For the first time since 2010, USA Wrestling has a junior world champion in women's wrestling. Maya Nelson's gold medal at Junior Worlds in Tampere, Finland, last week is just one example of the strides being made by the women's program in this country, which has always been traditionally strong.
Nelson is no longer junior eligible and will be competing exclusively at the senior level, where earlier this year she made the national team at 63kg. Let's take a look at some of the other up-and-comers who could very well be the future of USA women's wrestling.
Gracie Figueroa, California
Everyone wants to know whether Figueroa will end up at the Olympic Training Center, wrestling in college at a WCWA school, or staying in California to train. She has only lost twice in America since she entered high school and avenged both losses. Figueroa's ankle pick is probably the most unstoppable move at the cadet level in the USA right now.
Entering her senior year at Selma High School, Figueroa could become just the second four-time women's champion in California state history and third overall of either gender. Before that though, she'll take part in the first-ever girls matchup at Who's #1
on October 8 at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.
Macey Kilty, Wisconsin
Figueroa's opponent for WNO? That would be cadet world bronze and Pan Am champ Macey Kilty. She dethroned Ronna Heaton at Fargo and won the prestigious Klippan Lady Open over in Sweden back in February. Kilty's three-match series with Alex Liles, who you will also see on this list, is an example of what is coming in America: more depth and higher level wrestlers at younger ages. Kilty has some of the best body positioning among her age group.
Asia Ray, Texas
What a revelation. Ray was somewhat of a known commodity after placing fourth at cadet trials in 2015 and third in Fargo last year. But now she has shown not only the U.S. but also the world how much she has improved and her potential after her junior bronze in Finland. Her leg attacks from neutral have the chance to be world class, and her armbar from top allows her to put many of her opponents away. Ray will be a freshman at Plainview Wayland Baptist this fall. She can be right in the conversation to medal again at 44kg next year, unless our next wrestler beats her first.
Emily Shilson, Minnesota
We'll get a great idea of where Shilson stands in the world in a few weeks at Cadet Worlds. She'll be eligible to make the junior team next year and could end up in the same bracket as Ray. Shilson's lefty headlock is devastating (as we saw in her Fargo final below), and her gut wrench is similar to Mariya Stadnik's.
Ronna Heaton, South Dakota
Heaton has a knack for pinning people in big moments -- her 2015 world semifinal comes to mind. It appears Heaton will stay close to home and train at South Dakota State. She still has two years left of junior eligibility after being in the third-place match at the senior trials this year.
Jayden Laurent, Wisconsin
Though she did not make a world team this year, Laurent unquestionably proved she belongs. She dominated her way to a gold medal at Junior Pan Ams, including a pin over the eventual world silver medalist. She then pinned and teched her way through Fargo, taking out cadet world bronze medalist Alara Boyd 10-0 in the finals.
Alex Liles, Texas
One of the most physically imposing wrestlers coming up on the women's circuit, Liles' list of accomplishments is quite extensive. She has been on two cadet world teams and won three Fargo titles and a Pan Am silver medal. She's also a three-time state champ at 71-0 heading into her senior year at Allen High School. Liles combines a bruising pace with active hand fighting to wear opponents down and open them up for shots.
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