Wrestling: Kayla Miracle defeats reigning world bronze medalist, makes 2019 world team

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

LINCOLN, Neb. — The new Kayla Miracle moves her feet quickly and constantly applies pressure. She’s more confident now, all smiles, after experiencing heartbreak a year ago. She defeated a world bronze medalist to move one step closer to her dream on Saturday night.

Miracle, a member of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, won Final X to qualify for her first Senior women’s freestyle world team. Inside a rowdy Bob Devaney Sports Center, she defeated Mallory Velte, two matches to none, to earn the spot at 62 kilograms (136 pounds).

In doing so, Miracle joins her Hawkeye Wrestling Club teammates, Alli Ragan and Forrest Molinari, on the 2019 world team. She will compete at the world championships, set for September 14-22 in Kazakhstan. 

“About damn time,” Miracle said afterward. “Kind of like what Forrest said last weekend. We’re from Iowa. We don’t get tired. We live for this two-out-of-three, but I wanted to make it two, make a statement, and create that separation.”

A year ago, Miracle was on the other end of this result, losing to Velte in a thrilling three-match series at Final X at Penn State. Miracle dominated the first match, but Velte strategically worked her way to victories in matches two and three. She turned that into a bronze medal at the world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

The result left Miracle with her "heart ripped out of my chest," she said. She is one of America’s most accomplished female freestylers — a four-time collegiate national champion, a three-time U.S. Open champ, a three-time age-level world medalist (two-time Junior bronze, plus Cadet silver).

But for years, a spot on the Senior world team eluded her.

Hawkeye Wrestling Club's Kayla Miracle gets her hand raised after earning a spot on the 2019 women's freestyle world team on Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In 2016, a 20-year-old Miracle tried her hand at the Olympic Trials and finished fourth. The last two years, she’s reached the penultimate step of USA Wrestling’s world team trials process, but fell short — to Helen Maroulis in 2017, then Velte last year.

“You’re so close to making the team, so close to taking that next step, to being a world champion and Olympic gold medalist,” Miracle said. “That was a dagger.”

A switch flipped after her move to Iowa City, one of four elite women’s freestylers to join for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. She trained each day with Ragan and Molinari and Michaela Beck, a Junior world-teamer and past U.S. Open finalist. Hawkeye Wrestling Club coach Mark Perry, as well as Iowa coaches Tom and Terry Brands, provided structure and criticism.

“She’s really, really talented,” Perry said. “She’s an athlete on the women’s side that I’ve always compared to Spencer Lee. It might not be fair to her, but she has that ability and elusiveness. They’re very similar in a lot of ways.

“Once everything clicks, she’s a problem. A big problem.”

Everything clicked leading up to Saturday night. Miracle went a combined 11-0 at the U.S. Open, U23 world team trials, and Senior-level world team trials challenge tournament, wherein she recorded nine technical falls and one pin. She credits her training for her dominance.

“In the room, you can either kill or be killed,” Miracle said. “Nobody likes to feel weak or vulnerable, but those are exposed every single day in practice. You find them, and you make them home.

“As I walked down the tunnel, Forrest was telling me, ‘Go to that dark place.’ I knew Mallory wouldn’t find it. She wouldn’t know how to live there. You find that dark place, and you’re fine.”

Against Velte, Miracle made a loud statement in the first match. She hit a fireman’s carry that resulted in four points — not unlike what Lee hits on his opponents in the winter — and nearly pinned Velte in the process. Velte scored a takedown in the second to cut the lead to 6-2, but Miracle came back with three-straight exposures to win by a 12-2 technical fall.

The second match was much closer. Miracle again struck first with a first-period takedown, then scored twice more on one-point step-outs. She continually held position, fending off a myriad of Velte shots, and continued to attack, but ultimately won, 4-0, to win the spot.

“We did a lot of stance and motion in the room,” she said. “Just feeling it, feeling the pace, feeling the snaps. No matter who it is, whether it’s Mallory Velte or the number one girl in the world, if my fakes are going and I’m making the moves, I can take down anybody.

“I mean, I had to beat a returning world bronze medalist to even make the team. That’s how great our country is.”

Afterward, Miracle celebrated with Molinari underneath Devaney. The two high-fived then embraced. The opportunity she’s longed dreamt of is now in front of her. The new Kayla Miracle will stop at nothing until she gets it.

►MORE: A year after serious neck injury, HWC’s Alli Ragan makes seventh world team

Daton Fix tops Thomas Gilman in three-match thriller

The second-most anticipated matchup of the evening was the 57-kilo (125) series between Thomas Gilman and Daton Fix. It was billed as a matchup of the gritty, accomplished veteran in Gilman against the up-and-coming star in Fix.

A year ago, Gilman bullied his way to a two-matches-to-none victory to make his second-straight world team. On Saturday, Fix won a thrilling three-match series to make his first Senior World Team.

Fix, a redshirt freshman for Oklahoma State and 2019 NCAA finalist, stormed to a 9-2 victory in the first match, buoyed mostly by a takedown-to-a-gut sequence at the end of the first period to blow the match open. In the second match, Gilman, a three-time All-American for Iowa, muscled his way to a 3-2 win thanks to a takedown with 68 seconds left in the second period.

In the third match, Fix scored a takedown in the first period and led 3-1 with 89 seconds left in the second period. Gilman worked his way through a scramble for a takedown to lead 3-3 on criteria.

Fix scored the match-winning takedown off a Gilman shot with 28 seconds left, scooting around behind Gilman even while Gilman held Fix’s left leg. Gilman’s corner challenged the call, but it was upheld on review, giving Fix an extra point and a 6-3 victory.

Gilman ran off underneath the Devaney Center to cool down while Fix basked in his latest accomplishment. Fix is a multiple-time age-level world medalist, a Junior world champ in 2017 and bronze medalist last year.

He’ll now get his crack at the highest level wrestling has to offer, while Gilman will head back to Iowa City to recover and begin preparations to make his run for the 2020 Olympic Team.

Thomas Gilman, a former Iowa wrestler, scrambles against Oklahoma State's Daton Fix at Final X on Saturday in Lincoln, Nebraska. Fix beat Gilman, two matches to one, to earn a spot on the 2019 men's freestyle world team.

Kyven Gadson falls to Kyle Snyder. Again.

For the third-straight year, Kyven Gadson came within two victories of making the world team.

For the third-straight year, the former Iowa State star lost to Kyle Snyder in straight matches.

On Saturday night, Snyder defeated Gadson by scores of 4-0 and 12-1 to make his fifth-straight world and Olympic team at 97 kilos (213). Snyder scored two first-period takedowns to win the first match, then piled up points via two takedowns, including one four-pointer, and three gut wrenches to run away with the second.

Snyder might best be described as a generational talent. He won three NCAA titles and has won two world championships as well as an Olympic gold in 2016. He is also the weight’s reigning world silver medalist, with his sights set on righting last year’s wrong.

Gadson has been a mere speed bump in Snyder’s ever-growing résumé. The last six times they’ve wrestled — all in the world team trials finals or Final X, all Snyder victories — Gadson has scored a total of five points, while Snyder has piled up 58.

The next time Gadson will get a shot at Snyder will likely be in the Olympic Trials finals next year, should he get there. But Snyder is only 24 years old. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Kyle Snyder gains control of Kyven Gadson during their matchup at Final X in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday night. Snyder beat Gadson, two matches to none, to win a spot on the 2019 men's freestyle world team.

Joe Colon loses to Tyler Graff

Three series went to three matches on Saturday night — Gilman’s battle against Fix, the 74-kilo matchup between Jordan Burroughs and Isaiah Martinez, and the 61-kilo bout between Tyler Graff and Joe Colon, a former Northern Iowa star who won a world bronze medal last year.

Colon muscled through a wild opening two minutes to win the first match, 6-4. Graff used a 4-point takedown in the second period of match two to win, 9-2.

In the third, Colon scored on an exposure to lead 2-0, but Graff responded with a takedown and five-consecutive leg laces to win by a 12-2 technical fall. He becomes the third different 61-kilo representative for the United States’ men’s freestyle world team in as many years.

Tyler Graff works a leg lace against Joe Colon on Saturday night at Final X in Lincoln, Nebraska. Graff beat Colon, two matches to one, to earn a spot on the 2019 men's freestyle world team.

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

Final X Lincoln

Session II Results