Mar. 31—GRAND FORKS — The first time Grand Forks club wrestling coach Garrett Litzinger brought up to Allyssa Johnson about competing for a spot on a USA Wrestling world championship team, the Grand Forks Central senior thought her coach wasn't serious.
"I told her it'd be cool to try out for a world team," Litzinger said. "I think she thought I was half-kidding. Then she went to the folkstyle national and won the whole thing. I said, you do belong, see?"
The once far-fetched idea will be a reality in just a matter of a couple of weeks.
Johnson, who went undefeated this winter en route to her second-straight North Dakota state girls wrestling individual title, will compete at the USA Wrestling Women's National Championships in Spokane, Wash., April 14-16.
If Johnson were to win her weight class, she qualifies for the Under-20 World Championships in Warsaw, Poland, in August. A runner-up finish would qualify for the Pan-American team in Oaxtepec, Mexico, in June.
"One day, Coach Litzinger texted me and asked if I was interested in wrestling there to see who makes the world team, and I told him I don't know if I'll make it, but I'd love to wrestle in it," Johnson said. "I love to compete. Since then, I've been a little nervous because I haven't lost (this season), and I could be wrestling college freshmen."
In early March, Johnson started the offseason with a splash. She won the USA Wrestling Folkstyle Nationals in Omaha, Neb., despite wrestling a weight class above where she expected to compete.
Johnson was expecting to wrestle at 138 pounds in Omaha but weighed in 0.2 pounds above the class, so she wrestled at 144 pounds.
"She bumped up to a heavier weight and only gave up one takedown in the national finals," Litzinger said. "She's slowly working her way to being untouchable. I think (folkstyle nationals) was the confidence boost she needed to go to a tournament like (Spokane) and give it a shot."
Johnson said she doesn't know exactly what to expect in Spokane.
"I just expect every match to be a fight," Johnson said. "I'm going in as an underdog."
But despite competing against older wrestlers, Litzinger doesn't think Johnson will be overmatched.
"She'll be going against college freshmen, so that might be a change of pace for her, but I actually don't think she'll struggle with the level of competition," Litzinger said. "She'll go in with a good mindset. Watching her at folkstyle nationals, she's slowly climbing to a completely different level."
During the high school season, Johnson was never scored on and no opponent made it beyond six minutes of the match.
Following Johnson's dominant high school season for the Knights, she's been aided in training by Anaka Chatrand, an accomplished Canadian who trains with the Grand Forks Gladiators.
In March, Chatrand won the U17 Canadian Wrestling Championship to qualify for the Pan-American Games in Mexico. She's been Johnson's practice partner on a regular basis.
"Anaka is awesome at freestyle, and I'm just alright," Johnson said. "I don't wrestle it year-round like she does. When I wrestle her, I have to be smarter. The North Dakota girls I wrestle are all new to the sport, so I can get away with things. If I don't wrestle her smart, I'll get caught."
The boys equivalent of the event Johnson won in Omaha takes place this weekend. Grand Forks is sending six male competitors to the Folkstyle Nationals in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
The event can be followed on trackwrestling.com.
Grand Forks athletes attending are Rhys Safratowich, Landon DeCoteau, Caden Everson, Brendan Winn-Kelley, Carter Coauette and Michael Norman.