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In addition to wrestling on the national level, Bruntil is a member of the wrestling team at McKendree University. (Courtesy photo/Emma Bruntil)

Former Mount Baker wrestler now on national stage

WHATCOM — There was no way of knowing how far wrestling would take former Mount Baker High School wrestler Emma Bruntil when she first hit the mat competitively about seven years ago. 

A state title her sophomore year at Nooksack Valley and then another her junior year at Mount Baker were just the beginning of what she would accomplish, and is still accomplishing, in competitive wrestling. 

Now at McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois, Bruntil recently competed in the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials last weekend in Fort Worth, Texas, placing fourth. One of her victories was over Mallory Velte, a bronze world medalist. 

She said her fourth-place finish, along with her win over Velte, at the trials means she’s progressing and up there in terms of level of competition. 

“It’s a good sign. I’m getting closer and there’s still things I need to get better at and have things to tweak, but it’s definitely encouraging,” Bruntil said. 

With sports at every level upended throughout the pandemic and prior injuries, Bruntil said this is the first time she’s been able to wrestle in the spring since high school. 

Heading into her freshman year at McKendree, Bruntil tore the UCL in her elbow which required Tommy John surgery to repair. She spent a year on the shelf rehabbing the injury and then a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic hit, cutting her collegiate season short last year. 

“We got back from college nationals and were trying to train with trials a couple weeks away and we couldn’t get into any facilities.” Bruntil said. “I was training in the school parking lot to just try and stay ready. We figured as soon as NCAA’s for the men got canceled, (trials) would probably get canceled, too.”

Bruntil went over to Yakima to train out of garages, but said she had no clue what she was training for with tournaments being pushed back or canceled left and right. 

When she started wrestling at age 14, Bruntil wanted to become a state champion. She thought that was the highest level she could reach until she met her coach at the Vandit Wrestling Academy in Burlington, Andy Cook, who told her to aim higher. 

From there, Bruntil found the freestyle side of wrestling. After winning the state title her sophomore year at Nooksack Valley, Bruntil wrestled in her first national tournament and it was there she realized she could compete at a high level. 

“I had actually bumped up a weight and I was super unknown,” Bruntil said. “I got the eighth-seed on a coin flip and I ended up taking out the No. 1 girl in the quarters and won my first national tournament. To win it on my first national 

tournament was definitely cool and showed me I can do this and compete here because I didn’t really know how I stacked up on that level.”

After finding out she could compete with the best of the best, Bruntil started going to camps at Olympic Training Centers focusing on getting better to compete at the next level up.

Bruntil said some of the girls she wrestled this past weekend at the Olympic Trials had beaten her in the past and it wasn’t even close.

“I’ve definitely won a fair share of things, but I’ve also taken a lot of losses,” she said. “Sometimes it just comes together.”

For all the time Bruntil spends on the national circuit, her time is also spent in the classroom and wrestling mat for McKendree. 

Between practices, class, and homework, Bruntil is in the weight room after practice and back on a wrestling mat at night to work on specific things with her coaches. It’s a full-time job, she said, but getting the experience of college wrestling is still exciting.

“It’s been really cool to wrestle in the college season, too. We’ve won two team titles the last two years and then go to tournaments and do really well as a team,” Bruntil said. “We had a couple girls who also placed fourth and one placed third (at the Olympic Trials). We’re up there and competing at that level and it’s cool to do it together with the people you train with.”

Bruntil said all the time and training she puts in is worth it when she goes to tournaments and sees everything come together from the long hours practicing. 

She said the demanding schedule she has is necessary for her to achieve her ultimate goal. Winning an Olympic medal. 

“To get fourth at the trials is a good step in the right direction,” Bruntil said. “I’ve never wrestled at a senior world team trials because I was injured before this and then COVID. To do that is encouraging and I know if this is my first try, I can only go up from here. I’m excited to keep getting better.”

Refining some details and getting better technically is what Bruntil wants to continue to work on. Continuing to do what she’s doing and remaining consistent with that is what’s ultimately going to make her better, she said. 

“It’s getting one percent better every day for a really long time to make significant change,” Bruntil said. “As much as I would love to just be 100 percent better by tomorrow I know that’s not how it shakes out. You have to get a little bit better every day and it adds up over time.”

Up next on Bruntil’s schedule is the U.S. Open later this month in Iowa. After that she has the U23 World Team Trials in Texas. She said she’ll also probably have some tournaments overseas this summer before coming back in the fall for the Senior World Team Trials.