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Growing sport

Two collegiate women wrestlers compete Saturday at Harold Newman Arena as part of the first Women's Wrestling Invitational of National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Weather aside, participants of the NAIA Women's Wrestling Invitational Saturday at the University of Jamestown said the first National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics event has lifted the trajectory of the emerging sport.

Kassidy Ramirez, a sophomore wrestler with Lyon College, a private university in Batesville, Ark., won second place in her 101-pound class. The Rio Grande City, Texas, native wrestled in two previous Women's College Wrestling Association tournaments and said the NAIA presents another level entirely.

"It's a big deal, really, for everybody here and for all generations of girls to be," Ramirez said. "I think the NAIA provides a bigger opportunity for everybody."

After college Ramirez said she would like to coach wrestling. The fact that women's wrestling is growing provides more opportunity, she said.

Brianna Ribucan-leong, a freshman wrestler with Lyon College, won fifth place in her 109-pound class. She is also a WCWA All-American.

Ribucan-leong said her older brother wrestles and it became a family sport. She picked Lyon College to compete at the collegiate level and said the NAIA tournament is a historic step and makes everyone a little more excited.

"It's a first for all of us and I think it's awesome that we're all competing together in the first NAIA tournament," Ribucan-leong said.

The Lyon College team arrived Wednesday ahead of the storm, she said. The weather was bad the entire trip, she said.

"It was a 14-hour drive," she said.

Jamestown Mayor Dwaine Heinrich attended the opening ceremonies and watched the matches following. He said he didn't know a lot about the sport but it was easy to see how hard the athletes trained.

"Their dedication to get to this level is obvious," Heinrich said.

The weather certainly had an impact on the tournament, he said. It's impossible to really know but flooding in Nebraska, and weather here and around the country certainly prevented some people from attending, he said.

"It's not the best benchmark of what could have been," Heinrich said.

Paul Godinez, a strength coach for the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky., said the team flew into Fargo via Minneapolis on Friday and drove to Jamestown without incident. He, on the other hand, drove to Jamestown from Colorado and was involved in an accident in Bismarck, showing an abrasion on his forehead.

"I walked away," he said. "Blessings."

Godinez said UC is among the first women's wrestling programs and credits the mostly smaller, private universities with helping to build that core group into something that is gaining national recognition. The NAIA is another step forward, he said.

"It's just been amazing watching it grow," Godinez said.

The NAIA wrestling tournaments are similar to the Women's Wrestling Association, he said. The NAIA attempts to align various regulations to ensure everybody is doing the same thing, he said.

"I think the weights are a little bit different, but other than that it's mostly the same," Godinez said.

Women's wrestling is growing fast because they were given the chance to compete, he said. Women wrestled in the men's programs until just recently, he said.

"As of just a couple of years ago there were only about four or five different programs running and now you've got 40," Godinez said. "You've got more girls realizing that they can get out there and wrestle."

Renay Monohan, a third-year wrestler from Eastern Oregon University, said the NAIA tournament will help the sport and the teams by increasing the level of competition.

"I think it will help progress women's wrestling," she said.

The Spokane, Wash., native said her soccer coach talked her into considering wrestling. The biology major was looking for another sport after deciding not to continue with basketball.

"I tried it out and I ended up really loving it," Monohan said. "I like everything about it and I love the competition."

Monohan's team also came to Jamestown ahead of the storm on Wednesday. She said Eastern Oregon is covered in snow and so Jamestown wasn't exactly a shock.

Allison Limke, the visitor experience manager for Jamestown Tourism, served as a tournament volunteer. She pointed out that Tamyra Mensah-Stock, the former Wayland Baptist College wrestler and two-time WCWA champion was present Saturday to support the wrestlers. She is also an Olympic Bronze medalist in Brazil, U.S. Open champion and Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix champion in Russia, she said.

"There may be some future Olympians right here," Limke said.