Herbert has challenging draw to reach quarterfinals of University Nationals in freestyle

By Gary Abbott | April 13, 2008, 5:26 p.m. (ET)
AKRON, OHIO - The University National Championships this year is an Olympic Trials qualifying event, with the winner in each of the seven Olympic weight classes earning a spot into U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Las Vegas, Nev., June 13-15.

With a record 552 athletes entered, the tournament has participants from most of the major college programs. But there is also a strong Olympic flavor based upon the quality of the field.

2007 NCAA champion Jake Herbert from Northwestern Univ. is taking an Olympic redshirt year, seeking a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. Competing for the New York AC, Herbert has entered numerous international tournaments, including a victory at the recent Dave Schultz Memorial in Colorado Springs. Based upon his recent success, Herbert has risen to a No. 3 national ranking on the Senior level at 84 kg/185 lbs.

Rather than wait two weeks for the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas, Herbert has entered the University Nationals as part of his preparation for the Olympic quest. Rather than breezing through the early rounds as many might expect, Herbert had two challenging early matches. The University Nationals is not seeded.

"I came here to get some good matches," said Herbert after qualifying for Sunday's quarterfinals. "It's no joke. Everybody thinks I'd just walk through this. With the random draw, you have to be ready right away."

In the first round, Herbert drew Raymond Jordan of the Sunkist Kids, who placed fifth in the NCAA Championships for the Univ. of Missouri this year. Herbert scored the first takedown of the match. After a Herbert shot, Jordan scored a two-point counter tilt, but Herbert reversed quickly for two points then a touch fall at 1:35.

His second round was against 2005 University Nationals champion Matt Pell of the Cavalier WC, a multiple All-American for Missouri who is now an assistant coach at the Univ. of Virginia. Herbert won the first period with two solid takedowns. In the second period, Pell took command, winning 5-0 with a takedown, a high gut wrench and a counter tilt. In the deciding third period, Herbert scored a takedown with 20 seconds left to lead 1-0. Pell charged hard in the closing seconds, almost forcing Herbert out of bounds, but Herbert ducked out of danger and Pell stepped out with one second left to make the score 2-0 for Herbert.

Herbert's day ended with a controlled victory over Nicolas Tenpenny of North Carolina in the third round, 3-0, 6-0. He will face Dorian Henderson of the Sunkist Kids in the quarterfinals on Sunday morning.

"Jordan is tough. Pell is tough. I had to wrestle hard in that third match. You have to wrestle your best, right from the start. I came her to get one more chance to fine tune, get the pressure on me once again, and to have match situations. I want to see what I have to work on under pressure, and see my strengths and weaknesses," said Herbert.

Northwestern head coach Tim Cysewski was pleased that Herbert was able to challenge himself during the first day of the tournament.

"He came here to get some matches. Also, if he wins this thing, he is qualified for the Olympic Trials. It gives him some flexibility," said Cysewski. "He is here for experience and to stay current. He gets better the more he wrestles. He knows he has to learn a lot to make up the lack of experience. He has done enough this year to where he can close the gap. He gets more confidence, as he gets to know his style in freestyle. The more he experiences, the more confidence he gets. His improvement level is going through the roof."

Cysewski, who was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, felt the challenging start will be good for Herbert as he pursues his Olympic dream this year.

"That taught him. He woke up this morning and had to be ready to go. It got him paying attention. That helps him. That is how the World Championships and the Olympics are. You can get a World champion in the first match, and another World champion in the second match. You have to be ready. There are no easy starts at this level. He had two tough matches that he has to win right off the bat," said Cysewski.

Herbert still has three more matches to win the University Nationals, but is also thinking ahead to the U.S. National Championships in Las Vegas, Nev. in two weeks.

"This is absolutely great," said Herbert. "The real task will be the Open and the Olympic Trials. We will see how far I have come this winter."

Keith Gavin of Pittsburgh was the only 2008 NCAA champion to enter the event, competing at 74 kg/163 lbs. He won the NCAA Championships this year wrestling at 174 pounds.

"I have not cut weight in a long time. I wanted to get down to 74 kg and wrestle at the weight so I can get used to it. So far, so good," said Gavin. "The tournament is dragging on today. It is hard to get warm. It will start getting tougher from now on."

Gavin won three matches on Saturday. He opened with a 6-0, 6-0 technical fall over Daniel Artusio of the Cavalier WC, then stopped Ohio State's freshman Colt Sponseller, 2-0, 8-1. In the third round, he pinned Kevin Hardy of Mercyhurst in the second period, 6-0, 0:58. Gavin will wrestle Lloyd Rogers of Chattanooga in the quarterfinals on Sunday.

"I am pretty comfortable wrestling this style," said Gavin. "I am very comfortable wrestling these rules. It will still be a transition for me, but hopefully not too much. I have been doing folkstyle all year. All the guys at the U.S. Nationals have been wrestling freestyle all year."

There are two defending University Nationals champions in the field, but only one has advanced to the quarterfinals. Mike Tamillow of the Wildcat WC at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. Tamillow won three matches during the day, including a third-round win over Jim Gibson of the Clarion WC, 6-0, 2-0.

At 84 kg/185 lbs., defending University Nationals champion Ian Murphy of the Titan WC was defeated in the third round by Jimmy Hamel of Buffalo, 4-2, 2-3, 4-2.

2008 NCAA runner-up Mike Poeta of Illinois has advanced to the quarterfinals at 74 kg/163 lbs. with three victories. He will face Shane Vernon of the Underdog WC in the quarterfinals.

Two of last year's University Nationals runners-up were defeated in their first match. At 55 kg/121 lbs., Obenson Blanc of the New York AC fell to unattached Matthew Steintrager, 0-1, 2-3. Returning runner-up Daren Burns of Y.E.S. Greensboro dropped his first-round match to Brent Jones of the Cavalier WC, 4-6, 4-1, 2-3.

Another runner-up from last year was beaten in the second round at 63 kg/138.75 lbs, when Cody Cleveland of Chattanooga was defeated by Mike Thorn of the Minnesota Storm, 4-4, 3-3.

The two other returning University Nationals runners-up have reached the quarterfinals:
Jake Kerr of Iowa at 74 kg/163 lbs. and Dave Bertolino of the Cyclone WC at 84 kg/185 lbs. Kerr wrestles for the Univ. of Iowa, and Bertolino is from Iowa State.

In the third round at 55 kg/121 lbs., heralded Univ. of Minnesota freshman Zach Sanders of the Minnesota Storm defeated Michael Martinez of the Cowboy WC, 3-1, 3-1. Sanders scored a three-point takedown in the first period, and had a takedown and a gutwrench turn in the second period. Martinez has been ranked nationally on the Senior level in the past.

Nine athletes who were All-Americans at the 2008 NCAA Championships entered the tournament this year. After the first day, just five have reached the quarterfinals: Gavin, Poeta, Bertolino, Franklin Gomez of the Michigan WC at 60 kg/132 lbs. and Dave Zabriskie of the Cyclone WC at 285 pounds. Gomez attends Michigan State and Zabriskie wrestles for Iowa State.