By Drew Rissman
Every July, Fargo, North Dakota is home to the largest school aged wrestling tournament in the world as it is host to the Cadet and Junior Freestyle and Greco-Roman National Championships. Some of the best junior high and high school wrestlers in the country compete in ‘Fargo’ to stake their claim on the coveted national championship. A few thousand wrestlers call the Fargodome home during this week with several hundred of those wrestlers being girls.
Just as the girls wrestling participation numbers continue to increase dramatically nationwide, Team Minnesota has been growing as well. This year saw the team’s Cadet and Junior National participants grow to 11 girls, up from five a year ago. MN USA Wrestling Girls Director and Coach Chad Shilson said, “I’m very happy with the growth that we’ve seen in participation and I’m looking forward to the increase we’ll see in the years to come.”
They finished with three All-Americans. Emily Shilson (Maple Grove) won the Cadet 95 pound and Junior 97 pound national title and was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the Junior National Tournament. She went 9-0 during the individual tournament competition, pinning five opponents, winning by technical fall over four opponents, giving up only two points in all nine matches and not allowing an opponent to make it to the second period. Include Emily’s four dual meet wins and she finished the week 13-0. On her way to both titles, Emily pinned a returning Fargo finalist and returning Fargo National champ.
Evelin Valenzuela (LeSueur) earned All-American honors in her first trip to nationals by placing 7th in the 198 pound Cadet division. Evelin’s losses came to girls that place just ahead of her at 5th and 6th. Kahlea Jolly at 132 pounds (Lino Lakes) lost in the blood round (losing her medal match – the match that would have made her an All-American). One of Kahlea’s two losses came to former world team member Hailey Cox (Utah). She finished the Cadet tournament with a 3-2 record.
“Our girls wrestled well during the individual tournaments and continued to improve throughout the week. It was fun watching them grind it out individually then come together as a team. If this team trains hard from now until next year, good things will happen.” MN USA Girls Coach Kelli Rasmussen said following the completion of the Girls Junior National Individual Tournament.
All girls gained valuable experience competing against some of the best competition in the world. Yes, three of the girls lost matches to three current and/or former US Cadet World Team members and another to a foreign World Team member. Two of the opponents were returning Cadet World Champions.
2016 marks the 15th straight year that Minnesota has had a female Cadet or Junior Freestyle All-American. This record dates back to 2002, which was the first year a separate girls’ individual tournament began. There are no more than ten states that can boast this record statistic.
In years past, Minnesota simply has not had enough girls to field a dual meet team that could compete on a national level. This year, Minnesota entered their first ever dual team into the Girls National Freestyle Dual Meet Tournament. With 11 girls covering nine of the 12 weight classes, the Storm was excited about the new opportunity to compete.
Minnesota lost to perennial power and defending Dual Tournament National Champion California first round. What better way to see how they stack up against the best competition than to wrestle them in their first girls’ freestyle dual ever. The dual meet team won two duals against Connecticut/Maine and Colorado but losing two more to Florida/Puerto Rico and Nevada. Finishing with two dual wins and three losses on the day, the team fell short of their goal of making All-American, which takes placing as a team in the top eight. Minnesota Girls Coach and two-time Olympian Ali Bernard said, “We believe Minnesota will be good enough to place next year. Hopefully, the Olympic coverage will encourage more girls to come out and join this team.”
Setting their sights on next year’s Fargo tournament, they have the ability to return everyone. Add in some younger girls moving up in the age division and other Cadet and Junior girls that did not compete this year, and you get a program that will be able to compete for one of those top eight All-American spots next year.
The 2016 team was made up of the following individuals:
Emily Shilson – Cadet 95 and Junior 97 (Maple Grove)
Haylie Bonham – Cadet 115 Cadet and Junior 117 (Hawley)
Bekah Hoppe – Junior 117 (New Ulm)
Jaquelyn Diaz – Junior 121 (Mankato)
Makayla Welch – Junior 121 (Mora)
Kya Rybachek – Cadet 124 and Junior 125 (Hibbing)
Kahlea Jolly – Cadet 132 and Junior 130 (Lino Lakes)
Sarah Tison – Junior 139 (Maple Grove)
Melissa Jacobs – Junior 139 (Jordan)
Erin Bersie – Cadet 158 and Junior 159 (Buffalo)
Evelin Valenzuela – Cadet 198 and Junior 198 (LeSueur)