All-Empire girls wrestling: Sacrifice pays off for Mihalca


The Press Democrat's All-Empire Girls Wrestler of the Year, Casa Grande senior Erika Mihalca (photo by Crista Jeremiason, The Press Democrat)

The Press Democrat’s All-Empire Girls Wrestler of the Year, Casa Grande senior Erika Mihalca (photo by Crista Jeremiason, The Press Democrat)

Erika Mihalca was obviously the Empire girls wrestler of the year. The Casa Grande High senior won her second North Coast Section championship and reached the finals in the CIF state championship meet.

Mihalca reached the section finals in four consecutive years, capping that amazing run with a championship at 131 pounds this season. Her four trips to the state tournament mean that her wrestling career almost matches her career in judo where she won national titles and starred in the Junior Olympics. She finished fourth in her weight division at the USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle Nationals in Oklahoma City to attract the attention of college wrestling coaches across the nation.

Anyone can see why Mihalca earns the Empire’s top honor. What people didn’t see is what the senior sacrificed to achieve that level of success in the most grueling high school sport.

“I couldn’t really hang out with friends because I’ve always been training or competing,” Mihalca said. “I’ve lost a lot of friends. People don’t understand what is involved in a combat sport like wrestling. They have no real idea what it’s like. So, the friends I have now are the friends I’ve had since junior high.”

Mihalca doesn’t want sympathy, though. She got exactly what she wanted out of her high school experience.

“I don’t really think I missed out on much because everything I didn’t do was replaced by things so much more important,” the senior said. “Instead of going to the river to hang out with my friends, I got to be an all-American wrestler and a section champion. I have the rest of my life to hang out and just have fun. I’d like to have spent more time with my friends since this is our last year together, but wrestling and school have been my priorities.”

After generations of the high school’s big man on campus, Mihalca is part of the second generation of athletes who’ve produced a big girl on campus — the successful athlete who builds a championship reputation.

“I try not to think of that type thing,” Mihalca said of being the big girl on campus. “At first, I competed in judo and wrestling in high school. People thought, ’She’s just a girl trying to wrestle.’ I feel like I put in so much hard work into judo and, then, in wrestling that I made a name for myself here. People just saw me as a wrestler and that’s all I wanted.”

Mihalca admitted that being a girls wrestling champion isn’t exactly the type thing that comes up easily when she meets up with friends.

“Wrestling’s more my thing than something I share with my friends. They’re supportive,” Mihalca said. “But I can’t sit around and talk about this great double-leg or some other move I’ve been working on. They have no idea what I’m talking about. They just know how much work I’ve put in. My friends are amazing.”

Mihalca is passionate about combat sports. “Wrestling is my life. It’s just fun to do, like judo is fun,” she said. “I like to spend time with my friends swimming in the ocean, no matter how cold it is. And I started sparring in mixed martial arts and a little boxing at a new gym (The Ultimate Proving Ground). I got a job showing people judo moves, self-defense, that kind of thing.”

Finishing fourth in the national tournament meant Mihalca’s original college plans got turned upside down.

“I’d applied to Cal State universities and at a couple colleges where I thought I could wrestle if I decided to wrestle in college,” she said. “I wanted to keep all my options open. Now I’m considering all the colleges that had coaches contact me after that national tournament. Wrestling is my main focus now and I’m going to try to achieve as much as I can.”

You can reach Ted Sillanpaa at 526-8623 or


Wrestler of the Year

Erica Mihalca, Casa Grande, senior

Coach of the Year

Damien Mason, Rancho Cotate

First team

101: Juliette Brown, Kelseyville, sophomore

106: Harmonie Roberts, Ukiah, senior

111: Aree Torres, Windsor, senior

116: Shaina Dowell, Maria Carrillo, junior

121: Randi McMahon, Maria Carrillo, junior

121: Angelina Canevari, Ukiah, sophomore

126: Alyssa Roberts, Ukiah, sophomore

126: Chariss Kaestner, Kelseyville, senior

143: Molly Trejo, Maria Carrillo, senior

160: Olivia Barnett, Rancho Cotate, senior

170: Cassidy Rodrigues, Rancho Cotate, senior

189: Jessica Flynn, Middletown, senior

235: Michelle Larsen, Petaluma, sophomore

235: Vickie Espinoza, Rancho Cotate, sophomore

Second team

101: Sophie Spencer, Rancho Cotate, freshman

106: Melissa Murillo, Rancho Cotate, sophomore

106: Samantha Hayman, Windsor, sophomore

111: Serenity Voboril, Ukiah, junior

116: Emily Mackey, Rancho Cotate, junior

131: Kayleigh Foltmer, Middletown, junior

131: Marina Beckwith, Willits, junior

131: Laura Schuller, Ukiah, freshman

150: Kenya Henderson, Ukiah, sophomore

160: Gabby Agendbroad, Willits, sophomore

170: Evelyn Santiago, Kelseyville, sophomore

189: Dasya Cradle, Ukiah, sophomore

235: Kim Carrillo, Windsor, sophomore

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