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Women's Wrestling

2019 NAIA Women’s National Invitational – Weight-by-Weight Preview

piearcy, solin

photo courtesy of Jim Thrall; MatFocus.com

Women’s college wrestling has been nothing short of phenomenal in the last few years. It continues to grow at a rapid rate and has taken some major steps forward the last few years. New programs are added on a yearly basis, the level of talent and the size of the talent pool has grown tremendously, and visibility has greatly increased. At least 48 colleges now sponsor a varsity wrestling program, and we’ve recently seen women competing right alongside men at events such as the NWCA All-Star Classic as well as the NWCA Multi-Divisional National Duals. On March 16th women’s college wrestling will take another giant step forward when the University Of Jamestown (N.D.) will host the inaugural 2019 NAIA Women’s Wrestling Invitational. The NAIA is the first intercollegiate athletics division to officially recognize women’s wrestling by granting invitational status. In just two days, 20 NAIA teams and approximately 175 athletes will battle it out for the honor of being crowned the inaugural team champion and champions in their respective weight classes.

Below is a weight-by-weight preview of the tournament and predictions for the top-eight at each weight, as well as the champion.

101-pounds

Seeds:

  1. Asia Ray (WBU) 1st 19WCWA, 3rd 18WCWA
  2. Nina Pham (WBU) 3rd 19WCWA, 7th 18WCWA
  3. Hiba Salem (Menlo) 4th 19WCWA, 4th 17WCWA, 5th 16WCWA
  4. Junnette Caldera (UJ) 6th 19WCWA
  5. Jessica Rodriguez (UC)
  6. Amber Garriga (LU)

Four women at this weight have earned WCWA All-American honors, including 2019 national champion, Asia Ray. Ray has been nothing short of spectacular since arriving at Wayland Baptist University. This year the 2017 Junior World bronze medalist, fresh off a 2019 WCWA national title in February, already has dominating wins over many of the top challengers in this bracket. I expect Ray to clear to the semifinals without much trouble where she should see the four-seed, Junnette Caldera (UJ). Caldera is a freshman that has won titles at the Waldorf Open and the EZ-Flex Invitational and recently finished sixth at the WCWA Nationals. Ray has already recorded a 10-0 tech over third-ranked Caldera earlier this year and I expect much of the same this weekend.

On the bottom half of the bracket, we should expect to see Nina Pham (WBU) and Hiba Salem (Menlo), the two and three-seed respectively, meet up in the semifinals. This will be a rematch of the third-place match at the WCWA Nationals where Pham dominated via a 10-0 tech. The two also met earlier in the season at the West Coast TOC with Pham also winning 16-7. Both have had great seasons. In addition to their WCWA performance, Salem has racked up tournament titles at the Cliff Keen Invite, the Menlo Open and the Oregon Classic while Pham had a championship at the West Coast TOC to her credit. I like Pham to win again; however, I expect it to be much closer this time.

TOM Predictions

  1. Ray (WBU)
  2. Pham (WBU)
  3. Caldera (UJ)
  4. Salem (Menlo)
  5. Rodriguez (UC)
  6. Garriga (LU)
  7. Ramirez (LC)
  8. Cherrier (LU)

109-pounds

Seeds:

  1. Alleida Martinez (Menlo) 1st 19WCWA
  2. McKayla Campbell (CU) 2nd 19WCWA, 4th 18WCWA
  3. Raven Guidry (OCU) 6th 19WCWA
  4. Brianna Ribucan-Leong (LC) 8th 19WCWA
  5. Tyesha Topps (LU)
  6. Claire Payne (YC)

Like the previous weight, 109-pounds also features four women with WCWA All-American honors, including the 2019 national champion, Alleida Martinez. Menlo College has been a dominant force in women’s college wrestling this year, most recently capturing their first ever team WCWA title and a big reason is due to a pair of dominant freshman, the first being Martinez. A four-time undefeated state champion in California, Martinez has not missed a beat at the college level as she just recently dominated her way to a WCWA title at this weight. Martinez also has experience at the world level, earning two medals at Cadet Worlds. Martinez will clear to the semifinals with ease where she should see Brianna Ribucan-Leong (LC) who recently earned All-American honors at the WCWA nationals with an eighth-place finish. Ribucan-Leong is scrappy but not on the level of Martinez.

On the bottom half of the bracket sits second-ranked McKayla Campbell (CU). Both Campbell and Martinez were teammates on the 2015 Cadet World team. Campbell has had a spectacular season of her own, and just finished runner-up to Martinez at the WCWA Nationals to earn her second WCWA honors. She should see third-ranked Raven Guidry (OCU) in the semifinals. Guidry was a finalist at the Bearcat Open and fourth at the Missouri Valley Open this year and finished sixth at WCWA’s. These two recently met in the second round at the WCWA Nationals with Campbell winning easily. I expect more of the same in this match.

TOM Predictions

  1. Martinez (Menlo)
  2. Campbell (CU)
  3. Guidry (OCU)
  4. Ribucan-Leong (LC)
  5. Freeman (EOU)
  6. Topps (LU)
  7. Payne (YC)
  8. Cokeley (OU)

116-pounds

Seeds:

  1. Gracie Figueroa (Menlo) 1st 19WCWA
  2. Jathiya Isaac (WBU) 3rd 19WCWA, 5th 17WCWA
  3. Yurie Yoneoka (UP) 6th 19WCWA
  4. Cassidy Jasperson (OCU) 4th 19WCWA, 4th 17WCWA
  5. Madison Angelito (UC) 8th 19WCWA
  6. Chelsea Dionisio (UJ)
  7. Taryn Ichimura (Menlo)
  8. Jamayia Blackston (UJ)

Five wrestlers with WCWA All-American honors will scrap in this bracket, led by another 2019 freshman national champion from Menlo. Gracie Figueroa is the other half of the highly regarded pair of freshman that have led Menlo. Undefeated against college competition, Figueroa has rarely been tested during her time wrestling for the Oaks and recently cruised to a national title at WCWA’s. Before college, she was a four-time undefeated California state champion and was a member a four world teams. The toughest test on her half of the bracket should come from Cassidy Jasperson (OCU), a three-time WCWA fourth-place finisher. The two should meet in the semifinals and while Jasperson is a battle-tested veteran, I do not expect Figueroa to be challenged.

On the bottom half of the bracket sits two very tough competitors in Jathiya Isaac (WBU) and Yurie Yoneoka (UP). Isaac is a two-time WCWA All-American, most recently with a third-place finish. Yoneoka was a champion at the Spokane Open and the runner-up to Figueroa at the West Coast TOC and also recently finished sixth at WCWA’s. I like Isaac to cruise in this match should they meet in the semifinals much as she did in their match at WCWA’s that she won via 10-0 tech.

This is quite a deep weight class, as we still have other high-quality competitors capable of pulling off an upset or two such as Madison Angelito (UC) who recently claimed an All-American finish at WCWA’s with an eighth-place finish.

 

TOM Predictions

  1. Figueroa (Menlo)
  2. Isaac (WBU)
  3. Jasperson (OCU)
  4. Angelito (UC)
  5. Yoneoka (UP)
  6. Ichimura (Menlo)
  7. Pair (EOU)
  8. Rodriguez (CU)

123-pounds

Seeds:

  1. Macy Higa (EOU) 3rd 19WCWA
  2. Koral Sugiyama (CU) 4th 19WCWA, 5th 18WCWA, 3rd 17WCWA, 7th 16WCWA
  3. Dajan Treder (UP) 5th 18WCWA
  4. Tiana Jackson (Menlo) 6th 19WCWA
  5. Brigitte Mihalca (MBU)
  6. Rebekah Cordova (WBU)
  7. Daniela Flores (OCU) 8th 18WCWA
  8. Victoria Norris (OU)

This should be one of the more exciting weights to watch this weekend that includes a handful of outstanding wrestlers who could stake a claim to the top spot on the podium and a slew of others who can make some noise. There are five wrestlers in the bracket with prior WCWA All-American honors. Macy Higa (EOU), Koral Sugiyama (CU), Dajan Treder (UP), and Tiana Jackson (Menlo) are the top-four seeds respectively. They also finished third, fourth, fifth, and sixth respectively at the 2019 WCWA’s. Those four would appear to have separated themselves from the rest of the field. Additionally, Daniela Flores finished eighth in 2018. The freshman Higa was super impressive last month at WCWA’s on her way to a third-place finish. She has some big-time moves in her arsenal and is not afraid to use them. She should clear to the semifinals without much issue, as should Jackson (Menlo). In addition to her WCWA All-American finish, the fourth-ranked Jackson won the Oregon Classic and was third at the West Coast TOC this year.

On the bottom half of the bracket, I would expect both Treder and Sugiyama to find themselves in the semifinals. Sugiyama, a well-decorated senior who just became a four-time WCWA All-American, has had an outstanding season.TOM’s Wrestler of the Month for January; Sugiyama went 15-0 for the month, which included a 4-0 showing at the National Duals. She also has tournament titles at the Tornado Open and the Bearcat Open, during her senior season. She should find herself in the semifinals opposite of Treder. Treder has established herself as a household name at this weight class after two WCWA All-American finishes and has had a great season of her own.

TOM Predictions

  1. Higa (EOU)
  2. Treder (UP)
  3. Sugiyama (CU)
  4. Jackson (Menlo)
  5. Norris (OU)
  6. Flores (OCU)
  7. Cordova (WBU)
  8. Mihalca (MBU)

130-pounds

Seeds:

  1. Andribeth Rivera (CU) 4th 19WCWA, 1st 17WCWA
  2. Cara Romeike (UJ) 6th 19WCWA
  3. Julissa Taitano (SO)
  4. Anesia Ramirez (SO)
  5. Diana Dzasezeva (WU)
  6. Jocelyn Murphy (MVC)
  7. Daishea Jaime (OCU)
  8. Savannah Vold (WU)

Andribeth Rivera (CU) burst on the women’s college wrestling scene, becoming a WCWA national champion in 2017 as a freshman. After taking last season off, she was back on the mat this year and recently finished fourth at WCWA’s. She headlines the 130-pound bracket that has two wrestlers with previous WCWA honors. Rivera leads the top half of the bracket and should have no issues pushing to the semifinals. I expect her opponent to be the four-seed Anesia Ramirez (SO); however, I would not be surprised if Diana Dzasezeva (WU) pushed through. Ramirez actually reached the WCWA quarterfinals before falling to Rivera and then would drop her next match in the consolation bracket. Dzasezeva did not compete at WCWA’s but was the winner of Waldorf’s Lady Warrior Open, the EZ-Flex Invitational (at 136) and was sixth at the Bearcat Open.

On the bottom half of the bracket, look for Cara Romeike (UJ) to push through to the semifinals with relative ease. After losing her first match at WCWA’s, she battled back with six straight wins for a sixth-place All-American finish. I would expect Romeike to meet up with Julissa Taitano (SO) for the right to wrestle in the finals. Taitano made the round of 12 at WCWA’s, just barely missing out on the podium.

TOM Predictions

  1. Rivera (CU)
  2. Romeike (UJ)
  3. Ramirez (SO)
  4. Taitano (SO)
  5. Dzasezeva (WU)
  6. Flores (OCU)
  7. Cordova (WBU)
  8. Mihalca (MBU)

136-pounds

Seeds:

  1. Solin Piearcy (Menlo) 1st 19WCWA, 5th 18WCWA, 5th 17WCWA
  2. Abnelis Yambo (BPC) 8th 19WCWA
  3. Erica Sotelo (LU)
  4. Bridgette Duty (UC) 6th 19WCWA, 7th 18WCWA
  5. Destiny Lyng (OCU) 7th 19WCWA
  6. Brittany Woods-Orrison (Menlo)
  7. Elissa Douglass (LC)
  8. Julia Mata (MVC)

136-pounds will see another 2019 WCWA national champion at the top of the bracket. Three-time All-American and national champion Solin Piearcy (Menlo) should roll through the top half of the bracket if she wrestles as she did at WCWA’s where she outscored her opponents 55-5. In addition to Piearcy, there are three other wrestlers with previous WCWA honors, Abnelis Yambo (BPC) and Bridgette Duty (UC) and Destiny Lyng (OCU). Two-time WCWA All-American Duty and 2019 All-American Lyng, will have a great battle in the quarters to earn the right to wrestle Piearcy.

Yambo, another very talented freshman, highlights the bottom half of the bracket. This summer she dominated the field at Fargo and that success carried over into her collegiate career as she earned an eighth-place finish at WCWA’s. I expect Yambo to power her way to the semifinals where a match with Erica Sotelo (LU) is likely to happen. This would be a rematch from the Tornado Open that Yambo won convincingly 6-1.

TOM Predictions

  1. Piearcy (Menlo)
  2. Yambo (BPC)
  3. Lyng (OCU)
  4. Duty (UC)
  5. Sotelo (LU)
  6. Matta (MVC)
  7. Woods-Orrison (Menlo)
  8. Douglass (LC)

143-pounds

Seeds:

  1. Maggie Douma (OCU) 4th 19WCWA, 7th 17WCWA, 2nd 16WCWA
  2. Angela Peralta (Menlo) 8th 19WCWA, 5th 18WCWA
  3. Sienna Ramirez (SOU) 5th 19WCWA, 6th 18WCWA
  4. Marilyn Garcia (Menlo)
  5. Zoe Wight (LU)
  6. Joy Muniz (UJ)
  7. Andrea Prince (UJ)
  8. Morgan Shines (LU)

We should see three wrestlers at 143-pounds who have earned WCWA All-American honors and any of the three could capture this weight. Maggie Douma (OCU) leads the charge as the top-seed. Douma is a two-time All-American, including a WCWA finals appearance back in 2016. In addition to Douma, Angela Peralta (Menlo) and Sienna Ramirez (SOU) have also garnered All-American honors. Peralta was fifth in 2018 and eighth in 2019. She was a finalist this year at both the Oregon Classic and the West Coast TOC. Ramirez has finished fifth and sixth respectively the last two years. This year was third at the TOC. At National Duals, Ramirez went 5-0 with two falls.

On the top half, Douma should push to the semifinals without issue where I like her to face Zoe Wight (LU). The senior Wight, was unable to break through and find a spot on the podium at WCWA’s. She went 2-2 this year and was a match short in 2018. At the Bearcat Open, Wight was third, and she had a nice showing at the National Duals, going 3-1. On the bottom half, Peralta is the two-seed and Ramirez the three-seed and both should push to the semifinals with relative ease. This will set up a rematch from the TOC won by Peralta.

TOM Predictions

  1. Douma (OCU)
  2. Sienna Ramirez (SOU)
  3. Peralta (Menlo)
  4. Wight (LU)
  5. Muniz (UJ)
  6. Garcia (Menlo)
  7. Prince (UJ)
  8. Bell (York)

155-pounds

Seeds:

  1. Iman Kazem (Menlo) 2nd 19WCWA, 4th 17WCWA, 5th 16WCWA
  2. Anna Naylor (UC) 5th 19WCWA, 6th 18WCWA
  3. Shamera McTier (MVC)
  4. Myranda Velasquez (UJ) 8th 19 WCWA
  5. Breanna Jennings (WBU)
  6. Sierra Talmadge (UJ)
  7. Alexia Foca (CU) 4th 18WCWA
  8. Destinee Rivera (LU)

Unlike most of these weight classes, we’ll get the opportunity for a woman who has not previously captured a WCWA national title to come away with the gold. The favorite is the top seed, three-time All-American and 2019 WCWA runner-up Iman Kazem (Menlo). Iman made the finals in an absolutely stacked 155 lb by defeating Alyvia Fiske (Simon Fraser) in the semis, which avenged an earlier loss to Fiske at the West Coast TOC. Most likely to clash with Kazem in the semis is another All-American Myranda Velasquez (UJ). At WCWA’s this year, Velasquez fell in the Round of 32 then proceeded to win five straight consolation matches before securing a spot on the podium.

Like Kazem, another senior that is eying her first national title is two-time All-American Anna Naylor (UC). Anna wrestled up to her fifth-seed at WCWA’s and was able to pin Velasquez in the consi’s despite being down in the match. Naylor started her senior year off with a win at the Missouri Valley Open. Speaking of Missouri Valley, the three seed is a Viking Shamera McTier. In 2018, McTier was just a match away from earning All-American honors at WCWA’s. A threat from a low seed at this weight is Alexia Foca (CU). The Campbellsville Tiger was also the seventh seed this year at WCWA’s and was upset in the Round of 16 before her elimination by Velasquez. In 2018, Foca was fourth in the WCWA, as a freshman.

TOM Predictions

  1. Kazem (Menlo)
  2. Naylor (UC)
  3. Velazquez (UJ)
  4. Foca (CU)
  5. McTier (MVC)
  6. Jennings (WBU)
  7. Talmadge (UJ)
  8. Rivera (LU)

170-pounds

Seeds:

  1. Dymond Guilford (MBU) 1st 19WCWA, 4th 18WCWA
  2. Mariah Harris (CU) 3rd 19WCWA, 2nd 18WCWA, 7th 17WCWA
  3. Precious Bell (Menlo) 4th 19WCWA, 5th 18WCWA
  4. Stephanie Pantoja (LU) 7th 19WCWA
  5. Rachel Watters (OCU) 3rd 18WCWA, 7th 17WCWA
  6. Jordan Nelson (LU)
  7. Kenya Sloan (CU)
  8. Alyssa Schrull (UJ)

Talk about a loaded weight, take a look at what we’re in store for at 170 lbs. The top seed, and rightfully so, is Dymond Guilford (MBU), the 2019 WCWA champion that went through her tournament without going the distance in any of her five matches. She mentioned after her finals win how much her confidence has grown throughout the WCWA tournament, so we’ll see how she handles being the favorite here. On her half of the bracket is Stephanie Pantoja (LU), a seventh-place finisher at WCWA’s, who was able to down Kenya-Lee Sloan (UC) directly after she upset the second seed, Precious Bell (Menlo). Both Bell and Sloan are on the bottom half of this bracket. A darkhorse contender here is two-time All-American Rachel Watters (OCU). Rachel did not compete at WCWA’s due to injury, but she had placed twice at the tournament and even was the top seed in 2018, when she eventually finished third.

In addition to the third seed Bell, the other side of the bracket will also feature three-time All-American Mariah Harris (CU). Both Harris and Bell met in the consolation finals at the 2019 WCWA’s and it was Harris who came out on top of a slim 3-2 win. After Precious was upset in the first round by Sloan, she rebounded to win six matches to earn her spot in the consolation finals. Harris got her season started off with an appearance in the NWCA/All-Star Match, where she had a rematch of her 2018 WCWA championship bout. Both Sloan and the sixth seed Jordan Nelson (LU) were a match away from the podium at WCWA’s this year.

TOM Predictions

  1. Guilford (MBU)
  2. Bell (Menlo)
  3. Watters (OCU)
  4. Harris (CU)
  5. Pantoja (LU)
  6. Sloan (CU)
  7. Nelson (LU)
  8. Schrull (UJ)

191-pounds

Seeds:

  1. Chi Chi Nwankwo (OCU) 4th 19WCWA
  2. Agatha Andrews (UJ) 5th 19WCWA
  3. Paige Baynes (WBU) 1st 18WCWA, 2nd 17WCWA, 6th 16WCWA
  4. Leilani Camargo-Naone (Mid) 2nd 18WCWA
  5. Jesse Kirby (UC) 6th 19WCWA
  6. Alexandra Castillo (CU) 7th 19WCWA

If we learned anything at WCWA’s this year, it was that 191 lbs is unpredictable and it was also dominated by an impressive crop of freshman. One of them is the top-seed Chi Chi Nwankwo (OCU). Chi Chi had an excellent first year for the Stars winning the Missouri Valley Open and defeating national champion Brittany Marshall while at 170 lbs. She would move up to 191 and still find success earning a spot in the finals of the Bearcat Open and finishing fourth at WCWA’s. Just to make the finals here, she’ll have to go through Leilani Camargo-Naone (Mid) a 2018 WCWA finalist that did not compete in the event in 2019. Another quality freshman on this half is Jesse Kirby (UC), who was sixth at WCWA’s this year.

The other half of the bracket is just as stacked with 2018 WCWA national champion Paige Baynes (WBU) was the three-seed. Baynes came into WCWA’s undefeated this year and appeared to be well on her way to repeating before she was pinned by freshman Agatha Andrews (UJ) and subsequently disqualified from the competition. As luck would have it, Andrews is the second seed, so there’s a strong possibility that we see a rematch in the semis. Trying to play spoiler is the sixth-seed another 2019 WCWA AA as a freshman, Alexandra Castillo (CU).

TOM Predictions:

  1. Baynes (WBU)
  2. Nwankwo (OCU)
  3. Camargo-Naone (Mid)
  4. Andrews (UJ)
  5. Kirby (UC)
  6. Castillo (CU)
  7. Sandoval (Menlo)
  8. Ochoa (MBU)

Team Score Predictions:

  1. Menlo
  2. Wayland Baptist
  3. Oklahoma City
  4. Campbellsville
  5. Jamestown

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