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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

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

    Let’s take a look at the top 10 finishers from the 2023 National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championship as a look forward to how the teams will fare in the 2024 season. Starting with the top 5:

    1. North Central (198 team points)

    North Central left quite an impression last season by becoming the first D3 program to win a national collegiate women’s wrestling championship. More impressive, they scored 35 points above the second-place team King University, finishing with 3 champions and 15 All-Americans. This team has a lot going for them as they begin this season hungry for the title again.

    Maddie Avila at 101lbs claimed the championship title as a freshman last year and did so in dominant fashion. However, this is a stacked weight class, and second-place finisher Jenavi Alejandro from Tiffin was also a freshman. Avila will have some tough matchups again to reclaim the top spot.

    Amani Jones claimed a second-place spot at 123 lbs and will also be returning. She holds the school’s single-season wins record at 35, which is a testament to how battle-tested she is. After losing 7-2 in the finals last season, I am sure she is ready to come back and compete for the top spot again. Yele Aycock also returns after a somewhat controversial runner-up finish last season at 130 lbs. Her opponent, Ana Luciano, graduated after last season, making Aycok the highest-placing returner this season. Aycock is a big point scorer for the team with 12 matches won by tech and 9 by pin last season.

    Of course, Yelena Makoyed at 170 lbs had a huge impact on the team's success last season. She went 28-0 last season on her way to becoming a three-time National Champ and four-time All-American in last year’s championship. While she is listed on the team’s roster for this season, it is rumored she may miss part of the season for Olympic preparations.

    Finally, Traeh Haynes secured the runner-up spot at 191 lbs and will also be returning this season. With teammate Brittyn Corbishley finishing third at the same weight, the team looks solid at claiming more All-American spots at 191 this season.

    The team has at least 6 other All-Americans returning to compete again this year, so they have a lot of the tools needed to reclaim the championship again. Additionally, head coach Joe Norton made a strategic off-season hire, bringing on National Champ Alara Boyd from McKendree as a graduate assistant coach for the team. 

    2. King University (163 team points)

    King University had a similarly impressive showing at the tournament with 12 All-Americans and 5 wrestlers reaching the finals. However, Ana Luciano at 136 lbs was the only King wrestler to claim the title, and she has since graduated.

    Samara Chevez will be returning for her junior season King after coming in second at 116 lbs in last year’s tournament. However, she is now listed on their roster at 109 lbs. If she stays there, the Tornados have a real chance to claim multiple All-American spots at the weight, as Dianna Holmes returns for her junior year as well. Holmes came in 3rd last year at 109 lbs, however, with first-place finisher Emily Shilson possibly taking an Olympic redshirt and runner-up Sage Mortimer transferring to Grand Valley State University, which is not yet eligible to compete at Nationals, the top spot is open to a new champ this year.

    Chey Bowman is another junior for the team that could be a contender for the top spot, however, she is also listed at a new weight on this season’s roster. The runner-up at 170 lbs last year, Bowman is now listed at 155 lbs. While this does move her out of the same bracket as Iowa’s Kylie Welker for this season, the 155 lb weight class is no less stacked with talent. The top 3 finishers should be returning again this season, but if Bowman looks as competitive at this weight as she did at 170 lbs, she should be able to compete with anyone.

    Other All Americans returning for King include Jessica Corredor at 101 lbs, Montana DeLawder at 130 lbs, and Tiffani Baublitz at 155 lbs. Also, Melanie Mendoza at 123 lbs was a 2021-22 All-American finishing 6th, and although she did not AA in 2022-23, you certainly cannot count her out of podium contention this season.

    In a similar strategic hire to North Central, King University has brought on Ashlynn Ortega as an assistant coach. Ortega was a 5x All-American and 2022 National Champ for King and should bring some familiar leadership to the coaching staff.

    3. McKendree University (147.5 team points)

    McKendree finished with 3 individual champions and 8 All-Americans. Emily Shilson at 109 lbs is still a question mark as McKendree has not released their roster as of this being posted and it is rumored she may take an Olympic redshirt. However, the Bearcats would not be hurting for talent at 109 lbs even if Shilson is not in this season's lineup with Pauline Granados who finished 8th coming back this season, plus two former All-Americans transferring to McKendree: Olivia Shore and Faith Cole.

    Cameron Guerin looked incredible in the tournament last season and earned her 3rd national title. She is going to be hard to beat as she goes for her fourth this year. In last year’s tournament, she only gave up 1 point.

    The Bearcats final champion from last season, Sydnee Kimber at 191, graduated from McKendree last year after winning her 4th national title. Given her Olympic aspirations, I do not believe she will be returning as a graduate student this season.

    However, McKendree’s recruiting this offseason has been noteworthy. Besides the two wrestlers I mentioned at 109 lbs, the Bearcats also brought in 6 additional former All-Americans across 3 different weights, and a 2023 All-American in Viktorya Torres at 136 lbs. I am curious to see who gets utilized in this lineup and how the increased depth at each weight will help increase team points at next year’s tournament.

    4. Colorado Mesa University (108 points)

    Colorado Mesa tied their best-ever finish with 4th place at the tournament and crowned their first-ever national champ in Marissa Gallegos at 123 lbs. Gallegos finished her collegiate wrestling career in spring of 2023, but has since been hired as an assistant coach for the team, so they will be able to keep her expertise in the room.

    Dalia Garibay was the Mavericks next highest finisher, coming in 2nd at 155 lbs to Marlynne Deede for Augsburg, who has since transferred to Iowa. This was Garibay’s second time with a runner-up finish, so she has proven she has the continued ability to compete with any wrestler in her field. Deede will be back again this season for her 5th year, but Garibay has shown an ability to score against her attacks and keep it close. I think there’s a high chance we see a repeat finals match between these two and it will certainly be one to watch.

    Jennesis Martinez will be back to try for her 4th All-American finish after taking the 4th place spot last year at 101 lbs. Martinez looked solid throughout the tournament until meeting up with Lizette Bernado of McKendree. Martinez is certainly a leader on the team and shouldn’t have a problem making the podium again this season.

    All four remaining All-Americans from last year are returning to the lineup again for Colorado Mesa. The team has a somewhat unique advantage in bringing back so many of their talented wrestlers, not to mention having depth at a few of the weights as well, particularly Isabella Morales at 101 lbs. I think the Mavericks could have an even higher finish next year if 1 or 2 more of their athletes could be All-American given the higher turnover from graduating athletes or transfers that some of the other top teams are contending with. 

    5. Augsburg University (87.5 team points)

    Rounding out the top 5 last season was Augsburg University. While I will discuss returning All-Americans for the team, the real headline for the Auggies this season is new head coach Ali Sprenger. Sprenger is a two-time Olympian and five-time collegiate national champion. Sprenger certainly has several talented wrestlers left on the roster from last season, but the team was also hit hard by transfers, most notably 2023 champion Marlynne Deede going to Iowa. 

    Additionally, the team’s other 2023 champion, Katie Lange, and All-American Brooklyn Hays are both not listed on the roster for the season. It does appear that both are competing internationally, however. All-American Gabrielle Torgerson finished her collegiate career last season. Whether Lange or Hays plan to return to the Auggies lineup for future seasons or not, their absence leaves some big shoes to fill this year for the team.

    Luckily, the team is retaining two-time All-American Nina Makem who finished 5th last year at 136 lbs. Makem was the runner-up in 2022 and seemed to just barely miss out on the win in the semifinals that would have secured her spot in the finals again in 2023. Entering her junior year, she will have some stiff competition with so many returning All-Americans at 136 lbs, but I think she can hold her own and secure some much-needed placement points for her team.

    With just 12 wrestlers listed on the roster, the Auggies may struggle this season to return to the top 5. However, there are plenty of veteran team members that remain, plus Coach Sprenger’s leadership at the helm, so I certainly would not count them out just yet.

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