Tiffani McNelis' meteoric rise through the junior girls' wrestling rankings has landed her in some huge competitions at a very young age.
None of them, however, might be as crucial to her future as the event she'll compete in this weekend in Irving, Texas.
McNelis, of Stewartstown, will participate in the 2017 Women's National Championships, an event that could put her on a junior world team and on the path to, potentially one day, becoming an Olympian.
The Olympics are still far off for McNelis, who is about to complete her eighth-grade year at South Eastern Middle School, a feeder into Kennard-Dale High School. However, this weekend is a chance for McNelis to begin her quest of accomplishing goals that are incredibly lofty. Based off of previous performances, however, those goals appear well within reach.
"My goals are to get on a world team, and I can do that at (the Women's National Championships) and then possibly the Olympics," McNelis said before a practice with her club team, the Modern Day Gladiators earlier this month.
More than just being a major competition, this weekend's event will set the national girls' and women's teams for the upcoming summer of international events. It will also be McNelis' first real test after graduating from the school-girl division to a UWW (United World Wrestling) cadet, the age group for wrestlers age 15-17.
According to the latest weigh-in sheets, McNelis is the youngest wrestler in her 65-kilogram (143-pound) weight class for the event. She'll compete in a division that consists of six girls who just completed their freshman year, 12 sophomores and eight juniors. To make things more difficult, only the top-three finishers from each weight class will qualify for the national team, with first place securing a spot on the World Championship team destined for Greece this summer. The second-place finisher will take part in the Pan American Games.
McNelis was recently the first girl to commit to Wyoming Seminary for the next school year, where she'll wrestle for the first all-girls' prep school team in the country. Her future coach, Erin Vandiver will be in attendance this weekend. Wyoming Seminary is located in Kingston in northeastern Pennsylvania.
"She's a first-year cadet. Now she's moved up in age group and is the youngest in that bracket," Vandiver said. "But, I think she'll do all right."
Last year, McNelis represented Team USA in the Pan Am Games in Medellin, Colombia, when the competition was opened up to the school-girl division for the first time ever. She got there by winning her 57-kilogram division at last year's USA Wrestling National Freestyle Tournament, going on to finish fifth in the games, while the team took second.
According to FloWrestling, McNelis will compete on Saturday, beginning at 9:30 a.m. local time in her preliminary matches. The championship round of matches will begin at 5 p.m. local time to see who will be crowned champion in each weight class and earn a spot on the World Championship team.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org