The year after an Olympic Games can be a time of transition, one that sees stars retire, athletes changing weight, or just taking some time off for surgery or relaxation. But after surveying the landscape of women's wrestling in America, we project next year's team will be full of familiar faces.
This summer was unforgettable for Team USA, as Helen Maroulis won America's first Olympic gold medal in women's wrestling. The 25-year-old Maroulis again leads the charge heading into the 2020 Tokyo quad.
Paris hosts the 2017 world championships from August 21-26. Now that senior nationals are over, check out our predictions for the team the United States will be sending to France.
48kgThe last time Victoria Anthony made a world team was in 2013, when she was fifth up at 51kg. Since then, she has made three straight world team trials finals but lost each time. The people standing in her way, however, have moved on, leaving the gate wide open for Anthony.
No more Alyssa Lampe or Clarissa Chun, along with Haley Augello back up at 53kg, means that the inside trip maestro can finally showcase herself on the world level. Aside from a 10th-place finish at the 2015 Pan Am championships, the Sunkist Kids star has placed at every senior level event she has entered in the past three years.
Few wrestlers in the world can match Anthony's pace and arsenal. It can get her in trouble though, as we saw in the final minute of the Golden Grand Prix bronze medal match, as well as her Senior Nationals finals match against Erin Golston; both times she was thrown for four. Along with Cody Pfau, Golston appears to be the main competition for Anthony at world team trials in April.
- Victoria Anthony (Sunkist Kids)
- Erin Golston (NYAC)
- Cody Pfau (Titan Mercury)
53kgMaroulis was one of the biggest stories in all of wrestling this past year. She defeated the most decorated wrestler in the history of our sport to win the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro. But it seems unlikely we see Maroulis at this weight for a long time, if ever again.
Aside from Maroulis' run from April to August, 53kg has belonged to Whitney Conder since the 2014 weight class changes. She represented the United States at the 2014 world championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, as well as in Las Vegas at last September's world championships.
Conder is the best mix of offensive output and defensive stinginess among girls in this field. On the international level, she tends to rely more on her defense, decreasing her offensive output. But since this is likely going to be her final quad, perhaps the veteran will open up and let her leg attacks win matches moving forward.
Moreso than at 48kg, there are several girls likely to make top three and receive national team status. The 2014 open and WTT finals featured Conder against Katherine Fulp-Allen, who was third on the ladder at the Olympic Team Trials earlier this year. She beat Michaela Hutchison there, who has never been able to beat Conder in several cracks against her the past few years.
Fulp-Allen is recovering from shoulder surgery, and Hutchison did not wrestle last week at Senior Nationals. If either of them compete in April, they will be among the favorites to battle Conder in the finals. In 2015, Hutchison was 2-0 against Haley Augello, who will be making her way back up after being the 48kg Olympian.
- Whitney Conder (Army WCAP)
- Katherine Fulp-Allen (NYAC)
- Michaela Hutchison (Titan Mercury)
55kgThis is Maroulis' weight as long as she wrestles this year, and that means both domestically and on the world level. She hasn't lost since the 2014 world semifinals and in the course of her 63-match winning streak has vanquished almost every single top contender at both this weight and the Olympic 53kg.
Coming off making her first senior world team, Sarah Hildebrandt is the probable finals opponent for Maroulis. Hildebrandt will also get the experience of competing in the World Cup the first weekend in March. Never one to blow her opponents out, Hildebrandt's mental edge and game planning have grown steadily over her career, allowing her to make the leap this year to world teamer.
Right now, the third-place spot on the national team ladder comes down to Kelsey Cambell and Jacarra Winchester. Campbell has won the Olympic Trials twice but may settle into 55kg for the next few years. Winchester has been third, fourth and third at WTT the past three years. Nothing from their Senior Nationals finals intimates that Winchester, entering her prime, can't close the gap and beat Campbell, who is in the twilight of her career.
Kelsey Campbell barely holds off Jacarra Winchester
- Helen Maroulis (Sunkist Kids)
- Sarah Hildebrandt (NYAC)
- Jacarra Winchester (Titan Mercury)
58kgAlli Ragan had cemented herself as the 58kg queen in this country until Campbell upended her in the OTT finals. However, she bounced back in a tremendous way to make the 60kg finals at the non-Olympic weight world championships in Budapest.
Ragan is among the best athletes on Team USA. She can shoot low singles to both directions, ankle pick or John Smith-style, as well as blast and re-direct double legs. The King alum can even go with a big feet-to-back move when really pressed.
With Campbell possibly staying down at 58kg, the window is open for a number of young stars. Teshya Alo won last year's U.S. Open but then was defeated 14-4 by Randi Beltz at OTT. Kayla Miracle defeated Beltz in the Schultz finals and OTT quarters but then fell to Beltz in the third-place match. WCWA champion Becka Leathers defeated Beltz 4-2 in the Senior National semis but has lost several in a row to Miracle. In all likelihood, three of those four plus Ragan will account for the WTT semis in April.
- Alli Ragan (Sunkist Kids)
- Kayla Miracle (Sunkist Kids)
- Becka Leathers (Titan Mercury)
60kgThis weight has only been in existence for three years. During that time, Leigh Jaynes won a bronze medal and has since retired. While we just mentioned Ragan took home a silver, her true weight is down at 58kg. Out of this comes 2014 world team member Jenna Burkert, who completely dominated the field in Vegas.
The bracket will not be so easy in April, particularly with a few question marks when also looking up at 63kg and 69kg. Mallory Velte and Jenn Page were both at 60kg for WTT in New York, but then back up to 63kg for Senior Nationals, which is where they met at OTT. Velte beat Page at both Olympic and world team trials, before losing to her in last week's semis.
Page was in the previous iteration of the 60kg WTT finals against Jaynes and third in New York. But if Page or Velte stays up at 63kg, entirely possible even if Elena Pirozhkova decides to go that weight, Burkert will be by herself. Among women who placed in the top four, Brieana Delgado is down at 55kg now, Alo and Miracle are 58s and Sally Roberts and Rachel McFarland have not wrestled recently.
- Jenn Page (Titan Mercury)
- Mallory Velte (Titan Mercury)
- Jenna Burkert (Army WCAP)
63kgJust like 60kg, a lot depends upon who drops or goes up. Elena Pirozkova is the key here. The 2012 world champion has wrestled at the last 10 world championships or Olympic games, primarily at 63kg.
However, she was at 69kg for 2015 worlds, 2016 Pan Ams and Senior Nationals this month. She will be the heavy favorite at either of those two weights. But if she wants to win a world medal for the fifth time in her career, 63kg is the spot.
There is also Erin Clodgo, who held the 63kg world team spot in 2015 when Pirozhkova was up a weight. Clodgo has been a rock on the national team, being on the top-three ladder eight times since 2008. She lost to Pirozhkova in the WTT finals from 2012-14 as well as in this year's OTT finals. But she has indicated she would like to go up in weight, placing fifth at the Open Cup of Russia at 69kg and winning 75kg at Senior Nationals.
If Velte and Page drop as predicted above, junior world bronze medalists Maya Nelson and Alexis Porter are in prime position to take national team spots. Porter won 4-0 over Nelson in New York, but that was avenged 3-0 by Nelson in the Vegas semis.
Will Velte and Page go 60kg or 63kg in April?
- Elena Pirozhkova (Titan Mercury)
- Maya Nelson (Sunkist Kids)
- Alexis Porter (NYAC)
69kgJust about as wide open a field as they come. Once Pirozhkova figures out which weight she is going, the rest will fall into line. When possible, other wrestlers seem to try to avoid her and Adeline. Based on how she looked at Senior Nationals and with Mensah closing the gap to within a point, I see Elena dropping down to 63kg as I mentioned above.
That leaves Clodgo, Julia Salata and Mensah. The latter won OTT this year but was unable to qualify the weight. She had a 12-4 win over Olympic bronze medalist Elmira Syzdykova at the GGP.
Salata is 3-1 against Mensah over the past several years, with the lone loss coming in the Olympic Trials semis. The two-time WCWA champ from King lost 5-2 to Clodgo in the Senior National finals.
- Erin Clodgo (Sunkist Kids)
- Julia Salata (NYAC)
- Tamyra Mensah (Titan Mercury)
75kgThis weight belongs to the champion until proven otherwise. The logical No. 2 is Victoria Francis, who was in the OTT finals against Adeline Gray.
That has been the progression for the past several years, starting with Francis being the 72kg junior worlds rep in 2014, her last year of eligibility. That same year, she was runner-up at University nationals at 75kg. Francis then won WCWAs at 170lbs and was University nationals champ at this weight each of past two years.
There is of course also Jackie Surber, who was runner-up in the 2014 and 2015 WTT finals to Gray. She beat Francis 8-4 in last December's senior nationals, but then Francis won 10-2 in the challenge tourney finals in April. Jessika Rottier of the University of the Cumberlands is poised to make a jump this year onto the national team ladder.
- Adeline Gray (NYAC)
- Victoria Francis (Titan Mercury)
- Jessika Rottier (University of the Cumberlands)