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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 23, 2003

Lee claims NCAA wrestling crown

Advertiser Staff

Hawai'i has its first NCAA wrestling champion.

Cornell's Travis Lee won the NCAA Division I 125-pound wrestling title and finished the season with a 34-0 record.

Associated Press

Cornell (N.Y.) sophomore Travis Lee of Honolulu yesterday scored a takedown with 24 seconds left to upset top-ranked Chris Fleeger of Purdue, 6-4, and win the Division I 125-pound championship at Kansas City, Mo.

"I'm ecstatic," Lee said. "I don't know what to think. It hasn't sunk in yet."

Lee, a 2001 Saint Louis School graduate from Liliha, finished the season with a 34-0 record. Fleeger, chosen the Big Ten's Outstanding Wrestler and also a sophomore, was ranked and seeded No. 1 to Lee's No. 2. He finished 32-1.

Darting for Fleeger's legs, Lee scored four of his points on two takedowns using the same far ankle-pick maneuver.

After the last takedown broke a 4-4 tie, Lee prevented Fleeger's desperate attempts to escape by locking up his hips with a double leg as the final seconds clicked away.

Lee earned a huge ovation from the crowd of nearly 16,000 at Kemper Arena.

Fleeger took injury time with 34 seconds left for what appeared to be blurred vision, but it was a move he will see in his sleep — Lee's favorite ankle pick — that took him off his feet five seconds later.

Lee had used the move to score two points in the first round as well, taking a 3-2 lead with 46 seconds left, and nearly dropped Fleeger with it on two other occasions. Typically, Lee suddenly drops to inches above the mat and quickly tries to grab his opponent's ankle and pull him down.

"The pick is one of my go-to techniques and I used it," Lee said.

But Fleeger escaped at the end of the first round to tie the score 3-3.

Fleeger chose the down position to start the second round and quickly escaped again for a 4-3 lead. Despite flurries of action and scoring opportunities during the round — in which Fleeger appeared stronger but Lee was clearly quicker — there was no more scoring.

Fleeger went over a minute or riding time in the third period, earning a potential tie-breaker, before Lee escaped to tie the score at 4.

Giving Lee a chance at one more ankle pick instead of riding him to the end was probably a tactical mistake.

"I come on stronger in the third period, that's how I usually wrestle," Lee explained. "That's what I tried to do, as hard as I could and that's what I did."

While Fleeger won his first four tournament matches by falls or shutouts, Lee had close calls in both his quarterfinal and semifinal matches Friday.

Lee's quarterfinal ended in a 2-2 tie and Lee won when he was awarded a point for "riding time" because he controlled ("rode") Tony Black of Wisconsin for more than a minute without a takedown.

In the semifinal he broke a tie on a reversal with about a minute to go and defeated Ben Vombaur of Boise State, 5-3.

Lee had to overcome a torn meniscus ligament in his left knee Jan. 18 that forced him to miss four matches — including a previously scheduled showdown against Fleeger — and numerous practices.

Lee earned All-America status last season as a freshman with a seventh-place finish at the NCAA Championships. His record was 33-9.

The NCAA said Lee was the first Division I wrestling All-American and first champion born in Hawai'i.

"I think we can clearly state that this definitely will put Hawai'i on the national wrestling map," Pac-Five coach Keith Matsumoto said. "Maybe now the Division I coaches will believe us (when we tell them) that we have top class talent here — both guys and gals."

In July 2001, Lee became the first from Hawai'i to win USA Wrestling Junior National Championships, winning both Greco Roman and freestyle gold medals.

Lee won three Hawai'i high school state championships and his career record at Saint Louis was 166-8.

Hawai'i's only other NCAA individual champions are believed to have been in boxing and swimming decades ago.

Oklahoma State won the NCAA team championship for the 31st time, but first since 1994, with 143 points — its highest total ever — and 149-pounder Erik Larkin of Arizona State was named Outstanding Wrestler.

NCAA Wrestling Results

At Kansas City

(All weights in pounds)

Final Team Standings: 1. Oklahoma St., 143 points. 2. Minnesota, 104.5. 3. Oklahoma, 78. 4. Lehigh, 69. 5. Arizona St., 65. 6. Penn State, 62. 7. Michigan, 58. 8. Iowa, 57.5. 9. Illinois, 53. 10. Cornell, 52.

125 Championship: Travis Lee (Saint Louis School), Cornell, dec. Chris Fleeger, Purdue, 6-4

133 Championship: Johnny Thompson, Okla. St., dec. Ryan Lewis, Minnesota, 5-3

141 Championship: Tevon Ware, Oklahoma, dec. Dylan Long, N. Iowa, 6-4

149 Championship: Eric Larkin, Ariz. St. dec. Jared Lawrence, 10-8

157 Championship: Ryan Bertin, Michigan, dec. Alex Tirapelle, Illinois, 7-3

165 Championship: Matt Lackey, Illinois, dec. Troy Letters, 6-3

174 Championship: Robbie Waller, Oklahoma, dec. Carl Fronhofer, Pittsburgh, 7-2

184 Championship: Jake Rosholt, Oklahoma St., dec. Scott Barker, 13-5

197 Championship: Damion Hahn, Minnesota, dec. Jon Trenge, Lehigh, 5-4

285 Championship: Steve Mocco, Iowa, dec. Kevin Hoy, Air Force, 8-3