Teenager Pico reaches finals of Olympic Team Trials

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Two and half years ago Aaron Pico announced that he would be forgoing his high school and college wrestling career to pursue his Olympic dream.

Aaron Pico in the corner during his semifinal match against Reece Humphrey (Photo/John Sachs,
On Saturday, Pico moved one step closer to that dream by earning a spot in the finals of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City.

The nineteen-year-old Pico reached the finals at 65 kilos by dominating three-time World Team member Reece Humphrey 12-1. The two met in December in Las Vegas, and Humphrey won that match 10-0. This time it was all Pico.

He used two takedowns and two step outs to go up 6-1 after the opening period. Pico then finished the match in the second period with three more takedowns.

"I didn't know when I was going to be able to wrestle him again," Pico said. "Reece is a great guy. That just didn't sit well with me, the last nationals."

Earlier in the day Pico was pushed hard, first by Jayson Ness and then Jordan Oliver. Against Ness, Pico found himself down 9-0 -- on the verge of losing by technical fall -- but battled back to earn a 20-9 technical fall. He then edged Jordan Oliver 11-9 in a back-and-fourth semifinal match.

"It feels good to be at the top, especially at one of the toughest weights in the world," said Pico.

Pico will now meet Frank Molinaro, who had an impressive run to the finals, beating three multiple-time NCAA champions, Kellen Russell, Brent Metcalf and Logan Stieber. Against the top-seeded Metcalf, Molinaro fell behind 2-0, but came back to win 3-3 on criteria. Molinaro then beat Stieber on criteria 5-5 on the strength of a four-point move in the second period.

In the only other men's freestyle weight class contested on Saturday, 125 kilos, Tervel Dlagnev and Zack Rey came through the challenge tournament and will meet tonight.

Dlagenv, a 2012 Olympian and two-time World bronze medalist, opened with a 10-0 technical fall victory over Connor Medbery, and then handled past Junior World champion Dom Bradley 5-1 in the semifinals.

Rey, who competed in last year's World Championships, was down 2-0 to Nick Gwiazdowski after the opening period, but battled back for the 4-2 victory.

In Greco-Roman, the opening session saw two No. 1 seeds, Bryce Saddoris (66 kilos) and Jordan Holm (85 kilos), fall. Two Olympians, Spenser Mango (57 kilos) and Ellis Coleman (66 kilos), also failed to reach the finals.

Saddoris, a two-time returning World Team member, lost on criteria (4-4) in the quarterfinals to Michael Hooker. Hooker's run in the championship bracket ended in the semifinals, though, as he was blanked 4-0 by Pat Smith. Smith will face RaVaughan Perkins in the finals. Perkins, who won the U.S. Open and World Team Trials in 2014, edged 2012 Olympian Coleman 3-2 in the semifinals.

Jake Clark executes a throw in the opening session of the Olympic Team Trials (Photo/John Sachs,
Two-time World Team member Jake Clark punched his ticket to the finals with two dominating victories. The 36-year-old Clark opened with a quick technical fall victory over Hayden Zillmer in the quarterfinals, and then claimed an 11-3 technical fall victory in the semifinals over Jon Anderson. Clark broke the match open early against Anderson with a four-point front headlock roll through to go up 5-1, He extended his lead to 9-3 with another four-point move, and then scored two to put the match away. Clark will face 2012 Olympian Ben Provisor in the finals in a rematch from the Senior Nationals/Trials Qualifier finals in December. Provisor took out top-seeded Jordan Holm 3-0 in the semifinals. Holm was a World Team member in each of the past three seasons.

At 57 kilos, top-seeded Ildar Hafizov, a 2008 Olympian for Uzbekistan, advanced to the finals. He opened with a 5-0 shutout victory over Max Nowry in the quarterfinals, and then a 4-2 victory over Ryan Mango in the semifinals. Ryan Mango took an early 2-0 lead, but Hafizov battled back and took a 3-2 lead into the second period. Hafizov broke the match open in the second period with a four-point thrown to go up 8-2. Mango would add two points late, but Hafizov held on for the two-point win.

On the bottom side of the bracket at 57 kilos in Greco-Roman, 23-year-old Jesse Thielke, a 2013 World Team member, took out two-time Olympian and six-time World Team member Spenser Mango to reach the finals. Thielke used a four-point throw and turn to go up 6-0 after the opening period. He finished the match in the second period with a takedown to earn the 8-0 technical fall. Mango left his shoes on the mat, signaling his retirement from wrestling, as the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

At 98 kilos in Greco-Roman, the top two seeds, Joe Rau and Caylor Williams, were unchallenged and unscored upon in the opening session. The two will now meet in the finals. Rau opened with a 9-0 technical fall over Jarod Trice before beating Orry Elor 6-0 in the semifinals. Williams had a pair of technical falls to reach the finals, first over Daniel Miller and then over G Angelo Hancock.

In women's freestyle, all three No. 1 seeds competing on Saturday advanced to tonight's finals.

At 58 kilos, top-seeded Alli Ragan was pushed hard in the semifinals by Kayla Miracle, but prevailed 6-4. On the bottom side of the bracket, 2012 Olympian Kelsey Campbell edged Cadet World champion Teshya Alo 6-4, reversing a result from the U.S. Open finals.

Four-time World medalist Elena Pirozhkova is looking to get back on the Olympic team. She outscored her three opponents 26-1 to reach the finals at 63 kilos. Her finals opponent tonight will be returning World Team member Erin Clodgo, who advanced to the finals by defeating Amanda Hendey 6-2.

At 69 kilos, top-seeded Tamyra Mensah was impressive in the semifinals, beating Julia Salata 11-1. Salata had notched a win over past World champion Iris Smith in the quarterfinals. She will face Brittney Roberts, who edged Randi Miller in the semifinals.

Tonight's finals matches begin at 6 p.m. CT. All finals matches are best-of-three.

Finals Matchups

Men's freestyle:
65 kilos: Frank Molinaro vs. Aaron Pico
125 kilos: Zack Rey vs. Tervel Dlagnev

59 kilos: Ildar Hafizov vs. Jessie Thielke
66 kilos: Pat Smith vs. RaVaughan Perkins
85 kilos: Ben Provisor vs. Jake Clark
98 kilos: Josef Rau vs. Caylor Williams

Women's freestyle:
58 kilos: Alli Ragan vs. Kelsey Campbell
63 kilos: Erin Clodgo vs. Elena Pirozkhova
69 kilos: Tamyra Mensah vs. Brittney Roberts


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