Yelena Makoyed at the 2022 World Cup (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
This weekend we'll find out the remaining pieces of the Final X puzzle, as just over half the field has already been established through either 2022 World Championship performance or wins at the 2023 US Open. Those will be determined in Colorado Springs at the 2023 World Team Trials. Ten Greco-Roman weight classes, along with three in men's freestyle and four in women's will be contested.
Today, we're focusing on the women's freestyle weights. Below is a preview of the action and along with finals picks for the four women's weights.
Waiting in Final X: Alisha Howk
As one may expect, this weight class looks very similar to placings at the Open, with one huge addition. 2019 World Champion Jacarra Winchester will be in action, competing for the second spot in Final X. The three-time world team member and 2020 Olympian, Winchester, will assume the top seed. She had signed up for the Open, but didn't end up wrestling. If she's not close to 100% second-seeded Lauren Mason could be among those who pounce. Mason actually held an early lead on Howk during their Open finals. She's also beaten Howk twice in the last two years.
The third seed is Areana Villaescusa who fell to Mason in the Open semis. They could meet in the semi's here, too. While Mason prevailed via fall, Villaescusa was leading with almost :30 remaining in the contest.
Making the cut down from 57 kg is Amanda Martinez, who was third at the Open at that weight. Martinez was the only opponent that pushed the eventual champion Xochitl Mota-Pettis the full six minutes. She fell in a shootout, 12-10. Martinez has the fourth seed and presumably has to deal with Winchester in the semis.
Also changing weight is 2023 NCWWC national champion Jaslynn Gallegos. She won her national title for North Central at 116 lbs.
Rounding out this weight class is 2019 Pan-American Junior silver medalist Gabby Skidmore and Wyoming Seminary high schooler, Belle Foard. The pair met at the Open and Skidmore prevailed 10-0. She'd finish sixth and Foard was seventh.
Finals Prediction: Jacarra Winchester over Areana Villaescusa
Waiting in Final X: Michaela Beck
This weight is absolutely loaded with experienced, talented women. In fact, there are six past Final X participants among the seeded wrestlers. The top seed is 201 Junior World Champion and 2021 Senior World Team member Maya Nelson. In 2021, Nelson was a match away from winning a world medal at the Senior level. A few weeks ago, she was stunned by Michaela Beck in the Open finals.
This weight also has a top contender that dropped down from a higher weight in Jennifer Page. Page qualified for Final X last year and even took a match from Kayla Miracle during their special wrestle-off.
This year, she was shocked by collegiate phenom Adaugo Nwachukwu in the 62 kg Open finals. Page led 8-4 at the break before losing 10-8.
The other prior Final X participants are listed along with their seeds: Abby Nette (4), Alex Hedrick (6), Lexie Basham (7), and Lauren Louive (9).
Nette earned a spot on the 2022 World Team with two consecutive wins over Basham at Final X Stillwater. The two clashed at the Open, in the consolations, with Nette winning an 11-0 match which sent her into the third-place bout. Nette lost there to Brenda Reyna who will be the third seed.
Hedrick was in Final X last year at 57 kg and appeared to be the frontrunner to return; however, she was beaten in the Open finals by Mota-Pettis.
Reyna and Nette's Army WCAP teammate Bridgette Duty is the fifth seed, while SaVannah Cosme is the lone remaining seed at eight.
Finals Prediction: Jennifer Page over Maya Nelson
Waiting in Final X: Forrest Molinari
With 2020 Olympic gold medalist Tamyra Mensah-Stock out of the equation due to signing with the WWE, this weight was unexpectedly sent up for grabs at the US Open. Seizing the opportunity was 2021 World bronze medalist Forrest Molinari. Molinari's finals opponent, Alex Glaude, will be the top seed this weekend. Glaude made things difficult on Molinari for the first period; however, Molinari pulled away in the second. Glaude seemed to separate herself from the rest of the weight class as she did not have a match that made it past the five-minute mark pre-finals.
The third-place finisher at the Open, Katerina Lange, was on the opposite side of the bracket from Glaude so the two didn't cross paths in Vegas. Lange will have her hands full just trying to make the finals, as she'll have to contend with Emma Bruntil in the semis. Bruntil is the three seed. She was an Open runner-up to Macey Kilty at 65 kg and was a finalist at the WTT's in 2022.
Pushing Lange for third place at the Open was Solin Piearcy. Lange's one-point win gives her the second seed and Piearcy the fourth. That sets up a potential rematch with Glaude in the semis.
Also switching weights for a shot at Final X are Ana Luciano, Marilyn Garcia, and Kaylynn Albrecht. Luciano was fifth at the Open at 65 kg, while Garcia and Albrecht placed at 72 kg. The new faces at this weight class should make for some new, interesting matches.
Finals Prediction: Alex Glaude over Emma Bruntil
Waiting in Final X: Kennedy Blades
The depth at 76 kg for the United States is an embarrassment of riches! There's a case to be made that we have the TOP four or five women in the world wrestling for the US. We've known that Kennedy Blades is the future for a few years now, she showed in Vegas that the future is now and is only two matches away from her first Senior World team. Who will oppose her?
All-time great Adeline Gray made her return to the mat at the Open. Just a few weeks before, Gray was cleared to resume practicing for the first time after the birth of her twins. With a couple more weeks of training under her belt before the Trials, I'd expect an even better version of Gray in Colorado Springs.
To get a rematch with Blades, Gray will have to prevail from a field that includes 2022 Final X participants Dymond Guilford and Yelena Makoyed, U20 world champion Kylie Welker, previous Open winner Precious Bell, and 2022 72 kg Final X'er Skylar Grote. And more.
The first round could pit Grote and Nahiela Magee against each other. Magee made the Open semi's at 72 kg's, but defaulted out after a loss. The prize for the winner is a matchup with Gray in the quarterfinals. Just to advance to the finals, the winner from that trio would have to beat some combination of Welker or Tristan Kelly.
The bottom half of the bracket features yet another bout between high school teammates Guilford and Bell. Guilford is the third seed and Bell the sixth. To get to the finals, one of them has to go through the second seed, Makoyed. Though Guilford swept the Final X series between the two, Makoyed has picked up a few wins over her since. Throughout the life of their rivalry, these two have generally gone back and forth.
Finals Pick: Yelena Makoyed over Adeline Gray