For intensity, Rancho’s Aggio can’t be beat

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

ROHNERT PARK — As Kayla Aggio is hitting her stride, talking quickly now about how wrestling takes hold of her, how she gets in this penetrating trance, how she becomes this different person, goose bumps rise.

Not in her. In me. Watching. Listening. It’s Sunday, five days before the state wrestling meet in Lemoore, and I see about as pure an athlete as I have ever seen, as pure in intent and joy as anyone. Sitting in her parents’ living room, the Rancho Cotate junior said she’s ready to go. Right now. Right here. She looks at the carpet in her living room as if it were the mat, a mat without an opponent. I almost offer my body up for the greater good, a practice dummy as it were.

“When I get through wrestling someone,” said Aggio, the defending state champion in the 132-pound weight class, “I want her to be so scared she’ll never want to wrestle me again.”
That has happened. She can see it in the eyes. That they would rather be somewhere else. They heard the stories, of course. One opponent this season suffered a concussion, another a dislocated elbow. Both were accidents but the stories gain traction nonetheless in the close-knit wrestling community. Before a match, opposing coaches will ask Rancho’s coach, Gary Soto, what weight class Aggio will be wrestling at that night, so as to put a better wrestler in another weight class. Aggio has competed in the 132s, the 138s, the 146s. At state this weekend, Aggio will wrestle at 138. Of course Soto won’t respond. This is competition, not a social club.

“Her name is out there,” Soto said, referring to college wrestling coaches who know about Aggio. It would be difficult not to see her on the radar. She’s unbeaten the last two years, riding a 48-0 streak. She has pinned 18 of her 24 opponents this year. Aggio, 17, won NCS the weekend before last. She has beaten girls who went on to receive college scholarships. And even without knowing her resume, Aggio creates a unique profile standing there just before a match.

“If I was walking down a dark alley,” Aggio said, “and I saw someone walking toward me with that look I have, I’d walk the other way.”
Her father, David, describes that look as “blank, unemotional, like she is looking through you.”

It’s frightful, both father and daughter agreed, frightful in that there is no give, no compassion, not even an eye-blink. Like staring into a void — but the void is staring back. David has never videotaped Kayla before a match, first because it’s a tradition and the second …

“I wouldn’t want to see my daughter with that look on tape,” her father said.
Aggio will take off her sweats, drop them to the floor. David will pick them up, without a word. Soto will stand by, also wordless.

“Many times before a match you’ll see coaches talking to their girls right before they go into the ring,” Soto said. “Not us (she and David). There’s nothing to say.”
While putting on her headgear, Aggio will look at her opponent.

“My face gets hot,” she said.
If the opponent doesn’t look at her, she’s offended. If the opponent looks right at her, she’s offended.

“Either way,” she said, “it gets me pumped up.”
Only a warrior, a true warrior, says something like that. Where she gets it? She doesn’t know. But she can feel it, when Kayla Aggio ceases to become a high school student, when she can feel “the switch turn inside me,” releasing one of human beings most elemental of emotions — “I become a mean person. I want to bend and destroy the will of my opponent.”
I casually mention she should have played football for the Cougars.

“Sometimes Kayla forgets that she’s a girl,” her dad said.
That is due in no small part to having wrestled her brother, Julian, so many times on the family carpet. Five years older and up to 20 pounds heavier, Julian never gave her sister slack because she was family. That attitude, and the sport, light a fuse in her. At 7, Kayla started with Julian, then morphed to wrestling boys when she was in the seventh and eighth grade at now-defunct Mountain Shadows Middle School. She practices against the boys every chance she gets, wrestles Julian every chance they get, which is now once a year when he is on leave from the Navy.

Aggio said she wouldn’t be the wrestler she is now without facing all that testosterone. There is, however, one downside. Aggio has been warned numerous times by officials she is just about to cross a fine line by being too aggressive. The action that precipitates such a warning is a little slap or tug or clench to end a move on the mat.

“If it occurred in a boys match, the ref wouldn’t notice,” her father said. “But in a girls match, he does.”
All of which leads to this weekend where she fully expects to use every testosterone-driven experience and every warrior vibe.

“I just know there’ll be a match that will really test me,” Aggio said.
It was almost as if she was hoping there will be. That’s one of the reasons why she’ll be competing in the U.S. Nationals in Oklahoma City March 25-26.
“Just one time I would like to wrestle in the 132s, 138s and the 146s all in the same tournament,” she said. “I like to be tested.”

You can make a case that hasn’t happened yet.
“This is my slack year,” Aggio said.
Her slack year is going 24-0, with those 18 pins, the NCS title and only three points scored against her. That’s like a pitcher throwing 21 no-hitters and three one-hitters.
“I give her the recipe as a coach,” Soto said, “and it’s up to her to cook it. And she has cooked it very well.”

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.