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'JUST FOR US' UJ finalist to host national women's wrestling tourney

Jimmie wrestlers, from left, Angel Ogden, Liliana Cortes and Analy Gonsalez hope University of Jamestown and Harold Newman Arena will be selected to host the first NAIA women's wrestling invitational tournament this March. John M. Steiner / The Sun

University of Jamestown's Liliana Cortes could not stop smiling at the thought of Jamestown possibly hosting the first NAIA women's wrestling national competition.

The senior from Chicago, like most female wrestlers, grew up competing with mostly boys and navigated a challenging path to eventually end up as a Jimmie in the sport she loves. The NAIA's decision this year to adopt women's wrestling as an invitational sport was a monumental moment in the lives of wrestlers like Cortes, who will now have an independent home at the collegiate level.

Jamestown has been tabbed as a finalist to host the inaugural NAIA Women's Wrestling National Invitational this winter. The tournament will be held March 15-16 at a site yet to be determined.

"Most people don't know about women's wrestling, they just assume it's all men's wrestling," Cortes said. "Having a tournament just for us is so cool."

Having it in Jamestown also makes pretty good sense. The 1-year-old, 61,000-square-foot Harold Newman Arena was built on the UJ campus with hosting such events in mind. The arena floor is able to accommodate the required six mats of action, and can also house the entire competition under one roof, according to Jimmie women's wrestling coach Shauna Kemp.

"Obviously, our arena sells itself," said Kemp, who has spearheaded UJ's efforts to host. "What we really want to sell is our community. We want to show them that this is a community that supports our college and is able to put on a great event for people to come to Jamestown for."

Jamestown is no stranger to hosting NAIA wrestling tournaments. Jamestown College hosted five NAIA men's wrestling national championships at the Jamestown Civic Center between 1985-1997.

Kemp explained all 25 current NAIA women's wrestling teams can have 12 athletes represented at the first national invite this winter, which would amount to 300 individuals in just wrestlers alone. Those athletes, along with coaches, trainers, moms and dads, will all need to secure at least two-day accommodations in Jamestown.

"We are ready to show the NAIA that Jamestown is a place where their athletes and fans can expect big things," said Searle Swedlund, executive director of Jamestown Tourism. "Jamestown is easy to get to, there are hotels, restaurants and businesses with wonderful hospitality, and we have the athletic facilities to host their events.

"They may not be the biggest, but they are some of the best athletic facilities in the region."

The NAIA is blazing a trail, becoming the first intercollegiate athletics association to officially recognize women's wrestling when the administrative council unanimously approved the action this past April. University of Jamestown will still be a member of the Women's Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA), the primary governing body for women's college wrestling.

"I'm ecstatic that we are part of the NAIA now, because that has been the goal of the WCWA," said Kemp, a former WCWA national champion in her second year coaching the Jimmies. "If we can host this event it would be great for our program and the community of Jamestown as well."

It would also capstone a memorable senior season for UJ athletes, including Cortes. Kemp said the NAIA will select a host by Sept. 7.

"We have such a great new facility; it's big and holds a lot of people," Cortes said. "We just wanna show off that Jimmie pride, you know?"

Michael Savaloja

Hometown: Churchs Ferry, N.D.; College: North Dakota

A recipient of the NDHSCA Award of Merit, Savaloja has been reporting sports for The Sun since 2008.

Follow on Twitter: @MichaelSavaloja

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