Marine Corps wrestlers from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune attended the 49th U.S. Marine Corps Cadet and Junior National Championships at the FargoDome on the campus of North Dakota State University, July 12-19 to serve as ambassadors for the Marine Corps.
The national championships, often billed as the world’s largest wrestling tournament with well over 5,000 wrestlers ages 13-18, is like the Super Bowl of high school wrestling in the United States. It gives young wrestlers a chance to compete for a national title on the biggest stage in front of college coaches from across the nation.
All-Marine wrestlers Sgt. Vaughn Monreal-Berner and 1st Lt. Terrence Zaleski assisted Team North Carolina as volunteer coaches at the tournament sponsored by the Marine Corps. Cpl. Sterling Reynolds, Sgt. Devin Hester and 1st Lt. Colton Rasche also represented the All-Marine team in Fargo by assisting Marine Corps Recruiting Command and USA Wrestling with handing out awards, interacting with wrestlers and informing participants about the Marine Corps and its wrestling opportunities.
For Rasche, executive officer with the All-Marine wrestling team, being a Marine representative at the national championships brought back fond memories. He competed there as a high schooler, taking sixth in what he said was “a big deal.” His performance was impressive enough to catch the attention of the Naval Academy, where he would eventually commit and begin his trek towards becoming a Marine.
“The Naval Academy opened my eyes and made me become a man at an early age,” Rasche said. “It taught me that wrestling doesn’t define you. There is always something bigger and better.”
That perspective-based mentality Rasche learned at the Naval Academy is a core foundation of what the All-Marine Wrestling program, and the Marine Corps, is all about.
“That’s our team motto,” Rasche said. “It’s not all about you and if I win or lose. If you have that motto, then good things are going to come.”
Rasche recognizes that Junior Nationals is the premiere event for Greco-Roman style and freestyle high school wrestlers. He even compared it to the world championships and Olympic stages.
“This is what the kids train for and dream of,” Rasche said, who has been to the championships three straight years. He helped coach Team North Carolina in 2018.
1st Lt. Stephanie Simon, a platoon commander and soon-to-be company executive officer with the 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion on MCB Camp Lejeune, spoke during the women’s freestyle national final and served as a guest commentator during sports streaming company FloWrestling’s live broadcast of the championships.
An elite wrestler and three-time college boxing national champion, Simon knows a thing or two about toughness and facing adversity head on. She competed in the Junior National Championships as a high schooler, earning All-American status with a fourth-place finish.
Returning to the tournament as a Marine, Simon was pleased to see how it has progressed.
“It was amazing coming back eight years later, seeing how much it’s grown and how the women are getting better,” Simon said, who wrestled at the US Open and World Team Trials this year. “They’re quicker, faster and stronger, and there are more states competing than before.”
The time Simon has put in to such physically and mentally demanding sports as boxing and wrestling enables her to speak from firsthand experiences on the correlation between the Marine Corps’ warrior ethos and its comparison to the mindset of a wrestler.
“The role of the Marine Corps [in Fargo] was to show the wrestling community that we support them for a reason,” Simon said, who still boxes competitively. “Marines and wrestlers share the same mentality and that fighting spirit. You fight to win. You have to give it everything you’ve got.”
That approach is something Rasche, and other wrestlers and Marines, can all identify with.
“I always ask kids, ‘What do wrestling and the Marine Corps have in common?’” Rasche said. “You have to have mental focus. It’s a brotherhood. It’s about what you are doing to better the people around you, and the Marine Corps sets that standard.”
Simon credits wrestling with molding her mental toughness, teaching her discipline and being a main factor in why she’s been able to be so successful.
When asked whether or not they thought some future Marines competed in the tournament, Rasche and Simon, who both spoke to individual competitors directly, undoubtedly said yes.
The Marine Corps has been partnering with USA Wrestling, a representative of the United States Olympic Committee that coordinates amateur wrestling programs in the United States, since 2017.