One glance at the preseason rankings and it’s easy to see why Aaron Meister is looking so forward to wrestling season. Meister’s women wrestlers are the prohibitive favorite in the WCWA rankings.
“We have high hopes,” Meister said.
What the Pioneers start Saturday in Colorado they hope to finish with a national title — or two — in February and March in Atlanta and North Dakota.
“We’re excited about all of this,” Meister confessed. “We have a chance to double-up with the NAIA recognizing women’s wrestling as an emerging sport this year and hosting an invitational championship.”
In eight seasons of competition, Wayland has finished as high as fifth at WCWA Nationals on two occasions. After their first year, the Pioneers have never finished out of the top eight, which is where they ended up last season.
“We’ve continued to climb up the ladder,” said Meister.
For 2018-19, the Pioneers return a handful of all-Americans and warmly welcome a number of impressive transfers.
“We have a wealth of experienced returners coming back with a boost of transfers and blue-chip signees, so we definitely know what we’re capable of and believe we have the potential to win nationals. That’s definitely what we’re working for,” Meister said. “We have to stay healthy and we have to stay hungry and we have to go out and earn it.”
In the WCWA rankings, Wayland collected 91 points. Defending champion Campbellsville, Ky., and Emmanuel College (Ga.) are a distant second with 60 points apiece.
As expected, Wayland wrestlers are prominent in individual rankings, starting with defending national champion Brittany Marshall, a senior from Lewisville, Texas, in the 170-pound weight class. Marshall hopes to collect her fourth all-American honor this year.
Marshall is far from alone on the list of WBU wrestlers with impressive resumes.
In 101s alone, Wayland has three wrestlers ranked in the top 7. Two-time Texas state champion and Junior World bronze medalist Asia Ray, who finished third in the country as a freshman, is ranked No. 1. One of the transfers, all-American Nina Pham from Grays Harbor College, is fifth while junior Rozlynn Vasquez, also an all-American, is seventh.
“Asia gives us somebody to start off our duals and tournaments in a great way. She generates a lot of points,” Meister said. “Nina knows training with Asia every day will give her the best chance to reach her goal and also help our team reach its goals. Then with Rozlynn makes us the deepest team in the country at 101.”
Three-year starter Rhonda Johnson, a senior, won two matches last year at nationals and is ranked seventh in 109s. “Rhonda stayed (at WBU) over the summer and we feel like she’s going to help us get to the top and get on that podium this year,” Meister said.
At 116, Gabriel Ramos-Diaz, who was third last year as a freshman, “brings a wealth of experience as a sophomore” and starts the season ranked No. 1. Returning senior all-America Mayra Ramirezbegins the season at 116 but may drop down a weight class.
After medically redshirting last season, senior Jathiya Isaac is back at 123s after earning all-American honors two years ago at 116. “Jathiya is extremely athletic, technical and fast. We feel really confident with what she brings to the table,” Meister said.
Wayland also is deep at 130, which four-year senior starter Leah Olguin leading the way. “She’s looking to crack into that all-American status,” Meister said. “She may drop down to 123 as the season progresses.”
Junior Brittany Bates, a three-year starter with “lots of post-season experience and previous success,” is ranked sixth at 136. “We feel like she has the capability to get on the podium this year as well,” Meister said.
Heading a strong roster at 143 is two-time all-American Marina Briceno, a senior ranked No. 6. She’s joined by sophomore Za’Maia Marshall, a former Texas state champion, and California freshman Candice Corralejo, “one of our big signees. We feel like she’ll contest that spot and have a good chance at all-American.”
At 155 is sophomore Skyler Brock, who last year made it to the blood round at nationals and, according to her coach, has a chance to be an all-American.
Another top transfer from Grays Harbor is Paige Baynes at 191. Baynes is a three-time all-American, two-time finalist and the defending national champion who starts the season ranked No. 1.
After opening their season Saturday, Oct. 27 at Colorado-Mesa in Grand Junction, Colo., the Pioneer women host the Blue-Gold Duals on Tuesday beginning at 7 p.m. That’s one of just three opportunities to watch the wrestlers at home, along with the Wayland Invitational on Dec. 1 and a dual against Lyon College Jan. 26.
WCWA Team Rankings
|1||Wayland Baptist University||91|
|5||Simon Fraser University||54|
|8||Southern Oregon University||37|
|9||University of Providence||30|
|10||Oklahoma City University||29|
|11||University of The Cumberlands||26|
|13||Missouri Baptist University||21|
|15||Grays Harbor College||13|
|16||Eastern Oregon University||10|
|16||Southwestern Oregon CC||10|
|18||Warren Pacific University||9|
|21||Missouri Valley College||3|