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She's baaaaack! Seven-time World medalist Kristie Marano punches her ticket to the World Championships

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Making United States World Teams in wrestling never gets old.

Even for a two-time World champion and seven-time medalist like Kristie Marano of the New York Athletic Club.

The 27-year-old Marano looked as dominating as ever in sweeping Stephany Lee in two straight matches to capture the 72 kg/158.5 pound women's freestyle title Friday night at the U.S. World Team Trials.

Marano made her eighth World Team, but first since 2003, in the event held at Colorado Springs Christian High School.

"It feels so good to be back in the swing of things and be back on the World Team," said Marano, who was hampered by an injury last year. "After 2004, I was just crushed and devastated. Being back on the team feels really good and just being able to compete consistently makes me feel a lot better. I'm excited about going back to the World Championships."

Marano will be joined on the American team by Patricia Miranda (51 kg/112 lbs.), Tina George (55 kg/121 lbs.), Erin Tomeo (59 kg/130 lbs.), Sara McMann (63 kg/138.5 lbs.) and Katie Downing (67 kg/147.5 lbs.). Miranda, Tomeo, McMann and Downing compete for the Sunkist Kids. George wrestles for the U.S. Army.

Those six wrestlers qualify for the World Championships on Sept. 26-Oct. 2 in Guangzhou, China.

The seventh and final spot on the U.S. team is still up for grabs. Mary Kelly of the New York Athletic Club won the World Team Trials at 48 kg/105.5 pounds and will face U.S. Nationals champion Clarissa Chun of the Sunkist Kids at a later date for a spot on the team.

Chun is recovering from a knee injury and is permitted to wrestle-off at a later date by virtue of winning the U.S. Nationals.

Marano came out aggressively in the finals against Lee, a past World University champion. Marano rolled to a 6-0 first-period win before pinning Lee in the second period. Lee fought gamely in the second bout, but the savvy Marano neutralized her in a 2-0, 1-0 victory.

Marano, who owns two World gold medals, four silver and one bronze, flashed a huge smile as she received congratulatory hugs following her finals win.

"These young girls want to knock me off," Marano said. "It's definitely a good motivational push to want to stay ahead of them."

Marano met Lee in the finals after Lee knocked off 2005 World champion Iris Smith in the finals of the Challenge Tournament earlier in the day. Smith had missed the U.S. Nationals with an injury, but still has struggled in the past against Lee.

The Americans figure to put a strong team on the mat in China with five past World medalists on the team in Marano, McMann, Miranda, George and Downing along with a past World Team member in Tomeo.

The powerful McMann looked very strong in coasting to a pair of lopsided wins over Alaina Berube of the New York Athletic Club. McMann is shooting for her fourth straight World-level medal this year. She won silver at the 2003 World Championships and 2004 Olympics before earning a bronze medal at the 2005 World meet.

The 25-year-old McMann has made the last six U.S. World Teams, in addition to being a 2004 Olympian.

Miranda, who took last year off to focus on her first year of Law School after winning a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics, continues to look impressive after sweeping Jenny Wong in a pair of tight matches in the finals. Miranda is a two-time World silver medalist.

"You really have to be on your game in a tournament like this," Miranda said. "These young girls have so much energy and fire, you've got to be ready to wrestle."

George, a two-time World silver medalist, made her seventh World Team by outlasting U.S. Nationals champion Sharon Jacobson in a physical, bruising series in the finals. George won the first match 1-1, 4-6, 5-3 before prevailing 6-4, 7-1 in the second match.

George came back strong after placing third at the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas.

"I've been working on some things, and changing my strategy and tactics," George said. "I worked on overcoming adversity and that loss in Vegas really motivated me. I wanted to let everybody know I'm back."

Downing continues to stockpile momentum after winning a bronze medal in her first World Championship appearance in 2005. Downing wasted no time in pinning Stefenie Shaw in the first period of their first bout. She then came back with a dominant 7-0, 5-0 win in the second bout.

Downing is headed to China with only one goal in mind at this year's World Championships.

"I had to keep my focus on the match I had today, but in the back of my mind I'm thinking about winning a World gold medal," Downing said. "I think the experience from last year will help me a lot."

Tomeo made her second World Team, but first since 2001, by knocking off 2005 World bronze medalist Sally Roberts of the Gator Wrestling Club in the finals. Roberts won the first period of the first match 11-5 before Tomeo rebounded to pin her in the third period. Tomeo won the first period of the second match 7-4 before rallying from a 4-0 deficit in the second period by catching Roberts on her back to win 5-4.

Tomeo was 0-3 against Roberts before defeating her on Friday.

"I really wanted this and I finally put it together," Tomeo said. "I just tried to stay patient and not get too overly aggressive. I needed to stay focused the entire match. This is a huge win for me. I've worked so hard to get to this point. I've put in the hours and my confidence has really grown."

Kelly earned a breakthrough win by pinning seven-time World Team member and past World silver medalist Stephanie Murata of the Sunkist Kids in both matches of their championship series. Kelly now will try to knock off Chun at a later date to make her first World Team.

Kelly beat Murata for the first time in her career.

"I was really pumped up going into this tournament and focused on winning," Kelly said. "In the past, I've kind of hesitated in big matches like this and was afraid of people capitalizing on my mistakes. This time, I just said I wasn't going to hold anything back and I was just going to wrestle. She's a great wrestler. This is a huge win for me."

The U.S. World Team Trials for women typically are held in conjunction with the Trials for men's freestyle and Greco-Roman. But the women's event had to be held at a later date this year because of a conflict with the Women's World Cup.
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