Payton Stroud and Claire DiCugno. Submitted photos

Payton Stroud and Claire DiCugno. Submitted photos

Buckley’s Payton Stroud, Claire DiCugno bound for Russia to wrestle as part of U.S. Junior Team

Both athletes will be traveling overseas in mid-August.

A best-guess estimate is that it’s about 5,400 miles from Buckley to Ufa, Russia.

It’s a long trip but one a pair of local wrestlers will gladly be making in just a few months. Both Payton Stroud and Claire DiCugno – the former a White River High graduate and the latter a current Hornet senior – recently made the USA Wrestling Junior World Team and will be among the American women heading to Russia.

By way of quick background, Stroud was a state champion wrestler for White River and is now a two-time collegiate All-American at McKendree University. DiCugno earned individual state champion honors a year ago – helping her team to a state title – and has just launched her senior campaign.

They will be spending a week in August at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before heading to Russia for the Aug. 16-22 World Junior Championships.

The Buckley pair earned their spots on the world team during the recent 2021 Women’s Nationals in Irving, Texas. They are among the 10 young women on the U.S. Junior Team, which includes older high school students and some, like Stroud, that are a couple of years into college.

In Texas, Stroud rolled through the competition to finish undefeated. She opened with a 10-0 decision over Carolina Moreno of Arizona in the quarterfinals and beat Nichole Moore of Kansas 11-1 in the semifinals, advancing to a “best of three” final round. She needed just two matches against Georgia’s Amani Jones to take the 55-kilo crown.

Competing at 57 kilos, DiCugno opened with a quarterfinal victory over Ngao Shoua Whitethorn of Minnesota and beat Wisconsin’s Sophia Smith in the semis. That paired her against Jennifer Soto of California, a highly-rated wrestler who captured Round 1. DiCugno bounced back in a big way, winning the next two rounds for the championship and one of 10 spots on the Junior World Team.

“This is the best I’ve felt in a long, long time,” DiCugno said in a recorded interview following her final match. “I had a bit of a rough patch a few months ago where I felt like I wasn’t getting better and I was even regressing,” she said. She took a bit of a break and everything came together in championship form in Texas.

Stroud had an interesting trek at Texas, having arrived with the intent of competing at 57 kilos. But after checking in just a couple of pounds away from 55 kilos, she cut the weight.

“It was kind of a crazy day,” she said, referring to the last-minute decision to drop down a weight class.

In a post-tourney interview, she admitted to being a bit surprised at making the U.S. team. Part of that stems from her history at nationals, where she placed third several times and was sidelined due to injury a year ago.

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