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U.S. Nationals preview at 72 kg/158.5 lbs. in women’s freestyle wrestling
There is a new international wrestling star from the United States who had an amazing year in 2005, World champion Iris Smith of the U.S. Army. Smith, who had been a World Team member all the way back in 2000, had been in the shadows for a number of years until she made a big breakthrough last year.
Smith won the U.S. Nationals title and the World Team Trials to get another shot at the World Championships, where she had been seventh in 2000. This time, she had a career performance, earning a spot in the finals. She upset five-time World Champion Kyoko Hamaguchi of Japan in the finals to become only the fourth U.S. woman to win a World gold medal. It was an inspiring season and a tremendous performance by Smith.
This year has not been so blessed for Smith. While competing in the Ivan Yarygin Memorial in Russia, Smith was pinned twice and was injured. She has not been able to compete since, and is not expected ready for the U.S. Nationals. With Smith not in the field in Las Vegas, there are many opportunities for other wrestlers to come home with a national title.
Placing second behind Smith last year at both the U.S. Nationals and the World Team Trials was Ali Bernard of the Univ. of Regina. Bernard won her second career Junior World gold medal over the summer. She competes in college in Canada where she has won two CIS national titles, but is a native of Minnesota. Bernard won a U.S. Nationals title at 147.5 pounds in 2004, and comes into the U.S. Nationals as one of the favorites, especially with Smith on the sidelines.
For many years, Toccara Montgomery of the New York CA dominated the field at 72 kg/158.5 lbs. She competed in the 2004 Olympic Games, where she placed seventh. Previously, she won two World silver medals for the United States. Montgomery missed the 2005 season due to injury. She is back on the mats, competing for the Univ. of the Cumberlands at 82 kg/178 pounds (which is a college division not in international wrestling). If she enters, she becomes the instant favorite to win this weight class. Late word came that Montgomery may not be medically cleared to compete in Las Vegas, so we may not see her competing against these opponents until the World Team Trials in June.
One athlete you will see at this weight class in Las Vegas is two-time World champion Kristie Marano of the New York AC, who has jumped up to 158.5 pounds for the U.S. Nationals. Marano was second in the 2004 Olympic Trials at this weight class. She also won all of her four World silver medals at the highest weight class at the time (75 kg/165 lbs.), before dropping down to the lower division in recent seasons. Marano has the option of staying up to fill the void if Smith does not return this year, or drop back down to 67 kg/147.5 pounds for the World Team Trials.
Stephany Lee of Missouri Valley College is another top wrestler who missed the 2005 season due to injury. Lee had been as high as No. 2 on the national ladder in this division in the past. She returned to action this year, and captured a gold medal at the Sunkist Kids International Open, where she beat Bernard. Lee has had a strong college season, and will look to be among the finalists in Las Vegas this year.
Another college wrestler, Tabetha Golt of the Univ. of the Cumberlands, is next in the national rankings, after a strong season on the collegiate circuit. Golt was seventh at the U.S. Nationals last year.
Donell Bradley of the USOEC is among the veterans at this division, and was fourth at the U.S. Nationals last year. Her experience will give her an advantage against some of the young athletes in the field. Randi Miller of the USOEC, who was third at this weight class in Las Vegas last year, has been competing down at 147.5 pounds this season.
Melissa Simmons of Washington was sixth at the U.S. Nationals last year. She spent the fall with the USOEC program in Northern Michigan but is not with the team this semester. If she enters the tournament in Las Vegas, she could be a medal contender. Another athlete who placed eighth at the U.S. Nationals last year, Elizabeth Hernandez of the Univ. of the Cumberlands, should also be a factor this season.
Last year's Junior National champion, Desiree Memea of the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine WC, should be an athlete to watch, along with high school star Dallas Monreal-Berner of Illinois. College wrestler Stacy Martell of Pacific Univ. will give the field more depth if she enters the tournament.
One of the recent stars at 147.5 pounds, Heather Martin of the New York AC, has competed up at this weight class at times in the past. If Martin moves up, she becomes one of the top challengers at 158.5 pounds due to her skills and experience.
One of last year's All-Americans in Las Vegas, Toni Copeland of the Shamrock WC, who placed fifth, tragically passed away in a swimming accident in Michigan this fall. She had joined the USOEC program at Northern Michigan and was just starting her first season with the team when she drowned. There will be many people in Las Vegas thinking of Copeland this year, who had been a rising young star on the national level.
With World champion Iris Smith on the sidelines, twotime Junior World champion Ali Bernard becomes a top hopeful for the title this year. If Olympian Toccara Montgomery is ready to wrestle, then she becomes a strong favorite. The return of Stephany Lee to the mats this year brings another top talent into the mix here. This could be one of the more intriguing weight divisions in the U.S. Women's Nationals this year, with the title clearly up for grabs.
2005 U.S. NATIONALS RESULTS AT 72 KG/158.5 LBS.
1st - Iris Smith, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army) dec. Ali Bernard, New Ulm, Minn. (Univ of Regina), 4-2, 4-0
3rd - Randi Miller, Arlington, Texas (USOEC) dec. Donell Bradley, Aiea, Hawaii (USOEC), 1-0, 1-0
5th - Toni Copeland, McDonough, N.Y. (Shamrock) dec. Melissa Simmons , Ridgefield, Wash. (SW Washington), 5-3, 3-0
7th - Tabitha Golt, Chesapeake, Va. (Cumberland College) dec. Elizabeth Hernandez, Valerico, Fla. (Cumberland College), 8-4, 3-0
THEMAT.COM RANKINGS FOR MARCH 2006
1. Iris Smith, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army)
2. Stephany Lee, Honolulu, Hawaii (Missouri Valley)
3. Ali Bernard, New Ulm, Minn. (Univ. of Regina)
4. Tabitha Golt, Chesapeake, Va. (Cumberland College)
5. Donell Bradley, Aiea, Hawaii (USOEC)
6. Melissa Simmons, Ridgefield, Wash. (unattached)
7. Desiree Memea, Ewa Beach, Hawaii (Hawaii Rainbow Wahine)
8. Dallas Monreal-Berner, Niles, Ill. (unattached)
9. Brittany Jones, San Antonio, Texas (Missouri Valley)
10. Stacy Martell, Hillsboro, Ore. (Pacific Univ)