New Sports Drawing Girls in Capital, Santa Fe High | Sports
EExhaustion flowed from Alyssa Sandoval’s pores as she tried to finish her first wrestling match.
Sandoval’s saving grace was that she could see the same about her opponent, and that was the motivation she needed to keep going.
Sandoval normally played basketball during the winter at Capital, but the junior has decided to give wrestling a try this season. Her first game was at Capital’s Jaguar Invitational on December 4, and she faced Los Alamos’ Claire Bullock, who had a year of experience in the sport as a freshman in 2019-20.
It wasn’t a good start, as Sandoval fell 7-1 behind early in the second period, as his inexperience showed. In her quest for motivation, she found it in the panting breath of her opponent.
“I couldn’t breathe, I was dying,” Sandoval said. “But then I’m going to look at her and she was a little tired too.” Then I was like, ‘OK’, and then every muscle and bone in my body was trying to get it [down on the mat]. “
Sandoval didn’t win, but she put in a respectable performance as she came to the end of the match, which Bullock won, 10-5. At that time, Sandoval said she knew she had found her calling.
“I felt I could do something here,” Sandoval said.
It helped him recover to take the top spot in the 114-pound division, thanks to a pin from Los Alamos’ Jalyn Gould in his second game. She was one of five wrestlers to finish on the podium for Capital during her competition.
With girls wrestling in their sophomore year as a state sanctioned sport, Capital and Santa Fe High are starting to attract competitors. Sandoval is one of eight wrestlers on Capital’s program, while Santa Fe High is two.
Even though the sport has been around for four years – the first two years were an exhibition sport before the New Mexico Activities Association sanctioned it – this year’s totals represent the first time that the two largest public high schools from Santa Fe have participants.
Marcos Gallegos, Capital’s head wrestling coach, said he brought out a wrestler during the truncated spring season – junior Nisa Gallegos (unrelated) – but she got injured to the shoulder and could not compete. He’s made a concerted effort to recruit female wrestlers, cheering on students in his physical education classes he teaches and setting up a lunchtime booth to generate interest.
It’s not an easy sale, said Gallegos.
“It was a pleasant surprise that these girls were ready to come in and embrace this job,” said Gallegos. “I mean, we have a lot of guys who just can’t handle the training or the constant training and the physicality of the sport.”
Santa Fe High head coach Lucas Trujillo said Eden Sladery and Alana Jaurez-Acevedo had wrestling experience and sought him out to join the team.
Sladery won the 107-pound division in the Capital encounter, while Juarez-Acevedo was second. She finished third at the Rio Hondo Scruffle on December 18.
“These two girls are pretty good,” Trujillo said. “They’re holding up and they’re way better than any girl I’ve taught before.”
Coach Gallegos and his team teach a mixed group of veterans and newcomers. The only virtue he has learned is patience, as he tries to explain basic wrestling terminology and technique.
“We use the KISS technique – keep it simple, stupid,” Marcos Gallegos said. “So a lot of our technique is really basic. This first month of November, where we don’t have any competition, we went a little slower to set up the technique and keep it really basic.
Veterans like Nisa Gallegos and Maliyah Maes, who were on the squad in 2019-20 before missing spring due to the pandemic, are doing their part to help inexperienced wrestlers learn and grow.
Nisa Gallegos said the repetition of similar concepts and techniques has been a blessing.
“I forget some moves, but when we come back to it it helps me learn it,” said Nisa Gallegos. “Then when I’m in a game, I just remember rehearsing and rehearsing stuff, so I’m more confident to do it.”
Maes said she helped recruit Sandoval for wrestling as the two are good friends and teammates on the volleyball team.
Sandoval worked with the wrestling program during the sports physical education class, which made it easier for him to sell his membership.
Once that happened, Maes said other teammates and friends have shown some interest in wrestling, but she’s hoping they will come out at some point – even this year.
“There was one of our other volleyball players there, and she told me she was going to try it,” Maes said. “She said she wanted to do it in her freshman year, but softball was her priority. She was so close to doing it.
Sandoval said trying a new sport was intriguing and that coach Gallegos was willing to let her continue to participate in club volleyball, which she does all winter.
She added that she doesn’t hesitate to ask questions when she doesn’t understand a concept or technique, and she has found that other new wrestlers are doing the same.
“The coaches will explain something to me, and there are times when they explain it and I’m like, ‘OK, I don’t know what you are saying,'” said Sandoval. “Like when you say, ‘Turn over here’ or ‘turn over there’ or ‘take over here. The girls who have experience, or even the boys too, come and explain it differently and that helps me.
Sandoval said the first few weeks of training were revealing in terms of conditioning.
She said that volleyball and basketball activities usually train the legs and shoulders, but wrestling is a full body workout – even in practice.
“I thought I was fit for other sports,” Sandoval said. “Then you come to the wrestling and I’m like ‘Dude, I’m out of shape at all!’ “
Coach Gallegos said some of his wrestlers have the potential to do well in the state tournament in February, but cautioned against saying who and how many might get there.
Sandoval said it would be nice to be one of those state placers, but she thinks next year might be her chance to bring some gear home.
For now, she and her new teammates are keeping it simple.
“We always say to ourselves, ‘OK, this week we have to invest 110%,” Sandoval said. “Then next Monday comes up and we’re like, ‘OK, this week we actually have to invest 110%. We always try to push each other, to reach that 110%. “