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  • Photo: SOU Athletics

    Photo: SOU Athletics

    2023-24 NAIA Women's Preview (Part One)

    Let’s take a look at the top 8 teams from last year’s inaugural NAIA Women’s Championship for an early prediction of how they might stack up for the 2023-24 season.

    Please note that not all teams have published lineups and what wrestlers are returning.

    2023 Top Returning Teams based on NAIA Championship finishes

    1. Southern Oregon (160 teams points)

    Southern Oregon ended with a first place finish at the inaugural NAIA Championship under first-year head coach Gabrielle Weyhrich to cap off a dominant season. While 2x champ Carolina Moreno and 4th place finisher Bella Amaro will be returning to the lineup next year, the Raiders graduated their five other All-Americans from last season. 

    When asked in an interview how the team will fill this void, Weyhrich says, “I’m not worried at all. We focus on building everyone. When one senior leaves, the next person is ready to step into that position and do just as good as the person leaving.”

    In addition to Moreno and Amaro, junior Bailey Dennis is a 2022 All-American. At last year’s tournament, Dennis came in as the 12 seed and lost a close match in consolations after losing in the round of 16 to the 5 seed. Look for her to climb in the rankings throughout the season and reclaim a top 8 spot at the tournament again this year. 

    Southern Oregon did pick up Grand View All-American Shenita Lawson in the off-season. Lawson placed 5th at 170 lbs at the tournament last year, and could help fill the gap in the lineup left by Joye Levendusky.

    2. Life University (139.5 team points)

    Life University had an impressive finish but was still more than 20 points away from Southern Oregon’s final score. However, where SOU had 5 of their 7 All-Americans graduate, Life has at least 5 of their 8 All-Americans returning. Head Coach Ashley Flavin described the team as young last year, and they are bringing in a top-ranked class of recruits and transfers. There are quite a few factors on this roster that other top teams will have to contend with to keep Life from taking the top spot.

    Sarah Savidge only lost by 3 points to the reigning champ Lexie Basham in the finals of the NAIA tournament after a dominant run of pins and techs. She is also coming off a U20 Pan Am championship win this summer. As a sophomore, she has a lot of runway left in her college career.

    All three McBryde sisters are returning after qualifying for the tournament. Jamilah and Latifa McBryde finished as All-Americans. Also, look out for Devyn Gomez to make a real splash her senior year. She is a 2x All American and had a gritty path to an eighth place finish at last year’s tournament. She has gotten close to breaking through on some of her close matches and is clearly capable of a strong mental game to come back from a deficit. I could see her being the type of wrestler who has something to prove this year and ends with an even higher finish at the 2024 tournament. 

    Finally, Asia Ray, 5x All-American and 2x National Champ, announced her transfer to Life from Wayland Baptist. She will wrestle unattached for the first part of the season, but will be eligible to compete as part of the team in time for the 2024 tournament.


    3. Grand View University (123.5 team points)

    Grand View ended their 2023 season with a program record 3rd place finish, 16 points behind Life and just half a point ahead of Menlo. Alexis Gomez was the first Viking to make the finals at the tournament, however 2023 was her final collegiate season as she moved on to compete at the senior level.

    The team still has several returning All-Americans, however. Maya Davis came in 3rd at 123 as a freshman with 4 pins during the tournament. Catie Campbell, another freshman finished in 6th place at 123 as well. Both will be returning for their Sophomore years at Grand View. Campbell was ranked no. 2 at the tournament, while Davis was ranked no. 10. However, Davis pinned Campbell during the tournament to move to the 3rd place match. This speaks to the depth and level of talent this team has and ability to send a full lineup and then some to the tournament each year.

    Grand View’s third freshman All-American was Shenita Lawson, who transferred to Southern Oregon in the off season.

    The team will also be returning Andrea Schlabach at 130 lbs who placed 6th, Abby McIntyre at 170 lbs who placed 3rd, and Olivia Brown at 191 lbs who placed 5th.

    While the team did graduate a lot of talented wrestlers who had been with the program since its inception in 2019-20, they still have a lot of talent in the lineup and a consistent habit of being ranked in the top 3.

    4. Menlo College (123 team points)

    Menlo just missed out on the 3rd place finish at the tournament with a half point difference between their final score and Grand View’s. However, the team is bringing back all 8 of their All-Americans from last year. 

    Additionally, Coach Mike Ayala was officially hired as head coach this season after serving as the interim during the 2022-23 season. I think there could be a lot of cohesion and the ability to build on last year’s success given the factors at play.

    Alana Vivas made it to the finals for Menlo and took on the No. 1 seed at 123, Carolina Moreno from Southern Oregon. The match ended with Moreno winning 6-2, but Vivas kept it close and wrestled tough. She will certainly be a contender for the title this year as well as a 5th year wrestler.

    Haley Narahara will be another one to watch as she enters her sophomore year for the Oaks. Narahara finished in 4th at the tournament at 123 lbs, but is now listed on their roster at 116 lbs. Narahara also only lost her 3rd place match by 1 point, dropping it 13-14. The Oaks did not have an All American at 116 lbs this year, so Narahara could be a bright spot in their lineup given the talent they already have at the stacked 123 lb weight class.


    5. University of Providence (102 team points)

    UP Wrestling falls 21 points behind Menlo to secure the 5th place finish. The team celebrated their first national champion as Ira Navarro claimed the title at 101 lbs. This win capped her 5th and final season at collegiate wrestling. However, her opponent who finished second was teammate Erin Hikiji who will be a sophomore this season. Given how dominant the two were in the tournament, Hikiji has a chance to continue the championship streak for the team. 

    The team had a school record 6 All-Americans at the tournament and will be returning 4 of them. With record breaking performances this year and keeping a lot of talent on an otherwise young team, the Argos could find a way to break through to a top 4 finish in the coming season. 

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