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|No shortage of surprises during U.S. Nationals as Byers, Thompson, Pritzlaff among wrestlers who suffer upset losses|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
LAS VEGAS - Dremiel Byers is a past World champion who has not been seriously challenged by any American Greco-Roman competitor over the past three years at 120 kg/264.5 lbs.
Tolly Thompson is a past World bronze medalist who has made the last two U.S. World freestyle teams at heavyweight.
Donny Pritzlaff and Tyrone Lewis finished 1-2 at the 2006 U.S. World Team Trials in freestyle at 74 kg/163 lbs.
Jacob Clark made the 2006 U.S. World Team in Greco-Roman at 84 kg/185 lbs. while Marcel Cooper won the 2006 U.S. Nationals in Greco-Roman at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. Andy Hrovat represented the U.S. at the 2006 World Championships in freestyle at 84 kg/185 lbs.
But none of that mattered Saturday morning when those wrestlers were among a number of top competitors who were victims of stunning early upsets at the U.S. Nationals.
The top-seeded Byers lost to U.S. Army teammate Timothy Taylor by a 0-2, 1-1, 1-1 score in the first round. Byers has made the past two U.S. World Teams and won a World title in 2002. Taylor kept it rolling with two more wins to reach the finals. The classy Byers stood in Taylor's corner for the semifinals and helped coach him to a win. He said he will be in Taylor's corner again for the finals.
Taylor, 24, placed fourth in the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials.
"I really don't want to talk about the match with Dremiel," Taylor said after reaching the finals. "He's my teammate, my brother and my friend. He's in my corner and I'm in his corner. The Army team is a family - we all support each other."
The second and third periods came down a coin flip, and Taylor capitalized by winning both periods after not being turned. Byers came back to place third.
"(Taylor) wrestled really well and didn't try to do too much," Byers told Tim Hipps of U.S. Army public affairs. "He won every toss and he stayed real sound. I wasn't able to take it to him in the last 30 seconds when I was on top. He fought hands really well and did a great job defending. My hat's off to him. He was the better man today."
It was a wild start to the final day of the U.S. Nationals at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The top seven finishers in each weight class advance to June's U.S. World Team Trials in Las Vegas. The finals of the U.S. Nationals are set for Saturday night at 6 p.m. Pacific Time in Vegas.
The top-seeded Pritzlaff (Madison, Wis./New York AC), the returning U.S. Nationals champion and a 2006 World bronze medalist, suffered a surprising 7-0, 2-0 loss to No. 8 Casey Cunningham of the Sunkist Kids.
Just five minutes later, the second-seeded Lewis (Stillwater, Okla./Gator WC) dropped a 1-0, 1-1 decision to two-time Hodge Trophy winner Ben Askren of the Sunkist Kids. Askren won the second period by virtue of scoring last under FILA rules.
The 30-year-old Cunningham, who is back competing this year for the first time since 2004, used a succession of turns to win the first period 6-0. The second period was scoreless after the first two minutes and went to the leg clinch. Cunningham won the flip and was able to finish after locking Pritzlaff in a cradle near the edge of the mat.
Pritzlaff shot in and appeared to have secured a takedown late in the second period, but was not credited with the point after his coaches questioned the call.
Cunningham routinely was a top contender to make U.S. World Teams in freestyle, but was stuck behind past World medalist Joe Williams. Cunningham was second in the 2002 U.S. Nationals and U.S. World Team Trials. He reached the finals of the U.S. Nationals and will face Joe Heskett of the Gator Wrestling Club in the finals.
The top-seeded Thompson fell to two-time NCAA champion Cole Konrad in the semifinals. The match came down to the leg clinch and Konrad won the coin flip before driving Thompson off the mat for the match-ending point. Konrad won a bronze medal at the 2006 World University Championships.
Clark was knocked off in the quarterfinals by Chas Betts. Betts dropped the first period 6-0 before coming back to win 1-1, 1-1 in the last two periods to prevail in the best-of-3 format. Betts was a World University silver medalist in 2006.
The top-seeded Hrovat dropped a 3-0, 4-2 semifinal decision to Joe Williams, who has bumped up a weight after being a fixture for years as the top guy in the U.S. at 163 pounds.
The top-seeded Cooper fell to Jacob Hey of the Air Force 1-1, 1-1 in the first round.
Another interesting story to watch is the return of Chris Bono, the Tennessee-Chattanooga head coach who reached the freestyle finals at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. The fourth-seeded Bono downed No. 1 seed Jared Lawrence 3-0, 0-3, 1-0 in the semis.
Past World silver and bronze medalist Cary Kolat fell to past NCAA champion Zack Esposito 3-0, 1-0 in the first round of Saturday's freestyle tournament at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. Kolat, 33, is competing for the first time in more than four years.
Both periods in the Kolat-Esposito match went to the leg clinch. Esposito won the coin flip in the first period and finished with Kolat's leg and gained two exposure points to win the period. Kolat won the flip in the second period, but was unable to finish with a single as Esposito pulled off the win.
Kolat rebounded to win four straight matches - over Joe Johnston, Brent Metcalf, Doug Schwab and Lawrence - before eventually finishing fourth. He defaulted his third-place match with Esposito.
FREESTYLE FINALS MATCHUPS
55 kg/121 lbs. - Henry Cejudo, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids) vs. Nick Simmons, Williamston, Mich. (Michigan WC)
60 kg/132 lbs. - Mike Zadick, Solon, Iowa (Gator WC) vs. Nate Gallick, Ames, Iowa (Sunkist Kids)
66 kg/145.5 lbs. - Chris Bono, Ringgold, Ga. (Sunkist Kids) vs. Jared Frayer, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC)
74 kg/163 lbs. - Casey Cunningham, Mt. Pleasant, Mich. (Sunkist Kids) vs. Joe Heskett, Columbus, Ohio (Gator WC)
84 kg/185 lbs. - Joe Williams, DeKalb, Ill. (Sunkist Kids) vs. Lee Fullhart, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC)
96 kg/211.5 lbs. - Mo Lawal, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC) vs. Daniel Cormier, Stillwater, Okla. (Gator WC)
120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Cole Konrad, Freedom, Wis. (Minnesota Storm) vs. Tommy Rowlands, Columbus, Ohio (Sunkist Kids)
GRECO-ROMAN FINALS MATCHUPS
55 kg/121 lbs. - Lindsey Durlacher, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) vs. Sam Hazewinkel, Pensacola, Fla. (Gator WC)
60 kg/132 lbs. - Joe Warren, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) vs. Joe Betterman, Chicago, Ill. (USOEC/New York AC)
66 kg/145.5 lbs. - Glenn Garrison, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army) vs. Faruk Sahin, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army)
74 kg/163 lbs. - Keith Sieracki, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army) vs. T.C. Dantzler, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC)
84 kg/185 lbs. - Brad Vering, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) vs. Justin Millard, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force)
96 kg/211.5 lbs. - Justin Ruiz, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) vs. Adam Wheeler, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC)
120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Timothy Taylor, Fountain, Colo. (U.S. Army) vs. Russ Davie, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)