Isabella Renfro had limited freestyle wrestling experience and tempered expectations heading into the 2022 Junior and Cadet National Championships earlier this week in Fargo, North Dakota.
At the end of the event, she returned home to Seneca as a two-time All-American.
Renfro, a Seneca High School grappler and Missouri folkstyle state finalist last winter, tried her hand at freestyle for the first time in her career this summer and clinched her dual All-American status by placing fifth in the Cadet Division (16-under) and fourth in the Junior Division (Grades 9-12) at the Women’s National Tournament in Fargo July 16-20.
Competing in the 180-pound weight class in both divisions, Renfro went 10-4 this week against competitors from across the country.
“I was a little surprised,” Renfro said on Friday. “I knew I’d worked hard, but there was always this thought that you’re new to this and haven’t worked hard enough. So that was a nice surprise.
“I had an open mind before the tournament. Being an All-American was definitely something I wanted. … I didn’t know if I had what it took to do it, but here I am with two (All-American plates). So I’m very grateful for that.
The Seneca star said she took a few weeks off after finishing second at the MSHSAA Women’s Wrestling Championships in February before starting to train freestyle for the first time.
Her father, athletic director and Northeast Oklahoma A&M wrestling coach, Joe Renfro, was one of many trainers who coached her prior to her first-place finish at the state cadet tournament in Sedalia. , Missouri, earlier this summer, which qualified her for nationals. tournament.
Renfro competed in the national tournament for Team Missouri, which finished second in the cadet team competition and fourth in the junior competition.
Missouri was trained by Amond Prater, a former University of Missouri collegiate wrestler and current strength and conditioning coach for A-Train Performance Women’s Wrestling Club in St. Louis.
“Hats off to all of our teams, first of all,” Prater said. “Missouri wrestling sets the bar pretty high. When we added women’s wrestling at the high school level, it put us on the right path to having wrestlers like Isabella successful early on. She just tracked what she did with her coaches in high school, and then by the time we brought her to our training camp, we just honed in on the things that she did well.
“She is very tenacious on the mat and she does not give up any of her matches. Those are two great attributes she was able to use to become All-American. … I really liked that she took training seriously and as a result, she walked away with two All-American placements. I am very happy that she let us share this trip. She works so hard and she wants to achieve a lot in this sport.
Renfro started his week in Fargo going 3-2 in the Cadet Tournament.
She suffered back-to-back falls to Katianna Martinez of California and Taylor Waddy of Virginia before suffering losses to Kayli Hayden of Oklahoma and Tirza Twoteeth of Montana. She capped the tournament with a 9-0 triumph over Oklahoma’s Symphony Veloz in the fifth-place game.
“Every game I played I tried to get something out of it,” Renfro said. “So I became more and more comfortable with my positioning. It got to a point where I knew I belonged in the national tournament. Even with the matches I lost, I probably learned the most from those. It really opened my eyes to how much I had to learn and what I could improve.
In the junior tournament, Renfro got off to another flying start with back-to-back bowling against Amaya Green of Colorado and Grace Johns of Kansas. It wasn’t until the championship round of 16 that she suffered her first loss in a fight against Washington’s Alivia White.
Renfro won their next five games – four in the fall – in the consolation bracket to reach the third-place game. In this streak, she avenged a loss she suffered in the Cadet Tournament by knocking out Twoteeth by pinfall in the consolation semi-finals.
Grappler Seneca settled for fourth after being knocked down by Wisconsin’s Katelyn Lewis in her final match of the junior competition. She finished 7-2 in her bracket.
Renfro said she was impressed with the national tournament as well as the number of female competitors taking part in the event.
“Here in Missouri, there are not as many tournaments and as many big tournaments as you see in Fargo,” she said. “So it was really nice to go to a place where there are so many girls competing at a high level and vying for their place on the podium.
“There were 27 mats, and at one point the girls’ matches were on all of them. It was just cool to see that and be part of such a big event that promotes women’s wrestling.
As for celebrating Renfro after his double All-American performance?
“I hit the road and drove 10 hours home,” she said with a laugh. “As soon as I got home at 7am the next morning, I had to switch to summer weights. So I did that, and then I came home and there was an ice cream cake waiting for me in the freezer. It felt pretty good after cutting all that weight.