CrossFit Games

Emma Cary Becomes Queen of North America East After Hard-Fought Final Event Battle with Danielle Brandon

May 21, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Ava Kitzi
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Leaderboard watching on the women’s side on Day Three at the North America East Semifinal kept all athletes and onlookers on their toes. And ultimately it came down to seconds to determine both the champion, and the three final athletes to earn invites to this summer’s 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games.

When the chips fell, it was Emma Cary who edged out Danielle Brandon—both of whom train with Brute Strength Training in Naples, FL— for the title, snagging her first event win of the weekend on the final event.

Meanwhile, on the bubble, it was Shelby Neal and Caroline Stanley (both rookies) and Paige Semenza who did just enough to claim their invites.

On her win: For Cary, the win was redemption after the 2022 season when she had to withdraw before the Semis because of a back injury. 

  • “It really shows me I’m on the right track. All the days of doubt in training, and just the adversity I faced, and the lessons that brought me here, it shows me that I can put it all together for something good, even when it (didn’t) seem like good things at the time,” Cary said after her win.
  • Brandon added: “I knew Emma was coming for me on that bike. She’s one of the best in the world on the bike, so I knew what I had to do in order to keep up. And she got away from me this time.”

Sunday Details

Event Six: Event six featured overhead squats, two 500-meter rows and a feast of technical gymnastics movements—handstand walking, handstand pirouettes, chest-to-wall handstand push-ups and seated legless rope climbs—and it went a long way in shuffling the leaderboard, especially on the bubble. 

  • Heading into the event, the athletes sitting in ninth to 13th were Amanda Fischer, Paige Semenza, Sydney Wells, Ashleigh Wosny and Keara Napoli, and only 19 points separated Fischer in ninth and Napoli in 13th. Three of them—Fischer, Wosny and Napoli—had tough events, finishing 50th, 25th and 32nd respectably, knocking each of them down or outside of the bubble. 
  • Caroline Stanley, too did herself no favors on the event, which dropped her from eighth to 10th.
  • Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, both Wells and Semenza put in strong enough performances to move them into eighth and ninth respectively heading into the final event.
  • Finally, a third place finish from Anikha Greer helped jump her from 19th into 11th with one event to go.

Event Seven: The final event of the weekend—a short sprint event consisting of three rounds of 10 calories on the Echo Bike, 20 toes-to-bar and a 60-foot sandbag bear-hug carry—was the type of event that would come down to seconds. And it did.

  • All eyes in Heat Five were on Greer and Neal, who entered the event in 11th, 12th respectively. But it was Neal who handled the test the best, finishing a full 15 seconds ahead of Greer—who had some costly no-reps on the toes-to-bar and was called back a few steps by her judge on her first sandbag carry.
  • This meant that the final heat would come down to how Paige Semenza and Caroline Stanley fared (ninth and 10th going in). Stanley did just what she needed to do to stay on the right side of the cutline, finishing a solid 12th overall, while Semenza fell toward the back of the heat. How much damage she did would come down to the math at the end.
  • When the numbers were crunched, it was Neal, Stanley and Semenza who took the final three spots, leaving Greer the first woman on the wrong side of the cut line—by just three points—for the second time in her individual career (She also missed the cut by one spot in 2021).
  • Meanwhile, at the top of the leaderboard, all of the top six put forth strong performances, led by Cary, who took the event win, followed closely by Brandon in second. Alexis Raptis placed fourth, Emma Lawson fifth, Amanda Barnhart sixth and Paige Powers eighth.
  • Rounding out the qualifiers were Sydney Wells and Fee Saghafi in seventh and eighth. Wells had an up-and-down competition all weekend, but finished strong (14th) on the final event helping her secure her first spot to the Games. Saghafi finished well back in 35th, but she had a big enough buffer that she was able to stay in eighth overall, punching her ticket for the second time in her career.

Worth noting: This will be the ninth straight year a Wells will compete at the Games, but the first time it’s Sydney Wells, as her eight-time Games athlete sister Brooke Wells failed to qualify for her ninth straight appearance (14th overall), arguably the biggest surprise of the entire weekend in Orlando.

The big picture: Nine veterans and three rookies will represent North America East at this summer’s NOBULL CrossFit Games in Madison, WI, where it will be all new life for each of them.

That being said, if this weekend is any indication, keep an eye out for Barnhart—third overall—who looked stronger than ever all weekend, as well as Cary and Brandon, both of whom have to be considered podium contenders in Madison.

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