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Felicity Taylor, Iowa recruit Nanea Estrella win Senior women's freestyle wrestling titles at U.S. Open


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Felicity Taylor, who once carried the torch for girls and women’s wrestling in Iowa, is now a step closer to representing the United States on the world stage.

Taylor, a South Winneshiek graduate, won the Senior women’s freestyle national title at the U.S. Open on Friday. Taylor stormed to first place at 53 kilograms (116 pounds), capped by a 14-3 technical fall win over Alyssa Lampe in the finals.

Friday was the third of this five-day wrestling extravaganza at the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, and the highlight was the finals of the Senior women’s freestyle national championships — an important step as it pertains to the Senior world team trials process.

For Taylor, a four-time collegiate national finalist for McKendree, her run to gold not only resulted in her first U.S. Open title, but also secured her the top seed at next month’s world team trials tournament, set for May 20-22 at Xtream Arena in Coralville.

And if Taylor brings the same kind of performance there that she brought to Vegas this week, Taylor could very well contend for the U.S. women’s freestyle world team.

The 21-year-old went from unseeded to first place, recording two pins on Thursday to reach the finals. On Friday, she completed her first-place run by beating the 34-year-old Lampe, a two-time world bronze medalist (in 2012 and 2013), rallying from a 3-0 deficit to win by a 14-3 technical fall thanks to a takedown and a mean leg lace.

A U.S. Open crown is the latest line in Taylor’s stellar wrestling career, which includes 100 career high school victories, a Junior national title in 2018, a U23 world team spot in 2019 and a collegiate national title in 2021.

If Taylor wins in Coralville, she’ll advance to Final X, the last step of USA Wrestling’s Senior world team process. The U.S. women’s freestyle world team has been among the world’s best in recent years, winning four Olympic medals in Tokyo and, last October, seven medals at the 2021 world championships.

Put another way: Taylor will have to earn her spot on the 2022 Senior women's freestyle world team. But she’s risen to the next challenge at each step of her wrestling career, so it's fair to expect this one to be no different.

► MORE: Iowa State recruit MJ Gaitan wins UWW Junior Greco-Roman national title

The future of Iowa women’s wrestling looks bright

The Iowa women’s wrestling program won’t officially compete until the 2023-24 season, but a couple of future Hawkeye women’s wrestlers showed this weekend that the program's future is extremely bright.

Nanea Estrella, who is transferring to Iowa from NAIA’s Menlo College, joined Taylor as a U.S. Open champ. Estrella won at 59 kilos (130), beating Xochitl Mota-Pettis 9-3 in Friday’s final. For the weekend, Estrella went 3-0 and outscored her opponents 30-3, and used a mean four-point takedown to ice her finals match against Mota-Pettis.

As such, Estrella, a 2022 NAIA national finalist for Menlo, will also be the top seed at the Senior world team trials tournament in Coralville. The reigning world team member, Maya Nelson, finished fifth at the 2021 world championships last October.

Additionally, Bella Mir, a four-time state champion from Nevada, took fourth at 144 pounds in USA Wrestling’s girls high school wrestling showcase, one of the many competitions in Las Vegas this week. Mir, currently ranked No. 6 nationally at 144, went 3-2 overall, reaching the semifinals before wrestling back for fourth place.

Both Estrella and Mir will join the other future Hawkeye women’s wrestlers next season — there’s now 10 total — and redshirt during the 2022-23 season. They will be able to compete during that season, but won’t formally represent Iowa until the next year.

Their performances this week only bolstered expectations for when they finally hit the mat as Hawkeyes.

► MORE: Iowa State's 2022 recruiting class ranked No. 2 nationally by MatScouts

Iowa women’s college wrestlers perform well at U.S. Open

Iowa will almost always steal the headlines, as the first Division I Power 5 women's wrestling program, but for those who might forget, there are actually 12 Iowa colleges that will sponsor women’s wrestling programs by the 2023-24 season.

Many of them are already competing — and two programs, Grand View and Iowa Wesleyan, had athletes perform well enough at the U.S. Open this weekend to qualify for the world team trials next month in Coralville.

The Grand View women’s wrestling team, fresh off a sixth-place finish at the 2022 NAIA national championships, finished with four place-winners at the Senior women’s freestyle national championships this week:

  • Andrea Schlabach, fourth at 62 kilos (136)
  • Arelys Valles, an assistant coach who took fifth at 50 kilos (110)
  • Victoria Smith, seventh at 55 kilos (121)
  • Kairah Cantillo, seventh at 68 kilos (149)

Additionally, Iowa Wesleyan’s Adaugo Nwachukwu, the NAIA national champion at 136 pounds, finished third at 62 kilos (136), losing only to Kayla Miracle, a world silver medalist and the eventual U.S. Open champ this week. Miracle beat Nwachukwu, 10-0, in the semifinals, but Nwachukwu rallied with a 12-2 win over Schlabach for third.

Hawkeye wrestling club members earn U.S. Open finishes

All three Hawkeye Wrestling Club women’s wrestlers earned podium finishes at the U.S. Open this week, too.

Victoria Francis led the way with a fourth-place finish at 76 kilos (167), posting a 2-2 record overall. Rachel Watters (65 kilos) and Jordan Nelson (76 kilos) both finished seventh. Nelson 3-2 overall while Watters went 2-2.

All three qualified for the world team trials tournament.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.