How did Alexis Garcia become one of the top girls wrestlers in the state? It started when she didn’t want to be alone at lunch.
Back when the Nipomo High School senior was just a sophomore, Garcia followed a friend to a girls wrestling meeting instead of eating by herself.
“I showed up to the meeting and pretended to have interest in it,” Garica said Thursday. “But I really didn’t have any intention of going with it.”
She tried to blend in, but Garcia caught the eye of Nipomo coach Justin Magdaleno, who was trying to increase the numbers for a girls wrestling program still in its infancy.
“I was like, ‘Oh, we need a heavyweight,’ ” Magdaleno said.
He tracked her down at school and asked if she was going to come to practice. At the time, Garcia wasn’t playing a sport. She tried to play water polo her freshman year but didn’t see much action, mostly because, in her words, “I sucked.”
“I guess I’ll try it out,” Garcia said, recalling what she told Magdaleno. “I tried it out, and I loved it. It was an accident, but it worked.”
“Now she has become the cornerstone of our team,” Magdaleno said.
Garcia caught on quickly. Her size, impressive strength and wrestling style earned her a fitting nickname: Crush.
Building off success
Last year was Garcia’s break out season.
She was the 235-pound champ at the CIF-Southern Section Northern Regional and was the CIF-Southern Section runner-up. At the CIF-State Girls Wrestling Championships, Garcia went 2-2 and finished in the top 12 in the state.
But none of that would have happened without the vision of Magdaleno and former Nipomo athletic director Jim Souza.
Four years ago, there were four girls on the boys wrestling team when Magdaleno was an assistant coach who wanted a chance to wrestle at the CIF-Southern Section tournament.
“We went down there. They wrestled really well; it was fun,” said Magdaleno, who had coached the girls wrestling team at Pioneer Valley before moving to teach and coach at Nipomo. “Then they asked to get their own team. I was like, ‘Get outta here.’ I wasn’t even thinking about it.”
That night he called his wife. She already knew what would come next.
“I put together a business plan — roster of kids interested, place for a wrestling room, how we were going to pay for everything, what we needed from the school — and presented it to Jim,” Magdaleno said.
“No other school had a girls wrestling program in San Luis Obispo County,” Souza said. “I said, ‘We are going to be the first.’ ”
Souza is now retired, but he comes back to work the scoreboard for home meets. He was there Wednesday night for the Titans’ quad match, beaming with pride as he looked across the mat at the team.
“This is the only sport I still follow,” Souza said. “Before I became AD, I hadn’t been to a wrestling match in 30 years. Now I’m a big fan because of Justin (Magdaleno) and the girls.”
The team has grown steadily from four girls to 22 team members this season.
“The reality is if it weren’t for girls wrestling, most of these girls wouldn’t have a sport, period,” Souza said.
Magdaleno said where other sports require special skills or size prerequisites, wrestling’s biggest requirements are effort and dedication.
“The only thing I ever promise these kids is it’s the hardest thing you will ever do in your life. At the same time it’s the most rewarding,” Magdaleno said. “And with Alexis being successful, the kids are like, ‘Oh, I want to be a part of that.’”
Sophomore April Sanchez, 111-pound weight class, said she might play soccer if she wasn’t wrestling.
“But you can’t be aggressive. You would get in trouble if you’re pushing too much,” Sanchez said.
As a freshman, Sanchez was one of 10 Titan wrestlers who made it to the CIF-Southern Section Championships.
“I like telling people I’m a wrestler. I feel pride in it,” said junior Mackenzie Wisneski, who took seventh place at the CIF-Southern Section Northern Regional and is one of the top performers on this season’s team.
Former members of the team were in the stands for Wednesday night’s meet and often come back to check on the current team to offer advice.
“To see that growth and see the kids still come back to help the new kids, that shows you that something was done right,” Magdaleno said. “It’s awesome as a coach.”
The ultimate goal for the team is to beat Pioneer Valley, the top girls wrestling program in the area, in the postseason.
“They are the mountain for us. We have got to get past them,” Magdaleno said.
You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry
It’s hard not to be drawn in by Garcia’s energy. Her outgoing personality along with her short purple hair, bright green eyes and infectious smile have made Garcia a fan favorite.
“She’s kind of a goofball,” Magdaleno said. “But as soon as she puts her foot on that mat, it’s all business. The difference between her on a off the mat is amazing. She truly embodies what you want from an athlete.”
“I like being aggressive. I use it kind of like an outlet whenever I’m angry,” Garcia said.
Last week at the Queen of the Hill Tournament, Clairemont heavyweight Stephanie Maldonado, considered by the website TheCaliforniaWrestler.com to be the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the state, was the victim of Garcia’s pent-up anger.
Garcia pinned Maldonado in the third period to claim the tournament win and move to 18-0 on the season. The win gave Garcia her fifth tournament title for the season.
“I knew she was ranked first in state, my coach told me that. So I was nervous, but I didn’t want to let it get to my head because I knew that if I let it get to my head, I wouldn’t perform as well,” Garcia said. “I just listened to music and just kind of went for it.”
The rankings for girls wrestling isn’t clear cut and not regularly updated, likely due to the fact that it’s a sport that started in California just 10 years ago. But Garcia’s win over Maldonado would likely place her as the No. 1 girls wrestler in the state.
Garcia has big goals the rest of the way that include making it back to the CIF state tournament and making it onto the podium. The win over the state’s top wrestler gave her the confidence she can do that. But it wasn’t always that way. It all changed because of her coach.
“He means a lot to me,” Garcia said of Magdaleno. “He has showed me to be more confident in myself, and I realized from before I started wrestling to now my confidence has just boosted so much. He has definitely helped and showed me that I am capable of so much more than I ever even thought possible.
“I never thought I would be as successful as I am, and that’s thanks to him, mostly.”
To keep up with the latest on the Nipomo High School girls wrestling team, follow on Facebook @NipomoGirlsWrestling