With the return of three standout wrestlers and an infusion of new talent and coaching, the girls’ wrestling team at Samohi is looking to take its division by storm when the season kicks off Friday.
The teams’ grunts, booms from hitting the mat and laughter are all audible before one enters Santa Monica High School’s gym on a weekday afternoon. Open the door and one may be surprised to see a 100-pound teenage girl finalizing a pin on a member of the boys’ team, but Coach Aldo Juliano said it’s not as uncommon as you may think.
Though wrestling has been traditionally considered a sport for men, Aldo said his five strong girls can be as good as anybody in the area — boy or girl — which is why he feels the team has a serious shot at contending for the CIF playoffs later this year.
Having spent most of her life sparring with her sister — a former Samohi wrestling standout — junior Rayna Prasad enters this year as the team’s most experienced competitor, and the two-time state qualifier is hoping to build on her last few seasons of success.
Like Prasad, a majority of girls on the team have experience with martial arts or other contact sports.
Fellow Samohi junior Kristena Nichols played soccer and basketball before she decided to give wrestling a shot at a school she previously attended.
“My sister did it so she and my old coach said, ‘Yeah, you should come try it out,’ and he let me borrow his shoes because I didn’t have any to practice with,” Nichols said. “Really, I just got pinned the first day the whole time.”
Many on the team can relate to Nichols’ experience of repeatedly getting beat when they first started wrestling but they refused to be defeated so easily.
Sophomore Emily Gomez said she is thankful that her dad has provided her with opportunities to do activities like wrestling because the life lessons she’s learned have shaped her development as a person.
“I would not be the person I am right now without wrestling,” added sophomore Maggie Ineno. “I was really hesitant about joining the team freshman year… but my dad said I wouldn’t regret it and now I’m glad I did.”
Ineno and others on the team said the sport has not only helped them get in shape but it’s also allowed them to practice their discipline, which is helpful in the classroom, gym and life in general.
“One thing that has really stuck with me was something my coach told us. He told us, ‘Once you’ve wrestled, the rest of your life is going to be completely easy,’ and it’s really proven true.” junior Jasmin Velasquez said. Whether it’s the psychological effect of getting back up when you’re knocked down or the discipline you learn while trying to make weight, “everything about the sport makes life not seem so hard.”
“Wrestling is super underrated,” Ineno said, “and I feel like a lot of people look at the wrestling team just as meatheads or lesbians, but we work so hard and I think it’s important for others to recognize how great it is and how much it’s helped all of us.”
Friday’s tournament at Rowland High School has been described by the team as a big tournament because some wrestlers will be traveling from out of state to compete.
“I’m nervous but I feel like now that we have a big girls team, it will be fun to go out there and compete,” Prasad said, explaining how she and her sister were usually the only girls at tournaments in years past.
Though she’s new to the team and hasn’t experienced a Samohi wrestling tournament before, freshman Taira Sakamoto did compete at the 2019 Judo Junior Olympic National Championships, which she feels will help her in the coming tournament.
“I’m really excited for the season,” Sakamoto said. “It’s going to be really fun being out there wrestling with these girls and I think we’ll have a very good year.”