Photos by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling
Day three at the 2017 Junior World Championships in Tampere, Finland saw the women take over. The first half of women’s freestyle hit the mats with competition at 44 kg, 51 kg, 59 kg, and 67 kg. Team USA had a tough opener, though every member of the squad won at least one match. In the end, one would survive to claim a medal. Beyond the Americans in action, we got a look at a wrestler who will soon be coming to wrestle in the US and watched Japan try to regain their spot at the top of Junior women’s freestyle after a loss at the Junior Asian championships. We also saw history as Yudari Sanchez Rodriguez earned Cuba’s first ever women’s freestyle medal, at any level, claiming silver at 67 kg. The back half of women’s freestyle gets underway on Friday at 3 am eastern with the medal matches starting at 11 am.
Match of the Day: Grace Bullen (NOR) vs. Anastasia Nichita (MDA), 59 kg
Bullen entered the tournament as the favorite after winning European titles at the Junior and Senior level in addition to claiming the 2016 Golden Grand Prix crown. The former Eritrean refuge also won a Cadet World title in 2014. Nichita was second to Bullen at the Junior Europeans, in a match that ended with a fall, after a Cadet World silver medal last summer. This one would be, however. Bullen had used big moves to end her two previous matches by fall and she looked to do so again halfway through the first period, trying to go big off of a body lock, but Nichita countered well forcing a two and two. That was the score at the break as Bullen continued to be stymied by Nichita’s defenses. After sliding up off of a shot, Bullen again went for the big move, throwing a headlock, but Nichita had the answer again, exposing Bullen for a 4-2 lead. With under a minute to go, Bullen went for it again, this time converting for two points off an upper body exchange to take a 4-4 lead on criteria. However, Nichita finally mounted an attack of her own, snapping off a duck under that scored with less than 10 seconds remaining. Bullen tried in vain to hold a quad pod, but her knee touched. After a failed challenge, Nichita earned the victory, 7-4.
Bullen is coming to Campbellsville this fall to attend the school and compete in the WCWA.
Any women’s freestyle event that includes a Japanese team has a presumed favorite. So dominant have the Japanese women been that any of their wrestlers losing before the finals is a story. Still, the Japanese did lose to China in the team race at the Junior Asian Championships raising the question if other nations are finally catching up. Japan sent a much different roster to this event, as they always do, but lost twice in the early session. However, by day’s end, all of the Japanese women would wrestle for a medal with two claiming titles, leaving them in a familiar position atop the team standings. Chasing them are China and Russia. The Chinese also had all of their wrestlers compete in medal matches on Thursday, but put just two on the award’s stand with no champions. Russia failed to score at 59 kg and finished just seventh at 44 kg, leaving their two champions to score the bulk of their points. The standings entering day two have Japan leading with 32, China in second with 27, and Russia sitting third with 24 points. Team USA put all four of their wrestlers in the top 10, but with just one medal and one fifth place finish, they sit tied for fourth with Ukraine on 18 points.
Asia Ray, 44 kg
The lightest weight in the Junior World Championships included 15 competitors, making for an almost perfect bracket. Early in the tournament, Ray used her brutal top work to stay out of trouble. First, she pinned Esra Koc (TUR) in just 39 seconds. Next, she found herself in a tie match at the break against Junior European bronze medalist Beata Kosla (POL), but earned her second takedown of the match early in the second and ended that clash by fall as well. That advanced Ray to a semifinal showdown with Junior Asian champion Yumei Chen (CHN), who had yet to be scored upon in the tournament, posting a pair of 10-0 techs. The opening period was all Chen as she kept Ray on her heels, nearly pinning the American just before the break on her way to a 7-0 lead. Asia bounced back by running through a double leg to open the second, but that was the only two she could manage. Moments later a counter shot from China led to a takedown and a pair of guts to push Ray into the bronze medal match.
Bronze medal matches can be funny things as everyone is coming off of a loss. In the repechage system, the wrestler sitting in the bronze medal match hasn’t wrestled since that loss while their opponent has recovered to win at least one match. Ray wasn’t having any of that as she opened with a drag for a takedown and nearly cradled Alexia Seal (CAN) in an exchange later in the first. Even while controlling the action, Ray only led 2-0 at the break. She would convert at a much higher rate in the final frame, building a 6-0 lead, then managing to just avoid landing on her back when Seal scored her only takedown of the match. As the Canadian’s desperation mounted, Ray iced her bronze medal by putting Seal on her back to make the final tally 10-2.
Cameron Guerin, 51 kg
One of the many heroes of Washington’s Junior Duals championship run, Guerin was another American displaying dangerous par terre work, preferring to thread a leg on top in order to use her high gut series. That was on full display against Yeonseo Choi (KOR) when Guerin needed just one takedown, got settled on top and exposed Choi four times to end the match, 10-0. Guerin’s second bout would not be so easy as she met four-time age group world medalist and defending Junior World champion Kseniia Nezgovorova (RUS). After the Russian went on the shot clock and failed to score, Guerin broke on top, 1-0. That was all the scoring in the first as Guerin appeared to be controlling the ties, but couldn’t find an opening to score. In the second, Nezgovorova picked her spot to snag an ankle, then ran an arm bar to secure the fall. The Russian kept winning, though, eventually claiming her second consecutive gold here, giving Guerin a shot at the repechage.
This year’s Cadet Pan American champion made the most of it, using a power-half to build a 4-1 lead, then finding her high gut series again to stretch the advantage in the second. A late takedown iced an 11-3 victory for Guerin as she earned a place in the bronze medal match. That clash looked exactly like what it was, a Cadet facing a woman who has been facing Senior-level competition the past two years. Bolor Erdene Bat Orsikh (MGL) never gave Guerin room to breathe, winning the first three exchanges of the bout to the tune of four points each time. The Mongolian caught Guerin trying to thread her leg in once again to finish her 12-2 bronze medal victory.
Gracie Figueroa, 59 kg
Another member of Team USA that is still Cadet eligible, Figueroa wrestled 122 on her way to Fargo title number five a couple of weeks ago and will be at 56 kg for the Cadet World Championships next month. Even being a bit undersized, Figueroa quickly dispatched of her opening round foe, catching an ankle and tilting Leanco Stans (RSA) four times for a 10-0 win. Her quarterfinal against Ilona Prokopevniuk (UKR), a Junior European bronze medalist, opened the same way as Gracie picked an ankle for a takedown, but no turns followed and a missed shot moments later allowed the Ukrainian to tie the match. The Californian refused to stay in par terre, getting back to her feet and working under her opponent for another takedown. With a 4-2 lead coming out of the break, Figueroa found herself on the defensive early, trying to scramble out of an attack from Prokopevniuk. As the sequence advanced, Figueroa sunk deeper into trouble and when she tried to roll through, the Ukrainian stopped her flat for the fall.
Japan’s Yuzuru Kamano, a 2016 Junior World champion, handled Prokopevniuk in the semifinals, ending Figueroa’s tournament.
Alexandria Glaude, 67 kg
The McKendree Bearcat had nothing come easy on Thursday. Glaude came out firing in her opener against Hyeonyeong Park (KOR), earning a pair of takedowns before countering an arm throw attempt by the Korean for a 6-0 lead heading into the break. At that point, Glaude looked in total control, but Park found her footing, cut the gap to 6-4 and went for the arm throw again in the final seconds, moving Glaude enough to wonder if a correct throw might be awarded. It wasn’t and after a challenge, it was clear the move hadn’t come close to scoring until after time expired. Glaude advanced, 7-4.
Alexandra Anghel (ROU), a bronze medalist at the Junior European Championships, Under 23 European Championships, and the Senior-level Yasar Dogu, wouldn’t wait to establish her offense. She methodically building a 4-0 lead in the first period before adding a pair of takedowns in the second, never giving Glaude an opening and countering when the American tried anything. The final tally was 8-0 Anghel. When the Romanian fell in the semifinals, Glaude’s tournament was over as well.