Freestyle WTT Challenge Tournament previews at 97 kg men and 72 kg women

By Taylor Miller, USA Wrestling | May 15, 2018, 7:51 p.m. (ET)

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 men’s freestyle at 97 kg and women’s freestyle at 72 kg.

MEN’S FREESTYLE 97 KG

As a weight class with a World medalist, U.S. Open champion Austin Schafer advanced directly to the best-of-three Championship Series in Rochester.

A former wrestler at Oklahoma State, Schafer has been active on the freestyle scene recently, but he shocked the country when he won the 2018 U.S. Open, defeating Ty Walz in the finals, 14-7. En route to the finals, he also defeated National Team member Kyven Gadson and Dave Schultz Memorial International runner-up Blaize Cabell.

Entering the field this weekend to challenge Schafer once again at 97 kg is 2017 U.S. Open champion and 2017 World Team Trials runner-up Gadson. In his third year of full-time freestyle training, Gadson, a 2015 NCAA champion, has other impressive accolades to his name, including a 2016 University National title and a pair of international bronze medals from the Cerro Pelado and the Dave Schultz. Last month, he produced a third-place finish at the Open.

Walz, who took second at the Open, is a U23 World bronze medalist, who has won two international medals since his World debut, including gold at the 2018 Bill Farrell International and a silver at the 2018 Cerro Pelado. His runner-up performance at the 2018 U.S. Open marked his second top-five finish at the event, finishing fifth in 2017.

Taking fourth at the Open was three-time All-American for Iowa Nathan Burak. Training with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, Burak has been on several international tours in the last two years, collecting three medals along the way, including silver at the 2017 Paris International and bronzes at the Schultz and Cerro Pelado.

With his silver-medal result at the 20th Annual Dave Schultz Memorial International, Cabell earned a bid to Rochester. At the U.S. Open, Cabell finished eighth, injury defaulting in the seventh-place bout.

Others qualifying in this weight class are Ben Honis, Ross Larson and Braden Atwood, who finished fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively, at this year’s Open.

The winner of this weight advances to Final X in Lincoln, Neb., on June 9 to face Kyle Snyder of Titan Mercury WC for the World Team spot. Snyder is a 2016 Olympic champion and won World titles in 2015 and 2017.

Men’s Freestyle 97 kg

Directly to best-of-three series - 2018 U.S. Open champion – Austin Schafer, Ithaca, N.Y. (New York AC/FLWC)

Challenge Tournament entries

Nov. 17 Dave Schultz Memorial silver medalist – Blaize Cabell, Fresno, Calif. (Valley RTC)

2018 Bill Farrell Memorial champion – Ty Walz, Blacksburg, Va. (Titan Mercury WC/Southeast RTC)

2018 U.S. Open third place – Kyven Gadson, Ames, Iowa (Sunkist Kids)

2018 U.S. Open fourth place – Nathan Burak, Iowa City, Iowa (Titan Mercury WC)

2018 U.S. Open fifth place – Ben Honis, Jamesville, N.Y (Cornell University)

2018 U.S. Open sixth place – Ross Larson, Des Moines, Iowa (Viking WC),

2018 U.S. Open seventh place - Braden Atwood, Highland Falls, N.Y. (Sunkist Kids)

Note: Winner in Rochester advances to Final X in Lincoln on June 9, to face World medalist Kyle Snyder (Titan Mercury WC)

WOMEN’S FREESTYLE 72 KG

As a weight class without a World medalist, U.S. Open champion Erin Clodgo advanced directly to Final X, and nobody gets to sit out in Rochester. Clodgo is a veteran at the Senior level winning a spot on the 2015 U.S. World Team and making eight other National Teams. Last month she won her fourth U.S. Open title and second in a row.

Looking to challenge Clodgo at Final X is U.S. Open runner-up Rachel Watters, who is a three-time Junior World Team member and recently made her second-straight U23 World Team in March. Watters is also a two-time WCWA All-American for Oklahoma City University, wrapping up her sophomore campaign in 2018.

Third-place finisher at the U.S. Open Hannah Gladden, who was a two-time WCWA All-American. Just days after the U.S. Open, Gladden represented the United States at the 2018 Pan American Championships, returning home with a bronze medal.

U23 World Team Trials runner-up Alyvia Fiske, a student-athlete at Simon Fraser, qualified for the event with a fourth-place finish at the Open. Even more recently, Fiske earned a spot on the 2018 U.S. Junior women’s freestyle World Team, winning the 72 kg bracket at the 2018 Women’s Nationals last weekend in Irving, Texas.

2017 National Team member at 69 kg Niauni Hill qualified for this weekend’s World Team Trials after winning the 155-pound bracket at the 2018 Women’s College Wrestling Association National Championships, which are contested in freestyle. Hill did not compete at the Open.

The final qualifier at the weight is Colorado’s Jerzie Estrada, a junior-aged athlete who took third in the Junior World Team Trials last weekend in Texas. Estrada qualified with her fifth-place performance at the U.S. Open.

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

Women’s Freestyle 72 kg

Challenge Tournament entries

2018 WCWA champion at 155 – Niauni Hill, Oakland, Calif. (Lindenwood-Belleville)

2018 U23 National champion – Rachel Watters, Ankeny, Iowa (Aires WC)

2018 U.S. Open third place – Hannah Gladden, Gadsden, Ala. (Lions WC/Emmanuel)

2018 U.S. Open fourth place – Alyvia Fiske, Napa, Calif. (Titan Mercury WC)

2018 U.S. Open fifth place – Jerzie Estrada, Parker, Colo. (Daughters of Zion)

Note: Winner in Rochester advances to Final X in State College on June 16, to face U.S. Open champion Erin Clodgo (Sunkist Kids)