“Put me on the mat.”
As a preschooler, Marina Goocher made that request while watching her older brother wrestle.
And, when she was 5, her parents did that—which later led to four national titles in middle school and high school and media attention for winning more than 100 matches in her high school career, all against male opponents.
As a college freshman, Goocher made the same request.
Although there isn’t a women’s wrestling team on campus, men’s wrestling coach Grant MacKenzie listened.
He trained the engineering major almost daily and created a women’s wrestling club just for her—which led to Goocher’s first collegiate national championship.
Competing in the 130-pound weight class, Goocher traveled to Florida last month and took home the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) title.
“Yes, it was in Florida, but it wasn’t a vacation. It was a business trip,” she said. “I was there for one reason—to take first.”
Goocher chose to attend UM-Dearborn for its engineering program. But she also hoped to wrestle, to make her dream complete.
“I thought I could wrestle co-ed like I did in high school, but found out the NCWA rules are different,” said Goocher, who attended Riverview Community Schools. “When I emailed [MacKenzie] to be on his team, he could have just told me that I couldn’t wrestle with the guys, there was no women’s team and it would have been the end. But he didn’t. “
Instead, MacKenzie invited her to meet the team. He kept working with Goocher and teaching her moves to further her success. And he created the UM-Dearborn women’s wrestling team—which is the first NCWA women’s program in Michigan.
“A lot of work goes into pioneering a women’s wrestling team,” she said. “I am so thankful for Coach MacKenzie and the UM-Dearborn athletic department who has made this possible for me. I was determined to get that first place.”
MacKenzie said he wasn’t surprised at Goocher’s performance—he knew she had what it took to be a national champ.
“When the guys wrestle, they want to get right to the mat. Marina wants to learn, so I create lessons for her. She’s methodical, calculated and determined. She’s got the mental strength and passion for the sport,” he said. “I knew her potential to win. My guys are great too, but I wish they could have her focus.”
Goocher said when she started wrestling as a kindergartener—when her kneepads nearly covered her entire leg—she would be one of the only girls competing in the tournament.
But now when she watches youth wrestling, there are several females.
“Times are changing. Where there was once one or two girls, there are now 20,” she said. “I want to be a pioneer for women’s wrestling in Michigan for the future female wrestlers to come.”