Tradition continues for womens wrestling at Pacific
wrestling -- The Boxers, annually among the top women's wrestling teams in the nation, will once again field a strong squad in 2006 with three returning All-Americans
Head coach Scott Miller feels confident about the 2006-07 Pacific women's wrestling program.
He has plenty of reason to be confident. Miller has put together what he believes is the Boxers' most consistent roster in his five years leading the Pacific program. He returns six starters from last year, including three All-Americans, plus he brings in a select, but strong, recruiting class of six state champions and one transfer.
On top of its solid roster, Pacific will play host to the National Collegiate Women's Wrestling Championships in March. Miller thinks the chances that the Boxers could win it at home are good with the line-up in place.
'Every one of our wrestlers, up and down the line, has an opportunity to be an All-American or a national champion,' Miller said. 'They are talented, focused and they know what they want to accomplish. They have high expectations.'
For the first time in the history of the Pacific women's wrestling program, Miller will have the benefit of depth at each weight class. Pacific is at least two-deep in every class, with the top spots anchored by a core of All-Americans and national tournament qualifiers.
Titilope Lawani leads the group after just missing out on the national title in the 63 kilogram weight class for the second straight year. Ashley Truchan also returns with All-American credentials, losing out in the 72 kg. consolation final to teammate and current Pacific assistant coach Stacey Martell.
In addition, Miller is excited about the return of junior Kapua Torres, who he believes may be the best collegiate women's wrestler in the nation. Torres, who won the 51 kg. collegiate national and junior national championships in 2005, missed all of the 2005-06 season with a spine injury.
Miller believes that Pacific has finally built to a point where it can post a formidable challenge to the powers in women's collegiate wrestling, including defending national champion Cumberlands (Ky.) and Missouri Valley.
'We feel that we are at the point now where, whoever we put out on the mat, we have an opportunity to walk off with a win,' Miller said. 'There is no weak link. It's taken us five years to build to this point. We have been able to see it build each year, but now we're to the point where we can see whether we are there.'
Valerie Prise will make another run at an All-American plaque after just missing honors as a sophomore. Prise put together an impressive 22-16 record last year after an 8-13 record as a freshman. She finished fifth at the women's nationals and will be a key component for the Boxers' chances for success.
At the same time, Pacific is looking to the future in Candace Sakamoto. Miller considers Sakamoto one of the two best wrestlers to come out of Hawaii this year after compiling a 20-0 record in her senior year and winning the 98-pound class in the Hawaii state championships, her second in as many years.
'We've been very fortunate to have Valerie, but she is a junior now and 48 kg. has become difficult to reach,' Miller said. 'So it's good to know that we have someone strong like Candace who is a two-time state champion. She knows how to win matches.'
While Torres did not wrestle at all during the 2005-06 collegiate season, that doesn't mean she hasn't kept in shape. She spent the summer at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., training with members of the USA Wrestling Resident Training Program.
The training will only make Torres all the hungrier after losing the chance to defend that championship. The 2005 national champion at the 51 kg. class went 22-8 that season, becoming the first women's wrestler in school history to win 20 or more matches.
'When you're in Colorado Springs, you're probably going to have some pretty good workout partners,' Miller said. 'She's ready to go and we're happy to have her. When she steps out onto the mat you know that good things are going to happen.'
Teresa Ayala proved herself worthy of mat time filling Torres' place last season. After missing the 2004-05 season with injuries, Ayala posted an 18-8 record - including a 6-1 mark in duals - and went on to finish fifth at the national meet. Miller expects Ayala to see plenty of time again this season.
The Boxers will put all their chips at the 55 kg. weight class on their lone transfer. Summer Scott comes to Pacific after a standout career with the up-and-coming Lassen Community College program. Scott finished fifth at last year's nationals at 59 kg., in addition to placing fifth at the Body Bar Women's Junior Nationals.
Scott will provide valuable leadership for the Boxers with her nationals experience as she too hopes to move up into the All-American ranks.
'Having her come into the program is a real positive for us,' Miller said. 'She helps us at a weight that is obviously important to us.'
Alenna Nilsen will provide additional depth once she returns to the squad in January. Nilsen was quite successful in her freshman season, compiling a 19-12 record as the Boxers' lone wrestler at 59 kg.
Despite missing half of last season while studying abroad, Michelle Ludwig showed little signs of rust. Ludwig returned to compile a 10-4 record and a No. 8 North American ranking before a separated shoulder ended her season the night before the national meet.
The year before, Ludwig just missed being a national champion at 55 kg., finishing second to Missouri Valley's Erica Chew.
'Michelle would have won it if she hadn't separated her shoulder the night before,' Miller said. 'She wants a national championship. She puts in the time. She is very focused on what she wants to accomplish and on top of that she is a leader.'
Dana LaMonica will provide additional depth behind Ludwig after seeing good mat time early in the season and compiling a 1-14 record. Erin Zimmerman will split time between 59 kg. and 63 kg., and continues a string of recent Pacific wrestlers to make the move east from Florida. Zimmerman enters as three-time girls state champion at both 145 pounds and 152 pounds.
For the second straight year, the Boxers' most dynamic wrestler will try to avenge a near miss at the collegiate nationals. Lawani appeared in line for her first national championship before a last-second loss to eventual champion Aliana Berube of Cumberland in the finals. Lawani posted the Boxers' best record at 23-11.
Miller is convinced that Lawani has all of the pieces in place to make the national title dream a reality.
'We could very easily be talking about a two-time national champion,' Miller said. 'She has the whole package. She's quick, she's strong, she's talented and she's smart. We think that this is her year.'
Kara Stevens will vie for mat time after spending four seasons on her high school's boys wrestling team. Despite the lack of experience in freestyle, Miller believes her addition will be a great asset.
'We knew that she was good coming in, but she has been pretty steady and very methodical with what she does,' he said.
Kelli Nardiello will also return for the Boxers after completing service in the U.S. Army Reserves.
Pacific will rely on a pair of newcomers to give the team strength at 67 kg.
Kisha Milfort was a three-sport athlete in high school and provides some needed athletic ability in the lineup.
'I think Kisha is going to be really good,' Miller said. 'She is really strong, really athletic. She will fill a big need for us.'
Miller also added a northwest flavor to the weight class with the addition of Ashley Schalow, from Des Moines, Wash. Another three-sport athlete with experience in soccer and softball, Schalow was a state champion in the high school ranks.
'Any time you can pull a state champion out of the northwest, you have to feel pretty good,' Miller said. 'Ashley is another one who is very methodical and very technically sound. She's the type that in the long run is going to be very successful.'
A pair of returners with All-American credentials will handle the Boxers' upper weights. Truchan faced the unenviable task of facing Martell in last year's 72 kg. third-place bout at the national meet, losing to her then training partner who is now her coach.
The loss capped a second-half surge for Truchan, who finished with a 12-9 record and had a 2-0 mark in dual meets.
Megan Richardson was the Boxers' mainstay at 80 kg., finishing with a 16-15 record. Her additional year of experience will provide the team a strong anchor at the bottom of the bottom of the lineup.