North Dakota’s Lone Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Team Inspires Others
University of Jamestown has had a women's wrestling team since 2008
JAMESTOWN, N.D. — Any time the University of Jamestown women’s wrestling team enters a gym, you notice their athleticism, energy, and passion for the sport.
But what you can’t see is that most of these wrestlers blazed trails for others to compete in their hometowns.
“It was something that was kind of unheard of down in my hometown, at least in my high school, and I started and I was the only girl and I just stuck with it,” said Joy Muniz, a junior at Jamestown how hails from San Diego.
“I was the first and only girl on varsity. For me, it was just a matter of them realizing I wasn’t there to practice with my brother and my cousins, I was there to compete and be on the team,” said Jezebel Snyder, a freshman from Wadena.
Very few states have schools or leagues that take part in women’s wrestling.
That hasn’t slowed girls from picking up the sport, but having them stick with it has been a challenge.
“There’s quite a few of the younger girls and middle school girls, but a lot of them get weeded out by the time they get to high school just because ‘boys and girls is weird competing against each other,” said Sierra Talmadge, a sophomore from Bismarck.
Wrestling nearly two hours from Jamestown, Talmadge blocked out the gender stigma every time she competed.
“I just ignored the fact it was a boy. We’re just athletes out here competing. I think sometimes boys would think it’s weird, and I even talked to my teammates about it, about wrestling girls in the past, and they always thought it was kind of awkward,” Talmadge said.
Luckily for Talmadge and several others, they could continue to compete at the college level, rocking the orange and black at the University of Jamestown.
For some of the new Jimmies, moving from states like California to North Dakota was an adjustment.
“Going from my town which had a population of over 100,000 people, and coming to Jamestown, where it’s 16,000 and there are 40 mile per hour winds. Culture shock for sure, but in the best ways possible,” said Chelsea Dionosio, a senior from Santa Maria, CA.
Jamestown started their women’s wrestling program to 2008 to give women a unique opportunity to participate in athletics.
All but three athletes come from outside Minnesota and North Dakota, which is something they share with their head coach.
“The girls that were already here and seeing their development, and then also see the girls that I recruited and the dynamic that it’s turning and it’s just a really great experience,” said Shauna (Isbell) Kemp, who has served as the Jimmies head coach for the last two seasons.
While at Lindenwood University in Missouri, Kemp was an All–American and even got to wrestle with Team USA.
Getting to compete under a world–class coach fires up the girls on the mats.
“Having Shauna as a coach kind of made me love the sport again, and it made me want to keep wrestling even longer than I have. I mean four years seems like a short amount of time when you love what you do,” Muniz said.
Since Jamestown is the only college with a varsity women’s wrestling team in North Dakota, they have to travel on long bus trips across the Midwest and even Canada in order to compete.
It also provides a challenge to Kemp to recruit new athletes, especially those in her own backyard.
“I think that it’s important to have local girls competing at our school, not that it’s not important to have girls from California or anywhere else, but having that local support, having that parent who’s an hour and a half away who can come and watch them is nice to have,” Kemp said.
Out of the 1300 wrestlers on high school teams across North Dakota, only 3% are females, and that’s a number the Jimmies hope can grow over the years.
“3 percent — that number is practically nothing and the fact that it’s growing and that I have the impact and the influence in order to help that grow is just amazing,” Dionosio said.
Others say the growth shows why girls are not afraid to challenge anybody on the mats.
“It’s so encouraging to know that people are getting more into women’s wrestling. People don’t expect women to get into wrestling and I just like defying the odds, like you don’t expect me to do this because I’m a woman? So I’m going to do it,” said Sarah Moore, a sophomore from Los Angeles.
Some of the wrestlers are seeing their impact trickle down to younger girls.
“I went home over Christmas and in our elementary practice room we have a really number of girls that’s growing now and they all come up to me, and I know girls that are joining our boys team at home because of that and that makes me happy,” Snyder said.
Even though wrestling seasons come and go, the Jimmies want their impact to go far beyond what they can do on the mats.
The University of Jamestown will host this year’s National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championships for women’s wrestling from March 15–17.