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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    Women's Collegiate Wrestlers at the Olympic Trials

    The 2024 Olympic Trials concluded over the weekend with the women’s freestyle team winners being:

    50 kg: Sarah Hildebrandt

    53 kg: Dominique Parrish

    57 kg: Helen Maroulis 

    62 kg: Kayla Miracle

    68 kg: Amit Elor

    76 kg: Kennedy Blades

    While many of these athletes who made the team are alumni of some of the best college wrestling programs, including Sarah Hildebrant from King, Dom Parrish, and Helen Maroulis from Simon Fraser, and Kayla Miracle from Campbellsville, I also wanted to discuss some current and future college wrestlers and how they fared at this stacked tournament.

    50KG

    The story of this weight was rising star Audrey Jimenez, who at the age of 18, made her way to the Olympic Trials finals to take on Sarah Hildebrant. Jimenez, who is committed to wrestle at Lehigh, teched her first two opponents, Nyla Valencia of Iowa who was the runner-up at U20 Nationals this year, and multiple-time U.S. National Team member Erin Golston.

    In the finals of the challenge bracket, Jimenez took on Sage Mortimer, the Grand Valley State wrestler who was the 2023 US Women's Senior Nationals Champ at 50KG. Mortimer turned up the heat, scoring four points early, which Jimenez responded to with six points of her own. Jimenez struck first in the second as well, and while Mortimer was able to put together two more points late in the period, it was not enough to come back, sending Jimenez to face Hildebrant with the 10-6 win.

    King’s Samara Chavez also had an impressive tournament, finishing in fourth at the weight after dropping a tough match in the semis to Mortimer and wrestling back to face Golston in the consolation finals. On her path, she took out 3x All-American Kendra Ryan (North Central) and 2024 NCWWC Champ at 101lbs, and 2024 U20 Nationals Champ Emilie Gonzalez (Iowa).

    53KG

    Felicity Taylor, coming off an electric NCWWC Championship, snagged a third-place finish at this year’s Trials. After dropping her first match to Haley Augello, who made the Olympic team in 2016, Taylor claimed another win against teammate Brianna Gonzalez on the backside to make the quarters. Gonzalez and Taylor faced off earlier this year in the NCWWC championship finals. From there, Taylor took on and teched former Augsburg/King wrestler Vayle Baker. Her final match was against Alisha Howk, U23 World Team member in 2023 and former Junior Pan Am champion. After taking a minute to warm up, Taylor scored late in the first and then piled on in the second, winning 5-1 to claim a top-three finish.

    Before dropping her match to Taylor, fellow Hawkeye Brianna Gonzalez solidified another win over North Central’s Sydney Petzinger in a rematch from their NCWWC semifinal match. In that match, Gonzalez won 10-1, and here Petzinger narrowed the gap a bit, but still lost 8-0. Both of these wrestlers are top college stars, swapping #2 and #3 rankings throughout the season.

    57KG

    It felt like 57KG had some of the most college talent within the bracket. You had 4x NCWWC Champion Cam Guerin of McKendree, her teammate Shelby Moore who had a 4th Place finish, Cristelle Rodriguez of Doane coming off her NAIA Championship finish at 123 pounds, NCWWC National Champ Claire DiCugno of King, NAIA National Champ Carolina Moreno of Southern Oregon, and then two of North Central’s top talents Amani Jones and Lexi Janiak who were both coming off of age-division championships at Women’s Nationals the week prior.

    Unfortunately, Carolina Moreno was injured in her first match against Amani Jones and could not continue in the tournament. Moreno was then bested in her next match by Abigail Nette.

    Cam Guerin and teammate Shelby Moore had a first-round matchup with Guerin getting the win. Guerin then had to face off against a super dynamic Xochitl Mota-Pettis and dropped that match by a 12-2 tech fall in the first period.

    The wrestler that caught my attention the most, however, was Doane’s Cristelle Rodriguez. Rodriguez, NAIA Champion, started her day by taking out a very talented Lexi Janiak. In her next match, Nette took out Rodriguez after taking a 7-2 lead in the first period with a flurry of offense. Even with three points late in the second, it was not enough for Rodriguez to battle back, and she was sent to consolations after losing 9-5. 

    In the semis on the backside, Rodriquez went up against Guerin and looked fairly dominant before putting a stamp on the victory with a second-period pin. In the third-place match, Rodriguez was once again up against Nette, and while she was able to keep it closer in this match, scoring a great takedown late in the first, Nette still had the upper hand and won 5-2. However, Rodriguez looked great in her journey to 4th place here and last weekend when she pinned her way to a U20 Championship at 55kg. Her performances this month serve as another testament to the talent held on NAIA Collegiate Teams in women’s wrestling. 

    62KG

    At such a stacked weight as far as international wrestling talent, it was difficult for even top college talent to shake things up too much at 62 kg. However, 2024 National Champions Claire DiCungo of King and Adaugo Nwachukwu of William Penn both had impressive showings.

    DiCugno dropped her first match to former World medalist Mallory Velte, but really cleaned up in the consolation bracket. DiCugno got a 6-1 decision over former college national champ from Augsburg Katie Lange, leading her to a suspected rematch against Velte who actually forfeited from the tournament at this point. In the consolation finals, DiCungo faced Nwachukwu and was able to score some points in the second period, but a series of big moves from Nwachukwu put it too far out of reach. However, DiCungo’s fourth-place finish was impressive nonetheless.

    Nwachukwu was definitely one people were keeping an eye on even with the absolute hammers already slated to compete in this weight class. She came out with a big tech fall win over Lauren Louive, followed by a win of her own over Lange. However, in her next match over World silver medalist Macey Kilty, it just wasn't in the cards. Nwachukwu had to wrestle back again for second here and a highly anticipated rematch with Jen Page seemed inevitable. Nwachukwu defeated Page at the US Open finals at 62kg last year. However, Page forfeited this match as well to take the third-place finish instead. Nwachukwu continues to be a top force not just in college, but on the international circuit as well.

    68KG

    Early on at this weight, we saw an NCWWC rematch between Aine Drury of King and North Central’s Alara Boyd. Boyd was ranked at the top of their weight class all season and was the top seed when Drury was able to get the decision over her in the semifinals. Here, Drury was able to get the win again, this time 5-1. After that, she faced eventual challenge of tournament winner, Forrest Molinari, a 3x Senior World team member and bronze medalist. She then lost her next match on the backside to Kaylynn Albrecht.

    Another familiar name from the 143 lb college weight class here was 2024 NCWWC Champion Reese Larramendy of Iowa, who beat Drury in the finals to claim that title. On the opposite side of the bracket, she did not meet up with Drury at this tournament, but did have a tough first matchup against the former Augsburg powerhouse Brooklyn Hays, who just became the U23 Nationals champion last weekend. I

    In a super back-and-forth match, Hays got the first takedown for two, but Larramendy had a quick response scoring four of her own with two takedowns. In the second period, Larramendy kept up the offense scoring six more. While Hays also scored six in the second, Larramendy’s early lead was too much for her to catch up with, and the Hawkeye advanced to the semis. There, she dropped a match to National team member and former McKendree Bearcat Alexandria Glaude. On the backside, Larramendy looked dynamite against Albrecht, outsourcing her by a 2:1 margin each period. In the third-place match, though she had a strong day, she had no answers for the stellar offense brought on by Hays. 

    However, as if her opponents were not already on notice for the talent this sophomore put on display last season, a 4th place finish at the Olympic Trials will definitely be in the headlines for what’s to come in her junior year.

    76KG

    While this weight was dominated by veteran wrestlers who have seen the Olympic and World team trials several times, a few college athletes stood out as well as some interesting matchups.

    First, I just wanted to highlight that in the first round, we saw a match between Marlynne Deede of Iowa and Tavia Heidleberg-Tillotson of Menlo. Both were National Champs in college last season with Deede claiming the NCWWC title at 155 lbs and Heidleberg-Tillotson winning her NAIA title at 191lbs. Less than 2 months ago these two wrestlers competed at different weights by almost 40 pounds and met up for this spot at approximately 167 lbs, a relatively big shift for each of them. Deede ended up the winner by technical fall in their match to move on to the next round. There, Deede dropped her match to teammate Kylie Welker with a tech of her own.

    This paved the way for a highly anticipated rematch between Welker and Yelena Makoyed. However, this rematch goes past the two wrestlers’ nail-biting championship match at NCWWCs to decide the team championship as well. Going back, Makoyed bested Welker 11-6 at the US Open, followed by three consecutive wins by Welker at the World Team Trials, National Duals and of course the NCWWC. It appeared as though Makoyed was done with the matches not going her way, however, as she started this one off with a huge four-point move and then another two points for a takedown all in the first. While the second period was all Welker, it wasn’t enough to overcome Makoyed’s lead. After Makoyed dropped the finals match to eventual Olympic team member Kennedy Blades and Welker wrestled back on the back side taking out Sky Grote and Dymond Guilford on the way, the two were slated to wrestle again for true second, but Makoyed ended up winning by no contest. While the two will probably not match up again in a collegiate setting, with Makoyed wrestling her senior season as a Cardinal last year, fans can hopefully see this amazing rivalry play out a few more times in international competition like this for years to come.

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