ORONO, Maine — Samantha Frank thought she had left her wrestling career behind when she matriculated at the University of Maine three years ago.

It turned out that it was just the beginning.

Frank, a junior nursing major from Windham, won her third consecutive individual title last weekend at the 20th National Collegiate Wrestling Association championships in Allen, Texas.

Frank pinned each of her opponents to win the women’s 101-pound division — requiring a total of 6 minutes, 14 seconds — while being named the meet’s outstanding wrestler for the third straight year.

“This year going in it was really nerve-wracking,” said Frank, a three-time NCWA All-American. “I knew that my freshman year I had defeated the two-time defending champ and now I was a two-time defending champion so I was really afraid to let that happen to me.”

After pinning Janice Russell of Texas State just 38 seconds into her opening match, Frank was taken into the second round of the semifinals by Western Washington’s Lisa Nguyen before winning by pin at 3:34.

One of two UMaine women to qualify for this year’s nationals along with former Camden Hills of Rockport standout Hilary Merrifield, Frank then stopped Malie Gonsalves of perennial NCWA women’s wrestling power Southwestern Oregon Community College at 2:02 of the championship match.

“She certainly dominated the tournament and we were glad to see it,” said Don McCann, one of the UMaine wrestling club’s volunteer coaches. “But there was a little uncertainty about not knowing what to expect from some of the other wrestlers.

“In a tournament like this, where we aren’t able to wrestle teams from other parts of the country before it, you just never know who’s going to show up so there’s always that unknown factor.”

Frank began wrestling in middle school and amassed winning records in each of her final three seasons at Windham High School while competing against boys.

That earned her several scholarship offers from women’s wrestling programs in the western part of the country, but Frank opted instead to continue along her lifelong career path.

“I told my dad when I was 2 years old that I was going to be a nurse and I haven’t changed my mind since then,” she said.

When Frank arrived at UMaine she originally joined the football cheering squad, but that focus changed when she learned about the university’s wrestling club.

“I said I was done with wrestling and was going to focus on school,” she said. “Then when they had the big day on the mall when all of the sports clubs and activities have their tables out there, one of the kids from my high school was there and he said, ‘Come sign up for the wrestling team,’ and that was it.”

Frank was crowned a national champion just a few months later, pinning two-time All-American Mikayla Pica of Southwestern Oregon in her first NCWA final.

“I beat the two-time defending champion and it was rewarding because that was the first time having a coach push me since my junior year (of high school) because we had a coaching change my senior year,” said Frank. “Coach (Aaron) James was just pushing me all season. He wanted me to take advantage of every opportunity and it paid off.”

Two more championships have followed, leaving Frank one final wrestling ambition.

“My goal,” she said, “is to be a four-time national champion.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...