Gracie Figueroa thought she was joining just another wrestling team at just another high school. That was her first, and to date, only mistake on the mat.
The freshman signed up to join the Selma High wrestling team, where the black-and-orange singlets hang in trophy cases, not armoires, in a town where the sport is as famous as their raisins and Fancy Burritos at Sal’s.
If she didn’t know Selma wrestling was a big deal when she started, Figueroa sure knows it now that she’s a big deal as well going into the CIF State Girls Wrestling Championships on Friday and Saturday at the Visalia Convention Center.
“No, I really didn’t know about it,” said Figueroa, all 111 top-ranked and undefeated pounds of her. “But, when you put on that singlet and everyone just stares …”
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It isn’t that Figueroa dived braids-first into a girls’ program loaded with history — the Bears’ girls team is 3 years young, albeit with consecutive Central Section Masters titles already hanging on the board.
Figueroa is carrying around the overshadowing might of the Selma wrestling name, where the boys have been hauling in trophies by the vanload since their parents’ parents were young enough to get cauliflower ears.
Nineteen league titles. Seventeen Central Section divisional titles. One Masters championship. Five top-fives in the state. If there’s a better public small-school wrestling program in California history … well, there isn’t, so that’s that.
That’s the expectation Figueroa wants to live up to, whether anyone says that directly or by implication. Same goes for unbeaten and top-ranked freshman Alleida Martinez.
“When they first come out, they don’t understand the tradition that we have, the camaraderie we create,” said Bears assistant Andy Munoz, who heads the girls program. “It’s a different element here. Once we go to the first few tournaments, they know this is something special.”
So are Figueroa and Martinez. As top seeds, they are positioned to become Selma’s first state champions in girls’ wrestling — the program has two state medalists to date.
Because that’s enough inherited pressure, they are also the Central Section’s best hope at winning a title. No one else between Bakersfield and Chowchilla is seeded in the top-three, with only Porterville’s Sabrina Sandoval — a three-time state placer — slotted fourth at 116 pounds.
Is that a lot to ask? Of course it is. But then, using history as our best indicator, making history is what Selma wrestling does best.
“Yeah, I believe we’re building a tradition of our own,” Figueroa said.