College Notebook: OCU wrestler Simmons looks to Olympic future

Ridgefield High School graduate seeks her second national title

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With her Oklahoma City University degree already in hand, Melissa Simmons is facing the end of her collegiate wrestling career Saturday.

But even that will not be the end of her wrestling career.

Not yet.

The Ridgefield High School graduate has reached the finals in her weight class in both of her previous appearances at the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA) Nationals, winning a championship at 72 kilograms (159 pounds) in 2009 and placing second while competing up a weight class at 82 kg (181 pounds) last year.

Simmons, who used one year of collegiate eligibility while enrolled at the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University in 2006-07, is aiming for the 2012 London Olympics.

She qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008, but was unable to compete because of knee surgery that led to a medical redshirt season in 2008-09.

While she is looking forward to WCWA Nationals on Saturday at Menlo College in Atherton, Calif., she knows it will not be the end of her competitive career.

“I look at it as on to the next thing — on to the next chapter,” Simmons said. “I’m really focused on my school right now. That’s becoming really important to me, because I’ve been learning that my body hurts. My knee hurts, and I’m not going to be able to keep this up past 2012. I have to make sure that I keep all my options open — not let wrestling take over and then not be able to get my education and do the things I want to do after I’m done wrestling.”

Simmons completed her degree in kinesiology in December. She needs a few additional science classes as prerequisites for her goal of pursuing a graduate degree in orthopedics and prosthetics, hopefully at the University of Washington. She is currently enrolled in one online class, and plans to take classes at Clark College or Portland State while continuing her training.

While kinesiology, the study of human movement, may seem like an apt field of study for a wrestler in case, Simmons had her interest in the topic thrust on her in the form of an October 2006 car accident. She has competed ever since while wearing a mask on her face to protect her left eye from damage that could make her go completely blind.

She competed last year with a mask she helped design during an internship working in her field of study.

“I had that one that we had done while I was doing my internship, but I was actually wrestling one of the guys this year in practice and it broke,” she said. “I went in and it took them a couple of weeks, but they made me one out of carbon fiber. They had their technicians do it all. I just picked it up. It pretty much will never break — and if it does, they’ll just replace it. They’ve been really good about working with me on my facemasks.”

Last year’s nationals was a difficult but worthwhile learning experience for Simmons, who reached the finals despite giving up plenty of weight. OCU’s heavyweight wrestler was injured, so the lineup was shuffled and she went from 72 kg up to 82 kg — a difference of 22 pounds.

“The bigger girls were tough,” she said. “Last year, I didn’t cut weight. I was eating the day of weigh-ins to get over 72 kilos, so I was giving up 22 pounds, and those girls were cutting hard to make 82 kilos. It was a battle. It definitely was.”

It makes any opponents her own size less intimidating

“I don’t feel like the girls at 72 kilos are overpowering,” Simmons said. “I practice with our 82-kilo girl, and they’re really tough and in your face and everything — so I don’t get scared on the mat when I wrestle the 72-kilo girls. When they bang a lot on my head, it doesn’t even faze me anymore.”

Simmons said she has always been an aggressive wrestler, but even more since the car wreck.

She figures that the best way to prevent opponents from messing with her mask is to pin them.

“If I’m not aggressive, then it gives the other person the opportunity to be aggressive,” she said. “I have the facemask and everything, and if they get to hitting and pulling on the facemask, then it really affects my wrestling, so I try to go out there and be aggressive first.”

Simmons is 63-15 in three seasons with the Stars, winning 35 matches by fall. She is 21-2 going into nationals this season, having pinned 15 opponents.

“I feel really good,” she said. “It’s been going really, really good. I’ve only lost two matches, and my training and the team have both been very successful.”

OCU is 18-0 in duals this season, and 51-0-1 in its last 52. The Stars claimed a fourth consecutive National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) National Duals title two weeks ago, and are two-time defending champions of the WCWA Nationals — winning the team titles in the two seasons since Simmons won her individual crown.

Simmons said she is “pretty confident” going into her final collegiate tournament. The event is smaller than it has been in the past, but that means there will be a concentration of the top wrestlers.

“I think my weight class will be pretty small, but I’ll still have the tough girls at my weight,” she said. “It’s hard saying what teams will bring which people.”

Upcoming post-collegiate events on Simmons’ schedule include the USA Wrestling (USAW) University Nationals Open on April 8-9 in Akron, Ohio, followed by USAW Senior Nationals Open on April 22-23 in Cleveland. The USAW World Team Trials are June 9-11 in Oklahoma City. The Olympic Trials will be April 21-22, 2012, in Iowa City, Iowa.

“I’m just excited to be able to start wrestling outside of college,” Simmons said. “It’s getting close to the Olympics, and that’s exciting that it’s finally coming around. The last Olympics was my first year here at OCU and I qualified for the Olympic Trials, but since I had knee reconstruction, I couldn’t compete. I’m excited for my chance.”

Concordia’s Aho finalist for award

Concordia University golfer Lindsay Aho is among the finalists for the Oregon Sports Awards Ad Rutschman Female Small-College Athlete of the Year. The award will be presented on Sunday.

The Prairie High School graduate finished her collegiate career as a two-time NAIA first-team All-American.

She led Concordia to three consecutive Cascade Collegiate Conference titles and NAIA Championship appearances, including a program-best fifth-place finish in 2010.

She is three-time CCC Player of the Year and owns the school records for single-season stroke average (76.6 as a senior) as well as career stroke average (79.15). She earned Academic All-CCC and NAIA Scholar-Athlete honors during the 2009-10 season.

Suggestions for College Notebook? Contact Kurt Zimmer at 360-735-4563 or by e-mail at kurt.zimmer@columbian.com