2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials preview for 75 kg in women’s freestyle

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | April 06, 2016, 5:41 p.m. (ET)
Adeline Gray tosses an opponent at the Pan American Games in Toronto. Photo by Tony Rotundo.

Competition Day: Sunday, April 10

Is Weight Class Qualified Yet for Olympic Games: Yes

One of the most dominant wrestlers in the world is three-time World champion Adeline Gray of the New York AC, who comes into the Olympic Trials with great momentum. Gray won her first World title at 68 kg in 2012, then moved up to the highest weight class for her Olympic run. She won a 2013 World bronze medal at her new weight, then captured World golds in 2014 and 2015. Earlier this season, Gray went down to the Olympic Test Event, where she beat many of her top contenders on the way to an impressive gold medal on the mats where the Olympics will be held.

She is on a 35-match win streak which goes back 2 ½ seasons. Gray’s five career World medals and three career World titles puts her No. 2 in both categories in U.S. history, behind four-time World champion Tricia Saunders and nine-time World medalist Kristie Davis respectively. She has been dominant against American opponents since moving up to 75 kg. She was second at the 2012 Olympic Trials to Elena Pirozhkova when she went down to 63 kg that season. This time around, she is at a weight class where she is comfortable, confident and effective.

The most consistent challenger to Gray in recent seasons has been Jackie Surber of the Titan Mercury WC, who was second in the World Team Trials the last two years. Surber boasts U.S. Open titles in 2014 and 2016, and was U.S. Open runner-up in 2006 and 2015. Surber was on the Women’s National Team way back when she was in high school, but did not wrestle for six years when she made a comeback in 2013. She has beaten most of the other challengers except Gray since her return. The big question is whether Surber decides to drop down to 69 kg, which is a possibility for her.

2005 World champion Iris Smith has been a regular challenger since breaking onto the Senior scene as a high school star from Georgia back in 1995. She won the U.S. Open in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2005, and has competed on three U.S. World Teams. She was also third in the 2014 CISM Military World Championships. She will be in her fourth Olympic Trials event, one of the few in the field in any style with that kind of experience and history.

Another top challenger is 2014 Junior World bronze medalist Victoria Francis of the Titan Mercury WC. Francis is a two-time WCWA college national champion for Lindenwood and placed second in the 2016 U.S. Open. She is coming off her second straight University Nationals title.

The rest of the field includes young hopefuls who are moving up through the ranks, mostly in the women’s college programs. Earning spots in the Trials based upon their placement at the 2016 U.S. Open were Niauni Hill of Lindenwood Belleville, Brandy Lowe of McKendree University, 2014 Cadet World Team member Katerina Lobsinger of the Combat Sports Academy and Nahiela Magee of Wayland Baptist University.

Earning spots in the field based upon their finish at the WCWA Nationals a few months later were Kierra Boyce of Wayland Baptist, Hanna Hall of Campbellsville, Alyssa LaFrancis of the Univ. of the Cumberlands, Renee Samano of Jamestown and Tiara Scott of Campbellsville. Some of the college athletes are from weight classes which are higher than the 165 pounds at the Olympic level, so it will be interesting to see if any of them come down in weight and enter in Iowa City.

Two athletes joined the field through the Last Chance Qualifier, veterans Tanya Kusse and Mary Westman. Kusse wrestled in college for Lindenwood, but has not been on a wrestling mat for a few seasons. Westman, a Junior Nationals champion who has has dealt with some injuries, but was persistent during the Trials process and earned her trip to Iowa City.

Frankly, Adeline Gray has dominated opponents from the United States and around the world in recent years. She skips directly to the best-of-three series in Iowa City. Gray needs only two more wins to reach her dream of making the Olympic Team, and having her shot at Olympic gold. The honest question is who will earn the right to challenge her, and will she have a different outcome than has been the pattern in recent years.

U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM TRIALS QUALIFIERS as of April 3

Women’s Freestyle -75 kg/165 lbs.

’15 World Medalist advances to Trials Finals Series –Adeline Gray, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)
Olympic Team Trials Tournament qualifiers
Past World or Olympic Team member – Iris Smith, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC)
’15 Olympic Trials Qualifier champion – Jackie Surber, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Titan Mercury WC)
’15 Olympic Trials Qualifier runner-up – Victoria Francis, Litchfield, Ill. (Titan Mercury WC)
’15 Olympic Trials Qualifier fourth place – Niauni Hill, Oakland, Calif. (Lindenwood Women`s WC)
’15 Olympic Trials Qualifier fifth place – Brandy Lowe, Paxico, Kan. (Bearcat WC)
’15 Olympic Trials Qualifier sixth place – Katerina Lobsinger, Martinez, Calif. (Combat Sports Academy)
’15 Olympic Trials Qualifier seventh place – Nahiela Magee, Lancaster, Calif. (Wayland Baptist)
WCWA Nationals silver medalist at 170 - Hanna Hall, Doylestown, Ohio (Campbellsville)
WCWA Nationals bronze medalist at 170 - Alyssa LaFrancis, Escondido, Calif. (Cumberlands)
WCWA Nationals gold medalist at 191 - Tiara Scott, Chicago, Ill. (Campbellsville)
WCWA Nationals bronze medalist at 191 - Kierra Boyce, Plugersville, Texas (Wayland Baptist)
WCWA Nationals fourth place at 191 - Renee Samano, Veneta, Ore. (Jamestown)
’16 Final Olympic Trials Qualifier champion – Tanya Kusse, Ballwin, Mo. (Xtreme Training)
’16 Final Olympic Trials Qualifier runner-up - Mary Westman, Cattaraugus, N.Y. (Jimmie WC)

Over the next 18 days, leading into the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City, Iowa, April 9-10, TheMat.com will post one weight class preview each day. There are six weight classes in each style at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, and the previews will start with the lightest weight classes and go through the heaviest.