It has been a busy off-season of international wrestling for several of the nation’s best women’s college wrestlers. From Women’s Nationals, World Team Trials, US Open, Pan Am Games, and Final X, some of the faces you’ve been seeing on wrestling’s biggest stages will be returning soon to college lineups. While this is not a rankings list of wrestlers I think will find the most success in their upcoming 2023-24 season, they are all wrestlers who may be shaking up expectations of what they could accomplish based on their impressive showings at some of these events. In no particular order, here are 10 wrestlers to keep an eye on this domestic season.
Adaugo Nwachukwu - William Penn
Adaugo made a big splash in her first two years in college at Iowa Wesleyan, winning two consecutive NAIA Championships at 136 lbs in 2022 and 2023.
She continued making headlines for her impressive road to Final X the past few months, beating Jennifer Page at the US Open at 62 kg to get there. While she did drop her Final X series to Kayla Miracle, she finished in True 3rd, securing a spot as a National Team Member. This year, she also finished first at the U20 World Team Trials and the U20 Pan Ams, both at 62kg.
This is not the first year Nwachukwu has seen success at international wrestling. In 2022, she won bronze at U20 World’s and placed 3rd at the U.S. Open. It will be interesting to see if she is able to jump up again at U20s given her improvement year over year.
Additionally, if her growth in international wrestling from her 2022 season to 2023 is any indication of how her college season this year will go, it will be hard to keep her from a 3rd consecutive NAIA Championship, this time in a William Penn singlet.
Kylie Welker - Iowa
Kylie Welker should be a regular in the lineup for the Hawkeyes in their first season wrestling as an attached team. Welker was the team’s first commit when she announced in early 2022 she’d be heading to Iowa. While the team wrestled unattached, Welker’s only college competition so far was at the Soldier Salute where she went 3-0 before an injury that ended the rest of her season.
However, once recovered, Welker has had quite an offseason. She was the champ at U20 Pan Ams, and won in dominant fashion throughout the tournament with two techs and a fall. Additionally, she became a Senior National Team Member with wins over Dymond Guilford, Tristan Kelly, and Sydnee Kimber. She came in 3rd at World Team Trials and 5th at the U.S. Open.
At the time of her college announcement, she was considered the No. 1 pound-for-pound recruit with an incredible showing in 2021 finishing 2nd at the US Olympic Trials, 3rd at U23 Worlds, and finishing as the Champ at U20 Worlds. She earned a spot as a 2021 Senior World Team member as well.
While there is plenty of excitement surrounding this year’s team at Iowa and their first year competing, Welker in particular will be one to watch to see how her dynamic style and competitiveness shine against college opponents.
Bella Mir - Iowa
Bella Mir will also be representing the Hawkeyes this upcoming season after seeing success at a few tournaments this past year. She came in 3rd at the Bearcat Open and 2nd at the Soldier Salute, where her only loss came in the finals against Life University’s Latifah McBryde. McBryde was undefeated in college last year until the finals match at the NAIA Championship where she lost in the last five seconds of the match.
Mir was a 4x Nevada State Champ coming out of high school and was able to maintain that high level of competitiveness in off-season wrestling this past summer. She finished 6th at the US Open at 68kg and was the champ at U20 Nationals. In her run at U20s, she beat Katie Lange, another wrestler on this list, so she has shown her capabilities competing against experienced high-level wrestlers at her weight. At the Grand Prix of Spain in July she went 4-0 to take the Gold, winning her last three matches by pin. Her finals match saw her make a big comeback, as she earned a pin while down 11-2.
There is a lot of talent at 155 lbs, but Mir is no stranger to intense competition. Outside of wrestling she is 3-0 in her MMA career and is the daughter of former UFC Champion Frank Mir. She has already faced many opponents she could see again throughout the season, so it will be interesting to see if she continues to grow and separate against familiar wrestlers this year.
Sage Mortimer - King University
Sage Mortimer will be starting her Junior year at King University and will be looking to improve on her national tournament success from her first two years competing. In 2022, she finished 3rd at the National College Women’s Wrestling Championships at 109 lbs, and then improved to 2nd place in 2023.
Mortimer saw success in 2022 when she was the champ at U20 Pan Ams. However, she had mixed results in domestic freestyle this year, coming in 4th at 50kg at the US Open, but unfortunately being disqualified from U23 Nationals in her first match against Emily Shilson for what the officials ruled as brutality in a controversial call.
Without a full picture of how she could have done at U23s it is a little harder to predict how it may factor into her success this season, but she did improve her record to 30-3, with 24 bonus point wins in her past college season, so her momentum is headed towards an even more successful season. Additionally, Shilson may not be returning to college this year, which may open the path to success for Mortimer even more. Fans should pay close attention to her as she attempts to finally get to the top of the podium at the end of this season.
Katie Lange - Augsburg
Katie Lange returns as a junior for Augsburg as the reigning National Champ at 143 lbs. After an injury in the 2022 season after regionals, Lange was able to battle back, get healthy and take it all the way. She defeated Ashlynn Ortega, the returning champ in an exciting, down-to-the-wire match. Ortega will also return this season to wrestle for King University, and presumably will have a rematch with Lange on her agenda.
However, Lange’s momentum hasn’t stopped in the offseason. She took 4th place at the 2023 World Team Trials, 3rd at this year’s US Open, 4th at U20 Nationals, and won U23 Nationals at 68kg.
Lange will return to the 143lb weight class with a title to defend, but several more dominant wins under her belt during this off-season.
Alexis Janiak - Aurora
Alexis Janiak came into her freshman year at Aurora ready to make her mark, going 24-4 overall and finishing as the runner-up at the 2023 NCCWC at 130 lbs.
She has also seen international success coming in second in 2021 at the Cadet Pan Ams while she was still in high school. In 2023, she won Bronze at the Grand Prix of Spain and was the Champion at U20 Nationals. Her win in the finals at U20 Nationals was an impressive showing where she swept Savidge, also on this list, in the best of three finals, stamping her victory with a pin in their second match.
It feels like Janiak has potential to take this off-season momentum and make another run to the podium, with plenty of additional bonus-point wins on the way.
Sarah Savidge - Life University
Sarah Savidge is heading into her sophomore season at Life University after nearly going all the way at last year’s NAIA National Championships. She had won all other matches in the tournament by pin or tech, before dropping her final match 6-3 to Lexie Basham of Texas Wesleyan.
Rolling into spring and summer international competition, Savidge brought home the Gold at U20 Pan Ams and Junior Pan Ams. She came in 5th at the US Open, and finished in 2nd at U20s, losing to Alexis Janiak. While Janiak and Savidge have potential to go back-and-forth on the international stage, Savidge seems to have the answer for a lot of her collegiate opponents. Look for her to take it all the way this season while continuing to make an impact on the 59kg division.
Mia Palumbo - William Penn
Mia Palumbo is another wrestler who, along with teammate Adaugo Nwachukwu, followed her coaches from Iowa Wesleyan to William Penn after the former announced it was closing. Prior to that announcement, Palumbo had made it to the finals of the NAIA championships two years in a row for 2022 and 2023. Unfortunately, both times she's come to face Peyton Prussin, 3x National Champion from Life University.
On the international scene, Palumbo has had a strong showing this off-season. She came in first place at U20 Pan Ams and came in 4th at the U20 Nationals, losing in the 3rd place match to Sage Mortimer.
With Prussin presumably done with her college wrestling career, Palumbo has a chance to become the new number one.
Maddie Kubicki - Presbyterian
Maddie Kubicki will be a true freshman this upcoming season at Presbyterian, but given her high school and international track record, she’ll be one to watch. In high school, Kubicki was a four-time Missouri State champ and the Missouri Female Athlete of the Year.
While she did come in second at the 2021 U17 Nationals, most of her success has come this past spring and summer. In 2023, she placed 3rd at U23 Nationals, and 3rd at the Grand Prix of Spain. Kubicki really made her mark as the Champ at U20 Nationals, winning by all pins and tech falls before a decision win in the finals.
While there can be some transition heading into college from high school, Kubicki’s freestyle success could be an indication of her readiness and ability to be a real threat to her weight class this season.
Cristelle Rodriguez - Doane
Cristelle Rodriguez capped off her freshman season at Doane with a 3rd place finish at the NAIA tournament in 2023. Rodriguez was the fourth seed at the tournament and did not give up a single point until her loss to eventual champ Lexie Basham in the semifinals.
Rodriguez had a notable 2nd place finish at Cadet Worlds in 2019. In 2023, she went on to win U20 Nationals at 57kg. Rodriguez showed both dominant wins and the ability to string together the necessary points in close matches, and it seems she has a lot of different tools in her arsenal. Be looking for her to improve on her 3rd place NAIA finish this year along with a highly competitive regular season of matches as well.
In addition to the wrestlers above, I wanted to mention three additional wrestlers with the potential to really change the landscape in upcoming college wrestling seasons depending on how they choose to continue their wrestling careers.
Emily Shilson - McKendree
Emily Shilson was an incredibly decorated wrestler coming out of high school. She was a six-time Minnesota State Girls wrestling champion and a three-time qualifier for Minnesota AAA boys state championships. Before college, she was a 2017 Cadet World Silver medalist and in 2018 she was a Cadet World Champion.
She originally competed in college for Augsburg and was a 4x National Champ. After winning in 2022, she did not compete during the beginning of the 2022-23 season and announced in January of this year she would be transferring to McKendree. She then won her 5th National Title later in March, still going undefeated in her college career.
In 2021, Shilson was the U23 World Champ as well as the Junior World Champ. In 2022 she finished 3rd at the U23 Trials. And this year, Shilson took first place at U23s over Sage Mortimer.
Despite her impressive and lengthy collegiate career, Shilson still has one year left of eligibility. She said after her National Championship win that she wasn’t sure yet if she would return to wrestle another year in college. If she does, she will be looking to remain undefeated and claim a 6th National Championship to match her six high school state championships.
Audrey Jimenez has made headlines for her accomplishments so far despite only being 18 years old. Jimenez still has one more year to compete in high school and is not only a three-time State Champ, but also the #1 pound-for-pound recruit in her class.
Jimenez’s notable international success began in 2021 when she walked away from U17 Worlds with a bronze medal. In 2022, she was both a U17 World Team member and a U20 World Silver Medalist. Just this past summer, Jimenez was the U20 World Team Trials Champion at 50kg and the US Open Champion at 50kg, securing her spot at Final X. While she did lose at Final X to Olympic and World Medalist Sarah Hildebrandt, she is clearly going to continue to be a factor at this weight class both domestically and internationally. She most recently placed third at the Grand Prix of Spain. Wrestling fans will surely continue to keep an eye on Jimenez to see if she chooses to compete at the collegiate level, or instead follow in the footsteps of other prominent wrestlers like the Blades sisters or Amit Elor and focus on a club team and international wrestling.
Katie Gomez and Audrey Jimenez have found themselves at the same international tournaments and earning spots on the same world teams throughout their careers. Gomez was the 2021 U17 World Champion at 53kg, and then the U20 World bronze medalist in 2022. This year, Gomez won the US Open at 53kg, also earning her a spot to compete at Final X. While Gomez did drop her matchup against World Champion Dominique Parrish, she went on to compete and win the Grand Prix of Spain, even beating Senior World Team Member Alisha Howk along the way.
Gomez has discussed wanting to compete in college, but has not made any indication of where or when she may go. She is currently focused on club wrestling to prepare for international competitions.