USOEC freestyle focused on Olympic Trials

Karly Ratzenberger

At NMU, the United States Olympic Education Center or USOEC is home to many Olympic sports. One that is less well known is the women’s freestyle wrestling team.

Freestyle wrestling made its debut at NMU eight years ago when it was added to the list of sports in the 2004 Olympic games.

Head coach Shannyn Gillespie said this season is interesting due to the fact that the Olympic trials begin in March for the summer games.

“We are doing well because it is a long season,” Gillespie said. “We started training in August and we have had two or three competitions since then. We just came off of a training camp so we’re where we need to be right now in the season.”

Gillespie started his NMU coaching career around the same time as the program started.

He was not looking for a job when he came across the USOEC, but he realized that it could be a great opportunity.

“During my search for funding for the non-profit organization I worked for, I ran across an article talking about the training center up here and the opportunity to coach women,” Gillespie said. “I thought it would be a unique opportunity. It wasn’t because I thought one gender would be better than the other. I just saw it as an opportunity to help the USA train champions.”

Gillespie said there are four slots for women on the Olympic team, but to be on the team, they must first make it through the trial rounds.

A few members of the team competed in the USOEC Senior Nationals on Monday, Jan. 16.

In this competition, the top seven finalists qualified for the Olympic Trials.

Freshman Erin Goldston took seventh place (3-2), Schuyler Brown finished in sixth place (4-3) and sophomore Melissa Apodaca took second place (5-1) in Nationals.

All will be competing in the Olympic trials on April 2.

Gillespie said the team has had a lot of turnover in the last eight years, but this year there are a some wrestlers who are veterans.

“This year we have a few athletes who have been here for two or three years, and it is nice to have people who have been here before to lead the team,” Gillespie said. “It’s refreshing to have people who have been here so long.”

Apodaca said the team is very young this year, but she is excited for the amount of potential they carry for future events.

“There are a lot of freshmen this year and I know they will do well in the future,” Apodaca said. “They are great training partners, so I can’t wait until they reach their potential. I am also excited for the new wrestlers to be coming up and reaching their potential as well.”

Gillespie said the team has around 10 practices a week, and often participates in competitions and training camps.

The team participates in a competition around once a month, but Gillespie said it depends on what the athletes want to do and when they want to compete.

“Our season doesn’t really end or begin; it is a 12 month season,” Gillespie said. “We are constantly trying to prepare our athletes for the trial process in the spring, and ultimately the olympics.”

Several members of the team competed in the Guelph Open at the University of Guelph on Saturday, Jan. 21. Out of the six athletes that competed, three of them placed.

Goldson (2-2) and sophomore Lilia Gudzyuk (0-4) both came in fifth place and freshman Allene Somera took sixth place (1-3).

Apodaca said the team does a lot of training together and they often take trips to train in different countries.

Other countries send their teams and athletes to NMU as well to train with the team.

“Sometimes we will have Japan or different countries come in a train,” Apodaca said. “The team is planning on going to Japan sometime in the future, or the training center in Colorado.”

Gillespie said he encourages women wrestlers to get involved either at NMU or with their boys teams in high school if they want to have the opportunity to go to an Olympic training center or wrestle in college.

“We are so blessed to have wrestling and sports in the USA,” Apodaca said. “Other countries don’t have these opportunities in women’s or even sometimes men’s wrestling, so we are just really blessed,” Apodaca said.