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|ABBOTT COLUMN: Top 10 wrestling stories of 2010|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
As has been my tradition each December, I will share my Top 10 wrestling stories for the 2010 calendar year.
It was an interesting season, with many ups and downs for the U.S. teams, as well as some great drama on the college and youth levels. As always, narrowing down to 10 choices is challenging, but is a fun way to remember the year which has passed and turn our attention to the season ahead.
I encourage all of our readers to take a similar journey and come up with their own Top 10. We will make a thread on TheMatForums for this to allow feedback from the entire wrestling community.
1. Russia dominates 2010 World Championships on home mats– Russia has been a dominant nation in international wrestling for many years, and had the opportunity to host the 2010 World Championships in Moscow in September. The Russians did an excellent job of using their home-field advantage with a powerful performance in all three styles. The tournament started with Greco-Roman, and Russia won the team title over runner-up Turkey, who was the 2009 champions. Russia was led by champion Ambako Vachade at 66 kg and six total medalists. Next up was women’s freestyle, and Russia placed a solid second behind perennial power Japan, with three medalists. The event finished with men’s freestyle, where Russia cleaned up with the team title, well ahead of runner-up Azerbaijan. Russian champions were Victor Lebedev (55 kg), Besik Kudukov (60 kg), Denis Tsargush (74 kg) and Bilyal Makhov (120 kg), and they won a medal in all seven weights. Adding to the atmosphere were large crowds of fans all week long, which made it feel like a Russian wrestling pep-rally at times. This performance gives Russia extra momentum going into 2011, which is when the Olympic qualifying process begins.
2. Elena Pirozhkova’s silver medal is top U.S. performance at 2010 Worlds– It seemed fitting that U.S. women’s wrestler Elena Pirozhkova, who was born in Russia, would win her first World medal at a World Championships hosted in her native land. Pirozhkova had a marvelous performance on the way to her silver medal at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. She won four tough bouts to reach the finals, including a gut-check come-from-behind win in round three over Katerina Lopez of Cuba. In the semifinals, she beat Russian Lubov Volosova, a two-time World silver medalist, in a thrilling 1-0, 1-0 battle. She scored first in her finals bout against two-time Olympic champion Kaori Icho of Japan, before losing 1-1, 0-6. It was Elena’s third trip to the World Championships, and her best-ever personal performance. The trip had special meaning to Pirozhkova, who spent some additional time in Russia, and helped her to better understand her family heritage, as she came to the USA as a small child and later became a U.S. citizen.
3. Brent Metcalf closes stellar college career and takes over U.S. spot at 66 kg– Clearly one of the most popular wrestlers in the United States at this time is Brent Metcalf, who has excelled on the national level since his days in high school when he won six Junior National titles. Metcalf’s saga included his start at Virginia Tech, a transfer to Iowa following coach Tom Brands where he lost a year of eligibility, a Hodge Trophy season as a sophomore and a dramatic loss in the NCAA finals as a junior to the exciting Darrion Caldwell of NC State. All eyes were on Metcalf in 2010, as he closed out his college career. Caldwell missed the season due to injury. Metcalf had a dominant season until he was beaten in the Big Ten finals by a scrappy Lance Palmer of Ohio State. Metcalf came back to win his second NCAA title two weeks later, beating Palmer in NCAA finals 3-2. Focus quickly turned to freestyle wrestling. Although he skipped the U.S. Open, Metcalf powered into the final series at the U.S. World Team Trials, where he beat Jared Frayer in three matches, ended by a controversial defensive clinch. Although he did not place at his first World Championships in Russia, Metcalf shows signs of being an impact wrestler for the United States for a long time.
4. Iowa wins college national title with three NCAA champs– In 2009, Iowa won the NCAA Championships in a very non-Iowa fashion, without an individual champion but winning through the wrestlebacks. Tom Brands troops had a different mission in 2010, not only seeking team dominance but making an impact on the winner’s side of the bracket. At the 2010 NCAA Championships in Omaha, the Hawkeyes did just that, winning three individual titles from freshman Matt McDonough (125) and seniors Brent Metcalf (149) and Jay Borschel (174). Two other Hawks reached the finals to place second, Dan Dennis (133) and Montel Marion (141). It was a third straight team title for Iowa, but this time done the traditional Iowa way – by putting people into the finals.
5. Battle on the Intrepid a huge showcase for U.S. wrestling– Every year for a decade, Beat the Streets in New York City has held a gala event to help raise money and awareness for their program, which has started dozens of middle school and high school teams in “The City.” This year, with the inspiration coming from Freestyle Team Leader and benefactor Mike Novogratz, the Gala added a competitive element that captured the imagination of wrestling supporters. The U.S.S. Intrepid, an aircraft carrier museum docked on New York’s West Side, was turned into a wrestling venue, with a mat and seating placed on the deck, with a scenic view of the New York skyline behind. TheMat.com provided a live webcast of the event. Some youth folkstyle matches were followed by an exhibition all-star dual meet featuring members of Team USA in all three styles. Initially, the featured bout was expected to be Brent Metcalf against Darrion Caldwell, but an injury in training kept Caldwell out of action. Metcalf beat Junior World champion Bubba Jenkins in the featured bout. The party moved down inside the Intrepid, where hundreds mingled and danced for hours, with a total of $900,000 raised for local wrestling programs.
6. Cornell emerges as pre-season favorite for 2011 NCAA crown– Cornell, an Ivy League school with an impressive wrestling pedigree, placed a solid second behind Iowa at the 2010 NCAA Championships, led by true freshman NCAA champion Kyle Dake at 141 pounds and a strong lineup. Mack Lewnes was a NCAA runner-up at 174 pounds. The heart of the 2010 team was senior and former NCAA champion Troy Nickerson, who was hobbled by a damaged shoulder but finished with a strong fourth place at 125 pounds. Coach Rob Koll’s Redmen returned for the 2010-11 season with the most returning NCAA points by far, and has been the early season No. 1 team. The Big Red flexed its muscles by winning the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, with two of its stars out of the lineup. Cornell is hoping to be the first college from east of the Mississippi to win the NCAA Championships since Michigan State in 1967, and the first East Coast school since Penn State won the NCAAs in 1953. Koll, perhaps the best interview among college coaches, has kept his team loose and so far Cornell has handled the pressure of being the favorite well. Join us in March for the conclusion of this story.
7. Battle for California college wrestling features two saves and a loss– California Div. I college wrestling faced near extinction in 2010, as three Div. I colleges made announcements that the sport would be eliminated. A fierce battle for survival was initiated on three campuses – Cal-State Bakersfield, Cal-State Fullerton and UC-Davis. The administration at Bakersfield and Fullerton set financial goals for the wrestling community, and an intense period of fund-raising was initiated. Bakersfield alum Stephen Neal, a star for the NFL New England Patriots, provided tremendous leadership for the Bakersfield program, and long-time coach T.J. Kerr retired earlier than planned, and the Roadrunners program was saved. Although the administration initially said that Cal-Fullerton had fallen short of its fundraising goals, the wrestling community rallied behind coach Dan Hicks and was able to bring in enough funds to keep the Titans program going for another year. UC-Davis, with an administration not willing work with wrestling, let their program die as announced. The battle over Davis has now reached into the state political arena, with hopes that a reversal can be made in that arena. The NWCA and California USA Wrestling brought the All-Star Classic to Fresno this fall to fundraise for the fight for California college wrestling, and to bring additional attention to this serious issue.
8. Victoria Anthony wins second straight Junior World title – Winning a Junior World title is an amazing feat for any wrestler, which goes to the best 17-20 year old wrestler on the planet each year. The Junior Worlds is considered the second-most prestigious event in international wrestling each year, and history has shown that Junior World champions often go on to win Senior World and Olympic titles. In 2009, Victoria Anthony won a Junior World title at 44 kg for the USA in women’s freestyle. She returned in 2010 to Budapest, Hungary looking to repeat but up a weight class at 48 kg. Winning a number of very close matches in preliminary rounds, Anthony reached the Junior World finals again, and defeated Davaasuren Bayarmagnai of Mongolia, 1-0, 6-0 for her second straight time. She became the first two-time Junior World Champion since Ali Bernard won in 2003 and 2005.
9. Tatiana Padilla gets second career Senior World bronze medal – One of the nation’s best young freestyle wrestlers, Tatiana Padilla has proven to save her best wrestling for the World Championships each year. For the last three seasons, Padilla has qualified for a bronze-medal match at the World level. In 2008, she won a bronze and in 2009, she placed fifth. This year. Padilla gave another clutch performance, losing only to two-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida of Japan in the quarterfinals in a competitive battle. She came back in the repechage with two wins, including a pin over Maria Gurova in the bronze-medal bout, coming home with her second career World medal.
10. Jayson Ness claims NCAA OW award and Hodge Trophy – There may be some argument about who was the best wrestler in college during the 2009-2010 season, but most certainly people can agree that Minnesota star Jayson Ness was one of the most exciting. Ness, knows as a pure pinner who can turn any match into a shootout, finished his college career by winning the NCAA title at 133 pounds. He beat Dan Dennis of Iowa 6-4 in wild NCAA finals bout, coming on strong at the finish to take the title. Ness was rewarded with the Outstanding Wrestler award at the NCAAs, and a few days later received the coveted Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation’s best college wrestler.
Below is a summary of other stories worth noting which didn’t quite make this Top 10 list.
• Andrew Howe takes NCAA championships and U.S. Open – Only a college sophomore, Andrew Howe of Wisconsin had the kind of season that few young athletes will ever experience. Howe reached the NCAA finals for the second straight year, and claimed his first title with a 9-3 victory over Dan Vallimont of Penn State in the finals. Just a few weeks later, Howe had a breakthrough performance at the U.S. Senior Open in freestyle. He beat both Paulson twins to claim the 74 kg title in impressive fashion. At the World Team Trials in June, Howe was beaten in the final series by Travis Paulson to finish the year with a No. 2 ranking on Freestyle Team USA. Howe has established himself as a top Olympic hopeful for the 2012 London Games.
• Expanded webcasts bring more wrestling to fans online – Wrestling fans were able to watch more live wrestling online than ever before, as many of the nation’s media outlets expanded its video coverage. TheMat.com had its busiest webcast year ever, with over 20 free events that attracted more than 500,000 viewers. FloWrestling webcast many more events, including a number of live college wrestling dual meets. The Big Ten Network expanded the number of events webcast this season. Other wrestling websites such as Lighthouse Wrestling increased their video offerings. most major college programs are providing live webcasts from their events, with some free and others on a subscription basis.
• Top high school stars going to OTC prior to starting college – A new tradition is being established, where many of the nation’s best high school wrestling graduates are choosing to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center for a year prior to the start of their college careers. This season, top stars Derek Garcia of Washington, Carson Kuhn of Utah, Tyler Lehman of North Dakota and Evan Knight of Iowa are training in freestyle under the U.S. National Coaches for their first year after high school. Two top high school seniors, Destin McCauley of Minnesota and Tanner Hall of Idaho, have announced they will go to the OTC next year prior to starting their college careers. The short-term goal for these athletes is to win Junior World titles for the USA and expand their skills before taking on college wrestling. The long-term goal is for them to be the World and Olympic champions of the future.
• Kristie Davis returns to mat and makes 10th U.S. team – No wrestler in U.S. history has shown the kind of consistency at the World level as Kristie Davis, formerly known as Kristie Marano. In nine trips to the World Championships, Davis won nine World medals, including two World gold medals (2000, 2003), clearly a Hall of Fame career. After falling short of her goals at the 2008 Olympic Trials, Davis returned to college and had her second child, skipping the 2009 wrestling season. She made a comeback in 2010 and earned a spot on her 10th U.S. World Team, claiming the No. 1 position at 67 kg. Davis has already dropped to 63 kg for the 2011 season, with her eyes set on making her first U.S. Olympic team in 2012.
• True freshman NCAA champion Kyle Dake – Cornell’s true freshman star Kyle Dake showed considerable poise and confidence in 2010, winning the NCAA title at 141 pounds with an exciting style of wrestling. A well balanced wrestler with strong international training during his high school years, Dake knows how to get points when he needs it with a variety of technical skills. He beat Iowa’s Montell Marion in the NCAA finals in March, 7-3. Dake, who Cornell coach Rob Koll has dubbed a ‘freak of nature,’ has moved up to 149 pounds this year in pursuit of his second NCAA crown.
• Omaha area serves as center of wrestling for 2010 – Many of the most important wrestling events during 2010 were held in the Omaha, Neb. metropolitan area. It started with the 2010 NCAA Div. II Championships, held at UN-Omaha, which was won by the host Mavericks under legendary coach Mike Denny. Next up was a very successful NCAA Div. I Championships held in the Qwest Center in downtown Omaha. In June, the U.S. World Team Trials were held across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the second straight year that the community had hosted the most important USA Wrestling domestic event.
• Freddy Rodriguez wins Junior Triple Crown – Every year, a few young talents make a mark for themselves at the ASICS/Vaughan Junior Nationals in Fargo with some exceptional wrestling against the nation’s best young talents. This year, Michigan’s Freddy Rodriguez was that star, becoming only the second wrestler to win the coveted USA Wrestling Junior Triple Crown. He captured the USA Wrestling Folkstyle Nationals in Iowa in April, then came to Fargo, N.D. and claimed both the Greco-Roman and freestyle titles at the Junior Nationals. Rodriguez went up a weight from 105 pounds to 112 pounds to win his Junior freestyle title, a tremendous achievement.
• Les Sigman takes control of deep freestyle field at 120 kg – In perhaps the nation’s strongest freestyle weight class, Les Sigman put together his best year in the heavyweight class. Moving to State College to train with the Nittany Lion WC under Cael Sanderson and staff, Sigman won both the U.S. Open and the World Team Trials at 120 kg. He defeated 2009 World bronze medalist Tervel Dlagnev, a regular rival during their Div. II college career, in the finals of both events to claim the No. 1 spot on Freestyle Team USA. Sigman was healthy during the season, and also was able to score clutch points in key parts of big matches all year.
• Jake Varner closes out college career with strong effort – Fresh off a trip to the 2009 World Championships after his junior season at Iowa State, Jake Varner of Iowa State dominated the 197-pound division in his final college season. He won his second career NCAA title defeated Nebraska’s Craig Brester 5-2 in the finals with new Cyclone head coach Kevin Jackson in his corner. After the college season, he joined former ISU coach Cael Sanderson at Penn State to continue training for the Olympics in freestyle, and placed second behind J.D. Bergman at 96 kg in the World Team Trials.
• U.S. wins No-Gi Grappling World Team Title – The USA continues to be a force in international Grappling circles, winning the team title in No-Gi Grappling at the World Championships in Poland in March, and placing second as a team in the Gi-Grappling division. Mario Rinaldi (Open) and Jessica Aguilar (55 kg) won gold medals in both the No-Gi and Gi divisions. Other U.S. Grappling World champions were Dennis Prokopos (65 kg No-Gi), Lisa Ward (50 kg No-Gi), Zack Makovsky (60 kg Gi), Brian Mahecha (65 kg Gi) and Scott Garcia (80 kg Gi).
• FILA sets tough rules for athlete national transfers – With numerous athletes from the former Soviet republics changing teams on a regular basis, FILA announced new transfer rules that will limit the number of athletes who can switch nations to one per style per year for each nation. Transfers will have to sit out two seasons at the major World and continental events and pay a fee when they change nationality. This should help level the playing field in all three international styles.
• Oklahoma City takes second straight WCWA women’s college title – Archie Randall’s OCU stars continued to control women’s college wrestling, winning the WCWA women’s college national title for the second straight year. Winning national titles for OCU were Stephanie Waters at 44 kg, Michaela Hutchison at 55 kg, and Amberle Montgomery at 67 kg and Brittany Delgado at 95 kg. It was Hutchison’ second straight WCWA national crown. The WCWA continues to grow with the addition of new varsity programs, a boost for women’s wrestling in the United States.
• Jordan Rogers wins silver at first Youth Olympic Games – The International Olympic Committee created a new Olympic event in 2010, the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Singapore. The event features the sports from the Summer Olympic program, and featured young athletes in their teen years. Only a limited number of athletes from each nation were allowed to compete, and the U.S. qualified four wrestlers through Pan American qualifiers for the event. The top U.S. performance was turned in by Jordan Rogers of Washington, who won a silver medal at 76 kg in men’s freestyle. This event will grow in prestige, and Rogers will always be the nation’s first YOG medalist.
• U.S. Women place second at World Cup – In the top U.S. team performance of the year, the U.S. women’s freestyle team placed second at the Women’s World Cup in China in February. Team USA defeated Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Mongolia in their pool competition, then fell in a very competitive final to host China. Olympian Ali Bernard won all four of her matches at 72 kg.
What are your Top 10 stories from the 2010 year? I already know that I have missed a few really important stories, and that is where I count on your input. Please give your thoughts on our bulletin boards. Happy New Year to all.