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Jamestown secures NAIA women's wrestling tourney

The University of Jamestown will host the first NAIA women's wrestling invitational tournament at Harold Newman Arena in March. John M. Steiner / The Sun

University of Jamestown and Harold Newman Arena have been selected to host the inaugural NAIA women's wrestling invitational tournament.

Jamestown was announced as a finalist for the national event, which will take place March 15-16, last month. The NAIA made its announcement Wednesday.

"The NAIA is thrilled to have the University of Jamestown host the 2019 Women's Wrestling National Invitational," stated NAIA president and CEO Jim Carr in a press release. "This is a milestone event for women's wrestling and we are confident that Jamestown will deliver an exceptional experience for student-athletes, coaches and fans."

The NAIA just added women's wrestling as an invitational sport last April, after the motion was unanimously approved by the National Administrative Council during the annual national convention held in Kansas City, Mo. Jamestown has played host to five NAIA men's wrestling national championships between 1985-1997 at the Jamestown Civic Center.

"A lot of credit goes to our wrestling community and our head coach," UJ athletics director Sean Johnson said. "Shauna (Kemp) did a really terrific job of spearheading things and we have a great infrastructure of people who know how to run big tournaments. I think that made a difference with the NAIA."

Kemp, entering her second season as head women's wrestling coach for the Jimmies, is guiding one of 25 NAIA programs anticipated to field a women's wrestling team in 2018-19. The NAIA is the first intercollegiate athletics association to officially recognize the sport.

"There's a lot of excitement for my girls to be able to compete at home and bring teams to Jamestown," Kemp said. "The biggest thing was us having the community get involved and people who have done national tournaments in the past being a part of the committee."

The local organizing committee supporting the effort includes Jamestown Tourism executive director Searle Swedlund, Jamestown Chamber of Commerce director Emily Bivens, Jamestown mayor Dwaine Heinrich, Jamestown Wrestling Association president Chad Huebner and Jamestown High School wrestling coach Larry Eslick, along with Dean Haas, Tom Boerger, Sarah Hellekson, Lynn Lambrecht, Jon Lillejord, Rob Keller, Katie Andersen, Corry Shevlin, Ramone Gumke, Jim Boyd, Matthew Woods, Greg White, John Mewes and Pam Fosse.

"The (University of Jamestown) and the Jamestown community look forward to welcoming the athletes and their fans," said UJ president Dr. Polly Peterson in a press release. "The university is appreciative of the support and participation that it received from the community as we moved through the site selection process."

Kemp added: "Our community, and our community support, is what I think really brought them here."

A first-class facility in Harold Newman Arena also helped. The $16 million, 61,000-square-foot facility opened last September and will accommodate the approximately 300 wrestlers expected to participate in the national invite, which is scheduled to fall on the same weekend as Jamestown's annual Runnin O' the Green in March.

"The athletic training facility is right down the hallway, the (6,000-square-foot) wrestling room, the Larson Center gym, the new (5,500-square-foot) strength and conditioning center, it's all right there under one roof," Johnson said. "I think another big factor was our hotel availability. That's really improved over the years and credit to our city leaders for making that happen."

Now that securing the tournament has been locked up, organizers can shift attention to preparation. Kemp said lines of communication are already being established with wrestling officials and other tournament workers.

"There's a lot of those little things that we have to secure commitments for beforehand," Kemp said. "But we already have quite a bit started."

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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