Selma High School teammates Gracie Figueroa and Alleida Martínez – the nation’s top-ranked female wrestlers and three-time state champions – officially signed to Menlo College last night (Jan. 29).
The pair of undefeated wrestlers were surrounded by more than 50 friends and family in a tearful signing ceremony at Selma High School. Martínez is top-ranked nationally and in the state in the 117-pound weight class, while Figueroa is No. 1 on both charts at 122 pounds.
Numerous wrestling programs throughout the country, including Fresno State, which doesn’t even have a women’s program, were interested in signing the two wrestlers.
“It’s just crazy. My last year of high school; it’s kind of sad. The best thing was winning state as a team, we’ve never done that before,” said Martínez.
“I’m actually excited to see what’s in store for me in the next chapter. I’m going to try and make the Olympic Team; and win the national title,” said Figueroa.
To date, Figueroa, 18, is 106-0 in her high school career, and Martínez, 17, is 72-0, according to Selma High girl’s wrestling coach Andy Múñoz.
Both earned full scholarships to compete for the Menlo College Oaks, currently the nation’s No. 4-ranked women’s wrestling team. The private, liberal arts college in the Bay area, just north of Stanford, has an enrollment of about 800. (Selma High’s enrollment is about 1,000).
Menlo coach Joey Bareng was happy with the girls’ choice.
“I think it’s the growth from where we came from,” said Bareng. “Five years ago, we were dead last in the rankings, now we are in it to win it. I think seeing that growth, and the other part is that we’re the only school in California.”
Menlo College is an NAIA school, but all collegiate women wrestlers compete against each other under the Women’s College Wrestling Association (WCWA).
Prior to Menlo, Figueroa and Martínez will attempt to make history by becoming the third and fourth female wrestlers to win four consecutive state titles since the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) officially began recognizing females in the sport in 2011.
Nine years ago, Figueroa and Martínez were competing against boys because of a lack of female athletes. Since then, they have competed in Bosnia Herzegovina and Canada, among other countries. Figueroa’s bio includes a bronze medal from the world championships, three junior Fargo national titles, a Cadet Fargo national title, and multiple appearances as a World Team member.
Martínez’s bio is equally impressive: It includes World Team membership, a bronze and silver medal from the Cadet World Championships, a Body Bar national titleholder and Cadet junior and folkstyle championships.
The two met in the junior ranks of Selma’s community wrestling program, but later committed to becoming a package deal for their choice in colleges.
“Since our freshman year, we knew we were going to be together. Like we said, we could have gone to any college that has women’s wrestling,” said Figueroa, who is undeclared at Menlo, but wants to become a registered nurse. “But I’m going to miss it here. I still feel like I’m going to come back here. I’m going to miss high school. I’m ready to begin my new chapter in college.”
Martínez, who is also undeclared at Menlo, but would like to become a physical therapist, is a former basketball, track and field and cross country athlete. Martínez’s road to the state finals was rough: After appendicitis surgery as a sophomore and an ankle injury as a junior, she returned to win her second and third state titles.
“Right now it doesn’t feel like it, but once I get to state, all the emotions are going to happen because I’ll finally realized this is the last time I’m going to be here,” said Figueroa, who is excited about applying for her driver’s license.
“It’s pretty hard because everyone wants to go after you, but you just always have to be prepared for what’s coming. I get it, they want to beat me, but I never go out there saying that I’m the best, and no one’s going to beat me.”
“It’s my dream come true. I’ve sacrificed so much. I’ve fed all these kids like they were my own,” said Frances Santillán, Figueroa’s mother.
Santillán is also a team mother to the Bears’ squad. Her son is Richard Figueroa, the state’s top-ranked 106-pounder on the Selma High boy’s team. Santillán, a single mom and a custodian at Fresno City College, picked strawberries and cleaned houses throughout their kid’s lives to send them to tournaments. She has sold shirts at roadsides fundrasing for the team. Clubs have helped both athletes fit the bill for tournaments.
“They’re really humble. When they step on the mat, that’s the goal (state championship). The other two four-time champions were not undefeated, so Gracie and Alleida, if they win, would be undefeated,” said Múñoz.
Múñoz said it’s difficult to fill the spots, but Jerzie Estrada, a junior, last season’s California state champion and a second title in Colorado, could lead the squad next season. The Selma girl’s also finished first in last year’s team standings at state.
Figueroa and Martínez follow Selma’s first female wrestlers Biridiana Mendoza and Crystal Padilla in 2010. Mendoza also attended Menlo College a short time, but Padilla left the sport her junior season at Selma High because of injury.
Former Valencia wrestler Gabrielle García won four-straight high school titles from 2013 through 2016.
Alyssa LaFrancis, of West Covina-Poway-Rancho Buena Vista won from 2012 through 2015. The girl’s state finals are Feb. 23 and Feb. 24 at the Visalia Convention Center.