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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    2023 Final X: Women's Freestyle Preview and Predictions

    It’s almost here! We’re only a few days away from the best domestic event of the year during the freestyle and Greco-Roman season, Final X. For the first time since it was established in 2018, will all three styles be held at the same location on one day. Saturday’s winners will go on to Belgrade, Serbia in September to represent the United States at the 2023 World Championships.

    We’ll move along in our three previews by looking at the Senior women’s freestyle matchups. The 2022 team was able to bring home seven medals, during an excellent showing at World’s. However the 2023 team shakes out, we should have the opportunity to match that number. This world team has the potential to be a very veteran-laded group. There’s only one weight class (59 kg) that features a matchup with two wrestlers that have never competed at Senior World’s.

    Before we get ahead of ourselves and look at Belgrade, we have a preview of the action in the ten weight classes, with information about each wrestler and their previous head-to-head matchups, if any.

    50 kg - Sarah Hildebrandt vs. Audrey Jimenez

    What a contrast we have here at 50 kg with Sarah Hildebrandt, one of the staples of the women’s national team and Audrey Jimenez the young star. Hildebrandt made her first world team in 2016 and suffered a gruesome injury during the 2017 Trials, but since then, she’s been a part of every World/Olympic Team. During that stretch, Hildebrandt has medaled four of five times, highlighted by an Olympic bronze and two trips to the world finals. Her bronze medal at the 2022 World Championships afforded her the opportunity to wait in Final X.

    A year ago, Jimenez was competing in the World Championships at the U17 and U20 levels. Interestingly enough, she missed out on a medal at U17’s, but made the world finals at U20’s. Don’t expect the moment to be too big for Jimenez, as she faced a pair of seasoned vets in the semis and finals of the US Open and never blinked. Just to get a shot at the finals, she teched and nearly pinned national team member Erin Golston. In the finals, Jimenez appeared to be on the brink of getting teched (8-0), but stayed in the match and came all the way back to down Alyssa Lampe, Hildebrandt’s 2022 Final X opponent.

    This will be the first meeting between these two. It will be a nice mix between Hildebrandt’s experience, polish and poise, compared to Jimenez’s fearlessness and scrappy style.

    Pick: Sarah Hildebrandt

    53 kg - Dom Parrish vs. Katie Gomez

    Like 50 kg, this is another weight where the young talent shined at the Open and Katie Gomez booked a spot opposite 2022 world champion Dom Parrish. In each of the last two years, Gomez has represented the United States at age group World Championships and came home with hardware. Gomez was a U17 world champion in 2021 and U20 bronze medalist a year later. She came into the US Open as the third seed and ended up winning the title going away. After a pair of tech falls, Gomez downed 2022 Final X participant Felicity Taylor. For the spot in Final X, Gomez downed another upstart, Samara Chavez, 12-2. After an early Chavez score, Gomez reeled off 12 consecutive points for the win.

    Parrish broke through and made her first world team last year after making Final X and falling to Jacarra Winchester in 2019. That wasn’t enough, though. Parrish came away with a gold medal from Belgrade at 53 kg. She was largely in control for the entire tournament outsourcing her competition by a 27-3 margin across four matches.

    2023 hasn’t gone quite as smoothly for Parrish who was fifth at the Pan-American Championships, 11th at the Rankings Series event in Egypt and 22nd at the Zagreb Open Ranking Series tournament. Gomez was 15th in Zagreb though the two did not meet. Their clash on Saturday will be the first meeting between the pair.

    Pick: Dom Parrish

    55 kg - Alisha Howk vs. Jacarra Winchester

    Jacarra Winchester was the world team representative at this weight in 2022, but she came up a match shy of earning a medal, so she needed to qualify for Final X through either the US Open or the World Team Trials. The 2019 world champion, Winchester, is seeking to make her fourth world team appearance.

    Winchester did not compete at the US Open which gave Alisha Howk an opening. Howk took advantage of the opportunity as she won the tournament despite starting as the third seed. In each of her final three bouts, Howk was put to the test and prevailed in tight matches. In all three contests, Howk got the win despite surrendering the first score. She earned the Open title with an 8-3 victory over the tournament’s top seed, Lauren Mason.

    With Howk earning the first berth in Final X, Winchester was forced to win the World Team Trials. In her first WTT bout, Winchester was pushed by Amanda Martinez and trailed 4-2 after a period. Winchester didn’t panic and ended the bout in the second period via fall. In the finals, Winchester blew through Areana Villaescusa, 11-0.

    Winchester’s only other competition in 2023 saw her win the Ibrahim Moustafa Ranking Series event. Howk was the American representative at the Pan-American Championships for the first time at the Senior level and took silver. She also was ninth at the Zagreb Open earlier this year. Winchester has been undefeated against Howk with three straight techs. Her most recent win (11-0) came at the 2022 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament.

    Pick: Jacarra Winchester

    57 kg - Helen Maroulis vs. Xochitl Mota-Pettis

    This series has been delayed due to a medical issue on Helen Maroulis’ part. We’ll have more information once it has been rescheduled.

    59 kg - Michaela Beck vs. Jennifer Page

    This weight was up for grabs at the US Open after 2022 world team rep Abby Nette failed to medal. Once again, it was the third seed who ended up winning the tournament. That was Michaela Beck, a past member of the U20 and U23 World Teams. Beck ensured there would be a changing of the guard by edging Nette, 4-4 in the semifinals. For the title, Beck used a third-period surge to push her past a second former world team member, Maya Nelson, to the tune of 5-3.

    One of the wrinkles of this year’s qualification format is that only certain weights would be contested at the World Team Trials. That allowed wrestlers who lost at the Open to move up or down in weight to challenge in a bracket that took place at the WTT’s.

    Jennifer Page was one of the wrestlers who took advantage of this format. She dropped a heartbreaker to Adaugo Nwachukwu in the Open finals, then dropped in weight to 59 kg. Page nearly made the 2022 World Team as she pushed Kayla Miracle to three matches in their delayed wrestle-off. To make it back to Final X, Page ran through an impressive list of opponents at the WTT’s, past Final X participants Lexie Basham and Alex Hedrick, along with Nelson.

    Beck and Page do not have an extensive history against each other, so you have to go back to Senior Nationals in late 2019 to find their most recent meeting. That time, Page got her hand raised after an 11-0 win.

    Pick: Jennifer Page

    62 kg - Kayla Miracle vs. Adaugo Nwachukwu

    2022 marked the second consecutive year with a world silver medal for Kayla Miracle at 62 kg. That medal allowed Miracle the opportunity to sit in Final X and wait for an opponent to emerge. Some may have expected Miracle’s 2022 Final X opponent, Jennifer Page, to come out from the Open; however, it was collegiate sensation Adaugo Nwachukwu who prevailed. Nwachukwu has won a pair of national titles for Iowa Western, before the school closed down and she followed the coaching staff to William Penn. For more on Nwachukwu, a nominee for USA Wrestling’s inaugural Women’s College Wrestler of the Year Award, check out Morgan Kopitsky’s feature article .

    Miracle has seen international competition in three different events in 2023. She was stunned at the Pan-American Championships and took the bronze, while settling for fifth at the Ibrahim Moustafa and another bronze at the Zagreb Open. Nwachukwu also has international experience, as she captured a bronze medal at the U20 World Championships in 2022.

    These two have met on one previous occasion and Miracle won via tech at the 2022 US Open.

    Pick: Kayla Miracle

    65 kg - Mallory Velte vs. Macey Kilty

    After a four-year absence, Mallory Velte returned to the world team in 2022. Not only did she compete at the world level for the first time since 2018, but Velte also grabbed her second world bronze medal, a feat she also achieved in 2018. This year, Velte has been very solid with a Pan-American championship and a silver medal at the Zagreb Open Ranking Series event. During her career in Final X, Velte has engaged in two series’ that went the full three matches and won both (against Kayla Miracle and Forrest Molinari). She’ll be well-equipped for another battle like those.

    Velte will have to contend with Macey Kilty, a five-time age-group world medalist at three different levels. Kilty looks ready to make her mark at the Senior level. She was a match away from an Olympic berth in 2020(1) and in the finals of the 2022 World Team Trials and had to injury default in both instances. Kilty had an impressive showing at the US Open with three techs in four matches. In the finals, she grabbed a pair of takedowns to get by Emma Bruntil, 5-1. For the tournament, Kilty outscored her competition 36-1.

    Despite Velte’s Senior-level success, she’s 0-2 career against Kilty. Both wins for Kilty came during the 2021 calendar year, a tech at the Captain’s Cup and a 4-2 win at the Olympic Trials.

    Pick: Macey Kilty

    68 kg - Forrest Molinari vs. Emma Bruntil

    Initially, we expected Tamyra Mensah-Stock to be sitting in Final X based off of her bronze medal at the 2022 World Championships. Mensah-Stock declined her invitation to Final X and later revealed she has signed with the WWE. With her not competing, the Open winner grabbed the first slot in Final X.

    As we saw at 59 kg, this was another weight where a competitor fell at the US Open, then changed weights and won at the World Team Trials. This time it was Emma Bruntil, who lost to Kilty at 65 kg, then jumped up to 68 kg. Bruntil crushed the field in Colorado Springs with three tech falls in three matches. The final one came over top-seeded Alex Glaude and Bruntil only needed 93 seconds to rack up 12 points on the past Final X participant. Bruntil is seeking to make her first Senior world team. She’s been a part of the last two U23 World Teams, but has not medaled.

    Forrest Molinari made three world teams in a row at 65 kg (from 2018-21) and broke through with a bronze medal in her last appearance. She was prevented from making the team last year after losing to Mallory Velte in three matches at Final X Stillwater. Molinari put herself two wins away from the 2023 team after a dominant US Open showing. In four matches in Vegas, Molinari tallied two falls and two techs. She also defeated Glaude to punch her ticket to Newark. The two had a tactical match for a period, but Molinari opened it up in the second and got the fall while leading 8-0.

    These two have quite the history against each other dating back to 2018. In their most high-profile meeting, Molinari downed Bruntil 4-3 and 9-0 in the 2021 World Team Trials. Bruntil does own a win over Molinari, which came at the 2022 Yarygin.

    Pick: Forrest Molinari

    72 kg - Amit Elor vs. Joye Levendusky

    2022 was quite the year for Amit Elor. Elor rewrote the American record books with world titles at three different age groups (Senior, U23, and U20). Elor became the youngest American (18) to win a Senior title and the first American to win all three age groups in the same year. She is only the second wrestler in the world to accomplish this feat. Not only did Elor win at a young age, but she’s also been utterly dominant. In her 11 world championship matches in 2022, Elor only had one that went the distance. In her only competition of 2023, Elor grabbed gold at the Pan-American Championships.

    Playing the underdog role will be Joye Levendusky. During her collegiate career, Levendusky was a three-time national finalist (2x NCWWC; 1x NAIA) for McKendree and Southern Oregon. Earlier this year, she also made the finals at the U23 Trials. Levendusky earned her place in Final X with an excellent showing at the Open. In the semifinals, she pinned one of the veterans at the weight, Nahiela Magee. Levendusky’s title-winning match saw her tech Rose Cassioppi.

    This will be the first meeting at the Senior level between these two women.

    Pick: Amit Elor

    76 kg - Kennedy Blades vs. Adeline Gray

    We’re saving the best for last! Or at least I hope the matches are structured in a manner to highlight this huge series. We have one of the all-time greats of USA Wrestling against one of its future (and current superstars).

    Kennedy Blades and Adeline Gray met in a much-anticipated US Open final that was dominated by 12-2. Apparently, Gray had only been cleared to return to the mat a few weeks before the Open. She was getting back into training after giving birth to twins. Gray was back in action at the World Team Trials and looked closer to her normal self with a fall and two techs against a loaded field. In the semis, she defeated U20 world champion Kylie Welker, while her title-winning tech was at the expense of 2022 World Team member Dymond Guilford.

    Blades was a U20 World Champion in 2021, a few months after losing to Tamyra Mensah-Stock in the Olympic Trials finals. At the Open, Blades started with a pair of techs before pinning 2022 Final X participant Yelena Makoyed during a wild, high-scoring match. So far, Blades has appeared in two international tournaments this year, winning the Ibrahim Moustafa Ranking Series event and taking fifth at the Henri DeGlane.

    The tech fall at the US Open is the only prior meeting between these two. The question is how much better is Gray since the World Team Trials (and Open). Will it be enough to close the gap between the two?

    Pick: Kennedy Blades

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