The Del Norte girls wrestling team had a strong showing at the inaugural Humboldt-Del Norte Girls Wrestling Championships on Saturday in Eureka.
All of the Warriors fought their way to a top three finish to receive a medal while six of the seven Del Norte girls advanced all the way to the finals. Del Norte ended up with a pair of individual champions to go along with four more runners up in their respective weight classes on the way to a second place team finish behind Eureka.
“We work well as a team. Everybody helps everybody, and all the girls encourage each other,” said Del Norte girls coach Heath Schaad. “We perform together and even when we lose one their teammates pick them back up and they come back hard in the next round. This was truly a team effort by these girls. They did phenomenally. I can’t be happier with them.
“What really stands out is that we put six our of our seven wrestlers into the finals. I told the girls before the tournament that the top three go (to NCS). That isn’t really true because everyone qualifies for the NCS tournament for girls, but I told them they had to be in the top three because I wanted to push them. Everybody went out and finished in the top three.”
The final round of the HDN championships was almost like a dual meet between the top two teams in the league, as each of the Warriors’ six finalists were matched up against a wrestler from Eureka for a chance at a white star and a league title.
“We wrestled Eureka today, pretty much in all of our finals matches,” Schaad said. “We have known for a while that Eureka is an outstanding team. When we faced off against Eureka in our dual at home we did not do well at all, but today we wrestled a lot better. We still made some mistakes, but they wrestled a lot better and it was nothing but smiles today for all of these girls.”
A pair of Warriors managed to come through to claim an individual championship with Autumn Turner taking the 170 pound title while wrestling up a weightclass, and Danika Scott dominating the 235 pound bracket.
“It means so much,” Scott said. “I have been working so hard all season for this and I am really happy that it came together to where I could win.”
Turner, a sophomore, is the only female wrestler with previous high school match experience this season but Saturday’s HDN Championships were still a completely new experience for her.
“I was so nervous before the finals match that I was puking — if I stopped moving I puked,” Turner said. “It was awful, I was super nervous. Actually one of the kids from Fortuna — Levi Nyberg — helped me through it, along with my teammates of course. It is just crazy to think about it because that is my first first-place finish. It means the world to me. I’m so thankful for all the work the coaches have put into us.”
In the finals, Turner was matched up against a fairly familiar opponent from Eureka.
“It was rough. She is strong,” Turner said of her finals match up. “I have wrestled her before three times and she had beaten me twice — now we are 2-2. I am a defensive wrestler and I was just able to capitalize on a couple of her mistakes. Her hand came up and I was able to run the half and get my weight back far enough to pin her.”
Scott was also familiar with her finals opponent heading into the match, but the Warrior junior was undefeated against her this season. Scott said she got off to a bit of a shaky start, but managed to pull through and record a win by fall with 27 seconds left in the first period.
“At first I thought I was going to be able to pin her quickly, but I realized that she has gotten a lot stronger,” Scott said. “I started to get worried for a minute, but I took a couple deep breaths and just did it. I stopped thinking about it so much and just let it happen.”
Scott is one of the six Del Norte wrestlers to kick off her high school wrestling career this season — the first year the Warriors have had a stand alone girls team.
“I have wanted to try (wrestling) in the past, but since it was all boys I didn’t know if I would do OK,” Scott said. “When they announced that they were putting together an all girls team I thought I should try it, because it is something different, something I haven’t done yet. I was really looking forward to it.”
Scott has been one of the top wrestlers on the girls team all season long, and she said she has been enjoying her first year in the sport.
“It is so much fun,” Scott said. “It is a lot of hard work, but it is really fun and it is addicting. When you get your first win it like, ‘I can’t quit now.’ I’ve gotten a lot stronger-minded. It is really challenging physically, but it is more of a mental challenge to get through it.”
In addition to two individual champions, Del Norte had four girls take second place in their respective weight classes including Jenny Schaad (113), Claire Taylor (133), Hailey Stover (145) and Ashley Turner (189).
Heath Schaad said Stover had a particularly impressive first match of the day, beating a wrestler from McKinleyville in the semifinals who had beaten Stover handily during the Warriors’ dual against the Panthers this season.
“The girl she wrestled earlier in the year beat her up, and she came back and beat her easily in the first round,” Schaad said. “It is really cool to see things like that where you can see the improvement. She was nervous before the match, and I told her, ‘You have come a long ways.’ We went out there and we showed how hard we have worked.”
Emily Ricks also wrestled well in her semifinal match in the 123 pound bracket, jumping out to a lead against a strong wrestler from Eureka before ultimately being knocked out of the bracket.
“She went out against a very good wrestler,” Schaad said. “Emily was nervous, but she went out there and was actually winning the match. She ended up getting turned, but that is wrestling. She ended up in third place, and I will take third.”
Although the Del Norte girls team has been to a couple larger tournaments this season, the HDN championships are what the squad has been working towards since practice began.
“I tell the girls that this is just another tournament, but it is not,” Schaad said. “This is for white stars and this is what they have been working for all year. I think there was a little panic in there and we got caught doing a couple things that we shouldn’t have done in some matches, but overall we just got second place in the HDN in our first year ever.
“We put six out of our seven wrestlers to the finals and six of them are in their first year of (folkstyle) wrestling. Today was just outstanding. All the girls are going home happy and I am ecstatic with them.”
Autumn Turner said she can hardly believe how much improvement the team has shown throughout the season.
“The team has done amazing this year — I don’t think I can even put into words how amazing they have done,” she said. “The girls have all come such a long ways.”
Postseason wrestling will continue for the Del Norte girls next week as the team heads down to Albany for the North Coast Section Championships. The NCS tournament will be the largest tournament so far this season, and the first two-day tournament of the year for the Warrior girls.
“I think there is going to be some shock and awe this weekend,” Schaad said. “They are going to see this big arena and all these mats. They all saw Liberty, which was a big tournament as well, but this one will be bigger. For the girls this will be the first two-day tournament. I’ve already told them, ‘You have to make weight both days.’”
Schaad said the key for the Warriors will be to listen to the coaches during matches, and to wrestle within themselves.
“We are going to go over our listening skills out there,”
Schaad said. “It is hard to get their attention sometimes when they are out there, their adrenalin is running, and it’s hard to hear me. We just want to wrestle what we know, we don’t want to try new thing. We haven’t learned anything new in two weeks. So we just want to continue with our basics — our bread and butter. Our technique has to be there.”