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Girls’ wrestling grows in numbers, makes its mark in the league

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Originally published on March 4, 2016

Freshman Sarah Quinones wrestles and warms up with senior Andy Jiang before the dual meet against the Galileo Lions on Feb. 16 at Lowell. Photo by Leonard Caoili

One evening during practice, freshman wrestler Sarah Quinones wrestled against senior co-captain Asa Jungreis. The rest of the wrestling team stood to the side, observing the practice match, while the two athletes competed on the mat. To Jungreis’s surprise, he found himself lying on his back at the end of the match. Quinones had found room and went for a takedown, leaving everyone in the room in disbelief and awe of the young wrestler’s skill. “I couldn’t believe I got put on my butt,” Jungreis said. “It left me wondering ‘Where did she learn that?’”

Growth in Numbers

More female wrestlers, like Quinones, joined Lowell’s wrestling team this season. The current roster boasts 11 girls out of 28 wrestlers. Nearly 20 female wrestlers participated in preseason conditioning, compared to last year in which there were around six or seven. “I almost thought they were in the wrong place because we usually don’t get that many,” Jungreis said.

Nearly 20 female wrestlers participated in preseason conditioning, compared to last year in which there were around six or seven.

Lowell wrestling has seen a rise in female athletes for many reasons. The annual demonstration day for all Physical Education classes during the first few weeks of school has been a key recruiting tool for the team. It is during the demonstration that head coach Michael Wise emphasizes that there are both boys and girls on this varsity team. Freshman Natalie Fong attributes her interest in wrestling to the first demonstration she saw at the start of the school year. “The team was so diverse,” Fong said. “There was no one body type or anything like that. The team looked like they were having fun too.”

Other female wrestlers cited various other reasons for joining the team on top of the demonstrations. Quinones had the support of her dad, who had wrestled when he was in high school, and junior Julia Roa remembered her older brother wrestling for Lowell a few years ago. Quinones also wanted the challenge of a new sport after playing volleyball for several years. Sophomore Jill Liang, the only second-year female wrestler, wanted to learn about self-defense when she first started last season. “I later found out that wrestling isn’t the same as kickboxing and the like,” Liang said. “But I stayed because of the friendships and the encouragement of the coaches.”

Freshman Sarah Quinones wrestles senior Andy Jiang during a warm-up before the dual-meet against the Galileo Lions on Feb 16 at Lowell. Photo by Leonard Caoili

Road to Recognition

Seeing the growth in the number of girls joining, Wise sought for more opportunities for them to wrestle. At the preseason coaches’ meeting, he brought up the topic of funding Lowell wrestling to the section commissioner when the team had nearly 38 wrestlers at the time. “I didn’t see the equity in having the same amount of funding as another school with only 10 wrestlers,” he said.

By the beginning of the season, the league recognized Lowell’s girls’ wrestling team as a non-league sport. This meant that the girls’ team is still considered a sport, but no other schools have a team to compete against the Lady Cardinals. With the new title of a “non-league sport,” the team received more funding and hired another coach. Her name is Noellee Candido. “More importantly, [the team also received] the recognition that Lowell has been doing a lot of stuff to support girls’ wrestling, ever since I’ve been here and before I got here.” Wise said.

The success in creating a girls’ team has been a long-time hope for the Cardinals.

Candido started wrestling in middle school and competed for seven years. After starting college, she decided to put competition to rest for herself, but wanted to stay close to the sport. In order to do so, Candido started coaching middle school four years ago and began coaching high school two years ago.

Along with gaining a new coach, the team also gained funds to take the female wrestlers to girls’ tournaments every weekend. With the funding, the Lady Cardinals have been to these tournaments every Saturday since Nov. 28.

All the athletes on the girls’ team, except for one, are first-year wrestlers, and Quinones is currently fourth place in the Central Coast Section. In tournaments, she has placed fifth three times and has one bronze, silver and gold medal, respectively. Liang has a bronze medal for the Roger Briones tournament. Sophomore Brittney Dare has placed fourth in the Amazon tournament and second in the Overfelt Ladies Wrestling Challenge.

The success in creating a girls’ team has been a long-time hope for the Cardinals. Eight years ago, there was a female head coach who actively recruited girls to join, according to Wise. His efforts in recruiting girls to join and emphasizing that wrestling at Lowell is a co-ed sport has been long established. “I’ve been since continuing a tradition that was in place before I got here,” Wise said.

Girls in Action

Despite the new title, the girls’ and boys’ teams remain one team. Candido and Wise help coach both the girls and boys together. They all still practice together, and the girls wrestle at co-ed events like JV and varsity co-ed tournaments as well as one-on-one matches against schools within the league.

“Strength in wrestling isn’t everything and good technique always wins.”

Wrestling is divided into 14 different weight classes starting at 106 lbs to 285 lbs. For some of the female wrestlers, wrestling boys in the same weight class can still prove to be difficult. “Personally, I think it’s hard to wrestle [boys] because they usually have more upper body strength than me,” Quinones said. “Don’t get me wrong though, it’s hard to beat them, but not impossible. Strength in wrestling isn’t everything and good technique always wins.”

And it’s Quinones’s good technique that helped her beat last year’s first ranked wrestler in the Central Coast Section this past season. The girls put in work and are rewarded. “All wrestlers have different styles and some of the strongest and most aggressive people I’ve wrestled on this team have been girls,” Jungreis said.

The Future

At Lowell, the future is bright for girls in wrestling. Wrestling spreads by word of mouth at Lowell, according to Wise. “They love it, they tell their friends,” Wise said. “Their friends see them around school wearing their wrestling gear, and medals they earned. And that really attracts more interest to the sport.”

All this means that next season, the team will likely grow even more, but that’s not the only benefit. “The difference is most of the girls are going to be in their second year of the sport, so they will already know a thing or two about competing,” Wise said. “So I see that next season we continue to have a strong, deep girls’ wrestling team and have the numbers as the league continues to fund it as a non-league sport.”

Quinones carries the same sentiment for the future of girls’ wrestling. She aspires to influence other girls in the San Francisco section. “We can be a trailblazer,” she said. “And they can see how we have a team. And hopefully that causes girls’ wrestling at their schools to gain popularity.”

(TOP) Left to right: Wrestlers sophomore Stephanie Win, freshman Ekka Gibson, freshman Sarah Quinones, sophomore Jill Liang. (BOTTOM) Left to right: Freshman Natalie Fong, sophomore Sarah Chambers, sophomore Brittney Dare, junior Anne Chamberlain. Photo by Kiara Gil and Kelley Grade
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Girls’ wrestling grows in numbers, makes its mark in the league