While the NCAA wrapped up their tournaments back in March, the NJCAA held their national tournament last week. The junior college ranks often feature a mixture of wrestlers who will go on to compete at various levels of the NCAA and NAIA. This year's tournament featured a wrestler that fans may end up seeing on the World's largest stage in the near future.
Chinzorig Tsermaa of Northwest Kansas Tech entered the NJCAA tournament at 141 pounds as the 11th seed. However, it quickly became apparent that he was anything but the typical double-digit seed. His presence in the bracket promptly caught the attention of InterMat's international guru Seth Petarra.
Keep an eye on Chinzorig Tsermaa who placed 3rd at the 2019 57 KG U-23 Asian championships for Mongolia and also took 5th that same year at the 61 KG Yarygin https://t.co/XFs0aKrdobï¿½" CEO of ITALIANS ðŸ‡®ðŸ‡¹ (@SethPetar) April 22, 2021
Northwest Kansas Tech is a small two-year college located in Goodland, Kansas. With a population under 5,000, the city is the county seat of Sherman County and sits near the Colorado border. One of its main attractions is an 80-foot high reproduction of Vincent van Gogh's painting 3 Sunflowers in a Vase.
On April 24, 2020, Northwest Tech announced via Facebook that Tsermaa was joining the program "for one year to study in America." The post featured a graphic with the expected graphic featuring "signed" in big block letters. Below that, in much smaller print, the graphic indicated that Tsermaa was from Dornogovi Province, Mongolia. The province is located in the Gobi desert in the southeast corner of the country and along the border with China. It is also roughly 7,000 miles from Kansas.
Luckily for Tsermaa he would not be alone in the new country. His older brother Chinges was already a member of the squad. Per head coach Chris Guillot, that relationship significantly contributed to the recruitment of Tsermaa and his overall success.
"Chinzorig ended up at NWKTC to spend time and train with his older brother," Guillot said. "Chinges is a mentor and protector to Chin. They have a deep bond full of love and respect for one another. Chinges works on small technical details, and they are great workout partners."
While Tsermaa listed learning English on the fly as one of the most challenging adjustments, he arrived on campus already fluent in the language of wrestling. He has already represented Mongolia at both the Asian and World Championships. He won a bronze medal at the 2019 U23 Asian Championships and placed fifth at the 2019 Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix.
Tsermaa vs. 2019 Junior and U23 silver medalist Adlan Askarov (Kazakhstan)
Much like Yonger Bastida (Iowa State) and Anthony Echemendia (Ohio State), who also transitioned to folkstyle after accolades in freestyle, Tsermaa had some trouble adjusting to the bottom position. However, by the end of the season, he appeared to have figured it out.
At the NJCAA tournament, he won all five of his matches and the title at 141 pounds. He scored 31 takedowns and did not allow an opponent to score a single one. Tsermaa's closest match came in the semifinals against Marckis Branford. The Clackamas wrestler scored an early reversal and tried to take advantage of the freestylers' bottom game. However, Tsermaa was up to the challenge and pulled out the victory.
"Bradford was ready to wrestle and did all he could to keep Chin down," Guillot. "We had worked hard on getting our arms caught underneath us, never felt in danger of being turned, but it was a good ride. He just needed to stay patient."
With an NJCAA title under his belt, Tsermaa is ready to return to Mongolia and his freestyle roots.
"Chinzorig was going to stick around, but with the World Championships in October, he will be leaving in late July to try to make the World team for Mongolia," his coach explained. "He then plans to train in Mongolia and Dagestan, Russia, over the next three years to win Olympic and World gold medals."
With the success of the Tsermaa brothers, Guillot thinks that there will be more international competitors in the junior college ranks going forward.
"The chances are high," he said. "We can learn a lot from each other. We learn a tremendous amount from the neutral position from the internationals. It is not easy to coach internationals to learn our sport in a year or two. They have the advantage on the feet, and we have a big advantage on top and bottom. Hard work and dedication are the big things. Chin, without the work on top and bottom, would not have won in the semifinals."
In addition to Tsermaa, NWKTC also won the NJCAA title at 184 pounds with Jacari Deal, and the squad finished in seventh place with four All-Americans. Even with their 141 pounder returning to Mongolia, the team looks poised for another strong season next year.
"We are excited about the finish this year in our first full season as coaches," Guillot explained. "We have been able to put an incredible staff together that believes in the mission of our school and wrestling program. We are dedicated as a staff to always grow, keep our program diverse and bring in quality young men and ladies to reach their goals. Our administration has stood behind our goals and let us put together a coaching staff that is second to any in the county. With myself as head coach, Lelund Weatherspoon as head assistant, Ben Kritsonis as a second assistant and part-time assistant Ramico Blackmon, we want to give what we have inside of us to our wrestlers and help them meet their potential. Our goal is to win a national title at NWKTC."