ripley her third place seed to capture the 55 kg weight. The average age for champions in Men's Freestyle was 26, for Greco-Roman the average age was 28.42 years of age, for women was 21.7 years of age. Scoring Explosion: Many have long derided Greco-Roman for being slow paced with little action and scoring. But, last week's semifinal matches flew in the face of that conventional wisdom as the Freestyle's traded one point takedowns the Greco wrestlers went on a scoring explosion with high amp tosses by the likes of Dremiel Byers and Brandon Paulson. Ken Cook and T.C. Dantzler entertained the fans as the two battled back and forth scoring nineteen points with Cook escaping with a 10-9 victory. The average score for the Men's Freestyle in the two semi bouts was 11.71 while Greco averaged out at 14.85 We'll see how this all turns out in Indianapolis at the World Team Trials. Click here for an application to the National Developmental Camp or the Silver Leve