Montclair State University’s club wrestling team wrapped up a landmark season, culminating with a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico for the 2023 National Collegiate Wrestling Championships. Nine wrestlers qualified for the event, the most in the club’s recent memory, and senior Faith Guevara took home bronze.
The team had a strong regular season leading up to the annual tournament, which took place from March 9 through March 11, by putting together a 12-6 match record. In order to punch their tickets to Puerto Rico, the wrestlers needed to place in the Mid-East Conference Tournament.
In total, nine athletes earned a spot at nationals. Club president and national tournament qualifier, junior Noah Ramadan said that the team’s strong showing was validation for the program’s development.
“Everyone’s buzzing, everyone was so happy,” Ramadan said. “ It was a tough season. I think we wrestled 18 dual or tri matches, it got to the point where every weekend was a match. To juggle those matches with the rest of life, it was difficult. To a lot of them, it was validation of all the work they put in and for others, it was proof that they could make it far, that they could be high-level wrestlers.”
Guevara, who qualified for her first national tournament, was excited to take on the challenge of competing against some of the nation’s best.
“I was a little nervous and excited at the same time because I had high expectations for myself because I had been doing so well [throughout] the season,” Guevara said. “We were all super excited to be there.”
This tournament meant a lot for coach Jon Melendez as well. As a Montclair State wrestling alumnus, he was one of eight athletes in 2020 to qualify for that year’s tournament. However his dream was cut short by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as the night before the team was set to leave, they were barred from competing.
“He was instrumental in getting us all here,” Ramadan said. “Us qualifying really made us happy because I could see it in his face. In some way, it was redemption for him to be able to, if not himself go to nationals, help a whole group of [people] get there.”
One of those wrestlers Melendez guided through nationals was Guevera. She entered her national tournament already sporting a long list of accomplishments including becoming the first woman in program history to win a conference championship, the first woman to qualify for nationals and the first Red Hawk ever to be named an All-American, regardless of gender.
After winning her first match, Guevera faced defeat in her next bout, meaning that in order to go for bronze, she had to wrestle her way into the third-place match. Guevera said that Melendez helped her get mentally prepared for her matches.
“He made sure that I ate before my match because [after the loss], I said ‘I don’t want to eat anymore.’ I felt awful but coach said, ‘No Faith, walk around, get your thoughts straight and don’t even think about what happened because that was in the past,’” Guevara said. “He really helped to put me in that mental space where I needed to be to do well, and I went on to win the [next] match.”
In the third-place match, she had to rematch a previous opponent in this tournament. When championship hardware was on the line, Guevara said she had to put it all on the table.
“I realized [that] she’s ready to wrestle, so [I] had to get my head straight and [I] had to be ready to wrestle too,” Guevara said. “We both fought hard to get here so it was just a case of who [wanted] it more. I realized that I had to keep pushing.”
After a hard-fought bout, Guevera came out on top to take the bronze medal, the first medal in program history. She said that she only started to feel the significance of the moment after the match ended.
“I came into this [tournament] with the mentality that it was first place or nothing, but after [the third place match] when the referee raised my hand and I saw how happy my teammates and my coach were, I [said to myself] ‘No Faith, be proud of yourself, you’re [an] All-American,'” Guevera said. “Seeing how proud my coach was made it real for me.’”
The team’s trip to the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) Championships cemented one of the most successful campaigns in recent memory. Seven Red Hawks finished off the season ranked in the NCWA Top 30 in their weight classes.
Guevara, alongside junior Iain Shaw and junior Donald Keating were named Academic All-Americans, in recognition of their achievements in the classroom. Ramadan emphasized the pride he took in the team’s accomplishments.
“When you’re a D-I, D-II, or D-III athlete, there’s a lot of incentives there to be a student-athlete, scholarships potentially, club wrestlers have none of that, they pay dues to be on the team and it’s up to us to construct a season experience worth paying for,” Ramadan said. “These guys have jobs, classes, essays they need to prepare for. They’re cutting weight during these classes. I just have a lot of respect for all of them.”