Holtville High School junior Hope Jesse throws freshman teammate Kate Grizzle to the mat during girls wrestling practice in Holtville. With 16 girls out for wrestling this is the first time in school history the Vikings will field a full girls wrestling team. | MEGAN JONES PHOTO
HOLTVILLE — For the first time in Holtville High School’s more than 100-year history, a girls wrestling team is ready to hit the mat.
In previous years a few girls would join the boys team to practice and participate in tournaments, but never has the interest in girls wrestling been as high as it is this year.
With an influx of six freshman plus some upperclassmen who’d never given wrestling a try, the Vikings have 16 girls on the team this year. And by the looks of things, they might find some early success.
“I always thought that once some girls commit it could take off, but honestly I was kind of surprised it took off this year,” said C.J. Johnston, head coach for Holtville’s wrestling program. “I never thought we would have this many girls. It poses some good issues we have to work out, but we just have to be strategic for practice times.”
The Vikings took part in the Matador Girls Invitational at Mount Miguel High School in Spring Valley in mid-November and found success on the mat.
“I think going to that first tournament and some of them ended up placing kind of motivated all of them a little bit,” Johnston said. “They came back and all of them seem real eager to learn.”
Senior Danitza Sandoval won the 116-pound division at the tournament and freshman Elah Castro took first place in the 170-pound division. Junior Hope Jesse took second place in the 150-pound division while sophomore Ixchel Gomez (235 pounds) and freshman Kate Grizzle (143 pounds) both finished third in their respective divisions.
“I was extremely terrified in my first match,” said the 14-year-old Grizzle. “Before the match I just tried to keep moving and talk to my coach about what moves I was going to do.”
Her moves worked as Grizzle pinned her opponent in 38 seconds.
“I was so surprised. It was such a big relief,” Grizzle said.
Johnston said there are enough girls at the right weight classes that he thinks the young squad could fare well when it comes time for the CIF championships.
“We’ve got some girls that are pretty athletic and could do pretty well when it comes time for CIF,” Johnston said. “From what I’m hearing, the numbers for girls wrestling are up here in the Valley.”
With most of his attention focused on the boys wrestling program, Johnston has summoned the help of Holtville alum Richard Sanchez to help with the girls team. Sanchez coached his daughter Raven in the 2000s when she was the only female wrestler for Holtville.
“He (Sanchez) would take his daughter to the (CIF) Southern Section tournaments back then when girls wrestling wasn’t as popular as it is now,” Johnston said. “We’ve kind of always had a girl here or there that wanted to wrestle but never a full team like we have now.”
Grizzle said being part of history is something she’ll always have and she knows the focus needed for wrestling will help her with other sports and throughout life.
“It has made me think a lot about my health when it comes to weighing in and what weight class I’m in. Nutrition is such a big part of it,” Grizzle said. “It’s such an honor to be part of the first girls wrestling team. The girls and coaches are so supportive.”