Alexis Porter photo courtesy of McKendree Athletics
It has finally arrived! The 2018-19 WCWA season officially kicked off last weekend with the Emmanuel Open and the Lady Warrior Open in what is sure to be another exciting season. Three champions from 2018 (Dominique Parrish, Brittany Marshall, Paige Baynes) and two from 2017 (Andribeth Rivera, Jessika Rottier) will attempt to get back on top of the podium but will undoubtedly, face fierce competition. With just over 100 days until the WCWA National Championships, here is a look at five wrestlers to keep an eye on this year.
Nicole Depa – Simon Fraser University
One would think that Simon Fraser’s Nicole Depa enters her senior season with one goal in mind; win a national championship. Depa has wrestled in the WCWA National Championships three times and three times, she has made the finals. Unfortunately, she has walked away as the runner-up each time. Unseeded as a freshman in 2016, Depa fought her way to the 130-pound finals before falling to top-seed Natalia Hinojo (Oklahoma City). The following year, she overcame having to re-wrestle the 2nd period of her semifinals match from the previous day before falling to Kayla Miracle (Campbellsville) in the finals. In 2018, Depa entered the tournament in a loaded 130-pound bracket undefeated as the three-seed. Outscoring her opponents 44-4 on her way to the finals where she would again lose to a Campbellsville opponent, this time Grace Bullen. She is a gritty competitor who has to be considered a favorite to claim the top spot her senior year.
Rachel Watters – Oklahoma City University
Rachel Watters has had success at every level she has competed. Multiple Fargo titles, multiple age-level world team’s and after two years of competing for Oklahoma City University, two WCWA All-American finishes. Two years ago as a freshman, Watters came away with a seventh-place finish at her first trip to the WCWA National Championships. Last year she entered the tournament as the top-seed after a come-from-behind victory over top-ranked Brittany Marshall (Wayland Baptist) in one of the most exciting matches of the WCWA season. However, she was upset by Mariah Harris (Campbellsville) in the semifinals and ultimately battled back for third while watching Marshall win a national championship. Since then, she has only gone on to take third at the Klippan Lady Open in Sweden, earn a spot on the U23 World Team, and then narrowly missed making the 2018 Women’s Freestyle Senior World Team after three hard-fought matches to Erin Clodgo. It will be interesting to see if Watters can follow-up her recent success with her first WCWA national title.
Andribeth Rivera – Campbellsville University
Two years ago, Andribeth Rivera stormed onto the scene as a freshman to claim the 123-pound title at the 2017 WCWA National Championships with a victory over Dominique Parrish (Simon Fraser) in the finals. However, due to personal reasons, Rivera did not compete in her sophomore season. She is expected to return this year will be considered one of the top contenders regardless of weight class. In May, Rivera competed in the 2018 Pan-American Championships and became just the second female ever to claim a title for Puerto Rico when she won the 59 kg championship. Down 8-0 to her Canadian finals opponent, Rivera would eventually throw her opponent to her back and secure the fall. Could a potential finals match between Rivera and the previously mentioned Depa be on the horizon?
Alexis Porter – McKendree University
Alexis Porter enters her senior season for McKendree University as an early season favorite to capture her first WCWA national title. Having finished fourth, fifth, and second, respectively, the 2016 Junior World bronze medalist has a good chance of becoming McKendree’s first WCWA national champion in the history of the program. Last season she entered the tournament as the second seed and cruised to the semifinals where she then edged out super-frosh, Kayla Marano (Emmanuel), to make the finals. Unfortunately, she was up against Mallory Velte (Simon Fraser) who would go on to win her third consecutive WCWA national championship. Porter should enter the season as the top-ranked wrestler at 143-pounds and recently dominated her way to a title at the Lady Warrior Open.
Anna Naylor – University of the Cumberlands
Lost in all the excitement from the 2017-18 WCWA season was the incredible story of Anna Naylor. Naylor returned from a year’s absence from the sport she loves after donating part of her liver to her mother who was battling a serious and life-threatening illness. Entering the 2018 championships unseeded, Naylor would scrap her way to a sixth-place All-American finish, including an upset over the fourth-seeded wrestler in her 155-pound bracket. The California native returns for one final season and will be eagerly looking to improve upon last year as she chases her second appearance on the podium. She will be an essential cog in the Cumberlands lineup that looks to finish in the top-five for the first time since 2012.