Zac Wigzell knows what to expect; Lokelani Ching doesn’t. But both Big Island residents are looking forward to competing in the Asics/Vaughan Cadet and Junior Nationals wrestling tournament in Fargo, N.D.
Known simply as “Fargo” in wrestling circles, the event is the biggest tournament of its kind in the country. It routinely features wrestlers who go on to win NCAA and Olympic medals later in life.
It’s a big step for Ching, a junior-to-be at Hawaii Preparatory Academy. She has never wrestled in the event, which begins Saturday and runs through July 26.
“A lot of nerves, nervous,” she said from Brookings, South Dakota, where Team Hawaii was training prior to heading north to Fargo. “I’m just nervous, but excited and taking it all in as an opportunity.”
Ching, a 17-year-old who won a Big Island Interscholastic Federation title at 135 pounds last season, will wrestle at 130 in the junior freestyle division. She spent about three weeks on Oahu training with the state team, which she said helped her get used to a higher level of competition.
She’s hoping that makes a difference once the action begins.
“My goal is to place, but my goal is also to take everything that I’ve learned this year and put it all out there on the mat,” she said.
Hawaii was among the first to initiate a girls state wrestling tournament and the state has done well at national tournaments. The girls freestyle team finished fifth last year behind much more populated states California, Texas, Michigan and New York.
Robert Ching, a volunteer assistant coach with Team Hawaii, said the tournament presents a big opportunity for his daughter.
“For me, and for her, it’s trying to get her more exposure, more experience, to grow more,” he said. “She’s a strong competitor on Big Island, but being on Big Island is not enough to be more competitive off the island. The plan is to wrestle in college.”
While Hawaii has been a leader in girls’ wrestling it has some catching up to do on the boys’ side. Last year, the junior team finished 31st in the team standings.
Wigzell has certainly made an effort to gain experience outside the Big Island. Though he lives in Kailua-Kona, he’s traveled to improve his wrestling skills. Last year he attended Lahainaluna High School on Maui and placed second in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament at 113 pounds. Shortly after the state tournament, he left for Boise, Idaho, where he trained for the past few months.
The 16-year-old, who will compete in the 120-pound cadet division, believes that training has already made a difference.
“I got a lot more experience,” he said. “I started placing in some bigger tournaments.”
Wigzell will compete in both freestyle and Greco-Roman, the two Olympic styles, which are different than folkstyle, the scholastic form wrestled in the United States. Freestyle is somewhat similar to folkstyle but with different scoring rules. Greco-Roman forces wrestlers to use their upper bodies, as no holds are permitted below the waist.
“I like freestyle, but I tend to do better in Greco,” he said.
Last year, Wigzell went 0-2 in an eye-opening Greco-Roman experience.
“It was different because there was a lot more competition than I was used to,” he said.
He’s hoping that experience will pay off this time.
“I’d like to place, obviously,” he said. “If not, I’d like to win a few more matches than last year. I feel like I’m more prepared. I feel like I should win more matches, I hope.”
Robert Ching said that Wigzell is an asset to Team Hawaii.
“He’s a good kid that has heart and is very determined on what he wants to do and where he wants to be,” the volunteer coach said. “He does a lot of traveling to get much more knowledge and growth, which is great for him as an individual and also to help the team as far as individuals that have less experience.”