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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | July 19, 2021

The college careers of the 2020 US Olympic wrestlers

College Wrestling Legends

The 2020 U.S. Olympic wrestling team is one of the most star-studded groups to ever represent the country on the international stage. The lineup includes Olympic champions, world champions, NCAA champions, WCWA champions and future stars.

Here’s what these individuals accomplished at the collegiate level and how those experiences shaped them into the Olympians they are now. 

MEN’S FREESTYLE

57kg: Thomas Gilman, University of Iowa

A three-time All-American and NCAA finalist for the Iowa Hawkeyes, Thomas Gilman qualified for his first Olympic team with a 2-0 sweep of Cornell’s Vitali Arujau in the finals. Gilman finished his college career with a 107-12 record, finishing fourth, third and second in his last three years. He left Iowa as one of the most accomplished, well-known wrestlers to never win a title in the modern era. He proved, with his trials performance, that the best is still to come for this scrappy lightweight. 

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The 26-year-old brings world-level experience to Tokyo as a two-time World Team member and a 2017 world silver medalist. Gilman also served as the U.S. rep to qualify 57kg for the 2020 Games and will now compete at the weight in his first Games. He represented the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club in the Olympic trials and will aim to bring gold back to his new home in State College. 

74kg: Kyle Dake, Cornell University

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Kyle Dake had one of the most historic NCAA wrestling careers of all time at Cornell, winning four NCAA titles at four different weights in four years, the only wrestler to accomplish such a feat. He also finished his college career with just four losses. As a senior in 2013, Dake won the Hodge Trophy for his stellar season and noteworthy NCAA championship win over NCAA champion and fellow Hodge Trophy winner David Taylor.

4 TITLES, 4 WEIGHTS, 4 YEARS: The incredible college career of Kyle Dake

In qualifying for his first Olympic team, Dake beat 2012 Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs and will be the first American man other than Burroughs to wrestle at 74kg for the United States on the world stage since 2011. He also beat three-time NCAA champion and Hodge finalist Jason Nolf in the semifinals.

Dake's dominance is clear, and he'll bring high-level world championship experience to Tokyo this summer. A two-time world champion at 79kg, Dake will chase his first Olympic gold in a weight that has been tremendously successful for the United States in the past. Dake trains in Ithaca, New York as a member of the Spartan Combat Wrestling Club, embracing his collegiate roots at Cornell and representing the program with class. 

86 kg: David Taylor, Penn State University

Much like Dake, David Taylor also had a legendary college career, winning two NCAA titles and two Hodge Trophies for Penn State before transitioning to, and excelling in, freestyle wrestling. Taylor's only collegiate losses came against NCAA champion Bubba Jenkins and four-time NCAA champion Dake, and he expertly built on that success to claim titles at the international level.

MAGIC MAN: David Taylor named NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler in 2014

In 2018, Taylor won his first world championship medal at 86kg when he stormed past Turkey’s Fatih Erdin by technical fall in the finals. An injury kept him out of the 2019 World Championships, but Taylor is back and better than ever. He earned his spot on the 2020 team after beating teammate Bo Nickal in the Olympic trials final to qualify for his first Games, and he'll also represent the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club in Tokyo. 

97kg: Kyle Snyder, Ohio State University

A three-time NCAA champion and four-time NCAA finalist for the Ohio State Buckeyes in college, Kyle Snyder became the youngest man in history to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States when he beat Khetag Gazyumov of Russia in the 2016 finals. Snyder will now return for his second Olympics after topping his former teammate Kollin Moore in the Trials finals, and he’ll now look to defend his Olympic crown. The 25-year-old Maryland native currently trains with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club in State College, Penn, and has won four World Championship medals at 97kg, winning gold in 2015 and 2017.

GOLDEN BUCKEYE: Kyle Snyder wins Olympic gold in 2016 

Snyder's 2015 gold medal came while he was still in college and represents his impressive ability to balance the demands of training freestyle at an elite senior level with the expectations of a college folkstyle wrestler. As a sophomore in 2016, Snyder opted to take an Olympic redshirt in preparation for the Rio Games, but he returned to the mat in January to claim his first NCAA title just five months before competing on the Olympic stage. Snyder is the only member of the 2020 Olympic Team who has participated in the Games before, and, despite his young age, he’ll be the veteran on this squad.

125kg: Gable Steveson, University of Minnesota 

The youngest member of the 2020 Olympic men’s wrestling team, Gable Steveson qualified for his first Games with two convincing wins over 2019 World Team member Nick Gwizdowski and will look for his first senior-level medal in Tokyo. Steveson’s victory came just two weeks after the 20-year-old won his first NCAA title at 285 pounds and earned the Hodge Trophy for his world-class performance.

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Steveson is a three-time All-American for the Minnesota Gopher after finishing third as a freshman, earning NWCA first-team honors in 2020 after the COVID-19 cancellation and then winning the weight as a junior. Steveson has lost just twice in college: in the 2019 Big Ten finals and in the 2019 NCAA semifinals against Penn State's Anthony Cassar. Since then, he's not only beaten all of his opponents, but he's majored nearly every single one of them. He’s been vague about his collegiate plans next year, but one thing is clear: Steveson is now on a mission for Olympic gold. 

WOMEN’S FREESTYLE 

50 kg: Sarah Hildebrandt, King University

A 2018 World silver medalist, Sarah Hildebrandt will wrestle in her first Olympic Games this summer after topping Victoria Anthony 12-2, 10-0 in her two finals matches in the trials. Her qualification represents nearly a decade of perseverance towards this goal, as she just fell short of an Olympic berth at both the 2012 and 2016 trials. She has also won four Pan American titles and is a two-time World team member for the United States. 

Hildebrandt competed collegiately for King University where she won two national titles and finished second twice. She's also a four-time All-American and a member of two national team championships for King.

“King wasn’t the number one program at the time, but when I went and visited, I just felt an awesome feel on campus," Hildebrandt told the Herald Courier. “Definitely, always my goal was Olympics and so I knew college was kind of just a stepping stone in that goal." 

53 kg: Jacarra Winchester,  Missouri Valley College

A world champion now looking for Olympic gold, California native Jacarra Winchester will represent the United States at 53kg, and, like Hildebrandt, this dream has been a long time coming. 

Winchester won a University Nationals title in 2014 and a WCWA national title for Missouri Valley College in 2015 and was set to compete for an Olympic spot in 2016 but ended up having to pull out of the trials because of an ACL injury.

She went on to recover and emerge victorious at the World Team Trials in 2018 before capturing a gold medal in the 2019 World Championships.

Winchester is also a two-time U.S. Open Champion and a 2019 winner of the Dave Schultz Memorial Tournament.

Her accomplishments speak for themselves, and now the Titan Mercury Wrestling Club athlete will take on her biggest challenge yet and aim to stand on top of the podium this summer at the Olympics in Tokyo. 

57kg: Helen Maroulis, Simon Fraser University

Helen Maroulis is back to make history again, as the 2016 gold medalist will now look to become the first woman to win back-to-back golds in an Olympic Games.

Maroulis battled with Jenna Burkert for her spot on the team, winning the first finals match 5-3 but then dropping the second one 6-5 before pinning her opponent for a second bid to the Olympics.

The 29-year-old is one of the most decorated members of this Olympic team with four world medals, two of them gold, and she’ll aim to add to this collection in Tokyo. Maroulis is also a four-time NWCA national champion for Simon Fraser University and went undefeated in her college career.

Originally hailing from Maryland, Maroulis now trains with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club and has said that the environment of that wrestling room has helped her reach new levels. 

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"It helps a lot to one, have other women there, because it's just a different feeling to have people pursuing the same goal as you. And two, I think it's just great to have a push," Maroulis told The Collegian. "When I was living at home in Maryland, I just remember telling my mom it's kind of hard doing this on my own. So just to be at Penn State, having the girls and we're all helping each other, it's amazing."

62 kg: Kayla Miracle, Campbellsville

A four-time WCWA National champion for Campbellsville, Kayla Miracle has continued to wrestle her way into the record books since her college days. She's a three-time U.S. Open Champion, 2019 World Team member, two-time winner of the Dave Schultz Memorial International champion and now, a 2020 Olympian.

She qualified the weight at the Pan American Games in 2020, which allowed her to sit out of the tournament until the finals, and she did what she needed to do to win that best-of-three finals when everything was on the line. She earned an 8-4 win in the first Trials championship bout before dropping the second match 4-3 and having to rebound to secure her Olympic spot after Kilty, a Tar Heel Wrestling Club athlete, injury defaulted out.

Miracle currently trains with the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club in Tempe, Arizona. 

68 kg: Tamyra Mensah-Stock, Wayland Baptist

Tamyra Mensah-Stock was just about as close as anyone to qualifying for the Olympics in 2016. She won the Trials that year but failed to qualify the weight, forcing her to watch the Games from home as opposed to competing in them.

This cycle, however, was different, as the 2019 World Champion showed the country just how strong she was by leaving no doubt in her 2-0 sweep of Kennedy Blades in the 68kg final.

Mensah-Stock is in a good position to compete for a medal in Tokyo, and her international resume shows a deep history of success. In addition to her gold medal from 2019 Worlds, Mensah-Stock has a bronze from the 2018 World Championships and a recent gold from the 2021 Matteo Pellicone Tournament. She's also a two-time WCWA National Champion for Wayland Baptist and a University National Champion, someone who has been wrestling on the elite level for nearly a decade and consistently finding a way to compete for the top spot. 

76 kg: Adeline Gray, DeVry, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs

Heavyweight wrestler Adeline Gray will return for her second Olympics a more experienced, seasoned champion who expects nothing less than to dominate.

After shutting out Kylie Welker 11-0 in two consecutive matches in the 76kg Olympic trials finals, Gray is back on the Olympic Team and ready to finish what she started in 2016.

Gray came into the Rio Games as a heavy favorite but fell short of a podium spot. Since then, however, she's gone on to add two more World Championship golds to her collection, becoming the first woman to win five World titles in a career.

This year, she'll unquestionably be one of the leaders of this high-powered women's freestyle Olympic team and look to capture the medal that eluded her the first go-round. A graduate of DeVry University, Gray majored in technical management, with a concentration in project management and completed her degree while training for the Rio Games. 

“The DeVry professors immediately understood the support I needed and the university’s study options are ideal for an Olympic athlete’s lifestyle,” Gray told WickedLocal in 2016. “To have DeVry in my corner supporting me, not just in my education, and also supporting my athletic dreams has been amazing.” 

MEN'S GRECO-ROMAN

60 kg: Ildar Hafizov

Ildar Hafizov has had perhaps the most interesting Olympic journey in that he originally hails from Uzbek and only started representing the United States in 2015. Seven years after representing Uzbekistan in the 2008 Olympics, Hafizov became a U.S. Citizen and joined the United States Army. He now competes as a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and is a a two-time U.S. World Team member. A Greco specialist, Hafizov  did not wrestle collegiately in the United States but told FivePointMove.com that he thinks the style could thrive in the U.S. College Scene. 

“If you put Greco programs in the schools also, they will be wrestling Greco from the beginning,” he said. “It will definitely benefit the program. It will definitely bring more improvement for Greco.”

67 kg: Alejandro Sancho, Northern Michigan University 

Like Hafizov, Alejandro Sancho is also a member of the Army World Class Athlete Program and a veteran International wrestler, but, unlike his teammate Sancho did connect with collegiate wrestling coaches after his high school career. He explained to TeamUSA.com that NMU-OTS head coach Rob Hermann reached out to Sancho after high school and asked him to start training with the Northern Michigan Greco program, an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

He won his first major senior level tournament at the Bill Ferrell Invitational in 2014, but his victories at the Olympic trials marks the biggest achievement of his career so far. Sancho's Trials win came by close margins, as he beat Ellis Coleman 2-0 and 3-1, but he accomplished his goal. Sancho is an Olympian. 

87 kg: John Stefanowicz

Nothing could stop John Stefanowicz. The 87kg Greco wrestler worked his way through the bracket with upsets over Pat Martinez, Alan Vera and Barrett Stanghill before topping 2016 Olympic trials winner Joe Rau 6-5 and 2-1. Stefanowicz's win is the result of never giving up, even when he wasn't the most sought-after recruit, even when a pandemic interfered with his training and even when he started to doubt himself. 

Stefanowicz had a career breakthrough when he made his first World Team in 2019 and won the 2020 Pan American Games, but, like many of his Greco teammates, qualifying for the Olympics is a different kind of accomplishment. 

Stefanowicz did not compete at the collegiate level and instead joined the Marines after his high school graduation, becoming the first Marine since 1992 to make a U.S. Olympic Team. His path was unorthodox, but it's worked for him, and he'll represent his country and his branch on the international stage this summer in Tokyo. 

97 kg: G’Angelo Hancock, Daymar College

G’Angelo Hancock lived up to his Twitter handle nickname, @OlympicKidd, when he beat Braxton Amos 2-0 in the 97kg final at the Olympic trials.

Hancock has had national and international success before, finishing third at the Trials in 2016 before winning World Team Trials in 2017 and 2018 and qualifying for the 2019 World Team. The Olympics, however, are a new and unprecedented stage for the Greco athlete. Hancock qualified his weight for Tokyo, giving him a pass to the finals of the Trials, and he was clearly the best guy in the country at the weight in the Trials. According to TrackWrestling, Hancock credits the support of Matt Lindland, Coach James Johnson, Herb House, Steve Fraser at Daymar for supporting him throughout the early parts of his career, even though he didn't compete collegiately for the school, and he'll look to build on that support to challenge for an Olympic medal this summer.

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