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|U.S. Olympic Education Center women’s team at Northern Michigan seeks major achievements this year|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
In 2005, the U.S. Olympic Education Center (USEOC) at Northern Michigan Univ. created a women's university freestyle wrestling program. Based upon a similar program in men's Greco-Roman wrestling, as well as a number of other Olympic sports, the USOEC set high goals for its women's team on the national and international level. The women are full-time college students who are also training and competing in women's freestyle wrestling.
Going into its second season, expectations are high for the USOEC women's wrestling team. Head Coach Shannyn Gillespie has most of his team back from last season, has added a very strong recruiting class, and now has an assistant coach on board to help build for the future.
"This is our second year," said Gillespie. "Our goals and expectations are similar to last year. We are striving for excellence. We are trying to get our athletes on all the U.S. World Teams, at the Senior, University and Junior levels. The next goal is for those athletes to win a medal at those World Championships."
The top star on last year's USOEC team was junior Mary Kelly, who placed second at the World Team Trials at 112.25 pounds to earn a spot on Women's Team USA. Kelly moved up a division from where she was previously nationally ranked at 105.5 pounds.
"Mary Kelly was a great talent before she came here, but we like to think we helped enhance her performance," said Gillespie. "She had her highest placing at the World Team Trials. It moved her one inch closer, one inch at a time, to her goals."
Kelly is one of seven USOEC wrestlers who earned Senior National Team rankings in the top six in their division, but she was the only one in the top three who is recognized as a national team member.
The other returning wrestlers who earned 2005-06 national team rankings are junior Randi Miller (No. 4 at 72 kg/158.5 lbs.), junior Sharon Jacobsen (No. 5 at 55 kg/121 lbs.), freshman Brandy Rosenbrock (No. 5 at 130 lbs./59 kg), sophomore K'uu Johnson (No. 5 at 67 kg/147.5 lbs.), junior Amy Borgnini (No. 6 at 55 kg/158.5 lbs.) and grad student Donell Bradley (No. 6 at 72 kg/158.5 lbs.)
"They are now our veterans," said Gillespie. "For Amy Borgnini, it was her first time at the World Team Trials. For some of the others, it was their highest placement on the Senior level. They are like-minded individuals in a like-minded national training center. The veterans also bring a lot to the table for our new recruits."
The USOEC has high goals on the international level, and in USA Wrestling's Senior level competitions. However, as these athletes are also college age, many of them were very successful on the age-group levels last year, in both the University division and the FILA Junior division.
Kelly competed on the World University Games team for the United States, and won a bronze medal. Danielle Hedin won the FILA Junior Nationals for the second straight year at 121 pounds, and claimed a silver medal for the USA at the Junior World Championships. Numerous other USOEC athletes earned placements in age-group events.
"Mary Kelly won a University bronze medal, and had an opportunity to wrestle the Olympic champion. She won our first University World medal. Dany Hedin was our first Junior World medalist. They show that you can train here and reach your goals. Our program is in its infancy. It will get better in leaps and bounds," said Gillespie.
The incoming freshman class is very talented and offers a glimpse of the future for this program. One of the incoming freshmen also earned a Senior National Team ranking last year, Maine phenom Deanna Rix who holds a No. 6 position at 59 kg/130 lbs.
Rix was named the ASICS High School Wrestler of the Year last year, after winning three career Junior National titles. She was one of four USOEC freshmen who were named to TheMat.com/ASICS First Team last year, joined by Nicole Darrow of Massachusetts at 121 pounds, Stefenie Shaw of Connecticut at 138.75 pounds and Melissa Simmons of Washington at 147.5 pounds. A USOEC freshman who was on the ASICS Second Team was Amberle Montgomery of Washington at 130 pounds. At last year's Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D., Rix and Simmons were champions, while Shaw and Montgomery were runners-up.
"We had a good recruiting class. I am happy and excited about them," said Gillespie. "Junior-level experience and talent is Junior-level experience and talent. Now it is time for them to step up to the Senior level. As some showed at the Sunkist Kids International, our younger wrestlers are stepping up to the plate. If they come in here with a high talent level, it makes it more efficient getting them to the next level."
The team also added a veteran wrestler, grad student Jenna Pavlik, who was fifth in the 2001 World Championships on the Senior level at 72 kg/158.5 lbs. for the United States but has not competed in recent seasons.
The entire program dealt with a major tragedy this fall when Toni Copeland, a high school senior from New York who had joined the program and was finishing up at Marquette High School, drowned in a swimming accident in September. Copeland was already ranked on the Senior level, and was the first high school wrestler admitted into the program. It was a very difficult thing for the team to deal with.
"It was a tough experience; it is never easy," said Gillespie. "I felt like now we have to deal with this and regroup. For some of the young athletes, this was the first time they have experienced something like this. Many of them knew Toni for many years. The wrestling world is a small community. You see these athletes in the sport time in and time out. We are still dealing with it. We have learned it is a blessing to be alive. And we remember the good times we had with Toni, and share our sympathy and condolence with her friends and family."
The USOEC wrestles a Senior national schedule, going to the major international events such as the Sunkist Kids Open, the New York AC Open and the Dave Schultz Memorial International. In addition, the athletes compete at the U.S. Senior Nationals, as well as the Body Bar Women's Nationals on the University and FILA Junior levels. The team will also participate in events featuring the top college teams in both Canada and the United States. Also on the schedule this year is an international tour to Bulgaria for competition and training.
Joining Gillespie on the coaching staff this year is new assistant coach Tony DeAnda, a veteran freestyle wrestler who has great skills and enthusiasm. DeAnda's addition to the program will help provide additional coaching resources to the athletes on the team, and expand the ability to recruit quality athletes in the future.
"Now we can spread the duties out," said Gillespie of the addition of DeAnda to the program. "We devote most of our time to the athletes. But we also have recruiting to do, office work and other duties. We can better concentrate on the athletes with both of us here. If we are going to catch Japan and China, we need more coaching support. We see that the younger athletes around the world are getting better sooner. We have to support women's wrestling at that level sooner rather than later."
Gillespie sees the program at Northern Michigan serving as a feeder system to the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) program in Colorado Springs, Colo. and providing the athletes that will make a difference on future U.S. World and Olympic teams.
"The opportunity to have this training center is critical," said Gillespie. "National Coach Terry Steiner and the women at the USOTC have shown that we can win. Now we can do it at all of the levels. Our performances will go higher with more opportunities and resources."
USOEC women's wrestling program at Northern Michigan
(with state, year in school)
105 - Liz Short (IL, jr.)
105 - Sadie Kaneda (HI, soph.)
112 - Mary Kelly (IL, jr.)
112 - Debbi Sakai (HI, jr.)
121 - Sharon Jacobsen (CA, jr.)
121 - Danielle Hedin (HI, soph.)
121 - Amy B orgnini (IN, jr.)
121 - Nicole Darrow (MA, fr.)
121 - Sandy Do (CA, fr.)
130 - Brandy Rosenbrock (MI, fr.)
130 - Deanna Rix (ME, fr.)
130 - Amberle Montgomery (WA, fr.)
130 - Kierstin Hyatt (CA, grad)
130 - Hope Schenck (LA, fr.)
138 - Stefenie Shaw (CT, fr.)
147 - K'uu Johnson (HI, soph.)
147 - Melissa Simmons (WA, fr.)
158 - Randi Miller (TX, jr.)
158 - Donell Bradley (HI, grad)
158 - Jenna Pavlik (DE, grad.)
Head Coach - Shannyn Gillespie
Assistant Coach - Tony DeAnda