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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    2021 U23 Women's Freestyle Day One Preview

    50 kg U23 World team member Emily Shilson (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    50 kg

    The lightest weight class in Belgrade will feature two women returning from the Tokyo Olympic Games from earlier this year: Sarra Hamdi of Tunisia and Lucia Yepez Guzman of Ecuador. Both had solid performances: Hamdi, who already owns 9 African medals between the different age levels, won her first match against Seema of India before falling in the quarterfinals to seasoned veteran Stadnik. Junior-eligible Yepez, who has been advancing quickly through the age-level ranks, stunned 2019 World Bronze medallist Valentina Islamova Brik in the first round before falling to Susaki in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, she tore a muscle in her leg during that match and could not continue through the repechage bracket. Yepez, in particular, will be a medal contender and will look to add to her 2017 Cadet World bronze medal.

    The favorite for this bracket, however, will likely be the well-credentialed Mariia Tiumerekova of Russia. The 22-year-old already owns four world medals, two silver and two bronze, and will look to cap off her collection with a title here. She's looked fantastic in all her outings this year, winning the U23 Euros convincingly and securing a bronze medal at the Poland Open. Tiumerekova has established herself as a top 3 athlete domestically in one of Russia's deepest weight classes and should be expected to excel here.

    Though the age level scene has been somewhat subdued largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, several women that have accumulated solid results this year, will look to punctuate that with success here. Anastasiya Yanotova, who is only 19, had a huge performance for Belarus at the U23 European Championships, notching wins over 2020 World Cup finalist Lilia Malanchuk among other top competitors. She will look to get her first world medal after a strong Cadet international career.

    We'll also see 2021 Junior World Bronze medallist Munkhgerel Munkhbat of Mongolia here, who competed earlier this year at 55 kilos. She'll be making the substantial 11-pound drop down to 50 kilos; it'll be interesting to see how that impacts her performance and if she can replicate the success she found in Ufa here.

    Junior World Champion Emily Shilson will look to improve upon her results at what is now her second U23 World Championship. Shilson owns three world medals and is now adequately sized for the weight after competing at 43 kilos as a Cadet, which will likely have a hugely positive impact on her results. This tournament will be a big test to see how Emily will fare on the senior level as she transitions from the age levels onto the senior scene.

    Making her return after an international hiatus due to COVID-19 is Stefania Priceputu of Romania, who had been undergoing a bit of a rough patch prior to the pandemic. Though she decidedly underperformed during the 2019 season, she already has three age-level world medals and has the wins to cement herself among the top tier of upcoming 50kg women. She's spent much of 2021 thus far focused on beach wrestling, where she leads the women's lightweight division with four medals. If she can return to her previous form, she has a strong chance of adding to her 2018 U23 World bronze in Serbia.

    This bracket is no stranger to well-credentialed women and the above girls will be joined by 2017 Cadet World Champion Shahana Nazarova of Azerbaijan, 2020 World Cup Bronze Medallist Lisa Ersel of Germany, 2021 U23 European Bronze Medallist Aynur Erge of Turkey, and 2017 Cadet World Bronze Medallist Tetiana Profatilova of Ukraine, who has also accumulated some great results in beach wrestling this year.

    Watch as Olympians and age-level stars alike mix in this loaded bracket. Keep a special eye on talented Russian Mariia Tiumerekova, Ecuador's brightest young hope and returning Olympian Lucia Yepez, gritty Romanian Stefania Priceputu, age-level phenom Shilson, and girls like Yanotova and Munkhbat, who'll be searching for a breakout performance here.

    55 kg

    With only 13 women currently entered, 55 kilos is one of the smaller brackets being contested in Oslo. Though it may lack in numbers, it certainly is not shy of quality competitors: the field is headlined by returning Tokyo 2020 Olympian at 53 kilos, Andreea Ana of Romania, who already owns two World Bronze medals from this age level. The 21-year old has come into her own as a senior-level fixture over the past couple of years, racking up accolades on the continental level in addition to her four total age-level world medals. She'll be the on-paper favorite in Belgrade with the most impressive resume of the lot.

    Dominating the U23 scene this year, however, has been Khrystyna Demko of Ukraine, who impressed with a dominant run to a U23 Euro title in Macedonia earlier this year. Demko also picked up medals at the senior Euros (a
    bronze) and the always-loaded Kiev tournament (a silver), and has appeared to have jumped levels since her Cadet/Junior days (where she was always middle of the pack). Demko is crafty and comfortable in scramble positions and has a solid par terre game that will make her one of the biggest title threats in the field.

    Taking silver in the U23 Euro bracket that Demko won is Russian Aleksandra Skirenko, who was a Cadet phenom at the now-nonexistent weight class of 38 kilos in 2013-2015. She's back on the international scene, now competing between 53 and 55 kilos, and has had some strong results domestically over the past couple of years. She won the Ivan Yariguin earlier this year at 53 kilos and dominated her way to the finals of the U23 European Championships. She'll be in the medal hunt at this World Championships, where Russia desperately needs some redeeming wins after poor performances at the Olympics and World Championships earlier this year.

    A couple solid women from the Asian contingent include 2021 Junior World Finalist Enkhzul Batbaatar, who won her medal at 50 kilos. She seems to have made a quizzical weight class switch with her teammate Munkhgerel Munkhbat, who medalled in Ufa at 55 kilos but will be competing down at 50 in Belgrade. Batbaatar has been an age-level staple over the past few years, even taking 4th at the Youth Olympic Games; it's interesting to see her up at this weight class and it'll be a great test for her to see if her age-level success can translate to the older age group.

    Anju of India is also an interesting addition to this bracket. While she owns a couple of Asian medals and has placed 5th at two World Championships, her most impressive accolade is indubitably a 2019 win over newly-minted Olympic Bronze medallist Bolortuya Bat-Ochir of Mongolia. While that win may be a little outdated considering the youth of both athletes, Anju should certainly be considered a medal threat here, especially in lieu of the age-level success of the Indian women from the other World Championships this year.

    Finally, two Pan-Am women with strong results over the past couple of years will look to crack the international scene in Belgrade. Alex Hedrick of the USA won the 2019 Pan-Am Championships and placed a respectable fourth at the American Olympic Team Trials. Joining her is Virginie Gascon of Canada, who impressed this year with a dominant performance en route to a Pan-Am silver medal (falling only to Jacarra Winchester). Both women competed at the 2019 Junior Worlds and will look to earn their first world medals in Belgrade.

    Overall, this bracket will provide the interesting potential matchup between Olympian Ana of Romania and talented Ukrainian Demko, who's had a great year this year; seeing which athletes make it to the other places on the podium will be extremely interesting and will indubitably be a great indicator as to the future of this weight class on the senior level.

    59 kg

    59 kilos is absolutely riddled with women who have just started to translate age-level success to the senior level, which should make it a super-fun bracket to be contested. The bracket is headlined by 2021 Olympian and returning U23 World Finalist, Anastasia Nichita of Moldova. Nichita has long dominated the age-level scene- owning five world medals- and has already proven to be competitive on the senior level. She's coming off an Olympic run where she picked up a surprise come-from-behind pin over one of 57 kg's biggest favorites Odunayo Adekuoroye of Nigeria, but is back up at her optimal weight here in Belgrade. She should be expected to dominate this bracket relatively unchallenged and continue Moldova's incredibly successful recent run in women's wrestling.

    Nichita's most esteemed accolade is her 2018 Junior World title, but she isn't the only Junior World Champion in the mix here: Anastasiia Sidelnikova, who had a very exciting run to a Junior gold in her home country earlier this year, will look to prove herself amongst a strong field here. Though she isn't quite in the mix on the senior level yet- having gone 1-2 at the Poland Open earlier this year- she has accumulated lots of positive competition experience this year and has a huge upside as she grows through the sport.

    Another woman who attended this year's Junior World Championships was Hungarian Anna Szel, who was an absolute phenom on the Cadet level for many years. Szel owns a plethora of international medals, including two Euro titles and a World finals appearance. She's long been competitive with many of the young women who are now putting up stellar senior-level results- even owning multiple wins over World Champion Irina Ringaci and having close matches with Indian superstar Sonam. However, she fell short at the Junior World Championships, taking a loss in the semifinals before getting pinned despite leading her Kazakh opponent 8-3 in the bronze medal match. She'll look for redemption here; Belgrade will be a good test for her to see if she can convert her age-level results into senior success.

    Despite the credentials of the three well-accoladed competitors above, the most exciting athlete in this weight class is almost inarguably Anhelina Lysak of Poland. Lysak only recently switched nationalities, having made her Polish debut at the Euros this year (where she took silver); prior to that, she earned a pair of age-level world medals and five Euro medals for Ukraine. Lysak's style is dynamic; she loves to go upper body and has the potential to hit absolutely
    filthy headlocks, a trait that means she can never be counted out of a match no matter the score. She even pinned multiple-time World Silver medallist Alli Ragan with an absolutely lethal throw at the 2019 Worlds. Lysak's tendency to have dramatic matches and capability to pull out a win no matter how bleak the score may be, makes her a must-watch at these World Championships.

    Belarus will be sending their very-solid Krystsina Sazykina, who recently won the Medved in a competitive Soviet field. She's had her share of age-level success and picked up a bronze medal at the U23 Euros earlier this year. She should be in contention for a medal, depending on her draw.

    A couple other names of note include Antonyna Kulahina of Ukraine, who had an amazing 2018 Cadet run where she dominated her way to World and European titles at 61 kilos. However, she's struggled to replicate that success at the Junior and Senior age levels. This World Championships should be a good opportunity to really gauge what level she's at and see if she can make a successful transition to the older age divisions. The United States' Michaela Beck should also be expected to have a strong performance; she dominated her way to her U23 World Team spot at the American trials and has seemed poised for a breakout performance.

    All in all, 59 kg should be a rollercoaster ride of a bracket: watch Anastasia Nichita aim to secure her second world title, but keep an eye out for firecracker Anhelina Lysak and solid athletes like Sazykina, Sidelnikova and Beck to try to stop her.

    68 kg

    The 68-kilo bracket in Belgrade will be exciting as it is very much wide open. No past age-level world champions or women well-established on the senior level will be present in Belgrade, meaning that a variety of athletes will have the opportunity to secure a career-defining title in Serbia.

    The weight class is led by Ukraine's Oksana Chudyk, a Junior athlete who has achieved some fantastic successes this year. Chudyk won both the Junior and U23 Euros this year to add to her five total age-level continental titles; she also owns a pair of Cadet world medals. She's controlled most of her competitors this year- only giving up 6 points en route to her two Euro golds- and will enter this weight class as the on-paper favorite. Chudyk is a big part of the uprising of young Ukrainians as the nation continues to build its depth and excel in international competition. The two women Chudyk defeated in her Euro finals matches this year will both make an appearance in Belgrade. Sophia Schaefle of Germany earned her first international medal at the Junior Euros this year, looking solid and even defeating eventual Junior World Finalist Elizaveta Petliakova in the semifinals. U23 Euro finalist Vusala Parfianovich of Russia will be another interesting addition to the bracket. She's pretty inexperienced internationally, but she looked solid in Skopje and pushed Chudyk in the finals. This tournament will be a good gauge to see if she can compete on the senior level and important for Russia as they look to re-establish domestic depth at this weight.

    One of the most interesting additions to this bracket will be Simon Fraser University's Alyvia Fiske, who has garnered some really strong domestic results that she'll look to convert to international successes. In addition to this being Fiske's fourth world team, she also owns a US Open title and even competed in Final X (up at 72 kilos). Unfortunately, Fiske was unable to qualify for the American Olympic Trials at 68kg- a byproduct of being in the same bracket as phenoms Kennedy Blades and Kylie Welker. She'll look to avenge that performance in Belgrade and will be without a doubt in medal contention.

    Another woman with the potential to make some serious noise is Delgermaa Enkhsaikhan of Mongolia, who also competed at the Senior Worlds in Oslo. Enkhsaikhan's career most notably features a 2018 Junior Worlds finals appearance where she largely dominated her way to the finals- even securing a win over to-be Olympic Bronze medalist Iryna Koliadenko. Enkhsaikhan has a pretty solid international resume featuring a pair of Asian medals and a third-place finish at the Ivan Yariguin; she should be regarded as one of the prime medal contenders here in Serbia.

    Finally, a couple of the other strong continental medalists in the mix include Kendra Dacher of France, who owns a 2017 Junior Euro bronze, Tindra Sjoeberg of Sweden, a 2019 Junior Euro Champ, and Nesrin Bas of Turkey, who notched a bronze at the U23 Euros in addition to a third-place finish at the 2021 Junior Worlds. Bas notably also finished 5th at this year's senior Euros, where she pinned Azeri Olympian Elis Manolova. These women should be kept in mind as potential placewinners should the draw present them with a favorable path.

    All in all, this bracket is a huge opportunity for some unproven faces to make names for themselves. Keep an eye on top contenders Fiske and Chudyk, as well as Parfianovich and Enkhsaikhan, who will both vie for medals.

    76 kg

    We are truly in the golden age of women's heavyweight wrestling. From the epic battles between legends of the sport at the Olympic Games to some tightly contested matches between the world's best in Oslo, 2021 has provided us with a plethora of 76-kilo storylines that will go down in history. The weight class looks similarly stacked in Belgrade and we should be treated to an enthralling display of high-level wrestling.

    Headlining this weight class is Kyrgyzstan's Aiperi Medet Kyzy, who's in the midst of a fantastic year. She placed fifth at the Olympic Games, where she was leading Adeline Gray late in the semifinals, before a failed challenge from her corner gave the American the winning point. Later, she earned her first senior World medal in Oslo. Medet Kyzy was the first Kyrgyzstani woman to earn an age-level world title with a Junior gold in 2017; she'll be the favorite to repeat that feat here at U23s.

    While Medet Kyzy has already established herself on the senior scene, the future of women's heavyweight will be represented well, as all of this year's Junior world medalists will make an appearance in Belgrade. Silver medallist Bipasha of India and bronze medalists Mulkinova of Kazakhstan and Dzibuk of Belarus will vie for medals, with Dzibuk being of particular interest due to her solid international resume. She will likely be the heir to Belarusian heavyweight great Vasilisa Marzaliuk and has already begun to accumulate solid international results.

    However, much of the attention will be on Kylie Welker, who absolutely destroyed her competition en route to Junior world gold in Ufa. Her fantastic year saw her reach the American Olympic Trials finals and crack three American world teams; however, her first-round loss in Oslo to the very-solid Buse Tosun will have her looking for a redeeming performance. Belgrade will be a huge test for her: she'll be facing women with senior-level prowess, and the fact that she is unquestionably small for the weight will certainly be a disadvantage compared to some of her older, more well-developed competitors. Despite this, Welker is without a doubt an unusual case and she should be expected to be able to compete with the best in Belgrade.

    2021 U23 European Champion Evgeniia Zakharchenko will look to answer the Russian question at 76 kilos in Belgrade. Russian women have been quite dominant at this weight class over the past decade, with Natalia Vorobieva and Ekaterina Bukina each owning world and Olympic medals. However, as the women age- and performances decline, as evidenced at the Olympic Games- new athletes will look to fill their big shoes. Zakharchenko is definitely qualified to do so, with handfuls of world and European medals from the age-level championships, and she'll have a strong chance at earning a medal in a time where Russian women's wrestling desperately needs a morale boost.

    The Pan-Am contingent, while small at these World Championships, should not be overlooked in Serbia. Colombian Tatiana Renteria is pretty inexperienced internationally but does have one solid win to her name: a victory over American Dymond Guilford, who has established herself as one of the top heavyweight women domestically. Also in attendance is Ecuador's Genesis Reasco Valdez, who has the potential to cause absolute chaos. A prime example of this was at the World Olympic Games qualifier, where she notched a pair of enormous blast doubles on her way to an early 7-2 lead over soon-to-be Olympic medalist Yasemin Adar (before getting tech-falled). Reasco Valdez is more than capable of scoring points on the best women at this weight and should not be overlooked or regarded as the easy draw.

    A variety of other world medalists and well-credentialed women will also be in the bracket with the potential to shake things up as they look for medals. Aysegul Ozbege of Turkey finished runner-up at this year's U23 Euros, and also earned a World silver at this tournament in 2018. Hungarian Bernadett Nagy owns Junior and Cadet World bronzes, as well as Junior Euro title and a handful of solid results. Kamile Gaucaite has a Cadet World bronze and has proven to be one of Lithuania's top women's wrestlers. Ukraine's Alina Rudnytska Levytska will be moving up from 68 kilos, where she earned a 2018 Junior World bronze and a pair of age-level Euro medals, and will look to establish herself as a contender at her new weight class.

    76 kilos will be one of the most fun women's weights contested in Belgrade. Storylines such as Aiperi Medet Kyzy's aim to add to Kyrgyzstan's fantastic successes this year, young star Kylie Welker continuing her age-level tirade and Zakharchenko's quest to become the next Russian heavyweight great will be immensely fun to watch unfold in Serbia, and many can't-miss matchups will certainly be contested in this weight class.

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