Final X: Lincoln women’s freestyle championship series preview

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | June 10, 2019, 5:57 p.m. (ET)
Two-time World silver medalist Alli Ragan, shown at Final X in 2018, is seeking to win Final X for the second straight time. Photo by Richard Immel.

Final X: Lincoln will feature five women’s freestyle championship series, two in the 12:00 noon session and three in the 6:00 p.m. session.

Of the 10 women wrestlers competing in Lincoln on Saturday, five have been past Senior World Team members (with one in each weight class). Combined, these five women have won 10 Senior World medals, led by Adeline Gray’s six World medals, four of which have been gold. Nine of the 10 women have been on at least one U.S. age-group World Team, with the Final X: Lincoln women having a combined 11 age-group World medals.

There is one rematch from Final X last year, the 62 kg battle between Mallory Velte and Kayla Miracle, won by Velte in a full three matches. While Velte won the World Team qualifying event last year, Miracle beat Velte in 2018 at the U.S. Open and in 2019 at the Dan Kolov International in Bulgaria. There is some history here.

We provide a preview for each of the women’s freestyle matchups below for Final X: Lincoln.

Session One – 12:00 noon

Bout 1: Women’s FS 59 kg – U.S. Open champion Alli Ragan (Iowa City, Iowa/Sunkist Kids/Hawkeye WC) vs. World Team Trials Challenge Tournament champion Lauren Louive (Iowa City, Iowa/New York AC/Hawkeye WC)

For Alli Ragan, the 2019 season has been a mission to return to top form, after missing the 2018 World Championships due to injury. At one point, there was doubt if Ragan could ever wrestle again because of her injury.

Instead, she has looked strong this year, winning the U.S. Open to earn a return trip to Final X. Ragan has won two Senior World silver medals (2016 and 2017) and three age-group World medals (two Junior World bronzes and a World University Games silver). Ragan was on five-straight Senior World Teams, and if you add in 2018 when she won Final X but could not compete at Worlds, she has dominated her weight class domestically for a long time.

Louive is a veteran who is coming off her greatest performance by winning the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament to earn a spot in Final X. Regardless of the results in Lincoln, Louive will secure a spot on the Senior Women’s National Team for the first time. She has her share of international experience as well, but nowhere near the amount that Ragan has accumulated.

What makes this match a bit difficult to handicap is that both wrestlers have trained with the Hawkeye WC, the RTC affiliated with the University of Iowa. These two athletes will be very familiar with each other, having been in the same room. On paper, Ragan is a strong favorite. What happens on the competition mat is yet to be seen.

Past Senior World Teams
Ragan – 2017 Senior Worlds (silver at 60 kg), 2016 Senior Worlds (silver at 60 kg), 2015 Senior Worlds (17th at 58 kg), 2014 Senior Worlds (5th at 58 kg), 2013 Senior Worlds (9th at 59 kg)
Louive – None

Past Age-Group World Teams
Ragan – 2013 University World Games (silver at 59 kg), 2012 Junior Worlds (bronze at 63 kg), 2011 Junior Worlds (bronze at 63 kg)
Louive – 2010 Junior Worlds (14th at 63 kg)

Recent head-to-head matches
None

Bout 3: Women’s FS 55 kg – U.S. Open champion Jacarra Winchester (Colorado Springs, Colo./Titan Mercury WC/OTC) vs. World Team Trials Challenge Tournament champion Dominique Parrish (Scotts Valley, Calif./Sunkist Kids/Burnaby Mountain WC)

In her own way, Jacarra Winchester has been a successful Senior athlete for a number of years, making the National Team three of the last four years. Her 2018 performance was her best to date, winning Final X and going on to qualify for a medal match at the 2018 Worlds, placing fifth in Budapest. Since finishing her college career at Missouri Valley, Winchester has improved her game both domestically and on the international scene, making big jumps while training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Parrish is one of the top young stars on the national scene, a two-time WCWA national champion and 2019 Miranda Medal winner for Simon Fraser University in Canada. She has also represented the USA on the last two U23 World Teams, and won the U23 Trials this year to make the team a third time. By making it to Final X with her win at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament in May, Parrish clinched a spot on the Women’s National Team for the third-straight year.

They share a common heritage, coming out of California in high school, although at different times. Winchester scored a pair of technical fall wins over Parrish in the 2018 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, as part of her journey onto her first Senior World Team. Both have improved since then, so it will be interesting to see whether Parrish has developed a way to make it difficult for Winchester to earn a return trip to the World Championships.

Past Senior World Teams
Winchester – 2018 Senior Worlds (5th at 55 kg)
Parrish - None

Past Age-Group World Teams
Winchester – 2014 University Worlds (bronze at 58 kg)
Parrish – 2018 U23 Worlds (5th at 55 kg), 2017 U23 Worlds (9th at 55 kg)

Recent head-to-head matches
May 2018 - World Team Trials Challenge Tournament – Bout 2 – Winchester, 10-0
May 2018 - World Team Trials Challenge Tournament – Bout 1 – Winchester, 10-0

Session Two – 6:00 p.m.

Bout 1: Women’s FS 62 kg – World bronze medalist Mallory Velte (Sacramento, Calif./Titan Mercury WC) vs. World Team Trials Challenge Tournament champion Kayla Miracle (Iowa City, Iowa/Sunkist Kids/Hawkeye WC)

This series is expected to be exciting and very close. Miracle beat Velte at the 2018 U.S. Open, then won the first match of their 2018 Final X Championship series, only to see Velte rally with two-straight wins to make her second Senior World Team. At the 2018 Worlds in Budapest, Velte got on a roll and had her best international effort, coming home with a World bronze medal, which earned her a direct pass into Final X again this year.

While Velte has made two Senior World Teams, to Miracle’s none, when you include the age-group World competition, Miracle has considerably more World Championship experience, by a count of seven to three. Miracle boasts three age-group World medals. Add in her four WCWA college national titles at Campbellsville, and she is loaded with experience. She also has the most recent win in their series, beating Velte at the Dan Kolov in Bulgaria in February.

Both of these athletes have proven themselves internationally, and they have traded victories between themselves. Many expect that this Final X series might go the full three bouts again. Both will be well prepared and confident heading into Lincoln. The first match could set the tone for the series, but then again, Miracle won the first bout last year and did not advance. Whoever wins this series will be a medal favorite at the Worlds in Kazakhstan.

Past Senior World Teams
Velte – 2018 Senior Worlds (bronze at 62 kg), 2017 Senior Worlds (14th at 62 kg)
Miracle – None

Past Age-Group World Teams
Velte – 2015 Junior Worlds (5th at 63 kg)
Miracle – 2018 U23 Worlds (5th at 62 kg), 2017 U23 Worlds (5th at 60 kg), 2016 Junior Worlds (bronze at 59 kg), 2015 Junior Worlds (8th at 59 kg), 2014 Junior Worlds (bronze at 59 kg), 2012 Cadet Worlds (silver at 56 kg), 2011 Cadet Worlds (8th at 49 kg)

Recent head-to-head matches
February 2019 – Dan Kolov (Bulgaria) – Miracle pin
June 2018 – Final X – Round 3 – Velte, 7-1
June 2018 – Final X – Round 2 – Velte, 4-2
June 2018 – Final X – Round 1 – Miracle, 4-2
April 2018 – U.S. Open finals, Miracle, 6-1

Bout 2: Women’s FS 53 kg – World silver medalist Sarah Hildebrandt (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC/OTC) vs. World Team Trials Challenge Tournament champion Katherine Shai (Denver, Colo./Titan Mercury WC)

The battle for the 53 kg berth on the 2019 Senior World Team should be compelling. By winning a World silver medal last year, Sarah Hildebrandt has established herself on the World scene. Her opponent, Katherine Shai, made numerous Women’s National Teams before taking time off from the sport to have a child. Since Shai’s comeback, the two have not met in competition.

Hildebrandt made some huge strides in 2018, after going through rehab for an injury suffered in the 2017 World Team Trials finals. She dropped a weight class, changed her diet and training approach, and became much more consistent than earlier in her career. Her World silver medal gave her a direct pass into Final X this year, and she has been competing often overseas as part of her preparation this year.

Shai, who competed many years under her maiden name of Fulp-Allen, first stepped back on the mat at the 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial, then reached the U.S. Open finals before losing to high school phenom Tiare Ikei in the finals. Her performance at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament showed an athlete with vast experience and motivation, who seems to get stronger every time she competes. Shai has yet to make a Senior World Team, and has made big sacrifices to continue her Olympic dream.

Hildebrandt enters this event as the favorite, but understands that it is not a good idea to take Shai lightly. A best-of-three series will be a good indication of whether Shai has returned to a championship level, as well as whether Hildebrandt has continued her progress in what seems to be the prime of her career.

Past Senior World Teams
Hildebrandt – 2018 Senior Worlds (silver at 53 kg), 2016 Senior Worlds (10th at 55 kg)
Shai - None

Past Age-Group World Teams
Hildebrandt – 2013 Junior Worlds (10th at 55 kg), 2013 World University Games (8th at 55 kg), 2012 Junior Worlds (11th at 55 kg)
Shai – 2008 University Worlds (gold at 51 kg)

Recent head-to-head matches
None

Bout 3: Women’s FS 76 kg – World champion Adeline Gray (Denver, Colo./New York AC) vs. World Team Trials Challenge Tournament champion Precious Bell (Lancaster, Calif./Titan Mercury WC)

For the second straight year, future Hall of Fame star Adeline Gray has drawn a young opponent from the college ranks in the finals of Final X. With four World titles and six World medals in her trophy case on the Senior level, (plus golds at the Junior and University Worlds), Gray has so much more experience than her opponent, Precious Bell, that it would be fair to call her the biggest favorite among the matchups in Final X: Lincoln.

After taking a year off after the 2016 Olympics, Gray had a stellar 2018 season, capped off with her record fourth World gold medal. No American has five Senior World golds, and should Gray make the 2019 World Team, she has a chance to set that record. (Please note that Jordan Burroughs also has the same opportunity this year). Gray already has a technical fall win over 2016 Olympic champion Erica Wiebe of Canada this season, so she is continuing to perform at the highest level.

Bell comes off two big wins in Senior events that Gray did not enter, winning gold at both the U.S. Open and the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. Bell also won the 2019 U23 World Team Trials to qualify for her first U.S. age-group World Team. A member of the WCWA and NAIA national champion Menlo team, she was fourth at the WCWA Nationals and second in the NAIA Nationals in 2019. Bell was pinned by Gray in the quarterfinals of the 2018 U.S. Open, but should be vastly improved since that meeting. It will be interesting to see what she can bring to the mat against one of the sport’s true legends.

Past Senior World Teams
Gray – 2018 Senior Worlds (gold at 76 kg), 2016 Olympic Games (7th at 75 kg), 2015 Senior Worlds (gold at 75 kg), 2014 Senior Worlds (gold at 75 kg), 2013 Senior Worlds (bronze at 72 kg), 2012 Senior Worlds (gold at 67 kg), 2011 Senior Worlds (bronze at 67 kg), 2009 Senior Worlds (5th at 67 kg)
Bell - None

Past Age-Group World Teams
Gray – 2012 University Worlds (gold at 72 kg), 2011 Junior Worlds (silver at 67 kg), 2009 Junior Worlds (9th at 67 kg), 2008 Junior Worlds (gold at 67 kg)
Bell - None

Recent head-to-head matches
April 2018 – U.S. Open quarterfinals – Gray, pin 2:18