Girls wrestling: Five Empire stars place at CIF state championships


Five local wrestlers placed in the CIF Girls’ State Wrestling Championships after Saturday’s concluding matches in Visalia, where two finalists were of local stock and one match made school history.

Harmonie Roberts from Ukiah and Erika Mihalca of Casa Grande both reached the finals in the 106- and 131-pound matches, respectively.

Roberts, who had lost just one match this season, fell to Cadence Lee of Palo Alto’s Gunn High School. Lee is a member of the U.S. World Team.

“I felt like she was beatable,” Roberts said. “My semifinal match was my tough match. I told myself that if I lost (against Lee), I couldn’t beat myself up too much. I fought really hard.”

No. 3 seed Mihalca fell 7-0 in the final match against Erica Sotelo, a wrestler she had previously beaten in the North Coast Section meet.

“It was just the other girl’s day,” coach Isaac Reya said. “She (Mihalca) loves wrestling and she’s going to keep wrestling.”

Reya said Mihalca will have plenty of opportunities in the future.

“Right now, she’s just got to lick her wounds,” Reya said. “This loss will be a little heavy for her. She’s a great kid and I know she’s got that intangible element that will make her successful.”

Petaluma’s Michelle Larsen turned heads in the 235-pound weight class when she pinned No. 1 seed Leimai Tausaga in the first 25 seconds of the opening round.

“One of the fastest pins of the weekend,” Petaluma coach Denny Plyler said. “It was big time and it gave her a lot of confidence.”

After dropping to the consolation bracket, Larsen worked her way to the semifinals and found herself in a familiar position against Vickie Espinoza of Rancho Cotate.

“It was a weird Saturday for her to end up in a match with an opponent from seven miles away who had her number for the first three in a row,” Plyler said.

Espinoza, who fell in the semifinals, had won the three previous matches against Larsen this season.

“I just had to put the past behind me and focus on that match,” Larsen said.

Espinoza and Larsen, both sophomores, will likely face each other again someday, but Larsen’s 3-2 win Saturday made her the first wrestler — boy or girl — to return with a medal this weekend. She was also awarded one of the 14 sportsmanship awards for “Pursuing Victory with Honor” that were handed out on Saturday.

“She is the epitome of the ambassador for this sport,” Plyler said. “It’s icing on the cake.”

Maria Carrillo’s Molly Trejo also placed, defeating Jade Le, a senior from San Leandro, to finish fifth at 143 pounds.

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