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NCWWC Preview: No. 1 King and No. 2 McKendree expected to battle for national title among NCAA women

by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling

Action image of Ana Luciano (King) courtesy of King Athletics.

There have only been two National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championships (NCWWC) previously held, the national tournament for NCAA women’s varsity teams, and McKendree University has won them both (2020, 2021). This year, King University is aiming to win its first NCWWC tournament after a successful season that featured a big win over McKendree at the National Duals.

The NCWWC will be hosted at Adrian College, March 4-5, and will feature an expanded number of teams, as women’s wrestling at the NCAA level continues to grow.

King is ranked No. 1 and McKendree is No. 2, and on paper, these two teams are considered way ahead of the rest of the field at the NCWWC tournament. King has nine regional champions, nine wrestlers ranked in the top four and 13 ranked wrestlers among their 14 qualifiers. McKendree has nine regional champions, 11 wrestlers ranked in the top four and 15 ranked wrestlers among their 15 qualifiers. These are traditional powers in women’s college wrestling with a long rivalry.

However, as you know, wrestling is not contested on paper, and there is nothing like a national tournament to shake things up in wrestling.

Simon Fraser, currently ranked No. 3, did not compete during the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They bring 11 qualifiers, six Regional champions and seven ranked in the top four. No. 4 North Central qualified all 15 of its athletes, with two regional champons and four ranked in the top four. North Central has a loaded freshman class, and will need them to step up if they wish to place higher than their No. 4 ranking.

This is also an individual tournament, and there are numerous returning All-Americans and national champions.

Two of the returning champions are seeking a third NCWWC title, Emily Shilson of Augsburg (109) and Sydnee Kimber of McKendree (191). Other returning champions are Angelina Gomez of Emmanuel (101), Felicity Taylor of McKendree (116), Cheyenne Sistenstein of McKendree (123), Brenda Reyna of McKendree (136), Alara Boyd of McKendree (155) and Yelena Makoyed of North Central (170). Also in the field are a number of 2020 NCWWC champions, Pauline Granados of McKendree (101, now at 109), Karla Godinez Gonzalez of Simon Fraser (116) and Alex Hedrick of Simon Fraser (123).

Becoming an All-American gets tougher every year, as more teams are entering the tournament, and many of the newer teams keep improving over time. While both King and McKendree are expected to get multiple All-Americans, there should be many teams able to crack through with place winners, and perhaps some of the first-year programs will be able to take home some hardware. It will be interesting just how competitive the blood round will be that determines this year’s All-Americans.

Below are summaries of the top 15 ranked teams in the most recent NCAA women’s poll, released earlier this week.

No. 1 King University (14 qualifiers)

Although ranked No. 2 at the season’s start, King took over No. 1 with some impressive tournament efforts and a win at the National Duals. King should get many points from their top wrestlers, with nine Southeast Conference champions and eitght returning All-Americans. Cheyenne Sisenstein is the only returning champion, but there are three wrestlers ranked No. 1 coming into the meet: Montana Delawder (130), Ana Luciano (136) and Chey Bowman (170). Delawder and Bowman are freshman. King will need to be strong in the consolation rounds to hold off McKendree, which also has great depth.

2022 Southeast Regional champions (9): Jaclyn McNichols (101), Samara Chavez (109), Cheyenne Sisenstein (123), Montana Delawder (130), Ana Luciano (136), Ashlynn Ortega (143), Tiffani Baublitz (155), Cheyenne Bowman (170), Nia Crosdale (190)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers (9): Montana Delawder (No. 1 at 130), Ana Luciano (No. 1 at 136), Chey Bowman (No. 1 at 170), Jaclyn McNichols (No. 2 at 101), Samara Chavez (No. 2 at 109), Ashlynn Ortega (No. 2 at 143), Cheyenne Sisenstein (No. 3 at 123), Nia Crosdale (No. 3 at 191), Sage Mortimer (No. 4 at 116)
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 13
2022 National Duals team placement: Champion
2021 NCWWC team finish: 2nd Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans (8): Cheyenne Sisenstein (1st at 123), Ana Luciano (2nd at 136), Ashlynn Ortega (2nd at 143), Phoenix Dubose (3rd at 130), Nia Crosdale (4th at 170), Jaclyn McNichols (5th at 101), Melanie Mendosa (5th at 116), Victoria Torres (5th at 155)

No. 2 McKendree University, 15 qualifiers

Ranked No. 1 coming into the season, McKendree dropped to No. 2 after two-time champion Emma Bruntil went into transfer portal and King defeated them in the National Duals. A big boost for the lineup came with 2021 NCWWC champion Felicity Taylor back in the lineup late in the season at 116. The Bearcats have four returning champions: Taylor, Cameron Guerin (130), Alara Boyd (143) and two-time champion Sydney Kimber (191). Transfer Kayla Marano, a NCWWC runner-up last year for Emmanuel, is No. 1 at 155 pounds. All 15 McKendree qualifiers are ranked, with six ranked either No. 1 and No. 2. McKendree could win its third straight NCWWC by shoving wrestlers into the finals.

Southwest Regional champions (9): Lizette Rodriguez (101), Natalie Reyna (109), Felicity Taylor (116), Cameron Guerin (130), Emmily Patneaud (136), Alara Boyd (143), Kayla Marano (155), Grace Kristoff (170), Sydnee Kimber (191)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers (11): Alara Boyd (No. 1 at 143), Kayla Marano (No. 1 at 155), Sydney Kimber (No. 1 at 191), Cameron Guerin (No. 2 at 130), Felicity Taylor (No. 2 at 116), Jaycee Foeller (No. 2 at 191), Lizzette Rodriguez (No. 3 at 101), Emmily Patneaud (No. 3 at 136), Natalie Reyna (No. 4 at 109), Skye Realin (No. 4 at 136), Joye Levendusky (No. 4 at 170)
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 15
2022 National Duals team placement: 2nd Place
2021 NCWWC team finish: Champion
Returning 2021 All-Americans (10): Felicity Taylor (1st at 116), Cameron Guerin (1st at 130), Alara Boyd (1st at 143), Sydney Kimber (1st at 191), Pauline Granados (2nd at 101), Kayla Marano (2nd at 143 for Emmanuel), Joye Levendusky (2nd at 170), Lizette Rodriguez (3rd at 101), Natalie Reyna (3rd at 109), Grace Kristoff (3rd at 191)

No. 3 Simon Fraser University, 11 qualifiers

Simon Fraser did not compete in last year’s NCWWC, after the school cancelled the season due to the pandemic. The tournament is immediately stronger with them back, armed with 11 qualifiers, six Northwest Regional champions and eight ranked athletes. Two of their 2020 NCWWC champions are back, Karla Godinez Gonzalez (116) and Alex Hedrick (123). This team traditionally does its best wrestling at the national tournament, going back to the WCWA days, and will need points from almost everyone on the team to keep the pace with King and McKendree.

Northwest Regional champions (6): Maddie Mackenzie (101), Karla Godinez-Gonzalez (116), Alexandra Hedrick (123), Lauren Mason (130), Alyvia Fiske (155), Katja Osteen (191)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers (7): Karla Godinez-Gonzalez (No. 1 at 116), Alex Hedrick (No. 1 at 123), Alyvia Fiske (No. 2 at 155), Andrea Seal (No. 3 at 109), Lauren Mason (No. 3 at 130), Emily Cue (No. 3 at 170), Maddie MacKenzie (No. 4 at 101)
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 8
2021 NCWWC team finish: Did not compete in 2020-21 season
Returning 2021 All-Americans: Did not compete in 2020-21 season
Note: SFU has five wrestlers competing this year who were All-Americans at the 2020 NCWWC. SFU brings back a pair of 2020 NCWWC champions in Karla Godinez Gonzalez (116) and Alex Hedrick (123).

No. 4 North Central College, 15 qualifiers

North Central had a nice performance at the 2021 NCWWC with its sixth-place finish as a new program on the rise. The team’s star is returning champion Yelena Makoyed (191), who is on the Senior National Team for USA Wrestling. This year, their jump to No. 4 is being fueled by tough freshmen. Two of these freshman are ranked in the top four of their weights, Amani Jones (123) and Tiera Jimerson (155). With 15 qualifiers, North Central should be able to do very well this weekend. It could be those talented freshmen that will determine exactly where the team ends up in the standings. This team is poised for success for years to come.

Northwest Regional champions (2): Riley Aamold (143), Yelena Makoyed (170)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers (3): Yelena Makoyed (No. 2 at 170), Amani Jones (No. 4 at 123), Tiera Jimerson (No. 4 at 155)
Number of Ranked Wrestlers:10
2022 National Duals team placement: 3rd Place
2021 NCWWC team finish: 6th Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans (3): Yelena Makoyed (1st at 170), Asia Nguyen Smith (3rd at 123), Mateah Roehl (6th at 123),

No. 5 Colorado Mesa University, 13 qualifiers

The Mavericks have established themselves as a top-10 team each year, and is capable of doing very well at the NCWWC. Last year’s fourth-place finish was a great effort, but it will be hard to match that, but possible. The team is led by 2021 NCWWC runner-up and 2022 Southwest Regional champion Marissa Gallegos (123). Three other returning All-Americans are Kaylee Lacy (143), Elizabeth Miller (123) and Anja Tschohl (116). Freshman Claire Dicugno (123) has had a great season and is a potential finalist. With 13 qualifiers, if CMU can beat its seeds and push athletes onto the podium, they could place higher than their No. 5 ranking.

Southwest Regional champions (1): Marissa Gallegos (123)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers (3): Marissa Gallegos (No. 2 at 123), Kaylee Lacy (No. 3 at 143), Claire Dicugno (No. 4 at 130)
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 7
2021 NCWWC team finish: 4th Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans (4): Marissa Gallegos (2nd at 123), Kaylee Lacy (6th at 143), Elizabeth Miller (7th at 123), Anja Tschohl (8th at 116),

No. 6 Augsburg University, 12 qualifiers

Augsburg is led by the best wrestler in the NCWWC, Emily Shilson, who is World champion at the Cadet, Junior and U23 levels. She has won two NCWWC titles and a WCWA title, and does not have a collegiate loss. She is not the only hammer on the team, as the Auggies bring back four other 2021 All-Americans in Autumn Flanigan (130), Marlynne Deede (155), Kya Ryabchek (143) and Faith Tuttle (170). Nina Makem won a Northwest Regional title at 155. Augsburg had a good conference meet, and will hope to get a few athletes on the bubble to reach the podium.

Northwest Regional champions (2): Emily Shilson (109), Blanche `Nina` Kemu Makem (136)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers (2): Emily Shilson (No. 1 at 109), Marylynn Deede (No. 3 at 155)
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 3
2022 National Duals team placement: 5th Place
2021 NCWWC team finish: 5th Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans (5): Emily Shilson (1st at 109), Autumn Flanigan (3rd at 136, now at 130), Marlynne Deede (3rd at 155), Kya Rybachek (4th at 143), Faith Tuttle (7th at 170)

No. 7 Tiffin University, 10 qualifiers

Tiffin has been the “Beast of the Northeast” among NCWWC schools, winning the Northeast Regional the last two years and being competitive at the other major competitions. Seventh at last year’s NCWWC, their fourth place finish at National Duals shows Tiffin’s continued improvement. Their two Northeast Regional champions are freshman, Olivia Shore (101) and Solana Mottola (130). Shore is ranked No. in her weight and seeks the school’s first national individual title. With 10 qualifiers, Tiffin could move up if some of their young wrestlers perform well.

Northeast Regional champions (2):
Olivia Shore (101), Solana Mottola (130)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers (1): Olivia Shore (No. 1 at 101)
2022 National Duals team placement: 4th Place
2021 NCWWC team finish: 7th Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans (2): Shana Morris (8th at 101), Taylor Hites (6th at 155),

No. 8 Presbyterian University (8 qualifiers)

The first Div. I university to add women’s wrestling, Presbyterian is led by three experienced returning All-Americans, Jaslynn Gallegos (116), Cassy Lopez (109) and Samantha Miller (130). Gallegos was third at last year’s NCWWC and won a Southeast Regional title this year. Morgan Norris (143) is ranked No. 4 at 143 heading into the nationals. Presbyterian was eighth at the 2021 NCWWC and should be in that range again this year, but could do better is they beat their seeds.

Southeast Regional champions (1): Jaslynn Gallegos (116)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers (2): Jaslyn Gallegos (No. 3 at 116), Morgan Norris (No. 4 at 143)
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 3
2022 National Duals team placement: 10th Place
2021 NCWWC team finish: 8th Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans (3): Jaslyn Gallegos (3rd at 116), Cassy Lopez (4th at 109), Samantha Miller (5th at 101),

No. 9 Adrian College, 6 qualifiers

Host Adrian has a legitimate chance to crown its first NCWWC individual champion, as returning All-American Zoe Nowicki is currently ranked No. 2 at 135. Nowicki was one of three Northeast Regional champions, joined by Angela Lorusso (116) and Aspen Dodge (170). Adrian put six wrestlers into the tournament, and will need all of them to contribute if it wishes to climb higher in the final standings.

Northeast Regional champions (3): Angela Lorusso (116), Zoe Nowicki (135), Aspen Dodge (170)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers: Zoe Nowicki (No. 2 at 136)
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 2
2022 National Duals team placement: 7th Place
2021 NCWWC team finish: 8th Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans: Zoe Nowicki (5th at 143),

No. 10 Emmanuel College (7 qualifiers)

It has been an interesting season for Emmanuel, who saw a new coach take over, along with a number of roster changes from a team which placed third at the 2021 NCWWC. Emmanuel came out strong at the Southeast Regionals, punching seven athletes into the nationals. Emmanuel has three returning All-Americans, Angelina Gomez (101), Cristina Santoyo (191) and Kasey Baynon (116), but only Santoyo is ranked in the top four nationally. None of the Lions reached the Southeast Regional finals, so they will all need to turn it up a gear to reach the national podium.

Southeast Regional champions: none
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers (1): Cristina Santoyo (No. 4 at 191)
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 2
2021 NCWWC team finish: 3rd Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans: Angelina Gomez (1st at 101), Cristina Santoyo (5th at 191), Kasey Baynon (6th at 116),

No. 11 (tie) University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 6 qualifiers

On paper, UW-Stevens Point is hard to handicap. They bring one All-American back, Brooke Thurber (101) and had one Northwest Regional champion, Jade Herzer (170). Thurber was second at the Regionals. With six qualifiers, their fate may be determined in the consolation bracket.

Northwest Regional champions (1): Jade Herzer (170)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers: none
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 2
2022 National Duals team placement: 9th Place
2021 NCWWC team finish: 12th Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans (1): Brooke Thurber (7th at 101)

No. 11 (tie) Gannon University, 8 qualifiers

Gannon did a good job at the Northeast Regional, putting eight wrestlers into the nationals and bringing home a regional title with Julianne Moccia (109). The team had three Regional runners-up in Kat Pendergrass (101), Nikoly Dossantos (116) and Anya Knappenberger (130). None of their wrestlers are ranked in the top four, and three are in the top eight. Fighting for spots on the podium will be their task at hand.

Regional champions: Julianne Moccia (109)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers: none
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 3
2021 NCWWC team finish: 10th Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans: Lana Perez (6th at 130)

No. 13 Sacred Heart University, 4 qualifiers

Only the second Div. I program in the NCWWC, Sacred Heart is building a lineup with young competitors, as all four of their national qualifiers are freshmen. Ashley Reed (191) won the Northeast Regional, and Madison Sandquist (143) and Jacklyn Smith (170) were regional runners-up. Securing a few All-Americans will be a big boost for the program, and their qualifiers are capable of doing just that.

Regional champions (1): Ashley Reed (1st at 191, NE Regional)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers: none
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 2
This is Sacred Heart’s first year at the NCWWC

No. 14 Lindenwood University, 7 qualifiers

Lindenwood’s program is in position to jump up in the standings, after placing 18th at the NCWWC last year. With seven qualifiers, including a number of freshmen, the team is hoping to have its best performance of the year. Cayden Condit was the only Regional finalist, taking second at 123. This program has a strong foundation, and the experience from the nationals will be a big help for their young athletes.

Southwest Regional champions: none
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers: none
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 1
2022 National Duals team placement: 6th Place
2021 NCWWC team finish: 18th Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans: None

No. 15 (tie) East Stroudsburg University, 6 qualifiers

East Stroudsburg is seeking to make a name for itself in its first NCWWC tournament. Led by regional champions Emily Klein (123) and Avia Bibeau (143), there will be six ESU wrestlers in the field at Adrian. Step one for a building program is to get All-Americans, and that will be the focus this year.

Northeast Regional champions (2): Emily Klein (123), Avia Bibeau (143)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers: none
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 1
This is East Stroudsburg’s first year at the NCWWC

No. 15 (tie) New Jersey City University, 3 qualifiers

In its second year at the NCWWC, New Jersey City is bringing back two All-Americans, Naomi Henry (130) and Sandra Guerrero (191). NJCU has one other qualifier, Izabella Frezzo (109).

Northeast Regional champions: none
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers: none
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 1
2021 NCWWC team finish: 13th Place
Returning 2021 All-Americans (2): Naomi Henry (8th at 130), Sandra Guerrero (8th at 191)

No. 15 (tie) Elmira College, 3 qualifiers

In its first year, Elmira College secured its first Northeast Regional champion in Skylah Chakouian (155), and is bringing three athletes to nationals. Like the other first-year programs in the field, getting on the podium will be a difficult challenge, but getting an All-American will help as the team continues to develop.

Northeast Regional champion (1): Skylah Chakouian (155)
Current Top 4 Ranked Wrestlers: none
Number of Ranked Wrestlers: 1
This is Elmira’s first year at the NCWWC
Number of Qualifiers for the unranked universities
• Limestone University, 10 qualifiers
• Lock Haven University, 5 qualifiers
• Schreiner University, 5 qualifiers
• William Jewell College, 5 qualifiers
• Chadron State College, 4 qualifiers
• Pacific University, 2 qualifiers
• Greensboro College, 2 qualifiers
• Ferrum College, 2 qualifiers
• Albion College, 2 qualifiers
• Trine University, 1 qualifier
• Carthage College, 1 qualifier
• Westminster University, 1 qualifier
• Emory & Henry, 1 qualifier
• Delaware Valley University, 1 qualifier
• Hiram College, 1 qualifier
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