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Cantu took perfect mark into CIF final

WR senior tops in area with runner-up finish at state

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POSTED April 18, 2014 11:45 p.m.

There are two sides to Alyssa Cantu, Weston Ranch’s groundbreaking wrestler who took second in the CIF State Girls Championships last month at the Visalia Convention Center.

There is the side that still seethes at the thought of nearly completing an undefeated season in the state tournament’s 189-pound finals.

The other half of her accepts the loss, choosing instead to move on from it and give credit to the one responsible for her only defeat.

 “She’s just a mean kid who hates losing and likes to beat people up, but she’s also a sweetheart,” Weston Ranch coach Pat King said. “That’s the thing; she knows when to turn it off. She’s a great student, all the teachers love her and there has never been an issue with discipline. She embodies what a student-athlete should be.”

And she is the Bulletin’s All-Area Girls Wrestler of the Year.

Cantu once again ended what was otherwise a sterling season in disappointment. After beating her first 31 opponents — 30 by pin — she was stopped by Jackie Quinones of Arroyo in 4 minutes, 39 seconds. Her junior year she injured an ankle in practice the day before the state tournament and was eliminated after her first match of the second day.

But the 2014 finish was a tougher pill to swallow.

It’s her senior year, her final match as a member of Weston Ranch’s wrestling team. She was coming off a taxing semifinal match with Fremont’s Evien Evonne, Cantu’s toughest opponent, she said. Down 2-1 late in the second period, she turned the tables to win by pinfall in 3:55.

Cantu again trailed 2-1 in the finale, only this one was decided in the third round. King faults himself for the loss.

“Coaching decision,” King said. “I put her in the down position to start the round. It’s something you think about all the time, maybe I should have put her on top, but you have to play the odds. The odds say to put her down and tie it up (with an escape).”

Cantu, instead, wound up on her back.

Or did she? The match ended with a little controversy, as her coaches and supporters disagreed with the stoppage.

“I didn’t feel like I got pinned but after I saw pictures and stuff I could see where it kind of looks like I got pinned,” Cantu said. Then her voice began to quiver as the heartache from the loss returned for a split second.

“I was going for it. She was just tough to keep down. She cradled me and that was it.”

She quickly recovered.

“Now I accept the fact that I lost. I had a good season.”

No. A great season.

Cantu dominated every tournament she won, including the prestigious 16th Annual Napa Valley Girls Classic. Her first-place finish in the Sac-Joaquin/Northern Section Regional Championships made Cantu a three-time qualifier for the state tourney, and it also helped Weston Ranch take third as a team.

“Anytime you go into a state final undefeated you’re doing something right. It’s not a fluke,” King said. “She deserves everything that’s coming to her. She just did not miss practice and it shows.”

Even after the season she can be found in the Weston Ranch wrestling room after school. Cantu recently competed in the USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle Junior Nationals in Oklahoma City and earned All-America status by taking eighth place.

In the meantime, college programs are showing interest in acquiring the talented and hard-working Cantu, who plans on retaking the SAT before making a decision. She never thought that would be a possibility at the start of her career.

Not bad for a “one-day girl.”

Cantu, who comes from a wrestling family, decided to give it a shot herself as a freshman. King is used to seeing a handful of girls come out for conditioning, but after a day most of them drop out.

Cantu, while he admittedly didn’t see it at the time, was a special case. She was the only female to try out, and by the end of the year she was still on the team.

“I remember the first time she walked in here,” King said. “I had never seen her before. It was during conditioning in August or September. We would do two-mile runs before every practice and she might have finished 40 minutes after everybody else — but she finished.

“I honestly thought she was a one-day girl. A lot of girls come out but are done after one day. She kept coming back and worked harder and harder.”

Now?

“Everybody looks at her as a leader not just the girls,” King said, adding that she served as team captain this past season. “That right there tells you everything about Alyssa Cantu.”

She is no longer the only girl showing up for practices. In fact, her coaches are confident that the Cougars can field a full lineup of grapplers to compete in girls-only dual meets starting next year.

“There are girls who are starting to come out for wrestling,” Cantu said. “One girl told me I was her inspiration in wanting to wrestle so that was really nice to hear.”

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