University of Jamestown women's wrestling coach Shauna Kemp said all 22 teams electing to flock to Jamestown from across the nation this weekend had safely arrived Friday, March 15.
The first NAIA women's wrestling invitational tournament unfolds today (Saturday) at Harold Newman Arena, bringing eight months of local planning to a crescendo. Competition begins this morning at approximately 8:10 a.m. following the conclusion of the NAIA Parade of Champions scheduled for 8.
"I think it's all going to work out great," said Kemp. "I'm just blessed that we were able to change the schedule and be able to get everyone here safely."
Thursday's blizzard forced the inaugural event to be shortened from a two-day tournament to just one. Jamestown Mayor Dwaine Heinrich was one of several speakers Friday at a reception to welcome the athletes to town.
Heinrich alluded to Jamestown possibly hosting the tournament again in the future. The NAIA is the first intercollegiate athletics association to officially recognize women's wrestling, making this weekend's invitational the first of its kind.
"When you come back next year, I will promise you that you'll see green grass," Heinrich quipped. "But I do want to extend my congratulations to all of the student-athletes for your dedication that got you here today. We certainly do appreciate the opportunity to host this event in Jamestown."
The freestyle invite has brought together 165 athletes from 13 states to compete in 10 separate weight classes. Institutions from as far away as California (Menlo College) and Georgia (Life University) will be represented starting today.
An impressive array of the sport's top athletes and prominent characters have also made the journey to the Buffalo City. Speakers at Friday's presentation included Tamyra Mensah-Stock and Sandy Stevens.
Stock is a former four-time All-American at Wayland Baptist University (Texas), was named 2017 Women's Wrestler of the Year by USA Wrestling and is a three-time Ivan Yarygin Memorial Grand Prix Champion. Stevens, a globally recognized wrestling announcer, is the first female to be inducted into the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame and has helped call the NCAA Division I men's wrestling championships for over 35 years.
Stevens will be serving as the tournament's public address announcer.
"I am honored to be here," Stevens said to the athletes. "My commitment (and dedication) to women's wrestling has changed in so many ways, but it also relates to why I love this sport. Not only do we have men and women, not only do we have people of all sizes and all weights. I've announced deaf wrestlers, blind wrestlers-wrestlers with autism. I've announced wrestlers missing a limb.
"We are the most inclusive sport there is, and we're not championed enough for that."
Also addressing the athletes prior to Saturday's tournament were Nathan Docter, NAIA administrator for women's wrestling; Polly Peterson, University of Jamestown president; Serle Swedlund, Jamestown Tourism executive director; Capt. Kyle Randow, United States Marines Midwest officer selection officer in Fargo; and Sean Johnson, University of Jamestown athletics director.
"We appreciate your dedication all year in getting here in terms of performance, but also just literally getting here," said Johnson. "There's a saying about North Dakota nice, and hopefully all of you are going to get to learn about that here in the next couple days if you haven't already."
This weekend's team champion will be based on individual wrestler finishes. Grapplers finishing in the top four in each weight class will be named All-America, with places five through eight earning All-America Honorable-Mention.
University of Jamestown athletes in action today include: Agatha Andrews (191 pounds), Alyssa Schrull (170), Analy Gonsalez (136), Andrea Prince (143), Arianna Marrufo (123), Cara Romeike (130), Chelsea Dionisio (116), Jamayia Blackston (116), Joy Muniz (143), Junnette Caldera (101), Myranda Velazquez (155) and Sierra Talmadge (155).
The Jimmies haven't been in action since winning the 2019 Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference championship on Feb. 23 in Marshall, Mo.
Today's championship matches are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. All-day tickets for the event are $15 for adults and $10 for students.
"We look good and we feel good because we're at home," UJ coach Kemp said. "I think we're ready to go."
NAIA Women's Wrestling Invitational
-- Parade of Champions, 8 a.m.
-- Sessions 1-2, 8:10 a.m.
-- Session 3 (Championship semifinals), 1 p.m.
-- Scholar-Athlete Parade, 6:05 p.m.
-- Parade of All-Americans, 6:15 p.m.
-- Session 4 (Championship finals), 7 p.m.