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U.S. Nationals preview at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. in men's freestyle wrestling

Chris Bono is tired of making World teams and then returning home from the big dance without a medal.

So the 32-year-old Bono is planning to do something about it this year. The veteran remains the No. 1 American wrestler in the 66 kg/145.5 lbs. freestyle division entering the U.S. Nationals. And he is focused on becoming a medalist in a World or Olympic meet for the first time.

The gritty, scrappy former NCAA champion from Iowa State has made World teams in 2001, 2002 and 2005. Bono, who competes for the Sunkist Kids, won the U.S. Nationals in 2003 and 2005. He won the 2003 World Cup, and he has beaten World champions and medalists, but continues to fall short at the World Championships.

Bono was a long-time assistant coach at Iowa State and had trained in Ames, Iowa, before he joined former Olympic coach Joe Seay this year on the staff at Tennessee-Chattanooga. Olympic silver medalist Sammie Henson also is on that coaching staff. Henson also continues to compete internationally at 55 kg/121 pounds.

Bono earned the World team spot last year by sweeping Jared Lawrence of the Minnesota Storm in the best-of-three final round at the Trials. Bono won the Dave Schultz Memorial in February and followed that performance by placing second at the Uzbekistan Independence Cup Golden Grand Prix on March 11-12.

Lawrence continues to be ranked second by, followed by Eric Larkin of the Sunkist Kids, Jared Frayer of the Gator Wrestling Club and Jesse Jantzen of the New York Athletic Club. With a wealth of talent and experience at this weight class, the 145-pound division continues to be one of the deepest on the U.S. scene.

Lawrence won a pair of tournaments in November - the Clansman International in Canada and the New York Athletic Club Holiday Championships - before placing third in the Uzbekistan Independence Cup. The former NCAA champion from Minnesota was second at the 2004 Olympic Trials.

Larkin won the Sunkist Kids Open and was second at the Dave Schultz Memorial, falling to Bono in the finals. Frayer was third at the Schultz, dropping a close bout to Larkin in that event. Larkin has placed third at the last two Olympic Trials, an indication that his freestyle skills are at a high level.

Jantzen won the University World title to gain momentum for this season. He is one of only five Americans to ever win that event. He has been injured this year, but may be back in time for the U.S. Nationals.

A trio of former Iowa Hawkeye NCAA champs - Cliff Moore, Doug Schwab and Bill Zadick - hold down the 6-8 spots in this class. Moore competes for the Hawkeye Training Club while Schwab and Zadick are with the Gator Wrestling Club.

Zadick placed seventh at the 2001 World Championships. He won the 2001 and 2002 U.S. Nationals. He now trains at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Schwab was named outstanding wrestler in the inaugural season of Real Pro Wrestling after winning a championship. Moore was second at the Sunkist Kids Open, falling to Larkin in the finals. He also was third at the NYAC meet.

Phillip Simpson of the U.S. Army is ranked ninth and JaMarr Billman of the New York Athletic Club is 10th. Simpson was a college star at Army and is now training in Colorado Springs as he makes the transition to freestyle.

A number of other wrestlers who excelled in recent years in college may be back after competing in this class last year. They include Dylan Long, Cory Cooperman, Dwight Hinson, Ryan Lang, Jeff Ratliff, Joe Johnston and Dustin Hinschberger.

Long (Northern Iowa) and Johnston (Iowa) have placed second at the NCAAs during their college careers. Hinschberger was a Division III national champion for Wartburg College. Lehigh's Cooperman beat Northwestern's Lang in the third-place match at 141 at this year's NCAA meet.

Long recently won the Rocky Mountain regional title, beating Garrett Desmond by technical fall in the finals. Ratliff placed third.

Another possibility in this class could be Minnesota true freshman Dustin Schlatter, who just captured his first NCAA title at 149. Schlatter, however, also is still eligible to compete for a spot on the Junior World team, and may test that level instead.

Jerrod Sanders is another guy who could be a factor after placing eighth in Vegas last year.

There is very little separation between the top competitors in this loaded and very deep division. Most of the matches in this class are relatively low scoring. A mistake here or an early takedown there could be the difference in a wide-open bracket where any number of guys can contend for a title. There likely will be a bit of urgency for a veteran like Bono since he's now the elder statesmen at 145.5 pounds.

1st - Chris Bono, Gilbert, Iowa (Sunkist Kids) dec. Jared Lawrence, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm), 1-0, 1-1, 1-0
3rd - Jared Frayer, Cambridge, Mass. (unattached) dec. Bill Zadick, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC), 2-1, 2-1
5th - Doug Schwab, Minneapolis, Minn. (Gator WC) won by injury default over Jesse Jantzen, Cambridge, Mass. (New York AC)
7th - Eric Larkin, Tempe, Ariz. (Sunkist Kids) won by injury default over Jerrod Sanders, Raleigh, N.C. (unattached)

1. Chris Bono, Ringgold, Ga. (Sunkist Kids)
2. Jared Lawrence, Roseville, Minn. (Minnesota Storm)
3. Eric Larkin, Tempe, Ariz. (Sunkist Kids)
4. Jared Frayer, Cambridge, Mass. (Gator WC)
5. Jesse Jantzen, Brookline, Mass. (New York AC)
6. Cliff Moore, Iowa City, Iowa (Hawkeye TC)
7. Doug Schwab, Blacksburg, Va. (Gator WC)
8. Bill Zadick, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC)
9. Phillip Simpson, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army)
10. JaMarr Billman, Ithaca, N.Y. (New York AC)
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