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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    Final X Stillwater: Women's Freestyle Preview

    Mallory Velte (left) and Forrest Molinari (photos courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    By Friday evening, we'll know one-half of our 2020 Senior world team as the first leg of Final X will conclude competition. That marks the end of a qualifying process that started at the 2020 Olympic Trials (in April 2021). From the US Open, the field was narrowed down and at the World Team Trials, a week ago, matchups for Final X were determined.

    Now that we know who will compete in Final X, InterMat has previews of each style, by site. We're starting with the Stillwater half of Final X, one that gets underway Friday afternoon. Here are the five women's freestyle matchups, a preview of the action and the competitors who will square off in Oklahoma.

    55 kg - Jenna Burkert vs. Jacarra Winchester

    This is it. This is the big one. Probably the most anticipated women's freestyle series of the entire Final X, regardless of site. Coming off a berth on the 2020 Olympic Team, Jacarra Winchester moved back up to her customary 55 kg weight class, the one where she won a world championship in 2019. But she wasn't able to get a shot at a second title as Jenna Burkert prevented her from making the 2021 world team. The two tangled in an incredible, three-match series at the 2021 Trials, with the match winners prevailing by one point (or criteria) in each individual match. In her fourth crack at winning a world medal, Burkert came back from Oslo with world bronze. So, how will another set of matches between the two play out? The pair feature contrasting styles, with Winchester striking swiftly from the outside, with big-move potential, while Burkert is as physical as anyone in the game. We're not picking winners now, but let's hope from an entertainment standpoint, that his match goes three bouts, once again. Interesting note, that has little to do with the actual result. This will be Burkert's third appearance in Final X. She has dropped a weight class in each of the two previous ones, starting at 57 kg in 2018. Winchester has swept both of her prior Final X contests.

    59 kg - Abby Nette vs. Lexie Basham

    One of the positives about the Final X process is the opportunity for some unheralded stars to get their opportunity to shine individually on the big stage. In the World Team Trials of yesteryear, some matchups may have gotten lost in the shuffle. This match is one that could fit that bill. Abby Nette certainly isn't a stranger to big matches and international competition. She made a pair of U23 world teams and was a 2021 Matteo Pellicone champion. Unfortunately, due to injuries, Nette has been off the scene for awhile. Now back, and with the Army WCAP, Nette wasn't seriously tested in her two bouts at the WTT's. To clinch a berth in Final X, Nette put together a 5-1 win over former Junior and U23 World Team member, Michaela Beck. Lexie Basham renewed the rivalry in the semis, when she knocked off US Open champion Nanea Estrella. Basham and Estrella met in the 2022 NAIA national finals and it was Basham who got her hand raised. Like the Trials, Basham will have to prepare for competition with some uncertainty regarding her head coach, Ray Bedford, who was fired by Texas Wesleyan recently, much to the chagrin of Basham.

    65 kg - Forrest Molinari vs. Mallory Velte

    This is the second women's freestyle in Stillwater that will feature a pair of past world medalists. Though Mallory Velte has spent most of the past quad at 62 kg, this isn't the first time she and Forrest Molinari have met. The two have a rivalry that dates back to high school in California, where Velte got the best of Molinari. That may have changed in 2022, starting with the Yasar Dogu, when Molinari picked up a 7-4 win over Velte in the gold medal match. Molinari earned a place in Final X by virtue of her world medal in 2021. That marked a breakthrough for Molinari, as she had fallen in a world bronze medal match in both 2018 and 2019. Velte is 1-1 in her Final X career, defeating Kayla Miracle in 2018 and going on to win world bronze, then she was beaten by Miracle a year later. Now training at Oregon State's Beaver Dam RTC, Velte looks close to her world medalist form. She survived a grueling three-match series with Emma Bruntil in the WTT finals, for the opportunity to compete at Final X. Like the Bruntil affair, this series should be as physical as any on the women's side.

    68 kg - Tamyra Mensah-Stock vs. Sienna Ramirez

    If there was an MVP or MOW from the first two editions of Final X, Tamyra Mensah-Stock would be one of the leading contenders. In her four Final X bouts, Mensah-Stock has won 10-0 three times. The fourth match was a win via fall. Mensah-Stock has taken that dominance outside of the US border and came back with a world title in 2019 and Olympic gold in 2020. The Olympic gold medal immediately catapulted Mensah-Stock into another stratosphere when considering all-time greats in American women's wrestling. She's only the second Olympic gold medalist and now has four World/Olympic medals. Young Sienna Ramirez comes in as a huge underdog; however, she has looked unflappable winning the Open and prevailing at the WTT's in three matches. All three of those bouts came down to criteria. Ramirez was a 2021 NAIA national champion and is a five-time All-American. This year she shook off an early-round upset and battled back for third place. Once again, a match with the returning Olympic champion will represent a gigantic step up in competition.

    76 kg - Dymond Guilford vs. Yelena Makoyed

    Could this be a preview of the future? With American legend and mainstay at 76 kg, Adeline Gray, pregnant and ready to give birth to her first child, will she return to competition? If not, we could see Dymond Guilford, Yelena Makoyed and others challenging for world/Olympic teams going forward. It will be the first Final X appearance for both.

    For those that long for the WCWA days where all of the women's collegiate stars wrestled in the same division, this can be a wrestle-off, of sorts. Both were national champions over their respective divisions at 170 lbs, with Guilford winning the NAIA crown for the University of the Cumberlands and Makoyed winning the NCWWC title for North Central. Now, these two are certainly no strangers to each other. They met in the semis of the Open this year and Guilford secured a fall after leading 10-3. She'd go on to win the entire tournament. While some upperweight matches can be tactical affairs, I'd expect both women to lay caution to the wind and put points on the board.

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