College notebook: OCU’s Simmons places second in her return to collegiate nationals

By Kurt Zimmer, Columbian Sports Reporter

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Ridgefield grad reaches final despite moving up weight

Melissa Simmons and her Oklahoma City University teammates had to beat a snowstorm to get to the Women’s College Wrestling Association national tournament.

Once arriving in Marshall, Mo., they learned that an injury would spark a shuffling of the lineup, including moving Simmons up a weight class.

Still, the Ridgfield High School graduate — the 2008 national champion at 72 kilograms (158 pounds — bounced back from an injury redshirt year to get back to the national finals.

Although Simmons fell 1-0, 2-0 to Hilary Greening of Simon Fraser in the final at 82 kg (181 pounds), the Stars won a second consecutive team national crown. OCU racked up a 124-76 margin of victory over Cumberlands of Kentucky.

“I feel good about it,” Simmons said. “I didn’t compete last year because of my knee, and the team won their first championship last year, so I didn’t really contribute to that. My first year when I won the individual title, we lost the team title by one point, so that was bittersweet my first year.

“It kind of evened out this year. I didn’t win the individual title, but I did contribute to winning the team title, and that felt really good.”

Women’s wrestling is not sanctioned by either the NCAA or the NAIA, but Simmons said it may soon achieve that recognition from the NAIA as more schools add programs.

Just getting to nationals proved to be a bit of an ordeal.

With a snowstorm bearing down on campus, OCU’s coaches became concerned about a university rule that athletic teams cannot travel on days when classes are canceled because of inclement weather. The team was supposed to leave for Missouri on Thursday, when the worst of it was expected. Simmons and her teammates were watching a movie Wednesday when cell phones began to ring.

“We had to leave the movie and go pack really quick,” she said. “Coach was like, ‘You have to be here in half an hour.’ ”

Arriving a day earlier than expected complicated preparations a bit, Simmons said, but the worst news was the realization that OCU heavyweight Karon Scott would not be able to compete because of an injured knee. That prompted a shuffling of wrestlers in the top weight classes. Simmons went from 72 kg to 82 kg.

“My personal expectations were that I still expected to win it, but those girls were big,” Simmons said.

Simmons wears a facemask when she competes to protect her left eye as a result of a serious car wreck in October 2007. She went through three this season. The first one broke, and Simmons was not fond of the replacement. So the kinesiology major helped build a new one, making the most of her internship working at a prosthetics research center. The new one made its debut last weekend.

“I got to go into nationals with this really cool facemask,” Simmons said. “It was the first time I was actually excited to wear a facemask, because it looked a lot cooler than the other ones.”

Simmons said she is used to the facemask. It cannot change her tactics.

“The style of wrestling at OCU is to push forward, be aggressive and attack, attack, attack,” she said. “That’s how all of us here wrestle.”

Getting back onto the mat was a rough adjustment at first after the year off, Simmons said, but even though she wears a brace in competition, her knee is fine. After a strong collegiate season, now attention turns toward USA Wrestling events and a path which could ultimately lead to the 2012 Olympic Games.

That starts with the Dave Schultz Open in Colorado Springs, Colo. On Friday. The OCU program places a priority on preparing wrestlers for international competition.

“Just today, (assistant coach Link Davis) was talking about how this is the first practice, and we’re telling him, ‘No, this is definitely not the first practice.’ ” Simmons said. “He said, ‘No, this is the first practice of the USA Wrestling season. You’re done with your college season.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ It feels like we don’t have an offseason. We get a week off here and there, but we’re training.”

Porter, Breihof run provisional times

Western Washington’s Sarah Porter and Lauren Briehof each ran a provisional qualifying time for the NCAA Division II indoor track and field championships during the University of Washington Indoor Track and Field Invitational in Seattle. They also helped set a school record in the distance medley relay.

Porter, a junior and Hockinson High graduate, won her section of the mile Saturday in a time of 4 minutes, 57.29 seconds and placed 13th overall. Breihof, a sophomore and Mountain View High graduate, placed 11th in Friday’s 5,000 meters in 17:38.90.

Porter and Breihof teamed with Courtney Olsen and Megan O’Connell in the relay. Their time of 11:46.27 was more than 11 seconds better than the previous record.

Dixson extends own Concordia record

Concordia University freshman Gabi Dixson added more than 6 feet to her own school record in the weight throw at the UW indoor meet, placing sixth with a mark of 54 feet, 7½ inches that ranks her third in NAIA so far this season. Dixson already automatically qualified for NAIA nationals.

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