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Campbellsville, Grand View, Menlo, Life among top teams in wide-open NAIA Women’s National Invitational, March 11-12

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | March 08, 2022, 3:31 p.m. (ET)

Graphic of Emma Walker (Campbellsville) courtesy of Campbellsville Athletics

Who ‘ya got at this weekend’s NAIA Women’s Wrestling Invitational?

For sure, there are a number of teams heading to Jamestown University this weekend who have a legitimate belief that they will come home as NAIA team champions.

The last NAIA Coaches Poll for women was released on February 24, before most of the conference tournaments were held, with Campbellsville at No. 1, Grand View at No. 2, Menlo College at No. 3, Life at No. 4 and Southern Oregon at No. 5. All of these teams, except Menlo, were ranked at No. 1 at some time during the regular season.

Some of the results from the conference meets may affect the seedings at each individual weight class. However, in the NAIA, the women’s conference tournaments are not qualifiers, so each team will be able to bring who they wish within the entry limit.

This is the third NAIA National Invitational. Menlo won the first NAIA Nationals in 2019, but the 2020 event was cancelled due to the pandemic. In 2021, Campbellsville won the team title and will be seeking to repeat.

A big part of the regular season included battles between Campbellsville and Life, which included two victories by Life in dual meets (NWCA National Duals and their regular dual meet), but Campbellsville placed ahead of Life as a team at the Mid-South Conference Championships. Both Campbellsville and Life had four conference champions. Expect this rivalry to continue at the national tournament.

Mid-South champions for Campbellsville included Leilah Castro (123), Randi Robinson (136), Emma Walker (143) and Kenya Sloan (155). Walker was ranked No; 1 in the final NAIA individual rankings. One of Campbellsville’s hammers, McKayla Campbell, was not in the lineup at the conference meet nor is she ranked anymore. Without her points, Campbellsville still has the juice to win the event. Coach Lee Miracle is well known for switching up his lineup for national tournaments to maximize team scoring, and might have a surprise or two this year, as well. Walker is ranked No. 1 and Sloan at No. 2 in national rankings.

Life won the NWCA National Duals, and held the No. 1 ranking twice this year. Individual conference champions for Life were Katalina Bartelt (101), Peyton Prussin (109), Salyna Shotwell (116), Julia Vidallon (130) and Jordan Nelson (170). Nelson had a big win in the Mid-South finals, defeating 2019 NAIA national champion Dymond Guilford of the Cumberlands (who won her title for Missouri Baptist). Prussin is a returning NAIA champion and is ranked No. 1 this year. Shotwell is ranked No. 2

Grand View hopes to match the achievement of its men’s team, which won the NAIA title again this year. They were the Heart of America Conference champion, with five individual champions: Emma Cochran (101), Ashley Tobe (116), Andrea Schlabach (130), Alexis Gomez (143) and Abby McIntyre (170). Cochran and Schlabach won the conference titles for the second straight year. McIntyre is ranked No. 1 in her weight class. Grand View has depth in its lineup, which should help in a tournament format.

Menlo, which has flown under the radar much of the year, is wrestling great at season’s end. The Oaks won the Cascade Collegiate Conference, led by four individual champions, Alleida Martinez (116), Nanea Estrella (130), Gracie Figueroa (136) and Emily Sandoval (191). Due to COVID-19, Menlo did not compete in the 2020-21 season, but brings back Martinez, who was a 2019 NAIA champion and Figueroa, who was a 2019 runner-up. Menlo has three No. 1 ranked stars, Martinez, Estrella and King transfer Tavia Heidelberg-Tillotson (191), This team has looked strong late in the season.

Southern Oregon placed second in the Cascade Collegiate Conference and was led by conference champions Macie Stewart (109) and Sienna Ramirez (155), and six conference runners-up. Ramirez is ranked No. 1 in her weight class. It would be a mistake to overlook Southern Oregon in the team race. Carolina Moreno (123) has a No. 2 ranking.

One of the rising teams in NAIA women’s wrestling is No. 6 Texas Wesleyan, which won the Sooner Athletic Conference with four individual champions: Camille Fournier (116), Devin Patton (123), Lexi Basham (130) and . Brittyn Corbishley (170). Texas Wesleyan has done a good job keeping some of the top Texas high school stars in the state, and their top wrestlers are all young and improving. Basham is ranked No. 2 in the final poll.

Don’t overlook the other tough Texas team in the tournament, No. 7 Wayland Baptist. (This program produced a 2020 Olympic champion in Tamyra Mensah Stock, BTW). They were led by three individual Sooner Athletic Conference champions were Nina Pham (101), Ovieonce Ray (109) and Jordan Suarez (136). Pham and Ray repeated as conference champions. Pham was a 2021 NAIA champion at 101, and Ray won the 2019 NAIA Nationals at 101. Both were at 109 this year, but Pham dropped down to 101 for the end of the season. Pham had a No. 1 ranking at 101 in the final poll, while Ray and Suarez are at No. 2.

Rounding out the top 10 in the last poll were No. 8 University of the Cumberlands, No. 9 Baker University and No. 10 University of the Providence.

Jesse Kirby won a Mid-South title at 191 for the Cumberlands and placed third in the conference standings. 2019 NAIA champion Dymond Guilford (170), who has been on the Senior National Team, is aiming for a second career title.

Baker had a pair of Heart of America Conference champions in Nichole Moore (123) and Elisa Robinson (191) but placed fifth in the team standings. Moore is ranked No. 1 in her weight class.

Jamestown won its fourth straight KCAC team title, with six conference champions: Samantha Weeks (109), Arianna Marrufo (116) ,Josie Bartishofski (123), Alexandra Baudhuin (130), Sierra Talmadge (170) and Kelly Lacost (191). Talmadge is ranked No. 2

Iowa Wesleyan had a pair of freshmen win Heart of America Conference titles: Mia Palumbo (109) and Adaugo Nwachukwu (136). Going into the conference meets, Nwachukwu was ranked No. 1.

As with every level of women’s wrestling, the NAIA women’s program continues to grow, and the quality of each team increases over time. It will be a major achievement for a wrestler to earn All-American honors this year.

This event is a qualifier for the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament in Coralville, Iowa in May. The champion and runner-up in each weight class, who have not yet qualified and are U.S. citizens, qualify for World Team Trials.

All of the action will be live on FloWrestling.

NAIA WOMEN’S NATIONAL INVITATIONAL SCHEDULE
At Jamestown, N.D., March 11-12
(Mountain Time Zone)


Friday, March 11
9:00 a.m. – Session I – Preliminaries and consolations
6:00 p.m. – Session II – Quarterfinals and consolations

Saturday, March 12
10:00 a.m. – Session III – Semifinals, consolations, 3rd, 5th, 7th place bouts
7:00 p.m. – Session IV – Championship finals