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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    Nine First-Time Champions in Senior Women's Freestyle

    Kennedy Blades (left) and Adeline Gray (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    The last Senior-level US Open championship finals were conducted from the Southpoint Casino in Las Vegas, as the women’s freestyle world team hopefuls took the mat. The theme of the night was a “changing of a guard,” as the final session revealed nine first-time US Open champions.

    The most notable instance came in the final bout of the tournament as U20 World champion Kennedy Blades took on six-time world champion Adeline Gray at 76 kg. Gray was returning to the mat after missing 2022 following the birth of her twins. Blades struck early and often and carried a 10-2 lead into the second period. Less than :30 seconds into the final period, Blades secured another takedown to end the bout 12-2.

    Since the United States did not medal at the 2022 World Championships with Gray out of the picture, there was no one in Final X before Saturday night. Now, Blades has punched her ticket to Newark and Final X at 76 kg. Gray can wrestle during May’s World Team Trials to grab the second spot in hopes of a rematch.

    To call this match a “changing of the guard” might be a bit premature considering Gray’s lack of mat time and overall talent. But at the same time, it’s hard to ignore what Blades did against Gray and the rest of a loaded weight class.

    The opening bout provided a glimpse into the theme of the evening as 2023 U20 World Team member and 2022 U20 World silver medalist, Audrey Jimenez took on Final X participant Alyssa Lampe. Early in the contest, Lampe made the competition look like no-contest. She held an 8-0 lead with less than two minutes in the contest. That didn’t phase the youthful Jimenez who continued to attack, finished a takedown and transitioned into a leg lace.

    The 50 kg final was decided after Lampe exposed Jimenez during a takedown sequence and Lampe was given two points and Jimenez one for a reversal. At the final whistle, this ruling was challenged and overturned to show that Jimenez got a takedown, not a reversal. That meant two points for Jimenez who took the match 10-10 on criteria. She’ll face multiple-time world medalist Sarah Hildebrandt in Final X.

    In the two matches that followed 53 kg, the wrestler who got on the scoreboard first ended up losing the match. Samara Chavez got up an early takedown, but it was Katie Gomez that poured it on and ended up with a 12-2 tech. She’ll face returning world champion Dom Parrish in Final X.

    At 55 kg, it was Alisha Howk who got down early after giving away a point for a shot clock violation after a passivity warning. Unphased Howk, continued to attack and came away with an 8-3 win over Lauren Mason. Howk’s Final X opponent will be determined at the World Team Trials.

    There will be no third incarnation of a Helen Maroulis/Alex Hedrick series at Final X, at least in 2023, as Hedrick was shocked by Xochitl Mota-Pettis. Mota-Pettis only needed :44 seconds for a big four-point takedown, followed by four exposures. Mota-Pettis’ explosiveness and high-scoring ways could make for an intriguing matchup against Maroulis.

    The 59 and 65 kg weight classes showcased a pair of young, but experienced women who finally had breakthrough wins. Michaela Beck gritted out a tough win over former world team member Maya Nelson at 59 kg, 5-3. Kilty needed a late set of exposure points to jump out in front of rival Emma Bruntil. Another put gave her more cushion for a comfortable 5-1 victory.

    Beck’s Final X opponent will be determined at the Trials. Kilty has Mallory Velte at 65 kg in Final X. Though this is Kilty’s first Final X, she may have made the team last year, but was injured. She also had to default out of the 2020 Olympic Trials finals.

    In between Beck and Kilty’s wins, Adaugo Nwachukwu made her third world team of the spring. Two weeks ago, she dominated the field and claimed berths on the U20 and U23 teams. The Senior bid did not seem very likely after a period when she trailed Jennifer Page, 8-4. Shortly after, Nwachukwu got a four-point takedown, then another to win 10-8. She’ll face Kayla Miracle in Final X.

    The only wrestler during Saturday’s finals who wasn’t a first-time champion was Forrest Molinari at 68 kg. Molinari grabbed her third title after a second-period fall over Alex Glaude. Molinari used an armbar to expose and eventually pin Glaude, in what was a semi-close bout. Since Tamrya Mensah-Stock did not accept her spot in Final X, Molinari will wait for an opponent after the Trials.

    After Molinari’s win, Joye Levendusky booked her trip to Final X at 72 kg. Levendusky got her first takedown less than ten seconds into the match and never let up on Rose Cassioppi. After a final takedown approaching the one-minute mark in the second period, Levendusky had terminated the match with a 10-0 tech. She’ll move on to face history-marking Amit Elor in Final X. Elor captured championship belts at the U20, U23 and Senior World Championships last year.

    Senior Women’s Freestyle Final Results at the 2023 US Open

    50 kg - Audrey Jimenez over Alyssa Lampe 10-10
    53 kg - Katie Gomez over Samara Chavez 12-2
    55 kg - Alisha Howk over Lauren Mason 8-3
    57 kg - Xochitl Mota-Pettis over Alex Hedrick 10-0
    59 kg - Michaela Beck over Maya Nelson 5-3
    62 kg - Adaugo Nwachukwu over Jennifer Page 10-8
    65 kg - Macey Kilty over Emma Bruntil 5-1
    68 kg - Forrest Molinari over Alex Glaude Fall 4:21
    72 kg - Joey Levendusky over Rose Cassioppi 10-0
    76 kg - Kennedy Blades over Adeline Gray 12-2

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