USA Wrestling Pico, Molinaro survi...

Pico, Molinaro survive wild 65 kg bracket, advance to U.S. Olympic Team Trials finals

By Roger Moore, | April 09, 2016, 3:24 p.m. (ET)

 Aaron Pico attacks Reece Humphrey in the 65 kg semifinals at the
2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City, Iowa.
Photo: John Sachs,
VIDEO: U.S. Olympic Team Trials Athlete Interviews

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Among the weight classes taking the mat on Saturday at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, the men’s freestyle 65 kg/143-pound bracket had more than a few “must-see” matches.

And a few surprises.

The first real Carver-Hawkeye Arena roar of the first session came when former Iowa Hawkeye Brent Metcalf (New York AC/Hawkeye WC) took the mat for a quarterfinal bout. But a collective groan followed six minutes later when the two-time NCAA champion and four-time U.S. World Team member dropped a 3-3 match to Frank Molinaro (Nittany Lion WC). A two-point exposure in the second period was the difference. A few hours later Molinaro, the ninth seed, bested Logan Stieber (Titan Mercury WC), 5-5, the difference a 4-point move to move into the finals.

The second seed, Jordan Oliver (Sunkist Kids), had a 6-2 lead after three minutes in a quarterfinal match. But 19-year-old Aaron Pico (Titan Mercury WC) was too much over the final three minutes, scoring a flurry of takedowns, the last one with 29 seconds remaining for an 11-9 win.

Pico opened his day with another monster second period. Trailing Dylan Ness (Minnesota Storm), 9-0, the Californian scored 20 unanswered points for a 20-9 conquest. In the semifinals, Pico, a 2013 Cadet World champion, had little trouble with Reece Humphrey (NYAC), rolling to a 12-1 technical fall.

Stieber, a four-time NCAA champion for Ohio State, trailed 2016 NCAA champion Zain Retherford (Nittany Lion WC), 4-2, after one period in the quarterfinals. But the former Buckeye, a runner up at the 2012 Olympic Trials, rallied with three second-period takedowns and an 8-6 decision. The final quarterfinal saw Humphrey get by Jimmy Kennedy (NYAC) in a wild 14-10 match.

At the end of the carnage, Pico and Molinaro were left standing and will meet tonight in a best-of-three championship series.

“I feel good, that’s the match I’ve been looking for,” said Pico after the semifinals. “I didn’t know when I was going to be able to wrestle (Humphrey) again; Reece is a great guy but the match didn’t sit well with me from (U.S.) Nationals.

“Honestly I didn’t know what to think coming into this. But I put in a lot of work, I’ve got great coaches. It feels good to be at the top, especially at one of the toughest weights. I have to win two more, then go qualify the weight in Mongolia and go win a gold medal at the Olympics.”

Pico will try and become the second 19-year-old in two years to make a U.S. Team.

Molinaro, like Pico, was not expected to be competing for a U.S. team spot.

“I don’t really feel much pressure now, my perspective is completely different,” Molinaro said. “I am in a good place with God and my family; I have a kid, another kid on the way. I have so much to be grateful for, this is just an opportunity to have fun, an opportunity to do what I love.
“I’m trying to enjoy myself out there, stay loose.”

The other men’s freestyle bracket, 125 kg/275 lbs., will see Tervel Dlagnev (Sunkist Kids) square off with Zach Rey (Lehigh Valley WC) in a Trials final for a second straight year. Dlagnev, who won the Pan American Olympic Qualifier in early March, seeks his seventh World Team spot. Rey, who beat two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski (New York AC) in the semifinals, competed at the 2015 World Championships when Dlagnev was injured.

Four weight classes in Greco-Roman determined who goes in the best-of-three series tonight.

At 59 kg/130 lbs., Spencer Mango’s (Army WCAP) bid for a ninth U.S. World Team spot was derailed by Jesse Thielke (New York AC), who flipped the two-time Olympian to his back early and led 6-0 after three minutes. A takedown halfway through the final stanza gave the Wisconsin native an 8-0 technical fall. Moments later, Mango took off his shoes and left them at the center marking his retirement. Ildar Hafizov (Army WCAP), who competed for Uzbekistan at the 2008 Olympics, used a powerful 4-point toss midway through the second period and went on to beat Ryan Mango (Army WCAP), 8-2, in the other 59 kg semifinal.

“I’m training full time, I know it’s my time. I am a man now, no excuses,” said Thielke after beating longtime friend and mentor Spenser Mango. “It’s my time. I know it. I’ve put in the training, put in the work. The hardest part has been making the weight and I made it probably the easiest I have in my life.”

RaVaughan Perkins (New York AC) dispatched Alejandro Sancho (New York AC) with two 4-point throws in the quarterfinals then edged 2012 Olympian Ellis Coleman (Army WCAP), 3-2, in the semifinals. Perkins will face Pat Smith (Minnesota Storm) tonight in the 66 kg/145.5 lbs. best-of-three series. Smith beat Michael Hooker (Army WCAP) in his semifinal after Hooker had knocked off top-seeded Bryce Saddoris (USMC) in the quarterfinals.

Ben Provisor (New York AC), a 2012 Olympian, beat three-time U.S. World Team member Jordan Holm (Minnesota Storm), 3-0, in an 85 kg/187-pound semifinal and will square off with 36-year-old Jacob Clark (Minnesota Storm) tonight. Clark made his first U.S. squad in 2006. Saturday afternoon the Hawaii native mauled Jon Anderson (Army WCAP), 11-3.

Former Division III national champion Josef Rau (Minnesota Storm) won a pair of matches to move into the 98 kg/215-pound final where he will meet the explosive Caylor Williams (Army WCAP), who seeks a fourth World Team spot.

Six women’s freestylers will vie for titles tonight.

Alli Ragan (New York AC) has competed in three straight World Championships. The Illinois native won two matches in the opening session and meets another veteran, Kelsey Campbell, tonight in a best-of-three series at 58 kg/128lbs. Campbell (Sunkist Kids), now 31, made her first World Team in 2007 and suited up for the U.S. at the 2012 Olympics in London. She got by rising star Teysha Alo (Titan Mercury WC), in the semifinals.

“You go out there and you are like a robot at first,” Ragan said. “New environment, big crowd. The more I went along during the day the more patience I got with my shots, the nerves wore off. Tonight it’s about bringing it, letting it fly. Wrestling here, this is what I’ve dreamed about.”

Elena Pirozkhova (Titan Mercury WC) won a World title in 2012. She faces Erin Clodgo (Sunkist Kids), who represented the U.S. at the 2015 World Championships, tonight for the top spot at 63 kg/138.75 lbs.

“I’ve switched a lot of things around,” Pirozkhova said after the semifinals. “I’m wrestling all right, not my best, not my worst, just getting the job done right now. Back at 63 (kg) again, so, I guess, today was satisfactory.

“(Tonight) I am going against somebody I’ve wrested a million times. I think the strategy is going to be whoever finds their takedowns. I’ve been down this road before so it helps that I’ve been in this situation.”

The 69 kg/152-pound best-of-three will feature Tamyra Mensah (Titan Mercury WC), who seeks her first World Team honor, and Brittany Roberts (Sunkist Kids), who beat 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Randi Miller (Army WCAP), 3-1, in the semifinals. Both Mensah and Roberts attended high schools in Texas, Mensah in Katy and Roberts in College Park.

The best-of-three finals will begin at 6 p.m. (CT) tonight and can be viewed live on NBC Sports Network. For complete U.S. Olympic Team Trials brackets from today's competition visit
April 9-10 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa
Best-of-three championship finals matchups

59 kg – Ildar Hafizov (Army WCAP) vs. Jessie Thielke (New York AC)
66 kg – Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) vs. RaVaughan Perkins (New York AC)
85 kg – Ben Provisor (New York AC) vs. Jacob Clark (Minnesota Storm)
98 kg – Josef Rau (Minnesota Storm) vs. Caylor Williams (Army WCAP)
Men’s freestyle
65 kg – Frank Molinaro (Nittany Lion WC) vs. Aaron Pico (Titan Mercury WC)
125 kg – Zach Rey (Lehigh Valley WC) vs. Tervel Dlagnev (Sunkist Kids)
Women’s freestyle
58 kg – Alli Ragan (New York AC) vs. Kelsey Campbell (Sunkist Kids)
63 kg – Erin Clogdo (Sunkist Kids) vs. Elena Pirozkhova (Titan Mercury WC)
69 kg – Tamyra Mensah (Titan Mercury WC) vs. Brittney Roberts (Sunkist Kids)
Semifinal Results

59 kg
Ildar Hafizov (Army WCAP) dec. Ryan Mango (Army WCAP), 8-2
Jesse Thielke (New York AC) technical fall Spenser Mango (Army WCAP), 8-0
66 kg
Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) dec. Michael Hooker (Army WCAP), 4-0
RaVaughn Perkins (New York AC) dec. Ellis Coleman (Army WCAP), 3-2
85 kg
Ben Provisor (New York AC) dec. Jordan Holm (Minnesota Storm), 3-0
Jacob Clark (Minnesota Storm) tech. fall Jon Anderson (Army WCAP), 11-3
98 kg
Josef Rau (Minnesota Storm) dec. Orry Elor (NYAC), 6-0
Caylor Williams (Army WCAP) tech. fall G’Angelo Hancock (NYAC), 8-0
Men’s freestyle
65 kg
Frank Molinaro (Nittany Lion WC) dec. Logan Stieber (Titan Mercury WC), 5-5
Aaron Pico (Titan Mercury WC) tech. fall Reece Humphrey (NYAC), 12-1
125 kg
Tervel Dlagnev (Sunkist Kids) dec. Dom Bradley (Sunkist Kids), 5-1
Zach Rey (Lehigh Valley WC) dec. Nick Gwiazdowski (NYAC), 4-2
Women’s freestyle
58 kg
Alli Ragan (New York AC) dec. Kayla Miracle (Sunkist Kids), 6-4
Kelsey Campbell (Sunkist Kids) dec. Teshya Alo (Titan Mercury WC), 4-2
63 kg
Erin Clodgo (Sunkist Kids) dec. Amanda Hendey (Titan Mercury WC), 4-2
Elena Pirozhkova (Titan Mercury WC) dec. Jennifer Page (Titan Mercury WC), 5-1
69 kg
Tamyra Mensah (Titan Mercury WC) tech. fall Julia Salata (NYAC), 11-1
Brittney Roberts (Sunkist Kids) dec. Randi Miller (Army WCAP), 3-1