USA Wrestling FEATURE Oklahoma s ...

FEATURE Oklahoma s Hazewinkel looks to reach goal of winning the national title on his third try

By Gary Abbott | March 16, 2006, 10:08 a.m. (ET)

One of the best wrestlers who has not reached the NCAA finals in this year's tournament might be Oklahoma's Sam Hazewinkel, a junior who has placed third both previous times he has been at the NCAA Championships. Now a junior, the No. 2 seed at 125 pounds would like to win his first national title in front of his family and the Sooner fans right here in Oklahoma City.

"My goal was to be a four-timer, then a three-timer," said Hazewinkel. "Now I have changed the goal to win it this year, and get another one next year."

Few doubt that Hazewinkel has the ability or desire to get the job done. But he still has to make the breakthrough, reach the finals, then have his chance during the finals round.

"When I think of Sam, I don't think of how good he is," said Spates. "There are plenty of others who are as good. Very few are as tough. He comes to wrestle his heart out on the mat every time. He wrestles for the the glory of God and has no fear. You just wind him up and let him go. Actually, you don't have to wind him up. You just let him go."

Hazewinkel started his college career by taking a redshirt seson. His first year on the mats for the Sooners, he placed third in the NCAA Championships after winning a Big 12 title. That season showed that Hazewinkel was ready for prime time, even in his first year.

Hazewinkel was seeded No. 1 at the NCAA meet last year as a sophomore, but was defeated in the semifinals by the eventual champion Joe Dubuque of Indiana, 3-1. Hazewinkel came back to take third, but has still not had his chance to show his stuff in the championship finals.

"It hurt him," said Spates. "He hates to lose. He shrugs it off and lives his life and comes back to battle. He is not a whiner or a complainer. He hates to lose and he doesn't do much of it."

One of the reasons people expect that Hazewinkel could become a NCAA champion before he is done has to do with the way he competes at the national tournament. It is hard to criticize his performances at past tournaments, even though he did not win the title.

"He has actually wrestled very well at the NCAA Tournaments," said Spates. "As a freshman, he was beating Jason Powell with second to go in the match. Last year, he lost to Joe Dubuque, who is very tough."

Hazewinkel opened the tournament on Thursday morning with a dominant 18-1 technical fall over Cory Borges of Fresno State. His second round opponent was Luke Magnani of Iowa, and Hazewinkel continued his dominant wrestling. Hazewinkel opened up the offense throughout the match, leading 4-0 after the first period, 8-0 after the second, then pinning Magnani with 27 seconds left in the bout.

He has taken a different approach this year, something that he believes will make a difference in the very tough matches ahead.

"This year, my goal is to not make any mistakes. If I do that, I'll win. I am trying to keep it simple. No mistakes," said Hazewinkel.

Although he does not try to look too far ahead, Hazewinkel is aware that the man who crushed his dreams last year, Dubuque, is on his side of the bracket.

"It would be great if we wrestle again," said Hazewinkel. "He beat me in the semifinals last year. We could meet again in the semis this year. That would be a fun way to make it happen."

Besides being one of the best college wrestlers in the nation, Hazewinkel is also one of the top Olympic hopefuls in Greco-Roman, a specialized style that not many of the other college athletes excel in. Hazewinkel was the U.S. Nationals champion in Greco-Roman last year, and is now No. 2 on the U.S. national team, losing an exciting series to veteran Lindsey Durlacher of the New York AC in the World Team Trials finals last year.

He was already nationally ranked on the Senior level when he was a high school senior in Florida. There might be a good reason for that. His father Dave and his uncle Jim were both members of the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman team, and were among the best U.S. wrestlers in that style during their generation.

Some college coaches may not encourage their wrestlers to compete in Greco-Roman. Spates is very comfortable and supportive of Hazewinkel putting in the time and effort to excel in Greco-Roman.

"It was a commitment we made to him when we recruited him. When the season is over, he can do Greco-Roman until the next year. But he also likes to train in freestyle to get ready for Greco. He does just fine training in all of the styles."

"I've been doing all three styles as long as I remember," said Hazewinkel. "Until I got to college, I thought everybody wrestled all the styles. It helps me a whole lot in college doing the Greco-Roman. A majority of the guys won't go upperbody. They just shoot. I can go upperbody with anybody. And the confidence that Greco-Roman gives to me is also an advantage. I don't react the way other guys do. It helps me more than it hurts me."

Hazewinkel won't have much time to make the transition back to Greco-Roman this year, as the U.S. Greco-Roman Nationals are earlier this spring, held in Las Vegas, Nev. over Easter weekend, April 14-15.

"I will take a week off. You have to have break time, because the college season is so long," said Hazewinkel. "I look forward to it. It is a change of pace for me. But right now, I am focused entirely on wrestling right here."

Hazewinkel would enjoy nothing better than winning his first national title this year alongside his close friend and roommate Teyon Ware, a two-time national champion who is competing in his senior season.

"That would be the ultimate to win it together," said Hazewinkel. "I really want him to win it, even more than I want it for me. He is a senior, and to win at home would be the greatest."

Hazewinkel is also excited that he is competing in front of the home crowd here in Oklahoma, where many Sooner fans are here cheering him on.

"It fires me up. Not many people get to wrestle in front of a home crowd at the nationals. It is great to have my family and friends here. It is a driving force for me," said Hazewinkel.

Could this be Sam Hazewinkel's year? We have two more days to find out.