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Air Force wrestlers take two medals at nationals

LAS VEGAS -- Lorenzo Peterson (right), a 211.2-pound division Greco-Roman wrestler, grapples with his opponent, R.C. Johnson of the New York Athletic Club, during a match at the 2005 U.S. Nationals Wrestling tournament held here April 29.  The Air Force team won first runner-up in the team standings for the tournament.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Robert W. Valenca)

LAS VEGAS -- Lorenzo Peterson (right), a 211.2-pound division Greco-Roman wrestler, grapples with his opponent, R.C. Johnson of the New York Athletic Club, during a match at the 2005 U.S. Nationals Wrestling tournament held here April 29. The Air Force team won first runner-up in the team standings for the tournament. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Robert W. Valenca)

LAS VEGAS -- Philip Johnston (bottom), a 211.2-pound division Greco-Roman wrestler, pulls off a lift and throw on his opponent, J.D. Bergman of the Ohio International Wrestling Club, during a consolation match of the 2005 U.S. Nationals Wrestling tournament held here April 29.  Johnston won the match 5-0, 8-0, and took 3rd place in his weight class.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Robert W. Valenca)

LAS VEGAS -- Philip Johnston (bottom), a 211.2-pound division Greco-Roman wrestler, pulls off a lift and throw on his opponent, J.D. Bergman of the Ohio International Wrestling Club, during a consolation match of the 2005 U.S. Nationals Wrestling tournament held here April 29. Johnston won the match 5-0, 8-0, and took 3rd place in his weight class. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Robert W. Valenca)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFPN) -- Air Force wrestlers left the U.S. National Wrestling Championships on April 30 in nearby Las Vegas with a silver and bronze medal and qualified five wrestlers to attend the World Team Trials.

“We came into this competition understanding we are rebuilding our team,” said Richard Estrella, Air Force wrestling coach. “So we are not disappointed in leaving with two medals and three top-seven placers because the effort put forth by everyone on the team was strong.”

Greco-Roman wrestler Jacob Hey took the silver in the 132-pound division, and Philip Johnston won a bronze in the 211.5-pound division. The team also walked away from the two-day competition with the second place award for the Greco-Roman National Team Championship title.

“For the past three years, we have received a team championship award,” Mr. Estrella said.

In 2002 they placed national team runner-up, and in 2004, they were National Team Champions.

“This year’s award means a lot since we are developing a younger team,” he said.

Winning the silver medal, Hey defeated Duaine Martin, U.S. Army Wrestling Team, in the semifinals 0-1, 1-0, 1-0, but was not able to duplicate his win in the final match against New York Athletic Club wrestler Joe Warren.

Warren entered the second period of the final up 2-0 against Hey. Hey attempted to gain 3 points by performing a throw while having Warren in a front headlock, but Warren took advantage of Hey’s position, pushing him out of bounds and gained another 3 points to end the second and final round 5-0.

Emotions were high for the Air Force wrestler, who said Warren was his most difficult match of the competition.

“Warren is one of the best wrestlers, and he’s beat me at least three other times,” Hey said. “But I’ve also beat him in the past, so I went into this knowing I could win. I am proud of getting second place, but my focus has now shifted to the World Team Trials.”

Hey and Johnston were also the 2005 Armed Forces Championship winners. Johnston, moving up four positions from 2004, took home the bronze medal after beating J.D. Bergman, of the Ohio International Wrestling Corporation, by a technical call 5-0, 8-0 for the third-place finish.

“I have no regrets,” Johnston said. “My goal was to be No. 1, but ultimately it’s to wrestle as well as I can, and I did that during this competition.”

The World Teams Trials competition is scheduled for June 14 through 20 in Ames, Iowa. Mr. Estrella was also selected as one of the coaches to lead Team USA to the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, later this year.

Also earning berths in the World Team Trials was Anthony Brooker, who finished fourth in the 121-pound division; Justin Millard, who finished seventh at 185-pounds; and Laura McDonald, a 147-pound women’s freestyle wrestler who also placed in the Open Nationals and earned a berth to the trials.

Another significant accomplishment for the team was having two female Airmen compete.

“This was the first time we’ve had female wrestlers represent the Air Force” Mr. Estrella said. “They are the ‘pioneers leading the way.’ Having the women training alongside the men during the entire camp helped make us a better team.”

“It’s an awesome feeling to be one of the first to lay the foundation for other female Airmen wrestlers,” said Bethany Murphy, a 130-pound division women’s freestyle wrestler. “Although my goal was to leave with a medal, I already have a sense of accomplishment just getting this far and being chosen to represent the Air Force.”

“The realization is that our wrestlers are Airmen first and are still held responsible to perform their regular duties and prepare for their competitions. But if I could spend just a little more time with them and we get a little more experience, it would be scary to see how good we could possibly be,” Mr. Estrella said.

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