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  • Photo: Texas Wesleyan athletics

    Photo: Texas Wesleyan athletics

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

    After previewing the top 5 teams from last year’s NAIA Championships, let’s take a look at the next 5 that round out the top 10.

    6. University of the Cumberlands (98 team points) 

    The University of the Cumberlands fell just 4 points shy of a 5th place finish, however, they did improve two spots from their eighth-place finish in 2022. The Patriots finished with 5 All-Americans and will be returning 3 to the lineup next season. Their two All-Americans who graduated after last season were 2022 U23 World Silver Medalist Dymond Guilford, who claimed her 3rd NAIA championship title, and 4x All-American Jesse Kirby, who now serves as an assistant coach for the team.

    While losing Guilford could leave a notable gap in the lineup, the team has had consistent top 8 finishes and successful conference tournaments too.

    It is also notable that the Cumberlands program will now be led by head coach Sarah Allen. Allen still holds the title for winningest female wrestler in program history, and has served as an assistant coach for the past 6 years. Allen has played a role in the team’s recruitment of the incoming class, so we will see what she can accomplish in her inaugural year as head coach.

    7. Central Methodist University (92.5 team points)

    Central Methodist had one of the most impressive jumps this past season going from a 24th-place finish in 2022, to 7th place in 2023. The team sent 9 wrestlers to the tournament and finished with 5 All-Americans, including one champ in Caitlyn Thorne. Caitlyn, a transfer last season from McKendree, breezed through the 116 lb bracket and capped off her tournament with a tech fall in the finals. She should be returning for her junior season with the Eagles and could easily impress again this year.

    Another impressive sophomore for the team was Jaycee Foeller who upset the no. 4 and no. 1 seed on her way to the championship finals. She ultimately dropped her final match to Grace Kristoff of Southern Oregon, who graduated after her 2023 season. While there is still a lot of talent at 191 lbs, Foeller seems to have what it takes to continue to compete for the top spot.

    Freshman Caitlyn Davis had another impressive tournament, finishing in 4th as the No. 3 seed. She took her first loss to Kaylynn Albrecht, who went on to become the champ. As a sophomore, I think Davis and a lot of the younger wrestlers have potential to improve on their finishes. I am also looking for CMU to qualify even more wrestlers for the tournament this year and continue to climb in team points as well.

    8. Iowa Wesleyan (92.5 team points)

    Iowa Wesleyan is an interesting case because the school, including its athletic teams, closed this past year due to budgetary issues. However, I wanted to discuss a few wrestlers from this team and how they could impact the new programs they’ve transferred to.

    Most prominently is William Penn. After Iowa Wesleyan announced it was closing, coaches Jake Kadel and Cash Wilcke were hired on at William Penn. Soon after, U20 World Team member and 2x NAIA champ Adaugo Nwachukwu signed on as well. Mia Palumbo also announced her transfer to the school. Palumbo is a two-time NAIA championship finalist, losing both times to Peyton Prussin, who has now graduated. There are still several gaps in the lineup that will have to be filled in order to take William Penn from their 33rd place finish and 1 team point scored in 2023, to a top 10 finish. However, I would not put it past them to make an impressive jump like Central Methodist did last year, and really make some waves. 

    9. Texas Wesleyan (78.5 team points) 

    Texas Wesleyan’s 9th place finish came from impressive performances by their 4 All-Americans, Camille Fournier, Lexie Basham, Mea Mohler, and Jasmine Sands. However, Sands is no longer on the roster for the upcoming season. The team will also be missing a big impact player in Lexie Basham. Basham was a 2x NAIA National Champ and a 2022 U23 world Team and Senior National Team member. It does appear that she will be sticking around, however, as a volunteer assistant coach for the team. 

    Fournier and Mohler should both still be key difference makers in the lineup. Last year, Fournier came into the tournament ranked #4 at 116 lbs. and beat the #1 seed Ashley Gooman of the University of Providence to make it to the finals. While she did lose by tech in the finals to Caitlyn Thorne of Central Methodist, Fournier had a mix of dominant and gritty matches that paved her path to the finals. Additionally, Thorne recently transferred to Lindenwood and will compete in the NCWWC instead of the NAIA tournament, so while there is still a lot of talent at 116lbs, I could see Fournier making a return to the finals and taking it all the way this year.

    Mohler is in a similar scenario, coming in ranked #7 and beating the #10, #6 and #2 ranked wrestlers at 136 lbs. Of course, she then ran into Adaugo Nwachukwu, 2023 US Open Champion and U23 World Team member and ended up losing her finals match. Nwachukwu is probably the pound-for-pound best women’s college wrestler currently competing, and she has at least two more years she can compete. However, Mohler has the momentum to keep up her highly competitive college record and make it to the podium again.

    I do also want to mention a new addition to the lineup that I think could have an instant impact on the Rams’ season, Taydem Khamjoi. Khamjoi is was ranked 9th in the country at 132 lbs, and joins Texas Wesleyan as a freshman on the roster this year. Fans should look out for what she is capable of in her first year in college.

    10. Campbellsville (66 team points)

    Rounding out the top 10 last season was Campbellsville with 66 team points from nine wrestlers that competed. Of the nine, 3 earned All-American status, with two finishing fourth. 

    Although Campbellsville did not have any wrestlers in the top 3 or have 8 or 9 All-Americans like some other teams did, they are unique in that all of their competitors from last year’s NAIA championships are back again to wrestle this season. We discussed how some groups will have major gaps with five or more All-Americans leaving their rosters this season, but the Tigers will not find themselves with the same issues. 

    Notably, their fourth-place finishers, Liliana Vergara and Emma Walker will be back again while some of the opponents they struggled against have since graduated. 

    I could also see their 7th-place finisher, Kendra Thompson returning for an even stronger showing in this year’s tournament. Thompson showed a lot of grit wrestling back through the blood rounds after falling to Latifah McBryde from Life in the first round. As a grad student, I believe this will be her last year of eligibility, and I could see her continuing to use her momentum for an even higher All-American finish this time.

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