Photos by Tony Rotundo
One weekend, two matches, and a lifetime of preparation are what separated wrestlers from their dreams of being an Olympian. Five Indiana natives took the mat this weekend with a trip to Tokyo in August on their minds. The competition is a who’s who of wrestling with former Olympians, World medalists, World team members, NCAA champions, and more going after that elusive spot on the team.
In men’s freestyle we saw Nick Lee and Mason Parris put it on the line while they still had college eligibility. Lee lost to the eventual champion Jordan Oliver in his second match. That did not deter him as he take out three consecutive NCAA champions to earn a third place finish. In his first consolation match he took out former Cornell national champion Nahshon Garrett by tech fall 12-2. In the consolation semi-finals he faced off with Nittany Lion Wrestling Club teammate, friend, and training partner Zain Retherford. Utilizing two big 4-point moves Lee pulled the upset 10-4. The final match, with a spot on the US National team on the line, was no easier as he had two-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis. The match was an instant classic as they both let it fly. There were three crazy scrambles that ended up with multiple scores for each wrestler. Lee came out on top in the end by the score of 16-8. The National Team designation includes perks such as preference for national team camps, overseas competitions, a stipend, and more.
Mason Parris came into the weekend as the third seeded wrestler. His first match did not go as planned as he lost to Daniel Kerkvliet 4-4(criteria). Parris had defeated Kerkvliet at the Big Tens a month ago. Battling back through the consolations Parris beat Tanner Hall, Dom Bradley, and Anthony Nelson in succession to also earn a spot on the US National Team. In the end, he actually finished higher than Kerkvliet who defeated him in the quarter-finals.
The success did not stop on the women’s side of the bracket. Alara Boyd was in the challenge tournament, while Kayla Miracle and Sarah Hildebrandt both sat until Saturday’s best of three finals.
Boyd came into the event seeded 5th in the challenge bracket. She quickly upended the 4th seed, Ashlynn Ortega, in the quarter-finals to earn a spot in the semi-finals. Her next opponent was veteran Forrest Molinari. Boyd was up for the task, but came up short 4-3. Boyd battled back to make it to the third place match where she lost to the 2nd seeded Alexandria Glaude 2-2 on criteria. She was just shy of making the US National team designation. Being only a college sophomore, she has a bright future and will be in the hunt for the 2024 squad.
Sarah Hildebrandt had the luxury of sitting out of competition until the best of three finals on Saturday night. The only caveat was that she would have to make scratch weight both on Friday and Saturday for the competition. As she waited the bracket that would determine her finals opponent was hotly contested. There were a few upsets of the top seeds and the 3rd seeded Victoria Anthony prevailed to face Hildebrandt. Anthony was a formidable foe as she had twice placed 5th in the World on the senior level and was a two-time junior level champion.
In the first match Anthony fired off a double leg to start and took Hildebrandt down. Hildebrandt was able to get a takedown of her own before the end of the first period. It was almost two minutes into the second period when Hildebrandt got her second takedown. With about 30 seconds left, Hildebrandt got another takedown and three consecutive leg laces to end the match 12-2 and put herself one win from Tokyo.
The second match was slower getting started, but dominated by Hildebrandt from start to finish. She got a takedown and leg lace about 2 minutes into the first period to take a 4-0 lead to the break. In the second period she executed three takedowns to secure the tech fall and her spot in history.
Kayla Miracle was in the same situation as Hildebrandt with the privilege of waiting until Saturday night for the best of three series. Her challenge bracket was won by Macey Kilty who has many world level accolades including two junior level silver medals and a cadet level championship.
In the first match Miracle came storming out and lead 6-0 after the first period. The second period saw Kilty score a takedown and a couple step-outs to Miracle’s one takedown. The final score was 8-4 with Miracle one match from going to Tokyo.
The second match had a much different feel to it. Miracle was stifled by Kilty’s defense and never really got her rhythm. Kilty took Miracle down late in the first period and early in the second to storm out to a 4-1 lead. Miracle could only muster a couple step-outs to make the final score 4-3 and force a pivotal round three.
The third match saw Kayla Miracle come out with a sense of urgency and hunger for her spot in Tokyo. Less than 20 seconds after the whistle Kayla was in deep on a shot and looking for a turn. That is when it appeared that Kilty injured her shoulder. Kilty tried to finish the match, but it was ended 30 seconds into the match after she could not continue. While the type of win was not what Miracle envisioned, she punched her ticket to Tokyo and into history.
Hildebrandt and Miracle will join Stevan Micic in Tokyo in August. Micic qualified for the Olympics for Servia and will represent them at 57kg in men’s freestyle. This is the first time Indiana has had multiple Olympic participants in wrestling and the first since Muncie Northside’s David Butler in 1988. The last time an Indiana native brought back an Olympic medal was Richard Voliva when he took silver in 1936.