Abbott Blog: Top 10 wrestling stories of 2019

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Dec. 27, 2019, 11:52 a.m. (ET)
Adeline Gray celebrates in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan after winning her fifth career Senior World gold medal. Photo by Larry Slater.

It has become a holiday tradition for me to take a break from the daily grind, and look back on the year in wrestling which is coming to an end. Putting together an annual Top 10 list of wrestling stories is not always an easy task, as there have been a ton of great achievements and amazing athletes to consider.

With the Senior Nationals being held in late December, right before Christmas, I had a late start doing the research for this story. But as in other years, it is truly enjoyable going back in time, pulling together the details of these events, and trying to craft a column to share with the wrestling community. This is one of the ways I enjoy my holiday season.

The 2019 year had a variety of great stories. Here is my top 10 list of 2019:

1. Adeline Gray wins record fifth World title – You have to give credit where it is due. Our top story of the year is about the same great athlete as it was last year. Adeline Gray set the new record for career Senior World gold medals by claiming her fifth World title with a powerful performance in Nur-Sultan, Kazakshtan. Gray was dominant. She opened the tournament with three straight technical falls. In the semifinals, she won a smart 5-1 decision over past World champion Aline Focken of Germany. Her finals was another masterful 4-2 win over Hiroe Suzuki of Japan. She did this only a short time after having surgery on her hands over the summer, a major obstacle which could not slow her down. Facing a loaded weight class, Gray continues to set the standard when it most counts. Gray moved ahead of four-time Senior World champions John Smith, Tricia Saunders and Jordan Burroughs with her victory. Next up in 2020 is a run at the Olympic gold which has eluded her. Without doubt, Adeline Gray is an all-time great, with even more achievements ahead of her to look forward to.

2. Kyle Dake and J’den Cox repeat as World champions – Winning a World title is a tremendous feat. Repeating as a World champion takes that achievement up to an even higher level. After winning 2018 World titles in Budapest, Hungary, Kyle Dake and J’den Cox decided to remain in their non-Olympic weight classes for one more year to defend their turf. Dake spent much of the season recovering from injury, and needed to delay his 79 kg Final X series to a Special Wrestle-off, beating Alex Dieringer in a Special Wrestle-off in Texas. Cox defeated college star Bo Nickal in his 92 kg Final X matchup. At the Worlds in Nur-Sultan, Cox took care of business first. He shut out all four of his opponents on the way to gold, outscoring them 26-0. In the finals, he beat a regular opponent, Alireza Karimimachiani of Iran, 4-0. The next night was Dake’s turn in the finals. All four of his opponents were from former Soviet republics. After a tech-fall win in his opener, Dake beat Russian Gadzhi Nabiev 5-1 in the quarters and Uzbekistan veteran Rashid Kurbanov in the semifinals, 6-1. For the second straight year, Dake faced tough Jabrayil Hasanov of Azerbaijan in the finals. Dake was once again in control, winning 4-2 this time. Once again, Dake and Cox (who wrestled in the 2016 Olympic Trials finals at 86 kg) were posing together with gold medals and champion belts. Coming up is a move to an Olympic weight, with Dake looking to go at 74 kg against longtime rival Jordan Burroughs. Cox has yet to announce whether he’s doing down to 86 kg to battle David Taylor, or up to 97 kg to square off with Kyle Snyder. Both Dake and Cox will help make the 2020 Olympic year very exciting.

3. Penn State continues dynasty with eighth NCAA team title is the last nine years – Eight NCAA titles within nine years. It is fair to say that Penn State wrestling is a dynasty, the program which all other teams are measured against. Cael Sanderson’s Nittany Lions, with a veteran team and a talented lineup, finished the 2018-19 season undefeated in dual meets and as Big Ten champions. At the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh, the Lions pushed five wrestlers into the finals and clinched the team title on Saturday morning during the medal-match rounds. Winning national titles were seniors (and three-time champions) Jason Nolf (157) and Bo Nickal (197), as well as heavyweight Anthony Cassar. Runners-up were past champions Vincenzo Joseph (165) and Mark Hall (174). Other All-Americans were Roman Bravo-Young (133) and Nick Lee (141). The only question mark in Pittsburgh was which PSU wrestler would win the Hodge Trophy, Nickal and Nolf, both who were deserving. Nickal won that vote. Can the Lions make it nine out of ten? That will be a big story for 2020.

4. Tamyra Mensah-Stock goes unbeaten on way to World title, and Jacarra Winchester’s title gives the USA three women’s golds – Those in wrestling have known for a while that Tamyra Mensah-Stock was a special athlete with impressive wrestling skills. Everyone has been looking for Mensah-Stock to put together one perfect tournament at the right time. In her own very positive way, Mensah-Stock was able to do it one better. She ran the table, going undefeated for the year and winning her first Senior World gold medal. A 2018 World bronze medalist and three-time Yarygin champion, Mensah was ready for the big test at the Worlds in Nur-Sultan. She won five matches in which she was in total control. Very impressive was the 10-1 quarterfinal win over 2016 Olympic champion Sara Dosho of Japan. In the finals, she was in command in an 8-2 decision over Olympic medalist and past World champion Jenny Fransson of Sweden. Her joyous celebration with the American flag after beating Fransson is a video classic. Her win gave the USA a record three World champions in women’s freestyle for the first time. Along with Mensah-Stock and Gray, Jacarra Winchester had a championship performance at 55 kg, marching through the field with four victories. In the gold-medal finals, Winchester trailed 3-2 in the second period, but secured a late takedown to defeat Japan’s Nanami Irie, 5-3. Winchester’s improvement and growth has been impressive. With three gold medalists, the USA women have raised the bar higher and continue to be a world power.

5. NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics recommends Emerging Sport Status for women’s wrestling – The process began in 2017, as key leaders in women’s wrestling began regular conference calls. The objective was to seek NCAA Emerging Sport Status for women’s wrestling, and a coalition of organizations came together to submit a detailed proposal to the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics (CWA) in August 2017. After review, the CWA asked for additional information, and a follow-up proposal was submitted in August 2018. Numerous information requests and meetings with the CWA followed. On June 3, the CWA officially recommended that all three NCAA Divisions add women’s freestyle wrestling as an Emerging Sport. This was a huge step forward in the process. Votes will be held within all three divisions in 2020. Women’s wrestling could have official Emerging Sport status by August 2020. In response, the coalition has created a new national event for NCAA-affiliated women’s wrestling teams, the National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championships, which will be hosted at Adrian College, March 6-7, 2020. Women’s wrestling at all levels is growing quickly. The NAIA held its first national invitational for women’s wrestling in March of 2019. It is an exciting time of growth for women’s college wrestling.

6. Zain Retherford beats Yianni Diakomihalis after arbitration drama at 65 kg – This summer, the wrestling community was caught up in the Yianni vs. Zain saga. At the 2019 U.S. Open in April in Las Vegas, Yianni Diakomihalis defeated Zain Retherford in the 65 kg freestyle finals, 6-4, claiming the top spot for Final X: Rutgers in June. Retherford earned the right to challenge Diakomihalis by winning the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament in North Carolina in May. A highly anticipated best-of-three series, Retherford came out strong in Final X: Rutgers to sweep both matches and earn the World Team berth. However, his match two win over Diakomihalis was controversial. Officials had raised Yianni’s hand in an 8-6 decision, but Zain challenged, and after a video review, the bout was scored 6-6 with Zain taking criteria. The big question concerned how officials came to that decision, and whether Zain’s corner had challenged within the specified time allowed. Yianni pursued his legal rights under the Amateur Sports Act to submit a grievance through the USOPC. This ultimately went to an arbitrator, Professor Matthew Mitten, who ruled that the challenge was improper, and Match Two from Final X must be re-wrestled. The conclusion of the Final X series was set for Sept. 2 at Wilkes College, and was sold out in just hours. This new match went to Retherford again, a 2-1 victory which ended the series and sent Zain to the World Championships in Nur-Sultan.

7. College wrestlers jumping into transfer portal, and recruits changing their signing commitments – This is a bigger story, which goes beyond college wrestling and into college athletics across the board. The creation of the transfer portal option for athletes, which basically allows them to transfer more efficiently, has given wrestlers greater movement within the college scene. An example of this happened during the week after the U23 Worlds in October when U23 team members Jaydin Eierman of Missouri and Greg Kerkvliet of Ohio State moved into the transfer portal. Eierman quickly announced his move to Iowa, and Kerkvliet announced a few weeks later that he was headed to Penn State. More wrestlers are making this choice, which can affect the team race at the Div. I level. Another trend in wrestling has been that a number of top high school recruits are changing their minds and switching their college commitments during the recruiting season. For example this year, talented Junior National double champion Anthony Echemendia of Arizona, a defector from Cuba, first announced he’d go to Iowa State, then switched to Ohio State. There are many other examples of transfers and commitment changes that can be cited. Expect that this fluid movement of wrestlers between programs will continue in the years to come.

8. Bo Nickal wins U23 World title – There was little doubt that three-time NCAA champion and Hodge Trophy winner Bo Nickal had the ability to succeed in international freestyle after his impressive college career was over. Nickal made a run at the Senior World Team this spring, winning the Freestyle World Team Trials Challenge Tournament in North Carolina, to secure a Final X berth at 92 kg against World champion J’den Cox. Although Cox won the series in two straight matches, Nickal’s abilities were very apparent. Based on his Final X berth, Nickal earned the right for a Special Wrestle-off for the U23 World Team, and he beat Jake Woodley of Oklahoma in two straight bouts in Fargo in July for a spot on the team. The U23 Worlds were set for Budapest, Hungary in late October, and Nickal was dominant. He powered to the finals with three strong wins, a technical fall and a pin, as well as a 9-1 semifinal victory over Shamil Zubairov of Azerbaijan. His finals opponent was highly-respected Russian Senior Nationals champion Batyrbek Tsakulov. Nickal led 3-0 at the break, but opened up his scoring machine in the second period, emerging with a 12-2 technical fall and the U23 World title. He became only the second American to claim a U23 gold, joining 2017 U23 World champion Richie Lewis in the record books.

9. Beat the Streets Gala sells out Madison Square Garden Theater as Burroughs tops Askren in Main Event – At its core, the annual Beat the Streets Gala event is a celebration of wrestling intended to raise money for youth programs in New York City. In practice, it has been a high-level showcase for the sport. This year, organizers decided to move the event indoors for only the second time, placing it in the historic Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden. (The first was in 2013 in Grand Central Station as part of the Save Olympic Wrestling effort). The Main Event this year was a battle between Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs and Olympian and MMA star Ben Askren. A number of bouts included current NCAA stars against U.S. World Team members. Four international matchups were also included. The wrestling community responded by selling out the arena. The show was excellent. Highlights included NCAA champion Nick Suriano’s win over World medalist Joe Colon, and NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis’ victory over current World No. 1 ranked Bajrang Punia of India. A downer was an injury to World champion David Taylor, which ultimately ended his season. In the big finale, Burroughs handled Askren in the Main Event, 11-0, a match which caught attention in both the wrestling and MMA community.

10. Rutgers and Virginia Tech get first NCAA champs, as Suriano, Ashnault and Lewis top the podium – There is something special when a program gets its first NCAA champion, often a product of many years of hard work and effort by a whole lot of people. At the 2019 NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh, two strong college teams were able to celebrate their first national champions, Rutgers and Virginia Tech. For Rutgers, the celebration was twice as nice, as the Scarlet Knights placed two wrestlers on the top of the podium, Nick Suriano at 133 pounds and Anthony Ashnault at 149 pounds. Suriano was close in the past with a second place at 125 pounds. Moving up to 133, Suriano powered to the finals, where he defeated freshman sensation and No. 1 seed Daton Fix of Oklahoma State in a 4-2 sudden victory match. Ashnault, who missed the previous year with injury, came in as the No. 1 seed and was equal to the task, defeating No. 2 Micah Jordan of Ohio State in the finals, 9-4. There was a big-time celebration in wrestling-crazy New Jersey. At 165 pounds, Tech’s No. 8 seed and freshman Mehki Lewis, a Junior World champion on Jersey native himself, put on a show. In the quarterfinals, he beat No. 1 seed Alex Marinelli of Iowa, then beat No. 4 seed Evan Wick of Wisconsin in the semis. His finals opponent was two-time NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State, who Lewis was able to turn with a four-point cradle on the way to a 7-1 victory and the Outstanding Wrestler Award. Both programs can now move even more confidently into the future, in their quest for additional champions in years to come.

As in every year, a number of big stories are worth special mention, even if they did not climb into my Top 10. It is always fun to discuss whether some of these stories should have been in the Top 10 or not. Here are what I consider the best of the rest, in no particular order:

Jordan Burroughs won his third career Pan American Games gold – The Pan American Games is held every four years, and winning a gold medal at this prestigious event is a major achievement. In another milestone of a Hall of Fame career, Jordan Burroughs won his third straight Pan Am Games title at 74 kg, with his victory in Lima, Peru. In an intense final, Burroughs rallied for a 4-1 win over Franklin Gomez of Puerto Rico in the finals. He boasts Pan Am Games titles in 2011, 2015 and 2019. Overall, the USA won 15 Pan Am Games wrestling medals, including nine gold medals. Burroughs did not stop at a Pan Am Games gold, claiming a World bronze medal in Nur-Sultan, his eighth World or Olympic medal as part of a decade of excellence.

Official Girls High School state tournaments reach the No. 20 mark – Just a few years ago, there were six state high school associations which held official state girls wrestling championships. Going into 2020, with the addition of a number of new programs this past year, the number of states with state championships has risen to 20. New states announced during the 2019 year include Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Maryland, Arkansas and Connecticut. It should be no surprise that girls high school wrestling grew 27.5% in 2019. Expect more explosive growth in the years to come. Kudos to USA Wrestling’s Girls High School Development co-chairs Joan Fulp and Andrea Yamamoto for their leadership, along with many other organizations and individuals who are stepping up for girls wrestling.

Lee repeats as NCAA champion, and begins his Olympic run at Senior Nationals – There is something about Spencer Lee of Iowa which brings out his best at the biggest of events of the year. An NCAA champion as a freshman, Lee entered the 2019 NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh as a No. 3 seed with three losses on his record. In the semifinals, he avenged a dual meet loss to Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccinnini, 11-4, then stopped Virginia’s Jack Mueller in the finals, 5-0 for his second NCAA crown. Lee chose not to take a 2020 Olympic redshirt and is back this season. A two-time Junior World champion and one-time Cadet World champion, Lee had not pursued Senior-level freestyle at all in college. He entered the December 2019 Senior Nationals and went on to win the 57 kg men’s freestyle title, beating top seed Nathan Tomasello in the finals, 8-2, and earning his spot in the 2020 Olympic Trials. Fans are looking forward to whether Lee can be the man at the 2020 Olympic Trials.

Carr and Parris win Junior World titles with impressive efforts - David Carr took a redshirt year as a freshman at Iowa State, with a goal of winning a Junior World title. Michigan freshman Mason Parris, an NCAA qualifier who did not wrestle much freestyle in high school, decided to test himself at the international level. Both had breakout performances at the Junior World Championships in Tallinn, Estonia. Carr beat age-group World medalists from Russia and Iran in his first two bouts at 74 kg, then scored an amazing 10-0 technical fall over returning Junior World champion Khadzimurad Gadziev of Azerbaijan in the semifinals. Carr then scored 5-4 finals win over another age-group medalist, Jincharo Motoyama of Japan and celebrated with the American flag on his shoulders. Parris powered through the heavyweight bracket, scoring technical falls in his first three matches. In the gold medal finals, Parris tossed 2018 Cadet World champion Amir Hossein Abbas Zare of Iran to his back for a first-period fall and a Junior World title in his first major international freestyle competition. Their wins helped the USA freestylers jump to second place in the team standings after a slow start, as all five wrestlers in the final grouping won a medal.

Menlo College wins two women’s college national team titles – It was a historic season for Menlo College’s women’s wrestling team, which entered the 2018-19 season without a national team title. With a loaded lineup of young stars, Menlo earned its first No. 1 ranking nationally early in the season. At the 2019 WCWA Nationals in Atlanta in February, led by champions Alleida Martinez (109), Gracie Figueroa (116) and Solin Piearcy (136), Menlo beat second-place Simon Fraser by 4.5 points. In the historic first NAIA National Invitational in Jamestown, N.D. in March, with five individual champions and 12 All-Americans, Menlo finished 76 points ahead of runner-up Oklahoma City for its second national title of the year. NAIA champions for the Oaks were Martinez and Piearcy, as well as Tiana Jackson (123), Marilyn Garcia (143) and Iman Kazem (155). Kudo’s to Joey Bareng’s program, which had its best season ever.

Fix makes Senior World Team with win over Gilman in Final X – The Final X format is very exciting, with the best two athletes in each weight class competing in a best-of-three series with a berth on the U.S. Senior World Team at stake. There were many great Final X series in 2019. The victory by Daton Fix over 2017 World silver medalist Thomas Gilman for the 57 kg men’s freestyle spot was especially exciting and full of drama. Fix was coming off an NCAA runner-up finish as a freshman at Oklahoma State, and had lost to Gilman in Final X in 2018. The series went three matches, with Fix taking bout one and Gilman claiming bout two. The deciding third match went right to the end, with Fix breaking a 3-3 tie with a counter takedown late, emerging with a 6-3 victory.

Zahid Valencia beats Mark Hall in NCAA 174-pound finals – Returning champion Zahid Valencia of Arizona State came into the 2019 NCAA Championships with a pair of losses on his record sheet, dropping dual meet matches to Missouri’s Daniel Lewis (by pin) and Penn State rival Mark Hall, the man Valencia beat in the 2018 NCAA finals. His weight was strong at the NCAAs in Pittsburgh, with eight past All-Americans in the bracket. Valencia avenged both of his losses on the way to his second NCAA crown, beating Lewis in the semifinals 11-3 and stopping Hall in the finals, 4-3. Valencia won Amateur Wrestling News’ Hammer Award for winning the most competitive weight class at the NCAAs.

World champion Logan Stieber retires while still No. 1 on National Team – It is always a bit sad when a World champion wrestler announces his retirement. In a lot of cases, this happens after an athlete has seen a significant drop in performance. That was not the case in April, when 2016 World champion Logan Stieber went to social media to announce his retirement from competition. Stieber was sitting at No. 1 on the Freestyle National Team at 65 kg, after competing in three straight World Championships for Team USA. He decided not to jump into the 2019 World Championships Trials process, nor pursue a spot on the 2020 Olympic Team. A cinch to become a Hall of Famer as a four-time NCAA champion and a World champion, Stieber left the mat on his own terms, something we can all respect. He is still making an impact on wrestling as a coach, so expect to see Stieber around high-level wrestling in years to come.

Lampe makes comeback at Senior Nationals, and is named Outstanding Wrestler – Everybody loves a comeback story, and the Olympic year offers a great opportunity for this. When two-time World bronze medalist Alyssa Lampe entered the Senior Nationals in Fort Worth, Texas in late December, she had been out of the national wrestling scene for over three years. Disappointed in not making the 2016 Olympic Team and needing a break from the sport, Lampe dropped from sight. Lampe ended up moving to Vermont to train under friend and past teammate Erin Clodgo and the men’s wrestling team at Norwich University. Seeded No. 3 at 50 kg, she beat talented No. 2 seed Amy Fearside in the semifinals by technical fall. In the finals, against long-time rival and No. 1 seed Victoria Anthony, Lampe fell behind 6-2 before getting a takedown then driving Anthony to her back for a pin. Lampe was named Outstanding Wrestler in the women’s division, and has momentum going into the 2020 Olympic Trials.

Arizona State shocks Penn State in dual meet, ending the Nittany Lion’s 60-match win streak – On November 23, Arizona State’s wrestling program packed 8,522 fans in the Desert Financial Arena in Tempe for a dual meet against No. 1 ranked and defending national champion Penn State. The result of the dual meet shocked the wrestling community, as the Sun Devils edged the Nittany Lions, 19-18, ending Penn State’s 60-match winning streak, which went back to the end of the 2014-15 season. Penn State forfeited the match against ASU star Zahid Valencia at 184 pounds, a big swing in the final score. A huge win for the Sun Devils came at 197, as Kordell Norfleet beat Kyle Conel, 10-4. When NCAA champion Anthony Cassar of PSU did not score bonus points at heavyweight against past All-American Tanner Hall, the Sun Devil victory was sealed. It was a great boost for Zeke Jones’ program at ASU, which is also a great thing for college wrestling in the West. It sure created a buzz within the wrestling community. Maybe more importantly, it is also a big reminder of just how dominant Penn State has been, going 60 straight in spite of many tough challenges along the way.

Record-setting USMC Junior and Cadet Nationals ends with no Triple Crown winners – The 2019 U.S. Marine Corps Junior & Cadet Nationals in Fargo had the largest event participation in the 25-year history (since the events were first combined) with 5,380 entries. All six tournaments showed growth, with the biggest jump in 16U Girls at 39.5% growth. The size of the field also ratcheted up the quality, as, for the first time since both age levels began giving out the coveted Triple Crown award to national champions in folkstyle, Greco-Roman and freestyle, no athlete in either the Junior or 16U division won the Triple Crown. There were a lot of great stories in Fargo this year, such as the stunning performance of double-champion Anthony Echimendia of Arizona, the Tanefeu twins of North Dakota winning titles, the Blades sisters of Illinois capturing golds and Team Washington’s first women’s team title. But it felt really different not having a single Triple Crown winner to celebrate when Fargo week had ended.

USA sweeps all 10 men’s freestyle gold medals at Pan American Championships – 10 for 10. The USA swept all 10 gold medals in men’s freestyle at the 2019 Senior Pan American Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina in April. This was a first for the USA at a Pan Am Senior Championships (not counting Pan Am Games), as the team went 34-0 in the tournament. Champions were Josh Rodriguez (57 kg), Joe Colon (61 kg), Colton McCrystal (65 kg), Anthony Ashnault (70 kg), Jordan Burroughs (74 kg), Chandler Rogers (79 kg), David Taylor (86 kg), J’den Cox (92 kg), Kyle Snyder (97 kg) and Nick Gwiazdowski (125 kg).

Hawkeye WC places three women on U.S. Senior World Team – The importance of Regional Training Centers to the success of the U.S. men’s freestyle program has been well documented. However, these RTCs are also making an impact in women’s freestyle wrestling, as a number of RTCs have added female Olympic hopefuls to their programs. The Hawkeye Wrestling Club at Iowa, which has produced numerous World and Olympic medalists on the men’s side, has made a commitment to women’s freestyle. Three women athletes training with the Hawkeye WC under coach Mark Perry won Final X titles and made the 2019 World Team: Alli Ragan (59 kg), Kayla Miracle (62 kg) and Forrest Molinari (65 kg).

Grand View continues NAIA dominance with eighth straight team title – No team in college wrestling has been as dominant in recent years as Grand View (Iowa) has been in NAIA men’s wrestling. Led by individual champions Josh Wenger (149) and Evan Hansen (197) and 11 total All-Americans, Grand View claimed its eighth straight NAIA title. The Vikings scored 219 points, an amazing 134 points over second place Lindsey Wilson. Halfway through the 2019-20 season, Grand View is No. 1 and poised to claim its ninth straight in March.

Marc-Anthony McGowan claims Cadet World title – The youngest member of the U.S Cadet World men’s freestyle team, barely 15 years old at the Cadet World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, Marc-Anthony McGowan ended up as the only American to return home with a World gold medal. Competing at 45 kg, the Florida native McGowan had to grind out a number of close battles to advance to the finals. Trailing 1-1 late in the gold-medal match against Ali Arab Firouzjaei of Iran, McGowan hit a snap-down and scored a winning takedown in the final 10 seconds of the bout to win 3-1.

USA wins three Junior World Greco-Roman medals for the first time – Building the U.S. Greco-Roman program will require strong development at the age-group levels. At the 2019 Junior World Championships in Tallinn, Estonia, the USA put three Greco-Roman wrestlers on the podium for the first time in history. Junior World silver medalist Cohlton Schultz (130 kg), and Junior World bronze medalists Alston Nutter (63 kg) and Peyton Omania (67 kg) took many risks and scored a lot of points, fighting their way onto the podium. It will be fun following their career at the Senior level.

Macey Kilty wins a pair of age-group World silver medals for Team USA – Although she is not satisfied with the outcome, women’s wrestling star Macey Kilty has had a great year, winning World silver medals at the Junior World and U23 World levels. She was second at 65 kg in the Junior Worlds in Estonia, losing a 2-1 final to Japan’s Miwa Morikawa, her second straight Junior World silver. At the U23 Worlds in Hungary, Kilty powered to the finals again, falling to Masako Furuichi of Japan in the finals, 7-2. It marked the fourth straight age-group World finals for Kilty, who won a Cadet World title, two Junior World silver medals and a U23 World silver over the last two seasons. Add in her No. 3 spot on the Senior Women’s National Team, and you start to see just how remarkable her year was, considering she just recently finished high school. Keep an eye on Kilty during the Olympic year.

USA wins 14 golds in first U15 Worlds, with Aden Valencia claiming two titles – For the first time, United World Wrestling hosted a 15U World Championships, as part of the World School Combat Games in Budapest, Hungary. Team USA had a dominant performance, winning 14 gold medals and 26 overall medals. Included were six golds in women’s freestyle, four in men’s freestyle and four in Greco-Roman. Aden Valencia of California won golds in both freestyle and Greco-Roman at 38 kg.

Three new Div. I men’s teams take the mat – Growth in Div. I wrestling at the college level is a very good thing, and the 2019-20 season saw three new teams competing at the Div. I level, with the addition of UA-Little Rock (Pac-12), Presbyterian College (Southern) and Long Island University (EIWA). Last year, coaches Neil Erisman (Little Rock) and Mark Cody (Presbyterian) were putting together brand new teams. LIU had combined its two campuses into a single Div. I program, bumping up its LIU-Post Div. II team under coach Joe Patrovich into the Div. I ranks. This is a trend we can for sure get used to.

Rich Bender named to USOPC Board – It is a challenging time in the American Olympic movement, a time in which positive change is necessary and leadership is a must. In January, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee named USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender to its Board of Directors, representing the National Governing Bodies Council. Bender has been USA Wrestling’s Executive Director since 2001, and has been a major leader within international wrestling for decades. Although this item didn’t get big headlines in the wrestling community, Bender’s impact on the Olympic movement will surely affect wrestling’s future as he influences the direction of the USOPC moving forward.

I truly hope I did not forget something deserving, and don’t mind hearing from people on their thoughts about the top stories of the year. Expect a fantastic 2020 season, with the Olympic Trials at Penn State and Olympic Games in Tokyo headlining a year that will be filled with drama and great individual performances. Go USA!!!