Kennedy Blades takes down Yelena Makoyed in the 76 kg women's freestyle Challenge Tournament finals.
Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors

Kennedy Blades takes down Yelena Makoyed in the 76 kg women's freestyle Challenge Tournament finals.

2024 U.S. Olympic Team TrialsUSAWInternationalWomenKennedy Blades

Kennedy Blades rolls through challenge tournament, takes aim at Adeline Gray for Olympic spot

by Cody Goodwin, Special to

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Sunkist Kids, one of America’s most successful Senior-level wrestling clubs, is closing after this season. Art Martori, who founded the club in 1976, is retiring, and he is leaving behind a decorated legacy.

The numbers: 67 Olympians, 29 Olympic medalists, including 12 who won gold, and countless more World Team members and medals. The excellence, as well as its importance to wrestling’s growth in the United States, may go unmatched for years.

At these U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Wrestling, the last crop of Sunkist Kids are hoping to do Martori proud one final time. That includes Kennedy Blades, the 20-year-old sensation from Chicago, and after the first day of competition on Friday here at the Bryce Jordan Center, she’s one step closer to fulfilling her Olympic dream.

Blades ripped through the challenge tournament at 76 kilograms. She won her three matches, all technical fall victories, by a combined 33-1: an 11-0 quarterfinal win over Skylar Grote, an 11-1 semifinal win over Dymond Guilford, then an 11-0 finals win over Yelena Makoyed. She threw Grote for 5 once and took Guilford feet-to-back twice.

“It’s such an honor, honestly, especially since it’s the last year,” Blades said Friday. “They have so many decorated athletes, and it’s an honor that they see me as one of them. I’ll always represent Sunkist, on and off the mat. The Martoris are amazing.”

Blades has long been one of the United States’ brightest young women’s wrestlers. She won a Cadet world title in 2018, a Junior world title in 2021, and a silver medal at the 2023 U23 world championships. She also reached the best-of-three championship finals at the 2020 Olympic Trials and has routinely contended on the Senior level.

Here she is again, two wins away from a trip to Paris this summer. She’ll have to take down one of the USA Wrestling’s giants in Adeline Gray, a six-time world champ, nine-time world medalist, and 2020 Olympic silver medalist in Tokyo.

Blades can draw from recent experience to help. She actually beat Gray, 12-2, in the U.S. Open finals last year, but Gray rallied to sweep Blades at Final X, two matches to none, to make the world team. She went on to win bronze in Belgrade, Serbia.

It will not be easy, but Blades is excited for the challenge.

“Just focused on scoring points and having fun instead of feeling like I have to win,” Blades said of her mindset. “That’s going to be my approach.”

It’s worked for her so far this weekend. If she can do it twice more, she’ll add her name to the long, long list of Sunkist Kids Olympians, and earn the opportunity to win what could be the first of many Olympic medals.

Here’s a quick weight-by-weight rundown of what happened on Friday night:

50 kg — Audrey Jimenez, a high-school senior, blew through this weight class, outscoring her three opponents by a combined 30-6 to reach the best-of-three championship finals. In the challenge finals, she rallied from a 4-0 hole by scoring six straight points in the final 30 seconds of the first period, leading to a 10-6 win over Sage Mortimer.

53 kg — Haley Augello only scored 12 points in three matches on Friday, but she only allowed two and now finds herself two wins away from her second Olympic team. Augello won the challenge tournament with a 5-1 win over Felicity Taylor in the quarters, a 4-1 win over second-seeded Katie Gomez in the semifinals, then a 3-0 finals win over fourth-seeded Areana Villaescusa. Augello made the 2016 Olympic team at 48 kilos, and will have to take down Dom Parrish, a 2022 world champ, to get to Paris.

57 kg — By virtue of winning a world silver medal (but at a non-Olympic weight, 55 kg), Jacarra Winchester got a bye to the semifinals. She made good on that opportunity by winning twice on Friday, 11-0 over Abigail Nette then 4-2 over Alex Hedrick to win the challenge tournament. She’ll advance to face two-time Olympic medalist Helen Maroulis. They were both on the 2020 Olympic team. Only one will go to Paris.

62 kg — Like Winchester, Macey Kilty benefited from a bye to the semifinals. The returning world silver medalist opened with a decisive 6-2 win over Aduago Nwachukwu, then prevailed in a wild 9-8 match over Jen Page, another returning world medalist who took out Mallory Velte, a two-time world bronze medalist herself, in the challenge tournament finals. After Kilty took a 4-1 lead, Page rallied to lead 5-4, then they went back and forth: Kilty led 6-5, Page tied it 6-6, Kilty led 8-6, Page tied 8-8, then Kilty scored with eight seconds left to win it outright.

68 kg — Forrest Molinari scored a step-out point with 14 seconds left to secure a 4-3 win over Alex Glaude in the challenge tournament finals, securing her spot in the best-of-three finals series on Saturday. Both of them rolled through her first two opponents — Molinari won 11-0 over Solin Pearcy, then a 57-second pin over Aine Drury; Glaude won 6-0 over Caitlyn Davis and 9-1 over Reese Larramendy — to reach the final.

76 kg — See above.

When: Saturday, 10 a.m. (ET)

Watch: Peacock

Brackets: Trackwrestling

50 kg: Sarah Hildebrandt (New York AC) vs. Audrey Jimenez (Sunkist Kids WC)

53 kg: Dominique Parrish (Beaver Dam RTC/Sunkist Kids WC) vs. Haley Augello (Izzy Style/New York AC)

57 kg: Helen Maroulis (Sunkist Kids WC) vs. Jacarra Winchester (Titan Mercury WC)

62 kg: Kayla Miracle (Sunkist Kids WC) vs. Macey Kilty (Sunkist Kids WC)

68 kg: Amit Elor (NYC RTC/Titan Mercury) vs. Forrest Molinari (Sunkist Kids WC)

76 kg: Adeline Gray (New York AC) vs. Kennedy Blades (Sunkist Kids WC)

50 kg: Audrey Jimenez (Sunkist Kids WC) dec. Sage Mortimer (Titan Mercury WC), 10-6

53 kg: Haley Augello (Izzy Style/New York AC) dec. Areana Villaescusa (U.S. Army WCAP), 3-0

57 kg: Jacarra Winchester (Titan Mercury WC) dec. Alex Hedrick (Titan Mercury WC), 4-2

62 kg: Macey Kilty (Sunkist Kids WC) dec. Jen Page (Nittany Lion WC/Titan Mercury WC), 9-8

68 kg: Forrest Molinari (Sunkist Kids WC) dec. Alex Glaude (Beaver Dam RTC/Titan Mercury WC), 4-3

76 kg: Kennedy Blades (Sunkist Kids WC) tech. fall Yelena Makoyed (Cardinal WC/Titan Mercury WC), 11-0

Audrey Jimenez (Sunkist Kids WC) tech. fall Erin Golston (New York AC), 10-0

Sage Mortimer (Titan Mercury WC) tech. fall Samara Chavez (Team Tornado WC), 16-6

Areana Villaescusa (U.S. Army WCAP) dec. Vayle Baker (West Point WC/New York AC), 3-0

Haley Augello (Izzy Style/New York AC) dec. Katie Gomez (Sunkist Kids WC), 4-1

Alex Hedrick (Titan Mercury WC) tech. fall Xochitl Mota Pettis (Rise RTC), 14-3

Jacarra Winchester (Titan Mercury WC) tech. fall Abigail Nette (U.S. Army WCAP), 11-0

Jen Page (Nittany Lion WC/Titan Mercury WC) dec. Mallory Velte (Beaver Dam RTC/Titan Mercury WC), 8-7

Macey Kilty (Sunkist Kids WC) dec. Adaugo Nwachukwu (U.S. Army WCAP), 6-2

Forrest Molinari (Sunkist Kids WC) fall over Aine Drury (New York AC), :57

Alex Glaude (Beaver Dam RTC/Titan Mercury WC) dec. Reese Larramendy (Iowa Women’s WC/Titan Mercury WC), 9-1

Kennedy Blades (Sunkist Kids WC) tech. fall Dymond Guilford (Titan Mercury WC), 11-1

Yelena Makoyed (Cardinal WC/Titan Mercury WC) dec. Kylie Welker (Iowa Women’s WC/Spartan Combat RTC/Titan Mercury WC), 6-4