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Joe Heskett breaks through to earn hard-fought title at U.S. World Team Trials

LAS VEGAS - Joe Heskett has spent a good portion of his career being known as a guy who finished second in big tournaments.

He has won his share of events as well, but Heskett was a competitor who twice came in second at the NCAA tournament. He also placed second in the Olympic Team Trials and the World Team Trials.

But the 28-year-old Heskett is one persistent guy. And he will keep working for a gold medal until he gets it.

That was evident when the past Iowa State University standout finally broke through as a senior to win an NCAA title and that was evident again Saturday night when he broke through to win the biggest match of his life.

Heskett outlasted Casey Cunningham in a grueling, three-match battle to win the U.S. World Team Trials freestyle title at 74 kg/163 lbs. in the day's final match at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The third match came down to a final-period coin flip after neither wrestler could score. Heskett won the coin flip and then finished in the leg clinch to earn an emotional win. Heskett pumped both fists and then walked over to hug his wife, his two daughters and the grandmother, Evelyn Nye, who raised him.

"All I know is I had to win - I didn't know how and I didn't know in what fashion - I just had to find a way to win," Heskett said. "Casey's a great competitor, he's very tough. I had to make sure I didn't make a mistake and capitalize on my opportunities.

"Winning NCAAs was unbelievable, but the excitement after that match tonight when I finally realized I'm on my first team was just elating. To be able to represent the United States now at the World Championships is like no other feeling. Now I have to bring home a medal from the Worlds."

Also winning titles in freestyle were Daniel Cormier of the Gator Wrestling Club at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. and Mike Zadick of the Gator Wrestling Club at 60 kg/132 lbs.

Zadick, a 2006 World silver medalist, still has two more matches to win to make his second World Team. Zadick will now face U.S. Nationals champion Nate Gallick of the Sunkist Kids in a best-of-3 Special Wrestle-Off series at a later date for the World Team spot. Gallick requested and received an extension to wrestle in the finals after being injured. Zadick outlasted Gallick's college teammate, Zach Roberson, in a tough three-match series in Saturday night's finals.

Winning titles in Greco-Roman were Lindsey Durlacher of the New York AC at 55 kg/121 lbs., T.C. Dantzler of the Gator Wrestling Club at 74 kg/163 lbs., Brad Vering of the New York AC at 84 kg/185 lbs. and Dremiel Byers of the U.S. Army at 120 kg/264.5 lbs.

Winning titles in women's freestyle on Saturday were Patricia Miranda of the Sunkist Kids at 51 kg/112.25 lbs., Leigh Jaynes of the U.S. Army at 59 kg/130 lbs., Katie Downing of the Sunkist Kids at 67 kg/147.5 lbs. and Kristie Marano of the New York AC at 72 kg/158.5 lbs.

Heskett stayed calm while working his way through a tough 163-pound class that saw 2006 World bronze medalist Donny Pritzlaff place fourth.

Heskett, who also won the U.S. Nationals in April, pulled out a close early win over Kirk White on a disputed call near the edge of the mat. He then pulled out a tough win over veteran Ramico Blackmon in the semifinals before beating Cunningham, a past World Team Trials runner-up, in the final-round series.

"Just to get out of the U.S. at a very tough weight class is an honor," Heskett said. "We put so much time and effort into this. I leave my family for weeks at a time. To get it done, you just can't put it into words."

Heskett, an assistant coach at Ohio State, savored his winning moment for several minutes in the corner of the arena as he was greeted by family and friends.

"When you look back on your career, and to know that I've been close so many times and placed second so many times, to win a title at this level it puts an exclamation point on the year itself," Heskett said. "Now I'm focusing on becoming the best in the World over the next few months. This gives me a lot of momentum."

The champions this weekend at 17 of the 18 Olympic weight classes - six in freestyle, seven in Greco-Roman and four in women's freestyle - in this two-day event automatically qualify for the World Championships on Sept. 17-23 in Baku, Azerbaijan. The Gallick-Zadick winner will fill the final World Team spot in the Olympic weight classes.

There may be Special Wrestle-offs in the three women's non-Olympic weight classes - 51 kg/112.25 lbs., 59 kg/130 lbs. and 67 kg/147.5 lbs. - if silver and bronze medalists from the Olympic divisions choose to challenge at one of these divisions.

The World Team Wrestle-offs at 112.25 pounds, 130 pounds and 147.5 pounds are scheduled for July 10 in Colorado Springs, Colo. The winners of the World Team Trials in the non-Olympic weights will have a "leg-up" in the Special Wrestle-off, meaning any of the challengers will need to win two straight bouts to make the team.

The remaining weight classes will be contested Sunday. Wrestling resumes Sunday at 9 a.m. with the finals set for 6:30 p.m.

Cormier made his fifth straight World-level team by taking two straight matches over friend and fellow Oklahoma State alumnus Mo Lawal. Cormier controlled both matches with a clear edge in size over the explosive Lawal, a 2005 World Team member.

Cormier was fourth in the 2004 Olympics and fifth in the 2003 World Championships. He has made the last four U.S. World Teams.

Durlacher, a 2006 World bronze medalist, came back strong after a second-place finish at the U.S. Nationals. Durlacher took two straight finals matches from 2006 World University champion Spenser Mango.

Dantzler, fifth at the 2006 World Championships, took two in a row over long-time rival Keith Sieracki of the U.S. Army in the final-round series.

Byers, a past World champion, took two straight matches over U.S. Nationals champion Russ Davie. Byers won the first period of the second match 6-0 and Davie was unable to continue after he injured his arm when being turned by the powerful Byers.

Vering, a 2004 Olympian, made his fourth World Team by taking two straight matches from 2006 World Team member Jake Clark. Vering had made three straight World Teams before finishing third at last year's Trials.

Vering, a native of Howells, Neb., has come back strong this year and looks poised to win his first World medal. He was fifth in the World in 2002 and 2003.

Marano, a two-time World champion and eight-time World medalist, made her ninth U.S. World Team. Marano swept Stephany Lee in the finals. Marano pinned Lee in the second match to punch her ticket to Azerbaijan.

Miranda swept long-time rival Jenny Wong, a past World bronze medalist, in Saturday's best-of-3 finals. Miranda, who graduated from Yale Law School recently, is seeking her first World title this year.

Miranda is a two-time World silver medalist and also won a bronze medal at the 2006 World Championships. She was a bronze medalist in the 2004 Olympics. She also gave herself an early birthday present with the win Saturday. She turns 28 on Monday.

Jaynes took two straight matches from surprise finalist Tatiana Padilla of the California Grapplers. The 16-year-old Padilla, fourth at the U.S. Nationals, had upset 2006 World Team member Erin Tomeo in the finals of Saturday's Challenge Tournament.

Downing, a 2005 World bronze medalist, swept Elena Pirozhkov of the Gator Wrestling Club in the final-round series. Downing won the second match by fall.
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