NCC Women’s Wrestling Win First Team National Championship
In just their fourth season as a varsity sport, the North Central women’s wrestling team are national champions! A staggering fifteen Cardinal wrestlers achieved All American status, with three winning individual national titles. It was a moment that’s been in the making since the program’s founding, and a celebration of so much hard work.
“Fun. Just like so much fun,” head coach Joe Norton said of the experience. “I think relieving for me because I promised so many girls that we would get them there, you know? So I guess delivering on that for them and for their parents and, you know, their coaches, that that, you know, I reached out to initially in the recruiting process. So I guess a little bit of relief, but just happiness and joy and just really proud of them for going out and getting it done.”
“I think it was more exciting than winning an individual title because, I mean, an individual title, you’re kind of doing it just for yourself,” said senior Yelena Makoyed, who won an individual national championship each of the previous two seasons. “I see it as more of a selfish thing to do. But when your whole team wins, when you know that the whole season all these people in your team were putting in so much work and then you finally get the results back like it’s just so rewarding, so much more rewarding than just an individual title. So it felt really good and we were on cloud nine that day. It was awesome.”
“When I came here, I saw they were very united and like a family and the coaches were just amazing,” said freshman Maddie Avila. “And then they expressed their, again, aspirations to win a team title. And you want to go to a school with big goals.”
Three Individual Titles, Including a Third for Yelena Makoyed
The three individual titles were headlined by a third in a row for Makoyed at 170 lbs, who completed her collegiate career with a record of 96 – 4 including a perfect 28 – 0 senior campaign that saw her named USA Wrestling Women’s College Wrestler of the Year.
“I definitely felt more pressure because I felt like, you know, like I already won once, twice, there was a pressure to win a third time,” Makoyed said. “But that was just external things that I didn’t need to worry about. It was just adding a little extra pressure that I didn’t need to think about. But it wasn’t too scary. I was pretty confident I was going to win.”
“For Yelena, she didn’t need to do this this year,” said Norton. “You know, the goal is to win Olympic gold medals. I always say I don’t know why she chose North Central. We’re glad that she did. But she’s, you know, ten, 20, 30 years from now, wherever we are, so much of it will be owed to her choosing North Central and being such a leader along the way and and just paving the way and doing things that other people won’t have to do because the road’s a little bit, you know, it’s cleared now for them versus she was the one that that that plowed it for them.”
At 116 lbs, junior Jaslynn Gallegos won her first national title in her first year as a Cardinal after three previous All American honors at Presbyterian College. After a fourth place finish last year, one season at North Central enabled her to rise up the podium and take top spot.
“It was a drastic change and it definitely made the difference,” said Gallegos of her move to North Central. “It made the difference in me personally as well as a wrestler. I do credit, you know, winning it this year to coming here to North Central and that’s why I picked North Central because it was like the place that I thought that I was going to grow and be the best wrestler that I could be.”
“We wanted her the first time around, four years ago and we didn’t get her, you know, and she did some great things in an environment that wasn’t great for her,” said Norton of Gallegos. “So I knew as soon as we put her in an environment that is great for her, she was really going to thrive. And she did that from day one, and it wasn’t just winning, it was dominating. It was like 21 pins or something. And just her aggressive nature and her expectation that I’m going to go in, take you down, and put you on your back. I’m gonna pin you. And the way she leads the girls in and just carrying herself that way, like she expects to dominate. So it wasn’t just her winning, it was the way that rubbed off on everyone else that helped other people get, you know, to new levels as well. That was pretty cool.”
“It’s a bunch of girls who don’t hold back and a bunch of girls who want the same thing as you,” Gallegos said. “And it drives you. And it’s a bunch of coaches who want the same thing as you like everybody’s goals align with each other. And it’s really nice because like when you’re all running towards the same thing, the pace picks up and it only gets faster and never slows down.”
The first national championship of the day was actually won by Avila at 101 lbs, who after dropping down a weight class earlier in the season dominated and was named Open Mat’s Freshman of the Year.
“I think as soon as I came to college, or as soon as I knew I was going to wrestle in college, it became a goal of mine to win the national title,” she said.
“In Maddie’s case, when we recruited her, we saw a lot of potential,” said Norotn. “There were things in the way that she wrestled. She’s very aggressive. She’s a volume shooter. She gets on legs. We love that because we can work with someone that shows us that they have a desire to win. She wrestles really, really, really good girls every day. And she gets her butt kicked here in this room every day. And so it was her chance to go do some butt kicking at the national tournament. So that was fun.
What Comes Next After Achieving the Ultimate Goal
Winning a team national championship has been bulletin board material for this program since its inception. Now that they’ve achieved what to this point was their ultimate goal, they’ll strive for ways to somehow be even better built on lofty goals for every individual wrestler.
“Well, to become like a four-time [national champion] of course,” said Avila of her goals. “And then that’s just putting in the work and not letting this like just growing from this. After my match, Yelena was like, don’t let all of this fame kind of get to you too much. Like, take it and like, enjoy the moment, but get back to work the next day.”
“Well, now we gotta go do it again,” said Norton. “It gets more challenging now. The Iowa Hawkeyes (the dominant force in men’s collegiate wrestling with 24 team national titles) will be in the conversation next year now. So that’s a whole different animal. We’re taking on D2s and we’re taking on D1s, now we’re taking on a Power 5, Big Ten. It’s the University of Iowa and they’re going to get just about any recruit they want to get. Now something we really pride ourselves on is development. Now it’s really time to prove that. We might not get the best recruits now, we’re going to develop the second best recruits, and we got to be able to beat the best ones.”
“I don’t think anything’s really going to change other than the fact that we want it even more this year because we won it this year,” said Gallegos. “We put in the work. We know exactly what we need to do because we’ve been doing it. So I don’t think there’s going to be much difference other than, you know, incoming freshmen. But I think we have a great group of incoming freshmen. So it’s the only really big change is just teaching them the environment that we have and showing them like how great it is here.”
Makoyed’s North Central Wrestling Legacy
Any continued success for the Cardinals will be done without Makoyed, whose focus is now on qualifying to be part of Team USA at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. But just as North Central wrestling will never forget her contributions to what they hope will be the start of dynasty, no amount of future success for Makoyed will ever diminish how much she values the last four years.
“Thinking about leaving makes me sad,” she said. “I’m definitely going to miss my coaches. I don’t think I’ll ever find coaches like them ever. And just having the community, something to look forward to in my day, you know, I look forward to coming to practice, playing handball, wrestling, my coaches, getting beat up. I look forward to all these things and I know that once I leave it’s going to be a lot different and I’m going to have to kind of adjust to not being on such a big team and not having this community. So that’s definitely going to be sad and I’m going to miss it. But the memories are awesome. Bittersweet but awesome.”