At the beginning of last year's wrestling season, Loren Danielson mentally was chugging toward the NCAA championships before his train was derailed by torn cartilage in both knees.

The knees were repaired by summer surgery and the American University junior recently was able to say out loud, "I'm heading west.

"I was really hoping to get there last year," said Kanielson. "But I hurt both knees -- in practice yet. I had to re-emphasize that goal this year."

Danielson did just that. The 142-pounder -- who wrestled as high as 158 -- won 32 of 37 matches, including the East Coast Conference championships that qualified him for the NCAA in Ames. Iowa.

Danielson's five losses came in open tournaments, in which pre-Olympic grapplers as well as collegians are allowed to compete. He did not lose in a college meet.

"I realize I'll be going out there unseeded, that I'll thus have a tougher course than a seeded wrestler," said Danielson. "But I also realize that the first eight finishers in each weight class will be named All-Americans. A lot of people are happy just to get there. I'm trying to finish hihg."

Danielson has set his sights high inareas other than wrestling. He owns and operates a profitable landscaping business, Loren's Lawn Service, supplier of summer jobs to several of his Eagle teammates.

"I started it in high school," said Danielson. "It's real good to work together with the other wrestlers, we have fun while doing it and it's real good money for them."

Danielson truned Loren's into a legal company last year, has advertised in local newspapers and mails out pamphlets bulk rat. Thus, it's no surprise that the junior is a marking and finance jamor.

But Danielson's mind is on the mats this week, with the NCAA tournament starting today. The NCAAs are a dream that started for Danielson in the fifth grade. Danielson played youth football with Kelly Ward, the 158-pound NCAA runner-up last year. Ward interested him in wrestling and the two developed skills at the Silver Spring Boys Club.

Danielson played baseball and wrestled at Springbrook High, winning the state 145-pound championship his senior year.

"After that, I decided to concentrate on wrestling because it was a faster sport and also more of an individual one," said Danielson.

Danielson had offers from William and Mary, Bucknell and Tennessee, but decided to attend American because of is proximity to his Sliver Spring home and because of Coach Bob Karch's philosophy.

"I was really sold on Karch," said Danielson. "He emphasized a tight-knit group. He also believed that wrestling was good, but it was just a sport. It was a temporary thing, one that you couldn't be obsessed with all the time. You had to also prepare for life."

Karch is equally thrilled to have Danielson in the Eagle fold.

"Loren has a lot of self-confidence, a tremendous determination," said Karch. "He is very demanding upon himself.

"He is fundamentally sound in all areas of wrestling, not outstanding in any one. But he makes few mistakes. He is very good on capitalizing on mistakes of others."

Navy 150-pounder Larry Kihlstadius also is competing in the NCAA tournament. Kihlstadius won the Eastern Intercollegiate championships to gain a spot.

Defencding champion Iowa, topranked all season, is favored to win its fourth title in the last five years. The tournament runs through Saturday night.