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U.S. Nationals preview at 67 kg/147.5 lbs. in womenís freestyle wrestling

One of the biggest rivalries within women's wrestling in the United States is at the 67 kg/147.5 lbs. weight class, where two world-class athletes have battled for a number of years. 2005 World bronze medalist Katie Downing of the Sunkist Kids and two-time World champion Kristie Marano of the New York AC have a history against each other, and the odds favor that the two could add to this story at the U.S. Nationals this year.

For a number of years, it was Marano who had the strong edge in this rivalry. However, in the last year, Downing has turned the tables on Marano and goes into the 2006 U.S. Nationals as the top-ranked wrestler. Last year in Las Vegas, Marano defeated Downing in the finals in a close match. But at the World Team Trials, Downing scored her first wins over Marano, sweeping the Championship Series in two straight bouts. In her first World Championships, Downing went on to capture a bronze medal. This fall, at the New York AC Holiday Championships, the two wrestlers met again, and Downing controlled the action to beat Marano.

Marano has established herself as one of the greatest wrestlers in U.S. history. In addition to World titles in 2000 and 2003, she has won a total of seven World medals, the most of any American women's wrestler. She fell short of her dream of making the Olympics, when she did not make weight at 63 kg/138.75 at the Olympic Trials, and ended up second up at 72 kg/158.5 lbs.

In both 2002 and 2003, Marano defeated Downing in Special Wrestle-offs to make the U.S. World Team. Those years, Marano competed at 138.75 pounds, and placed second behind Sara McMann in the World Team Trials. However, a provision allowed wrestlers from the Olympic weight classes to challenge the winners at the non-Olympic weights. Downing won the World Team Trials at 147.5 pounds, but Marano moved up in weight and won the spot on the U.S. teams.

Downing has impressive achievements of her own, a World medal, a national title, a World Cup gold medal anda Junior World medal. Of the two wrestlers, it is Marano who has had a bit of a better winter season, capturing titles at the Dave Schultz Memorial, the Vehbe Emre Grand Prix in Turkey and the Klippan Golden Grand Prix in Sweden. Downing has gold medals from the Sunkist Kids International and the New York AC Holiday Championships, and a pair of bronze medals at international events. In International Rankings at the weight, Marano is No. 2 and Downing is No. 5. These are both world-class stars.

The rest of the field will be working to upset one of these two in order to earn a spot in the finals. Randi Miller of the USOEC is having her best season to date, and holds a No. 3 ranking on the national level. Her big win this season is over Heather Martin of the New York AC at the New York AC Holiday Championships. Martin is one of the top young stars in the sport, a star for the Univ. of the Cumberlands women's team. Martin was a Junior World silver medalist last year, and placed second at the 2004 U.S. Nationals.

Much of the rest of the field in this division is young and still working their way up. Martin's teammate at the Univ. of Cumberlands, Shelly Ruberg, has been consistent, placing fourth at the U.S. Nationals last year. Andrea Hale of Lassen College and Jade Prudent of Menlo College are college wrestlers who are capable of taking home a place finish at the U.S. Nationals.

A newcomer on the national level last year was Laura McDonald of the U.S. Air Force, who placed seventh at the U.S. Nationals. She has continued to train and compete and should be improved this year. A veteran in the field will be Cindy Herceg of Santa Monica Bay WC, who has qualified in the past for Women's Team USA. Herceg has placed at the U.S. Nationals in past years, and is capable of being a contender again.

Two wrestlers who were placewinners last year at Las Vegas, K'uu Johnson of the USOEC, who was fifth, and Kelly Branham, of Missouri Valley College, who was eighth, have not competed this season.

The 2004 U.S. Nationals champion at this weight class is two-time Junior World champion Ali Bernard of the Univ. of Regina. Bernard has been wrestling up at 158.5 pounds, but has the ability to make it down to 147.5 pounds. She is expected to stay up at that weight, but if she does drop down, she is an instant title contender. 2005 University Nationals champion Ashley Sword has competed at this division in the past, but has been hampered with injuries throughout her career.

A few college wrestlers who might be competitive include Sherolynn Eppinger of the Univ. of the Cumberlands, Sara Hilliard of Missouri Valley College and Emily Rinehart of Missouri Valley College.

The safe bet in this weight class is to expect another finals showdown between Katie Downing and Kristie Marano. If this happens, it will be interesting to see if Marano can find a way to beat Downing again. Either way, the big showdown could be at the World Team Trials, just like last season. The rest of the field has to make some major strides to challenge either of the top two stars, and may just be battling for the bronze medal.

1st - Kristie Marano, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) dec. Katie Downing, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids), 1-0, 2-0
3rd - Heather Martin, Wellington, Ohio (New York AC) pin Shelly Ruberg, Williamsburg, Ky. (Cumberland College), 6-0, 1:15
5th - K'uu Johnson, Honolulu, Hawaii (USOEC) dec. Andrea Hale, Chicago, Ill. (Lassen College), 5-1, 2-0
7th - Laura McDonald, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force) won inj. dft. over Kelly Branham, Apache Junction, Ariz. (Missouri Valley)

1. Katie Downing, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
2. Kristie Marano, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)
3. Randi Miller, Arlington, Texas (USOEC)
4. Heather Martin, Wellington, Ohio (New York AC)
5. Shelly Ruberg, Ueras, Ohio (Cumberland College)
6. Andrea Hale, Chicago, Ill. (Lassen College)
7. Jade Prudent, Houston, Texas (Menlo College)
8. Laura McDonald, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force)
9. Cindy Herceg, Los Angeles, Calif. (Santa Monica Bay WC)
10. Sara Hilliard, Lawrence, Kan. (Missouri Valley)
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