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Cary Kolat returns with three straight freestyle wins to qualify for final day of U.S. Nationals

LAS VEGAS - You figured Cary Kolat might be a little rusty after not wrestling competitively for more than four years.

But a determined Kolat looked like his same old dominating self on Friday at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Kolat rattled off three straight wins to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Nationals freestyle qualifying tournament at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. Kolat advanced to Saturday's final day of the event by virtue of a top-eight finish in the qualifying tournament. Those eight qualifiers will join the eight seeded wrestlers in the 66 kg bracket on Saturday.

The 33-year-old Kolat is back on the mat for the first time since 2003. Kolat is a past World silver and bronze medalist who also competed in the 2000 Olympic Games.

Kolat won his first match by injury default before he rolled to a 5-1, 7-1 win over Mike Keefe of the Sunkist Kids. He then downed Jordan Keckler 1-0, 7-0 in the quarterfinals. The powerful Kolat controlled the matches with a physical, punishing style.

The top seven finishers in each weight class at the U.S. Nationals advance to June's U.S. World Team Trials in Las Vegas.

The eight qualifiers for Saturday's tournament were determined in each weight class once wrestlers in each bracket reached the semifinals and consolation semifinals of Friday's qualifying tournament. Once the wrestlers reached those rounds Friday they were done for the day and advanced to Saturday's final day. The seeded wrestlers did not have to compete Friday and weighed in Friday afternoon for Saturday's competition.

The wrestlers who qualified Friday will be drawn into Saturday's bracket with the seeded wrestlers. That means a dangerous and proven competitor like Kolat could be a bad draw for one of the top seeds at 145.5.

Among the other semifinalists at 66 kg were past two-time NCAA champion Teyon Ware along with past NCAA All-Americans Travis Shufelt and Joe Johnston. Ware knocked off past NCAA champion Doug Schwab 1-0, 3-0 in the quarterfinals of the qualifying tournament. Ware has bumped up a weight after previously competing at 60 kg/132 lbs.

Jake Varner and Kurt Backes, a pair of NCAA runner-up finishers last month for Iowa State, were among the other wrestlers to reach the semis in freestyle. Varner made it to Saturday at 84 kg/185 lbs. while Backes made it at 96 kg/211.5 lbs.

Another top young prospect, Nebraska-Kearney heavyweight Tervel Dlagnev, reached the semis of the qualifying tournament at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. in freestyle. Dlagnev won an NCAA Division II title last month.

In one of the featured first-round bouts in freestyle, Danny Felix of the Sunkist Kids edged Franklin Gomez of the Michigan Wrestling Club 1-0, 1-0. Felix went on to reach the semis at 60 kg/132 lbs. to qualify for Saturday while Gomez was still alive in the wrestlebacks early Friday afternoon. Gomez beat Felix 1-0, 1-0 two weeks ago in the finals of the Northeast Regional in Brockport, N.Y.

Two-time NCAA All-American Matt Keller of the Sunkist Kids also reached the semis at 60 kg.

Three of the seven Greco-Roman weight classes also held qualifiers on Friday. There were qualifying tournaments for Greco at 66 kg, 74 kg and 84 kg. The other four classes did not have a qualifier since each had 19 or fewer total entrants.

Competition in freestyle and Greco-Roman resumes at 9 a.m. Saturday with the finals in both styles set for 6 p.m. Saturday at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
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