NCWA wrestling

Women power: Ripley, Merrifield, Fonger secure All-American mat status

Ripley wins national championship, Merrifield, Fonger finish runners-up
By Mark Haskell | Mar 15, 2018
Courtesy of: Aaron James From left, Jaymie Pratl, Sierra Fonger, Hilary Merrifield, Samantha Frank and Shannon Ripley. Fonger graduated from Mount View of Thorndike, Merrifield from Camden Hills of Rockport and Ripley from Oceanside of Rockland.

Allen, Texas — Three former Midcoast high school wrestlers — who now shine on the collegiate level —  experienced stellar success on the mats at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) women's national championships on Thursday, March 8 at the Allen Event Center.

The talented trio — Husson University’s Shannon Ripley and University of Maine’s Hilary Merrifield and Sierra Fonger — amassed one individual title and two runner-up finishes, as well as all three being tabbed All-Americans at the conclusion of the meet.

Ripley, a freshman for the Eagles and 2017 Oceanside High School of Rockland graduate, beat the fourth, first and second seeds in succession to nail down the national championship in the 143-pound weight class.

Merrifield, a sophomore for the Black Bears of Orono and 2016 Camden Hills Regional High School of Rockport graduate, split two matches to finish second in the 109-pound class.

And Fonger, a freshman for the Black Bears and 2017 Mount View High School of Thorndike graduate, finished 3-1 and second in the 155-pound class.

All three former Midcoast high school student-athletes were tabbed as All-Americans by virtue of their top-three finishes at the event.

The Black Bear women, with only four team members, had one national champion (Samantha Frank), along with Merrifield's and Fonger’s second-place finishes, which propelled the team to an astounding third-place finish among 29 squads.

UMaine racked up 51 team points — finishing 1.5 points behind Midland College in Texas (52.5 points) — while Southwestern Oregon Community College of Coos Bay, Ore. (134 points) dominated to capture the team national title for the seventh consecutive year.

Husson scored 19 points — all of which came from Ripley, the team’s only female wrestler — to secure an 11th-place finish for the Eagles.

For Ripley, her win may have come as a surprise — to the untrained eye.

Ripley wrestled at Oceanside during her sophomore and junior years and was supremely talented, but did not go out for the team her senior year as “I had a lot going on with school and applying to colleges and stuff so I decided not to wrestle.”

Despite that, Ripley has wrestled since she was seven years old and has won her share of tournaments, including qualifying for the New England competition once in her two years with the Mariners.

Ripley, a forensic science major, said “To have this happen was a huge surprise.”

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I definitely didn’t expect it. I came in here with the expectation to maybe win one match because I haven’t competed in a long time.”

She also was a four-year player for the Oceanside field hockey team and played in the fall in the sport with the Eagles.

Since she was on the field hockey team until November and was still nursing a nagging knee injury she suffered helping Oceanside wrestlers practice her senior year, she did not hit the mats with the Eagles until February — and competed in only one meet prior to nationals.

“I had one competition and I did not have a single real match,” she said. “I came in with no matches except for exhibitions.”

The unranked Ripley — with no official record — then, at the national competition, pinned fourth-ranked Anevay Avila of Washington before she pinned Jahnesia Edwards of Southwestern Oregon, who was the top  seed.

Ripley said of her win over Edwards, “I got the first take down, and after that it was kind of a blur.”

“I’d already won the one [match] so I was just going to take it the best I could,” said Ripley. “She was the one seed, but they wrestle a different style than us, so I was hoping to use that to my advantage, that if I could get her down on her knees I’d have a chance to score. I just went in like, ‘Give it your all, you’ve got nothing to lose right now.’ ”

Ripley said being unranked, in addition to being from the Pine Tree State, which is not necessarily known for wrestling, especially topnotch female wrestling, may have played to her advantage.

“I wasn’t named, I had no record going in, nobody knew who I was and we’re from Maine,” Ripley said. “Maine’s not a big state for wrestling, so it definitely looks like we’re not going to be as good.”

That win set up her championship match with second-seeded Rossana Aguilar of Fresno State. Ripley said she was “not confident at all” as Aguilar was the only previous All-American in the 143-pound bracket.

Despite that, Ripley said she scored the first seven points of the match in the first two periods and Aguilar got a late reversal in the final period for her only two points.

“I felt like I controlled the match most of the time, but I was definitely exhausted because I hadn’t been conditioning the way other people had for this," Ripley said.

Ripley said her first thought, when her arm was raised as champion, was to celebrate, but, after the grueling seven-minute match (collegiate wrestling has one three-minute period and two two-minute periods), her body had other plans.

“I was so excited that it had happened,” she said. “I was like, ‘I did it,’ but the next thing that went through my mind almost immediately was, ‘I need to sit down, I can be excited later.’ ”

The 18-year-old Fonger, who was a four-year wrestler for Mount View and who now studies mechanical engineering at UMaine, said, “It doesn’t really feel any different than any other tournament that I’ve wrestled in [and] I kind of fell short of what I wanted to accomplish.”

The former Mustang secured pins in her first three matches against Amanda Gaines of Springfield Tech, Nina Ortega of Texas A&M and Makaela Fine of Southwestern Oregon, which set her up in the finals against Maxine Knetter of Wisconsin.

“I went into my matches prepared for some tough opponents and was able to pin my way through three of my matches to land me in the finals,” she said. “And my finals match just didn’t go the way I hoped it would.

Knetter got Fonger on her back at the 2:53-mark for the pin, which forced Fonger to settle for second place. “It’s definitely driving me to get back to practice so that I can land on the top of the podium next year," Fonger said.

Merrifield, a 19-year-old biology major at UMaine, amassed more than 100 wins on the mat during her time as a Windjammer and was excited with her new All-American distinction.

“It was really cool to be in the finals and to have become an All-American,” she said. “There was a lot of tough competition, but the work we put in during the season really ended up paying off for all of us.”

Merrifield said her 8-7 win over Yaritza Arteaga of Richland “went back and forth on points throughout the whole thing, but I came out ahead at the end,” while “the finals match didn’t go quite how I wanted it to.”

“It was 0-0 at the end of the first [three-minute] period, but I got stuck in a bad position a few times and couldn’t recover,” Merrifield said. “But I’m really proud of how well the UMaine/Husson women’s teams did, especially considering that we didn’t have very many girls.”

While they represent their own schools at competitions, the Black Bear and Eagle grapplers practice together and share a coaching staff.

Ripley said her Black Bear counterparts “did amazing.”

“Just the fact that we had four girls from Maine competing in the finals, that was huge,” she said. “It kind of pushed me so much more because I knew that we were all going for something big.”

The official results for the three Midcoast wrestlers at the nationals included:

109 pounds — Merrifield beat Yaritza Arteaga, Richland, 8-7; and lost to Ivy Navarro, SWOCC, 14-0, in the championship final. Merrifield finished second.

143 pounds — Ripley pinned Anevay Avila, Washington, at 1:44 pinned Jahnesia Edwards, SWOCC, at 1:07; and beat Rossana Aguilar, Fresno State, 8-2, in the championship final. Ripley finished first.

155 pounds — Fonger pinned Amanda Gaines, Springfield Tech, at 1:18; pinned Nina Ortega, Texas A&M, at 1:40; pinned Makaela Fine, SWOCC, at 4:33; and was pinned by Maxine Knetter, Wisconsin, at 2:53, in the championship final. Fonger finished second.

Shannon Ripley, left, and Hilary Merrifield with their medals and All-American awards. (Courtesy of: Danny Buteau)
Shannon Ripley, second from right, on top of the podium. (Courtesy of: Danny Buteau)
Shannon Ripley with her bracket sheet, medal and All-American award. (Courtesy of: Danny Buteau)
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.