BRISTOL, Tenn. – Coming off a third place finish at last year's national championships, the King University women's wrestling team will open its fifth season of interscholastic competition in a position it is growing accustomed to—as the top ranked team in the Women's Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA) preseason poll.
The Tornado began last season as the No. 1 team in the WCWA preseason rankings, the first time in program history that King had attained the top spot. The team ultimately earned a third-place finish and had two individual national champions. With many key wrestlers returning and a year of experience as the preseason favorites, the Tornado are in position to contend for the school's first national championship since winning three consecutive National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) women's basketball titles from 1988-1990.
"I don't think it really adds any pressure, it probably helps that we were preseason #1 last year. We didn't accomplish that, we didn't end with the #1 ranking," head coach Jason Moorman said. "It just shows what kind of talent and expectations we have, but there are a lot of things we haven't done yet. For example, beat Oklahoma City University, we haven't beaten them yet. Even though we are preseason #1, I think we are still kind of an underdog."
In last year's WCWA finals, Alli Ragan swept through all four rounds of the individual bracket without allowing a single point to earn her first title. Ragan, now a senior, will look to lead King to its first team championship by repeating last year's feat in the 136-pound division and has been ranked the No. 1 wrestler in the weight class to open the season. Junior Sarah Hildebrandt finished second in the 123-pound weight class to former teammate Katarina Perez and is the preseason favorite to win the weight class this season.
Joining Hildebrandt as second-place finishers in last year's tournament were junior Julia Salata, the preseason top-ranked wrestler in the 155-pound weight class, and graduate Emily Martin, who also won an individual championship in 2011. Martin's younger sister is current Tornado wrestler Stacy Martin, who is ranked eighth in the 136-pound division to begin the season.
In total, 18 King wrestlers are ranked in the top ten of their respective weight classes. Each of the ten weight classes has at least one Tornado in the rankings, but King is especially deep in the 101- and 116-pound divisions. Lightweight Shannon Constantine, a senior, is ranked No. 3 in the preseason after a fourth place finish at last year's WCWA championships. Last year's sixth place finisher, sophomore Ashley Iliff is seventh in the preseason rankings, and in the ninth position is incoming freshman Alesha Zappitella.
In the 116-pound weight class, juniors Kayla Brendlinger and Samantha Klingel are ranked second and third, respectively. The duo finished fourth and fifth nationally last season, while sophomore Marina Sanchez has earned the No. 7 national ranking. Four other All-Americans return from last year's squad, including Amanda Hendey (fourth place, 143 pounds), Lorrie Ramos (fourth place, 170 pounds), Kerri Bumpers (eighth place, 170 pounds), and Malexis McAdoo (fourth place, 191 pounds).
The Tornado return wrestlers at nine of the 10 weight classes from a season ago. Joining this solid returning core is freshman Haley Augello who is a two-time Junior World team member. During her senior season, the Lockport, Ill., native was named ASICS National High School Wrestler of the year. Augello will compete at the 109-pound weight class for the Tornado.
Women's wrestlers often participate in meaningful international competition outside of the college season, and several Tornado athletes had notable summer campaigns. Klingel took gold at the Junior Pan-American Championships in Santiago, Chile after a second-place finish at the Body Bar Nationals in Lakeland, Fla.
Ragan was the first King women's wrestler to qualify for the US Senior World Team. The Carbondale, Ill., native reached the quarterfinals of the Senior World Championships after earning a silver medal at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia this fall. She also was the U.S. Open champion in her weight class in April.
The Tornado had four representatives on the United States Junior World Team, which was led by head coach Jason Moorman. Salata, Ramos, Hildebrandt, and Augello all were members of the eight-person team.
King opens the season on October 25-26 at the Cliff Keen Duals in Oklahoma City, Okla. The Tornado then host University of the Cumberlands and McKendree University in the Student Center Complex on November 2 for the only home event of the year. The WCWA Nationals will be hosted by Missouri Baptist University on January 24-25 in St. Louis, Mo.