The United States secured one medal on the first day of women’s freestyle competition at the Cadet World Championships when Emily Shilson reached the finals for the second straight year.
The Americans will have an opportunity to bring home five more over the course of the next two days after a big performance in Thursday’s morning session in Zagreb, Croatia.
The U.S. went 8-1 in matches, four Americans advanced to Thursday’s semifinal round and assured themselves of matches in Friday’s medal round and Tiare Ikei won her repechage match to set up a bronze medal bout.
Sterling Dias, Olivia Shore, Leilah Castro and Macey Kilty advanced to the semifinals, which are scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. ET.
Dias downed Mongolia’s Buman Ayush Enkhbold 6-2 in the quarterfinals at 40 kilograms.
Shore pinned Turkey’s Seyma Kizmaz in her first bout of the tournament and then rallied back from a four-point deficit in the quarterfinals to beat Russia’s Nadezhda Matveeva 4-4 at 46 kilograms.
Castro notched a pair of 10-0 technical superiority wins before downing Russia’s Tatiana Kabanova 4-2 in the quarterfinals at 53 kilograms.
Macey Kilty opened her tournament by pinning India’s Sonika Hooda before rolling up Ukraine’s Anastasiya Alpyeyeva 12-1 in the quarters at 69 kilograms.
The United States finished the day with four medals in the bag and an opportunity to increase that number to seven when men’s freestyle competition wraps up on Wednesday. Richard Figueroa II and Daniel Kerkvliet dropped decisions in the finals and claimed silver medals, Abe Assad won three matches Tuesday to grab a bronze and Matthew Ramos wrestled his way into Wednesday’s gold medal match at 51 kilograms. Americans Chance Lamer and Alex Facundo will wrestle Wednesday for bronze and A.J. Ferrari needs two wins to reach the medal round.
4:30 a.m. ET — Men’s freestyle repechage at 45, 51, 60, 71 and 92 kilograms and women’s freestyle qualification rounds at 43, 49, 57, 65 and 73 kilograms.
11:30 a.m. ET — Women’s freestyle semifinals at 43, 49, 57, 65 and 73 kilograms.
Noon ET — Men’s freestyle medal matches at 45, 51, 60, 71 and 92 kilograms.
The pendulum was bound to swing back the other way at some point. The United States had been on a men’s freestyle roll at the Cadet World Championships that defied the law of percentages.
The Americans reached the Cadet finals 18 times in the seven years since United World Wrestling reinstated the tournament. They won 16 of those 18 title bouts, including 10 of 11 during the past three years.
Greg Kerkvliet was part of that gold rush. He was one of four American gold medalists last year in Greece when he took home the title at 100 kilograms. But UWW increased the weight limit this year at heavyweight to 110 kilograms, and Kerkvliet — who will wrestle at 97 kilograms in September at the Junior World Championships — ran into a full-grown man with a beard in Tuesday’s heavyweight gold medal bout.
Iran’s Amir Hossein Abbas Zare controlled the center of the mat and stymied Kerkvliet with underhooks, driving the Minnesota native out four times for step-out points, saddling Kerkvliet with two cautions in the process, and tacking on another takedown on the edge to win a 7-4 decision.
Kerkvliet was bidding to become the fourth men’s freestyle repeat Cadet World champ in American history.
“I just got a chance to watch the video again and I don’t know if we underestimated the kid a little bit, but it looked like we underestimated him a little bit,” USA Wrestling freestyle developmental coach Kevin Jackson said in an interview with USA Wrestling. “We have to stay in that handfight. Being able to handfight, being able to defend yourself from distance — head and hands position — that’s a world-class skill, and we just didn’t stay consistent with the handfight, we didn’t stay consistent with addressing the underhook when it happened right now.”
It brought an end to a day when the United States made a charge in the team race but lost critical ground late to the Iranians.
Abe Assad battled back Tuesday with three wins to bag a bronze at 80 kilograms, but Chance Lamer and Alex Facundo dropped semifinal matches and the other American finalist, Richard Figueroa II, fell victim to a four-point takedown in the second period that gave Azerbaijan’s Alihasan Amirli the lead on his way to a 6-1 win at 48 kilograms and his second Cadet gold.
“It was a tough day — tough session,” Jackson said. “Obviously, we thought we had some opportunities to advance to the finals. We had an opportunity to win a gold medal at 48 kilos and got caught with a four-point move. I like our guy’s effort, there’s just some areas we need to spend more time in, especially at that age group — those handfights, those underhooks, beating those positions and really being able to counter those strong tie-ups. I think we need to get better in those positions. Obviously, our guys are wrestling hard, bringing home some medals, but this was a tough, tough session tonight.”
Assad’s run through the repechage and the performance of Matthew Ramos, another Illinois native, eased some of the sting.
Ramos had to get a late takedown to seal a 5-3 win against Greece’s Ioannis Martidis in his first match of the day at 51 kilograms and rallied back from a 5-0 deficit to post a 10-5 win against Mongolia’s Dashtseren Purvee in the quarterfinals. He made a two-point exposure stand as the difference in the semifinals when he downed Iran’s Seyederfan Jafariangelyerdi 2-2.
“Man, he’s a competitor,” Jackson said of Ramos, who will face Japan’s Kota Takahashi in Wednesday’s gold medal bout. “He’s got some offensive skills I didn’t know he had and I think other people didn’t know he had. He’s been known as a defensive wrestler, but at a World Championship you have to bring your skills, you have to be able to take guys down and get your offense off, and he’s been able to do that.”
Lamer gritted through a pair of matches in Tuesday’s early session, stopping Pavel Sagdy’s go-ahead gutwrench attempt in the closing seconds and holding the Russia on his back for a fall and breaking open a tight match after the break to defeat Japan’s Shusei Yamashita 12-3 in the quarterfinals at 45 kilograms.
The Oregon native, though, ran into a buzzsaw in the semifinals. Armenia’s Rafayel Harutyunyan scored a quick takedown and locked up a gut for four turns to register his third 10-0 tech of the day, bouncing Lamer into the bronze medal bout.
Facundo led 5-2 with less than a minute left in the 71-kilogram semifinals, but India’s Baliyan Gourav scored a pair of takedowns to win a 6-5 decision.
Ferrari got pulled back into the repechage when Iran’s Alireza Abdollahi reached the 92-kilogram gold medal bout. The Texan will try to duplicate what Assad did Tuesday when he reeled off three straight victories to claim a bronze. Assad finished his run with a 7-6 victory against Azerbaijan’s Sagadulla Agaev.
“Abe battled the whole tournament,” Jackson said. “He kind of had to refocus three or four times throughout the course of this tournament. Throughout the course of matches he kind of got down on himself, but then he got it back together and he competed like a champion.