SEASON 5, COLUMN 2: USA WOMEN LOOK TO CLIMB A MOUNTAIN

USA WOMEN LOOKIN GOOD IN BOOTS

Of the climbing variety, or ANY variety of footwear, actually. It’s a sharp looking, stylish crew of assassins that Coaches Terry Steiner, Clarrisa Chun and Jessica Medina have helped assemble and fine tune for Tokyo. They have a tall challenge. A teacher versed in Japanese once corrected the authors translation of a famous cultural touch phrase from the land of the 2021 Olympics. “He who climbs Fuji not once in his lifetime is a fool. He who climbs Fuji more than once is a greater fool.” This, he insisted, was the closest our clumsy Anglo tongues would come to that Nipponese verbal high mark. The fracturing of the phrase somehow, from this viewpoint, lends more poignancy and purpose to our USA Women’s pursuit of Olympic glory. The iconic peak is a marvelous metaphor for the obstacle to be climbed by our females next month. Japan has 90 total medals in international women’s wrestling. China is second with 50. Add our 43 and your math will highlight the gap. That difference is far from the biggest deal about this competition, though. Its ALL about walking into the Lions den and swaggering out with a skin, serious bling and a New World Order in Womens Freestyle. Let’s be real, here, folks, there are terrors from multiple countries taking solid aim at medal status in Tokyo. For example look no further than our wonderful Northern neighbors. Team Canadas defending Olympic Champ Erica Wiebe along with Danielle Lappage are formidable foes for anyone. Odenayu Adekuoroye and Blessing Oborududu are the Nigerian Nightmares for whomever faces them, while World Medalist Koumba Larroque of France continues to be a very tough out. Aline Fokken of Germany is a serious threat at 76kg, and at the other end of the weight class spectrum you’ll find Mariya Stadnik. The 50kg Azerbaijani Titan is a 2X mom, 3x Olympic medalist and an “aStadnikshing” 8x European Championships Gold Medalist. China, who along with the U.S., Russia, Mongolia, and Japan have wrestlers in all 6 wt. classes, will bring the talented Multiple World Medalist Rong Ningning (or Ningning Rong, depends who’s doing the bio. And don’t EVEN get started with the Mongolian names. Skip the spelling/pronounciation and just appreciate their greatness). The story though, and for some time now, is the host country. Japan turns out World Champs and Olympic medalists in Womens Wrestling the way insurance firms and beer companies pump out funny commercials. Both Japan and China withdrew from the Asian Championships Olympic Qualifier due to Covid-19 concerns. There is, however, neither worry nor doubt that all the Asian Superpowers along with the USA will be deep in the medals mosh pit. The wrestling news service Intermat is down in it also, check out their 50 Olympic wrestlers to Watch feature now running behind their paywall. Here’s a free thumbnail on the bad ass babes reppin the Red, White and Blue….

50kg/Sarah Hildebrandt

The most successful sibling of a famous wrestling family, Hildebrandts best World level finish so far was Silver at the 2018 Worlds. Go back a decade further and you’d find Sister Sarah smacking around the scholastic competition in the very tough, 1 class All Indiana HS wrestling scene. There, among other notable accomplishments, Sarah was the first female to make it to the Semi-state round of competition. She made four, count em, four Championships finals appearances in four tries with the King (TN) University Tornados and won a pair of individual National Championships. Shes earned enough “Outstanding Wrestler” titles at major international events to give one to both brothers Cory and Drew(1) and keep one for herself. The Hildebrandts recently made a 5 figure donation to Sarahs high school and it’s now the Hildebrandt Family Wrestling room at Penn (IN) High School. Very cool. Also very cool, Hildebrandt has had a gear deal with The Rudis, a major athletics company, since 2018. She was the FIRST female wrestler with her own product line. NOT cool, as per her Twitter @sarhilde, she’s currently dealing with ringworm on her face. NOT slowing her down, though, as Sarah does interviews and was scheduled for a hometown camp prior to final Olympics preparation.

53kg/Jacarra Winchester

The defending World Champion is many, many, MANY things. Outstanding technician with the ferocity of a pit bull on steroids. A multi faceted social justice queen with more looks, takes, and creative pizzazz than a San Francisco Ad agency.(2) Her grit and edge though, come straight outta Oakland, baby. There she became a CA State champ with just 2 years of wrestling experience. It’s also where a large number of foolish challengers off the mat, both female and male, eventually learned to regret their actions. Once they regained consciousness, that is. She earned multiple national titles at Missouri Valley College and her first USA team spot in 2014. In 2016 a serious knee injury temporarily slowed Olympic dreams and a disappointing (to her) 5th place finish at the 2018 Worlds fueled a deadly fire. Winchester took it to the house in 2019. She had literal catfights with a foe or two, getting scratched, hairpulled and even bitten on her way to the finals. There she defeated rising Japanese star Nanami Irie for the Gold. Last years Worlds were wiped out, and a quick check of the Tokyo Games bracket shows Indias Vinesh Phogat as the top seed at 53kg. Japanese, Ecuadorian, and Chinese competitors hold the 2-4 spots. Winchesters absence is partly explained by her competing at weights other than her Olympic class. Her crushing run to last months Pan Am Championships at 55kg doesn’t count towards the World 53kg rankings.Nor did her dominating tech fall win over World Team Trials Champ Lauren Louive at 58kg. Winchesters been chasing and beating high quality competition at higher weight classes for a year. Come Tokyo she will be at weight, on point, and in everybody’s face.

57kg/Helen Maroulis

There are so many stories attached to our 57kg rep, AND defending Olympic champion, it’s hard to see where the Helen Maroulis saga begins or where its currently headed. Her first Senior World medal was a bronze in 2013. She stepped up to Silver in 2014. You might remember her star shining brightly at the Rio Games where Helen dethroned the Warrior Queen of Womens wrestling Saori Yoshida(2). The Japanese goddess of grappling had won 13 World and 3 Olympic Gold Medals. Maroulis, the Golden Girl of USA wrestling, wasn’t having it. Helen’s 2016 season (including her Rio Olympics 4-1 Gold Medal win) set off a near 2 year unbeaten streak of her own. It included a 2017 World Championship Tournament title. The aggregate score during that event: Helen 53, rest of the whole damn world as many points as a dead woman. Even world beaters can get beaten down though, and with multiple years worth of concussions, poor treatment overseas, and surgeries Helen set her eyes on retirement. Thank goodness for her and wrestling fans worldwide she had a triumphant AND healthy return last year. In the current season shes looked strong in taking the Olympic spot with a two wins to one series triumph over WCAP superstar Jenna Burkert. Maroulis was also recently torched in a shutout loss to Odenayu Adekuoroye at the Polish Open and failed to place with a 1-2 record. Belief here is that everybody has a bad match and that the massively talented and ethereally beautiful Maroulis(3) has taken her mulligan and is good to go.

62kg/Kayla Miracle

Talk about showing talent early. @miraculouskc was another girl getting it done in a boys world, qualifying for state in that earlier mentioned meat grinder known as the Indiana HS tournament. Back in the pre Covid-19 days you could only win 4 National Collegiate Championships. Miracle did that thing at Campbellsville (KY), winning titles from 2015-2018 for father/coach Lee Miracle. Post college shes trained at the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. After 2 years she went further West with several teammates and Coach Mark Perry to Tempe, Arizona, home of the renowned Sunkist Kids Club. Internationally she picked up her first Gold in 2014. Shes a 3x U.S. Open Champ and won a U-23 World Silver medal 2 years ago. Kayla’s taken a liking to Europe with titles at prestigious tournaments in Sweden, Spain, and France. It was in Paris at the Henri Deglane Tournament where Kayla picked up the first of 3 big wins this yr over up and coming American rival Macy Kilty. They met again in the Olympic Trials finals, splitting matches 1 & 2 before Miracle sewed up her Olympic spot when Kilty had to injury default. Ms. Miracle has emerged from one of the USAs toughest weight classes as our best at 62kg. In Tokyo she’ll be in her 2nd Senior level World tournament after an 8th place finish the same yr as her Under-23 Silver medal, 2019. The good news is Kaylas 2 years better. The challenging news is that EVERY wrestler who medaled and both 5th place finishers at the 2019 Worlds are qualified for Tokyo. You’d need a miracle to move some of those folks off the podium. Oh wait,….

68kg/Tamyra Mensah-Stock

BIAS ALERT!!!! AAAH-OOO-GAH!!!!

She strong. She mean. She a World Champion Wrestling MACHINE.

STRAIGHT OUTTA KATY, TX, ITS…

The gracious, jovial, kind-hearted, happily married, U.S. flag waiving front runner of ALL women 68kg, the demure and delicate Ms. Tamyra Mensah-Stock.(4) If you want one reason to watch womens wrestling, if you want one person you can cheer for, this is the person. And she will give you reasons. A “high style” makeup and Perm HS Track and Field star whose twin sister talked/cajoled her onto the mat at Katy(TX) Morton Ranch. The daughter of a Mom with midwest roots and a dad from Ghana who drove from Louisiana for every tournament and who died in a car crash returning from one. A natural star who earned 3 finals berths and 2 HS titles in the TX St tournament and who caught the eye of a tall, handsome high school boys team member. Jacob Stock went to Wayland Baptist to wrestle. His friend Tamyra followed. What followed was both natural and beautiful. Tamyra won both championships and love at Wayland Baptist but lost out in 2016 when the U.S. failed to qualify the weight for Rio. Shes been a mainstay on the team ever since, though. Along with multiple World medals on 4 continents Tamyra earned the Oustanding Womens Wrestler in the World award for her 2019 season. None of those things highlight her resume, though. What does is this. The title of “Only American Wrestler to win The Yarygin Memorial. In Russia. In Krasnoyarsk, SIBERIA. THREE TIMES!” In what has long been considered the toughest tournament in the World, Tamyra has tamed the field thrice. That, sports fans, is a Whoa, Nellie, I Cant believe what I just saw, Do you believe in Miracles achievement. Do yourself a favor. YouTube her 2019 post championship celebration. Hope you have some rice handy, or a waterproof case. Thought here is there’s a similar display coming to your screen in just a bit.

76kg/Adeline Gray

If you believe in saving the best for last, you came to the right paragraph. Let’s go backwards here, folks, and just drop the mic on Ms Grays USA wrestling resume. Americas only 5x World Wrestling Champ. That’s it. That’s the whole story. Nah, not really, but that’s really, really, really, really, really good. Is that 5 reallys? Add one Olympic medal and Gray may call it a career. Or not. The Colorado native has repped the U.S.A. on various international teams since 2008. A senior team member since 2011(5) with 7 total World medals. Grays father, a police officer, took her to the wrestling room early and it was the perfect blend of frenzy and fun for her. HS competition in CO, which had no separate Girls tournament, followed, then a stint in Michigan for her first real taste of the highest levels of competition. Shes never looked back. Among many notable off mat accomplishments are her B.S. and Masters in Business Project Management. Shes active on multiple social media platforms as an advocate against sexism and for female recognition as agents of change. Oh, and a note: you should probably look into getting a pair of Adeline Gray Aggresors for your daughters next wrestling practice, too.

See you sometime soon!

Ted Carreras

(1) Cory competed collegiately at Lakeland while Drew is returning for his “Super Senior” season as an All American at Central Michigan.

(2) Please do yourself a favor and check out @Jacarra016 on Twitter.You WILL be entertained. Promise.

(3) Or perhaps not. NBC infamously micturated down both their lower body appendages with their lack of coverage for both Helen and 97kg mens champion Kyle Snyder Gold medal winning performances. The network opted instead for wall to wet wall coverage of some (unnamed here) swimmers nocturnal beer elimination skills.

(4) Yes. She is ALL these things. And more. Ask her husband, teammates, coaches, or opponents. Ask 74kg mens team member Kyle Dake, for example. He will vouch for several of these qualities. Perhaps not delicate.

(5) Adeline missed most of 2017 for surgery and rehab, but found time to tie the knot with military officer Damaris Sanders. Advantage, both.