Moorhead's Tia Kanneh set for state wrestling tournament as first Spud girl to qualify
The Liberian-born 8th grader is in her second year of wrestling and has already begun to rack up accomplishments.
MOORHEAD — When Moorhead’s Tia Kanneh steps foot on the mats of the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul this weekend, she will be the first girl in Spuds history to compete at the Minnesota girls’ state wrestling tournament.
Kanneh has fallen in love with wrestling in just her second year in the sport. As she prepares for the state tournament, she is keeping a positive, hard-working attitude.
“For wrestling, it’s not just in school. It’s outside of school, too,” Kanneh said. “I’m always practicing in my room even though I have a rug in it that hurts my knees and I have to stop after a few minutes.
“My mindset right now is just to do my best because this is my second year but that’s not going to stop me from pinning girls that have been wrestling longer than me. Overall, the mindset has been to try my hardest and to have fun because wrestling is my sport.”
Kanneh enters the state tournament 18-8 and will wrestle Stillwater’s Bianca Eide in the 100-pound weight class in the opening round.
Beyond the accomplishment of qualifying for state, Kanneh has been a champion of the Paul Bunyan girls tournament in Brainerd, a runner-up at the Bemidji Blue Ox girls tournament and has placed fourth at the Rumble on the Red.
Her wrestling career began in Bismarck as a seventh grader, but it was in Moorhead where Kanneh truly fell in love with the sport.
“At the beginning of my wrestling journey, I really wanted to quit because I didn’t win at the first or second tournament I wrestled in with Bismarck,” she said. “My love for wrestling really started in Moorhead thanks to my coaches and my teammates.”
While her wrestling journey began in North Dakota, Kanneh’s life journey began in Liberia where she was born prior to moving to the United States. Like wrestling, Kanneh took to the new life in America quickly.
“I was born in Liberia and my family came here when I was five or six-years-old and my brother was a few months old,” she said. “We settled in pretty quickly because there wasn’t really a language barrier. In Liberia, we speak English, it just happens to be broken English. We settled in pretty well and I was able to learn English pretty fast.”
Upon joining the Spuds, Kanneh’s coach Gerad Fugleberg said her talent was clear.
“Tia came in from Bismarck as a state qualifier there and, honestly, probably would have been a state championship contender over there,” Fugleberg said. "So, she came in pretty talented already. But she is fiery and excited (for the state tournament).
“On the Moorhead side of things, it’s pretty big with her being the first one to ever do it. It’s the second year that Minnesota has had the girls' state tournament but it’s really the first year we’ve had girls in Moorhead.”
Fugleberg also noted Kanneh’s ability to fight back when things aren't going her way.
“When she lost her first match at sections, she looked devastated like that was it,” he said. “But, we told her she still had a chance to wrestle back all the way to the true second which she did. Honestly, she dominated everyone in the bracket more so than the champion so I think we have a real shot to get some matches and get on the state podium.”
While she may be wrestling for a state title in the girls’ tournament, Kanneh’s experience on the mat isn’t limited to just wrestling other girls.
“She’s had a lot of really, really dominant matches on the girls' side and even on the boys' side,” said Fugleberg. “She hasn’t been afraid to wrestle anybody. She is fearless and she is here to win and that’s all she does, it seems like.”
Kanneh doesn’t care who she is facing, her approach is always the same.
“Honestly, I just wrestle the boys like I do the girls,” Kanneh said. “If I get the win, I get the win. If I lose, I lose. However, I come back the next day and just work harder.”
Kanneh and Fugleberg are both hopeful that Kanneh’s success brings some more attention, and wrestlers, to the Spuds’ girls' squad.
“It’s gotta (get more girls interested),” said Fugleberg. “I don’t see how it couldn’t. It’s nice because her and I are both at the middle school, I’m a teacher over there. We get to kind of dangle the shiny medal and say ‘this could be you.’ Five out of our six girls that finished this year were seventh or eighth graders. So, that’s kind of where we’re building and where the foundation is.”
Kanneh’s biggest hope for bringing out more girls is to have enough for them to wrestle each other and build a full team.
“I would love for other girls to join the team,” Kanneh said. “I would like to have enough that we could have a separate girls team instead of wrestling boys and girls so we can wrestle girls only because I think more girls would be more comfortable joining.”
In addition to Kanneh, three boys from Moorhead qualified for the state tournament. Dane Ellingsberg, Michael Jenkins and Jake Erdmann will join her in St. Paul.