Photos by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling
The second group of women’s freestyle weights got underway on Thursday at the 2017 Cadet World Championships while the first group wrestled for medals after the morning repechage. Japan lapped the field in the team race once again, putting nine of their 10 athletes into the finals with the other losing in a bronze medal match. They went 3-1 wrestling for gold and will have a chance to match their total of eight champions from a year ago if they can sweep tomorrow. India was the only country to beat Japan in a title tilt on Thursday when Sonam Sonam topped Sena Nagamoto (JPN) at 56 kg. That was part of a surprisingly strong team performance from India that saw them in second place at day’s end with a solid margin over third place Russia. Team USA had two wrestlers set to wrestle for gold entering the day but advanced just one more to the semifinal round. Three of the five that began their tournament Thursday remain alive for bronze medals, but there will be none on the finals. Team USA sits fifth in the team race and needs all three to come through if they are to match their total of five medals from a year ago.
The first American to wrestle for gold on Thursday was Emily Shilson, at 43 kg, after her three technical superiorities on Wednesday saw her outscore the opposition 34-4. Her opponent would be Umi Ito (JPN). International matches can end quickly, even without a fall, and this was a classic example. A quick shot by Ito put Shilson in a tough spot. Emily tried to throw Ito through for her own points, but the exchange was ruled four for Japan. It quickly went from bad to worse for Team USA as Ito locked up a lace and finished the match in just 17 seconds, winning 10-0. Though the final won’t sit well with such a fierce competitor, Shilson’s silver is a strong first of what she hopes will be many world medals.
Alara Boyd (65 kg) had already clinched her second world medal, after winning bronze in this competition a year ago, as she took the mat to face Honoka Nakai (JPN). The first period saw both wrestlers take very little risk. Nakai was put on the shot clock, giving Boyd a 1-0 lead at the break. The second was more of the same, but Boyd went on the clock, putting Japan ahead, 1-1 on criteria. As Alara launched desperation attacks late, Nakai found a leg, but Boyd countered with a rubber knee, getting into crotch lift position, though with a less than ideal base as her legs were tangled, as the clock ticked down. Though Nakai’s body started to move a couple of times, there would be no late score. Boyd had to settle for silver, falling 1-1 on criteria.
After a rough tournament in Fargo, Kelani Corbett (70 kg) found the form that got her on this team, battling back in both her early session matches on Thursday. First, she found herself in a 4-0 hole against Khulan Tsermaa (MGL) after an arm spin in the opening seconds. The Hawaiian didn’t stay down for long, working to her favored ties and scoring two takedowns, the second followed by a pair of leg laces to make it 8-4 at the break. Though she would not score the rest of the way, she mostly stayed out of trouble, conceding a takedown off of another arm spin late to ensure an 8-6 victory. European champion Romana Vovchak (UKR) awaited in the quarters and the Ukrainian had Corbett fighting off her back once again 15 seconds into the match. Corbett leveled the score at two briefly when she rolled through a front headlock, but she got caught in the scramble to give up two as well. The American used her length and strong hips to stuff a Vovchak shot late in the first, bowling over the Ukrainian for a takedown that nearly earned a fall. When Corbett used an outside trip to open the scoring in the second, she led for the first time in the match, 6-4. A brief moment of concern late when the Ukrainian tried a headlock didn’t last and Kelani moved into the semi-finals, 8-4.
The Japanese dominance was on full display during Corbett’s semi-final against Yuka Kagami, a 2016 Asian bronze medalist. As she had all day, Kelani fell behind early giving up a takedown but avoiding her back. However, Kagami was an opponent unlike those she faced earlier in the day, tacking on a step-out before running through a double for four to lead 7-0 after the first period. A go behind, followed by a lace in the second ended an 11-0 tech. Corbett will face the winner of the match between European bronze medalist Bernadett Nagy (HUN) and African Junior champion Nour Jeljeli (TUN) in her bronze medal match tomorrow.
Caitlyn Walker (40 kg) had a difficult draw when she was matched with Hanano Sakurai (JPN) in the opening round. A pair of takedowns for the Japanese woman and a cradle ended the match by fall in 1:21. However, Sakurai would find similar success all day, rolling into the finals without giving up a single point. That pulled Walker back into the repechage. She’ll face European bronze medalist Regina Miller (RUS) with the winner advancing to the bronze medal match.
Olivia Shore also caught a strong opening opponent, squaring off with 2015 Cadet world champion Ekaterina Mikhailova (RUS). In the opening period, Shore was the only one to find points, snapping the Russian to a quadpod and, after working at it for a while, forcing a knee down. Her 2-0 lead at the break didn’t last, though, as Mikhailova was put on the clock, then responded with a clean shot for four. A gut wrench mad Shore’s deficit 6-2 and as she attacked late, Mikhailova counter attacked to pick up the fall. The Russian would win an incredible 11-10 semifinal when she scored a four-point double leg in the final 15 seconds to pull Shore back into medal contention. Olivia will face Jekaterina Jermalonoka (LAT) with a spot in the bronze medal match on the line.
Alex Liles (60 kg) looked like a medal contender in her opener against Miriam Loetscher (SUI), displaying the power that often puts her on highlight reels. She looked for that type of move when she got to rear standing early but eventually settled for the takedown. Liles flashed her explosiveness a bit on a four-point crotch lift moments later to lead 6-0 after one. A front headlock in the second turned into a cradle, but Liles couldn’t crank it over, scoring just the takedown. A half shot by Loetscher was thrown by for the final takedown in a 10-0 tech. However, the lack of offense that plagued Liles in her loss at the Junior trials reared its ugly head against European champion Erika Bognar (HUN). The Hungarian played it close to the vest, giving up a shot clock point in the first and entering the final minute of the match trailing 1-0. Liles had not been able to find a way to build on that lead which became a serious problem for the American when Bognar picked her spot, nailing a double leg for a 2-1 lead with 45 seconds remaining. Liles still couldn’t find a gap in Bognar’s defenses and time expired. When Bognar was handled by 2016 Cadet world bronze medalist Anshu Anshu (IND), 8-0, in the semis, Liles became another American star to come up short of the medals in women’s freestyle.
Alisha Howk (52 kg) has had an impressive year, but her international debut did not go according to plan. Howk found herself in a scrap with European bronze medalist Mariana Dragutan (MDA) to open her tournament. After Alisha opened the scoring with a takedown and Dragutan had leveled the score with a cross ankle pick, Howk attacked and a quintessential freestyle scramble ensued. First, the Moldovan rolled Howk through for two, but the American came out on top for one. Howk went for a high gut and got the exposure, but Dragutan stopped Alisha on her back with a counter to score exposure as well. When the bell sounded at the end of the opening two minutes, it was 6-5 Dragutan. The seesaw battle would continue in the second as Howk stuffed a roll attempt from Moldova to take the lead, but an outside fireman’s from Dragutan put her right back on top. Another roll through from the Moldovan with Howk coming out on top for a reversal made it 10-8 and the American’s final attack could not score before time ran out. Dragutan was beaten in the next round by 2016 Cadet world silver medalist Andreea Ana (ROU) to end Howk’s tournament.
Vayle Baker (49 kg) began the day in the repechage, needing two wins to reach the bronze medal match, after falling to 2016 Cadet world champion Suzuna Yoshimura (JPN) yesterday. She made the first one look easy as she spent much of the first period snapping Sevinj Ahadova (AZE) around, working her way behind for three takedowns and tacking on an exposure off of a power half to lead 8-0 at the break. Ahadova threatened a comeback with a takedown of her own just over a minute from the end of the bout, but Baker countered with a go behind and a lace to end it, 12-2. Natallia Varakina (BLR) was next up, combining with Baker for a wild, scramble filled clash. The first period was tame with the Belarussian scoring on a pair of leg attacks to lead 4-0. However, when Varakina got in again in the second, Baker started working for exposures and both wrestlers ended up with their back to the mat several times. When the dust cleared, the scoreboard read 8-2, but after a challenge from Team USA, an additional exposure was added for Baker to make it 8-4. The two did it all over again moments later with Baker trying to lift Varakina on a counter with both on their feet. When they tumbled to the mat, the call went the Belarussian’s way, four blue. More points piled up as they scrambled, but Baker remained trailing, ending the exchange down 14-8 and yielding one final takedown to fall, 16-8.