Female wrestlers on the move toward state title

Katie Kraft is a wrestler.

Excelling in a male-dominated sport gives her confidence.

The same is true for her Lincoln teammate, Jéssica Rodríguez, and Edison's Gabriela Guzmán. Each won a Sac-Joaquín Section title in her weight class last week, and they are preparing together, along with other wrestlers and coaches, inside the east gymnasium at Sierra Middle School for the CIF State Girls Wrestling Invitational Championships on Feb. 22-23 in Lemoore. They hope to duplicate the feat of Edison's Clover Esquivel, who last year became the first girls wrestler from a Stockton-area high school to win a state championship.

"It motivates me to know that if I keep following this then I will be able to say later on that I did something most girls don't do, and I was able to overcome a lot of things," said Kraft, a senior and the section champion in the 189-pound weight class. "The determination I use here, I use outside.

"It feels good. I like to show the guys I'm just as good as they are, and I can put them in their place if I have to."

Kraft, like many wrestlers regardless of gender, has shown dedication and resilience. The demands of wrestling, the twisting of body parts and sometimes being lifted and thrown by an opponent, create the potential for a variety of injuries. Kraft suffered a back injury her freshman season in a dual match against Tracy and broke her collar bone at the section meet her sophomore season. She went through hours of physical therapy and said swimming and playing water polo helped strengthen her arms.

Last season, Kraft came back from her injuries and finished fourth at the section meet to qualify for the state meet, where she finished fifth. Last weekend, she pinned all of her opponents and won her first section title, improving to 16-2 this season.

"Katie's a great wrestler. She's focused, especially this year." Lincoln second-year coach Albert Alonzo said. "Last year, she went all the way to the semis and she was surprised to go that far. She's calm and determined and at the same time, she has that little edge to her. She'll wrestle hard all the way through."

Kraft started wrestling when she was 8 years old. She and Rodriguez, who started when she was 7 years old, met up in the junior ranks and have been friends ever since. Rodríguez, a junior, has 30 wins this season, all by pin. She earned her third section title and third trip to the state meet last weekend.

"I just take what my coaches teach me and if I'm up on points, I always like to go for the pin," said Rodríguez, who wrestles at 146 pounds. "I like to throw. That's basically what I do."

Last year at the state meet, Rodríguez bruised the meniscus and strained the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee during her last match on the first day of competition. She tried to wrestle the second day, but the knee was too damaged for her to win.

"I always knew I was going to come back," she said. "I went to therapy and did my best to come back to wrestling."

Alonzo believes she can go far at the state meet.

"She has a ton of potential," he said. "This year, she just wants to compete. I think she'll do well, as long as she stays focused. She has a great opportunity to take first or go into the finals."

Guzmán had tears in her eyes when she won the section title at 165 pounds last weekend with a 12-1 major decision over Alyssa Cantu of Weston Ranch in the championship match. Guzmán has had two knee surgeries and the meniscus has been removed from her right knee. Earning her first section title as a senior brought out her emotions.

"When I had realized I had won, I started crying when I got off the mat because it sort of hit me, and my coaches were like, 'Why are you crying?' " said Guzmán, who is 35-1 this season. "I said, 'After four years, I finally won this tournament.' This is one of the biggest tournaments I wanted to win."

Guzmán is working hard to finish her high school career with a strong showing at the state meet.

"It's really hard and ... I expect it to be hard, so that's why I'm here getting help from all these coaches, especially Lincoln, Bear Creek, all these different coaches, Tokay," Guzmán said. "They're all here to help me out. They all think that I'm going to do it, and I hope I do it and not let anybody down. But (the) state meet's going to be hard."

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