By Tim HippsApril 16, 2009
LAS VEGAS (Army News Service, April 16, 2009) -- Four Soldiers won individual titles while leading the All-Army wrestling team to its ninth Greco-Roman crown in 10 years at the 2009 U.S. National Wrestling Championships, April 10, at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program wrestlers Staff Sgt. Dremiel Byers, Sgt. Brad Ahearn and Spcs. Jermaine Hodge and Faruk Sahin won their respective weight classes as the All-Army team outscored the New York Athletic Club, 82-78, to win its fifth consecutive national team title.
"We've never had four individual champs," All-Army coach Staff Sgt. Shon Lewis said. "I think the most we [previously] had was two or three. We might have had three at one time, but that was when there were 10 weight classes. We won four out of seven this time, so that's makes it even more impressive.
"Those guys went out there and got it done. They performed. They brought it."
Spc. Aaron Sieracki also reached the finals and won the silver medal at 185 pounds.
"It was so nice to hear: 'In the next bout, from the U.S. Army ... in the next bout, from the U.S. Army,'" Lewis recalled the tournament announcer's call of the parade of Soldiers in the finals. "That was special."
Hodge avoided getting pinned in the second period and rallied late to upset Sunkist Kids' two-time national champion Sam Hazewinkel, 1-0, 0-3, 4-4, in the 121-pound finale for his first national championship.
"I have to really thank the people in the wrestling room that I wrestle with and my coaches in the World Class Athlete Program," said Hodge, 27, a native of Hillsborough, N.C., who also credited himself for eliminating late-night snacks and sodas. "The biggest thing coach has implemented here in the past couple of months is 'nobody out-toughs us,' and if we go out there and wrestle tough, nobody can beat us.
"This is a turnaround in my career because I was almost losing faith in myself. With this win, and with the coaches behind me, it's pushing me on. When you come into our wrestling room, it's not like any other wrestling room -- it's hard to leave that wrestling room alive. And when you do, you've got to pat yourself on the back because everybody in that wrestling room is pushing everybody to their limits.
"That's what makes us so good."
Sahin, a two-time Turkish national champion, prevailed 2-0, 1-0 over Gator Wrestling Club's Mark Rial, the 2008 U.S. national champ, to capture the 145.5-pound division. Sahin said leaving his newborn son was the toughest part of the week. After having his hand raised, Sahin gestured rocking his baby to the crowd.
"The last 10 days, I've been changing the diapers and taking care of my son, so I brought one of his socks and put it inside my singlet," said Sahin, 33, a native of Ankara, Turkey. "I miss him a lot, but I told him not to worry because I was going to make him the son of a champion. I'm just so happy to be following my dream of making the world team and going to the world championships to win the world."
Ahearn, 27, of Orange Park, Fla., won his second consecutive national championship with a 2-0, 1-0 victory over Sunkist Kids' R.C. Johnson in the 211.5-pound division. In 2008, Ahearn won at 185 pounds.
"He's been walking the walk, and I guess today he can talk the talk," Lewis said. "That's his second championship in a row. He's our one guy that nobody is going to out-tough. His fight is always going to be there. I would clone fight before I would clone technique because we can always teach the technique, but you can't teach heart."
Ahearn, however, is not about to get ahead of himself.
"I'm going to stay healthy, keep training like I'm training, and I've got to take it one match at a time, one period at a time," he said. "But I just feel the worlds (world championships) this year. I can't wait to get there, but I can't look ahead.
"Four or five guys are real solid in my weight class so I can't overlook anyone, but if I make it out of America, and I feel I will, I feel really good about my chances at the world championships."
Byers, 34, of Kings Mountain, N.C., won his eighth national championship with a convincing, 5-0, 1-0 victory over New York Athletic Club's Brandon Rupp in the 264.5-pound weight class.
"I just wanted to utilize these extra lungs I've got now," Byers said. "I've been training a lot of cardio, keeping myself up and being more active on my feet, and I think it showed today, so I'm real happy about that."
Unlike previous national tournaments in which Byers battled with 2000 Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner, New York Athletic Club's Russ Davie and WCAP teammate Spc. Timothy Taylor, there was little drama this time.
"In this quad, we're going to focus on getting on the road a lot more and going out to seek and conquer," Lewis said of Byers' quest to make Team USA for the 2012 London Olympic Games. "Dremiel is a great champion; he's a great team leader; he's a great individual to have around -- he's just a great person, altogether -- and then on top of that, he's a great wrestler. He has a lot of attributes he carries with him through his daily walk.
"Since 2002, he's been the guy that's expected to win. Every year, we know that everybody is shooting for Dremiel. He has to find something to motivate himself, which is not easy to do when you're not only expected to win, but expected to win big. That says a lot about his mental strength and his ability to focus."
Byers, a 2002 world champion, said his best days on the mat are yet to come.
"Any medal that I may have been blessed with in the past is probably resting somewhere right now," he said. "You're only as good as the one you're going after and the one you just won, so this will last for a couple of days, it's going to spoil, and then we're getting ready for the trials, and then whatever is next.
Sieracki, 34, of Richland Center, Wis., finished second in the 185-pound division after losing 1-0, 3-0 in the finals to 2008 Olympian T.C. Dantzler of New York Athletic Club.
"Even though he came up a little short and ended up with the silver, I thought he wrestled a good match," Lewis said. "I think he's going to use this loss as a motivator and he's going to train harder, train smarter, and really prepare himself to do the extra things he needs to be victorious. When Aaron walked off the mat, he said, 'I'll never lose to him again,' and that makes me feel good."
The Soldiers who competed in Las Vegas are stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., home of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and All-Army wrestling team. The champions in each weight class earned No. 1 seeds for the U.S. World Team Trials, set for May 30-31 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
"We're going into the World Team Trials with four number ones and one number two guy," Lewis said. "So we're in a good place right now."
All told, 18 Soldiers qualified for the World Team Trials.
Staff Sgt. Oscar Wood, a 2004 Olympian, finished third at 145.5 pounds.
"And he's not even in his best shape yet," Lewis said. "This weekend wasn't his best, but at 80 percent he was able to place in the top three and get a medal."
Pfc. Nathan Piasecki, who discovered the Army wrestling program while working out with Soldiers at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, defeated Staff Sgt. Glenn Garrison for third place in the 132-pound weight class.
Spc. Justin Millard, a former All-Air Force wrestler, took third place in the 211.5-pound division. Sgt. Peter Hicks, who also left the Air Force to join the All-Army squad, earned his first berth in the world team trials with a seventh-place finish at 185 pounds.
Staff Sgt. Deon Hicks took fifth place at 211.5 pounds. Pfc. Jeremiah Davis and Spc. Marco Lara were fifth and sixth respectively at 132 pounds. Sgt. Jess Hargrave placed fourth at 163 pounds and Spc. Timothy Taylor sixth in the heavyweight division.
In women's freestyle, 2005 world champion Sgt. Iris Smith finished third in the 158.5-pound class.
(Tim Hipps writes for Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs)