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Air Force wrestling team wins national title

LAS VEGAS -- Philip Johnston, a 211.5-pound-division Greco-Roman wrestler, lifts an opponent during his final match in the 2004 U.S. National Wrestling Championships held here April 9.  Johnston finished seventh in his division.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel DeCook)

LAS VEGAS -- Philip Johnston, a 211.5-pound-division Greco-Roman wrestler, lifts an opponent during his final match in the 2004 U.S. National Wrestling Championships held here April 9. Johnston finished seventh in his division. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel DeCook)

LAS VEGAS -- Steve Woods, 2004 armed forces champion in the 163-pound Greco-Roman wrestling division, spins an opponent during the U.S. National Wrestling Championships here April 9.  Woods took the silver in his division and will represent the Air Force at the U.S. Olympic trials May 21 to 23 in Indianapolis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel DeCook)

LAS VEGAS -- Steve Woods, 2004 armed forces champion in the 163-pound Greco-Roman wrestling division, spins an opponent during the U.S. National Wrestling Championships here April 9. Woods took the silver in his division and will represent the Air Force at the U.S. Olympic trials May 21 to 23 in Indianapolis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel DeCook)

LAS VEGAS (AFPN) -- The Air Force wrestling team won its second consecutive national team title, took home two Greco-Roman division medals and added an unexpected name to the 2004 Olympic trials roster during the U.S. National Wrestling Championships here April 9 and 10.

Greco-Roman wrestlers Steve Woods took the silver in the 163-pound division and Aaron Sieracki won a bronze in the 184-pound division. Winning the medals pushed the Air Force team past the Sunkist Kids team by 5 points for the Division 2 Greco-Roman National Team Championship. In all, seven of 14 Airmen scored, earning the team a total of 25 points.

“We had a mixture of veterans and new members in the two-day competition and this is always a challenge,” coach Richard Estrella said. “Our goal was to gel together as a team, and that carried us through, and we peaked at a good time.”

A 10-year wrestling veteran and World Class Athlete Program member, Woods grabbed the seat in the finals of the 163-pound Greco-Roman division after defeating two-time national champion and 2002 fifth place world wrestling champion T.C Danzler, 2-1, in the semifinals. An unsuccessful effort to pin Darryl Christian of the New York Athletic Club in the final 10 seconds of the finals match cost Woods the gold. But his victory over four-time national champion and armed forces champion Keith Sieracki, of the Army, during earlier 2004 championship competition earned him a spot in the U.S. Olympic trials. The trials take place May 21 to 23 in Indianapolis.

“The Air Force is often thought of as a softer force when compared to the other services,” Woods said. ”So when I get that chance to beat a Marine or Soldier, it makes that win that much more satisfying because I get to show them we are a strong fighting force.”

The Air Force team had two others make it to the semifinal round. Jacob Hey finished fourth in the 132-pound division, and Corey Farkas finished fifth in the 264-pound division.

In other bouts, Anthony Booker finished eighth in the 121-pound division, Aaron Sieracki finished third in the 184-pound division, Philip Johnston finished seventh in the 211-pound division, and Kevin Hoy finished fifth in the 264.5-pound Men’s Freestyle division. The finishes qualified all seven for the U.S. Olympic trials where they will all battle for a chance to compete at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in August.

“I expected to see this (type of performance) from all my guys, and they stepped up to the plate,” said Estrella, who has coached the Air Force team for 17 years. “A true tribute to the program was that Anthony (Booker) is a first-year wrestler, and he capitalized on a small break to make it to the trials.”

Booker’s break came when two-time Olympian and silver medalist, national champion and world champion Dennis Hall withdrew because of an injury in the beginning of the event. Booker went on to win in the consolation quarter-final 7-5, which placed him in the Olympics trials.

The team returns to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., to begin training for the trials.

“Though it seems as if we had a successful weekend, we are not satisfied just yet,” Estrella said. “We expect to do well during the trials and have one or two Airmen on the Olympic team. We even expect them to win a medal at the Games. We’re not changing anything we’re doing. ... We’re going to work, right back to work to prepare for Indianapolis.”

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