Hurricane Maria survivor scores one of two upsets at Junior National Women’s Freestyle

Updated: July 18, 2018

Photo: Abnelis Yambo, who moved to Florida after Hurricane Maria hit her home in Puerto Rico, took an 8-1 lead against Junior World Team member Alexandria Liles and held on for a 10-8 victory and a Junior National women’s freestyle championship at 132 pounds. Photo by G. Wyatt Schultz

(Editor’s Note: WIN Magazine is in Fargo, N.D., all week for the 48th Annual U.S. Marines Cadet/Junior National championships. WIN will provide comprehensive coverage of the national tournament in WIN’s next issue, which will be printed on Aug. 7. Click here to subscribe to WIN or call 888-305-0606.)

By Mike Finn

FARGO, N.D. — Abnelis Yambo was forced to leave her native Puerto Rico last September when Hurricane Maria practically destroyed the U.S. Territory. But it was Yambo who created a storm of her own in the Fargodome Wednesday afternoon when she scored a big upset over Junior World Team member Alexandria Liles for the 132-pound U.S. Marines Junior National women’s freestyle championship.

This victory avenged a lost by fall against Liles at the UWW Junior Nationals this past May in Texas, which earned Liles a spot in this fall’s UWW Junior World Championships and inspired Yambo to work harder for her 10-8 Junior National finals win over Liles.

“I wrestled bad (at the UWW Junior Nationals) but I trained hard to come back here,” said a translator for Yambo, who does not speak English and jumped out to an 8-1 lead over Liles before holding onto a two-point victory.

After Hurricane Maria forced the 17-year-old Yambo and her family to move to Kissimmee, Fla., she enrolled and eventually graduated from Osceola High School where she continued to train in a sport she started five years ago.

“It was really hard because I had to leave my country, where I lived my whole life to come somewhere different,” said Yambo, who was a member of the Puerto Rico Junior team before coming to the USA.

Overall, there were four members of the 2018 Junior World team — which will compete in Trnava, Slovakia in September — who decided to compete in the Junior Nationals … and only two won their matches: Wisconsin teammates Jayden Laurent (144 pounds) and Macey Kilty (Wisconsin).

“I had my nerves going crazy, I just wanted to get that win,” said Laurent, the two-time Junior National champion and runner-up at the 2018 Senior World Team Trials, who scored a 13-3 technical fall over Jerzie Estrada of Colorado. “You don’t want to lose here.”

Alexys Zepeda (right) of Oregon blanked defending Junior National champion Alisha Howk for the 122-pound championship Wednesday afternoon in Fargo, N.D. (G. Wyatt Schultz photo)

But that is indeed what happened to Alisha Howk, the 2017 Junior National champion who was blanked 8-0 by Alexys Zepeda of Gervais, Ore., for the 122-pound Junior National championship.

“People were talking to me about how good she was and I said, ‘Oh please stop,’ ” said Zepeda who won a Cadet National championship on Sunday and did not decide to go for a double championship until Monday. “I put all that information to the side and just wrestled.”

Kilty, who scored an 11-0 technical fall over Kaylynn Albrecht of Texas, was among two women who entered the Junior Nationals after winning a Cadet World Championship two weeks ago in Croatia. The other was Emily Shilson of Maple Grove, Minn., who won her second straight Junior National championship at 100 pounds.

“I just love to battle and I wanted to win another title,” said Shilson, who needed less than two minutes to blank Cadet National champ Sage Mortimer of Utah, 10-0.

Overall, five Cadet National champs reached the Junior finals and three left the Fargodome with double victories.

In addition to Zepeda, that included 106-pound Mia Palumbo from Oak Lawn, Ill., 164-pound Tristan Kelly of Castle Rock, Colo.

Earning Outstanding Wrestler honors in the Junior Women’s Tournament was 112-pound champion Felicity Taylor of Spillville, Iowa.

“This is awesome and something I’ve been working on since I first came here two years ago,” said Taylor, who recorded over 100 victories against boys while competed at South Winneshiek High School.

There are only two more days left in the week-long 48th annual event that will conclude with Greco-Roman championships Thursday in Cadets and Friday in Juniors.

2018 U.S. Marines Junior Nationals

July 18 • Fargo, N.D.

Junior Women’s Freestyle Championship Matches

100 — Emily Shilson (Minnesota) won by TF over Sage Mortimer (Utah), 10-0 1:58

106 — Mia Palumbo (Illinois) dec. Caitlyn Walker (Pennsylvania), 9-5

112 — Felicity Taylor (Iowa) dec. Peyton Prussin (Nevada), 10-1

117 — Vayle Baker (Pennsylvania) dec. Phoenix Dubose (Washington), 6-2

122 — Alexys Zepeda (Oregon) dec. Alisha Howk (Wisconsin), 8-0

127 — Xochitl Mota-pettis (Texas) pinned Louisa Schwab (Illinois), 6-0 1:34

132 — Abnelis Yambo (Florida) dec. Alexandria Liles (Colorado), 10-8

138 — Emma Bruntil (Washington) won by TF over Aine Drury (California), 12-1 3:29

144 — Jayden Laurent (Wisconsin) won by TF over Jerzie Estrada (Colorado), 13-3 4:32

152 — Macey Kilty (Wisconsin) won by TF over Kaylynn Albrecht (Texas), 11-0 1:10

164 — Tristan Kelly (Colorado) dec. Emily Cue (Colorado), 8-0

180 — Jesse Kirby (Virginia) pinned Jaycee Foeller (Missouri), 6-4 2:10

200 — Alexandra Castillo (California) pinned Adelina Parra (California), 2-0 1:03

225 — Gabrielle Holloway (Texas) pinned Alyssa Alvarez (Texas), 6-4 3:18


Top 10 State Standings

Place State (Ch/AA’s) Points
1 California (1/20) 75
2 Washington (1/11) 50
3 Texas (2/10) 46
4 Wisconsin (2/8) 44
5 Colorado (1/7) 42
6 Illinois (1/6) 27
7 Hawaii (0/6) 26
8 Pennsylvania (1/4) 23
9 Florida (1/5) 18
10 Georgia (0/3) 16
10 Oregon (1/4) 16