One of the more intriguing part of sports, especially during tournament time, is the potential for upsets. In March Madness, nothing is more exciting than watching Cinderella upset one of the big teams... unless of course you’re the one taking on the belle of the ball.
While that is the situation Victoria Francis found herself in at the Olympic Wrestling Trials on April 3-4, the Litchfield High School grad’s fairy tale journey turned out pretty good anyway.
“I had a couple goals. One was to make the Olympic team, with making the national team kind of a consolation goal, but ultimately I just wanted to wrestle my best,” said Francis, who finished “true third” behind world champion and Olympic representative Adeline Gray and runner-up Kylie Welker to earn her national team spot. “I wanted to go out there and wrestle my best matches each time, regardless of what happened before or what was going to happen later.”
What happened to Francis was what happened to fourth, fifth and first seeds in the 76-kilogram weight division, who all ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Welker, the 17-year-old 14th seed from Burlington High School in Wisconsin.
Francis, the second seed, seemed to be on a collision course with Dymond Guilford, the top seed, for the right to face Gray in a best-of-three finale for the Olympic spot, but Welker had other ideas.
After beating fourth seeded Randi Beltz 12-2, Welker then earned a decision win over Yelena Makoyed 11-4 and dominated Guilford in the semifinal by an 8-0 margin.
On the other side of the bracket, Francis was just as good, beating Nkechinyer Nwanko by tech fall, 14-4, then beating another potential Cinderella, 12th seeded Jackie Cataline, 9-3, in the semifinals.
In the final of the challenge tournament, Welker scored a four-pointer taking Francis from her feet to her back, but the former Lindenwood University wrestler battled back and was down just 4-3 in the final seconds.
Needing to score to win, Francis shot in on Welker, but the high school junior blocked the shot and tacked on two more points for the 6-3 win.
While she was disappointed with the loss, Francis knew she still had work to do. With only the top three earning spots on the national team, Francis needed to defeat Guilford, who came back through the consolation bracket to earn a shot at true third.
“Dymond lost to the same girl, so I told my coaches that who overcame that loss better would be the winner,” Francis said. I just had to get my mind right and turn the switch and be ready for the next day.”
Francis had lost to Guilford twice in recent months, by a 4-2 decision and by tech fall, but in Saturday’s third place match, she dominated from the outset. After earning a point for a step out early on, Francis scored a four-pointer to take a 5-1 lead.
Guilford would battle back to cut the lead to 5-2, but Francis got another point and led 6-2 going into the second. That period started like the first, with Francis jumping out to an early lead. Just seconds into the period, she put Guilford on her back and added four more points to her lead. With nowhere to go for Guilford, Francis settled in and got the pin at the 4:30 mark, earning her spot on the national team.
“She was someone that I’d been able to wrestle before, but never beat, let alone dominate,” Francis said of Guilford. “It was really a good way to end the season.”
As a whole, Francis came up just short of her ultimate goal, but made the most of her opportunities at the trials and showed why she’s a role model for young athletes.
“I told my coaches I wasn’t really upset with how I wrestled, I was just upset with the result. I’ve been really pleased with how I’ve been performing the past few events,” Francis said. “Obviously I’m unhappy that I didn’t make the team, but I’m really happy with what I’ve accomplished over the last year and the past quad.”
On her Facebook page, Francis reflected on those who had helped her get to where she was in the last five years, thanking her husband Jacob, her family, her coaches Ashley Sword and Christian Flavin, Addidas Wrestling, Titan Mercury Wrestling Club and all of those who made the fairy tale a reality, including all of those who were cheering her on back home.
“This journey is not possible without all of you.”