Freestyle WTT Challenge Tournament previews for 62 kg women and 79 kg men

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | May 12, 2018, 9:33 a.m. (ET)
Competition portraits of Mallory Velte from the 2017 World Championships and Alex Dieringer from the 2018 U.S. Open by Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors.

For 10 straight days, TheMat.com will post two previews each day for the Freestyle World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, set for Rochester, Minn., May 18-20. One of the previews will be in men’s freestyle, with the other in women’s freestyle.

This is a closed tournament, in which the athletes in the field must have qualified, based upon approved Team Selection Procedures in each style. The winners of each of the 20 weight classes advance to one of the three Final X series events in June.

In weight classes in which there was a 2017 World medalist, the 2018 U.S. Open champion advances directly to the best-of-three Championships Series in Rochester. In the weight classes without a 2017 World medalist, the U.S. Open champion has advanced directly to Final X and nobody sits out to the finals series in Rochester.

Today, we provide previews in women’s freestyle at 62 kg and men’s freestyle at 74 kg.

WOMEN’S FREESTYLE 62 KG

As a weight class without a World medalist, U.S. Open champion Kayla Miracle advanced directly to Final X, and nobody gets to sit out in Rochester. Miracle is a four-time WCWA champion and a multiple age-group World medalist. She currently is ranked No. 1 in the UWW Ranking Series worldwide at her weight. The runner-up at the U.S. Open was 2017 World Team member Mallory Velte, who fell to Miracle in the finals, 3-0.

Velte has established herself as a top Senior-level competitor for Team USA. She won the 2017 World Team Trials, after taking third at the 2017 U.S. Open in her junior year at Simon Fraser. So far this season, Velte won a gold medal at the Russia Cup and was second at the Dave Schultz Memorial in November. She completed her college career in January as a three-time WCWA national champion and four-time All-American. She made a decision to compete down at 62 kg, rather than going up to 65 kg, when the weight classes changed this year.

Taking third at the U.S. Open was 2014 World Team member Jenna Burkert, who probably has the most experience of anybody in the Rochester field. She was an age-group star for Team USA, making three UWW Junior World Teams and placing fifth at the first Youth Olympic Games in 2010. Burkert’s top finish at the U.S. Open was second in 2014 and 2015. Now with Army WCAP, Burkert was fourth in the 2017 CIMS Military World Championships.

Making a return to competition after missing some time to recover from injury is 2016 U.S. Open champion Amanda Hendey, who qualified for Rochester by finishing fourth at the Open in Las Vegas. Hendey lost to Velte 6-1 in the Open semifinals, and wrestled back to the third place bout, where she didn’t wrestle and gave an injury default to Burkert. Hendey has made a pair of Women’s National teams, and won a pair of Pan American silver medals. If Hendey returns to her pre-injury form, she is capable of making a challenge for Final X.

The other two qualifiers are among the best high school wrestlers in the nation. Kaden Campbell of Colorado placed fifth in the U.S. Open, taking the last spot from Vegas, as only the top five advanced to Rochester. Campbell scored a technical fall over Francesca Giorgio in the fifth-place match by technical fall. Giorgio was on the Women’s National Team last year. So far, Campbell has a ton of age-group medals within USA Wrestling’s program, and is making her mark in her first events on the Senior level.

The other high school star in the Rochester field is Alexandria Liles of Texas, who qualified by winning a silver medal at the 2018 Bill Farrell Memorial. Liles was ninth in the 2017 Cadet World Championships, and was fifth at the U23 World Team Trials this season. Liles is in the finals of the UWW Junior Nationals in Irving on Saturday, and if she wins, no new athlete advances to Rochester. If she loses to Brianna Csontos, then Csontos will earn the final spot in the Freestyle World Team Trials Challenge Tournament at 62 kg.

The winner of this weight advances to Final X in State College on June 16, to face U.S. Open champion Kayla Miracle of the Sunkist Kids for the World Team spot.

Women’s Freestyle 62 kg
Challenge Tournament entries

2018 Bill Farrell Memorial silver medalist – Alexandria Liles, Allen, Texas (Best Trained Texas)
2017 Senior World Team member at 63 kg – Mallory Velte, Sacramento, Calif. (Titan Mercury WC)
2018 U.S. Open third place – Jenna Burkert, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Army WCAP)
2018 U.S. Open fourth place – Amanda Hendey, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Titan Mercury WC)
2018 U.S. Open fifth place – Kaden Campbell, Greeley, Colo. (Daughters of Zion)
2018 UWW Junior World Team member –
Note: Winner in Rochester advances to Final X in State College on June 16, to face U.S. Open champ Kayla Miracle (Sunkist Kids)

MEN’S FREESTYLE 79 KG

As a weight class without a World medalist, U.S. Open champion Kyle Dake advanced directly to Final X, and nobody gets to sit out in Rochester. This is a new international weight class, and the U.S. Open finals was a tight battle between two 2018 National Team members at 74 kg, Dake and Alex Dieringer. The bout was close and hard-fought, with Dake winning a 5-5 criteria decision in the finals.

Dieringer has closed the gap on Dake in the last two seasons. Dake beat him in a 10-0 technical fall at the 2017 Paris International, but only beat him 2-1 at the 2017 World Team Trials. Dieringer will need to win in Rochester for another shot at Dake. A three-time NCAA champion, four-time All-American and Hodge Trophy winner at Oklahoma State, Dieringer has been a skilled freestyler going back to his high school days in Wisconsin. He was a Junior World silver medalist in 2013, and was third at the 2016 Olympic Trials right out of college. This year, he boasts Bill Farrell International and Outstanding Ukrainian Memorial golds. The new 79 kg weight class suits him well.

Perhaps the next top challenger was not in the field at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas. 2018 NCAA champion Zahid Valencia of Arizona State was a bit dinged up and skipped the Open at the last minute. He has proven his freestyle abilities at the age-group level, winning a 2017 UWW Junior World silver medal, and making three straight UWW Junior World teams, placing in the top 10 all three times. Valencia was second in the 2017 NCAA Championships, losing to Junior World champion Mark Hall of Penn State in the finals, but he beat Hall in the finals at this year’s NCAA finals.

Taking third at the U.S. Open was Josh Asper, who had the best domestic performance of his career there. Asper, a 2012 University Nationals champion, has won a variety of medals in international competition. A two-time All-American at Maryland, Asper was also a Junior Nationals runner-up in high school as a senior.

The rest of the qualifiers from Las Vegas are just starting to make their mark on the Senior freestyle scene. Placing fifth at the U.S. Open in his first year on the Senior level is Michael Evans, the former star at Iowa who is training under Cary Kolat down at Campbell University. Evans won a bronze medal at the 2018 Bill Farrell International prior to the Open. Evans was a three-time All-American for the Hawkeyes, placing sixth all three years on the podium.

Advancing to Rochester after taking sixth at the U.S. Open was Ben Harvey, a sophomore for Army West Point who was a round of 12 competitor at the 2018 NCAA Championships. Taking seventh was Stacey Davis, who competed for NC State. Davis was a placewinner at the UWW Junior and University levels in the past, but this was his first Senior-level achievement.

Jon Reader, an experienced freestyle wrestler with numerous international and national achievements, qualified for Rochester by winning the Dave Schultz Memorial in November. Reader has said he will not be competing this year. An assistant at South Dakota State, Reader followed head coach Chris Bono to Wisconsin this spring, and they are working together with the Badger program. If we see Reader in Rochester, it will probably be in the coach’s corner.

The winner of this weight advances to Final X in State College on June 16, to face U.S. Open champion Kyle Dake of the Titan Mercury WC for the World Team spot.

Men’s Freestyle 79 kg
Challenge Tournament entries
Nov. 17 Dave Schultz Memorial c
hampion– Jon Reader, Madison, Wis. (Sunkist Kids)
2018 NCAA champion – Zahid Valencia, Bellflower, Calif. (Arizona State)
2018 Bill Farrell Memorial champion – Alex Dieringer, Stillwater, Okla. (Titan Mercury WC)
2018 U.S. Open third place – Joshua Asper, Annapolis, Md. (Navy-Marine Corps RTC)
2018 U.S. Open fourth place – Michael Evans, Lillington, N.C. (Buies Creek RTC),
2018 U.S. Open fifth place – Nathan Jackson, Princeton, N.J. (NJRTC)
2018 U.S. Open sixth place – Ben Harvey, West Point, N.Y. (Army West Point)
2018 U.S. Open seventh place - Stacey Davis, Raleigh, N.C. (Wolfpack WC)
Note: Winner in Rochester advances to Final X in State College on June 16, to face U.S. Open champ Kyle Dake (Titan Mercury WC)