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Girls wrestling: A league of their own

By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ukiah High’s two-time North Coast Section champion Harmonie Roberts says there’s more to the growth of girls wrestling locally than her amazing success.

Harmonie Roberts, left, gets a hold of teammate Serenity Voboril during wrestling practice at Ukiah High School on Tuesday.

Harmonie Roberts, left, gets a hold of teammate Serenity Voboril during wrestling practice at Ukiah High School on Tuesday. (ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

“I think the talent in girls wrestling is improving everywhere,” the Wildcats’ junior said as she prepares for the North Bay League season that will feature a separate girls league for the first time. “There weren’t a whole lot of girls when I was younger, but now colleges have girls wrestling teams. There are women in the world championships. There are a lot more girls wrestling at schools here than before.”

Ukiah’s girls program is growing.

See photos of  Roberts here

“We had eight or nine girls last year,” Roberts said. “We’ve got 19 girls out this year and we really are out looking for more. It’s a great sport because it gets you fit and, I think, even girls who just come out and try it wind up loving wrestling because it’s a totally new experience and they all start really wanting to compete.”

Roberts started wrestling at 9, then made her high school varsity debut as a freshman wrestling against varsity boys who also weighed just over 100 pounds. She has no complaints about inter-gender matches that are a thing of the past now that the NBL has a girls wrestling league.

“I’ve never thought there was any problem with a boy and girl wrestling,” Roberts said. “It’s a competition. People act like a boy is going to grab a girl or something, but that doesn’t happen. They just want to win. No boy wants to lose to a girl, so they just go out and compete. It’s not like people think it is.”

The days of girls wrestling boys have all but disappeared. Roberts suffered a broken collarbone and ligament damage in action after her freshman season.

“I don’t wrestle boys now because of the risk of reinjuring myself,” she said, noting that it took two surgeries to get her back on the mat. “I miss wrestling boys. But having girls wrestle against girls does reduce the possibility of injuries. I just miss training with the guys. They were like family to me. But, now, the girls are becoming like family.”

Roberts began as a wrestling partner for her younger sister.

“I got into it. I really started to like wrestling,” she said. “I like that it’s one person out there on their own. If you lose, it’s on you. If you win, you can keep the success for yourself.”

Roberts arrived at Ukiah aware that she had a bright future in the sport.

“After my freshman year, though, I started to see that I was really pretty good,” she said about a season that ended with her finishing eighth in the U.S. freestyle championships in North Dakota. “I knew that I could do more, though.”

After wrestling through the “aches and pains” that followed her surgery and rehabilitation, Roberts followed her freshman year NCS title with a section crown at 103 pounds as a sophomore. She is among the top-ranked wrestlers in her weight category in various rankings gathered throughout the United States.

“I don’t look at the rankings. I’m not into that,” she said. “I’d rather just treat every match like I’m wrestling somebody for the first time. If it’s somebody who’s ranked really high, I want to beat them and show I’m as good as they are. If I lose to a ranked wrestler, it just makes me want to work harder.”

Roberts is doing more than working hard with the Ukiah girls team this season. She’s setting the tone for the team coached by her father, Shane Roberts.

“I feel pressure to set a good example for all the girls on the team. So I work really hard every day at practice,” she said. “At practice, I try to show the girls who are still new to the sport what really hard work in practice is. I don’t think they know what goes into wrestling at a higher level. So I work as hard as I can and show them.”

Roberts doesn’t rely on brute strength to win.

“I think my technique is the key for my success,” she said. “Big muscles are nice, but great technique is what wins matches.”

She hopes to improve her mental approach to the sport.

“I need to be more aggressive,” she admitted. “Sometimes I’m really aggressive, but sometimes I’m not. I’m confident before all my matches, but aggression isn’t something you can just learn. So I’m working on it.”

Roberts spends about four hours a day wrestling or conditioning to wrestle. She gets “pretty good grades,” with her eyes solidly set on a collegiate career.

“I’ll probably wrestle at 101 pounds in college, so I’ll wrestle there in some meets this high school year,” she said. “I can wrestle at a heavier weight, but I want college coaches to know I can cut weight and wrestle at 101.”

Ted Sillanpaa can be reached at ted.sillanpaa@pressdemocrat.com.