By Frank Rajkowski, SJU Writer/Video Producer
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – In the celebration that followed Minga Batsukh’s first national championship in 2009, a challenge was laid in front of the standout Johnnie wrestler.
“I remember everyone was cheering and yelling,” Batsukh recalls. “They were saying ‘You’re a national champion! You’re a national champion!’ But (current SJU head coach) Kevin Schiltz, who was an assistant coach for us at the time, told me it was going to be a lot harder to do it a second time. Everyone was going to be gunning for me.
“That really motivated me. It made me want to keep getting better and work even harder. I wanted to come back and do it again.”
In fact, Batsukh returned to do it twice – following up his first NCAA Division III national title at 141 pounds with another as a junior in 2010, then closing his career by winning the national championship at 149 pounds as a senior in 2011.
That makes him the only three-time national champion in school history.
“A guy at St. Cloud State he competed against said it best,” remembers Brandon Novak ’01, then the head wrestling coach at SJU. “If Minga didn’t want you to do something on the mat, you weren’t going to do it. He was in control of his matches at all times. He was that good.”
Batsukh’s road to SJU started in the mountains of Western Mongolia. His family were nomads, raising cows and sheep.
“It was really a day-to-day lifestyle,” he said. “You worked hard throughout the day just to put food on the table.”
When he was nine, the family moved to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, and his passion for wrestling grew even stronger.
“Growing up with two older brothers, I’d always loved wrestling,” Batsukh said. “I had an uncle who’d wrestled internationally and been successful. He was a big influence on me. I wanted to be like him.”
In 2003, the Mongolian national team was competing at the world freestyle championships at Madison Square Garden in New York. While there, they trained at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N. J., a school that is part of the Benedictine Volunteer Corps, through which SJU graduates work as instructors.
Michael DiPiano, the head coach at the school, formed contacts which led to Batsukh and fellow wrestler Mogi Baatar ’10 arriving in Newark the following year.
“The coach there developed a relationship with the (Mongolian) national team coaches and that led to them hearing about me,” Batsukh said. “You can imagine what a culture shock that was. Coming to the U.S. was about a 180-degree switch from the life I was used to. It was crazy. Absolutely crazy. But it was such a great opportunity.
“It was my decision to make. My parents told me the choice was up to me. And I wanted to give it a chance.”
Two years later, the Johnnies had three wrestlers competing at the Division III national meet being held at the nearby College of New Jersey, and Novak had the chance to stop by St. Benedict’s Prep to check out both Batsukh and Baatar.
By the next fall, both were enrolled in Collegeville.
“The jump to college wrestling was an adjustment for both of them, but they each worked really hard and picked it up,” Novak said.
That was evident by the fact that both wrestlers qualified for the national meet four times during their time at SJU, including Batsukh’s three national titles.
“I used to sit in the wrestling room at Saint John’s and meditate, talking with the legends who came before me,” Batsukh said. “I’d try to visualize everything I wanted to accomplish.
“Coach Novak meant everything to my success. He was there for me every step of the way.”
After graduating from SJU, Batsukh returned to Mongolia and continued wrestling for a time, just missing out on the final spot in the 2012 Summer Olympics by the luck of the draw at that year’s Asian Wrestling Qualification Tournament.
He’s gone on to a career in the financial sector in Ulaanbaatar, but he and Baatar have both remained involved in the sport. They run a club for kids ages 5-14 that specializes in freestyle wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and boxing.
“I handle the freestyle wrestling and I work out with the kids twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Batsukh said. “It’s fun being able to do that and share what I know with them. I love this sport and I want to pass my skills along to the next generation.”
He said he looks back with gratitude for everyone who helped make his wrestling career such a success.
“I just want to thank everyone who sponsored me financially and welcomed me into their homes as if I were family,” he said. “The DiPiano family (St. Benedict’s Prep), the Neuman family (New York friends and sponsors), Lois Rogers (a sponsor during his college years), The Henle family (college), the Evenson family (college), and the Shellenberger family (college).
“I’m so grateful to all of them.”
2022 Hall of Honor Class
The 2022 class of student-athletes, coaches and volunteers will be inducted into the Saint John’s University J-Club Hall of Honor in a ceremony scheduled for Homecoming Saturday – Oct. 1 – in Guild Hall (Old Gym).
The dinner and enshrinement ceremony begins at 5:15 p.m. Registration is $75 per person through Sept. 25 ($100 per person after) and includes dinner and beverages. All proceeds go to the J-Club to support SJU athletics.
To register to attend, click here.
Check out Johnnies Wrestling at gojohnnies.com.