Another New High for NCC Wrestling
The success of both the men’s and women’s wrestling teams made 2021-22 without question the best year North Central wrestling has ever had. On the women’s side, talking about that success has to begin with Yelena Makoyed, who is in rarified air with her latest title: unscored upon, undefeated back-to-back national champion.
“It sounds very good,” said Makoyed. “It would be nice to hear ‘three-time national champion’ next year but, I never would have thought, if you had asked me in high school about this, I never would have come this far in my college seasons so it’s great to hear.”
“Being at the Division III level it’s not often you get to coach someone at the Olympic Trials, right?,” said North Central head men’s and women’s wrestling coach Joe Norton. “The fun thing about Yelena is she’s not just a super talent she has a super work ethic too. She’s a super teammate, a super student, so that’s fricking awesome because she’s the total package.”
“You can’t become complacent, you can’t just settle and be like ‘I won twice already the third one’s gonna be easy,’” Makoyed said. “You have to fight for it. People are going to be coming for your head the third time around. So you’ve gotta keep working, keep training, the same thing I’ve been doing, maybe working a little harder because people are gonna be coming after me.”
Building Team Depth
But the team’s accomplishments go far beyond Makoyed’s dominance. A staggering 12 Cardinals achieved All American honors and helped the team finish fourth overall, their highest ever nationals finish. As a nod to that success, head coach Joe Norton was named the regional coach of the year.
“It acknowledges the work that we’ve put in and the work that I put in even before they got here and that’s really cool,” he said. “But I think it’s just something that helps us in getting three steps higher on the podium to winning a team title. It’s the assistant coaches who do all the work, I’m just the guy who gets the credit for it that’s the truth.”
Norton also says that such honors are most useful in recruiting, which is proving true for the Cardinals. Of the 12 All Americans, six are freshmen including Tiera Jimerson, who went from being skeptical to incredibly impressed upon her first visit to campus.
“At first I didn’t even know what North Central was at all, I didn’t know who Coach Norton was, I didn’t know anything about North Central, I didn’t even know it existed,” she said. “And I was like ‘this is gonna be home for the next four years I can feel it’ when I stepped on the campus I knew this is where I needed to be for the next four years.”
“Seven girls that first year, we had 27 women I think to start last year, and this year over 40 when the season began so there’s obviously been rapid growth but just the talent coming in, where Yelena was an extremely talented recruit coming in three years ago, well this year you had Tiera, and Amani, and Kendra, and Traeh and girls who were national ranked coming in as well and that saw Yelena’s success and kind of believed in us,” said Norton. “The best girls in the country believe that this is a place where I can win a team title in addition to my individual goals.”
“It’s just crazy to think of how far we’ve come from my freshman year going from like eight girls to 40 girls,” said Makoyed. “So really encouraging and makes me look forward to walking into the wrestling room. Wrestling’s already really fun but the people make it so much better.”
The Best is Yet to Come
The Cardinals will return all 12 All Americans next year, and this young and incredibly talented team continues to look onward and upward, pushing each other so that they can be at their best both individually and as a team.
“We all have the same work ethic, we all want to get better, we all are striving for that national championship regardless of who else is in our weight class,” Jimerson said.
“As a team for next year we definitely want to win nationals,” added Makoyed. “I just hope that we all sharpen each other and then through that we can get better as a team.”
“We are an up-and-coming team and we’re just going to get better from here,” said Jimerson. “Being able to have so many people who are in the same boat as you, it just helps because everybody is going through the same thing and it just helps us build as a team.”