With 199.5 team points, Menlo College came out on top during the 2019 WCWA National Championship. Simon Fraser University was the closest challenger with 195 team points, and McKendree University finished third with 189. It was going to be a three-team race all evening long, and really came down to how many national champions each team had. The Oaks needed three, and they got their three, more than any other program competing.
“It’s incredible, it’s surreal,” head coach Joey Bareng said, fighting back tears. “There’s no words to explain how I feel right now. I’m so proud of the girls and it gets me emotional just thinking about everyone’s journey and how far we’ve come and all the hard work on the backend to make this happen.
“It’s for everyone who has ever wrestled for Menlo College, anyone who has ever supported us, the Menlo community, it’s everybody.”
Bareng certainly was not the only who felt that winning the title was “surreal.” Director of Athletics Keith Spataro was onsite to see Menlo win its first national title, and he could not be more elated. “To think that we went from nothing for 92 years to being able to put together a national championship team is unbelievable,” he mentioned. “When you win a national title, you have to have all the right things come together. You have to have the right coaching staff, the right student-athletes, and you have to create an environment for them to be successful.
“When we started the program, I had a clear vision of what I wanted it to look like. We’ve been close, but nothing feels like this. This is super special and all of our programs should get to experience this.”
The Freshman, Part I
Top-ranked Alleida Martinez became the first freshman National Champion for the Oaks since 2004 when she won the title in the 109 bracket. She had to win two matches on the final day to do the job, and she did just that. She first defeated No. 5 Ciara McCrae 10-0 via tech fall in the semis to force a matchup against second-ranked McKayla Campbell of Campbellsville University for the title. Not only did she control the entire match, but she ended it with a pinfall, capping off a perfect tournament run for her with yet another title, this one the greatest of them all.
The Freshman, Part II
Alongside Martinez was Gracie Figueroa, her high school teammate turned collegiate teammate. Also ranked No. 1 in the 116 bracket, Figueroa ran the table during her two matches en route to becoming a national champion. She first won via tech fall over No. 6 Jathiya Isaac of Wayland Baptist. Her opponent in the title match was again the second-ranked woman in the country, Felicity Taylor of McKendree University. The Bearcat was no match for the freshman, who took control of the match from the beginning and shut her out with a 7-0 final to go back-to-back with Martinez in becoming freshmen All-American.
Clinching In Style
In order to win a national championship, the Oaks needed to have three National Champions. The third woman up to win a title was No. 3 Solin Piearcy, and she rose to the occasion. Her semifinal match was no cake-walk, as she trailed 4-1 in the second period to No. 4 Kayla Marano of Emmanuel College, who beat her earlier in the year. She forced Marano to the mat, got her in a leg lace, and the match was essentially over. She was able to rattle off roll after roll to pick up the final 13 points and tech fall her 14-4. Her championship match was in a similar fashion, down 1-0 to No. 2 Nicole Joseph of King University. Once again, she scored a takedown, wrapped up the legs of Joseph, and tech falled her 11-1. Then, the celebration was on. Menlo earned three National Champions for the first time in program history, and the school’s first National Championship.
“I was more focused on what she was doing, not really what I could be doing, Piearcy mentioned about both of her matches. “But then I heard the Menlo community and family tell me ‘Open up! Do this, do that!’ I’m like, okay, I can do this. And when I got her down on the mat, I knew what I could do. It became all about the top-bottom and I love the leg lace. I just felt everybody’s support, and all of a sudden I heard everyone screaming.”
Going For A Sweep
With the title wrapped up, No. 4 Iman Kazem went to work with her sights set on becoming the fourth Oak to win a title on Saturday night. No. 3 Alyvia Fiske was up in the semifinals, someone who Kazem had never beaten. That is, until the semifinals. In a thrilling back-and-forth affair, Kazem scored a big takedown in the final moments to pull ahead and win 9-7, securing a spot in the title match. She drew the top-ranked woman in 155s, Alexandria Glaude of McKendree, and she proved to be just a bit too much. Despite scoring a late takedown, Kazem fell 6-2 to finish second overall. Despite the loss, she wraps up her final WCWA tournament with her best finish yet.
The first Oak to compete in a medal match, Hiba Salem was able to garner fourth place after going 2-1 on the final day of competition. She needed to win her first two to get to the third place match, and that’s exactly what she did. The three-time All-American beat No. 8 Jaclyn McNichols of King University 7-5 before tech falling No. 2 Junnette Caldera of Jamestown 15-3, setting herself up against No. 3 Nina Pham of Wayland Baptist. In a battle of the third and fourth-ranked wrestlers, Pham came out on top with a tech fall victory, ending the tournament for Salem with a record of 5-2.
Arguably the most difficult road traveled to a medal match was Precious Bell, who lost her first match on Friday and created a long and arduous road to the end. The first two victories on the day for Bell were via tech falls, including a massive 15-2 tech fall win over Brittany Marshall of Wayland Baptist, the top-ranked wrestler in 170, just above Bell, who is second-ranked. No. 4 Mariah Harris of Campbellsville University stood in the way during the third-place match, and in her eighth and final match of the weekend, Bell came up just short, falling 3-2 and finishing in fourth place with a record of 6-2.
First-time All-American No. 5 Tiana Jackson was poised and ready to make some noise as she wrestled her semifinal match against top-ranked Dominque Parrish of Simon Fraser University. Jackson was ultimately knocked down via tech fall, dropping her into a match against No. 9 Koral Sugiyama of Campbellsville, but this match also went to the opponent with a fall. This set up a big match for fifth place against No. 2 Dajan Treder of Providence, and after each wrestler was able to score a takedown late, it was Treder on top with a 6-5 final and giving sixth place to Jackson, with a 4-3 record to her name.
Only wrestling twice on championship Saturday, No. 7 Angela Peralta was able to finish eighth overall at 143. Her matchups were difficult, starting with No. 2 Ashlynn Ortega of King University in her first consolation match. Peralta was not able to score in the match, dropping the decision 5-0 and placing her in the seventh-place match against sixth-ranked Sara Brinkac of Simon Fraser. In another big match for the Oaks in terms of team score, Peralta scored a late takedown but couldn’t follow it up with more as she lost 7-4 and finished eighth. Peralta wrestled six times this weekend and finished with a 3-3 mark.
Some of the most exciting consolation matches of the tournament came via No. 4 Sara Aguilar, in as an All-American for the first time. She drew No. 8 Jesse Kirby of Cumberlands in her first match, and the two sides went back-and-forth, with takedown after takedown. Aguilar started each period strong, but Kirby finished stronger, with a takedown in the final 30 seconds to seal a 16-12 decision win over Aguilar. This set up a date with No. 9 Alexandra Castillo of Campbellsville for the seventh-place match and again, Aguilar started well but couldn’t finish off Castillo, who got the best of her with an 8-4 decision. In six matches she had to compete in, Aguilar went 3-3 overall, or 4-3 if you include the one win she was given via disqualification.
Let the Celebrating Begin!
When asked about his plans to celebrate, coach Bareng started laughing and said that he will definitely take some time to enjoy this. “I want to hang out with these ladies, I want to have dinner with my coaches. I’m going to play some good music in the car and sing it up with the girls. I’m going to go home and kiss my wife, kiss my kids. They’ve sacrificed a lot for this to happen too.”
Spataro took a different approach to the aftermath of Menlo winning its first national title. “I think we have everything in place [to win more national titles],” Spataro said with a smile. “We’ve done a lot of things in the last few years with facility upgrades and the way our scholarships have increased. We also have [Menlo President, Steven Weiner] who loves sports and supports us. When you have all of these things, it’s hard to find in today’s higher education. There’s no reason why this should be our last.”