For three years the background image on Samantha Frank’s phone has been a photo taken moments after she won her first women’s collegiate wrestling national championship as a freshman.

“I had upset the two-time defending champ. She was on the ground with her hands over her head and I was jumping in the air with the biggest smile on my face,” a University of Maine senior from Windham.

“But every time I looked at the photo I wasn’t looking at myself. I was looking at how upset she was. I was thinking, that could be me. I don’t ever want to feel that.”

It’s time for a new background photo.

Frank finished her college wrestling career last weekend with her fourth straight women’s 101-pound title at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) national championships in Allen, Texas.

“As soon as I won the first year, it was a goal of mine to win all four years,” said Frank. “That was the pressure, to stay the best and be the best.”

Frank finished her college career with a 44-0 record and is the second woman to win four NCWA titles. She was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler of the women’s tournament for the fourth straight year – a first for any NCWA wrestler, man or woman.

“She’s the most decorated woman in NCWA wrestling history,” said Aaron James, one of the three volunteer coaches for Maine’s club team. “She plays chess while the others play checkers.”

The NCWA was formed in 1997 to promote college wrestling and provide a governing body and national championship for wrestling programs that were not part of the NCAA. Some, like Maine, are self-funded club teams at large universities. Maine started its club in 2013-14. Frank founded the women’s team as its only member the next season. Other NCWA squads are from small NAIA schools and junior colleges, which often are fully funded. This year 74 men’s teams and 29 women’s teams competed at the NCWA championship.

“We do wrestle against scholarship teams and scholarship athletes,” James said. “Samantha wrestled against scholarship girls.”

After winning over 90 matches against boys and qualifying for the state championship three times at Windham High, Frank had scholarship offers. But each was from a small school west of the Mississippi River – “I’d never even heard of them. At first I thought they were scams.” – none offered a nursing program like Maine and Frank didn’t intend to wrestle.

Her first term at Maine, she was a football cheerleader.

“Then I felt bad. If I was cheering, then I could wrestle,” Frank said.

She began going to wrestling practices – in addition to cheering practices.

James recalled how in her first collegiate tournament, in Canada, Frank won seven matches in one day.

“That last match, you could see she was worried more about losing than being tired,” James said. “As soon as she walked off the mat and had won, I knew she was legit. She was tough.”

Frank is a three-time Academic All-American. She stopped cheering after her freshman year but added rugby to her busy schedule as a sophomore and junior.

“I work best when I’m right out straight,” Frank said.

As a team, Maine’s women finished third with four wrestlers.

Southwestern Oregon Community College won its seventh straight title with 134 points, followed by Midland (Texas) College with 52.5 points and Maine with 51.

Sierra Fonger, a freshman from Thorndike (Mt. View High), finished second in the 155-pound division, recording three pin wins before being pinned in the final by Maxine Knetter of Wisconsin.

Hilary Merrifield, a sophomore who wrestled at Camden Hills, was second in the 109-pound class, going 1-1.

Husson’s wrestling teams traveled to Texas with Maine. The two clubs are separate organizations responsible for their own fundraising but train together in Orono and use the same coaching staff.

Husson freshman Shannon Ripley of Owl’s Head (Oceanside High) won the 143-pound title, pinning her first two opponents, including top-ranked Jahnesia Edwards of Southwestern Oregon, before beating Rossana Aguilar of Fresno State 8-2 in the final.

Ripley wrestled for 11 years, winning two New England girls’ championships and the Canadian nationals in 2016. A member of the Oceanside boys’ team as a sophomore and junior, she took a break from the sport as a high school senior.

A member of the Husson field hockey team, Ripley decided to return to the wrestling room in February and did not have a countable match entering the national championships.

“Honestly, (winning) came as a surprise,” Ripley said. “I think it was just that I had the techniques from when I wrestled. Mostly it was just being aggressive. A lot of times when you wrestle girls they’re not nearly as aggressive and I had been training with men up until this year.”

In the men’s competition, Maine placed 19th and Husson was 50th.

River Robertson of Bucksport placed eighth in the 197-pound weight class, becoming Maine’s first male four-time All-American.

Other in-state products competing were Maine’s Steven Thompson (Medomak Valley), Tyler Everett (Massabesic), Cooper Power (Windham), Rusty Wilson (Nokomis), Husson’s Danny Buteau (Oak Hill) and Connor Winchenbach (Camden Hills).

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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