JAMESTOWN, N.D. — It seemed every time throughout the fall and winter months the Southern Oregon University wrestling team got a glimmer of hope of a season return, it vanished as soon as it appeared. Month after month they conditioned and trained as much as they could within the restrictions for contact sports.
It felt like their time would never come. But when it did and the Raiders program brought 12 women to the NAIA Invitational. There, senior Sienna Ramirez earned an eighth-seed in the 155-pound bracket and took down the first- and second-seeded wrestlers en route to the first individual national title in program history.
"I was just like, 'Wow, that just happened,'" Ramirez said in an interview with NewsWatch 12 Sports after winning the title match. "I thought I would cry honestly."
While fans were in limited attendance, her teammates gave her full support throughout the event. When she won via technical fall in the second round, her Raider teammates roared to life, screaming and cheering as Ramirez raised her left hand in triumph. It was a moment head coach Joel Gibson had predicted he would see.
"You can talk to my coaching staff and everybody I'm like, 'She's going to win this tournament,'" Gibson said. "She's going to upset the number one, guaranteed... and she did."
The confidence comes from the work he saw Ramirez putting in while the Raiders waited and waited for contact sports to be approved to return. They held non-contact wrestling practices where they worked on technique, lifted weights on the football field in Raider Stadium and did conditioning constantly to be ready when the time, but not knowing if it ever would.
"It was definitely difficult," Ramirez said of the grind of training for a season that wasn't guaranteed. "We all kind of hit a point in January where we almost like broke, but we pulled it together and we stuck through with it to prepare for this tournament."
It's easy for Ramirez and her teammates to say now it was worth the struggle because they got the chance to compete in the NAIA Invitational. Especially with the Raiders finishing fifth in the nation in their only wrestling match of the season. Had they had a full season of work and preparation, Gibson believes the ending at the national tournament would've been even sweeter.
"I don't think there's another team in the country that really endured what they did... They wrestled one tournament this year took fifth in the nation." Gibson said of the Raiders women's wrestlers. "Had we had a full season, we'd definitely be coming home with the trophy."
Ramirez is coming home a national title winner, but the season doesn't end there for her. She and teammate Esthela Trevino will be headed to Fort Worth, Texas, on April 2 for the US Olympic Trials.