ASHLAND, Ore. — In an offseason full of ups and downs, stops and starts, both the men's and women's wrestling teams at Southern Oregon University continued to train and prepare for a possible season in 2021.
With just a few weeks before the NAIA Invitational, Oregon finally cleared the way for collegiate, indoor contact sports. Because the Cascade Conference didn't have any competitions of their own, coaches selected the top wrestlers from the CCC to advance to the national championship. In total, 14 Raiders wrestlers made their way to the NAIA Championships.
The women's team sent 12, placing fifth in the nation, including Sienna Ramirez's national title in the 155-pound bracket. The men's squad was only allowed to send two individual wrestlers. It left a sour taste in the team's mouth, as they believed they could make a run at the NAIA title.
Now that they've been able to train on the mat for over a month, the Raiders men's wrestling team has their sights set on the UWW Junior and Senior Nationals in Coralville, Iowa later this week. It's a chance to prove to everyone they were truly snubbed by the Cascade Conference.
"I think we're going to go out there and show people what we are really about and that we were well deserved of being a national title-contending team," junior Layn Pannkuk said.
The sentiment shared by Pannkuk's teammates who were equally disappointed their hard work and perseverance through the tumultuous offseason was for naught when the team couldn't travel to the NAIA Championships. The Coralville trip will be a showcase of all the Raiders' wrestling talent.
"It's always been in the back of mind just not making it this year," sophomore Noah Talavera said. "Like, I've trained for something so when the time comes I'll be ready, and the time's this week."
On the women's side of the mat, a trip to Irving, Texas for the Women's Nationals is another opportunity to build off their fifth-place finish as a team at the NAIA Invitational. Their head coach Joel Gibson told NewsWatch 12 Sports earlier this year that had the women's team had a season of wrestling, they would've left Jamestown, North Dakota with a national title. They'll get a chance to prove it May 7-9 against possibly even tougher competition than the NAIA Invitational.
The elevation in competition, however, isn't phasing these wrestlers.
"It doesn't even matter. If you're good then you're going to advance," junior Tara Othman said. "Whoever ends up seeing each other is going to be the best of the best."
It's also an opportunity to hone more skills and work on a different approach to wrestling for some of the student-athletes on the Raiders wrestling team.
"Just go out there and wrestle hard," Carolina Johnson said. "I tend to really focus on the outcome rather than the process. I really just want to have a good time and really just wrestle hard. I don't want to worry about really anything so that's my plan."
The men's competitions take place in Coralville, Iowa from April 30 to May 2 and the women's nationals are in Irving, Texas the following weekend.