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December 23, 2009 > Newark wrestlers take gold at tourney

Newark wrestlers take gold at tourney

By Gary van den Heuvel
Photos By Mike Heightchew

Newark Memorial High School's girls wrestling team entered the Castro Valley Girls Classic with a high expectation of success: "We're here to retain first place," said coach Bill Choate before the event began on Saturday, Dec. 19, at Castro Valley High.

Last year, the Cougars won the event, but this year they had to settle for a third-place finish against what Choate called "very solid competition." Sedro-Wolley High School, a school in Washington state, made the trip to California and won the overall team competition in impressive fashion with 142 points (Newark scored 99). Jesse Bethel High School came in second.

"It was a tough tournament," said Choate. "We didn't have our best day."

Newark's star at the 155-pound level, returning state champion Alyssa Hess, certainly did her part, winning her three matches - two by pin; one by decision - to take the gold medal in her division.

"I feel good, I went out there and did my thing," said Hess after her win.

Hess was one of two Cougar gold medallists. Daniel Guzman won the 190-pound division, which was contested as a round-robin rather than as an elimination tournament.

The biggest winner of the day may have been the sport of girls high school wrestling. An event of this size, drawing well over 100 competitors, some from as far away as Reed High School in Sparks, Nevada (Shanice Vernon, who is the only girl on Reed's wrestling team) and even Hawaii (Kahuku High School, who finished 10th), would have been unthinkable 10 or 15 years ago.

Choate estimates that girls wrestling programs are experiencing an average growth rate of 10 percent yearly. The Newark girls team has been "in the works for five years," according to the coach. "It started in junior high with five girls, six years ago."

Not every school in the Mission Valley Athletic League (MVAL) can field a full roster for girls wrestling, so as in the case of Siwen Dickstein, girls who want to compete usually wrestle with the boys. Siwen, who turned 17 on the day of the event, is the only girl on the Mission San Jose High School team. She traveled to the Castro Valley tournament with the Newark team.

"People think that because I've wrestled in boys tournaments, they say, 'You must be really good,' but I find that with girls, and different body types, there's different techniques," said Siwen. In her experience, she's observed that boys rely more on their upper body strength, whereas girls use their hips and fundamental techniques more.

Newark's Elizabeth Clements got into wrestling when a P.E. teacher told her she had the legs for wrestling. She admitted that sometimes she gets raised eyebrows when she tells people she's a wrestler: "They're kind of like, 'Why? It's manly.' "

In Alyssa Hess's case, she's been around wrestling her whole life. Her father Tim is the head coach of Newark Memorial's boys team. "I've always been interested in it; gone to the tournaments; and hung out with the boys. In junior high, I started to wrestle," she said.

Hess, who has a scholarship to play water polo at Azusa Pacific (in Southern California), made an early commitment to the sport when she quit soccer during junior high school so that she could wrestle.

"As good as she is at water polo," said coach Choate, "she's twice as good at wrestling."

Other notable results included a second-place finish by Newark's Paige Nativadad in the 99-pound division; Tennyson High School's Megan McAndrew finished fourth in the 166-pound division, and sixth place finishes by Lisa Tran (104 pounds) and Mikka Anderson (236 pounds); and American High School's Christine Lam took seventh (123 pounds).

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