Former Aberdeen High School wrestler Tatum Heikkila — now competing for Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado — made history over the weekend by achieving something no other Twin Harbors area female wrestler has done.
Competing in the National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Association Championships at Adrian College (Adrian, Michigan), Heikkila advanced to the tournament’s seventh-place match of the women’s 170-pound weight class on Friday, March 4, guaranteeing the Mavericks freshman an NCAA All-American honor.
The NCWA is recognized by the NCAA as an official sanctioning body for women’s collegiate wrestling at the Division I-III levels.
Heikkila is the first female wrestler from the Twin Harbors to be named an NCAA All-American.
“I guess I never thought I was the first woman (from the Twin Harbors) to really go into college wrestling and to be an All-American. It’s pretty cool,” said Heikkila, who twice placed at the in the top five in the state while competing for Aberdeen High School. “I’m just thankful I got the opportunity and have had a lot of support from my family and have had some amazing coaches along the way. … It’s kind of something I’ll always have.”
After receiving a first-round bye, Heikkila advanced to the quarterfinals with a 7-0 decision over Augsburg University’s Madison Horn.
In the quarterfinals, Heikkila lost via fall in the third round to Cheyenne Bowman (King University) and needed to win in the consolation bracket to have a shot at All-American status.
In her first consolation match, Heikkila defeated Tiffin University’s Taryn Martin 10-3 to secure a podium spot in her weight class, earning the former Bobcat NCAA All-American status.
Upon winning the match, the levity of the achievement grabbed Heikkila almost as hard as some of her competitors did that day.
“I sat on the ground, put my face in my hands and it was an instant surge of emotions. It was so overwhelming,” she said. “It was one of those matches that I will remember for the rest of my life and I was kind of taken aback because I didn’t realize there would be that wave of emotions. I just kind of sat there and took in everything and had a moment to myself. I went and got my hand raised and just ran to my coaches and it was just a super-awesome moment. I cried tears of joy.”
Heikkila went over to her corner and celebrated with CMU head coach Travis Mercado and assistant coach Amanda Hendey before being able to soak in the moment with some in attendance who are near and dear to her heart.
“And seeing my dad (Saul Heikkila) and grandpa (Eric Heikkila), who had come to watch me, seeing how proud they were too, it was an awesome moment and a great feeling to have,” Tatum said.
But the tournament wasn’t over and Heikkila still had some matches to wrestle.
In Consolation Round 5, Heikkila lost on a late fall to Jade Herzer (University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point) and, after an exhausting and emotional day of wrestling, had to set her sights on a seventh/eighth-place match on Saturday, March 5.
But before she could focus on her next opponent, Heikkila had more pressing matters to attend to.
“That night was hard because I had to make weight for the next day, so as soon as I was done wrestling my last match of the day I had to go running because I had about 4 pounds I had to lose,” she said. “So I didn’t really get to think too hard about it.
After making weight the following day, Heikkila did her normal warm-ups, then found a quiet moment to herself to get mentally prepared for what would be her final match of a historic season for the Twin Harbors wrestler.
“I had to go out on the mat and leave it all out there. I had to empty the gas tank because it was going to be my last match of the season and I didn’t want to go out on a loss,” she said. “I knew in my head I wasn’t going to lose that match. I was going to do everything in my power to win that match because that was going to be the last match to end on.”
And that she did.
Heikkila grappled with Sacred Heart’s Jacklyn Smith and won a 9-3 decision to finish her season with a victory and take seventh place in the nation in the women’s 170-pound weight class.
“She’s just a phenomenal athlete that puts in a ton of effort. She’s that unicorn kid you hope to get on your wrestling team at one point,” said Aberdeen head coach Craig Yakovich, who convinced Heikkila to try out for the wrestling team her freshman year.
“You just don’t get a kid that has that much determination, but also has that raw talent very often. It’s just an amazing thing that she can take it that far and she did it as a true freshman and has more years to try to improve on that.”
In the coming months, Heikkila plans to compete in the USA Wrestling U.S. Open April 28-29 in Las Vegas, as well as compete for a spot on Team USA’s under-23 world team.
As for next collegiate season, Heikkila plans on doing what she can to improve and continue to climb to the top of the podium.
“I want to be a national champion for CMU wrestling,” she said. “I definitely want to place higher. Every year I want to gradually improve. … I want to be in a spot of improvement and if I improve every single year, that’s a success for me.”
Yakovich said he’s already contacted Heikkila in hopes of obtaining one of her wrestling singlets to mount on the walls of Sam Benn Gymnasium or the Aberdeen High School wrestling room, hoping it will drive other student-athletes toward reaching new heights.
“It’s going to inspire the kids we are working with now at the high school and youth level, especially when you can walk into our gym or wrestling room and see it,” he said. “They can look up and see somebody in this gym made it that far and that’s going to push and inspire kids to try to be better and hopefully advances wrestling in our area.”