On a plane ride from Oklahoma City back to the Central Coast following a recent national wrestling tournament, Nipomo High School girls wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno asked Alexis Garcia to describe her high school experience in one word.
She thought for a second.
No one — not even Garcia herself — could have imagined the three-year transformation from an out-of-shape high school freshman who had never played sports in her life to one of the top girls heavyweight wrestlers in the state.
Garcia, better known as “Crush,” capped her metamorphosis and her high school career with a 38-1 record, a fifth-place finish at a national tournament and a third-place finish at the CIF State Girls Wrestling Championships this past season.
For her accomplishments, Garcia has been named The Tribune County Wrestler of the Year.
Garcia had already gained a reputation on the Nipomo girls wrestling team for using her uncanny strength and balance to beat up on opponents early in her sophomore season, but it was her choice of T-shirt one day in practice that solidified her nickname.
“I love to thrift shop, and I would just get random shirts my sophomore year,” Garcia said. “I found this Orange Crush shirt, and I wore it to practice.”
When Magdaleno needed to summon Garcia to the center of the mat, he looked at her shirt.
“Hey, Crush!” Magdaleno said to get her attention.
The nickname stuck.
As her wrestling skills and confidence developed, she embraced her new moniker. The once shy girl was getting recognized around school.
Wrestling has just changed my life in so many ways.
Alexis “Crush” Garcia
“At first, people didn’t really know me. I was just kind of floating around,” Garcia said. “Then I joined wrestling, and people were like, ‘Oh, you’re Crush.’ Wrestling has just changed my life in so many ways.”
That change didn’t come overnight.
“I remember some of my first matches I was just so scared and nervous,” Garcia said. “It took a while for me to say, ‘OK, you practiced, you did everything that you could for this match, so you just have to go in there and give it your all.’ ”
She also battled her weight. The past two seasons, Garcia admitted she has had to scramble to make weight after failing to stick to her diet and exercise regimen during the offseason. At the start of her senior season, she came in around 20 pounds over the 235-pound weight class. But following the wrestler’s tradition of sweatsuits and hard work, Garcia made weight and hit the ground running.
“I remember thinking I will never do that again,” Garcia said. “I am going to be on top of my game and watch my diet and make sure to work really hard in practice because cutting weight is awful.”
Garcia went on to win 33 straight matches this winter on the way to a CIF-Southern Section heavyweight title and was the No. 1 seed heading into the state tournament.
She said she wasn’t any more nervous than she usually was. She continued to follow her pre-match routine of listening to music, like the “Moana” soundtrack or Eminem or taking a nap to calm her nerves. It worked to perfection on the meet’s first day, winning her three matches. But on the second day, her nerves resurfaced at the worst possible time.
Up 8-4 against McNair junior Fuatino Moala in the semifinals, her mentality broke, Garcia said. Magdaleno said it was the first time Garcia looked too far ahead, and it resulted in her first loss of the season.
“It sucked, but I also knew that just because I am not going to be a champion, I am going to do the very best to be the next best champion,” Garcia said.
Garcia was devastated, but she rebounded with wins in the consolation semifinals and finals to claim third place, achieving a three-year goal to place at the state meet. Magdaleno said her effort in her final two high school matches was a sign of her mental growth.
“That was something big,” Garcia said. “I went further than I had ever gone before.”
Leaving a Legacy
With her high school wrestling days behind her, Garcia has set her sights on her next goal of a college wrestling career and hopes to compete next year at Lindenwood University in Missouri — just another step on the unexpected journey of “Crush.”
And she has some advice for other girls thinking about wrestling: “Just try it because you can’t really lose anything,” Garcia said. “You can go from just going to one practice and not knowing that there is wrestling specific shoes, or that there’s a circle thing were you have to stand, to going to nationals.”
And whether she likes to admit it, long after Garcia leaves campus, her legacy will live on at Nipomo High School.
What I hope happens is that girls — little girls, big girls, girls of all ages — realize that just because they are from a small town, it doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish great things.
Nipomo High School girls wrestling coach Justin Magdaleno
Her success has become the hallmark of the school’s girls wrestling program, the only one in San Luis Obispo County that is just 4 years old and growing.
Magdaleno said he hopes Garcia’s success will help the program grow even more and plans to name the corner of the wrestling room where Garcia and the other heavyweights trained “Crush’s Corner.” Her name and record for an historic season will remain on the wall above the black mat.
“Crush has given Nipomo more than she realizes,” Magdaleno said. “What I hope happens is that girls — little girls, big girls, girls of all ages — realize that just because they are from a small town, it doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish great things.”