2003 Freestyle World Team Trials preview at 55 kg 121 lbs

By Gary Abbott | May 28, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)
The dominant U.S. athlete in this division since the last Olympic Games has been Stephen Abas of the Sunkist Kids. Abas made the last two U.S. World Teams, and was the champion at the 2003 U.S. Nationals. He has shown international abilities, with two straight World Cup titles to his credit and victories over a number of World medalists. Abas has yet to win his own World medal, with his top achievement being a 1998 Junior World Champion. A three-time NCAA champion at Fresno State, Abas has learned to win under pressure. He must keep his edge, because he has a very tough weight class of American opponents to face each year. Placing second to Abas at the 2003 U.S. Nationals was veteran Eric Akin of the Dave Schultz WC. Akin was a member of the 1999 U.S. World Team, and placed second in the last two Olympic Team Trials. When he drops to 121 pounds, Akin has strength to spare and has proven he can keep up with the younger challengers. He has a strong college pedigree, with a NCAA runner-up finish for Iowa State in his background. The 2002 U.S. Nationals champion was Teague Moore of the Gator WC, who lost to Abas in the 2002 World Team Trials finals in some competitive bouts. Moore dropped to third at this year's U.S. Nationals, but has the talent and experience to make the finals again. A NCAA champion at Oklahoma State, Moore has been a slick freestyler since his high school days in Pennsylvania. Moore won a silver medal at the 2003 World Cup, showing an ability to beat some tough international opponents. Placing fourth at the U.S. Nationals this year is another veteran, Mike Mena of the New York AC. Mena is a big lightweight, and has wrestled at the next weight up a few times. He is a tough draw for anybody, and has the ability to push his way into the top few spots. College fans remember Mena as an All-American for Iowa. Also making his mark at this division is former Penn State All-American Jeremy Hunter of the New York AC, who was fifth at the U.S. Nationals. Hunter has recently dropped to the lowest division, and has a bright future here. Placing sixth was veteran Tim Dernlan of the Dave Schultz WC, a USOTC resident athlete who did his college wrestling for Purdue. Dernlan has considerable experience in freestyle, and can not be overlooked at the big events. Matt Azevedo of the Sunkist Kids, who finished up a year ago at Iowa State, has shown strong freestyle skills, placing at the U.S. Nationals for two straight years. Also placing this year in Las Vegas was veteran Jeff Prescott, who won a NCAA title for Penn State, and is a USOTC resident athlete. Prescott has a few years on most of his opponents, but has shown the ability to beat many of the young athletes coming up. The biggest question mark at this weight is 2000 Olympic silver medalist Sammie Henson of the Sunkist Kids, who won a World title in 1998. Henson wrestled all winter, winning the Dave Schultz Memorial and beating the reigning World Champion from Cuba on this home mats in Cuba. Henson changed assistant coach jobs, accepting a new position at the U.S. Military Academy. He indicated that his competitive days are over, yet with Henson, you never know if he will get the fire again. Henson skipped Las Vegas, and may not be on the mats in Indianapolis, either. Another possible no-show is former Iowa star Jody Strittmatter of the Hawkeye WC, who qualified for the National Team last year with a No. 3 finish at the World Team Trials, but has not competed this season. He was tall at this division, and had some great matches with the others in the weight. Veteran Eric Albarracin of the U.S. Army qualified as a Regional champion. Albarracin has paid his dues at this division, and can beat talented opponents, but has had trouble moving up the ladder in recent seasons. NCAA champion Travis Lee, the first NCAA champion ever from Hawaii, gets an automatic bid to the World Team Trials. After two seasons at Cornell, Lee has developed into a tremendous talent. He trained with Abas and the U.S. team last summer, and was a double champion at the Junior Nationals during high school. If he enters, many expect that Lee can hang with the others at this division. The Challenge Tournament at this division should be very competitive. With Akin, Moore, Mena, Hunter or some of the others in the mix, the semifinals could be a tremendous round. The question about Akin is his age, and if he can continue maintain his competitive edge. Moore will look to rebound from the U.S. Nationals, and has complete confidence that he can be the man at this weight. Whoever emerges from the Challenge Tournament will have to be at his best if he hopes to beat Abas, who seems to be more comfortable at the top every season. 2003 U.S. Freestyle Nationals results at 55 kg/121 lbs. 1st - Stephen Abas (Fresno, Calif./Sunkist Kids) dec. Eric Akin (Lincoln, Neb./Dave Schultz WC), 3-1 3rd - Teague Moore (Norman, Okla./Gator WC) dec. Mike Mena (Bloomington, Ind./Gator WC), 4-0 5th - Jeremy Hunter (Champaign, Ill./New York AC) dec. Tim Dernlan (Colorado Springs, Colo./Dave Schultz WC), 4-2 7th - Matt Azevedo (Arroyo Grande, Calif./Sunkist Kids) by forfeit over Jeff Prescott (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) 2003 Freestyle World Team Trials qualifiers at 55 kg/121 lbs. National champion - Stephen Abas (Fresno, Calif./Sunkist Kids) National placerwinners - 2. Eric Akin (Lincoln, Neb./Dave Schultz WC); 3. Teague Moore (Norman, Okla./Gator WC); 4. Mike Mena (Bloomington, Ind./Gator WC); 5. Jeremy Hunter (Champaign, Ill./New York AC); 6. Tim Dernlan (Colorado Springs, Colo./Dave Schultz WC); 7. Matt Azevedo (Arroyo Grande, Calif./Sunkist Kids) Team USA member - Jody Strittmatter (Iowa City, Iowa/Hawkeye WC); Past World or Olympic team member - Sammie Henson (West Point, N.Y./Sunkist Kids); NCAA Div. I finalists - Travis Lee (Ithaca, N.Y./Cornell WC); Regional champions - Eric Albarracin (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army); Medalist at Group A Tournament - Jeff Prescott (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC)