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The 156 best American high school wrestlers in Europe — five of them defending champions — will gather at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield gym Friday morning to begin determining the very best for the 2005-2006 season.

The job will take two days, and the workload is intensified because most of the wrestlers can reasonably expect to win.

“Looking back, I don’t think I can remember a field where there were so many competitive kids,” said Dave Izzo, coach of defending European Division I champion Ramstein.

“There are many weight classes where it’s going to be hard to decide which [seeds] to assign.”

On the other hand, there are so many good wrestlers in each weight class that the difference between No. 1 and No. 2, or No. 3 or 4, doesn’t really matter. The putative semifinal opponents are so evenly matched that no one should have a decided edge in the late matches.

“It sort of makes the seeding easier,” Izzo said.

Take, for example, 125 pounds. Defending European champion Noah Sheppard of Ramstein will vie for the top seed — not to mention another title — against two 2005 bronze medalists, David Crow of Baumholder and Josie Schwartz of Aviano. Add to the mix the defending 125 silver medalist, Andrew Moon of Heidelberg, and the fact that Sheppard finished second in last Saturday’s sectionals to Crow, and the seeding committee might as well draw straws.

The situation repeats itself up and down the brackets.

“I’m looking forward to 145,” London Central coach Fredo Ontiveros said. “Three weeks ago, (Doug) O’Meara of SHAPE was trailing (Sean) Whitton (of Lakenheath) seven or eight to one in the third period when he snatched Whitton and pinned him.”

Whitton, who was fourth in Europe at 135 last year and is 15-5 this season, could get another shot at O’Meara this weekend. Also in the picture at 145 are unbeaten Dameon Odum of Hohenfels; Jeremy Brady of Heidelberg, a fourth-place finisher in the Europeans last year at 145; and Michael Kane of Ramstein, the defending 135-pound bronze medalist.

“There are several good kids at 145,” agreed Izzo, who added that he’s looking forward to 152, where Ramstein’s Coty Reinhardt will have to defeat Elliot Boltz, last year’s 160 bronze medalist, to repeat as a European champion. Also at 152 is Luis Alvin of Alconbury, voted outstanding wrestler of last Saturday’s Northern Sectionals.

The closest thing to a prohibitive favorite is unbeaten Johnathan Scott of London Central, who’ll be chasing his third European crown. Trying to deny him will be unbeaten Shane Hinton of Vicenza, Kent Noorda of Ramstein and Adam Johnson of Heidelberg, third to Scott last year at 130.

In addition to Scott, Reinhart and Sheppard, Gary Vogt of Aviano and Chad Abramson of Wiesbaden will attempt to repeat as champions.

Vogt is in a killer bracket at 135 against Paul Moseman of Brussels, a silver medalist in 2005, unbeaten Chris Maxey of Ramstein and Travis Johnson of Heidelberg. Abramson will have to deal with unbeaten Guadalupe Flores of Naples and Western Sectionals champ Eric Oyan of Ramstein to retain his crown.

Sparks also should fly at 215, where Brandon Simmons of Heidelberg, fourth last year at the weight, steps into a bracket containing two unbeatens — Eric Popp of Brussels, third at 189 in 2005, and Danilo Stewart of Naples.

DODDS-Europe wrestling tournament

The DODDS-Europe wrestling championship tournament begins at 11 a.m. Friday, with the quarterfinals late that afternoon. Semifinals are scheduled for Saturday morning, with the championship bouts beginning around 5 p.m.

Team champions in Divisions I, II, III and IV will be determined by points scoring during the meet.

Tickets good for both days are $7 for adults and $5 for students; single-day prices are $4 for adults and $3 for students.

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