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Surprising Smith stuns Bergman to win University Nationals

EVANSTON, Ill. - Robbie Smith has taken more than his share of lumps in the wrestling room at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

But that's not all that unexpected when you roll around every day with Greco-Roman standouts like World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz, Olympian Brad Vering and U.S. Nationals runner-up Russ Davie.

But the lessons and punishment the 19-year-old Smith has been absorbing already is starting to pay off.

Smith rallied to knock off defending champion J.D. Bergman of the Ohio International Wrestling Club in the 211.5-pound finals of USA Wrestling's University Nationals Greco-Roman event Friday at Northwestern's Welsh Ryan Arena. Smith was named Outstanding Wrestler.

"This is a huge, huge win for me," Smith said. "He's a very good wrestler. He took third at the World Team Trials last year, so this is a really big confidence-booster for me. I wrestled hard this whole tournament. I was real confident coming in here, no matter who I was facing. I knew going into the finals I could beat him."

Bergman, an All-American for Ohio State, swept the Greco-Roman and freestyle titles last year at University Nationals.

Champions at the University Nationals qualify to represent the United States at the World University Championships in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, on June 15-20. The top two finishers from the University Nationals in each weight class advance to the U.S. World Team Trials on May 26-28 in Sioux City, Iowa.

It was a rough day for defending champions. In addition to Bergman, returning champions Jeremiah Davis (132.25), Trent Paulson (163) and Justin Millard (185) also failed to repeat. Jake Marquardt of the USOEC was the lone wrestler who repeated. He won again at 264.5 pounds.

The tough competition Smith faces in Colorado Springs has accelerated his development.

"I'm facing guys ranked No. 1 in the nation every day at the Olympic Training Center and that's helped me a ton," Smith said. "The practice partners are awesome and the coaches have taught me so much. It's a great environment to train in."

Bergman took control early in the best-of-three finals, executing a two-point gut wrench to win the first period 3-0. But Smith came right back, gaining a two-point turn en route to winning the second period 3-0. Bergman tried to lock Smith up and throw him twice in the third period, but both attempts failed as Smith won the decisive third period 6-2.

An excited Smith clapped his hands three times and let out a huge scream as he jogged off the mat after his victory in the finals. Smith said Bergman told him he was "lucky" as they passed each other in front of the scorers' table after the match.

"Whatever he wants to say, he can go ahead and say it," Bergman said. "I beat him 6-2 in the last period. If he wants to call that luck, that's fine with me. I don't care. I won the match."

Champions in Greco-Roman also included Shao Lee of the Marines (110), Spenser Mango of the USOEC (121), Nathan Piasecki of the Sunkist Kids (132.25), Jacob Curby of the USOEC (145.5), Jake Fisher of the USOEC (163) and Kenneth Cook (185).

The explosive Mango will be a serious threat to win the World Team Trials as he continued to stockpile momentum by rolling to the University Nationals title at 121 pounds.

Mango, second at the U.S. Nationals a couple weeks ago, executed a spectacular early five-point throw en route to a 9-0, 10-0 win over Terry Allison in the finals in Evanston. The 19-year-old Mango, a resident at the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan, placed second in the University Nationals last year.

Piasecki outlasted Davis 1-1, 0-3, 2-1 in the final round. Paulson came back from a semifinal loss to place third. Millard, who has been battling an injury, had to default to sixth place.

The freestyle portion of the University Nationals is set for Saturday and Sunday at Welsh Ryan Arena.
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