Eastlake’s female wrestlers lead by example on the mat

Phillip Brents

Thu February 26, 2015 6:25pm

Stephanie Matsumuto has been involved from the start of girls wrestling in the San Diego Section and remains proud of the progress made at both the local, section and state levels in terms of the increase in participation numbers and quality of competition.
“Girls wrestling has grown tremendously,” Matsumoto said. “There were only two girls on the Eastlake team two years ago. Last year, we started with 10 and, due to injuries, we ended with five competing at CIF. 
“This year, we started with 15 girls at duplicate weights, and took eight to CIF.” This year’s San Diego Section championship meet took place, perhaps appropriately, on Valentine’s Day at Rancho Buena Vista High School. Five Eastlake wrestlers earned individual medals at the tournament, which also served as a qualifier for this year’s state championship meet Feb. 27-28 in Visalia. The Titans displayed the program’s growing prowess on the mat by qualifying three girls for the state championship meet.
Perhaps even more impressive, Eastlake procured a third-place team finish at the Feb. 14 section finals. Tourney host Rancho Buena Vista finished in first place, followed by longtime section power Steele Canyon in second place.
Moving up
Wrestling is classified as a coed sport, which means that males and females compete against each other during regular season dual meet competition. The sport remains flexible, however, with gender-specific weekend invitational tournaments and section championships.
Matsumoto, whose husband Jerry, serves as an assistant coach with the Titans program, said EHS head wrestling coach Troy Vierra has been very supportive of the girls wrestlers on the team.
“He (Vierra) works the girls just as hard as the boys and has entered them in girls tournaments,” Stephanie Matsumoto explained.
“I have found the girls to be determined in this sport. We have a young team with only three seniors.” The upsurge in participation numbers at Eastlake High School for girls wrestling is reflective overall of the growth of the sport throughout the section.
Matsumoto noted that approximately 90 girls participated in last year’s San Diego Section championship tournament. There were 132 girls registered for this year’s tournament. 
“Girls wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports in San Diego,” Matsumoto noted. “There are 30 colleges offering scholarships in the sport of women’s wresting.”
Tough enough
The top two place-finishers in each of 14 weight classes at the section finals qualified to compete at the state tournament. The top four place-finishers in the section championship meet earned medals.
Eastlake’s entrants in this year’s section championship meet included Alexis Galvadon, Elizabeth Hafen, Nina Rothenhaus, Grace Williams, Isabella Hook, Loraine Tejano, Aliyah McGuire and Venica Dael.
Hafen (123 pounds), Williams (128 pounds) and McGuire (139 pounds) each qualified to compete at the two-day state finals with second-place finishes in their respective weight classes. The Titans’ other medal-winners included Tejano, who placed third in her 145-pound weight class, and Hook, who placed fourth in her 118-pound weight class. McGuire, Tejano and Williams are all returning wrestlers.
McGuire, a junior, turned in an impressive regular season performance, in particular, with four first-place finishes in girls-only invitational tournaments. Tejano, a junior, recorded two first- and two second-place finishes, along with one third-place finish, in regular season tournaments, while Williams, a sophomore, recorded two first-place finishes and one third-place finish in regular season tournaments.
Overall, seven Metro Conference girls wrestlers qualified for this year’s state meet, and 16 South County girls wrestlers earned medals at this year’s section championship meet. Equally noteworthy, three Metro Conference teams finished among the top 10 teams at the section finals. Hilltop placed seventh, followed by San Ysidro in eighth place.
“The competition is getting a lot better,” EHS girls assistant coach Tom Williams explained. “The girls are working hard in practice, making a commitment to improve, and it’s showing on the mat.”
With an increase in participation numbers in the San Diego region, success at the state level should follow.
Matsumoto noted that the top competition in California is currently concentrated in the Orange County and Covina areas. 
“The quality of completion here is getting better and better,” Matsumoto said. “I have had more interest not only at Eastlake, but also in other schools.
 “The state brackets are as large as the boys. Unfortunately, only two girls qualify from the San Diego Section.” 
But that could change soon, especially if the Titans’ success story is any indicator.