Menlo, led by five individual champions, wins historic first NAIA Women’s National Invitational title

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | March 16, 2019, 11:16 p.m. (ET)
NAIA Women's National Invitational champion Menlo College team picture courtesy of the NAIA.

JAMESTOWN, N.D. – Led by five individual champions, three runners-up and a total of 12 All-Americans, Menlo College became the first-ever NAIA Women’s National Invitational team champion on Saturday night.

This is a historic event, because it is the first officially recognized women’s college wrestling tournament by a national multi-sport organization at the college level. The NAIA gave women’s wrestling emerging sport status and created the National Invitational to be launched this year.

This is the second national college women’s wrestling title for Menlo this year, as it also won the 2019 WCWA Nationals in February. The women’s college wrestling community has run national tournaments for teams from all college associations since 2005.

Menlo finished with 230.5 points, a full 76 points ahead of runner-up Oklahoma City with 154.5 points. Third went to the host University of Jamestown with 137.5 points. Campbellsville was fourth with 126.5 points and the University of the Cumberlands was fifth with 106.5 points.

The five individual champions for the champion Oaks were Alleida Martinez (109), Tiana Jackson (123), Solin Piearcy (136), Marilyn Garcia (143) and Iman Kazem (155). Martinez and Piearcy were also WCWA national champions in February.

Martinez, a freshman who has been dominant this year, scored a 10-0 technical fall over second seeded McKayla Campbell of Campbellsville in the finals. This was a rematch of the WCWA national finals, which Martinez won by pin.

Piearcy, a junior, won her second national title of the year after defeating Erica Sotelo of Life, 8-1.

Garcia, a junior, beat a Menlo teammate in the finals, Angela Peralta, a sophomore, by a 2-0 margin. Garcia was the No. 4 seed, while Peralta was the No. 2 seed.

Jackson, who was fourth seeded, defeated the No. 2 seed Koral Sugiyama of Campbellsville in the finals 5-2.

Kazem, the top seed who was a WCWA runner-up this year, pinned the No. 2 seed Anna Naylor of the University of the Cumberlands in just 39 seconds in the finals. She was dominant throughout, with three pins and a technical fall.

“The team competed very well. We punched eight into the finals, a bigger goal than we believed we felt we could do. We thought that if we had five finalists that we could win this. We had 12 girls earn All-American and we had five national champions. We had it basically sewed up by the semifinals. Anytime you can have a performance like that, you are ecstatic,” said Menlo head coach Joey Bareng.

Winning the first NAIA team title was something meaningful to the Menlo athletes and coaching staff,

“We are honored to compete in this tournament and become the first to put our name on the map as NAIA champions. It was an amazing weekend and an incredible experience for our team. We haven’t had a chance to celebrate this yet, but it is starting to sink in for us,” said Bareng.

The team with the second-most champions was Wayland Baptist, which came home with three gold medalists: Asia Ray (101), Jathiya Isaac (116) and Paige Baynes (191). WBU finished sixth in the standings with five All-Americans.

Ray, a two-time WCWA champion, became the first NAIA Women’s National Invitational champion in history, when she defeated her Wayland Baptist teammate Nina Pham in the finals, 8-1. The championship round was held in weight order. Ray was seeded No. 1 while Pham was seeded No. 2.

Isaac was named Outstanding Wrestler of the first NAIA Women’s National Invitational, after defeating freshman sensation Gracie Figueroa of Menlo, the No. 1 seed and a 2019 WCWA national champion. Figueroa had beaten Issac in the WCWA semifinals by an 11-1 technical fall. Isaac, the second seed, was trailing 1-1 late in the match, when she countered a Figueroa shot with a two-point crotch lift, then gave up a reversal to lead 3-2. Figueroa was not able to score in the closing seconds.

Baynes won a wild 7-5 match against top-seeded Chi Chi Nwankwo of Oklahoma City, 7-5. The match was tied at 1-1 at the break, and Nwankwo jumped to a 5-1 lead with a four-point takedown in the second period. Baynes rebounded with a four-pointer of her own to tie it at 5-5, then finished off the win with a late takedown. It was the second college national title of her career, after winning a WCWA gold medal in 2018 when she competed for Grays Harbor College.

The most loaded weight class was at 170 pounds, with five nationally respected athletes in the draw. The top seed and a 2018 WCWA nationals champion, Dymond Guilford, became the first NAIA National Invitational champion for Missouri Baptist. She defeated Precious Bell of Menlo College by pin in 2:36. Both of the finalists are from Lancaster, Calif., and they are half-sisters.

In that 170-pound weight class, 2018 Final X runner-up Rachel Watters of Oklahoma City, in her first event after recovering from injury, was third, with past WCWA national runner-up Mariah Harris of Campbellsville placing fourth. Watters lost to Guilford in the semifinals, 10-0.

Campbellsville also came home with its first NAIA National Invitational champion, when Andribeth Rivera won the 130-pound title, pinning Jamestown’s Cara Romeike in the finals in 1:47. Rivera, a native of Puerto Rico, had won a WCWA national title for Campbellsville in 2017.

Although not claiming any individual champions, runner-up Oklahoma City and third-place Jamestown won national trophies because of their team’s overall depth and strength. Both teams lost their only finals bout, but OCU had nine All-Americans and Jamestown claimed 10 All-Americans. Oklahoma City wrestled back very well, getting five wrestlers who claimed third place.

At Jamestown, N.D., March 16

101 pounds
1st - Asia Ray (Wayland Baptist) dec. Nina Pham (Wayland Baptist), 8-1
3rd - Junnette Caldera (Jamestown) pin Hiba Salem (Menlo College), 3:30
5th - Jessica Rodriguez (Univ of Cumberlands) pin Kassidy Ramirez (Lyon College), 1:50
7th - Faye Cherrier (Life) inj. dft. Amber Garriga (Life)

109 pounds
1st - Alleida Martinez (Menlo College) tech. fall McKayla Campbell (Campbellsville), 10-0
3rd - Tyesha Topps (Life) dec. Raven Guidry (Oklahoma City), 6-2
5th - Brianna Ribucan-Leong (Lyon College) pin Cassidy Freeman (Eastern Oregon), 1:22
7th - Diana Leyva (Waldorf University) VSU1 Alessia Cokeley (Ottawa University), 14-1 4:24

116 pounds
1st - Jathiya Isaac (Wayland Baptist) dec. Gracie Figueroa (Menlo College), 3-2
3rd - Cassidy Jasperson (Oklahoma City) tech. fall Madison Angelito (Univ of Cumberlands), 12-0
5th - Glory Konecny (Southern Oregon) pin Taryn Ichimura (Menlo College), 3:35
7th - Chelsea Dionisio (Jamestown) tech. fall Jamayia Blackston (Jamestown), 10-0

123 pounds
1st - Tiana Jackson (Menlo College) dec. Koral Sugiyama (Campbellsville), 5-2
3rd - Dajan Treder (Providence) dec. Macy Higa (Eastern Oregon), 8-4
5th - Alannah Vetterick (Midland) pin Victoria Norris (Ottawa) 3:52
7th - Arianna Marrufo (Jamestown) dec. Daniela Flores (Oklahoma City), 6-5

130 pounds
1st - Andribeth Rivera (Campbellsville) pin Cara Romeike (Jamestown), 1:47
3rd - Sydney Freund (Oklahoma City) dec. Anesia Ramirez (Southern Oregon), 2-1
5th - Julissa Taitano (Southern Oregon) dec. Jocelyn Murphy (Missouri Valley College), 14-9
7th - Breannah Duduoit-Vasquez (Wayland Baptist) tech fall Aysia Cortez (Life), 10-0

136 pounds
1st - Solin Piearcy (Menlo College) dec. Erica Sotelo (Life), 8-1
3rd - Destiny Lyng (Oklahoma City) tech. fall Bridgette Duty (Univ of Cumberlands), 10-0
5th - Akina Yamada (Waldorf) pin Elissa Douglass (Lyon College), 1:57
7th - Brittany Woods-Orrison (Menlo College) pin Sophia Carson (Campbellsville), 4:25

143 pounds
1st - Marilyn Garcia (Menlo College) dec. Angela Peralta (Menlo College) 2-0
3rd - Maggie Douma (Oklahoma City) pin Zoe Wight (Life University), 1:21
5th - Sienna Ramirez (Southern Oregon) inj. dft. Cierra Foster (Oklahoma City)
7th - Joy Muniz (Jamestown) pin Morgan Shines (Life), 2:07

155 pounds
1st - Iman Kazem (Menlo College) pin Anna Naylor (Univ of Cumberlands), 0:39
3rd - Myranda Velazquez (Jamestown) default Shamera Mctier (Missouri Valley College)
5th - Destinee Rivera (Life) dec. Gabriela Hunter (Midland), 4-1
7th - Sierra Talmadge (Jamestown) dec. Isabella Ricchiazzi (Univ of Cumberlands), 4-3

170 pounds
1st - Dymond Guilford (Missouri Baptist) pin Precious Bell (Menlo College) 2:36
3rd - Rachel Watters (Oklahoma City) dec. Mariah Harris (Campbellsville), 4-4
5th - Jordan Nelson (Life) tech. fall Kenya Sloan (Campbellsville), 12-1
7th - Payton Rigert (Univ of Cumberlands) dec. Alyssa Schrull (Jamestown), 8-6

191 pounds
1st - Paige Baynes (Wayland Baptist) dec. Chi Chi Nwankwo (Oklahoma City), 7-5
3rd - Leilani Camargo-Naone (Midland) dec. Agatha Andrews (Jamestown), 6-5
5th - Alexandra Castillo (Campbellsville University) dec. Jesse Kirby (University of Cumberlands), 8-2
7th - Emily Sandoval (Menlo College) tech. fall Angel Ochoa (Missouri Baptist), 10-0

The top 15 teams
1 Menlo College 230.5
2 Oklahoma City University 154.5
3 University of Jamestown 137.5
4 Campbellsville University 126.5
5 University of Cumberlands 106.5
6 Wayland Baptist University 105
7 Life University 102.5
8 Southern Oregon 66.5
9 Midland University 45
10 Missouri Baptist University 43
11 Lyon College 40.5
12 Missouri Valley College 39
13 Eastern Oregon University 36.5
14 Waldorf University 22.5
15 Ottawa University 18