World Team Trials preview at 69 kg/152 lbs. in women’s freestyle

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | April 21, 2017, 11:27 a.m. (ET)
Elena Pirozhkova, shown at the 2016 Olympic Games, is seeking her 10th straight U.S. Senior World or Olympic Team berth.

Coming into the 2017 Women’s World Team Trials, there is expected to be a heated battle between a pair of 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials champions, two-time Olympian and past World champion Elena Pirozhkova, who won the 2016 Olympic Trials in Iowa City at 63 kg, and talented young Tamyra Mensah, the Trials champion at 69 kg last year. This could be a big-time battle between one of the greatest women wrestlers in American history (Pirozhkova) and a young star who may just be scratching the surface of her performance potential (Mensah).

Pirozhkova has competed at both 63 kg and 69 kg in recent seasons, making the 2015 World Team at 69 kg and the 2016 Olympic Team at 63 kg. She was a 2012 World champion at 63 kg, and won her three other World medals also down in weight, with World silver medals in 2010 and 2014 and a World bronze in 2013. If there is one word for Elena, it has to be consistency. Starting with the 2008 World Championships, Pirozhkova made nine straight U.S. World or Olympic Teams. She also won seven straight U.S. Open titles between 2009-2015. This year, jumping up to 69 kg for the U.S. Open, she beat Mensah in the finals by a 4-3 margin. Is it possible she will extend her Senior U.S. team streak to 10 in a row? She knows how to rise to the occasion when stakes are high.

Mensah won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials last year, but was unable to place high enough in the final two World Olympic Games qualifiers, and did not qualify the USA to compete in 69 kg at the Rio Games. In January 2017, Mensah made history by winning the respected Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix in Russia, only the sixth U.S. woman to win the event and the first since 2010. Mensah returned to college competition this year, winning her second WCWA College national title for Wayland Baptist University. She has won medals in some other big events, like a silver at the 2016 UWW Golden Grand Prix Finals and a bronze at 2015 Olympic Test event. Mensah has a great skill set and is capable of flashing an impressive offense. She has been making progress in all areas as she increases her international experience. Although she lost her last battle with Pirozhkova, Mensah has been very active since then and hopes to bring some new things onto the mat with her at the U.S. Open.

There is a pair of past World Team members who are eligible to enter, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Randi Miller and 2013 World Team member Veronica Carlson. It is not expected that either will be competing in Las Vegas, but if one or both enter, they bring a wealth of experience and success to the mat with them.

A wildcard at this weight class could be four-time University Nationals champion and two-time WCWA nationals champion Julia Salata, who is capable of making 69 kg, just like she did at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, where she placed fourth. Salata has been up at 75 kg this year, the runner-up at the U.S. Open and the champion at the University Nationals. Should Salata drop down, she is capable of reaching the finals, especially because she has won matches against Mensah in the past.

All of the other women who placed behind Pirozhkova and Mensah at December’s U.S. Open come from the college ranks. Third-place Forrest Molinari is from King University, fourth place Alexandria Glaude is from McKendree University, fifth place Andrea Sennett is also from McKendree University, sixth place Rachel Watters is from Oklahoma City University and seventh place Cara Romeike is from Jamestown University.

At the 2017 WCWA Nationals, Molinari was a runner-up this year at 170, but won the WCWA Nationals back in 2016. Molinari, a past Junior World Team member, competed at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials last year in both 69 kg and 75 kg, and actually placed fourth at 75 kg, the higher of her placements there. Being at 69 kg is a much more her natural weight class for her, so we should expect Molinari to be in the mix here.

At the 2017 WCWA Nationals, Glaude was fifth at 155 pounds, while Watters was seventh at 170 pounds. Watters, a two-time Junior World Team member, has been recovering from injury and may not be ready in time for the World Team Trials. Sennett was third at this year’s University Nationals. Romeike has been a U.S. Open place winner two times, also placing sixth in 2014 while still in high school.

The 2017 University Nationals champion at 69 kg, Niauni Hill from Lindenwood-Belleville, shows great promise down at this weight class. Hill is a three-time WCWA All-American, including a runner-up finish at 2017 at 155 pounds, losing to Mensah in the finals. She has been competitive at 75 kg in USA Wrestling events, placing fourth in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials at the higher weight class. She was also fourth in the 2016 U.S. Open and fifth in the 2015 U.S. Open.

Alexis Porter, who is on a redshirt year from McKendree Univ., was a 2016 Junior World bronze medalist at 67 kg. She has been competing at 63 kg on the Senior level this season, but is capable of a high finish if she bumps up to 69 kg for the World Team Trials. A two-time WCWA All-American, Porter boasts a 2015 University Nationals title.

Also earning her spot in the field, based upon her third-place finish at the WCWA Nationals at 155 pounds, is Kiera Gabaldon of Warner Pacific University. Other college wrestlers who are in the field include three members of the 2016 Junior National Team, Jessika Rottier of the University of the Cumberlands, Skylar Grote of Lafayette College and Hannah Gladden of the University of the Cumberlands. Rottier, a WCWA Nationals champion this year, is expected to be up at 75 kg where she has wrestled recently. Grote, a freshman in college this year, has a ton of USA Wrestling women’s age-group achievements during her high school years at respected Blair Academy in New Jersey. Gladden has also been part of the national freestyle scene for years.

2017 World Team Trials Qualifiers at 69 kg/152 lbs.
’14 World Team member – Randi Miller, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Titan Mercury WC)
’13 World Team member – Veronica Carlson, Rock Hill, S.C. (New York AC)
’16 Junior National team – Skylar Grote, Newton, N.J. (Blair Academy)
’16 Junior National team – Hannah Gladden, Gadsden, Ala. (Gator/OKCU RTC)
’16 Junior National team – Jessika Rottier, Little Suamico, Wisc. (Univ. of Cumberlands)
’17 Senior Nationals runner-up – Tamyra Mensah, Katy, Texas (Titan Mercury WC)
’17 Senior Nationals third place – Forrest Molinari, Benicia, Calif. (Titan Mercury WC)
’17 Senior Nationals fourth place – Alexandria Glaude, West Sacramento, Calif. (Bearcat WC)
’17 Senior Nationals fifth place – Andrea Sennett, Wheeling, Ill. (Bearcat WC)
’17 Senior Nationals sixth place – Rachel Watters, Ankeny, Iowa (Aires WC)
’17 Senior Nationals seventh place – Cara Romeike, South Jordan, Utah (Jamestown University)
’17 WCWA Nationals runner-up – Niauni Hill, Belleville, Ill. (Lindenwood-Belleville)
’17 WCWA Nationals third place – Kiera Gabaldon, Salem, Ore. (Warner Pacific)

2017 U.S. Open results at 69 kg/152 lbs.
1st – Elena Pirozhkova (Titan Mercury WC) dec. Tamyra Mensah (Titan Mercury WC), 4-3
3rd – Forrest Molinari (Titan Mercury WC) tech. fall Alexandria Glaude (Bearcat WC), 10-0
5th – Andrea Sennett (Bearcat WC) forfeit Rachel Watters (Aries WC)
7th – Cara Romeike (Jamestown) dec. Ophelia Lara (Lions WC), 6-4

2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials results at 69 kg/152 lbs.
1st - Tamyra Mensah (Katy, Texas/Titan Mercury WC) dec Brittney Roberts (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids), two matches to none
Mensah dec Roberts, 8-1
Mensah dec Roberts, 8-1
3rd – Randi Miller (Colorado Springs, Colo./U.S. Army WCAP) dec. Julia Salata (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC), 7-0