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Women's Wrestling

Part One: Looking back to 2021, an exceptional year for women’s wrestling

 Pictured: Adeline Gray (USA) celebrates after pinning  Epp Maee (EST) and winning her  sixth World gold medal at the 2021 World Championships in Oslo, Norway. Photo by  Justin Hoch.

We may only be three weeks into 2022, but the sport of women’s wrestling is off to a tremendous start, with much to be encouraged about (at all levels), regarding the future of the fasting growing youth and high school sport.

Plus, we can’t forget this impressive start to 2022 comes after a simply fantastic year for women’s wrestling in 2021.

While this is not an inclusive list, here are some unique storylines in women’s wrestle across all levels (high school, college, and international) last year in 2021 and in 2022 so far.

The following is presented by Adidas Wrestling. Part One will highlight last year (2021), and Part Two will look at some of the notable developments from the first three weeks of 2022. 

As discussed in Derek Levendusky’s story, “The Top 5 Stories in Women’s Wrestling in 2021 and Gary Abbott’s article, “ABBOTT BLOG: THE TOP 10 WRESTLING STORIES OF 2021,” there is some overlap among those articles and this one. It would be negligent to not also address them below. Some of the headlines are just that important. Simply put, they warrant further discussion.

That said, the below story adds some extra details to certain storylines, plus add some completely new storylines as well.

Enjoy!

Tokyo 2020 was the best Olympic Games for the U.S. Women’s Team

The U.S. women brought back a program-record four Olympic medals in August, including one gold medal by Tamyra Mensah-Stock. Alongside Tamyra, teammate Adeline Gray brought home Olympic silver while Helen Maroulis and Sarah Hildebrandt claimed Olympic bronze medals.

This impressive Tokyo 2020 Olympic medal haul for the American women is noteworthy for a few reasons. Most importantly, Mensah-Stock’s gold medal is just the second in the history of the USA’s women’s Olympic team (Helen Maroulis in Rio in 2016 was the other). Mensah-Stock is also the first Black woman to have done so.  

Additionally, the women’s squad never earned more than two medals in any prior Olympic Games (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016). Similarly, the combined total Olympic medal count over those last  four Olympic cycles was five. So, to bring home four total medals (including a gold medal) in a single Olympics, that’s downright phenomenal.

Team USA carried Tokyo 2020 momentum into the Oslo 2021 World Championships

In much the same way that Team USA’s showing into Tokyo was historic with regard to on-mat performance and medal count, so too were the efforts in Oslo at the World Championships in October.

In Norway, the Red, White, and Blue brought home a combined seven World medals. Olympic medalists Gray and Maroulis (and two others) doubled-up and claimed medals in Tokyo and Oslo. In Norway, though, the pair received gold. For Gray, 2021 was her sixth World crown, and for Maroulis, 2021 was her third World title.

With their most recent World medals, both Gray and Maroulis have become the most decorated duo in USA Wrestling history. At 31, Gray is now a nine-time World/Olympic medalist, while Maroulis (30 years old) is a seven-time World/Olympic medalist.

Other Oslo 2021 World medalists for the U.S. women’s squad were Hildebrandt (silver), Jenna Burkert (bronze), Kayla Miracle (silver), Forrest Molinari (bronze), and Mensah-Stock (bronze). 

In total, that adds to two golds, two silvers, and three bronze for U.S. women. And four of six Olympians (Mensah-Stock, Gray, Maroulis, and Hildebrandt) earned both Olympic and World medals over a roughly two-month span.

The numbers speak for themselves. Anytime your Olympic and World Team can have back-to-back record-setting showings, things are going great.

Iowa Brought Women’s Wrestling to Division I Power Five Level

Iowa announced in September that it will be the first Power Five program to offer women’s wrestling, starting in the 2023-2024 school year. Months later, the Hawkeyes revealed that Olympic bronze medalist and 2008 World champion Clarissa Chun would be the first head coach. Since then, some top high school and college prospects, most notably Kennedy and Korina Blades (Wyoming Seminary, PA / Chicago, IL) and  even current McKendree University  two-time NWCA national champion Emma Bruntil (Acme, WA) have been visiting Iowa City.

Might they be Hawkeyes in the near future? Time will tell. 

Iowa adding a women’s team is a significant development for many reasons. It may be the first domino to fall, meaning other Power Five schools might pull the trigger on a women’s team of their own (Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Penn State, and others) are potential likely options

Also, should other schools join in on this trend, the best athletes no longer have to attend primarily mid-major, NAIA, or D-II/D-III schools to be able to wrestle on a women’s team in college.

Lastly, a team at Iowa (and possibly other blueblood wrestling schools soon) will only further aid the developmental/training opportunities for our U.S. women’s team on the internal stage.

McKendree University Dominated 2021 NCWWC’s with Six of 10 National Champs

Some programs are just a cut above the rest. Well, in 2021, McKendree University left little doubt that their program reigned supreme within the ranks of women’s college wrestling.

Powerhouse NCAA women’s program McKendree pulled its best Penn State impression with the back-to-back titles at the Cliff Keen National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championship (NCWWC) in 2020 and 2021, earning five individual champions in 2020, and then six national champs at the event this past March (2021), in Tiffin, Ohio.

For the McKendree Bearcats, Both Bruntil and Sydnee Kimber went back-to-back to become two-time NCWWC national champions in as many attempts.

King University has Significant Presence at 2021 U23 Worlds and the 2021 Senior World Team Trials

Yes, McKendree has had the slight  edge over the King Tornados at the last two NCWWC’s, but the Tennessee-based university is right there!

Also, though, King wrestlers past and present have seen significant representation on the international scene at UWW U23s and the latest  Senior World Team Trials.

Sage Mortimer Brings a Sensational High School Career to a Close with a Fargo Title

In July 2021, Sage Mortimer (Springville, Utah) brought her high school wrestling career to a close.

Now a freshman wrestler at at King University (Bristol, Tennessee), Mortimer ended her prep career on the highest of notes – with a Fargo stop sign – the fourth of her career (two in the 16U division and two at the Junior division). Mortimer ended her high school tenure as a five-time Fargo  finalist.

Mortimer earned four individual state championships in girls wrestling. She also became the first girl champion in Utah boys wrestling history.

More States Continue to Sanction Girls High School Wrestling

Per Trackwrestling, the number of states to sanction girls high school wrestling has continued to rise. In 2021, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin all took steps to sanction this great sport. Well done! Let’s keep pushing.

Pennsylvania up to 32 Women’s High School Wrestling Programs and Counting

Ironically, some of the blueblood states, synonymous with high school wrestling acumen, have been the slowest adaptors with sanctioning girls wrestling in their state, Pennsylvania being one of them.

In March 2020, the the PIAA stated that 100 schools is the threshold needed to sponsor a girls wrestling team before they will sanction it and create a PIAA Girls Wrestling State Championship.

Well, in under two years, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Keystone State is nearly 33% of the way to that goal. That is certainly impressive growth. It’s only a matter of time until we see a PIAA Girls Wrestling State Championship.

High Schoolers Kennedy Blades and Kylie Welker showcased a Youth Movement for Team USA’s women’s freestyle squad

 Kennedy Blades (68 kg) and Kylie Welker (76 kg) stormed to the finals at the Olympic Team Trials last April. Blades dropped both matches against the eventual Olympic gold medalist Mensah-Stock, while Welker dropped a pair of bouts to eventual Olympic silver medalist Gray. 

To be mere matches from making the Olympic Games as teenagers is simply remarkable. It is a testament to their elite skillsets. 

Despite not competing in Tokyo, both Blades and Welker went on to win gold at the UWW Junior World Championships in Ufa, Russia, in April. The duo won World titles along with teammates Emily Shilson (Augsburg University) and fellow high schooler Amit Elor . They are also part of this thriving youth movement for Team USA’s women’s freestyle squad.

FloWrestling Adds Women’s Who’s #1 Card 

The crowned jewel preseason event  of the high school wrestling season is FloWrestling’s Who’s #1? The event is designed to pit the No. 1 and No. 2 wrestlers in the nation  against one another to determine who the top wrestler at the weight is heading into the regular season.

Well. in 2021, fans were treated to a double-dose of fun as  Flo added a women’s card to its signature event. The women’s card was night one and the men’s card was night two. Both cards were excellent.

https://twitter.com/theopenmat/status/1439276870651027464

Part Two of this feature will look at some of the notable developments that we have already seem from the women’s wrestling space in just the first three weeks of 2022.

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