CLEVELAND - Two first-year Soldiers helped veteran Army World Class Athlete Program wrestlers win their sixth consecutive Greco-Roman team title at the 2011 ASICS U.S. Open Wrestling Championships on April 8-9 at Public Hall.

Spcs. Spenser Mango and Justin Lester both won their third national championship and Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers captured his ninth national crown in the heavyweight finale.

Mango, a 2008 Olympian and 2009 U.S. World Team member, won by technical fall with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Minnesota Storm's Paul Tellgren for the 55-kilogram/121-pound crown.

Lester, a two-time bronze medalist at the World Championships, prevailed 2-2, 1-0 over WCAP teammate and two-time national champion Sgt. Glenn Garrison in the 66-kilogram/145.5 pound finals.

Byers, a 2008 Olympian and the only U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win gold, silver and bronze medals at the World Championships, defeated WCAP teammate Spc. Timothy Taylor for the 120-kilogram/264.5-pound division crown.

Byers approached the tournament with a businesslike attitude. He launched a big throw en route to a 6-0, 1-0 first-round victory over Sunkist Kids' Peter Kowalczuk. In the quarterfinals, he pinned Gunston's Michael Delaney in 1 minute, 12 seconds. He gutted out a 6-0, 2-0 semifinal decision over Steve Andrus of Michigan Wrestling Club. Byers almost appeared sad as he defeated teammate and training partner Taylor in the finals.

"It's a love affair, you know'" said Byers, 36. "I would love to have 10 [national championships] but I just think that it's been a long road and I've got plenty more to do. I just don't have that much time to get it done."

Byers was reminded that 2000 Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner, his No. 1 nemesis and training partner for nearly a decade, is considering coming out of retirement to compete for a spot in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

"I think that America loves a comeback story, but it will break America's heart to hear Dremiel Byers steal his story," Byers said. "I wish him the best. I'm proud of his accomplishment. I think he's going to be around a little bit longer. He got that weight off on "The Biggest Loser" and that says what kind of a person he is. I respect him, but it's my weight class."

Mango and Lester joined the Army after the 2010 edition of this tournament and missed several months on the mat while attending Basic and Advanced Individual Training. Lester also spent a year away from competitive wrestling before deciding to enlist. They were determined to prove themselves Army-worthy in Cleveland.

"They have the best program in the nation," said Mango, 24, a two-time Missouri high school state champion from St. Louis who finished eighth at the Olympic Games in Beijing. "If you want to be the best, you have to train with the best. I came to a crossroads and I felt like the Army was the best program for me. Now I'm part of the machine. They welcomed me with open arms."

Byers said he is overly impressed with what Mango added to the Army team.

"Out the gate, winning gracefully and professionally," Byers said. "Mango is a super troop. The guy scored like a 348 on his PT test. That's crazy for somebody to be able to do that. He's just running circles through Army PT."

Lester, who competed under his nickname "Harry" before taking a 13-month break from wrestling shortly after the 2009 World Championships, returned to competition with a renewed attitude.

"WCAP is a Family; everybody looks out for everybody," said Lester, 27. "The guy I just wrestled, Glenn Garrison, he pushed me in the sauna to make weight. He pushed me every day in practice. ... Everybody is a Family and everybody pushes for each other. We had that, kind of, at Northern [Michigan], but now it's a group of more mature people. It's just a whole different lifestyle.

"I knew I was going to come back. I just needed a break and to get into a good training environment. ... I've been joking with [WCAP wrestling coach] Shon Lewis for seven or eight years about going into the Army. ... At this tournament, I saw the camaraderie with all their team. And with Spenser and Nate Engel going in, it was kind of a no-brainer that was the place I needed to be if I wanted to pursue getting a gold medal at the World Championships and the Olympics."

Byers said WCAP training was just what Lester needed.

"I've known this guy for so long and I've watched him develop into this Soldier who's got so much pride," Byers said. "Whatever he was before he showed up, the Army took it and polished it a little bit. And now he's got this pride and this awareness. He's at home. He's a fit with this Family, this team.

"I'm just blessed to be a part of it. ... We're a fist. We're balled up tight, just waiting to swing, and it's showing."

WCAP Spc. Jeremiah Davis, a two-time member of the U.S. World Team, finished second in the 60-kilogram/132-pound division after dropping a 0-1, 1-0, 1-0 decision to Sunkist Kids' Joe Betterman in a battle of 26-year-olds from Northern Michigan University.

WCAP Spc. Marco Lara bounced back from a three-period semifinal loss to Betterman to finish third in the 60-kilogram/132.25-pound division with a 5-0, 1-0 victory over Chad Vandiver of Sunkist Kids.

WCAP Sgt. Nathan Engel overcame a semifinal loss to New York Athletic Club's Dmitry Ryabchinskiy to finish third at 55-kilograms/121.5-pounds with a 2-0, 1-0 victory over Tyler Erdman of the Modern Day Gladiators.

Spc. Peter Hicks rebounded from a controversial loss to Minnesota Storm's Jordan Holm in the 84-kilogram/185-pound division semifinals to finish third with a 7-0, 1-0 victory over Mark Stenberg of the U.S. Olympic Education Center.

After losing his first match of the tournament to New York Athletic Club's Rob Smith, WCAP Spc. John Lorenz won five straight to take third place in the 96-kilogram/211.5-pound division with a 1-0, 1-0 victory over Zac Nielson of the Minnesota Storm.

In women's freestyle competition, WCAP Sgt. Iris Smith finished second in the 72-kilogram/158.75 pound division after getting pinned at 1:12 of the second period by Ali Bernard of Gator Wrestling Club. Spcs. Othella Lucas and Sharon Jacobson finished fourth in their weight classes.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16