When the Women’s College Wrestling Association (WCWA) Nationals take place in February 2018, it will mark the 15th season of the tournament’s existence. 15 years may not seem like a remarkable feat but when you consider how women’s college wrestling started, how far it has come, and how hard they are still fighting to be recognized, the bid for Emerging Sport Status with the NCAA is a good example, fifteen years will be quite the accomplishment.
Officially, women’s college wrestling got started in the mid-1990’s, with just a few brave programs making the jump to provide an opportunity for women to wrestle. The first schools to offer women’s programs included Menlo College, Missouri Valley College, Cumberland College and The University of Minnesota-Morris. There wasn’t much structure in the early years of women’s wrestling, but what they lacked in structure, was certainly made up for in creativity. Seasons consisted mostly of competing in USA Wrestling (USAW) events and programs traveling to Canada to take on other women’s college programs north of the border. It wasn’t until 2004 when the handful of women’s programs that existed took on the task of holding their own Women’s College Nationals tournament. It wasn’t a large competition by any standards but it was a pivotal point in the growth of what has become today’s WCWA.
Fast forward to the 2017 WCWA National Championship that saw 30 programs score team points and was highlighted by King University outscoring second-place Simon Fraser University by 17 points to claim their fourth consecutive WCWA national title and you will understand what a milestone the 15th annual national tournament will be. Just in case you are curious, the inaugural WCWA National Championship, in 2004, was won by Missouri Valley College, led by current head coach Carl Murphree. That team upset top-ranked Cumberland College to claim the title.
Before delving into the 2017-18 season, there are a couple of things that should be understood by new fans of women’s college wrestling. Unlike men’s college wrestling that consists of hundreds of schools broken out into divisions, each with their own separate championship, women’s college wrestling consists now of 37 schools from various college governing bodies and divisions competing under the same umbrella. The other major differences are the rules and schedules for the WCWA. The WCWA follows international freestyle rules, competing seamlessly in many USAW Senior and Junior events throughout the year in addition to various college tournaments and duals. It should also be noted that at the WCWA National Championship, teams can enter multiple wrestlers per weight. However, while they can enter as many as 15 wrestlers, only 12 can score per team. Those scorers must be declared before the tournament begins.
The 2017-18 WCWA season officially began this October with most teams kicking their season off with the U23 World Team Trials. Several other open tournaments have already been contested, including the Blue Chip Open, Lady Warrior Open, and the Emmanuel Open. Additionally, the Patriot Duals took place this weekend and included teams such as King University, Campbellsville, and the University of The Cumberlands. Campbellsville took down King, 37-8, for the title. This season has the potential to be an exciting year of women’s wrestling with its fair share of compelling storylines. This season’s team race could shape up to be a tight one with multiple teams having a shot to dethrone four-time defending national champion, King University, and claim the top spot by season’s end.
The initial edition of this season’s rankings was recently released and there has definitely been a shake-up at the top since the conclusion of the 2016-17 season.
|1||Simon Fraser University|
|5||Wayland Baptist University|
|6||University of The Cumberlands|
|7||Oklahoma City University|
|9||Southern Oregon University|
|11||Eastern Oregon University|
|12||Warner Pacific College|
|14||Grays Harbor College|
|16||Missouri Valley College|
|20||Missouri Baptist University|
Simon Fraser, led by first-year women’s head coach, Justin Abdou, starts the season as the top-ranked team after finishing as runner-up in last year’s national championships. They return an experienced squad with seven returning All-Americans, six of which have multiple All-American finishes, and eight wrestlers ranked in the top eight of their weight class. Their roster is filled with top-end talent and is headlined by two returning national champions in Mallory Velte and Payten Smith. Velte, who recently represented the United States at the 2017 World Championships, is seeking her third WCWA crown.
Simon Fraser’s returning All-American wrestlers who are expected to compete this season include Mallory Velte (1st, 143), Payten Smith (1st, 191), Dominique Parrish (2nd, 123), Nicole Depa (2nd, 136) Abby Lloyd (3rd, 116), Fran Giorgio (4th, 136), and Ashley Osachuk (6th, 130).
The high-end firepower in their lineup will make them a very tough team to beat in February.
Campbellsville University begins the season as the second-ranked team after finishing third in 2016-17 and an argument can be made for them as the preseason number one. The Lady Tigers return an astounding seven All-Americans from the previous season and one other former All-American. They start the season with 10 wrestlers ranked in the top eight in their respective weight classes. The squad is led by three-time national champion Kayla Miracle and returning national champion Andribeth Rivera. Miracle is seeking her fourth WCWA title, a feat only accomplished by three other wrestlers in the history of women’s college wrestling. The team is also bolstered by the return of two-time national champion Tiaira Scott, who took a redshirt last year.
Campbellsville University’s returning All-American wrestlers who are expected to compete this season include Kayla Miracle (1st, 136), Andribeth Rivera (1st, 123), Koral Sugiyama (3rd, 136), Shelby Hall (4th, 130), Charlotte Fowler (5th, 109), Mariah Harris (7th, 155), Jessi Grubbs (8th, 191), and Tiaira Scott (2015 – 1st, 170; 2016 – 1st, 170).
In addition to the eight returning All-Americans, Campbellsville also made quite a statement with the addition of Grace Bullen of Norway. Bullen, ranked fifth in the United World Wrestling (UWW) rankings ay 58 kg, won the Junior and Senior European titles in 2017 in addition to claiming a bronze medal at the Junior World Championships. Starting the season unranked, she is expected to compete for the 130lb spot on the team and should be considered a definite title contender. In addition to Bullen, the Lady Tigers also brought in another top recruit in three-time world team member, McKayla Campbell. Head coach, Lee Miracle, is excited about this year’s team and rightfully so. With a strong group of returning wrestlers and a great incoming freshman class, the ingredients are there to compete for the title in February.
Starting the season ranked third is McKendree University who finished sixth last season. The Bearcats return an unbelievably deep lineup with ten wrestlers starting the season ranked in the top eight of their respective weigh classes. Their lineup includes five returning All-Americans from 2016-17 and another five wrestlers who have obtained All-American status in previous seasons. The team is led by two-time WCWA runner-up Megan Black as well as former finalist and 2017 third-place finisher Brandy Lowe. Black is looking to end her career with that elusive national championship and Lowe will certainly have her eyes on returning to the finals and finishing on top. Further helping lead this team is the return of 2016 Junior world bronze medalist Alexis Porter. Porter coming back from a redshirt is looking to improve on previous fourth and fifth place finishes at the WCWA National Championships. A strong Bearcat team with this much depth will certainly have something to say about the top spot come season’s end.
McKendree’s returning All-American wrestlers who are expected to compete this season include Megan Black (2nd, 130), Jasmine Bailey (5th, 143), Alex Glaude (5th, 155), Brandy Lowe (3rd, 170), Janelle Fuamatu (5th, 170), Tayler Resuriz (2016 – 3rd at 109, 2015 – 7th at 101), Alexia Ward (2016 – 8th at 130), Alexis Porter (2016 – 5th at 143, 2015 – 4th at 155), Cassandra Herkelman (2016 – 7th at 136, 2015 – 5th at 143), and Nahiela Magee (2016 – 7th at 170, 2015 – 4th at 170).
Four-time defending national champions King University finds themselves in an unfamiliar spot starting the season ranked fourth. Head coach Jason Moorman has built the Tornado program into a powerhouse that has ruled the WCWA’s top spot in recent years, a remarkable feat that has King tied for the WCWA record of most team titles, most consecutive team titles, and most titles won by a head coach. It will not be easy for the Tornado and Coach Moorman admits that “it is a bit of a rebuilding year”. The Tornado return four All-Americans from last season’s championship team and one former All-American from 2016. However, they are expected to redshirt three of their top wrestlers in Gabby Garcia, Jessi Kee, and three-time national champion, Olympian Haley Augello. The team is headlined by two-time national champion and three-time finalist Marina Doi. Marina is joined by her twin sister, Regina Doi, herself a three-time All-American and returning national finalist. The Doi twins just so happen to compete in the same 101 lb weight class.
King’s returning All-American wrestlers who are expected to compete this season include Marina Doi (1st, 101), Regina Doi (2nd, 101), Cassidy Ferrel (8th, 101), Alleah Gould (7th, 109), and
Daisy Santos (2016 – 6th at 109).
If King can find a way to overcome the other top teams with six wrestlers starting the season ranked in the top eight, Moorman and the Tornado will make history and set records with five team titles, five consecutive team titles, and most titles won by a head coach.
Wayland Baptist University begins ranked fifth after finishing last season in fourth. This Pioneers team will be led by four All-Americans from last season and one from 2016, including two-time fourth-place finisher Brittany Marshall. They start the season with six wrestlers ranked in the top eight. The team’s lineup will also feature two of the top incoming freshmen in Asia Ray and Gabriela Ramos Diaz. Ray, who has only been wrestling since her freshman year in high school, was a two-time Texas state champ and recently brought home a bronze medal at the 2017 UWW Junior World Championships. She is expected to compete right away at 101 lbs and should be able to challenge immediately. Diaz herself won bronze at the Junior Pan American Championships and is expected to step in at 116 lbs. In addition to Ray and Diaz, the Pioneers are bringing in a very deep and talented recruiting class that has head coach Aaron Meister excited. That will surely pay dividends in the future.
Wayland Baptist University’s returning All-Americans who are expected to compete this season include Rozlynn Vasquez (5th, 101), Mayra Ramirez (6th, 109), Jathiya Isaac (5th, 116), Brittany Marshall (4th, 170), and Marina Briceño (8th, 143 in 2016).
In the sixth spot to start to the season is the University of The Cumberlands. Last year’s eighth-place team returns four All-Americans from the 2016-17 season, including returning 170 lb national champion and two-time finalist Jessika Rottier. Additionally, the Patriots will also be expecting big things from top recruit Autumn Gordon of Ohio. Expected to compete immediately at 109 lbs, Gordon is a former Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion and was the first girl in Ohio to qualify for a division 1 district tournament. She was also previously a Junior World Team Trials runner-up. Head coach Donnie Stephens is looking for a top three finish from his team this year.
University of The Cumberlands returning All-Americans who are expected to compete this season include Jessika Rottier (1st, 170), Maia Phanthadara (6th, 101), Hannah Gladden (6th, 155), and Courteney Tompkins (7th,191).
Oklahoma City University, ranked in the seven spot, finds themselves starting the 2017-18 season where they ended the last campaign. One of the most storied programs in WCWA history, the Stars either hold or are tied for many all-time records. OCU’s lineup will include four All-Americans from last season, two more from previous seasons, and start the year with four wrestlers ranked in the top eight. Leading the way will be the return of 2016 national champion Natalia Hinojo. The former 130 lb champion is coming off a redshirt and will look to get back to the top of the podium. The Stars will also be looking for big things this year from sophomore Rachel Watters. The multiple time Junior world team member finished seventh this year and will surely be looking to improve upon that.
Oklahoma City University’s returning All-Americans who are expected to compete this season include Monica Mason (3rd, 191), Cassidy Jasperson (4th, 109), Maggie Douma (7th, 143), Rachel Watters (7th, 170), Natalia Hinojo (2016 – 1st at 130), and Yvonne Galindo (2015 – 8th at 155).
Emmanuel College, one of the up and coming programs in the WCWA, begins this season ranked eighth. In what will be only the third year of competition for the program, the Lions should surely improve on last season’s 12th place finish. Returning two All-Americans from last season and with three wrestlers starting the campaign ranked in the top eight, this year’s squad will be bolstered by a big time transfer, Cody Pfau. After claiming two national titles and a 4th place finish with Oklahoma City University, Pfau transferred to Emmanuel College and is expected to be eligible by the second semester. The senior Pfau will be looking to end her career with her third WCWA title. In addition to Pfau, the Lions will also be looking for big things from incoming freshman Kayla Marano. Marano was a two-time Georgia state champion, USAW national freestyle and folkstyle champion, five-time USAW freestyle All-American, and former Cadet world medalist.
Emmanuel College’s returning All-Americans who are expected to compete this season include Maria Vidales (3rd, 109); Fayth Woodward (8th, 116), and Cody Pfau (2016 – 1st at 109 for Oklahoma City, 2015 – 1st at 109 for Oklahoma City, 2014 – 4th at 116 for Oklahoma City).
Southern Oregon University enters the season ranked ninth and will be looking to improve on last year’s 10th place finish. The Raiders start the season with four wrestlers ranked in the top eight and return one All-American from last year in Alejandra Rodriguez, who finished seventh at 130lbs. The lineup took a major hit when Desiree Zavala transferred to Grays Harbor College. Zavala, as a freshman last year, finished third in a very tough 143 lb weight class.
Menlo College rounds out the top ten to start the season after finishing the previous season in fifth. An experienced squad that sees eight starters return, the team will be led by three returning All-Americans from 2016-17 and two more All-Americans from the 2014-15 season. The Oaks of Menlo will start with three wrestlers ranked in the top eight in their weight class.
Menlo College’s returning All-Americans who are expected to compete this season include Hiba Salem (4th, 101), Iman Kazem (4th, 155), Solin Piearcy (5th, 136), Kait Fitzpatrick (2015 – 5th at 109 for Campbellsville), and Solove Naufahu (2016 – 5th at 170).
Five Things to Watch For In 2017-18
1) Can King University make it five in a row?
King University will attempt to accomplish something no other team has done in the WCWA by winning its fifth consecutive national championship. Only five different teams have won a WCWA national championship with King and Oklahoma City tied with four each. If the Tornado can find a way to get it done this year as underdogs, they will take sole possession of the record with a total of five. In addition, head coach Jason Moorman would also take sole possession of most team championships by a head coach. He’s currently tied with Archie Randall, who won four titles with Oklahoma City from 2009-2012.
2) Will the WCWA crown its fourth four-time national champion?
Campbellsville’s Kayla Miracle looks to become just the fourth four-time national champion in the history of the WCWA. She has previously captured titles in 2015, 2016, and 2017. This feat has only been accomplished three times previously by Victoria Anthony of Simon Fraser (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014), Helen Maroulis of Simon Fraser/Missouri Baptist College (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014) and Emily Webster of Oklahoma City University (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Haley Augello would also be competing for her fourth title as well had she not decided to take a redshirt this season.
3) Will we see a team match or break the single season individual champions record?
Three teams have accomplished the feat of crowning six national champions in a single season. The 2005 Missouri Valley team, the 2012 Oklahoma City team, and the 2013 Simon Fraser team. It’s not likely that we will see this record tied or broken this year, but there is the outside chance that Simon Fraser could do it again. Simon Fraser begins the season with eight wrestlers in the top eight of their weight class with the majority ranked in the top three, including three wrestlers ranked atop their weight classes. Of their seven returning All-Americans, four have finished in the top two with another two wrestlers who have finished in the top four.
4) The WCWA welcomes five new programs for the 2017-18 season.
The WCWA continues to grow as five new programs bring the total competing to 37. Nassau Community College coached by Sam Thomas, Central Christian College coached by Don Schreiman, Westminster College coached by Mike Eierman, Umpqua Community College coached by Asia DeWeese, and University of Providence coached by Tony DeAnda are set to compete this season.
5) How much of an impact will these top freshmen make?
There are a number of high level freshmen set to compete this year. Here are five to watch out for:
- Grace Bullen – Campbellsville University
Bullen, who was born in a refugee camp in Eritrea and then moved to Norway at a young age comes to Campbellsville University as already one of the top wrestlers in the world. Currently ranked fifth in the UWW rankings at 58 kg, Bullen has won many international gold medals including the Junior and Senior European titles in 2017 and a Cadet world title 2014.
- McKayla Campbell – Campbellsville University
Campbell has been an eight-time national champion and fourteen-time All-American prior to arriving to Campbellsville. She has also been a three-time world team member.
- Ronna Heaton – Grays Harbor College
Heaton has been one of the most dominant wrestlers at the age group level. She is a multiple time Cadet and Junior world team member, winning the Cadet World Title in 2015 and taking silver in 2016.
- Asia Ray – Wayland Baptist University
Ray, who only just began her wrestling journey a few years ago, is already quite the accomplished wrestler. A two-time Texas state champ, she recently won a bronze medal at the 2017 Junior World Championships.
- Kayla Marano – Emmanuel College
Marano, the daughter of Kristie Davis (Marano), is expected to make an immediate impact at 143 lbs for Emmanuel College. She was a two-time Georgia state champion, USAW national freestyle and folkstyle champion, five-time USAW freestyle All-American, and a Cadet world medalist.