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|U.S. Nationals Greco-Roman preview at 96 kg/211.5 lbs.|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
Controlling this weight class in recent seasons has been Justin Ruiz of the New York AC, who won a World bronze medal in 2005 in Budapest, Hungary. Ruiz served his dues battling Olympic medalist Garrett Lowney for years, placing second to Lowney in the 2004 Olympic Trials. Ruiz has taken over this weight class since the 2005 season.
Ruiz has wrestled often since falling short of his goals at the 2006 World Championships in China, where he was eliminated in his second match. He has won three tournaments so far this year, the New York AC Holiday International, the Haparand Cup and the Dave Schultz Memorial International. He has other medals from tournaments in Finland and Serbia. Ruiz has considerable experience, and has been able to hold an edge against his American opponents, winning the tough matches with good defense and an offense that has been consistent.
In the past few seasons, the top challenger to Ruiz has been Adam Wheeler of the Gator WC, a powerful athlete who has considerable international experience. Wheeler was second behind Ruiz at both the U.S. Nationals and the World Team Trials in 2005, but dropped out of the top three in the division with a disappointing 2006 World Team Trials. Wheeler bounced back this fall with a win at the Sunkist Kids International, and has beaten all of his U.S. opponents this season, except for two losses to Ruiz.
Phil Johnston of the U.S. Army had his best season ever in 2006, taking second at the World Team Trials and third at the U.S. Nationals. Johnston is coming off a victory at the Armed Forces Championships a few weeks ago.
R.C. Johnson of the Sunkist Kids placed third at the World Team Trials to earn a national team spot, his best finish ever as well. This season, he has slipped a bit in the rankings, after losses to both Wheeler and Johnston during winter tournaments.
Robbie Smith of the New York AC, who was ninth at the Junior World Championships last year, is improving on the Senior level. He won bronze medals at both the Sunkist Kids International and the New York AC Holiday International this year. Brad Ahearn of the U.S. Army is also showing good results at the major events after moving up to this division from 185 pounds.
Jeff Zastrow of the Warhawk WC, the 2006 World Sombo champion, has his main focus on Greco-Roman and seeks to move up the ranking ladder. He was eighth at the U.S. Nationals last year.
Among the wrestlers who were All-Americans in Las Vegas last year are Gerard Habibian of Team Extreme, who placed fifth, Kevin Vogel of Cliff Keen, who was sixth, and Al Sankey of the U.S. Army, who was seventh. None of these athletes have seen any action so far this year. Vogel is an assistant coach at the Univ. of Michigan, and was nationally ranked in Greco-Roman for many years.
Another athlete who qualified for the World Team Trials last year is David Walker of the Bronco WC.
J.D. Bergman of Ohio International, who is an All-American for Ohio State, was a national team member a few seasons ago in Greco-Roman, but did not enter Greco events last year. If he returns to this style, he will be among the top challengers.
2006 U.S. Nationals results at 96 kg/211.5 lbs.
1st - Justin Ruiz, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) dec. Adam Wheeler, Lancaster, Calif. (USOEC/Gator WC), 3-1, 1-1
3rd - Phil Johnston, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army) dec. Gerard Habibian, St. George, Utah (Team Extreme), 2-1, 9-1
5th - Kevin Vogel, Dundee, Mich. (Cliff Keen) pin Al Sankey, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army), 0-7, 0:46
7th - Robert Smith, San Ramon, Calif. (USOEC) tech. fall Jeff Zastrow, Watertown, Wis. (Warhawk), 7-0, 6-0
TheMat.com rankings at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. for February 2007
1. Justin Ruiz, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)
2. Adam Wheeler, Lancaster, Calif. (USOEC/Gator WC)
3. Phil Johnston, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army)
4. Robert Smith, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)
5. Brad Ahearn, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army)
6. R.C. Johnson, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
7. Jeff Zastrow, Watertown, Wis. (Warhawk)
8. David Walker, Boise, Idaho (Bronco WC)
9. Al Sankey, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army)
10. Gerard Habibian, St. George, Utah (Team Extreme)