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Stephen Abas of Fresno State having fun and winning big



Sometimes, a year off can make a big difference in an athlete's career. 1999 NCAA champion Stephen Abas of Fresno State decided not to wrestle during the 2000 college season. His time off as a redshirt was far from a vacation, however. Abas made a serious run for the U.S. Olympic freestyle team at 119 pounds. Although he fell short, placing fourth in the Olympic Trials, Abas had some classic battles with wrestling stars like Olympic silver medalist Sammie Henson and U.S. World Team member Eric Akin. He wrestled in every single major competition he could, travelling to foreign nations and entering the big meets on U.S. soil. He beat a number of top foreign wrestlers, winning Outstanding Wrestler awards and making his name known in far-away lands. This year, Abas came back for his junior year in college. Although he was not an Olympian, he was a different man. After a year off from college wrestling, a year with few days on the beach and many, many long nights on the mat, he was ready to defend his title. And all Abas can talk about is having fun. "I feel really good this week," said Abas, after his second round 11-3 victory over EWL champion Shawn Amistade of Pittsburgh. "I am having some fun and starting things off right. I'm going to come back tomorrow and be ready for more." Abas is a dominant athlete. Amistade is a strong and solid athlete who seems to be in every match he wrestles, except against a superstar like Abas. Mixing up a steady diet of low single leg attacks with some dominant mat skills, Abas kept up the pressure and won every position. Amistade, a rugged competitor, tried a desperation throw late in the bout, but Abas quickly countered for another takedown and a major decision. "It's been a great year," said Fresno State head coach Dennis Deliddo. "He's beaten all of his opponents by eight or more points every time. He hasn't given up an offensive point all season." "He's a lot more confident this year," said Deliddo. "He's a lot more positive. He wrestles to have fun. It's sure fun when you are winning." Abas is not just winning; he is dominating. This is something that is in his game plan, as he understands it is all part of the process of becoming a star wrestler, in college and perhaps some day on the Olympic level. "It has been so much fun this year," said Abas. "I haven't had a close match all year. I keep it interesting by setting new goals. I've got a couple more goals this tournament. Three more wins and I'm done this year." Anybody who watches Abas is in awe of his dominance on his feet. As he was taking apart Amistade on mat number two, Olympic champion and Hall of Fame inductee Tom Brands was quietly admiring a future superstar. "This Abas guy is really something," said Brands, who knows what he is talking about. "I have been working on my takedowns since high school," said Abas. "Anybody can see it is my strong point. It works at any level, against any opponent." Abas certainly added to his physical skills and technical wizardry during his redshirt Olympic quest. However, he believes the aspect of his wrestling that has improved the most was between his ears. "What I learned most last year was mental," said Abas. "I have been keeping a great attitude. I had a season competing with the best wrestlers in the world. Coming back to college has been so much easier." Deliddo has seen Abas come back with some new leadership skills, as well. After a disappointing season with Abas on the sidelines, the Bulldogs have put together a more competitive team this year. He has meant so much to the Fresno State program that it will really be hard to access until it is all over. "He has been tremendous for our team," said Deliddo. "Our school appreciates him. They don't know much about wrestling sometimes, but they know him. He's a hometown hero. If there is such a thing in wrestling, it's him. He's everything. He's coachable, he's lovable, he's a great student. He's everything you could ask for." Abas is unafraid to set high goals for himself. He wants to leave this tournament as the best college wrestler in the land. "My goal is to take that OW award away from Cael Sanderson," said Abas. As long as he is having so much fun, anything is possible with this spectacular star.
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