USA Wrestling 2002 Las Vegas Unite...

2002 Las Vegas United States Women s National Championships preview The main unanswered question is

By Gary Abbott | April 17, 2002, 12 a.m. (ET)

The women's national wrestling scene changed forever in September, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) held a press conference and announced that women's wrestling would be added to the 2004 Olympic Games. The plan, according to the IOC, is for four women's weight divisions in the Athens Olympics. FILA the international wrestling federation, came out with new weight classes for women's wrestling, going up from six weights to seven. However, only four of the weights will be contested in the Olympic Games. This decision changes the entire landscape. The U.S. Olympic Committee will only provide funds for the four Olympic classes, giving athletes an incentive to compete at those weights. This preview assumes that athletes may be at their normal weight class, but there may be considerable weight class changes because of the Olympic structure. There could be additional changes at the World Team Trials, if athletes decide to compete in the challenge tournament at a different weight division. Even after the World Team Trials is finished, the U.S. World Team may not be finalized, as the medalists at the Olympic weight classes will be allowed to challenge the champion at the non-Olympic weight for a spot in the 2002 World Championships. This should be one of the most unpredictable and interesting years ever in U.S. women's wrestling. For preview purposes, the weights with an asterisk are the four Olympic weights. 48 KG (105.5 LBS.) * America's greatest women's wrestler, four-time World Champion Tricia Saunders, has not lost to an American opponent ever. She has considered retirement, and may not be on the mats in Las Vegas. Ranked No. 2 is talented Clarissa Chun, who gave Saunders a big scare in some tough matches at last year's World Team Trials. College star Katrina Betts has been spectacular in early season events, winning many titles and Outstanding Wrestler awards. Veteran Julie Gonzalez is always a threat to make the gold-medal finals, and continues to train with passion. High school star Erica Dye was an All-American at the U.S. Nationals last year, and has had tremendous age-group success. Sandra Padron, ranked No. 3 last season, has not competed since last June. Hawaii native Tanya Miyasaki and Kristen Fujioka will be in the mix. College wrestlers Kera Pemberton, Rachel Bernardes, Becky D'Ambrosio and Liz Short can also challenge for a medal at this division. Also, look for some 112-pounders to drop down to this class and attempt to disrupt the entire situation. 51 KG (112 LBS.) The main question is where will last year's top wrestlers at this weight class end up? 2001 World silver medalist Stephanie Murata is the top returnee, but she has already competed up at 121 pounds this year. 2000 World silver medalist Patricia Miranda is a force here, but she has been down to the 105.5 class one time in the past and would be a force there. Jenny Wong, second to Murata at last year's nationals, is also a top international freestyle wrestler and may change weights. High school sensation Mary Kelly wrestles down at 105.5 during the folkstyle season, and could be a factor down a weight. So might U.S. Marine wrestler Miriam Jenkins, who has also shown the ability to drop in weight. This could open this weight class to some of the best women wrestlers on the college scene, such as Marianne Vollmer, Katie Kunimoto and Keli Hinton. Veteran Danielle Hobeika has experience and skills, and young talents Sarah Hayes, Jillian Yost and Bior Guigni might make some progress here. There could be some new athletes, especially from the high school ranks, who make a name for themselves this season. 55 KG (121 LBS.) * Three-time World team member Tina George missed the 2001 World Championships due to a military commitment, and is now back, a member of the Army World Class athlete program. A special wrestle-off was held for her spot on the team, and college star Erin Tomeo claimed the prize. Tomeo, second to George at last year's nationals, gained valuable international experience. Tomeo stopped veteran Malissa Sherwood in the finals of the wrestle-off. Sherwood missed most of 2001 due to injury, but has looked strong in many freestyle events this year. Three other participants in the wrestle-off, college wrestler Jessica Shirley, veteran Grace Magnussen and high school star Brandy Rosenbrock, all have the ability to climb in the standings. Carrie Birge, ranked No. 3 last year, competed in the Women's World Cup in November, but has not been active since. College wrestlers Sarah Tolin and Jill Remiticado can be a factor this year, along with young Cathilee Albert. Nationally ranked Melina Hutchison would be a factor, but she was injured during the college year. Collegians Lisa Ward, Katie Ross, Erin Soli and others give the weight some depth. But, the question returns to weight class shifts. If stars like Murata, Miranda and Wong choose to jump up from 112, or other athletes drop down from 130 pounds (like Tonya Evinger), this division will be a truly fierce battle. 59 KG (130 LBS.) Tonya Evinger, who has been a member of Women's Team USA, has competed well at this weight class, but may choose to drop down to the Olympic weight class for this season. College wrestler Tela O'Donnell won an overtime match over Evinger at the NAIA Coaches Championships, and has looked very strong all winter. Two-time judo Olympian Hillary Wolf gave wrestling a try at the Schultz International and won a silver medal, losing only to Evinger in the finals. A little more wrestling training could give her a boost at the U.S. Nationals. Kiersten Hyatt and Leigh Jaynes, college teammates at Missouri Valley, could be a force at this division. Lisa Bisers, also a college freshman, placed third at last year's U.S. Nationals, but has not wrestled any freestyle since. High school star Shonni Plagman won a few bouts at last year's nationals in Vegas, and has another year of experience. The rest of the field could include athletes like Cheryl New, Cheryl Wong, Erin Soli and Amanda Noteware, all looking to make a national statement. 63 KG (138.5 LBS.) * The top star at this weight class has been Sara McMann, two-time World team member and one of the most successful U.S. wrestlers on the Senior circuit. McMann has yet to earn a World medal, and is working to break through this year. Veteran Lauren Lamb, member of many World teams in the past, will be a factor if she decides to make a run for it. College stars Sally Roberts and Tori Adams have the skills and experience to challenge for a spot in the national finals. Adams won a Junior World bronze medal last year, but Roberts has some wins over Adams during the winter season. Jimi Dawn Hornbuckle, many time national medalist, is always a factor when she enters a major event. College wrestler Tina Arnds has been a past member of Women's Team USA and has experience. Cindy Herceg was a national placewinner last season. College wrestlers Sara Williams, Jennifer Wormwood and Emily Black are getting established this year in freestyle. As an Olympic weight class, this division could see a few well known entrants from other weights, especially if any of the stars at 147.5 pounds can make the move down. Right now, McMann is the top star, but others are seeking to replace her at this division. 67 KG (147.5 LBS.) In 2001, Toccara Montgomery beat three former World Champions and won a World silver medal, receiving FILA's International Women's Wrestler of the Year award. The question about Montgomery is what direction her weight will go. Physically, she could either choose to move up or move down and still battle for top honors. Or does she stay put? Last year, Montgomery stopped 2001 World Champion Kristie Marano in the Nationals and World Team Trials. Marano has many options as well, as she won four World silver medals up at 165.25 pounds before moving down to this division. Junior World medalist Katie Downing has also been an international star, but, like Montgomery and Marano, must decide whether to stay at the non-Olympic weight. College wrestler Kaci Lyle has been a top performer on