Last year, San Francisco International High School (SFI) competed for the first time in its first generation of girls’ wrestling with a team of three wrestlers.

Now looking toward its second season with a team of five women wrestlers, the team looks to build a competitive and successful program under the direction of Head Coach Guadalupe Lopez and Assistant Coach Nick Olsen.

“I chose wrestling even though I couldn’t do it. I gave myself the high spirits to do it and that’s when I gave it ‘mas ganas,’“ said wrestler Yury Cruz, using the Spanish phrase for more energy and desire.

A senior to soon to wrestle in her second season for SFI, Cruz says, “I love wrestling because I get to know other students from other schools.”

Last season Cruz wrestled in the 114 pound weight class and hopes to compete at 110 pounds. She says, “I will get there by working hard.”

The team practices during the week for about two to three hours with the boys’ wrestling team. Sometimes the girls wrestle the boys to practice with opponents of the same weight class. However, Coach Lopez says, “We are careful who we allow to wrestle (with) other males.”

The team starts off with a light stretch, a run, and another stretch. The coaches then show the wrestlers a variety of moves to use. The wrestlers practice with each other and then end with running.

Marilyn Martinez, a second year wrestler said, “The first practice was so hard, I didn’t like it. We did a lot of running and I don’t like to run, a lot of exercise and sweating.”

Last year Marilyn qualified for state championships.  Now she says, “I like that I have to work really hard. I like that in the match it is just you and the other guy.”

Last year, the girls’ wrestling team won a state academic championship with a 3.36 grade point average as a team to just beat Castro Valley across the bay.

Athletics Director Jose Urista said, “Our big thing is for the girls to have fun and for this to be part of their high school years but also focus a lot of education and make sure they move on to college.”

Currently team members have been working on their college applications and some have had to miss practice to finish deadlines.

“It’s great to help give them a somewhat normal high school education with the extras that come with it,” said Urista. He added his goal is to, “help them navigate through this crazy system, especially when they come from their country where everything is different.”

After practice is done the team members weigh themselves to know what their weights are for competition.

“The first and biggest goal is to get everyone to feel not afraid to be out on the mat,” said Coach Olsen.  “It’s really freaking intimidating the first time you go out in spandex on the mat.”

Recently John O’Connell High School hosted a novice tournament for beginners.

“I feel really nervous and my body starts shaking before I start,” said Josselyn Juarez. “But when it starts, I calm down and focus on winning.” Exhausted after the match, Juarez said, “I learned today that I need to go more to practice.”

Another lesson is that wrestling can be a dangerous sport.  Coach Lopez recalled that before Josselyn’s first match she said she was so scared that “I’m not going out there.”  But she competed, and in the match she broke her opponent’s ankle.

Yet another challenge is constant fatigue.  Tania Cruz, who is a freshman and the sister of Yury Cruz, said after a match, “I feel very tired. I have never wrestled in an official match.” But she is learning how to condition herself and as a result, she says, “I feel more confident to wrestle now.”

Despite such a training regimen, there’s still no guarantee the team will pin down a title.

“We are interested to see how the second year goes,” Coach Lopez said. “There is a lot of potential for success this year but you can’t gauge anything off a few months’ work.” Lopez also said, “Normally you don’t see what your program is going do up until midway through the season, and then you see who is going make that push.”

But the wrestlers give the coaching staff high points.

Said second-year wrestler Marilyn Martinez, “He (Lopez) knows what he is teaching and has a lot of patience. He is strict but it’s fun during practice. He is creative in our training. He is always supporting us.”

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