Macey Kilty at the 2020 Olympic Trials (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The U20 Division did not disappoint on day one of USA Wrestling's Women's Nationals in Fort Worth, Texas on Friday. The finals and medal matches are set at all 10 weights and will kick off this morning. We can then turn our sights on the U23 division, set to kick off at 2:30 this afternoon. Plenty of our U20 place finishers intend to test themselves against the upper-level college juggernauts - many of them are scheduled to wrestle in the U20 medal matches this morning - and a number of the same faces will likely end up at, or near, the top of the podium. Let's take a weight-by-weight look at the top competitors in the U23 division.
High School stars Nyla Valencia and Alex Szkotnicki will wrestle for 3rd and 7th, respectively, in the U20 division on Saturday morning before testing their luck in the U23 division at 50 kilos. The top college stars include 2021 U23 World Champion Emily Shilson, a 3x NCWWC champion for Augsburg, Nina Pham, a 2x NAIA Champ for Wayland Baptist, and Sage Mortimer, a freshman All-American for King University this season who will wrestle in the U20 finals on Saturday morning.
Favorites: Shilson and Pham
Dark Horse: Nyla Valencia
Estrella Dorado Marin of WCAP will wrestle in the U20 finals before trying her luck with the U23s. She will have plenty of college talent standing in her way of making back-to-back finals. Felicity Taylor of McKendree is a 3x NCWWC finalist and won the title in 2021. She was also the champion at the US Open last weekend in an unseeded run to the title that included a tech fall over Alyssa Lampe in the finals. Kaitlyn Pizzo, a multiple-time All-American for perennial NAIA power Campbellsville, is also entered at this weight.
Dark Horse: Estrella Dorado Marin
55 kilos offers plenty of high-level talent vying for the title. Adriana Dorado Marin won the US Open at 57kg last weekend and will wrestle in the U20 finals on Saturday morning. Marissa Gallegos of Titan Mercury Wrestling Club was 3rd at the Senior World Team Trials last fall and 4th at last weekend's US Open. The 3x NCWWC All-American for Colorado Mesa is always one of the most dangerous competitors in any bracket she enters. Alisha Howk of Sunkist Kids was 5th at the Open and King's Melanie Mendoza is a 2x NCWWC All-American.
Favorites: Dorado Marin and Gallegos
Dark Horse: Howk
Alex Hedrick, a 2x NCWWC Champion for Simon Fraser, enters the event as the clear favorite at this weight wrestling for Titan Mercury. She won this event at 55kg in 2021 and represented Team USA at the U23 World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. She was 3rd at the US Open last weekend. High School star Sofia Macaluso is ranked #1 in the country at 122 pounds and will wrestle in the U20 final on Saturday morning before trying her hand against the older competition in the U23 division. Nichole Moore and Anya Knappenberger are college All-Americans entered at the weight as well.
Dark Horse: Macaluso
An arguable favorite at 59 looks to be Nanea Estrella. The 2022 NAIA runner-up and University of Iowa transfer won the Open last weekend and will wrestle in the U20 finals on Saturday morning. But Lexie Basham of Texas Wesleyan beat her in that NAIA final just a couple months ago and looks to play spoiler in her home state this weekend. Claire DiCugno will also wrestle in the U20 finals on Saturday morning and was an NCWWC All-American for Colorado Mesa this season who plans to make a run in the U23 division. Niya Gaines of North Central is entered here and defeated DiCugno in the NCWWC semis, and WCAP's Brenda Reyna was an NCWWC Champion for McKendree in 2021.
Favorites: Basham and Estrella
Dark Horse: Brenda Reyna
Macey Kilty made an impressive run to the Olympic Trials finals in 2021 before a tragic injury in the final match of the best 2 of 3 finals against Kayla Miracle. She enters the 62kg bracket in the U23 division as a heavy favorite. Zoe Nowicki of Adrian College was the NCWWC Champion this year, winning her second of two collegiate national titles. Alex Liles was 8th at the US Open and is always dangerous in any bracket she enters.
Dark Horse: Nowicki
World Silver medalist Skylar Hattendorf will wrestle in the U20 finals at 62 on Saturday morning before competing in the U23 division at 65. Maya Letona, third at the US Open, will wrestle for third in the U20 division at 65 and then try her hand against the U23s. The college veteran here is King's Ashlynn Ortega who won an NCWWC title this past season after winning a U23 World Team spot in 2021. Dalia Garibay is a 2x All-American for Colorado Mesa and was 4th at the US Open last weekend at 68kg. Elleni Johnson and Kendall Bostelman are top-ranked High Schoolers who will test their luck in the U23 division here.
Dark Horse: Dalia Garibay
Tiyanna Askew of Missouri Baptist was 2nd at this event last year and has been a college All-American in the NAIA. Kaylynn Albrecht was the NAIA runner-up for Baker this year and Ana Luciano is a multiple-time All-American for King in the NCWWC.
Favorites: Askew and Luciano
Dark Horse: Albrecht
Amit Elor will wrestle in the U20 finals on Saturday morning before competing in the U23 division. She entered this tournament as the heavy favorite in both divisions after winning World Championships in both in 2021. Marylynne Deede is a 2x NCWWC All-American for Augsburg and was 2nd at the US Open last weekend. Kenya Sloan was the NAIA Champion for Campbellsville and Malea Palahniuk is a 2x NCWWC All-American for North Central. Keep an eye on Latifah McBryde who will wrestle in the U20 finals on Saturday morning. She made deep runs at this event in the U17 and U20 divisions last year as well.
Dark Horse: Latifah McBryde
2x NCWWC Champion Yelena Makoyed of North Central was 3rd at the US Open last weekend and enters as the favorite here in the U23 division. She is a 3x college All-American and was second in this bracket to Kylie Welker in 2021, taking a match in the best of three series. Joye Levendusky of McKendree is a multiple-time college All-American, as well, who has finished as the NCWWC runner-up to Makoyed each of the last two seasons. Tristan Kelly was 3rd at the NCWWC tournament in 2021 and 5th at the US Open last weekend. The High School star to keep an eye on here is Brooklyn Hays who will wrestle for 3rd in the U20 division on Saturday morning. Ashley Lekas is a notable contender here who has pushed Makoyed in their matches in the past. Lekas was 8th at the US Open last weekend.
Dark Horse: Ashley Lekas