25 years of USA Wrestling’s coveted Triple Crown, honoring amazing youth achievements

by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling

Graphic for the USA Wrestling Triple Crown, kicking off at Kids Folkstyle Nationals

Back in 1997, USA Wrestling kicked off its Kids Triple Crown award program. The concept was simple. Any youth wrestler who won USA Wrestling’s Kids National Championships in folkstyle, Greco-Roman and freestyle in the same year would achieve this national award.

Unlike other programs in the sport, the Triple Crown was started at the youth level. Now entering its 25th year, the USA Wrestling Triple Crown remains the most prestigious award in youth wrestling, having expanded into additional age groups and now also available for girls.

The 2024 Kids Triple Crown quest begins this weekend at the Kids Folkstyle Nationals in Fort Wayne, Ind., Jan. 27-28.

All-time USA Wrestling Triple Crown winners

The Triple Crown was kicked off in 1997 in the Kids division for boys, covering age groups 10U, 12U and 14U. There were two Triple Crown winners that first year, Jon Dahl of Minnesota (10U at 100 pounds) and Beau DeArmon of Oklahoma (14U at 100 pounds). Since then, the award has been given 219 times in the Kids divisions, on the final day of the USA Wrestling Kids Freestyle and Greco-Roman Nationals, the final leg of the Triple Crown.

The list of past USA Wrestling Kids Triple Crown winners who went on to great things in their careers is impressive, including well-known athletes at the college and international levels.

The most prominent is clearly 2000 Kids Triple Crown winner David Taylor of Wyoming, who won the Triple Crown as a 10U wrestler competing at 60 pounds. Taylor was a 2000 Olympic champion, a three-time World champion and two-time NCAA champion for Penn State.

Another prominent past Triple Crown winner is two-time Senior World women’s freestyle champion Amit Elor of California. In 2016, she became the only girl to claim this award competing against boys, winning all three styles at the 12U age division at 140+ pounds.

Some other huge names who were Kids Triple Crown winners were two-time NCAA champion and Freestyle World Team Brent Metcalf of Michigan, who won the 14U Triple Crown at 115 pounds in 2000, and NCAA champion and Freestyle World Team Angel Escobedo of Indiana, a two-time Kids Triple Crown winner, claiming a 12U title at 80 pounds in 1999 and a 14U title at 110 pounds in 2001.

Olympian and Greco-Roman World Team Jesse Thielke of Wisconsin won a 2006 Triple Crown at 14U at 85 pounds. Three-time NCAA champion and U23 World champion Bo Nickal of Wyoming was another 2006 Triple Crown winner at 10U, competing at 75 pounds. NCAA champion and two-time Junior World champion Mark Hall of Michigan claimed a Triple Crown in 2007 at 87 pounds at 10U. Greco-Roman World Team members RaVaughn Perkins of Nebraska, a 2004 winner in 12U at 75 pounds and Mason Manville of Virginia, a 2011 Triple Crowner at 144 pounds in 14U, are among the others to reach this achievement.

The athlete with the most Kids Triple Crowns is Riley Adamson of New Mexico, who won the award six straight years, from 1999 through 2004. He won two times at 10U, two times at 12U and two times at 14U.

The next level to have a Triple Crown was at 16U, which launched in 2003, and the first 16U Triple Crown winner was Taylor Moore of Missouri in 2003. It has been awarded 28 times.

Both Nickal and Hall were able to add a 16U Triple Crown to their Kids Triple Crowns. A two-time 16U Triple Crown winner was Taylor Massa of Michigan, who won in both 2008 and 2009. Hayden Zillmer of Minnesota won a 2007 16U Triple Crown at 84 pounds and grew into a 2022 Senior Freestyle World Team member at 286 pounds. 2013 16U Triple Crown winner at 113 pounds, Daton Fix of Oklahoma, has made a Senior World Freestyle Team. 2012 U16 Triple Crown winner Aaron Pico of California, then at 132 pounds, won a U17 World title in 2013, and is now a professional MMA fighter.

A Junior Triple Crown was launched in 2007, and it wasn’t until the third year of the award that the first winner was crowned, Jade Rauser of Montana at 105 pounds. Two heavyweight wrestlers have been able to win two Junior Triple Crown, Adam Coon of Michigan in 2012 and 2013, and Anthony Cassioppi of Illinois in 2017 and 2018. Coon went on to win a Senior World silver medal in Greco-Roman in 2018, and Cassioppi was a U23 World title in 2021.

In 2022, a Girls Junior and 16U Triple Crown program was created. As there is not a Greco-Roman Nationals at these levels for girls, additional USA Wrestling national events were added to the folkstyle and freestyle nationals, the USA Wrestling Women’s Nationals and the National High School Recruiting Showcase. At this time, there has not yet been a Girls Junior Triple Crown winner or a Girls 16U Triple Crown winner.

A Girls Kids Triple Crown was launched in 2023, with the first two winners recognized this summer, Abigail Peterson of Iowa in the 12U age group and Epenesa Elison of California in the 14U age group. A national event added to the folkstyle and freestyle nationals in the Kids division was added, the Preseason Nationals.

As we head into the next quarter century of USA Wrestling’s Triple Crown, there will be many more young athletes who win this tremendous honor who will be able advance to additional success on the college and international levels. The next group of Triple Crown winners will be hitting the mats in Fort Wayne. Good luck to all of the participants!!!