The top seed at 53 kg Ronna Heaton (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Just over a month after the Olympics wrapped up, we have another critical event scheduled for this weekend on the Senior level, the 2021 World Team Trials. USA Wrestling has stated that any Olympic medalist could claim a spot (at that same weight) on the world team, if they chose. 8 of the 9 medalists elected to compete at the 2021 World Championships October 2-10th. Only Gable Steveson declined the invitation. So the non-Olympic weights, along with weights where the United States did not medal, and 125 kg in men's freestyle, will be up-for-grabs.
These limited numbers of available weights have created an Olympic Trials-like effect for competitors who have moved up or down in search of a berth on the world team. Of course, that can only benefit wrestling fans who should be treated to some incredible matchups.
We'll continue our 2021 World Team Trials previews by looking at the women's freestyle team. Remember, Sarah Hildebrandt (50kg), Helen Maroulis (57kg), Tamyra Mensah-Stock (68kg), and Adeline Gray (76kg) have already secured a spot on the team based on the 2020 Olympic medals.
For years, I've told anyone that will listen that I thought the 50 kg weight class was the deepest on the women's freestyle side. With Sarah Hildebrandt locking up a world team spot by virtue of her Olympic bronze medal, that weight will not be contested. What has happened, though, is that a vast group of 50 kg contenders have bumped up to 53 kg and joined a strong contingent to form an absolute meat grinder of a bracket.
The top finishers at the Olympic Trials at 53 kg have assumed one and two preseeds with Ronna Heaton and Dominique Parrish getting them, respectively. Heaton scored wins via fall over Parrish and Katherine Shai to reach the best-of-three finals against Jacarra Winchester. Just a few months earlier, Shai had teched Heaton at the Captain's Cup. The former Cadet world champion, Heaton, has come into her own at the Senior level and has been more consistent than ever. Parrish has been a member of three U23 world teams and even wrestled for the bronze on one of those occasions. After her loss to Heaton at the Olympic Trials, Parrish stormed through the field and earned a place on the national team.
50 kg national team member Alyssa Lampe will get the third seed. She lost a razor-thin 7-6 decision to Victoria Anthony in the Olympic Trials semifinals. While Lampe has been most effective at the old 48 kg weight class, she did earn one of her two World bronze medals at 51 kg in 2012.
Some of the top contenders who are returning at 53 kg will get the 4-6 seeds in Alex Hedrick, Areana Villaescusa, and Alisha Howk. Hedrick was fourth to her Simon Fraser teammate, Parrish, in the Olympic Trials Challenge Tournament, while Villaescusa and Howk fell in the consolation semis. Hedrick was a member of two Junior world teams, while Howk made one as a Cadet and another as a Junior. Earlier this year, Hedrick made the U23 World team. Villaescusa defeated Parrish en route to a US Open finals berth in 2019. The pair have battled many times since, with Parrish coming out on top.
The remainder of the preseeds consists of women moving up from 50 kgs. Amy Fearnside, Erin Golston, Emily Shilson, and Alleida Martinez are slated to receive seeds 7-10, in that order. Fearnside's win over Golston at the Olympic Trials quarterfinals gives her the nod over the former three-time Junior World medalist. Speaking over age-group credentials, Shilson now boasts gold medals at the Cadet and Junior World Championships, along with the Youth Olympic Games. As recently as the Captain's Cup, Shilson has a 9-4 win over Fearnside. Martinez has been a part of four age-group World Championships and has a silver and bronze from the Cadet level.
Notable by her absence from the preseeds is Whitney Conder. Whitney is a five-team world team member that was in the initial entries. She was fourth at the Olympic Trials Challenge Tournament in 2020 with a win via tech over Shilson.
Some younger names to watch for a breakthrough at this weight are 2021 Junior World Team member Jaslynn Gallegos, Sage Mortimer, and Peyton Prussin.
Champion Prediction: Ronna Heaton
Since 2020 Olympian Jacarra Winchester has elected to compete at this weight class; rather than 53 kg, she will be placed in the semifinals of the bottom half of the bracket. Just two years ago, Winchester captured a world title at 55 kg. This appears to be a more ideal fit for Winchester. Aside from one notable exception, Winchester will have to contend with a youthful group of challengers over the weekend.
The veteran and most dangerous opponent for Winchester will be Jenna Burkert. A three-time world-team member at 59 kg, Burkert moved down to 57 kg in anticipation of the Olympic Trials. Her performance there was one of the stories of the tournament as she pushed Olympic champion Helen Maroulis to the brink in the best-of-three finals. If Burkert can sustain the weight cut, she could threaten Winchester; however, Burkert has competed below 57 kg in a major event in over a decade.
The up-and-coming crop of contenders at this weight consists of a pair of King University teammates in Cheyenne Sisenstein and Melanie Mendoza, the third and fifth seeds, respectively. Sisenstein was an NCWW national champion for King at 123 lbs in 2021 and participated in the Olympic Trials at 57 kg. She was able to pick up a victory before her elimination. Mendoza placed fifth at the NCWW's as a freshman last season.
Sandwiched between the two Team Tornado wrestlers is North Central's Amanda Martinez. Sisenstein and Martinez met in an epic three-match series, won by Sisenstein, in the finals of the 2021 U23 World Team Trials. Martinez is also an NCWW national runner-up and competed at the Olympic Trials.
Colorado Mesa's Marissa Gallegos is a two-time top-three finisher in college and competed at the Trials. She was a runner-up at the U23 national tournament in 2020.
Two additional U23 All-Americans from this year that could contend in this field are Lauren Mason and Vayle Baker. Mason was third at 57 kg, while Baker was sixth in the same bracket.
Champion Prediction: Jacarra Winchester
Moreso than some weight classes at this tournament, 59 kg has a distinct favorite in Maya Nelson. Before the remarkable performance from our Junior women's team in Ufa, Russia, Nelson was the most recent American woman to win a Junior World Championship, which she did in 2017. Since then, she's made a pair of U23 World Team's. In 2019, Nelson was a participant in Final X and pushed Forrest Molinari three matches in one of the most physical series of the tournament. Earlier this year, at the Olympic Trials, Nelson made the finals of the Challenge Tournament before falling to Macey Kilty.
Based on seeding, two possible finals opponents for Nelson could be Michaela Beck and Cameron Guerin. The 2019 Junior World team member, Beck, also secured a spot on the 2021 U23 World team in May. She competed at the Olympic Trials, but was held without a win. Guerin had a pair of impressive wins at the Trials (over Abby Nette and Lauren Louive) as she took fourth in the Challenge Tournament. She was also a part of two Junior World Teams and wrestled for a bronze medal in 2017. Guerin was an undefeated NCWW national champion in 2021 as a freshman.
Guerin's McKendree teammate, Brenda Reyna, will likely receive the fourth seed. Reyna is a two-time collegiate national finalist and a champion in 2021. It was Reyna who met Beck in the U23 WTT finals this year. Reyna was shut out in two straight bouts, 5-0 and 6-0.
Perhaps the biggest wild card at this weight is Xochitl Mota-Pettis, who is the fifth seed. Mota-Pettis was U23 national champion last year, but fell to Guerin in the Junior finals the same weekend. Her biggest win at the Senior level came in 2020 at Nationals when she pinned two-time World silver medalist Alli Ragan. If anyone can flip this bracket on its head, it would be Mota-Pettis.
Rounding out the seeded wrestlers is a former McKendree Bearcat, Megan Black, of the Army WCAP. Black was a four-time All-American and two-time national runner-up in college.
Also expected to compete, but unseeded, is 2021 Junior World Team member Claire DiCugno who is a freshman at Colorado Mesa.
Champion Prediction: Maya Nelson
This will be the second weight class that features a 2020 Olympian. Kayla Miracle will receive the top seed based on her performance over the past two years at the weight. She made her first Senior team in 2019 and hasn't looked back domestically since. Miracle made the 2019 World team after downing Mallory Velte in Final X. The previous year, Velte and Miracle engaged in a three-match Final X series that went Velte's way. Velte then went on to earn a world bronze medal. As the two will get the top-two seeds here, we have the possibility of seeing another chapter in their rivalry. Velte couldn't challenge Miracle at the Trials as she fell to Kilty in the semifinals of the Challenge Tournament.
Before another meeting between Miracle and Velte, Mallory will need to get by a tough Jennifer Page. Page finished third at the Olympic Trials Challenge Tournament with a pair of wins over Emma Bruntil and a tech fall victory over Desiree Zavala. In 2020, Page edged out Kilty to win Senior Nationals. Speaking of Zavala, the two could meet again in the semifinals as she's the sixth seed. Zavala's best win at the Trials came over Michaela Beck via technical superiority.
Also expected to receive the fourth and fifth seeds, respectively, are Gracie Figueroa and Ana Luciano. Figueroa has made five age-group world teams and was a Cadet World bronze medalist in 2016. She also captured a WCWA national title for Menlo as a true freshman. Luciano was a national runner-up for King last season and competed at the Olympic Trials. She earned a pair of wins, one of which came over Beck, 3-2.
Champion Prediction: Kayla Miracle
With the return of the 65 kg weight class in non-Olympic years, we will see Forrest Molinari back down to compete. She was the World team representative at the weight in 2018 and 2019. Both years her tournament ended with a loss in the bronze medal match. For the Olympic Trials, Molinari bumped up to 68 kg and fell via technical superiority to high school phenom Kennedy Blades in the Challenge Tournament finals 11-1. She rebounded to earn a place on the national team by defeating a tough Alex Glaude. A possible finals opponent for the top-seeded Molinari is her King University teammate Julia Salata. The two clashed in Final X 2018, a series that led to Molinari's first world team berth. A veteran of the scene, Salata won a Pan-Am title in 2019 and made two Junior world squads, but is still seeking her first at the Senior level.
A potential roadblock for Salata and an all-King final is McKendree's two-time national champion Emma Bruntil. While most of the competitors in this field were winding down their training, Bruntil went to Romania last weekend and won the Ion Corneanu Memorial. At the tournament, Bruntil won without surrendering a point. At the Olympic Trials, Bruntil made the third-place bout in the Challenge Tournament after downing Mallory Velte.
Right behind her coach, Julia Salata, on the preseed list is Ashlynn Ortega. She was a runner-up for King at 143 lbs, losing only to Bruntil. This spring, at Women's Nationals, Ortega downed Alara Boyd to earn a place on the U23 World Team. Boyd returned the favor at the Olympic Trials, though Ortega did grab a win in the consolations.
Seeding fifth and sixth are Skylar Grote and Solin Piearcy, respectively. At Senior Nationals, in 2020, Grote finished in second place, losing only to Molinari. She was selected to compete at Captain's Cup and logged a win over 2019 US Open winner Alyvia Fiske. Piearcy was a 2019 WCWA national champion for Menlo and finished third at the U23 WTT's this year after a 2-2 loss on criteria to the eventual champion, Fiske.
Champion Prediction: Emma Bruntil
The youth movement is in full effect at 72 kg as the top-two seeds are 2021 Junior World champions that have not yet finished high school, in Kennedy Blades and Kylie Welker. The two also made the Olympic Trials finals, with Blades finishing second at 68 kg and Welker at 76 kg. They'll meet in the middle here and renew acquaintances once again. The two have already been on one world team this year and are set for another as they both won U23 national titles.
Before you pencil in a Blades/Welker final, don't overlook Yelena Makoyed, a two-time NCWW national finalist and the first national champion in the history of North Central wrestling. Makoyed also took a match from Welker in the best-of-three series in the U23 finals. At the Olympic Trials, Makoyed was fourth in the Challenge Tournament.
The "veteran" of this group is Dymond Guilford, who was a WCWA national champion for Missouri Baptist in 2019. Guilford defeated Makoyed for third-place in the Challenge Tournament consolation finals at the Olympic Trials. In 2020, Guilford won the U23 national title and she is a past Junior World team member.
As mentioned above, Alyiva Fiske is quite dangerous and has a strong resume. That has led to her receiving the fifth seed here.
Nahiela Magee and Rachel Watters are expected to get the sixth and seventh seeds. Magee was a fourth-place finisher at the 2019 US Open and the World Team Trials. Watters has made five age-ground world teams and was a 2020 national champion for Oklahoma City University.
Champion Prediction: Kennedy Blades